Monday, July 30, 2012

The Process: Weeding, Beta-Reading & Writing

Today's post is all about the process it takes to complete a monumental task, or in this case, three tasks.

Although I know that much learning happens AS you work on a project, it can still be challenging. I think back to some other "products" I am proud of: my Masters of Education capping paper (2010) and my two children (2000 / 2002). I was very pleased with the end results, but getting there was NOT half the fun. I got through writing my M.Ed. paper with a great deal of cursing, crying, drinking and praying - not always in that particular order. My husband tells me that I was a very cute while pregnant (and I'll see if I can dig up a photo to prove it), but the nausea, food sensitivities, mood swings, and back aches weren't exactly thrilling. The end results were worth the agony and I'd do it all again in a heartbeat, but sometimes I wonder how I got through it. (I have this thought mid-way through report card writing, every single term.)

In my school library, I try to choose a particular section per year and weed it. This summer, my husband and I are trying hard to do major clean-jobs on certain areas of the house. We did our kids' rooms and today we tackled our book cases in the basement. As I am always quick to point out, he has six book cases and I only have two, but mine were lined three books deep with items spilling off the shelves when you walked past. It's just as hard to weed from your personal collection as it is from a school library, except that I have more options to consider. Will I keep this book here on the shelf? In a bin at the back of the basement? In a container in the garage? On the kids' shelves (which have also been weeded) or at school? What if I don't use it but it's an autographed copy? What if I don't use it but it has sentimental value? What if my pet chinchillas have nibbled it? (For some reason, Chita and Chilli really love attacking my Charlaine Harris books.) I'm not a big fan of cleaning or straightening up, but I'm happy with the job I've done on my shelves. Take a look! (I should've taken a "before" shot.)

I forget that other people have to go through "the process" as well, which is why I'm both honored and excited to be invited to be a Beta-Reader for author Liam O'Donnell's new novel. I'm used to seeing books in their full, ready-for-public-viewing (George Lucas to the contrary). Liam has been great and given his reading team some guidelines to consider when reading.  I'll be intrigued to see what pieces of my feedback (if any) are incorporated into the final book. We tell students all the time that it takes several drafts and rewrites for a text to be the best it can.

Liam isn't the only one writing. Every year, I compile an annual report and for the past few years, I've been a bit dissatisfied with the format. Carol Koechlin and just recently, Christy Den Haan-Veltman, have been helping me try to reconfigure my annual report so that it reflects a more Learning Commons approach. It's not easy. Carol has recommended using the Big Think during my collaborative units to deepen understanding and gather evidence of learning as it happens instead of trying to recollect at the end of the year; Christy read a great article (the link I've lost on Twitter - darn it!) and she suggested using an infographic or visual made from or instead of statistics to demonstrate the impact of the school library program. Both are great pieces of advice - but part of what makes the process endurable is that the product will be appreciated. I know I should do it for me, because I cannot guarantee the response by my administration or senior board staff. I guess I need to tackle it when I'm in the mood to impress myself - because I like looking at my school year scrapbooks or things I've written and marveled at how I was able to do so much.

So, great insights on process? Nothing great but here's what I get after re-reading my own post:
  • Give it time (although time is what can make the process excruciating)
  • You aren't alone so try not to despair
  • Look at the before and the after so you can see progress as it happens
  • Consider your audience but do it for you
  • Reflect as you go along, but don't let it cripple your action

Monday, July 23, 2012

Why Might You Read This Blog

The incomparable Doug Peterson @dougpete posted a thought-provoking article here on his blog called "Why You Should Read This Blog". He challenged his readers to tackle the same reflection process, and I always like a good challenge. However, mine is titled "Why MIGHT You Read This Blog" because I'm not that good at understanding what exactly draws people to read any of my blogs. (I currently maintain five blogs - this professional one, one on the video games and board games my family plays, a private one that's a family journal, and two that are run for my school students. I may add to that later with a Minecraft-focused one in collaboration with my fellow GamingEdus.) Sometimes I wonder why anyone would bother reading my thoughts and opinions, when there are so many other blogs out there with wittier and more insightful writers.

