Monday, January 26, 2015

Kindies & 3D Printing?

I was so excited by this recent set  of events that I started writing today's blog post last week! It has reinforced for me the importance of:
  • reaching out (to fellow educators and other connections)
  • using technology authentically
  • embracing inquiry
It all began with a admittedly run-of-the-mill author investigation with all three of the kindergarten classes I see for library, ICT, and media. Our focus author was Paulette Bourgeois and her Franklin the Turtle series. We read the books. We watched the TV show episodes on Learn 360. We played the games on I wanted the students to be active media producers and not just media consumers so each class brainstormed potential Franklin media texts that we could create. One particular class, the one fortunate enough to have Jennifer Balido-Cadavez as their ECE, decided that they wanted to make Franklin cookies. One of the many things I admire about Jen is how she integrates the themes and topics between the "regular" class and the "specialist" lessons. She and the kindergarten students continued to talk back in their regular classroom about how we might make Franklin cookies when the kindergarten teacher (Jenny Bird - there are a lot of Jennifers on our staff!) asked if it would be possible to 3D print a cookie cutter. 

I am lucky to know David Hann, a teacher at Donview Middle School who is known as "the 3D Printer Guy". He does very innovative things with his students, like building working pinball machines that he and his students shared at the recent Toronto MakerFaire. He's seriously curious and always experimenting, including his recent explorations onto the GamingEdus Professional Play Minecraft server. He's not stingy with his knowledge and resources - and neither is Lisa Dempster from Riverdale C.I.. She is constantly pushing the boundaries of what it means to work in a Library Learning Commons. She is doing pretty amazing things related to STEM in her library and she readily offered us her Google document outlining how to turn a 2D drawing into a 3D printed creation. 

Mrs. Cadavez and I read over the steps and together with the students, we explored, questioned, and experimented. We tweeted our investigations on the school Twitter account
and when the possibility of a Skype chat with David Hann at Donview came up, we jumped at the opportunity.
Some would say that watching a 3D printer do its job is boring. Don't tell that to our twenty-plus 4- and 5-year-olds, who sat mesmerized as Mr. Hann warmed up his school's 3D printer, explained the process, and printed a toonie-sized object for us. We documented like crazy, taking videos, snapping photographs, and tweeting.
David explains the process to our excited kindies

Mrs. Cadavez' expression says it all: WOW!
To get an idea of what this Skype chat meant to us, let me quote a section from the email Jen and I sent to David's principal about the experience:

Mr. Hann, through the @DonviewDT Twitter account, answered some of our initial questions, and then we set up a Skype meeting to see a 3D printer in action. David was an incredible teacher - he explained the concepts in ways that our kindergarten students could understand (e.g. the 3D printer extrudes the melted plastic like when we squeeze Play-Doh through our fists). He taught us about 3D printers but also life lessons about curiosity and perseverance (e.g. he told us that it took him three tries to get his heart cookie cutter to print in the way he wanted but he learned from his mistakes and kept trying).

Other people continue to help us with our goal. The kindergarten students, under Jen's guidance, actually researched the cost of ordering our 3D cookie cutter created with food-safe materials. (We found out from our talk with Mr. Hann that our original plans for making a cookie cutter with regular plastic might not be 100% sanitary.)

I did some researching as well and found some Canadian contacts I had made at the Toronto Maker Faire. I muddled my way through transforming their drawing via TinkerCad. John Watson was willing to work with our file and project and it looks like it will become reality. Our kindergarten students may not have conducted every single step in the process, but they were involved in 3D printing in ways I didn't think were possible. Everyone involved was so enthusiastic - and we plan on showing our appreciation by baking and delivering lots of cookies!

P.S. - It's done! John Watson, from TapLabs in Ajax, made our cookie cutter for us this weekend and even took photos of the process! 

Monday, January 19, 2015

Rescued from R

I really admire the teachers that I have the pleasure of working with at my school. Today's reflection focuses on one particular teacher, Sonia Singh, her perseverance, and how invested she is in her students and their success.

It is common practice at our school that teachers notify the families of students who are doing poorly in a particular subject prior to the report card, so that there are no unhappy surprises. I submit grades for media, drama and dance for the primary grades, and after tabulating my various assessments, one student in Sonia Singh's Grade 2 class was earning "R" for media. I told Sonia about these preliminary results and this upset her greatly.

"X is not a R student. She is capable of much more than a R!", she told me.

We met and I showed her all the work samples I had for this student. I was perplexed. I thought I had provided sufficient accommodations and supports for her but it wasn't working. Sonia was shocked at the quality of work the child was producing.

