Monday, August 28, 2017

New Beginnings

TDSB held its Beginning Teacher Summer Institute on August 22, 2017 and the Library Department offered a New and Experienced Teacher Librarian Open House on August 23, 2017. Zelia Capitao Tavares wrote a great summary of #bt_tdsb, which you can find here.

We are all beginners at some point. For teachers and teacher-librarians, September is the start of a new school year, which often brings new challenges. This is going to be my 21st year teaching and even though I've teaching in the library for over two decades, and at my current school since 2004, I'm going to be tackling something I'm not used to doing in a particular way. I'm back to being a n00b, to use a gaming term.

What do you do when you are learning something new? For me, I like to talk with other people. Thankfully, while at the TL Open House at Tippett, I found out that Keri Declute-Ball has experience doing what I'll be attempting. She promised to email me some tips.

I'm also excited about beginning to implement self-regulation skills more deliberately. When I saw that the MEHRIT Centre will be offering seminars and workshops in Toronto, I asked around and Tina Voltsinis, a primary division teacher at my school (and former special education teacher) responded positively.

I'm grateful to have a person right in my building that I can turn to when thinking about how to help students self-regulate. This, in addition to the work I'm tinkering with for my Kids Guide to Canada project (and accompanying paper for Treasure Mountain Canada) and hopefully enrolling in a Media Studies Additional Qualification course, will mean that the start of the 2017-18 school year will be a busy one!

Monday, August 21, 2017

Calm, Alert and Learning on the Beach

My husband knows me too well.

I asked my daughter to take this photo of me with this book and he exclaimed "That's for your blog, isn't it? You're planning a post!"

I've finally gotten around to reading Stuart Shanker's book, Calm, Alert and Learning, about self-regulation in school. Aviva Dunsiger recommended I read it and I'm glad she did. There were many posts I've written where Aviva has pointed out that it's partly about self-regulation - and this even happened to Aviva herself thanks to another friend of mine, Lisa Noble (see

I appreciated how Dr. Shanker backs up all his positions with references to current and classic research (the reference list goes on for 14 pages), yet the points made aren't complex or hard to understand. In this book, self-regulation can be understood through five domains: biological, emotional, cognitive, social, and prosocial. The most poignant portion of the book for me is the case study of RJ beginning on page 146 - it resonates strongly and rings true. I also like the connections made to special education, mental health, and self-regulation for teachers.

I found it interesting that I read this book mostly while at the beach and on vacation in Ocean City, Maryland. I saw a link on Facebook (which I've subsequently lost, but Brenda Sherry or Jennifer Apgar might know about, since they refer to something similar to it) about how hearing the sand and the waves on a beach is very relaxing and soothing - perfect for attaining a calm and alert state, right?

It's not so simple. At first, reading the book on the beach was a pleasure and I was taking in the information with ease. Then, a family came and set up near our chairs on the beach. They had a dog (and dogs aren't allowed on the beach during the summer season) so I was distracted by that; then they started to play loud music on speakers they had brought. I couldn't concentrate anymore. I was hyper-aroused and needed to down-regulate (if I have the terminology correct). I gave up reading and took it up later while on the porch of our apartment, by myself, a block away from the boardwalk. The change in the environment worked and I was able to finish my chapters. I liked reading on the beach but it wasn't the only way to be and stay calm and alert.

I spoke to others with me on my holiday who said they actually have a hard time reading on the beach and find it too overwhelming with the various stimuli (the texture of the sand, the sound of the waves, the heat of the sun, the amount of people, etc.) - or, even the opposite, too "boring" and so hypnotic that it made it hard to be energized enough to read and think. This reinforced the message from the book that it takes quite a bit of experimentation to discover what strategies work for different individuals.

This is just another step on my self-regulation learning journey. While away on vacation, I also read The Zones of Regulation: A Curriculum Designed to Foster Self-Regulation and Emotional Control  by Leah Kuypers. I haven't finished it yet but it makes for a great complementary read. These books got me thinking, even when I was "just chilling".
We were on a Disney movie re-watch binge and it was obvious that Lilo was struggling to make friends and play in appropriate ways. Her stressful home situation caused her to "move to the red zone" quickly and at the slightest provocation. During the opening scene when we first see her, Lilo was too up-regulated (because she was late to her dance class and was upset with her sister for not having peanut butter) so when another dancer said Lilo was weird, Lilo pounced on the other child, hitting, kicking and biting her. It took meeting someone even more dys-regulated than her (Stitch, an alien designed only for destruction) for Lilo to try and change. If you haven't seen the movie, Lilo tries to teach Stitch some skills - unfortunately, they weren't from the Kuypers or Shanker books, so they didn't work as well. Sorry for any spoilers, but Lilo shows Stitch how to model his behaviour on Elvis Presley; this was a decent start but Stitch missed the nuances required and just when it looked like he got the hang of "being good", the flashing camera bulbs set him off and he caused a riot on the beach. The lesson? Even if we teach these coping mechanisms, something might make it difficult for those struggling to use the skills. There will be set-backs. We won't be able to practice these skills on a beach, but we must persevere, all year long.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Underdog on top - or when a C trumps an A

This post will be simultaneously published on Monday Molly Musings and on the GamingEdus website. This post will also be unique in that my son will co-write it. (His words will be in bold.)

