Monday, May 23, 2016

Festival of Trees Perspectives

Last week was a flurry of activity because of the 2016 Festival of Trees at Harbourfront. It is the culminating event for the OLA Forest of Reading program and very exciting to attend. I've written about it frequently on my blog - from 2015, 2014, 2013, and even as far back as 2009.

How you see the Festival depends on your point of view. This year, a good friend of mine had his book nominated for the 2016 Silver Birch Express Award. Liam O'Donnell wrote about what it was like to be giving autographs and sitting on stage in a post on his blog. (Go read it!)

What didn't sink in with me until this week was how different the Festival can appear to the same category of attendee - that is, a teacher.

On Tuesday, May 17, Farah Wadia and I took 25 Grade 7-8 students to Harbourfront for the Red Maple ceremony. We had a blast! Ms. Wadia is a huge fan of author Susin Nielsen and this was the first opportunity she ever had to meet her in person.

Susin was humble, charming and witty. She was patient with the long lines waiting to see her and was so personable to every person who approached her.

I attended a workshop by the author of Fragile Bones, chatted with some fellow teacher-librarians, and had a few of my school's Blue Spruce books signed by the author.

Where were the students during all of this? Ms. Wadia is incredibly organized and really helps her students become independent and responsible individuals. We had a meeting before the trip to review expectations and the students were permitted to determine their own agendas that day and explore Harbourfront in small groups without a teacher by their side constantly. The students were fabulous. With the exception of some drama on the TTC, there were no difficulties.

On Wednesday, May 18, the Grade 2-6 students who qualified to vote in one of the Silver Birch programs went to Harbourfront. We had 8 supervisors and two school buses. My group contained 9 Grade 2-4 students and it was definitely a different experience than the day before. Due to their age and the size and public nature of the venue, those with late primary or early junior students couldn't let them roam in the same way we could with older children. There was a lot of counting heads and negotiating for what we wanted to do and when. This made it a bit trickier, especially when some children wanted to do one thing that the others weren't keen on. Despite this challenge, we had a fun-filled day. My group bought books and frisbees, decorated their bodies with temporary tattoos, played games that earned them free books, collected some autographs, bought cotton candy, ate lunch, toured a moored sailboat, and attended the awards ceremony. My cell phone died near the end of the day, which wasn't great news because I was the main contact for the bus driver. My Plan B faltered because the portable charger I purchased did not have the correct cord to connect to my phone! Here are some of the photos I took - chosen for use here because you can't see the students' faces.

Playing games for prizes

Visiting the parked police cruiser

Getting autographs from Janet Wilson, author of Heroes

Touring the sailboat

Capturing a sense of the crowd

Seeing Dennis Lee speak at the ceremony
It was enjoyable, but with a lot more responsibility. I heard the Grade 3 teacher mention that it was a bit stressful keeping track of all the children, although in the same breath she said how much fun the children had.

I shouldn't forget the perspective of another group of people - the OLA staff. I saw Meredith and Brian and Annesha and they were working from early morning to late afternoon, for all THREE days of the Festival (because the French programs had their celebrations on Thursday). They must be exhausted but they should also be very proud of themselves for creating a fabulous event. It's a lot of work, but this tweet I shared below reminds us why we do it.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Maybe My MakerSpace Isn't So Miserable

Making things feels so good. This past weekend, I worked on creating my annual Forest of Reading themed outfit that I'll wear to the Festival of Trees celebration at Harbourfront. Usually I decorate a hat, but this year, after being inspired by a conversation with Sarah Oesch, I decided to try and create a cape or scarf. The material was thin so I had to double-side the images. I feel so productive and accomplished!

Red Maple and Blue Spruce book images on!

Arts and crafts supplies at the ready


While I was busy experimenting with this project, my teen daughter was working on her visual arts assignment - a sculpture. She chose to go in a slightly different direction than her original plans and tried using fabric from my mother's vast collection to clothe her woodland nymph. She's not completely satisfied with the final results, but she has a lot of "next time" ideas for improvement.

