Monday, July 31, 2017

Cleaning the garage and creating the garden

The second half of July has been consumed by two enormous tasks that took a lot longer than I anticipated: cleaning out our garage and creating a garden in our yard. Both experiences were hard work but quite rewarding.

1) The Garage

I am not a hoarder, but as an educator, I have a tendency to "save things" because I think they may be useful to me or my students or our learning later on. Opening some of these bins has been both a trip down memory lane and an eye-opener. Turns out that some things don't date well at all. Other things are classic.

I graduated from York University's Faculty of Education (Concurrent Program) in 1996. I boxed many things, including my application package, acceptance letter, and program guides. The one thing I did keep, even though I may never use it, is the unit plan(s) I developed when I was student teaching. I don't plan on using them as they are -  a lot has changed since the late 1990s - but I kept them because of the hours and days of blood, sweat, and tears I poured into those individual lesson plans. There are times where I feel I've channelled more effort into those "baby beginning teacher" plans than I do now (and I'm awed by the level and detail in the evaluation methods and records!)

There was method to the Faculty's "madness" in making us work hard on crafting decent lessons and solid assessments. The content may be old/expired but the methodology is sound. In fact, my first year in the Faculty of Education at York had a big anti-bias curriculum focus - equity doesn't go in and out of style and the more I learn about this area, the more I realize I need to learn.

Another artefact, another memory. I nearly forgot that I spent a lot of time during my university days working for the Office for Students with Disabilities. I was a notetaker, attending classes with students who were deaf or who had hearing impairments to document what the professor said during lectures. I also read course materials ... on audio tape! I lurked online to see how this service has changed with the advances in technology. On their website, now called Disability Services, York University has three areas of support: Learning Disability, Mental Health Disability, and Physical, Sensory, and Medical Disability Services. Digging a bit deeper, I see they still offer note-taking services but Kurzweil and Read and Write Gold were mentioned specifically as reading accommodations.

My husband and I reorganized the garage, as well as weeded through all the bins. We created specific areas for the different kinds of materials stored. Books dominate our bins. I wish there was a machine where we could pour our unwanted books into and get 1/10 of the money back. We are still keeping many of our books, but some have been recycled, some will go to my students at school (because they aren't bad - I just don't need or want those anymore) and some will go to Value Village. In the above photo, the yellow words indicate things that still need to be done. I can't get into my school right now to drop things off, and going to the dump is a healthy prick to my conscience and involves a vow to do more to reduce and reuse.

"Cleaning the garage" also works as a mind metaphor, I realized as I wrote this. Often, I'm surprised by the things I've "stored" and there comes a time where I need to declutter and purge, by thoroughly examining what I'm "keeping" in this space, why I'm holding on to it, and whether or not it does me any good. Some things are better to get rid of. If you collect too many old things, there may not be room for the new, so be selective. (This works for physical and mental teaching spaces as well - who knew?)

2) The Garden

My family is amazing. After discussing plans with my talented younger brother, he designed and built two garden boxes by the sides of my back yard deck. This is in addition to the incredible front garden he improved with stone blocks and another he created from scratch where our old tree used to be.

The circle garden in the front yard

The new garden wall

Another angle (and a view of the spot we changed from garden to grass)

Then, my parents agreed to come plant shopping with us to choose some annuals to brighten up the beds before we decide what will permanently reside in those spots. My parents took great pleasure in planting the begonias, petunias, marigolds, hibiscus, and other flowers. (Farah Wadia will be happy to hear that we finally got around to planting that eco-friendly decoration from Grade 8 graduation - it didn't die!)

Grandmother, grandfather and grandson collaborating

What I really loved about this project (and what can be tied back to teaching) is the multigenerational and multi-level involvement. Having specific skills helped a lot, but everyone, including me with no gardening or construction experience, could contribute somehow to the final product. (The part I played involved financing and driving.) This could be an example of Project Based Learning or an Inquiry Plan (e.g. "What can we do to improve the look of the outside of the house using the natural environment without breaking the bank?"). There were many STEM / STEAM elements involved (i.e. measuring how much wood, estimating the cost of materials, designing the size of the planters as well as ways to contain the soil without rotting the wood, selecting what plants would suit that location in the yard with the amount of sunlight it receives daily, colour variety of blooms, etc.) The great thing was how everyone could share in the success, regardless of what role they played or how long they worked.