"Let me work with her." she pleaded.

I explained what was expected for a couple of the tasks and agreed to give the student another chance to attempt the work with her classroom teacher. The very same day, Mrs. Singh called me into her classroom, her face beaming. Not only had the student re-done the assignments, the quality had improved tremendously! I asked her what magic she had performed to evoke this huge turnaround. Sonia said that she reexplained the work and gave the girl a very specific time for her to complete the task. The student worked at her desk right next to the teacher during recess and when Mrs. Singh checked in on her, she had completed the job. We talked about the challenges of working in the library (with many distractions present and no individual desks around) and decided on some strategies that might help the youngster stay focused (such as keeping her next to me during work time, giving her time goals to meet, and checking in on her frequently to ensure she was on task).

The road to hell is paved with good intentions and I meant to follow the recommendations the classroom teacher and I designed for her. During our dance lesson, which involved a writing task, I myself was so bombarded with other students and their desire for feedback that I forgot to keep the little girl at my side. She's a quiet child, one that can easily slip between the cracks. Yet, when I checked in on her at the end of class, she had correctly completed the task! I practically ran to Sonia's class to tell her the good news and she was so proud of what the student had accomplished (despite my lack of support).

Sonia Singh is an inspiration, because:

  • poor results were not the be-all and end-all, but reasons for investigation > Why isn't this child succeeding? What else can we do to help?
  • the unsatisfactory grade was not my problem, but OUR problem and one that she was truly interested in rectifying
  • all students have potential to improve > she possesses a growth mindset, not a fixed mindset
  • teachers help other teachers, when and how they can, even to the point of giving up their recess time to plan, discuss, reflect, and celebrate
It can be difficult to find the time to have these conversations - that's why I am so pleased that during our upcoming half-day PLC release time, the school Literacy Committee has reserved some time for us to discuss our focus students (and, if needed, the students that puzzle us for various reasons). Two heads are better than one, and if we can resolve to rescue as many of our students from the R results together as a team, then I feel optimistic about the future of education, at least in my building. Thank you Sonia for caring so much about our students.  

Monday, January 12, 2015

Tweak the Twerk

This weekend, my Mentoring AQ course was cancelled due to flooding on location so I couldn't attend. The board report card writing website was down so I couldn't do that either. Instead, I planned a media/dance lesson for my primary division students and found myself knee-deep in an ethical dilemma of my own creation.

The third section of dance expectations in the Ontario curriculum, Exploring Forms and Cultural Contexts, states that students should "demonstrate an understanding of a variety of dance forms and styles from the past and present and their social and/or community contexts". I like incorporating popular culture and student interests into my lessons and I thought it would be a fun and engaging task to examine the Taylor Swift video, "Shake It Off". If you haven't seen it before, I've embedded it below.

I really like this song and enjoyed watching both this video, as well as the "Behind the Scenes" videos on YouTube explaining the creative process. The video taught me about dance styles that I was unaware of, like the incredible Finger Tutting. The lyrics are a great inspiration for all the anti-bullying talks we are supposed to initiate with our students. But there's a problem.


Twerking is a dance style that, according to Wikipedia, is "a type of dancing in which an individual, usually a female, dances to music in a sexually provocative manner involving thrusting hip movements and a low squatting stance". Students in the U.S. have been suspended for twerking at dances and making twerking videos on school property. In the same article, the twerking sections of the very same Taylor Swift video I planned on showing was accused of "perpetuat[ing] stereotypes" about Black women.

What should I do? I thought of several options, but each came with its own unique set of subsequent problems.

a) Block the twerking sections

Whether I do it high-tech (download a copy and turn the screen black) or low-tech (put a paper in front of the screen as I re-film, or simply put my hand over the data projector when the section pops up), I could use the song but just remove the controversial visual parts.

BUT isn't that a form of censorship? I'm disappointed when I hear that teachers or teacher-librarians alter books because they find certain parts unacceptable. Changing an artist's creation because it doesn't match my standards is a dicey proposition. Isn't that what I would be doing by blocking specific images?

b) Play it and address the controversy

It's possible for me to play the video in its entirety and directly discuss the potential offences. Who performs each of these dances? Who doesn't? Why? It would elevate the discourse and critical thinking. I think it would make an excellent discussion, to look at dances in the past and present that were considered "bad" (such as the tango and the twist and twerking - hey, they all begin with T!)

