Monday, August 25, 2014

It Takes a Village(r)

Here we are, the last week before school starts, and my mind turns to ... Fan Expo Canada. As I've written about before, Fan Expo Canada is an-end-of-summer tradition with my family. This time, in 2014, my daughter will be attending all four days as a Deluxe Pass attendee. Some of those days, she'll be on her own. She won't be completely set adrift to fend for herself solo - my dear friend Denise Colby will be at Fan Expo, and we just bought mother-daughter cell phones so we can keep in touch via text. (Big thanks to my little brother for doing all the research and helping us make a good choice.) This won't be her first time alone at a convention, but the last event was a much smaller venue (Reverse Polarity). This independent trip is good practice, for her and for us parents. My daughter is starting high school this year and she chose to attend one that is a bit of a distance away, so she'll be taking the bus on her own. We've raised her as best we can. It's time to let her test her wings.

Fan Expo Canada also allows me to test my creativity. I love to dress up and Fan Expo gives me the chance to build and wear costumes. Halloween is just one day a year, but Fan Expo Canada is longer! This year, I plan on going for two days. On the first day, I'll re-use my Anna from Frozen cosplay that I originally assembled for my school's So You Think You Can Dance extravaganza. On the second day, I'll wear my Minecraft Villager. I made it on August 19 and took photos to document the process.

Step 1: Collect the boxes and plan

I first decided to make another Minecraft character when my husband bought a new vacuum cleaner. He saved the box for me and I spent some time considering what to make. I thought about being Steve and buying another pre-formed head (like my creeper, on the left) but I wanted to be different. I also had to consider "the arm issue". Creepers don't have arms, so I could hide my real arms inside the thin box. Other Minecraft residents have working arms and I wasn't sure how to get that to work and still look good. Villagers have their arms folded across their chests, so in the end, I decided to make a villager. We bought quite a few shoes while we were on holiday in the U.S.A., so I saved two boxes, used the box that held my Canadian Children's Book Centre review copies for the head, and added two cardboard cubes from my summer school Build Zone for arm additions. It's like my whole summer was represented in this costume!

Step 2: Find models and sketch

My son and daughter helped me figure out what kind of villager I wanted to be - the garden variety. The original box I was planning to use for the nose was too small, according to them, so I found another. I located a clear illustration of a villager so I could get a sense of the colour scheme and ratios. I tried on the boxes, marked spots for my eyes, and moved things around like a jigsaw puzzle. I went to Michael's and got the right colour of paper for the body and nose. I was extra happy because it was on sale. My entire costume probably cost about $6.

Step 3: Measure and cut

My tools were quite diverse. I used my scrapbooking materials, like the straight edge cutter and the square maker, pictured to the right. I also used household items like scissors and knives. I cut out holes for the eyes, squares to represent the eyebrows and eyes, and holes in the vacuum cleaner box for my head and arms. I had to re-cut several times because my head was too big to fit through the original openings I made. The arms were tricky to cut because of the fake arms nearby. To be honest, if I had a chance to do it over again, I'd probably make the arms higher up, so that they don't interfere with my real arms and the space for them to come out through the flaps at the sides. I try not to use my arms too much while wearing the costume, as it distracts from the overall visual, but I've got to be able to use my hands!

Step 4: Wrap and cover

I had a limited amount of dark brown paper. (I bought out all the supplies at my local arts and craft store.) I measured how much I would need and cut them all out in advance, to ensure I had enough for what I needed. I could see the progress I was making, especially with the face, so it kept me going. I really wanted to finish it all in one day. My creeper costume took longer because of all the cutting and pasting of those tiny squares all over the box. This was a lot easier!

Step 5: Glue (and glue fast!)

I couldn't take a photo of me using the hot glue gun, because speed was essential. I had to cover enough of the surface so it'd stick, but do it and attach it quickly before it dried and hardened. Preparing all the pieces in advance helped a lot. I had to be extra cautious with the arms - I didn't want to glue the wrong side facing up, as these boxes weren't wrapped all the way around. (I had to save paper somehow!)