The only downsize to all this garden and garage work? The triumphs encourage you to do more, try more, clean more ... and I have to be sure that my enthusiasm doesn't extend my reach, financially or time-wise! Thanks everyone for everything!

Monday, July 24, 2017

Taking Care of Twins (aka "I'm too old for this stuff!")

Remember my friends Tracey and Morgan? On July 17, it was their 16th wedding anniversary. What can you give a couple for their anniversary that they'd truly want and appreciate? When the couple in question have two babies, the answer is relatively simple - time to themselves!

I have said many times that I need to have projects to occupy me so that I do not "get in trouble". Volunteering for baby duty was one of those "how hard could it be?", impulsive, "I have the time"  quick decisions that inevitably impact the entire household. (My husband and son spent a lot of time together doing errands that day so they could avoid the baby onslaught as much as possible, although my husband, bless his heart, drove with me back and forth to pick up the boys and drop them off.)

I've written about Tracey, Owen, and Emmett before. Tracey is pretty awesome and I knew that I could not replicate what she does daily on my own. Turns out that it takes three grown adults with the experience of raising a total of seven children to maturity under their belts to handle the task Tracey does on her own. This math fact seems elementary but is profound: two is much bigger than one!

I won't lie to you. Even with my mother, my mother-in-law, and me working together, it wasn't easy. Owen and Emmett are now 11 months old. They like the comfort and routine of their own house and I brought them over to my place on July 18, a location where they've never been before. We had lots of supplies and resources but not some of their bulkier items (like the double stroller or high chairs) that they really like. Owen slept for just 30 minutes in the morning instead of his regular 2 hour nap. Emmett slept longer than usual (90 minutes instead of 30) but that was because he did it on me. I took photos so Tracey would have evidence that they were being treated well and that it wasn't an all-day crying session.

Owen reading some books

Lunch time (no one ate as well as usual, including the grandmas!)

Emmett is sleeping

Still asleep!

Owen is finally comfortable enough to crawl around

In the movie "Lethal Weapon", Danny Glover's tag line is "I'm getting too old for this s**t!" When I last wrote about Tracey and her youngest sons, I added a couple of nuggets of wisdom from Tracey. This time, I will add my observations and tie them to school.

1) Taking care of babies requires people with energy (and/or youthful vigor)

Danny Glover was right! I am getting too old to run after babies! I don't know how Tracey does it day after day. I'm not saying that you have to be in your 20s to have a baby, or that a veteran teacher cannot be placed in a kindergarten class, but the stamina that comes with youth helps a lot. The day after the twins were over, I ached in places I didn't even know I used. It's physically demanding!

2) More hands make lighter work. (Especially ones who want to be there!)

I was grateful to my mother and mother-in-law for coming over and helping out. Emmett was a bit more clingy and distraught than his brother, so it was a relief to know that Owen was being attended to by two happy-to-be-there ladies while I soothed Emmett. (Emmett is usually the one who crawls all over the place but he was most content when I was carrying him. This wouldn't have been possible if I was alone.) When teachers have capable and eager assistants in the classroom (and that can even include the students themselves), it makes things go so much more smoothly.

3) When in doubt, improvise!

The boys like to fall asleep while watching the YouTube channel Little Baby Bum (here's a sample of what it's like). Problem is, I don't know how to wire my TV to the Internet to show YouTube videos! When my children were little, we used to watch Baby Einstein and we still have them - on VHS tapes in the garage. For some reason (probably the stress of trying to do it right away with crying babies present), I couldn't get the TV to work and turn to a toddler-friendly station - I could only figure out the DVD player. I was reduced to putting on Teen Titans Go because I knew that the boys were used to watching it when their older brother got control of the screen. Ideal? No, but when Plan A fails and Plan B tanks, doing whatever works that does no damage is fine. If there ever is a next time, I'll try and figure out in advance how to work the TV properly.

4) Support can come in many different ways.

Point #2 is true, but there are other ways to help, and that even includes online cheerleading. (It doesn't replace someone actually being there to give some respite, but it's something.) I bet when Lisa Noble sent her tweet that said "There is genius in you. There is splendor. Wonder. Gifts beyond gifts" that she didn't expect my reply.
That kind of timely encouragement (and humour from someone equally as far away that I don't see nearly as often as I'd like, Andrew Forgrave) was the perfect "you are not alone" pick-me-up. What this means for teachers is to grow their PLN beyond their school walls so you can be surrounded by positivity.

