Monday, May 28, 2012

Q-Mack as Ringmaster or Master Teacher

On May 23, Q-Mack came to our school. Who's that? According to his website,, he is "Canada's only professional basketball freestyler and premiere motivational speaker". I didn't know what to expect, as I hadn't booked him. Sometimes these kind of assemblies have minimal educational value. If you are a fan of The Simpsons, you might remember the episode (#316, "Bart the Lover") that parodies this kind of presentation with the yo-yo trick expert. Cynics might categorize this assembly exactly as that type of trivial amusement. One of the adults that saw the show compared Q-Mack to a circus ringmaster, hyping the performances. Upon deeper reflection, I realized that Q-Mack actually showed signs of a master teacher, using strategies that all educators should consider implementing in their classrooms. I'm not saying we should balance ladders on our chin, but we should employ some of the methods he used for educating and engaging.

1) K.I.S.S.

Q-Mack had roughly four main points to make in his presentation.
a) Bullying isn't just physical; it's verbal.
b) Bullying can make your confidence disappear.
c) Learn something new and when you get it, your confidence grows.
d) "Increase the peace"; stop bullying by including people or telling adults when it occurs.

That was it. It wasn't complicated. He kept it simple. The assembly was 90 minutes and those were the key points to take away.

2) Repeat the message over and over again using different methods.

Q-Mack told a story from his childhood to illustrate the first point. He retold it several times during the assembly. He had the audience repeat key words and phrases from the anecdote. He pointed to concrete objects to jog our memories. He did a magic trick to demonstrate the second point. He created a catch-phrase that we recited. He performed another magic trick to reinforce that same point. If we were using edu-babble, we'd say that Q-Mack was differentiating his instruction. If we are auditory learners, we heard it. If we are visual learners, we saw it. If we are kinesthetic learners, we used the actions.

3) Keep 'em entertained.

Everyone from grades K-8 were transfixed for the entire assembly, even though it was long. There was something for everyone - the basketball fans enjoyed Q-Mack's tricks, the music/TV fans loved J-Box (Q-Mack's sidekick, an accomplished beatbox expert who has appeared on Canada's Got Talent), the little kids liked the slapstick humour, the big kids liked the name dropping. He brought things that interested the kids into the program. There were plenty of opportunities for audience participation, and there was a quiz with prizes.

4) Prepare them well for the assessment.

Q-Mack told the crowd at the very beginning that there would be a quiz that could earn lucky respondents some prizes. He highlightted when he was talking abou a key point that they needed to remember for the upcoming quiz. He reviewed the material several times before the quiz. Thanks to points #1-3, when it finally came time for the quiz, the students were able to articulate the answers correctly and with ease.

5) Be happy and upbeat.

Q-Mack and his posse do this show multiple times for many different schools but he acts like he is having a wonderful time and that our school is the most special group of individuals he's encountered. He seems very positive and friendly, posing for pictures, smiling and greeting the students. The kids gravitated to him like magnets. He made them want to be there.

So thank you gentlemen for your entertaining show and for giving me some food for thought. I better start practising my dribbling now.

Monday, May 21, 2012

#MLC12 in Photos

I'm back from Winnipeg and the Manitoba Library Association conference (hashtag #mlc12 on Twitter, for the actual website) and there are so many ideas springing from the conference that I could write about ... Dr. Michael Geist's opening keynote on copyright ... the similarities and differences between the two provinces and how we might work closer together ... Gene Ambaum and Bill Barnes' intelligently funny talks on graphic novels and Unshelved ... Jo-Anne Gibson's intriguing session on censorship, book banning, and the freedom to read and how I might adapt her unit to my school ... but I only have two weeks from today to finish creating our school yearbook and the deadline looms like a storm cloud, blotting out thoughts of lengthy blog posts. I thought I'd share a few photos I took during the conference, just to give you a glimpse. I have to give credit to the organizers - everything was very smooth and it was absolutely LOVELY to have wi-fi Internet access for my presentations.

For my session on "Web Wonders", I dressed like a wizard.
Teams sorted Web 2.0 tools into categories of familiarity.
A partial view of the audience for the afternoon talk - 60 people!
Jo-Anne & her "banned books" collection.
(L-R) Bill Barnes, me, Gene Ambaum (
I did get a chance to see a bit of Winnipeg, like Oodena @ The Forks.