Woodland nymph by my talented daughter

I've also been hard at work on my school's yearbook pages. We make them using Photoshop. I'm collaborating with the incredibly talented Andrew Li, former Agnes Macphail P.S. student and now McGill University scholar. We send files back and forth with Google Drive and consult each other through Twitter DMs. 

I'm not the only one making things. The Red Maple Marketing Campaign Team from my school has been in the library almost every single recess this week preparing for the video they'll be filming. I wish I took pictures of their behind-the-scenes work because I was blown away by their attention to detail. The team was working on refining makeup techniques, to make students look much older and/or appear as if they've been in a fight. Their "guinea pig" really looked like he had a black eye! (I hope someone can share with me the photos they took documenting their experiments. They have a Prison Boy Facebook page if you're inclined to like it and support their efforts. The photos aren't up there yet but I hope they will be.)

Seeing these things and experiencing them myself makes my heart a bit happier - because when it comes to my school library MakerSpace this year, I've been seriously discontented. Last year, I launched my MakerSpace and it was small but active and growing. In fact, I helped co-host a TL Virtual Cafe session on the topic. 


Without going into too much detail or placing too much blame, my Library MakerSpace derailed. It had to close and change. The revamped MakerSpace didn't attract the same amount of traffic as before. Other educators heard about my forays into Library MakerSpaces and wanted to visit my location, but I turned them down. I wasn't proud of what I had. It wasn't nearly what and where I wanted to be. I steered people to other, more vibrant Library MakerSpaces in TDSB, such as John A Leslie P.S. or Cliffwood Jr. P.S. I talked with others to see how I could revitalize the space, and Ray Mercer's after-school workshop helped clarify issues relating to my MakerSpace "crash".

I was discouraged, despite the fact that Library MakerSpaces, like school libraries themselves, are all unique and reflect the community.
Seeing my intermediate students rushing in on their free time, with their own supplies, to tinker as they chose, made me relieved. Maybe my MakerSpace isn't as much of a failure as I believed it was. Maybe I was too busy comparing it to the fabulous (but intimidating) examples I've seen online. I need to remember Melanie Mulcaster's words from the previous Tweet, and recognize the successes when they happen, even if they are smaller than others. Our Minecraft Club adventures can be considered a creation frenzy, and even the tinier, tidier MakerSpace that I have now is used and enjoyed, albeit by a smaller group of students less frequently.


Marble pathways MakerSpace exploration

Student-led, student-directed making in action

MakerSpace Minecraft style - building a basketball court to use

Individual Minecraft Making projects exist, like this tower
So I'll try to be less hard on myself but still challenge myself to provide opportunities for students to make things that they want, in their own ways on their time. After all, I've felt the benefits that self-directed building/creating/making can elicit, and I hope my students can experience the same emotions and abilities: pride in flexing their creativity and problem-solving, learning as they go.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Decade of Data for the Forest of Reading

I have participated in the Ontario Library Association's Forest of Reading program for a very long time. When schools are officially registered to vote in the program, there's a form that must be completed compiling information such as the number of readers that initially joined, the number of readers that qualified to vote (by reading at least 5 of the 10 nominated titles in a particular category), and the number of votes that each nominated title received. I save and collect these numbers and I publish them in the annual report that I create for my administrator at the end of the year. I find these figures quite fascinating and this year, I had an "off-camera" discussion with my friend and fellow teacher-librarian Jessica Longthorne about our school's results for 2015-16.


As I ran around crazily that week before the voting deadline, quickly conducting last-minute chats so individuals could qualify, I was intrigued (and a little disappointed) to hear reasons why students did and did not exert effort to collect the required five signatures in their passports. The Grade 3 students in Ms. Daley's class gave a concentrated final push in the last two weeks of April because they learned that classroom teachers do not attend the Festival of Trees trip unless at least 50% of their class will be attending. (This is a fairness issue, as we do not order supply teachers to cover absences and if a teacher attends the Festival, his/her students that did not qualify are dispersed to other classrooms for the day.) Many older students told me that they had already been to the Festival of Trees last year, so they didn't care about going on the trip to Harbourfront or they felt it was too expensive an excursion to be bothered. This explanation concerned me a bit because the motivation is external. It didn't seem to matter to this group that they could vote and be a part of deciding a prominent award.