When I first began this blog on the Library Network Group, I found out that people liked it best when I talked about Twilight-related things. Who would've thought it? It was supposed to be focused on themes resonant with teacher-librarians, not my Twilight-obsessed ruminations! Now that Blogger makes analyzing your blog so much easier, I've noticed that my Ontario Library Association Super Conference reflections garnered the most hits out of the most recent posts. I know a lot more people read it than the subscription figures indicate. (I think I have 19 followers to this blog; in comparison, my Family Gaming blog has less followers, but more visitors.) So, this is my guess as to why you MIGHT want to read this blog.

  • if you like to hear about conferences that you may or may not get to attend
  • if you want to hear about successes AND failures from a real teacher-librarian
  • if you are curious about me as a person (because you are my friend, or want to be my friend, or like spying on me to gather juicy blackmail material)
  • if you like "mainstream" school library topics as well as "unique/unusual" school library topics
This isn't meant as self-promoting at all; regular readers of this blog will know I have moments of self-doubt and that I'm just as likely to reprimand myself as I am to praise - but I think that sharing both sorts of incidents makes me human, and we need to realize more often than we do that there are real human beings behind the words we read on our screens.  Why do you read this blog anyway?

Monday, July 16, 2012

Minecraft Memories from 2012

This past week was actually kind of busy. I spent two days at the Ontario Library Association to help add content to the Together For Learning website, and on the day this week that my children attend their comic design workshop at Little Island Comics, I had a meeting with amazing educators Denise Colby and Liam O'Donnell to discuss the TDSB Multi-School Minecraft Project.

We met at Snakes and Lattes, an incredible cafe where you can play any board game imaginable while you sip your beverage; it was a testament to how engrossing our conversation was that we never got around to playing any of the board games there! We discussed what worked with the TDSB Multi-School Minecraft Project, what didn't work, our next steps for September, and the future of GamingEdus. Our GamingEdus group will be presenting three times in the next twelve months (Academy of the Impossible = August 2012, Educational Computing Organization of Ontario = October 2012, Ontario Library Association = February 2013) and we'll need to plan for those presentations, but those talks don't stress me out - we've done the TLCafe and TeachersTeachingTeachers webinars together, as well as a Toronto Comic Arts Festival (although that was on comics, not Minecraft, but we definitely squeezed in some Minecraft references).

At one point in the conversation, Denise joked that she remembered griping in teachers' college about all the reflections they forced us to complete; "when will I ever do that when I'm really teaching?" We all laughed at that. This group reflection time was so beneficial to all of us. I know I learned quite a bit as we reminisced and recounted some of the events from this year's club experiment. Here were some of my personal "ahas" during our Minecraft Meeting.

1) Collecting / documenting evidence can be both easy and tricky.

We have a variety of artifacts to demonstrate the authentic learning and the benefits. The students wrote on the wiki, Each educator kept their own journal (I kept two - one on the Minecraft Club Hub and one on the GamingEducators wiki). We took screen shots and photos and made audio and video recordings of the conversations that went on during club get-togethers. Considering that we only really got started playing in March, we have quite a bit of data. The challenging part is how and where to share. Liam, Denise, and I have tried to be as transparent as possible but sometimes there are some anecdotal records that might reveal too much about the students behind the avatars - how do we share that kind of information?  Do we need to code our evidence, to show that sample X demonstrates an increase in literacy skills / numeracy skills / social skills? Is the type of evidence we have collected persuasive, or do we need more quantitative information?

2) Sometimes, disasters are good. 

We had some great moments of inter-school collaboration, like when we all teamed up to defeat a horde of ghasts someone had spawned, or when two individuals from separate schools played with red stone switches together. However, we also had moments of conflict, like when one student asked to share their house with someone from another school and when they agreed, the newcomer hit the home-owner (in-game) and took some of their stuff. Trying to take a group photo of all the players on the last day of the club was another challenging endeavor. These moments of strife were actually just as educational, if not more so. I can't share more details about the first situation, but it led to some good conversations with students at both schools. I learned about myself that I tend to step in immediately (sometimes too soon) to "fix" the problem but there are many reasons for actions and many solutions to problems.We could use our moderator powers to restrict what gets built where and what gets destroyed by whom, but (and thanks Denise for writing this down as a "Diana quote"), although that would be the easy way out, "it's not the learning way out".

3) Never underestimate the impact Minecraft has on players.

