Monday, November 25, 2013

Minecraft Interest Rises - Good or Not?

Another busy November weekend has passed and an equally intense week is upon me. While I attended the Ontario School Library Association's Council meeting on Saturday, not one but two of my colleagues approached me to discuss incorporating Minecraft officially into their schools. I came home and found an email from a former teacher-librarian working at another school who attended the Educational Computing Organization of Ontario conference (where Liam O'Donnell, Denise Colby and I gave a talk about "Connecting the Blocks: Linking Minecraft to the Ontario Curriculum") and wants information on our servers and getting her Grade 7s using it in class. This week, I was supposed to try to schedule a visit to another school to launch their use of Minecraft, but I am going to have to postpone the engagement.

Minecraft is garnering a lot of attention in media and education, and I'm uncertain whether or not it's a good thing.

The zoo made by the Maliszewski Grims (of their own choice) on the Pro Play server.

The optimist in me loves the idea that schools are becoming more willing to look at media that students feel passionate about and make it a valid topic of conversation in schools. I think it's wonderful that some educators are considering new ways of engaging students, new ways of knowing and learning and exploring. It makes my heart happy to see students leading the learning experiences, making connections to curriculum, and developing skills and habits that will help them in the future.

The pessimist in me worries that schools will appropriate and manipulate Minecraft and leech the fun out of it for students by organizing overly prescribed methods of use. I think it's concerning that some educators are unwilling to try the game for themselves and are simply seeking a new fad or a quick-fix for some students. It makes my stomach churn when game culture (and school culture) is misunderstood and disrespected, especially when elements of each are extracted without context to try to improve the other (a.k.a. gamification).

Phisagrim's Magma Cafe in the Nether - media marketing, economics & STEM work on his own.

Here's the thing I need to remember - this pattern has happened before. (I think I've been influenced by the "Disciplinary Thinking" in the new Ontario Ministry of Education revised Social Studies, History and Geography document - ideas like significance, cause and consequence, continuity and change, patterns and trends, interrelationships, perspective. It must have been the OSLA T4L inquiry webinar I was preparing.)

Liam has said this before, although I can't remember where or when. Video games are in 2013 where comics were a few decades ago. At first, comics were evil, corrupting youth who wasted their time with them, filling their heads with nonsense. Then, a few people dared to bring comics into schools. It changed from odd to cool. More people started doing it. Comics moved from extreme to mainstream. Now, the use of comics in the classroom is common. Comics were used in ways in classes that were boring and counterproductive. People jumped on the comics bandwagon, but despite some questionable implementation by some, comics are still around in education. If Minecraft and other video games have the potential that I believe they do, it can weather the less-than-ideal views and uses.

Monday, November 18, 2013

OEYC and Families Learning Together in the Library

I love it when people advocate for the school library program and it pays off in big ways. Our school is fortunate to have the Rouge River Ontario Early Years Centre operating several times a week in a portable in our school yard. In the past, the site coordinator, Kitty, and I would arrange to have a weekly time where the 3-year-olds could come to the library for story time or computer time with their caregivers. Last year, my full-prep schedule made it impossible to arrange these visits and Kitty pleaded with my principal to make me available so we could renew this partnership. I have a more open schedule this year and so we are working together again.

Even though this partnership is not new, I discovered that it needed some tweaking. I realized that some of the stories I used before would not work with this new group of younger learners. (For instance, Clifford the Big Red Dog was a flop.) Many of the parents and grandparents speak very little English and the children are hesitant to share their ideas orally. I consulted with Kitty, as well as with one of our kindergarten teachers, Diana Lung, and our dance/drama teacher (who also teaches ESL at his other school), Francis Ngo, and they helped me to come up with a new approach. Along with the revamped strategies, we've expanded the time the OEYC participants and I spend together to twice a week. Below is a brief summary of our school library-linked program with the Rouge River OEYC.

