Monday, December 25, 2017

Edible Inquiries Matching Class Questions

The last week of classes in 2017 (and any year, to be honest) goes by in a blur. We have our Winter Concert rehearsals, which are much needed for a smooth and successful community event of this sort, but also chaotic for those who need routine and schedules.

My choice of media activity for the last week of school for the kindergarten students may have also contributed to the hubbub, but I'm still pleased with the process and the product. (The primary division students created success criteria for improving their ChatterPix creations and the junior/intermediates finished their "What does it mean to go viral?" collaborative investigations.)

One of the reasons I'm so pleased with the kindergarten lessons was that I find it challenging to time my tasks with their classroom-specific inquiries. Usually, by the time I've discovered what "big fat juicy question" or theme they're exploring, they are moving on to another topic. It can also be time-consuming, as a prep coverage teacher responsible for many groups, to develop lessons that can only be used for a single class. However, the stars aligned well and not only was I able to tailor the experience to the specific class inquiry, it was delicious as well!

Room K1 - Gingerbread People

I've gushed at length about the talented Early Childhood Educators at my school. Jen Balido-Cadavez is still metaphorically hitting home runs with her students. She and I communicate via Twitter DM and at the beginning of the month, she sent me this note.

It was thanks to her that I had advanced knowledge of their gingerbread theme. Later in the DM, she connects it to our already-existing, term-long kindie media and library inquiry question about things we love and hate. I also really like how we took equity into consideration and had challenging conversations with the students about gender - why is it almost always called a "gingerbread man"?

We read traditional and alternative picture books featuring gingerbread people. We compared text similarities and differences. We baked and decorated sugar cookie people and the students had a good time. We were so busy that I didn't take many photos. I tweeted the one that didn't need faces obscured.

Room 110 - Poo

Ms. Chiu and I had an entertaining discussion about what food connection I could possibly make to her recent inquiry, on poo. I just could not bring myself to make food that looked like human excrement. Thankfully, we came up with a satisfactory compromise that still honoured the students' learning. During library, we used the TDSB online databases (especially Pebble Go) to read about worms and dirt. We discovered that soil is made up of worm poo and other things. I was so pleased that during book exchange, some of Ms. Chiu's kindergarteners chose to continue reading the articles on soil instead of playing. During our last class of 2017, the kindergarteners of Room 110 and I made "worms and dirt dessert". We made instant chocolate pudding and added items that represented dirt composition - top soil (crumbled cookie crumbs), rocks (candy-covered chocolate) and (gummy) worms.

Mixing the powder and milk

Chocolate pudding, the base of our food art

What's in your soil?

Students were involved in every step of making

Finished masterpieces!

A top view

Does it look yummy?

Room K2 - Sharks

Inquiry questions don't always match a particular time of year. Mr. Tong's class was focused on sharks. I'm glad I heard about their theme when I did. I was able to show them how and where to find information books on sharks and read a few during library time. It also gave us a chance to look at (albeit briefly) the media representations of sharks. We learned through our reading that although sharks are efficient hunters, they themselves are hunted and hurt too, by nets, pollution, and human interference. Mrs. Isidro, the ECE, and I thought hard about how to make our food connection doable in our time allotted, with maximum student involvement. (We'd seen "sharks in blue Jello" dishes, but it would take a long time to set and the students wouldn't be as active.) We used acetate bases and applied frosting, which the students coloured themselves with blue food dye, to create an ocean scene. Everyone had four gummy sharks to use in their picture. Students could choose to put Goldfish, "rocks", "dirt" (leftover supplies from Ms. Chiu's class), and other items in their pictures. We even added some nets using makerspace items. The results were all unique. Some even made theirs 3D!

It was a bit of an expensive lesson (because I bought all of the consumables) but I really liked how all the students were actively involved, making their edible art and making connections to what they had learned in class. It also was a reprieve from the holiday-focused activities - not that there's anything wrong with that, (as Doug Peterson's blog post on holiday sing-a-longs can attest) but it's a bit more inclusive and centered on learning. Having said that, this blog goes public on December 25, 2017 - Merry Christmas to everyone!