BUT these are young students (6-8 year olds) and I'm not sure how much they could handle. I've got to confess, I don't know how much equity education happens in our classrooms. If it is uncommon for my students to have experience talking about race, gender, and class, will this be too much, too fast?

c) Play it and ignore the controversy

Maybe this is a mole hill, not a mountain. Maybe they might not even notice the twerking. After all, it lasts for a grand total of 17 seconds in the entire video. By blocking it or having a serious conversation about it, maybe I'm calling attention to it in a way that isn't needed.

BUT if I am aware of the potential for offence, then aren't I being derelict in  my teaching duty for not dealing with it? I talked with another teacher last week about the possibility of using this video, and he recommended I run it by the principal first. Do I really want to risk the wrath of upset parents or a shocked administrator?

d) Choose a different video

I could save myself the angst and trouble and just search Learn360 or any one of the school-safe video streaming options we have in my board to use a sample that doesn't have these strings attached.

BUT is avoiding the issue entirely a coward's way out? What drew me initially to this video was how, in a quick 3 minute chunk, eight different dance styles were showcased. Comparison becomes quite easy when the different dance forms are shown together like it is in the video. Read the teacher prompt included with the specific dance expectation:
"When we watched the video of Irish dancing, a few students mentioned that the dancers don't use their arms when they dance. Did anyone notice anything else? Are arms used in some of the other dance forms that we saw?"
This type of observation could be accomplished in one period (with follow-up) instead of the multiple ones needed if we were highlighting one style per class.

I'm not sure what I will do. Any advice? Option A, B, C, D, or one I have not yet considered?

Monday, January 5, 2015

Ma(r)king Major and Minor Holiday Projects

Welcome to 2015! I had a restful and yet still productive holiday - it must have been due to waking up after 10:00 am most days! I wanted to share some of the projects I worked on while I was away and how many of the non-school tasks actually helped me educationally.

Project #1 = Dad's Personalized Equalizer DVD Cover

My parents are notoriously hard to buy Christmas gifts for, but this year, my brother inspired us. We pre-ordered a Blu-Ray copy of the Denzel Washington film, The Equalizer. However, it wouldn't be ready until after December 25. I decided to use my rusty Photoshop skills and re-create the cover with my father as the star instead of Denzel. It took about an afternoon to complete and although it wasn't perfect (because I didn't add the rain effect to match the background), the reaction was pure gold.

I DISCOVERED that even though the final end-product might not be as up-to-snuff as I would like, the intended audience was extremely appreciative. (If it was a class media project, I would have given myself a B+ and I'm sure my incredible former yearbook editor would be more critical of the integration of the photo into the cover.) Having an idea to work with and shape helped a lot. If we can see the recipients of our work (like the senior citizens who got holiday cards from our students), it may help to make our work more meaningful.

Project #2 = Marking 

This took three days to complete, and technically, it's not completed. (I didn't do my kindergarten classes as I had intended.) Who would have thought that five classes of media, drama, and dance would take so long to evaluate?

I DISCOVERED that I need to devote at least half of my prep periods during the school day to marking so that it doesn't pile up. (I also need to devote half the time to keeping the library clean and half to catching up on all the media interview assessments I wanted to accomplish, but I don't think the math adds up there!) It's a goal of mine to be more timely in my assessments and feedback - I'm pleased with the mark summaries I've created to send home in student agendas. I do like examining the assessments I give to ensure that they are fair, differentiated, and evaluate what I intend. Deciding on what weight each assignment merits in the overall scheme of things is quite the challenge - I think I"ll be experimenting more with safe online tools or making my own with GAFE tools.

Project #3 = Daughter's Superhero RPG Covers

About once a month or so, we play a role-playing game with the Peer family at their house. I've written about it a lot more on my Family Gaming blog. Because it's a super-hero game, my artistic daughter had the brilliant idea to immortalize each of the RPG adventures in a pretend comic book cover recap. She pencils and I ink and then colour a scanned reproduction. I have to say that it's very relaxing to trace lines and colour pictures. These three covers took about two evenings to complete. You can see the other seven "issues" here and here.

I DISCOVERED that making something with my hands is very satisfying. I know this because of the baking I did over the holiday but this project had a much more artistic feel. This project also demonstrated positive interdependence. Each person plays a part. I can't colour if my daughter hasn't drawn the cover. We can't create any more unless Morgan leads our adventure. It becomes tricky in school, especially if someone on the team does not do their part. It also takes time and good tools to make something good. The notes on what colours go with what character help a lot too.

Project #4 = Son's Minecraft Book Trailer

My children received some nice presents for Christmas, including some Minecraft mini-figures as well as the novel Descent into Overworld  by Liam O'Donnell. This book is special to us because we had a chance to be "beta-readers" before it was published. My son and I decided to make a mini-video promoting the book using our iPad's StoMo software. It took a bit longer than usual because we accidentally filmed upside down and used Windows Movie Maker instead of iMovie to assemble the final product. It took a half-day to finish.

