Monday, August 26, 2013

Passion-Fueled Projects Inspired by #FanExpoCan

For many, the CNE signifies the beginning of the end of summer, an annual event to attend. For my family, it's Fan Expo Canada, a four-day extravaganza, a pop-culture phenomenon, a celebration of comics, science fiction, horror, anime, and gaming. (They just added a sports element this year.) As I wrote way back in 2010 about the experience, circulating in such a large crowd (this news report states that 100, 000 people attended in 2013) tests the limits of my mild demophobia, but despite the long lines, it's a lot of fun.

Fan Expo Canada inspires a lot of projects in our household. For the past five years, my daughter and I have cosplayed there.  When she was younger, she entered into the Masquerade competition. To be eligible, competitors must have made their own costume (or for youth participants, they must have a family member create their outfit). My mother is an excellent seamstress and she made wonderful clothes for my girl to wear and present. 

Here are some photos of the most recent (non-competing) costumes we wore to Fan Expo Canada.

2013: Vannellope von Sweetz and Wreck It Ralph from the movie Wreck It Ralph

2012: Sailor Saturn (from the anime Sailor Moon) and a Creeper (from the video game Minecraft)

Here are some videos of my daughter competing (and yes, I'm her "living prop").

2011 - Frankie Stein from Monster High 
(I was her mother, the Bride of Frankenstein - it was the first time she went on stage by herself)

2010 - Princess Peach from Mario (I was her ride, Yoshi)

 2009 - Mei from Pokemon (I was Jessie from Team Rocket)

We do not undertake these projects because we are required to do so. We enjoy it. It's fun to create these things and share them with others who appreciate the time and effort it takes. (It is common for strangers at Fan Expo Canada to stop each other and ask to take photos. It's a wonderful compliment.) I think my Minecraft Creeper costume earned the most positive reaction from fellow fans. It took me three days to make but the investment paid off with kind words and photo requests.

Fan Expo Canada is not just about the costumes. There are celebrities to meet and panels to attend. My daughter has turned into a huge Doctor Who fan and the two panels we attended were about making Doctor Who costumes and props. These presentations have sorely tempted me to try an ambitious new project: building my own Dalek out of cardboard. One of the panelists did it and it took him a year and a half but it looks fantastic. As you can see in the small photos on the left side of this blog, it is quite an involved and intricate project to attempt.

This is supposed to be a blog about education-related matters. How does this tie in?

Project-based learning is "hot" right now. These fan constructions are the ultimate in projects done by individuals interested and passionate in the subject matter. There is a website, called that unites Dalek builders from around the globe. It provides design plans, builders' journals and other useful tools and contacts for like-minded inventors and creators. If we could authentically replicate this sort of devotion in schools, it would be amazing.

Or would it? Or is it even possible? Can you imagine working on one project for an entire school year? How would you cover other required topics? How would you evaluate one artifact as a reflection of an entire year's work? What if the maker(s) gave up? What if it failed? What if it wasn't finished by the reporting period? Rob Emery, the speaker at the first panel, said that it's an ongoing process and that he often returns to a costume to improve it or alter it once he's discovered a new technique. His Cyberman costume originally began as an Iron Man cosplay. How does ongoing retooling and experimentation mesh with the structures and restrictions of school?

Another point to make: even though my daughter and I enjoy and revel in the praise of others, it is not our sole motivation for making these costumes. The friendly guy that made "Dalek Simon", the only cardboard-exclusive Dalek in Canada, (sorry, I can't remember the creator's name) probably made his Dalek for personal, intrinsic satisfaction. That he receives compliments from others is icing on the cake. What if you can't find a project you feel passionate enough about to warrant the time and effort it would take to complete? What if you were satisfied with your results but your evaluator disagrees? Is it more important that you are pleased with your own handiwork? Who is to judge what is a worthy project goal? (After all, the Doctor Who Society of Canada just beat the Guinness Book of World Records at Fan Expo Canada for the largest amount of Daleks assembled. The prior record was 95 and they had 159 Daleks gathered together on Saturday August 24. Is beating a world record reason enough to spend hours/days/weeks/months making a Dalek?)

These Fan Expo Canada related projects as they connect to school raise more questions than answers for me, but I know that if I want to challenge my planning skills, construction abilities and problem-solving talents, I may start collecting huge sheets of cardboard now.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Reading Online (Just Beware the Comments)

This past weekend, the Globe and Mail published a very small piece of writing they asked me to submit for the Books section of their newspaper. The topic was: What was your most memorable experience as a librarian? When they sent me the question and the deadline (with some examples and guidelines), I responded with four options. I was surprised with the choice they made, but they edited it well and shared it. I'm away right now so I didn't get a print copy of the paper, but I did see the online version. I noticed today that there are two comments attached to it. I feel like Pandora, but unlike that mythic woman, I don't think I'll be opening the (comment) box, despite my curiosity.