Monday, May 14, 2012

String is a wonderful thing

By the time you read this, I'll probably be on a plane heading to Winnipeg for the Manitoba Library Association's conference. What a whirlwind few weeks it's been! The hectic pace made me question my sanity in accepting an invitation to participate in a Teachers Teaching Teachers webcast on String Games this past Wednesday (May 9, 2012). However, I'm really glad I did. I think I will need to cross-post this on my Family Gaming Blog.

My friend Denise and I were asked to attend because a few weeks prior, we were guests on Paul Allison's webcast when he hosted the inspiring guy behind Minecraft Edu. Fred, the main speaker of the String Game webcast, heard the Minecraft issue and thought that the audience would be intrigued by his version of play.

Fred is an educator with an anthropologist background and he told us that string games are common throughout the world in many different areas with many unrelated cultures. He introduced solo string games to his Spanish-speaking Grade 3-4 students when he taught them computer keyboarding to help them with their dexterity when typing and to introduce the names for the different fingers. There are so many learning opportunities for string games that I never realized. Fred uses string to tell stories and encourages children to make their own string stories. Like Minecraft, some players become proficient early on and then they help others to learn, building a collaborative cooperative class. Fred's pinned some of the figures made and created string art. Math (shapes), social studies (artifacts, cultures that play these games), dance (groups making the same figures simultaneously in silence, a beautiful choreography), and many other subjects were mentioned as possible links. Other participants talked about the semi-related finger-knitting, extolling the virtues of bringing yarn to extra-long assemblies to calm the fidgety, bored kids.

There were some great quotes that Chad, a fellow participant, shared via Twitter. (I can't recall them all - they were things like "it's important to model failure" and "string games are 'digital' fun".) What I realized was how potent teaching string games would be to analyze your own teaching practice. Listening to Fred teach the group how to make a 3-pronged spear made me hyper-aware of how important detailed, clear instructions are, and the different learning styles at play. The first time I tried it, I failed. The second time, when Fred re-explained and added a few "notice this part here" tips, I did it! I cheered pretty loudly when I succeeded. My webcam wasn't working on Google +, so I convinced my daughter to take a photo of my accomplishment.

I made a 3-pronged spear! Here's proof!
A less complimentary shot of me, with my string jedi master Fred on-screen
Fred mentioned that there are several books and YouTube videos that explain, step by step, how to make different shapes. I think I need a person near me to give feedback (though the string collapsing in unrecognizable shapes is pretty immediate feedback too). I gave myself a goal - to teach the kids in my SK and Grade 7 classes how to make the 3-pronged spear and do it to music at a June assembly. I'm repeating it here so it'll be my contract to myself to try it out and report what results.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Spring Concert Slap and TCAF Joy

My hectic schedule continued with our school's Spring Concert and the Toronto Comic Arts Festival. Each is worth a post on its own but since I still have several other events to prepare for, in addition to yearbook and the general demands associated with full-time teaching in a public school, I hope you'll forgive me for combining the two.

Spring Concert Slap

Our Spring Concert is an elaborate affair. I am the stage manager. I help our director, the music teacher, organize all the minor and major details that happen behind the scenes. One of my jobs involved guarding the drums. Many of the instruments my school's music teacher uses with her clubs, such as Orff Ensemble, Drumming Group, and Percussion Ensemble, are her own personal possessions. Due to the order of the acts, some of her huge drums had to be stored in the hallway by our gym, so that the performers would bring them on stage when it was time. The drums were terribly tempting for people to touch and it was my task to tell them to stop. A three-year-old was vigorously playing the drums and I said "No no, don't touch the drums".

And he hit me.

I was taken by surprise. I don't even remember what I said next. I went to take the irate boy's hand to lead him away, but I withdrew - he was very mad and in no mood for dealing with me any further. . There was a line of parents and guests waiting to enter the gym early to get the best seats and they witnessed the whole thing. The boy's mother finally came forward to speak to him - and he hit her too.

The rest of the evening went very well. The students did a wonderful job I look forward to compiling the photos taken for the yearbook layout to commemorate the event. Of course, after reading last week's post, you'll know that I'll remember that slap for a while.


