Monday, July 25, 2016

My Chinese Tutor

During this year's Volunteer Tea, I insisted on getting a photo with Fiona's grandma. She helped out in an official capacity as a volunteer, but her impact on my teaching and learning came informally, during my twice-weekly scheduled hall duty assignments. Fiona's grandma was my Chinese language tutor.

If you've ever heard someone complain about why immigrant families don't just hurry up and learn the language of the country, give them a dirty look for me. Learning a new language, especially as an adult, is HARD! I was only capable of learning a phrase or two at a time, and I needed many weeks of practice. Often, I'd forget exactly how to say the words, even though I had repeated them with success the day before.

Fiona's grandma was very patient with me. She encouraged my speaking and celebrated my efforts, even when they weren't flawless.

My school has a high Chinese population. Many of the grandparents that pick up our students at the end of the day do not speak English. I wanted to be friendly and be able to communicate. I also wanted to speak to some of our youngest students who respond quicker to commands in their native tongue. The bilingual students are very helpful and will offer words when I'm floundering to explain. Thanks to them, Fiona's grandmother and Mrs. Lung, our kindergarten teacher who is also fluent in Mandarin and Cantonese, I can say ...

Good morning


How are you?

I am fine.

Wait a minute.

Who are you looking for?

Line up.


I don't understand.

Do you understand?

Happy Chinese New Year!

Mrs. Lung and our principal, Mr. Parish, at the Volunteer Tea
I get mixed up frequently. Tones are really tricky to get right. Sometimes I mix up a Mandarin phrase with a Cantonese phrase. I can really empathize with our English Language Learner students. My vocabulary, as you can see by the list, is pretty limited and rudimentary. Our ELL students are acquiring more words and phrases while managing in class.

What helped me with my language learning was:

  • a patient teacher
  • many chances to practice
  • positive reinforcement that encouraged me to take risks
  • taking notes (i.e. writing down with English letters how I'd interpret the sound)
I hope to improve with time and effort. I'm not signing up for official Mandarin and Cantonese lessons - I like my tutor and the way she gently helps me get better. 

Monday, July 18, 2016

Follow the ETFOSA16 Path to Excellence

3 days (July 12-14, 2016)
8 different school boards represented
12 subway stops to get there (from Warden to Sherbourne)
16 participants

Add it together and you get a lot of learning. The Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario's Summer Academy 2016, otherwise known as #etfosa16 (session #61) was a fabulous opportunity for me and my co-facilitator, Melissa Jensen, to learn alongside teacher-librarians from Simcoe County DSB, York Region DSB, Halton DSB, Toronto DSB, Peel DSB, Hamilton-Wentworth DSB, Thames Valley DSB, and York Catholic DSB.

The foundation of our session was the 2014 Canadian Library Association document, Leading Learning: Standards of Practice for Library Learning Commons in Canada. It really does have something for everyone and the participants appreciated having the time to read it in depth and use it as a guide for moving forward in improving their own space and program.

We were also fortunate to have guest speakers come to visit and share.
On Day 1, Katina Papulkas and Elina Man came on behalf of TVOntario.
On Day 2, Ramy Ghattas from Logics Academy brought Dash and Dot robots for us to explore.
On Day 3, Andrew Woodrow-Butcher from Little Islands Comics / The Beguiling and Arden Hagedorn from Another Story Bookshop let us shop on location and discussed the importance of independent local booksellers.

Elina, Diana, Katina, Melissa


My favourite photo of Ramy from ETFOSA16
Melissa was a joy to co-present with, because she is so organized and flexible. We didn't "rehearse" yet we fell into a comfortable rhythm, taking turns to speak and complementing each others' strengths. I was grateful for the malleable structure we created, because it gave the participants a chance to have a say in what they wanted to address. I learned so much from all the participants and sessions. I loved having the opportunity to sit and "talk shop" with teacher-librarians from other school boards. They brought refreshing new perspectives. Our "new to the field" teacher-librarians that came also brought excellent ideas. My own big AHA was Canva - I'm really excited about trying to make some library infographic reports using this online tool.

Group shot on the final day
Thank you so much Sue, Joanne, Karen, Lisa, Elisabeth, Renae, Sue Mac, Sean, Kim, Rahima, Anonella, Cathie, Sara, Marilyn and Rhonda for three days of fun learning. Stay in touch!

Monday, July 11, 2016

Maker Mania

Rest? What's rest? My first full week of summer vacation was chock-full of learning, thanks to two great events.

MakerEdTO - Maker Education Conference (July 6, 2016)

Site =

9:00 a.m. Opening Keynote - Peter Skillen
The Maker Movement: It's About Making Up Your Own Mind

Site = Peter's notes can be found here

Every time I hear Peter Skillen speak, I love him a little bit more. (Don't tell my husband or Peter's significant other either.) Peter flipped the dominant narrative of STEM and MakerSpaces on its head - coding and creating have been around a lot longer than many would report. He dispelled a lot of myths, like that teachers in inquiry maker classrooms are laissez-faire and "anything goes". Constructivism and thinkers like Seymour Papert are what fuel the activities found in good maker spaces. Consider the why and the passion students have for projects.