Tuesdays - Storytime

Objective: to practice kindergarten-ready conduct (e.g. sitting down to listen to a story, raising hands to give responses), to listen to books read aloud, to predict and comment on stories, and to enjoy reading time

New/Improved Elements:

  • including more predictable, call-and-response opportunities
  • incorporating Chinese and Tamil words into the lesson
  • choosing books with fewer words and more active / non-verbal ways to be involved
Sample Lesson
- the adults and children line up outside the library until I open the door to let them in
- children put their coats on the chairs and sit in front of the rocking chair
- I say "Good Morning" and gesture to myself
- I make the same gesture to them so they can say "Good Morning" back
- I say "Jo Sun" (Mandarin for "Good Morning") with a gesture and they repeat
- I say "Vanakum" (Tamil for "Good Morning") with a gesture and they repeat
- Together we read the poem on the Cheryl-Thorton-acquired Story Bag (thanks Peggy Thomas for it!)
- I ask who would like to look in the bag and see what's inside (students raise their hands)
- Students pull out the book of the day as well as a related object
- e.g. on November 12, 2013 I had a stick and the book Not a Stick by Antoinette Portis
- I read the book, stopping often to ask children to either predict what the pig was doing with the stick, or for children to try and copy what the pig was doing with the stick
- I ask the parents for translation of key words (e.g. "How do you say stick in Mandarin or Cantonese?")
- I try saying the words and the parents correct me (so we are all learning from each other)
- at the end, everyone gets a chance to use the story-related object

Wednesdays - Jolly Phonics Instruction

Objective: to make letter/sound connections so children can decode words when eventually reading independently, to learn how to hold writing instruments

New/Improved Elements:
  • very structured, predictable routine
  • occasional translators to explain the reason or purpose behind activities
Sample Lesson
- the adults and children line up outside the library until I open the door to let them in
- children put their coats on the chairs and sit in front of the SMART interactive whiteboard
- I use the same "Good Morning / Jo Sun / Vanakum" greeting as on Tuesday
- I tell a short story related to the letter of the day (e.g. on November 5, 2013, I talked about a tennis match and how the t-sound works) and use the Jolly Phonics recommended gesture with the sound
- When a translator is available, he/she retells the short story in Cantonese, Mandarin, or Tamil
- I ask for volunteers to raise their hand to try the SMART Board activity related to the sound 
- e.g. on November 5, the child came to the SMART Board and made the tennis ball bounce back and forth between the two rackets while making the "t" sound
- We listen to the Jolly Phonics song related to the letter once, then sing it together twice (on video)
- The parents/grandparents help their child write the letter in their Jolly Phonics workbook, then allow the child to colour the picture themselves
- When it is time to leave, each child is encouraged to repeat the sound of the day after I say it to them individually; if they do, they receive a sticker (usually beginning with the letter sound we are focusing on) and if they don't, I model the desired behaviour with the adult and the adult gets the sticker (with the suggestion to try to get the child to repeat the sound so they can earn the sticker later)

These changes have made a positive difference for the children and the adults. The structure is so firmly entrenched that, when I did not have time to set up the song video in advance and skipped it, the parents asked me why I wasn't singing the song at the usual time. The adults are modeling risk-taking behaviour, like pronouncing the letter sounds, because they see me clumsily attempting to speak Cantonese, Mandarin, and Tamil - I'm sure they know they can do a better job with English than I can with these other languages! I am seeing more participation from the children, and less "back-seat driving" from their caregivers (who used to tell them what to say when they were asked questions). Now that we see each other twice a week, we are getting to know each other better. The adults were delighted with the "Kids of the OEYC" hall display I made and one asked me to email her photos of her son that were up on the board. Although it can be exhausting, I am really enjoying our time together and I hope it pays big dividends when the children start kindergarten next year.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Getting Better

I cannot spend every Monday Molly Musing recapping my weekend meetings, despite having a lot of them. Despite this vow, a moment from my Teaching Librarian editorial board meeting ties in nicely with my recent reflections, so bear with me.

One of the agenda items from Saturday was to examine the results of our reader survey. The unfortunate part was that we only had two responses! This made it difficult to ascertain which columns need retiring, which need sprucing up, and which columns are making a difference for entertainment and education. The editors discussed possible reasons for the low response rate - no prizes offered, no clear deadline, a design that makes the task look onerous. We agreed that we would make changes to the areas we could control and redistribute the survey so we could get data that would help the magazine get better.