I'm not sure how to end this blog post. Conclusions are so much harder to write than introductions. I think Tracey and Morgan had a wonderful anniversary but were also still happy to have all their children back in one piece (Morgan's parents took their eldest to the Aquarium for the day so that Morgan and Tracey could have the day to leisurely enjoy a movie and lunch.) Will I do it again? Maybe - as long as I have help. I know several baby-lovin' teachers who would jump at the chance to cuddle and pamper a baby - or two.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Volunteer Life Highlights

Alternate titles for this post:
- Maker Events Post-Mortem
- Ups and Downs of the Volunteer Lifestyle
- Pay Some Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain

Done and done!
The first week of July didn't feel like a holiday to me because I was busy working - for free.
Let me tell you about three (what? 3? last week I mentioned 2!) major projects and how hard-core volunteering impacts your experience of an event.

1) MakerEdTO (July 5, 2017)

MakerEdTO was bigger and (dare I say) better than last year. The tickets were sold out just a few days after opening registration, and Toronto's mayor John Tory even tweeted about the event. We had a great turnout for the opening Ignite talks and we still had a solid showing at the end for our closing keynote. We had more people exploring and tinkering in the Playground than we did last year, which made me happy. The pacing of the day was wonderful and everyone that I encountered, from the food truck workers to the vendors to the participants were pleased with their experience. Here are just a few of the tweets and photos from the event.

Teresa shows Munazzah some cardboard tips

David, Arianna and Mark support some bridge building

Creatures from the loose parts station (manned by Denise!)

I loved Larissa's creature! So cute!

Tim, Mark and David prepare everyone for the day

Adding our handles to the Twitter wall

Speaks for itself!

Andrew's creature was as active as he was!

If you compare my reflections from last year's event to this year, you'll notice a distinct lack of detailed descriptions on sessions and workshops. That's because I really didn't get the time to sit on any for long! My assigned duties involved supervising the Twitter Wall and ensuring that the food truck lines went smoothly at lunch. I also presented a session on Cosplay MakerSpaces with my daughter, who was kind enough to take the day off from her volunteer stint at the ROM. There are always many "little" things to do at a conference that crop up, from distributing the stamps for the passports, to taking photos, to counting attendees for statistical reflection later on, to ensuring that fellow core team members eat and drink, that need doing so the day runs well.

I thought it was a brilliant idea to have the core team members wear red shirts for easy recognition (wait - don't red shirts typically die in Star Trek?). I especially want to call attention to the efforts of two particular "red shirts": Tim Cooper and David Hann. We held MakerEdTO at Tim's school and he was everywhere, doing everything. Because he knew the building better than anyone, Tim had the answers to many of our questions. He played the role of organizer as well as tech support and trouble shooter. David is the main man behind MakerEdTO, although you would never guess it because he is so modest and humble. David takes this conference seriously and his commitment shows. He is constantly reflecting on how to improve the conference, increase the networking, and make everyone's experience the best it can be. It was.

2) Maker Festival Toronto (July 8-9, 2017)

The dates for the grand Maker Festival Extravaganza at the Toronto Reference Library seem short - just a weekend - but in reality, days and days of planning went into this event. I've had weekly meetings with our subcommittee since May and the days leading up to the actual event are intense. I spent more time with the core team members (some of whom I wrote about here) than I did with my own family during the final days. (Don't worry - absence makes the heart grow fonder!) One of our volunteer orientation sessions had to be rescheduled at the last minute and so we created two options. Fellow Volunteer Coordinator Nathan and I spent time at Andrew's house building huge paper mache balls. Between Friday (set-up) and Saturday (first day), I only got 4.5 hours of sleep. Despite of (or because of) the super-human efforts, Maker Festival Toronto was a big success for the majority of attendees. I think these two tweets may be the only photographic evidence that I was at Maker Festival Toronto 2017!

We had specialized lanyards to indicate that we were on the core team (which we ran out of, but that was a learning experience) with nick names added to them. Mine was "Mother Hen", because I worried about my brood (consisting of over 200 volunteers, plus my own "baby chick" and another relative who saved my bacon by pinch-hitting at the last minute for a critical task). I also fretted about the core team's needs - were they eating and drinking? Did they get to go to the bathroom? Were they stressed? Thankfully, this was not a one-sided street. I remember our amazing core team member Paul asking if we wanted him to watch the desk while we at the Volunteer Desk got a chance to experience the festival. I turned him down - one, because that was right before a big shift change and we had to check people in, and two, because I found that it was hard to let my mind go "off duty" to take in the exhibits. It was important to take a break - I found that just a few minutes outside gave me some much-needed energy, although it was hard to "stop working". When I left my station, I caught myself scanning the crowds to examine the volunteers. Do they need a break? Are they doing their job? Are there enough volunteers here at this spot? Are volunteers needed elsewhere?