I like video games, but to be honest, I'm not particularly good at them. I play because it's fun and it's an enjoyable activity for the whole family.

This summer, my son bought the Nintendo Switch game console system.
This is a brief overview (by him) of the new hardware:

Well thank you Mother of mine! Yes the Switch has made it into our household with 3 games that broke me, but let's get back to the system. The Nintendo Switch (or Swish Cheese if you want to be funny) is the newest console, with the idea of it having multiple ways to play. The three main ways are: Tabletop/TV Screen, Handheld, and (as I call it) Mini-Screen. The Switch looks similar to the Wii U a previous console by Nintendo, but the side controllers can come off the sides, with also three ways to use them: One, Two or Joycon Grip. With multiple ways to play, you could take it on the go or settle down and play around.

However one thing I'd like to point out is how gosh dang tiny the little cartridges are! I'm glad I have all these casings for said cartridges or they'd be gone in an hour! Also, sadly the Switch is not backward compatible like the Wii and Wii U. But basking in glorious FPS (frames per second) in Legend of Zelda, or Beautiful Motion Controls in ARMS makes it pretty worth it. Speaking of games...

One of the new games that we purchased for the Switch was Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.
I've played Mario Kart in various forms for ages - but I'm terrible at it. (I think this is somewhat ironic considering that I'm the only one in the family legally able to drive in real life.) Usually when the family plays, the others take the top three spots and I'm in 12th place. (12th is last place.) I don't mind - I'm not very competitive and it's more about the family connection.

I've been improving and I suspect some of the new features (e.g. auto acceleration, smart steering, and a different controller) have helped. For one brief and glorious moment during a four person race, I was in first place! I was squealing as if I had won the race, even thought it was only for about 30 seconds and others quickly overtook my lead. One of the new features on the "joy-con" is a camera and I was able to capture a screen shot of the short but sweet moment when I was on top. (I don't have the proper technology to transfer the image straight to the blog at this time, so I pulled up the image on the Switch from the saved picture files and took a photo of the screen after it was done to share the evidence.) I'm the bottom right quadrant. My son is the top left; my daughter is the bottom left and my husband is the top right.

Proof of my moment in the sun!
I originally titled this post "when a C trumps an A" because earning a mediocre grade in a subject I struggle with tends to mean more to me than getting a superior mark in a subject in which I regularly do well with ease. Same with video game performance and me. I think that it's no big deal for my son to get first place in Mario Kart because he expects that he'll do well - it's not a cause for celebration. I think what makes a bigger impact to him is when he temporarily falls from his throne, because it's not the norm. (I'll let him comment below on whether that's true or not.)

Well I mean yeah, don't get me wrong. Sitting on top in First place is rewarding, but when a small unusual event causes me to fall to another place. It actually kind of frustrates me, I'm used to being first or at least in the top 3. But when I fall under that, I feel like I've become rusty and I'm failing. But that's because I'm so used to being on top, if anything, failing... Is a good thing sometimes!

A few days later, most of the household decided to go see a movie at the local theater. My son and I decided not to attend so instead we chose some mother-son bonding by playing all 48 courses on Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.

That was a fun 3 hour gaming session! It was worth it too, so many customization options were unlocked!

I had no expectation of doing well. My son is a video game expert. He has logged countless hours in front of the screen and regularly beats other experienced players. And yet ... on the very first place, not only did I grab first place, I kept it and finished in first!

Peter (Toad) is on the left. Me as Yoshi is on the right
And I wasn't going easy on her! Wow, who would've thought...

The standings after the 2nd race - and I'm on top!
I asked him if he was just being nice to me by letting me win the first match, but he claims that he wasn't. It was a great victory, and believe it or not, it happened a couple more times during our marathon session. Naturally, I went a little camera crazy and took many digital photos - don't let the many pictures fool you. Peter won the majority of the games.

Mushroom Kingdom Circuit - ended in first!
2nd wasn't too bad here.

Dolphin Shoals - just for a brief time in the lead
She has a hard time with the pipe section.

The start of the race for Grumble Volcano
Classic stage, I LAVA it!

On Rainbow Road Game Cube version - it's a hard course!
I don't remember which version this one was for, my bad if it's false info!

In Wario's Gold Mine
Wario's got a lot of structures, is there more to this guy then we know?