Using evidence to help improve our practice - this is also what I want to do with my teaching and learning. This year, I am grateful to have much more open flexible collaborative teaching time in my schedule, and I am also thankful that the teachers on my staff are willing to collaborate with me. I find it very rewarding and informative to partner up with another educator to plan, teach, and assess. I am keenly aware, however, that this arrangement is tenuous, based on many external factors, and I need to collect data that shows that collaboration between teachers and teacher-librarians improve student learning. In our unit plans, I've placed a probing question at the end for us to tackle, so that individual teachers and partnerships can approach it in the way they are most comfortable. (I've highlighted it in red)

Collaborative Co-Teaching Plan

October – November 2013

Grade: HSP    Teachers: Maliszewski / Wong          Topic: Radio Advertisements

q  Oral Communication = 1.6: extend understanding of oral texts by connecting ideas to students’ own knowledge (Grade 5)
q  Media Literacy = 1.6: identify who produces media, the reason, purpose, audience and funding (Grade 5)
q  OLA Information Studies =

End Goals
By the end of the unit, students will
  • Create a podcast of a radio announcement
  • Show they understand media terminology such as logo / slogan (jingle)
  • Identify companies in product advertisements

Schedule:        Day 2 Period 4 – one 30 minute period

Timeline (Lessons)

Week 1
Wed. Oct. 9/13
What is media?
-          Review definition of media
-          Play game
-          Make connection: “by people” = media producers
Find suitable game to play (DM &KW)
Week 2
Fri. Oct. 18/13

What is a logo? How is it used in ads?
-          Explain the definition of logo & purpose (A logo is a graphic mark or emblem commonly used by commercial enterprises, organizations and even individuals to aid and promote instant public recognition. Logos are either purely graphic (symbols/icons) or are composed of the name of the organization (a logotype or wordmark).
-          Play logo identification game
Bring in logo iPad
game to play (KW)

Week 3

What is a slogan / jingle? How are they used in ads?
-          Where can we find ads?
-          Distinguish between advertisements that are visual & only oral? How do those ads identify their producer?
-          Define & brainstorm slogans / jingles
Interview students to confirm understanding of media, logo, media producer (KW)
Collect slogans / jingles (DM)
Week 4
What are the characteristics of a radio ad?
-          Listen to radio ads
-          Determine how long they are, what is included (e.g. dialogue, music, sound effects)
-          Make list of characteristics
Collect radio ads or locate online stations (KW & DM)
Take notes of student comments (DM)
Week 5
What are the techniques and technology needed to make an effective radio ad?
-          Explore using either Garage Band or Audacity
-          Challenge students to mimic techniques heard in sample radio ads heard last week
-          List persuasive techniques used to make an ad more effective

Week 6

How do we make our own radio ads?
-          Distribute assignment, include rubric created based on comments from weeks 3-5 on characteristics, producer, persuasive techniques, etc.)
Write project description & rubric (KW & DM)

  • Rubric for evaluating final product (podcast recording of radio ad)
  • Conferences with individual students to check for understanding of media terminology
  • End-of-unit interview to confirm comprehension of media concepts

How do we evaluate the effectiveness of the teacher-librarian presence in this unit? 

I happened to mention my struggle via email to a great mentor of mine, the amazing Carol Koechlin. Carol was my Librarianship Part 1, 2 and 3 AQ instructor, and continues to support school librarianship in Canada even though she claims to be retired. This is the feedback she gave me on how to collect evidence to help me get better as a teacher-librarian working in conjunction with classroom teachers.

Great to hear that you have more time to work with teachers. I would like to suggest that you tweak your reflective question a bit to take the emphasis off you specifically and put it on the collaboration with you. So something like this, 'How do we collect evidence that our teaching partnership in the learning commons on this unit makes a difference in the students' learning of content and skills?' I think you will both find that there are many new (information, thinking, digital, media...) skills students acquire or get better at. When this happens students then have the ability to reach deeper understanding of content than they would otherwise have done. I bet you have had teachers say to you many times after an experience with you in the library..."I didn't know my kids were capable of that!" Try to get your partner teacher to think about how many more of their students achieved a bit higher than they normally do in the classroom. Of course the library space, resources and technologies also factor favourably into the formula but that is good to document too because it is all part of the benefit of collaborating with you. Ask the partner teacher and yourself, what were the benefits for you, what did you learn as well, did you grow as teachers? I am sure you will have students do a Big Think activity at the end of the unit and from that you will be able to gather evidence of growth right from the kids themselves.