And here it is, the final product! My villager will be a lot taller when I wear him, because my legs will be his legs. I'll take plenty of photos while wearing him, and he will do double duty as decor for the many Minecraft workshops and presentations Liam, Denise and I will be giving as part of our Ministry of Education TLLP grant. It took a villager to remind me to bring Makerspaces to my school library some more this school year, to let my students take the lead in doing things that excite them and authentically problem-solve.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Canadian Schools Should be like American Restaurants

I just returned yesterday from a 3-week vacation in the United States. I had a wonderful time relaxing, visiting relatives, enjoying the weather, and eating. Boy, did we eat! Below is a list of all the different places where we dined.

  • TGI Friday
  • Busy Bee Snowballs
  • McDonalds
  • Casa Mia
  • Yogi Castle
  • Friendly's
  • Burger King
  • Tutti Frutti
  • Bob Evans
  • Pizza Hut
  • Red Brick
  • Dumser's
  • Dairy Queen
  • Pisano's 
  • The Joint
  • Sweet Frog
  • Phillip's
  • Breezy Point Seafood
  • Hardee's
  • Kentucky Fried Chicken
  • Olive Garden
  • Looney's Pub
  • Applebee's
  • Dunkin Donuts
  • Don Pablo
  • Della Rosa
I was trying to decide what education topic I should explore for today. I could have written about the American school system, as my mother-in-law and sister-in-law are both teachers and I visited their classrooms briefly as they prepared for their upcoming school year. (They start earlier than we do.) However, as that list above is evident, I spent a lot more time filling my face than I did scoping out schools, so it'd make more sense to give this sort of report. Another reason to avoid comparing the Canadian and American school systems: I'd hate to look like I'm dissing my in-laws or their employers (even though Canada does score higher on PISA tests than its southern neighbours and often outranks it ). 

Don't get thrown off by my title; it is slightly tongue-in-cheek (or tongue-licking-lips). I think Canadian schools should be more like American restaurants because of ...

1) Super-Friendly Customer Service

I was really astounded by how cheerful and exuberant our waiters and waitresses were while we were in Maryland. The cashier at Burger King sang game show theme songs to us. The server at Olive Garden chatted at length about her trip to Vancouver, complimenting us on our wonderful country. Our TGI Friday employee was uber-attentive, guided us to the best deals on the menu and discussed football and baseball with us. The majority of the Maryland restaurant workers we encountered were chatty and outgoing, and they also work hard for their tips. (It seems to me that Americans tip better than Canadians - but I could be wrong.) In Canadian education, we teachers should strive to be as friendly, approachable, and cheerful.

2) Provide Great Quantity and Quality

Thank you Casa Mia for these crab cakes!
I must have gained quite a bit of weight while on holiday. The portions were huge! Maryland is well-known for its crabs, and I feasted on crab cakes quite often while I was there, including ones that were the size of my fist! These meals filled my tummy and provided me with great leftovers the next day. In Canadian education, we should continue to fill the heads of our students with great quantity and quality of knowledge. When our students leave the class, they should be satisfied, but also hunger for more.

3) Offer a Variety of Choices

The Sunshine Skillet - yum!
Toronto is much more multicultural than Baltimore, but the restaurants did give some new taste sensations to me. When I got my Bob Evans breakfast, I didn't realize gravy could be white! Even "specialty" restaurants had such large menus that it took a while to decide what delicious meal to choose. When it comes to serve-yourself frozen yogurt, we have one main chain I'm aware of (Menchies), whereas there are many more in the U.S. In Canadian education, we should share a large menu of options, from different ways to learn to different ways to present findings to different topics of study. 