I DISCOVERED that in projects, some people are more committed to certain portions. My son loved the filming but was not interested in the editing, especially when we hit snags. There's always a little bit of yourself in every project you do, especially if you care about it. My husband saw the initial clip and said that the iron golem double-take looked very "Diana-esque". There are always ways to overcome technical difficulties, even thought it may take a while to figure out.

Hopefully, all of these projects will help me as I get into the final designs of the huge media restaurant project my students will be undertaking in January. We've got two teams with their restaurant names determined (Pizza Power and Sugar Shark - the Grade 1s love alliteration!) and three others who know the type of restaurant but have not voted on the name. I'm hoping that my upcoming Teacher Performance Appraisal will be an observation of one of my media lessons dealing with the restaurant, because it's been a source of reflection and learning for both me and the students.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Year Over, Years Older

This is my last post of 2014. Where did the time go? I'm still on vacation as I compose this post and my to-do list is a kilometer long. However, I made sure that on Christmas Day and Boxing Day, I relaxed and enjoyed the holiday with my family. One of my favourite presents was from my considerate husband, who ordered me a bound and printed copy of the first two years of my blog.

Thank goodness for iPhones and taking selfies!
Even though I have a pile of novels to read before January, I sat and read through the entire book, which contains my ruminations from 2009-2011. It was really neat to see how I've changed and how I've stayed the same. The biggest alterations?

My opinions about online privacy

In the past, I never used to mention people by name on the blog. I avoided using photos. I employed a pseudonym while on Twitter. Thanks to influences like Lisa Dempster and Gwyneth Jones, I started to be less afraid and more pro-active about controlling my positive digital footprint. I believe my thoughts are still evolving, as recent talks with Andrew Campbell and Peter Skillen have urged me to consider the online privacy of others as well and the digital tools I use.

My views on how blogs and Twitter work

My posts chronicle my relationship with Twitter, which mirrors many people's experiences. Beginning with "I'll just get an account to see things; I won't post" in 2009 to over 5000 tweets five years later, Twitter has become more important to me professionally and personally than I originally thought. I also used to fill my blog with "freebies", links to lesson plans and book reviews I wrote. Now, those items are still available on but my blog is more about reflecting on my teaching practices.

My pop culture and book obsessions

Boy, I used to write about Twilight a LOT back then! Thanks to the series, I have a group of wonderful adult friends from all over North America and we still keep in touch via Facebook, but I don't gush over the books I'm reading anymore.

My other observation is that I feel a lot older. It's not just the hair. (I've decided to stop colouring my hair, partly because I couldn't remember what the original hue was. Turns out it's salt and pepper, with emphasis on the salt.) I'm tired. In the past, I was involved in a lot of things, and I still am, but staying on top of everything isn't as easy as it once seemed to be. Maybe it's just my faulty memory, and the truth could be that I struggled with keeping things tidy, deadlines and completing tasks just as much back then. Still, in addition to my usual duties with school and the magazine, I'll be taking an Additional Qualification course starting in January (on Mentoring - my first official-like-on-OCT-records course since I completed my MEd in 2010, which will be exciting), running my church's Marriage Preparation program, working on the TLLP grant with the awesome Liam O'Donnell and Denise Colby, and getting closer to finishing that self-initiated research project on readers' choice programs (that I wrote about way back in the early days of my blog). I'll pace myself, monitor my energy levels, sleep when I need it, and chunk work so I can complete jobs and feel like I've accomplished something.  I may need to operate at a different speed, but if I approach 2015 with an "aging like fine wine" view instead of an "aging like an overripe banana" view, I'll be fine. Make 2015 bring you health, wealth, happiness, and all that you need.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Giving Time to Grow Readers

I gotta shake off the Grinch! I've been crabbier than usual this past week, because of

  • my lack of sleep due to the Christmas Novena
  • my messy library due to instrument storage for the Winter Concert and a poorly maintained Play Area
  • my impatience with loud audience members (partly due to my demophobia)
I noticed my attitude shifting from "half-full glass" to "half-empty glass" and I needed to take action to stop the slide of negativity. This post is part of my action plan. (Catching up on sleep during the holidays and making a list of all the things I am grateful for this past year are other components.)