I knew the students enjoyed Minecraft Club, but I don't think I realized how important it was to them.
One of my students wrote for his grad comment in the yearbook ""Appreciation to Ms. Mali for starting Minecraft Club - it was fun and helped me develop my teamwork.". Students have written on the wiki that Monday was their favourite day of the week because that's when Minecraft Club was held at their school. A group of students came to see me in June to beg that they be allowed to continue in the Minecraft Club next year and offered me money so they could buy their Minecraft account. Another group made their own server and invited me to visit - a huge privilege, in my books. These are students that I wouldn't normally get to converse with on a level like this. They've taught me so much and they know so much; it's a shame that traditional schooling does not honour this sort of knowledge and skill set.

4) Rather than fight the people who are "doing it wrong", show the route we are taking.

This is a tough lesson for me. Many people are interested in games in education, but to learn more, they are turning to people and groups who are more into gamification (the "Frankensteining" of certain elements of games like badges, levels, and rewards, and applying them to lessons or units, which demeans both games and education). I've tried to dialogue with some of these people in a respectful way, but I either get ignored or indirectly criticized. (Trust me, it's hard not to name some of the culprits here, but I don't want to start a flame war!) Liam suggested Tweet Deck to sort my contacts and lower my blood pressure, and he recommended that my time and energy would be better spent demonstrating how allowing students to take the lead in determining what to do in-game and how to play, rather than micro-managing their activities, provides greater learning opportunities. We'll be having a GamingEdu open house in August so educators can have a chance to play themselves (a key foundation of the Gaming Edu philosophy), so stay tuned.

Thanks again to Liam and Denise - this is a true Professional Learning Community, one that I'm proud to be a part of. I'll play with posting reflections here as well as on Gaming Edus, Minecraft Club Hub, and Family Gaming XP (but I don't want you to get Minecrafted out!).

Yes, I own a Minecraft creeper head. So?

Monday, July 9, 2012

Repeat anew (redoing the Bee Unit)

It's been a whole week that I've been on vacation, but the musings will continue to come. I've been trying to take it a bit easy this week and the three main things I've been up to have been sleeping, eating out (a particular vice of mine), and reading (the Patricia Briggs "Mercy Thompson" series). I did go in to school to clean up a bit before the caretaking staff come to do their big scrub and I found some drawings from a recent unit that I co-taught with a very talented kindergarten teacher who has transfered schools to be closer to home. I'll be sad not to partner with her, especially because this teacher and I worked so well together.

Open flexible partner time gets booked up pretty quickly and we were only able to slot some time to work together this year in June - yes, June, the hectic winding-down but still going full-throttle month filled with graduation rehearsals and more. We decided in our all-too-brief planning sessions that we'd re-do our collaborative Bee Unit. We co-planned and co-taught this set of four-plus lessons before with a great deal of success. It was an integrated unit encompassing Language, Science, and Media Literacy. (I promise you that it wasn't a "garbage-in/garbage-out" set of teacher-focused tasks that pretends to be "research".) The end-product was a movie the kindergarten students had created using Pivot Stick Animation - each group shared a fact on either a section of the bee's life cycle or an interesting fact about bees that they deemed important and each subgroup made a cartoon that was strung together to make a psedo-documentary. The movies were burned to DVD and are some of my most treasured examples of student work.

Mrs. K and I realized pretty early on that what had worked for the students in her class a couple of years ago was not going to fly with this current particular group of kids. There was no chance at all that we'd get to the stage where we were making movies. Even though we were supposedly "repeating" a unit we had both already taught, it was a brand new experience, shaped by the kids. In fact, it was one of the junior kindergarten students that formulated our new final task. Old resources were traded for new resources and a particular book caught this one boy's fancy enough that during free time, he chose to draw it. When HK told me about her observations, it clicked for both of us that we should change gears and incorporate it into the other lessons. In the end, children drew three bee pictures: a non-fiction representation, a fictional version that promoted a "good bee" message, and/or a fictional version that promoted a "bad bee" message. This altered task garnered more success than the original end project for this class of kids.