There were many areas where we can improve but there were also many areas where we triumphed. Two of the areas I wanted to focus on with my new role in 2017 as Volunteer Coordinator was high school outreach and inclusivity. Nathan and I personally phoned every secondary school in the TDSB and TCDSB to encourage guidance departments to promote Maker Festival Toronto as a fun way of earning volunteer hours, and we had many youthful participants. (I also want to add that we had a lot of teachers volunteer their time as well - thank you educators!) We also made a good start on supporting our volunteers with visible and hidden challenges, but this will take a while to develop. When I saw a super-shy helper find a way to assist that made them feel valued, or when I noticed a volunteer who may have been on the spectrum grinning as they partnered up with someone to complete a task, it made me so happy. It was the thank you notes Nathan and I received afterwards that really made it rewarding. (Thank you Peter! Thank you Nicki! Thanks everyone!)

I had some great volunteers taking photos (looking at you Chloe, Khush, Kat, and Nathaniel!) and that's why I have some wonderful pictures to share of the event.

Friday world-building

Behind the scenes as we get the globe out!

Our other-worldly blimp prior to lift-off

Catapult with lights, created during a workshop

Dozens of things to make and do at the Festival

Puppets like this one hung from above

Our globe made it out of the room!

Sailing boats made by kids in the TPL pool inside the Reference Library!

Making with a social justice stance - display for MMIW

Different view of our silver centerpiece

Whale puppet promoting the current ROM attraction

Famous face at Maker Festival Toronto

Scene from the Glowatorium
There are SO many people I need to acknowledge that it could turn this lengthy blog post into a book. Let me limit myself to three areas:
  • "The Big 3" = all of our core team members were incredible (Tarik, Amy, Andrew, Josh, Ceda, Trevor, etc.) but my hat goes off especially to Jen (our executive director), Aedan (our logistics manager) and Eric (our director of festival programming). Imagine a barrage of demands, requests, and queries blasted at you rapid-fire, non-stop. These three took it in stride.
  • Our Toronto Public Library liaisons = Ab, Ted, and Jonathan - thank you so much for all of your support and understanding. I knew that if I phoned one of them with a question or favour, they'd respond. These librarians rock!
  • My "partner in crime" = Nathan was absolutely incredible. He was yin to my yang. We made a great team, if I do say so myself. He was calm, cool, and organized. He was the one that found us the Volunteer Management System we used to track and sort our helpers. He knew when to object and when to acquiesce. He played interference and protector when I needed it. I am truly grateful and I hope he returns to Maker Festival as a core team member focused on volunteers.

3) The Teaching Librarian (Volume 25 Issue 1)

I don't write much about TingL on this blog (the last time I devoted a post entirely to The Teaching Librarian was way back in 2010 or a part of a post in 2013). It's not because it's unimportant; it's because it's been such a regular staple in my life that I practically don't notice it. I've been the editor since 2006 and recently the magazine celebrated its 25th anniversary. Usually we wouldn't be working on the magazine in July. Our fall issue often gets done by the end of June. This time around, more people needed writing extensions (especially me) and I got caught up in the end-of-the-school-year chaos as well as the Maker Events. Thank you so much to those who were able to do last-minute editing while on holiday (Derrick, Caroline, and Allison in particular) and to my very patient OLA liaison, Lauren. I'm going to quote myself from Volume 24 Issue 2 ("25 Years @ Your Library") about the highlights of volunteering on a project for as long as I have with the magazine:

There are many "best things" about being the editor-in-chief - the leadership opportunities, the chance to network with talented library professionals beyond your own school board, the thrill of seeing a project from start to finish and having the printed results in your hands, and the ability to reach out to fellow school library staff members so they know they aren't alone. Thank you so much Ontario School Library Association and Ontario Library Association for supporting The Teaching Librarian for all these years. [page 11]
 To conclude, I can see why high school students have forty hours of volunteer service to do prior to graduating. Volunteers make the world go round! It's also a habit that is worth cultivating. Volunteering can be very rewarding, especially when you can admire the end result. It alters your appreciation of an object (like a magazine) or an event (such as a conference or festival). It even changes how you experience them. Reading back on past issues of TingL remind me of how long it took to edit or how much nagging it took to obtain an article. Getting glimpses behind the scenes of how groups operate and how catastrophes get averted or dealt with means that your awareness increases. I enjoy those events but on a different, more complex level. Thank you to everyone (especially my patient family and my wonderful husband James) for making it possible.