In January 2015, my school will launch the official beginning of our Forest of Reading program. To prepare, the books have been made available to the staff to read in advance. This way, the adults will have already read the books and they can facilitate conversations with students on various titles and sign their passports. (A description of how we run our Forest of Reading program with the passports can be found in this article from Voice magazine.) I have heard that in other schools, teacher-librarians are floundering and trying in vain to beg other teachers to participate by reading at least one short book. At Agnes Macphail Public School, I am so very fortunate, because I have so many staff members, from the principal to teachers to educational assistants to early childhood educators, eagerly borrowing books at this insanely busy time of year to read. Some have been reading nominated titles since October, when the lists were announced by the Ontario Library Association and some keen student readers reserved copies from the public library. One classroom teacher in particular has surpassed my reading total by a large margin and continues to use her spare time to read. The wonderful thing is that teachers are reading books from many different lists, because it gives them the opportunities to chat with students in various grades. 

Way back in September, I took photos of our staff members for a "brains behind the books" bulletin board display. As a tribute to these wonderful school staff members and all they do to give time to grow readers and good young people (but while still maintaining their privacy), let me share here the pictures of our outstanding staff. If you are from my school or know some of the teachers, see if you can figure out who is who. 

 Merry Christmas, and special best wishes to our special education teacher, who began her maternity leave on the last calendar school day of 2014 (and her due date was yesterday, December 21).

Sunday, December 14, 2014

A "Touchy" Topic

Last week, a friend of mine, who works with the school board centrally, stopped by my school unexpectedly. The snow storm had made his commute insane; he had been travelling for over two hours and still had not reached his destination. He asked if he could work in the library at my school instead of wasting more time trying to battle the weather and travel conditions. I welcomed him in. It was wonderful to have him around because he joined in and co-taught a couple of classes with me. In the afternoon, we were doing a drama activity called Toy Store with a Grade 1-2 class. The children were toys in a toy store that come to life when the toy store owner wasn't "around". As the toy store owner started to clean up the store and put the toys back on the shelf, my friend stepped out of role for a moment to ask "How are we supposed to move them?" I thought this was an unusual question until I realized that, as a male teacher, my friend was very cautious about when, how, and where he made physical contact with students.

Photo from Life Magazine
His question made me reflect on touching in schools. When my friend was a brand-new teacher, she said that most of their professional development workshops began with this message: "Welcome to today's session - remember, keep your hands off the students". This was a slight exaggeration, but understandable. Teachers need to be cautious when touching students so there aren't accusations of inappropriate contact. In a quick Google search, policy surrounding touch in the classroom encouraged restraint and caution: Touch only when necessary. Be professional and use professional judgement. However, I did find  this webcast that suggested that touch is important in schools. The discussion mentioned the famous Harlow monkey experiment where baby monkeys would cling to the comfort surrogate instead of the food surrogate. However, this opinion was definitely in the minority.

I am not as cautious as I should be. I admit - I do touch my students. However, most of the time, I do not initiate the contact. Students run up to me and hug me in the hall. If I sit on the carpet, students want to sit next to me or sit on my lap. While walking in line, students want to hold my hand. I don't encourage it but I don't discourage it when it happens, and if the hug lasts for more than a second or two, I try to redirect the student. I think this is due in part to my own upbringing and cultural norms. I'm comfortable with physical contact. I'm friendly and I express it by shaking hands or patting arms. I must keep in mind that not everyone is at ease with touching. Patting a head or rubbing a shoulder may be seen as very disrespectful or too intimate. It seems, though, that some children need that physical connection with someone.

This reminds me of a conversation I had with another friend who is doing her PhD on smell. We need our senses. For the safety of students, we have no-touch policies at some schools. To help people with sensitivities, we have scent-free environments. Respecting these needs are important but we do lose a little something when we deny or deprive our other senses when we learn. Maybe this is why students love "hands-on" learning - if we can't touch people, we can touch things. Making things with our own hands satisfies a basic need we have. Look at this article that my friend Lisa Noble sent to me about the benefits of holiday baking. I won't hug each and every one of my children's teachers to thank them for treating my son and daughter well, but I can thank them by creating cookies. (In addition to the Orange Ice Box and Lemon Lime Twists I made before, I tried four new recipes. I forgot to take a photo of the Cinnamon cookies, but the others are below.)

White Chocolate and Butterscotch Cookies

Cherry and Lemon Cookies

Mini Raspberry Pinwheels
So where does this leave me and the way my students interact with me physically? I don't think I can completely stop returning hugs or holding hands, but I will be more aware. After all, not all touch is "bad touch", and acting as if all contact is forbidden sends the wrong message. Having said that, I'll be careful and consider how, when, where and why to touch. What do you think?