What did I learn?  I think I realized some things about attitude. Peter could justifiably be bitter and cynical. After all, he's been instrumental in providing opportunities that Johnny-come-latelys now claim that they've created. Yet, Peter is cheerful. He's not resentful. He's aware and he shares his awareness and knowledge without vitriol.

My most re-tweeted photo: Peter & Brenda finger knitting

9:40 a.m. Session 1 - Melanie Mulcaster
Knitting 101: No Needles Required

Site = Melanie's presentation can be found here

The description of Melanie's session on the website was "learn how to engage students through the art of finger knitting and learn how it can be applied in various contexts related to the curriculum".

What did I learn? I discovered some important tips.
1. I don't have to hold the end of the yarn with my thumb after I have a few rows completed. This prevents my hand from cramping up.
2. I should thread on my non-dominant hand.
3. There's a device that you can use to preserve your knitting if you have to go to the bathroom. (I forget what it's called.)
4. You CAN make more than chains. Melanie showed me how to grab "ears" and continue going around so that I can eventually make a hat.
5. Use thick chunky wool for a cooler result.
Looking for "ears" to connect

Melanie helping me connect my chain to make a circle

10:35 a.m. Session 2 - Shaun Grant
Silk Screening T-Shirts

Site = Overview of the MakerEdTO conference day can be found here

I bought a t-shirt prior to the event so that I could try out the silk screening center. I should have bought one of theirs, because the quality was better and I am definitely planning on wearing my creation after the fact. Shaun helped me (and Jessica and Allison from Simcoe County DSB) with the different stages of creating and making a silk-screen t-shirt.

What did I learn? I found out that silk screening is both easier and harder than I thought. The materials can be bought at craft stores (Curry's) but that there's a technique to placing the ink and spreading it - it can't be too little or too much and the pressure must be even and consistent. I liked using the fabric pastels and shirt spray cans.

Allison and Shaun silk-screening her top

11:30 a.m. Session 3

Here's the great thing about a conference that respects the adult learner: I took my time with finger knitting and silk screening, so much so that I didn't go to a third session in the morning. If only we could do similar things during the school day!

12:30 p.m. Lunch and 1:15 p.m. Playground

I had a quick bite with some of the educators who came down from the Simcoe County District School Board for lunch and then returned to the York School to try out the 3D Doodle Pen. My husband still remembers me spending $100 on a pen (the Echo Pen) so I appreciated the chance to try the tool out without having to fork over cash. Teresa Allen, who helped monitor this station, brought her own kid-friendly version she bought from a KickStarter and it seemed to work smoother than some of the others. The playground was also great because I had a lengthy conversation with Jennifer Brown, a teacher-librarian from Peel District School Board, about how she introduced MakerCulture in her school in a way that didn't turn her into the focus point. She also told me about how she introduced a sewing machine into her school library space.

What did I learn?   Success with the Doodle Pen depends on what generation you purchase. Older ones are more finicky. My chat with Jennifer Brown was so fruitful for the fall and for a talk I have to give in the near future. I'm going to go looking for a sewing machine and will ask my mother (an expert seamstress) if she's interested in coming and providing a few tutorials for those interested.

Jennifer with Little Bits (mostly we just talked)

Tom and David trying the Doodle Pens. Tom knew how to unclog them!

Maker Festival - (July 9-10, 2016)

July 8, 2016

My friend's son and I traveled to the Toronto Reference Library to help set up the Maker Festival. Natalie Draz, a creative artist, trained the volunteers to cut, fold, glue and assemble paper into beautiful origami structures. Thanks to those whom I worked with on the 10 am - 2 pm shift: Melissa, Annie, Monica, Nathan, Shun, Catherine, Laurissa, Cindy, Gabriela, Isis, Marzieh, Joyce, Paul, Julia, Natasha, Ronna, Julie, Karlo, Stewart, Matt, Trevor and Joshua. Big thanks to leaders Jen, Ceda and Anna who were functioning on minimal sleep but stayed positive and productive.

Laurissa, Annie, Cindy, Monica tying things together

Gabi, Julie, Shun, Karlo, Joyce with the fruits of their labor

Natalie demonstrates the next step

July 9, 2016

The core team (Jen, Eric, Agnieszka, Anna, Ceda, Matt and a bunch of people that I forgot to record their names) worked long into the night and when I came back on Saturday afternoon, the paper structures were hung, the streamers aloft, and everything was ready for the crowds. I worked at the front desk, collecting waiver signatures and answering questions. I was able to spend my break wandering the floors and there were fabulous exhibitors. My new friend Jennifer Brown wrote a much more elaborate and wonderful blog post about what Maker Festival had to offer. I was astounded by how many people present were volunteers, just passionate about making and helping. I had great conversations with folks that 
  • sell Raspberry Pis and 
  • make origami with leather and 
  • sell Maker Festival t-shirts for participants to hack and 
  • build geometric light structures and 
  • work with their spouses on local maker spaces and
  • assist the ROM with an interactive Twitter display. 
I saw many friends there - not just Jennifer Brown but Kelly Maggirias, Ray Mercer, Salma Nakhuda, David Hann, and more. I worked with friends like Teresa Allen and other wonderful people that felt like friends by the end of the shift. 