Having said that, there were individuals that set personal reading goals and were motivated by more than just the trip. A Grade 5 girl (N) was ecstatic when she qualified. She told me that this was the first year that she was able to qualify for voting in a Silver Birch program after two years of previous attempts and that she was so excited that she met her goal, was able to go on the trip, and would participate in our school's Silver Birch Quiz Bowl team. (Unfortunately, she was unable to be on Quiz Bowl this year because her family was taking a trip and wouldn't be back in time to go.) A Grade 3 boy (J) told me that he surprised himself by actually completing more than just the minimum amount of books and he was so proud of his accomplishments that he'd stop me in the halls frequently to remind me that he had read 7, yes 7, books. A Grade 4 girl (J) made it her mission to help her classmates in Mrs. Matus' Grade 4-5 class qualify to vote. She helped her classmates by locating copies of books for them to read and booking chat appointments for them!

Researchers like longitudinal data, because it's possible to detect trends and patterns. In the interest of making this sort of data accessible, here are the numbers for my particular school since I've been there. That's twelve years of statistics at your fingertips!


2004-05
2005-06
2006-07
2007-08
2008-09
2009-10
2010-11
Blue Spruce

170 participants
163 voters
(96%)
151 participants
137 voters
(91%)
142 participants
138 voters
(97%)
126 participants
105 voters
(83%)
113 participants
110 voters
(97%)
94 participants
89 voters
(95%)
Silver Birch
Fiction
117 participants
53 voters
(45%)
Non-Fiction
117 participants
61 voters
(52%)
Fiction
108 participants
36 voters
(33%)
Non-Fiction
108 participants
63 voters
(58%)
Express
99 participants
48 voters
(48%)
Fiction
71 participants
28 voters
(39%)
Non-Fiction
71 participants
43 voters
(61%)
Express
89 participants
45 voters
(51%)
Fiction
84 participants
22 voters
(26%)
Non-Fiction
89 participants
49 voters
(55%)
Express
62 participants
31 voters
(50%)
Fiction
87 participants
22 voters
(25%)
Non-Fiction
87 participants
35 voters
(40%)
Express
36 participants
21 voters (58%)
Fiction
58 participants
11 voters
(18%)
Non-Fiction
57 participants
10 voters
(18%)
Express
90 participants
63 voters
(70%)
Fiction
51 participants
22 voters
(43%)
Non-Fiction
35 participants
22 voters
(63%)
Red Maple
Fiction
33 participants
8 voters
(24%)
Non-Fiction
33 participants
3 voters
(9%)
Fiction
32 participants
12 voters
(37.5%)
Non-Fiction
Not run this year
Fiction
37 participants
6 voters
(16%)
Non-Fiction
37 participants
6 voters
(16%)
Fiction
90 participants
14 voters
(15.5%)
Non-Fiction
Not run this year
Fiction
79 participants
24 voters
(30%)
Non-Fiction
79 participants
17 voters
(21.5%)
Fiction
77 participants
21 voters
(27%)
Non-Fiction
Not run this year
Fiction
19 participants
8 voters
(42%)
Non-Fiction
13 participants
9 voters
(69%)