Here's why, in a nutshell: online comments can be brutal, unhelpful, and nasty. YouTube videos are a classic example. Comments slam the content, the poster, the views of other commenters, and more. Another example hits closer to home. My dear friend Denise Colby teaches at the Girls Leadership Academy in the Toronto District School Board. The Toronto Star wrote two articles about the girls-only and boys-only schooling experiment. You can read that article here. My friend Denise told me that her father was excited to see his daughter mentioned in the newspaper, but she reported that "he made a mistake by reading the comments". When I looked at the article's comments prior to writing this blog post, many of the comments had been removed by the Star itself but one still remained that said, "The teacher probably sees it as a nice opportunity [to] help her with her future ambitions to get promoted". Nothing could be further from the truth. Denise had a central position prior to her job with the GLA and she is responsible for teaching not one, not two, but three separate grades and all the curriculum linked with these grades. It's a heavy workload that she accepted as a personal challenge, not as a feather in her cap. No one that knows Denise would make that logic leap and there was nothing in that article that insinuated that she is a ladder-climber. It's a shame that someone could make assumptions about her character based solely on reading this news report, and not only think it, but post it. I might think that people's motives are suspect but I am not sure how quick I'd be to publicly share the potential slight.

Comments online - anonymous, easy and quick to share - can be vitriolic and even the thickest-skinned individuals can shrivel under the weight of a barrage of negative and hateful words. (I know someone well who has been a victim of targeted attacks and it's not pretty.) I don't want to be in an echo chamber with my friends sharing congratulations and praise alone, but I really don't want to be insulted because of a personal anecdote I shared in a national publication. (Twilight fans get called all sorts of names.) Maybe I'll hire a personal reader to scan comments for anything of value. Digital miner, anyone?

Monday, August 12, 2013

Back to School Sales - what do you need to be ready?

I'm on vacation right now, away from home. This week is a big deal where I am, because they are having a tax-free shopping time to help families get ready for school (and to help businesses with a notoriously slow sales period). Taxes here aren't that high but analysts predict a huge boost in spending. I feel bad that many families feel the financial crunch when it comes to preparing their children for returning to school. What do we REALLY need to be ready?

Usually, the physical things my own kids require are backpacks, pencils, binders, and uniforms. They took good care of their bags and binders last year and the style is still fashionable enough for them to reuse last year's luggage. The right size for their tops and bottoms were snatched up in July because they are a popular size that sells out quickly. We don't actually need to buy anything right now.

I believe that the things my kids (and other students) need to be ready for school are more intangible and take more than just a week of sales. They need a positive attitude toward the upcoming year. They need friends in their classes and in their schools. (My husband's tales of his best friends Eric Fitzpatrick and Tony Palomini demonstrate how important those connections are to young people.) They need some reintroduction to the tasks and routines related to the institution of school (another reason why I insist my son and daughter scrapbook - communicating through writing is something they're expected to do frequently at school and they don't always practice this throughout the summer).

I'm on vacation, and I don't really want to think about returning to school right now, but those intangible items that students need sound like they are things a teacher could use to get ready as well.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Scrapbooks Document the Summer Experience

I didn't think I'd have any more summer-school related posts left in me. Life is full of surprises when I picked up my scrapbook for the umpteenth time to admire the photos, layout, and captions and realized my topic lay right in front of me.

I've written about my scrapbooking hobby, and how I insist that my own children make an annual summer scrapbook, on this blog before. Every year I have a school scrapbook that spans July to June of that school year. Scrapbooks aren't just good for students - they are helpful for teachers to create as well. I've already printed and compiled the pages from my July 2013 summer school time and had a wonderful time doing it. I highly recommend it for several reasons.

  • It forces you to sift through and highlight/consolidate the "main points" of the event recorded. (My students and I accomplished so much during summer school this July - which photos were most important to demonstrating this?)
  • For visually-oriented friends and colleagues, it's a clear indication of your activities. (I've been meaning to try my hand at creating an infograph of my school library annual report, but I'm struggling with it - organizing photos is easier and very attractive as well.)
  • If you have a poor memory, like I do, making a scrapbook cements the events in your brain and saves it in a concrete place in case I forget. (I can relive the enjoyable moments when I gaze at the pictures.)
  • Creating something you can hold in your hands is a thrill. (I love my blog and one day I want to get it printed so I have a hard copy of all this work - but there's nothing quite like the pride I feel when I look at my scrapbook album, that I've spent hours fiddling with to make it look just right. It's a media text in the truest sense and I spend a lot of time debating where to place pictures, the colour scheme, the perfect font for the captions, all with the communication and aesthetic goals in mind.)
My sister has been visiting from Calgary and although her home was not affected by the recent floods, she had several colleagues that were. She described volunteering to help rescue their photo albums, and I shuddered to think how distraught I would be if my scrapbooks and albums were damaged. It's seriously tempted me to scan and save all my pages digitally, just in case. After all, some material things can be replaced easily, but not the unique scrapbooks, which preserve memories and a life well-lived.