I am really fortunate to have people like this in my Professional Learning Network to help me. I am also lucky that I have people in my school building willing to help me examine my practice to get better. For instance, two of my junior division classes recently submitted compositions for the Meaning of Home contest. EQAO results have indicated that our students need more work on their writing, and so my initial inquiry unit with them sought to build their background knowledge to help them write in a way that reflected more than a superficial reaction to the topic. As part of our investigations and explorations, I had one of our Early Childhood Educators guest-teach the class using a lesson she experienced as part of a week-long course she took on homelessness. She has been very curious about how the student compositions have turned out, so I have someone that I can show the results (which were decidedly mixed in quality), brainstorm potential factors that led to the results, and contemplate next steps to take in my instruction so I can help the students get better. It's nice to know I won't be alone.

Monday, November 4, 2013


Every Saturday in November is booked for me with an event or two. I begin November 2013 with my second visit to the People for Education's annual conference. Big thanks go to the Ontario Library Association for sponsoring my attendance.

Making Connections - the 17th Annual People for Education Conference

Saturday November 2, 2013- 9:30 a.m.
Opening Keynote by Pedro Noguera 

Summary: Dr. Noguera states that we need to take a broader and bolder approach to school reform, because school reproduces patterns of inequality in society. If education is supposed to be a path to a more just, equitable society, then what are we doing wrong, and why are we not getting the kind of society we want? 

3 Key Points
  1. Ranking and measuring is not a strategy for improvement; it could possibly be a tool (to measure discrepancies) but not the way we are currently using them (as pressure points, ways for humiliation, as a weapon against teachers and students). Standardized tests are a narrow way of looking at school success, because it ignores the emotional needs of children. 
  2. Schools have normalized failure; instead of blaming parents and students, change the focus to responsibility - what does it take to educate the children we serve? How do they use language? How do they problem solve? What excites them? 
  3. Culture cannot be imposed on a school, and contracts won't make teachers work hard. Having shared practice, beliefs, mission and vision among all staff creates the environment where excellence is promoted, mastery encouraged, relationships built, and learning is something students hunger for. When schools are working (like P.S. 28 in Brooklyn, with the highest gains in literacy and math despite having 40% of their students homeless), they need to be visited so others can learn from them.
So what? Now what? I said I would write about Kevin Honeycutt's closing keynote from ECOO, and I can do it here. I think the first step is to continue to build relationships with my students. In September, one student came up to me and said "Last year, you called me Pumpkin. This year, I'll be your Cupcake." To tell the truth, I never remembered using these nicknames with her, but she thought of it fondly and it was important enough for her to share the story. Keep building bridges, even when I don't realize that's what I'm building.

Saturday November 2, 2013 - 10:45 a.m.
School Councils by Jacqui Strachan 

Summary: (from P4E website) A workshop designed for anyone who is working to improve his or her school council.  Come with your questions and your success stories so you can learn from the presenter and each other.

3 Key Points

  1. Using email for communication helps with sustainability, especially a board-provided email as long as it is checked regularly. Email distribution lists are helpful. If you can, get the principal to solicit emails from all parents with all those forms in September and get permission to share this list with the parent council. 
  2. Build community. Hold events such as a school BBQ, Fun Fair, or movie night so that parents can talk together. School council meetings don't have to be held at school - meet in a pub or online. 
  3. Don't label parents who don't come to meetings as "un-involved". The average number of school council attendees stays the same, so find ways to give them input, or ask them for specific ways to help. There can be two levels of involvement, for instance - community and council. Do stuff other than fundraising.
So what? Now what? A great form was shared, called "7 Steps for Building an Engaged Community". I'll share it with those who come to my upcoming CSAC (Catholic School Advisory Council) meeting on November 13 and maybe phone people to see if they received the first set of emails I sent with meeting highlights.

Saturday, November 2, 2013 - noonPlenary Session: Aboriginal Education

Summary: (from P4E website) The vast majority of First Nations, M├ętis and Inuit students attend publicly funded schools in Ontario school boards. Up to now the public has focused on achievement gaps for these students, but there are other pressing issues: How can we address widespread gaps in all students’ knowledge of Aboriginal culture and history? Have we done enough to address resource gaps in schools serving a large number of Aboriginal students?

So what? Now what? I had to supervise the Ontario Library Association table to answer questions about the Forest of Reading, so I was unable to attend this session.