TCAF has been around since 2005, if my numbers are correct, and I've been happy to do my little part volunteering to make the annual celebration of the Comic Arts a success. That's where I met my friend Scott Robins. He is the children's programming director for TCAF. His team includes the very sweet Gina Gagliano - I discovered she and I were both "virtual panelists" for an upcoming Graphic Novel Reporter column. Small world! All those great people create some wonderful events. Chris Butcher at the Beguiling is the head honcho for TCAF and they manage to attract the most wonderful comic creators to come. This year, they had a first - a day specifically for Librarians and Educators. It was a great day. Babymouse creators Jennifer and Matt Holm spoke in the morning and I received a free gift bag with lots of goodies just for volunteering to read! I was invited to be on two panels - the morning one with comic creators Kazu Kibuishi, Andy Runton, Mark Siegel, and fellow librarian Eva Volin, and the afternoon one with fellow Minecrafters and comic-friendly educators Denise Colby and Liam O'Donnell.

Morning panel - thanks Denise for taking photos for me!
Denise, Diana and Liam after our afternoon panel work.
My favourite part of the Librarian Day was lunch - not because of the food, but because of the company. The organizers ingeniously grouped educators with creators to sit together and chat while they ate. I had the great pleasure of sitting with Andy Runton, creator of Owly, and Colleen AF Venable, writer of Guinea P.I. and they were charming, witty and just the NICEST people to be with. Denise and I decided to dress in accordance with the day and our table was very supportive and encouraging.

Denise, Colleen, me, Andy's mom, Jane, Andy, Suzanne and (aah, forgot her name!)

It wasn't just Andy and Colleen. In the hall as they set up for lunch, Denise and I chatted with John Green and Dave Roman, Teen Boat creators, about childhood adventures. Kill Shakespeare teammates Conor and Anthony came by our table to admire our superhero costumes and provide us with great lines with which to tease our fellow panelist. Let me tell you something about comic writers and illustrators - they are the most generous and good-natured people you can meet. I brought my entire family to TCAF the following day. My son, who is usually a home-body, wanted to "say hi" to Andy. He loves Owly books and we read them together at night. Andy and his mom recognized me from the day before and chatted with us like we were old friends.

My kids and Andy Runton - yes, the girl's wearing an owl hoodie!
Andy wasn't the only wonderful comic artist we encountered. We spoke with Hilary Leung, illustrator behind the wildly popular Ninja, Cowboy, Bear series. We got to meet his brother and purchase the latest in the series.

The Brothers Leung and the Maliszewski siblings.
I've written about the wonderful Chad Solomon before on this blog, and about how my own silly political correctness misled me to misjudge Chad's work, and how through talking to him I realized the errors of my ways. Chad was super-friendly and my husband was impressed by a certain anecdote he told us.

Chad and my kids with his latest book.
And there was Colleen AF Venable. I met her at last year's TCAF and was so impressed with her enthusiasm, humor, and join-de-vivre that I bought a bunch of her Guinea P.I. books. My children loved them so much that, through multiple readings at night, all the characters developed unique voices. My kids planned on making a movie based on her books using their Littlest Pet Shop toys, but they've only gotten as far as drawing the movie poster, which I shared with Colleen and she loved. We waited at her booth for her to arrive and it was worth the time. She made my kids feel like rock stars, gushing over the poster they drew and conversing with them as if she had nothing better in the world to do then talk to THEM. We shared hamster voices and had a great time.

Coming to a YouTube channel near you!
Authors, illustrators - let me thank you. I'm not sure how much you realize how your personal appearances and the small kindnesses you bestow on your young (and young-at-heart) fans means. Your words and pictures inspire and delight, and when we discover that the people who create these wonderful treasures are actually nice people, it makes the world a little better. I'll never forget how Andy sang the theme song to Wonder Woman every time I ran around the audience with my portable microphone collecting comments. That made me feel, dare I say it, WONDERful. Dave Roman (husband of another favourite comic creator of mine - Raina Telgemeier) even sent me a personal note to tell me he enjoyed my panels (and you should have seen his amazing activities on Saturday and Sunday, which means it's high praise coming from a talented guy like him) and offer any help I'd ever need. Just keep doing what you are doing Dave (and everyone else). If I need a guest writer for the "Drawn to the Form" column for The Teaching Librarian, I'll know who to call!