2011-12
2012-13
2013-14
2014-15
2015-16
Blue Spruce
120 participants
117 voters
(97.5%) +
151 participants
151 voters
(100%) +
181 participants
167 voters
(92%) -
173 participants
161 voters
(93%) +
229 participants
209 voters
(91%) -
Silver Birch
Express
60 participants
23 voters
(38%) -
Fiction
60 participants
10 voters
(16%) -
Non-Fiction
60 participants
23 voters
(38%) -
Express
62 participants
52 voters
(84%) +
Fiction
42 participants
14 voters
(33%) +
Non-Fiction
40 participants
27 voters
(67%) +
Express
59 participants
56 voters
(95%) +
Fiction
38 participants
20 voters
(52%) +
Non-Fiction
44 participants
21 voters
(47%) -
Express
76 participants
64 voters
(84%) –
Fiction
14 participants
10 voters
(71%) +
Non-Fiction
20 participants
16 voters
(80%) +
Express
142 participants
69 voters
(49%) –
Fiction
68 participants
15 voters
(22%) –
Non-Fiction
51 participants
13 voters
(25%) -
Red Maple
Fiction
12 participants
8 voters
(66%) +
Non-Fiction
No category this year

Fiction
8 participants
7 voters
(87%) +
Non-Fiction
8 participants
3 voters
(37%) -
Fiction
43 participants
25 voters
(58%) -
Non-Fiction
No category this year
Fiction
20 participants
14 voters
(70%) +
Non-Fiction
20 participants
7 voters
(35%) -
Fiction
42 participants
19 voters
(45%) –
Non-Fiction
No category this year

The + or - signs are compared to the year before it. (So, for example, my Silver Birch Express qualification rate in 2015-16 at 49% was lower than the 2014-15 season that indicated 84% of participants voted.) The one piece of information that does make me happy about the 2015-16 season was the larger number of students that tried to complete the Express program. A lot of Grade 2s and 3s attempted to read and even though this had a huge impact on the number of qualifiers (49%, the second lowest voter turnout ever at my school), there's hope that more of them will have experience with the process and do better next year.  

Monday, May 2, 2016

Green Screen Magic

We must be gluttons for punishment. The day after our amazing Spring Concert (a 90 minute extravaganza that had audience members gushing to the staff about the superior production quality), our school had a 70 minute character assembly filled with new dances, songs, and videos to share. My contribution was the first of two fairy tale movies created by the Grade 1 & 2 students in Room 115. I was willing to wait until May to let the school watch it, but I had a special request that couldn't wait:

We experimented with using green screen technology using the Do Ink app and I promised my inspirational teacher friend Diana Hong to share the process.

The marvelous thing about trying new things in classrooms is the amount of support you can receive from your peers. I had to do a sloppy copy-and-paste of this series of tweets to capture the whole conversation.

Tweet text

I papered over one of the few sections of my library that has a "blank" wall with bright green bristol board and did some experimental photos with a pair of selected students. They were honoured and  excited to be included in the beta testing phase. I hadn't found or properly loaded the background images I wanted on the iPad prior to this experiment, so I used a photo I had on my iPad. The students giggled when I said I was putting them in my parents' back yard.

Our first try, before adding the background

Our second try, including the background

The way we had originally organized this drama project was with tableaux combined with a "radio play" reading of their lines; that way, the students could focus on one aspect at a time - first, how they read their script, and then how they posed in frozen action scenes.

We used two plays: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and The Gingerbread Man. While I worked with one group, the other had the chance to play with my immense personal collection of Fisher Price toys. It made taping the audio tricky, as it's hard to play super-quietly, but we were able to tape both groups without incident. We haven't taken photos of the Gingerbread Man group yet, but we were able to finish and combine the footage and sound for the Snow White play to complete that project.

One thing I'd do differently (and should've realized this earlier) is NOT dress anyone in green. The huntsman had a nice costume on but it matched the background too well and he became ghost-like. The class and I decided to just keep it "as is" because they liked the costume so much. (I have a great costume collection, so I took care of providing the necessary clothing for the play.)

Our "invisible huntsman" dragging Snow White in the forest
I wish I could show you the final product, but I don't have permission forms for all the students for this specific YouTube video. (We have it as unlisted.) If I get it arranged, I'll post it here and on the Twittersphere. Even though the copy I bought is on my personal iPad, I'll definitely be using DoInk in my programming next year.