Rainbow Road N64 Edition - a scary track!
Sharp turns and Rainbow Thwomps, oh my!

In Ice Ice Outpost
Gotta keep your cool here.

After all 48 races were through, I ended up in 5th place overall, which is fantastic for me. There's no real way to show how much of a triumph this is - even in the game, once you are below 6th place, your character shakes his head in shame and makes sad muttering sounds, even though for me my usual goal is to get higher than 10th place. Quantifying the achievement makes it both easy and unclear. This concept connects to some personal professional learning my friend Jennifer Brown has been doing over the summer - it complicates things but that's the cool thing about learning.

Let me swing it back from schooling back to gaming - and leave the final word to my co-writer:

Gaming is a great learning tool, I mean not in the sense that you can learn how to drive from Mario Kart or be able to kill mutant salmons from Splatoon 2. But these kind of moments have lessons to learn from it. And it mixes learning and enjoyment in small ways, and that makes it all the while. Thank you Mother, for having me on this Monday Molly Musings, and good night.
(It might actually be night when you read this, but whatever.)

Monday, August 7, 2017

I won't post that

My husband occasionally reads me things he finds of interest online. He shared this article with me  and a portion of it inspired me to reflect and write this post.

How much of my life should be public and how much should be private?

This blog is evidence that many aspects of my life are shared here:
- my thoughts
- my lessons and teaching units
- my volunteer jobs
- my opinions on books I've read
- my conferences I attend
- my colleagues and friends
- my interests outside education

People who know me, even from just online, know that
Do I overshare? Is it too much?

Careful examination of my blog and my tweets reveal that there are actually some areas that are absent from my online profile. There are deliberate omissions and particular rationales for those gaps.

1) Specific details about my children

There are parents who overshare online too much. This article refers to an entire blog focused on the practice and shared the "ten worst ways" but for me, it's less about being annoying and more about respecting my son and my daughter's privacy. This article from The Atlantic highlights the bigger issues of negatively impacting children's digital footprint / digital identity. Although I am extremely proud of my children, I try to refrain from posting photos and I ask their permission before I write anything about them. (This here is a rare photo of my son and daughter on a recent trip.) I googled my children's names and for both of them, the first legitimate link to them specifically are for things they have control over and chose to do.

These guidelines also extend to the children I teach. At one of the amazing ETFO Conference for ICT for Women sessions, there was an excellent presentation about respecting our students' privacy for their sake and for the sake of our safety. (ETFO has many articles that provide guidelines.) I block the names of students if/when I post an example of their work, and I avoid using photos of their faces. I found one picture that I didn't obscure the face in, and I'll need to fix that.

2) Complaints about specific people

Someone once told me that you should think carefully about to whom you complain about your spouse because you may forgive and forget, but the listener might not. The same goes for the Internet. There have been times that I've desperately wanted to vent about someone who was irritating me (this post and this one is the closest I've come to it, I think, and these were when I first starting writing my blog). However, feelings can change, but typed words online don't erase as easily. The deceptive anonymity of the Internet means that people can write some horrific and vitriolic things about people without considering how they would react. I don't want to contribute to the hateful content.

Teachers are supposed to follow a particular protocol when they have disagreements with their colleagues. It's onerous, but the procedures exists for a reason - to avoid libel and slander and a toxic work environment. Keep it positive, and if there's a problem, think twice if it's necessary to share it with the world.

3) Partying

I am not a teetotaller, but you won't read about any of my partying exploits here. The Ontario College of Teachers created a Professional Advisory in 2011 about the use of electronic communication and social media. In it (and you can see the document here), the college advocates caution with sharing inappropriate details of a teacher's private life.

There is a distinction between the professional and private life of a teacher. Practitioners are individuals with private lives, however, off-duty conduct matters. Sound judgment and due care should be exercised.
Teaching is a public profession. Canada’s Supreme Court ruled that teachers’ off-duty conduct, even when not directly related to students, is relevant to their suitability to teach. Members should maintain a sense of professionalism at all times – in their personal and professional lives

4) Specific Politics

Supposedly, the saying goes that there are three areas to avoid in casual conversation to prevent conflict: politics, religion, and abortion. Teaching itself is a political act. If we are interested in addressing social justice issues, it cannot be done in a vacuum. Here are a couple of recent tweets I shared from my timeline.

Having said that, there are some issues I'll avoid debating online, because my opinions would be more divisive than necessary. I would not want a student to ever feel uncomfortable talking with me about a subject because they fear my opinions, if they differ from theirs, would cause me to treat them negatively or judge them harshly.

So, did I miss anything? Some are obvious (this is a nudity-free blog, for instance). Are there any other areas that I don't post about? Topics that I do but I should stop? Topics I should start writing about?