A view from the second floor of the Toronto Reference Library

York Region DSB TL Kelly Maggirias shows her origami ball

Branksome Hall TL shows her 3D printed inquiry earrings

David Hann shares his students pinball machine projects

An innovative way to combine art and tech from the ROM

Trevor and I have different reactions to the ROM dinosaur
 I really enjoyed my time volunteering at the Maker Festival and I may take a different role next year with the organization. It's such a treat to be around such motivated, creative and energetic people.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Last Week's Lessons Flew in from the Sky

What do you do in class during the last week of school? For many places "June Slide" is a reality. Report card marks and comments have been finalized and submitted so it's tricky to keep students motivated to learn and stay engaged with summer vacation looming large and promising just around the corner. My last week of plans were thrown out the window when a wonderful opportunity presented itself due to the winds of chance.

On Monday, June 27, one of the kindergarten teachers approached me at lunch.

"You're a pet person. We need your help. There's a bird outside on the fence."

Sure enough, there on the fence enclosing the kindergarten playground, surrounded by fascinated little children, was a budgie. I slowly approached the budgie and put my hand near it. It didn't fly away like birds usually do. That was a good indication that it was either quite tame or really exhausted. I took the bird in my hands and brought it inside.

The rest of the school "flew" into action. Ms. Chan lent us her butterfly cage as a temporary home. We took one of Mme Miller's eco-school project (a water bottle transformed into a bird feeder) to use the seed inside for food. Others found containers for water. The bird ate and drank happily.

Everyone was enchanted by our unexpected visitor. The students were full of questions. It was true, genuine inquiry! Some students did not originally realize that this was probably an escaped pet, rather than a wild bird. To clarify things, we discussed birds native to Ontario and discovered that wild budgies come from Australia. One of the main questions was "What are we going to do with the bird?" Keeping it at school was impossible, because school board pet policies forbid keeping birds. We talked about the ethical thing to do, and even referenced a Blue Spruce book we read this year, Fishermen Through and Through, when discussing who "owned" the bird. As a group, we decided to try and find the original owner. This led to making posters that we planned to post around the community.

As we made the posters, the students had new, challenging questions: "How can we tell if someone really IS the true owner of the bird?" The students were bothered by the idea that a person could claim to be the rightful owner but be dishonest. They added caveats to their posters.

We took walks around the community, which led to other questions, like "Where can we place our posters?" Our students differentiated between public and private property, as well as safe and unsafe locations. They even considered how high to stick the posters, so that adults and children could see them.

I had a spare bird cage in my garage, so I brought it in for the bird to have more spaces to perch and proper containers to eat out of. With closer examination came even more questions, such as inquires about the food the budgie ate. We were able to check this out closer than the actual bird. (I suspect that a kindergarten student might have tasted the bird seed but I have no proof and bird seed isn't toxic, thank goodness!)

My temporary cage also held a "fake bird", which led to several mistaken assumptions (e.g. "You got TWO birds? How? When?") and even MORE questions: "Does the real bird know the pretend bird is fake?" "Why would you put a fake bird in with the real bird?"

The students also declared that we did not have enough posters around, so they made more. To be eco-friendly (because after all, we are a Platinum Level Eco-School), we used leftover paper from hall displays and then had to make some visual arts related decisions about the tools to use so the message would show up clearly on the faded black paper.

So what is the fate of this "pedagogical gift from above"? One of our teachers volunteered to be the foster family for this bird. Her family has a hand-trained budgie of their own that can fly freely around their house. On Canada Day, we had a "trial visitation" to see if the birds would get along, but after watching them interact, there was some rightful concern that the resident bird might weaken its bond to the people in favour of the newcomer bird. Now the bird lives at my house, with a brand new (huge) cage and a 13-year old boy who dotes on it like crazy. It is highly unlikely that Arctic's original owner will be found - escaped birds can fly for far distances before collapsing, and there were no identifying bands on him. The ironic thing is that something similar happened at my school in 2011 - in June, the students found a lost bird. That budgie, christened "Li'l Tweet", still lives at my parents' house with two other budgies. Although I feel sorry for the original owner (which led to my own inquiry question: "How can we make sure that the cage is secure enough so the bird won't escape?"), I feel lucky to have had the chance to explore language, math, science, media, visual arts, social studies and STEM with tons of great questions in such an authentic manner with my students. That last week of school will certainly be memorable for all of us!