I guess this is why I'm not morally opposed to reteaching a lesson or unit - with the caveat that something change from the last time, be it an improved marking scheme, an added lesson to improve comprehension, a new strategy incorporated into the tried and true flow. I probably won't get to teach this version of the Bee Unit again (I'll make it available on if it's not there already) but I wanted to say thanks to Mrs. K - an amazing teacher, flexible, and kind. We'll miss you, but enjoy the shortened travel time!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Plagiarism Teaches the Teacher

School's out for the summer, but my mind's still humming with all the things that occurred in the last three months. AprilMayJune feels like a single month that flies in the blink of an eye. I suspect JulyAugust will go just as quickly. I have lots of reading to do, pleasure reading, in addition to The Choreography of Presenting by Kendall Zoller and Claudette Landry (thanks Moses for the gift!), Evidence to Action by Karen Hume (which I won ages ago at a Hume workshop), and Literacy Smarts by Jennifer Harper and Brenda Stein Dzaldov (courtesy of Jennifer Dinsmore over at Pembroke Publishers, who heard from Dr. Elizabeth Lee and Mary Macchiusi that I might like this book). I've got writing projects to do for Together For Learning as well as my research study, and I've got tons of scrapbooking to keep me busy. While I scrapbook, I reflect on the events. I didn't take a photo of this particular event, but it did make me think.

One of the final assignments for Grade 7-8 Media Literacy was a Photoshop assignment. This was the description of the task on our division wiki:

The TDSB ICT strand for Term 2 2011-2012 is "Creativity and Innovation" ("create original works as a means of personal or group expression, such as photo editing ...").
Your job is to create an image, using Photoshop or related software, that is "fake".
You can make it related to your fake website assignment or something just of personal interest to you (e.g. you hanging out with One Direction).
This task will be marked out of 10. The rubric and mark scheme is below.

You can see some sample Photoshop mash-ups from this link that relates to the recent flooding of Union Station.

Category  Level 4  Level 3  Level 2  Level 1 
Creativity /5 Digitally altered photo is very creative.
- atypical or amusing
- very enjoyable to admire, expressive of views/feelings
Digitally altered photo is creative.
- somewhat unique or amusing
-  enjoyable to admire
Digitally altered photo is somewhat creative.
- typical topic
- slightly unexciting to view 
Digitally altered photo is slightly creative.
- Photoshop previously by others and mimicked
- boring to view 
Technical Prowess /5 Digitally altered photo is expertly composed 
- very convincing (cropping hard to see)
- colours, backgrounds, layers, all work together
Digitally altered photo is composed well
- quite convincing (cropping only seen through zoom)
- some parts of photo work together
Digitally altered photo is composed moderately well
- slightly unconvincing (can see where inserted / altered)
- some parts work against the message 
Digitally altered photo is composed poorly.
- very unconvincing
- clumsily executed 

Please post your Photoshopped images on the "Grade 7 Photoshopped Images" or "Grade 8 Photoshopped Images" page on the wiki. 

I was really pleased with the quality of the work that students produced and shared via the wiki. There were some rumours floating around that some of the submitted assignments were not made by the students that shared them. I did some investigating and it turned out that three assignments (two for this task and one for a separate Media Literacy task) were plagiarized. Thankfully, it was quite easy to prove that the images were stolen - a simple Google Images search turned up the evidence - but it was disappointing to see that some students decided to take this course of action. I met with the principal, classroom teacher, and student and different consequences were administered (based on the TDSB progressive discipline model of scaffolding punishments). All perpetrators received a zero on this task. As we met and discussed this infraction, I thought about the part I played in this: was there anything I could have done differently to prevent this? I cynically joked to my principal that "this teaches me not to differentiate my learning tasks", but in all seriousness, I think there could've been a way for me to design this task to reduce the possibility for plagiarism.

  • I could've asked for the two individual photos to have been submitted, in addition to the final, merged product
  • I could've insisted that a picture of themselves had to be incorporated into the final Photoshopped product (because how many items would have them directly in it?)
  • I could've narrowed the focus for the topic or insisted that a few sentences that explained how the product was "a means of personal or group expression"
  • I could've taught a few more lessons on digital citizenship and the ethics of using other people's work (not just text, but images and sound) without permission - actually, this would be good for staff too, since some adults involved in the consequence delivery didn't consider this kind of plagiarism as "serious" as if the students had copied and pasted text
Although I'm not happy that some students cheated, I'm glad that I learned something from the experience that I can apply to future task designs.