Monday, July 10, 2017

A long-overdue tribute

There are so many things I could write about for today's blog post - MakerEdTO, the final days of school, Maker Festival Toronto - but some of these are just too recent and fresh in my head, so I need time to reflect and process my thoughts carefully. I decided to write about something that's been percolating for over twenty years and deserves my focus.

My husband and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary on July 5.

This celebration coincided with all the chaos and intense time demands of being on two organizing committees with events occurring the same week. People suggested we celebrate on a later date, but for us, commemorating it on July 5 together was important. We wanted to do something memorable, so we booked reservations at 360, the restaurant at the top of the CN Tower, and overnighted at the Soho Metropolitan Hotel nearby. It was a wonderful meal, a beautiful view, and the restaurant staff surprised us with an anniversary dessert that actually checked off something on my bucket list!

(When I was a little girl, I thought that only rich people ate chocolate mousse. I also thought that going to Hawaii was also only for the wealthy - which is why my husband has said that for our 25th anniversary, we are going to go to Hawaii, despite his usual lack of enthusiasm for extensive travel.)

Let me tell you just a few things about my husband. I don't want to overshare. He's a private person and has also had some unpleasant online experiences. Those who know me can tell I'm quite extroverted and gregarious. My husband is extremely tolerant of me, my quirks, and all the crazy plans, events, and trips that I get myself into. To be frank, I would not be able to do 90% of the things I commit to without his love and support. James is my rock. He is exemplary of the type of love described in the famous scripture from the Christian Bible.
 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
He does more than his fair share, which makes it possible for me to do things like presentations across the country, or volunteer as the editor-in-chief for a magazine for twelve years.  If the house is clean, it's because of him. He is the stay-at-home parent, making sure that our children had someone on-call and devoted to their well-being all during their elementary years and beyond. We have two wonderful, thoughtful, responsible, caring teenagers and much of the credit goes to James. These accomplishments happen without fanfare and without recognition. I want to acknowledge it and to show that I need him quite desperately (and not just because I'm hopeless in the kitchen for anything except breakfast or baking).

Happy anniversary, my beloved!

Monday, July 3, 2017

Canada Day Celebrations and Contemplations

The school year is now over and we top off (or end) that whirlwind final week with the anniversary of Canadian Confederation.

I confess that I didn't do much at school to recognize this historic event. (I'm usually not much of a rah-rah-holiday person to begin with, so my lack of enthusiasm isn't much of a surprise.) I wore red and white as part of our Spirit Day and during the assembly, we watched this video narrated by Mike Myers.

To acknowledge the 150th birthday of the country known as Canada, my daughter and I plan on doing our own little research assignment (which probably won't make it into the "A Kids Guide to Canada" national project). The task is inspired by an American "What If" project, which wondered who would win in a mass knife fight to the death between every president (see or this forum discussion We realized that we struggled to know enough about all our Canadian prime ministers to be able to answer this question, and so we aim to answer this hypothetical question: "Who is the toughest Prime Minister of all time? If all the Canadian Prime Ministers were alive, at the same time, at the peak of their health and fitness, and had to fight 'Hunger Games' style, who would emerge victorious?" It may be an unusual project, but it's something that's piqued our interest, so we are running with it.

On July 1, I wore my "Invasion Free Since 1812" Second City comedy troupe t-shirt (the only vaguely patriotic article of clothing I own) and visited my parents for dinner and fireworks.

This is all well and good but I'm more aware now that not everyone is in a celebratory mood about Canada Day. Our FNMI population and their allies can't ignore how the unification of Upper Canada, Lower Canada, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick into one country 150 years ago accelerated some extremely unfair treatment - broken treaties, racist policies, and the horrors of the residential school system. I know there was a huge controversy about the money spent on the giant inflatable rubber duck that will sit in Toronto's harbour and how funds could have been used to support other, more worthy, causes. Should we rejoice or resist?

I found this post on Twitter that eloquently spoke to the odd contradiction that is Canada Day, and why (and possibly how) we can celebrate but also stop and think.