Saturday, November 2, 2013 - 2:00 p.m.Plenary Session: Redefining School Success

Summary: (from P4E website) Imagine a public education system focused on what matters most to the success of our children and our country. Imagine a system where student success is measured in terms of creativity, mental and physical well-being, and good citizenship in addition to academic achievement. Now imagine how we could work together to take that image and turn it into a reality for the schools and the students of Ontario.

3 Key Points
  1. Dr. Bruce Ferguson says we should be concerned about health and well-being because in a UNICEF report, Canada ranked 27th out of 27 Western countries; 84% of 3-4 year olds are physically active vs. only 7% of kids ages 5-11 are active for an hour a day - this is a community responsibility.
  2. Susan Shaw McCalmont says that in a global economy of ideas, innovation won't happen unless it's cultivated; in schools devoted to creativity, absenteeism is down, kids are happier, and test scores are high.
  3. Alison Loat says that current civics education turns Canadian youth off politics and that we should focus on every day political involvement; Samara is a new organization trying to develop interest in active citizenship in youth.
So what? Now what? Maybe I should run Student Council this year? I think our social studies inquiry unit that our Grade 4-5s are undertaking have elements of active citizenship. What about a maker space or creativity club? I'll investigate this at the OLA Superconference to explore creativity more. As for issues surrounding mental and physical health, I need to continue to build relationships, have discussions around feelings, and continue to do my daily treadmill time while my own children practice their musical instruments.

Saturday, November 2, 2013 - 3:15 p.m.Building a Better Parent-Teacher Relationship by Andrea Higgins, John Ippolito, and Jacqui Strachan

Summary: (from P4E website) We know a good parent-teacher relationship is one of the keys to a child’s success in school.  But what can be done to ensure that parents and teachers start out on the right foot, keep lines of communication open, and make the most of their relationship for the sake of the students?

3 Key Points
  1. John, as a researcher, said: We need to develop the capacity to communicate across differences and to better understand the psychology of relationships between stakeholders. If we build a resilient culture, it can handle "traumas" like last year's labour unrest; if there's no culture of community present to begin with, it becomes even harder to talk with conflict occurs.
  2. Jacqui, as a parent, said: Communication failure happens when there isn't enough communication, it's not in a timely manner, there isn't any response, or when someone feeling threatened by comments or questions. Improve it by not making assumptions based on family background/class/culture, communicate early and often, become familiar with the school community by exploring the neighbourhood, and teachers should share that they are human too.
  3. Andrea, as a teacher, said: Make the assumption that the teacher is there with the best interest of the child at heart, share little and big things about your child so that the teacher has a broad understanding of your child, ask many questions (like how you can help, what's the best way to communicate with each other like email), and get help if you are feeling shut down communication-wise.
So what? Now what? I liked the tip "contact each other to share good news". I should do that both as a parent and as a teacher. 

Saturday, November 2, 2013 - 4:30 p.m.Address by the Minister of Education

Summary: Minister of Education Liz Sandals highlighted some of the current directions the provincial government is taking with regards to education.

3 Key Points
  1. Parents can make a difference in children's education, by reading to them, talking to them about what happens in school, helping them with homework, and getting involved. The government has invested $49 000 000 since 2005 in Parent Reaching Out grants.
  2. Last year was a difficult time for education so they are moving forward with legislation for a more effective framework - this legislation is unique in that it was a 3-way ratification, with the government, school boards, and teacher federations. 
  3. The government acknowledges that we need to do better to support aboriginal and First Nations students so they are working on a self-identification so they can gather enough baseline data to focus their resources - the government likes to focus on specific groups of kids so they can make a targeted effort to make a change.
So what? Now what? Minister Sandals mentioned the From Great to Excellent community consultation kit and I will be using it with my own children's School Council to give input. 

Minister of Education Liz Sandals

Meredith and I at the OLA / Forest of Reading table

Annie Kidder, head of People for Education

Friday, November 1, 2013

My Photos from ECOO 2013

David shows me some of his 3D printing results

Jody found her first horse on Minecraft on Thurs. night!

One view of our room as folks talked and tinkered.

This is Jen's first Minecraft house, made at the LAN party!

Our welcome sign

Denise enjoys a breakfast buffet with a view of the Falls!
Part of our audience for our Friday afternoon session.