4) Be Open As Late and As Early as you Can

Even tastier than it looks, from Breezy Pt.
I know that Canadian restaurants have good hours and tasty food. My dear friend Diana Hong has made it her summer goal to investigate where the best Eggs Benedict can be bought in Toronto. I guess, because we were eating out A LOT, I tended to notice it more in Baltimore. (Plus, I just wanted an excuse to include a photo of the most delicious grilled salmon and grilled zucchini I had at a tiny little place near my mother-in-law's house.) In Canadian education, this translates to keeping our libraries open during recess, before and after school as much as possible, so that we can serve our clientele when they want it. 

I didn't post a lot of Twitter posts while away because I took to heart the Internet safety advice not to advertise that I was away from home and I tried to disconnect from my computer (another possible blog topic for the future). Hope this gives you a visual hint of how good of a time I had. I'm glad to be back in my "home and native land" and plan on working off all that good Yankee feasting that remains on my waistline. 


Monday, August 11, 2014

The 2nd Half of LMM14 - A Photo Essay

My students learned the word "paparazzi" in summer school. Hopefully I was not as annoying as a mosquito while taking these photos, but I believe that it demonstrated how important their achievements were, that I was so eager to capture all these moments. Here are the last nine days of summer school 2014, from Tuesday, July 15 to Friday, July 25.

Day 10 = A small group had a division tutorial on the IWB.

Day 10 = We had more Minecraft House presentations.

Day 10 = An aerial view of one of the student builds.

Day 10 = A glass house in a lake full of pigs!
Day 11 = A student tower. Tall, yes. Stable, no.

Day 11 = More Minecraft House presentations

Day 11 = Another virtual abode.

Day 11 = Unique materials for houses online.
Day 12 = All the plans and screenshots displayed here.

Day 12 = Student-controlled bulletin board
Day 13 = The collaborative Minecraft Bridge over lava.

Day 13 = Our bridge plans displayed proudly in the hall.
Day 14 = Baking cakes involve a lot of math!

Day 14 = Cube-shaped decorations for the cake.

Day 14 = Our Minecraft cakes, with a pickaxe and Enderman.

Day 15 = Miss Colby's class shared their Grade 6-7 Minecraft Projects.

Day 15 = Our Grade 3s presented their Minecraft Bridges to Miss Colby's group
Day 15 = Their lava bridges included track!
Day 16 = The students are still keeping organized!

Day 16 = Ms. Allan's Grade 6s in Lucy Maud made robots! We visited.

Day 16 = Love the camraderie between Lucy Maud & Crescent Town.

Monday, August 4, 2014

The 1st Half of LMM14 - A Photo Essay

Here it is, August, and I'm still gushing about my summer school experience, known as both #lmmss3 or LMM14 in my files. To give you an idea of all the entertaining and educational things that happened, here is a photo essay of the first nine days of summer school (from Wednesday, July 2 - Monday, July 14). So many things occurred that I can't fit all the photos into one post! These are just the photos that don't show student faces - double or triple this figure, because I took at least 20 photos a day while at summer school! Some of these you may have seen on Twitter - forgive the repeats!

Day 1 = A shot of the Supply Zone before it was used.

Day 1 = One of the bulletin boards (the only finished one).

Day 1 = The Build Zone was used right away to make horses.
Day 2 = Minecraft-inspired link cube artifact

Day 2 = Students active in the Build Zone

Day 2 = Minecraft Rules linked to Tribes Agreements
Day 3 = Using the Organization Chart to track finished work

Day 3 = It's an Ender Dragon in the class!
Day 4 = A Minecraft build in progress

Day 4 = A link-cube Enderman

Day 4 = Posting their work - literally!
Day 5 = This student took this home daily to create
Day 6 = You can even wear what you make, like Creeper Heads.
Day 7 = Preparing for the Battle Tournament

Day 7 = Our rules and schedule for the next day's event

Day 7 = A student organized the snack bin collection for the class.
Day 8 = Our Minecraft Tool trophy

Day 8 = Student presentations of Minecraft Houses

Day 8 = One student creation

Day 8 = Another student build

Day 8 = A unique structure
Day 9 = Planning Minecraft Bridges

Day 9 = Playing Crossing the Burble Swamp