Monday, December 18, 2017

Old Friends, New Friends, Virtual Friends

I've had a very meta-cognitive week, because I've spent a lot of time talking about my teaching and thinking practices. I wrestled with composing a test using the IWB "clickers" and facing/correcting my own biases, shared the planning and results of my "How do things go viral?" lesson for my final Media AQ course on Friday, and discussed my process of blogging and my passion for Twitter with participants in the Leadership and Mentorship AQ courses on Saturday. I want to take some time to stop navel-gazing and turn my focus outward, to other people.

Old Friends

I received an email out of the blue from a dear friend of mine all the way on the other side of the country. I haven't seen Joanie Proske in person since 2011, when she came to Toronto to present at the Ontario Library Association Super Conference. She and I first met when we were both part of the excellent Teacher-Librarianship via Distance Learning program at the University of Alberta. She holds a special place in my affections because, back in 2010 when I was struggling with writing my capping paper, she was the person who provided encouragement and chunked her instructions to me, peppered with descriptive feedback, so that I was able to properly use citations. We caught up with what's happening in each others' lives, and I'm thrilled that she is still developing her virtual library, which was the topic of her 2010 capping paper and her 2011 OLA presentation. Her perseverance and dedication is paying off with her students.

This is a photo of June, me, and Joanie in Edmonton, TL-DL grads, circa 2010.

I also got a needed nudge from another very old friend - as in, Faculty of Education Pre-Service days old. Wendy Rodriguez Kaell responded to my Facebook post about reconnecting through Christmas cards and challenged me to bump it up a notch by trying to schedule an in-person get-together. She even volunteered to resurrect an old tradition among our university friends of the "New Years Eve Eve party", begun by Robin and Angela McCabe in the last century! I'm making a visit a priority, Wendy. (I've been meaning to make a scrapbook with all the photos I collected from the various NYEE parties since they first began in 1996 but I haven't gotten around to it yet. Below are a couple from the very first year - do you recognize me in any of them?)

New Friends

When you meet people, you never know who will continue to keep in touch. At Saturday's "speed mentoring / speed leadership" session, I was able to chat with Amani (Kurt). He was so eager and enthusiastic and by the end of the morning had a brand-new Twitter account and a post already up. I suggested some people for him to follow. I mentioned that Twitter seems like just one big thing, but that a lot depends on the people you follow, and I encouraged people to diversify their Twitter following list. If you just have teachers on your follow list, then you are part of "EduTwitter". If you follow those into ICT, then you are part of "EdTechTwitter". "Black Twitter" also exists, and it is from there that some ideas emerge and grow before exploding onto mainstream news. (Think abut the recent news, which we talked about with the Grade 6-7-8s at school as part of media class, about the Tennessee bullied boy whose mother posted a video of him to YouTube - it was later discovered that there were some concerning underlying elements to the family background that made people question their initial support, including financial support.) I liked how Amani said, "Get me to that Black Twitter".
Administrators are also learners too, and I got to spend time with Brian, who is a VP. We had some one-on-one Twitter PD, recovered his password, merged his dual accounts, updated his profile and had a great discussion about appropriate photos to post.
Thanks to all the people I met at that Saturday AQ, like Anu, Lisa, and so many others!
Virtual Friends

I don't like it when people say that "virtual friends aren't real friends". My husband, who games via Google Hangouts with people all over the world, would disagree. My friends that I met on a Twilight fan forum nearly a decade ago (Rummanah, Leanne, Donna, Brooke, Stacy, Luisa, Shannan, Sarah, Jennifer, Brandi, Wendee, Julie, Maggi, Angela, Molly, Debbie, and Paul - I'm looking at you!) would also disagree with the statement "virtual friends aren't real friends". The world is changing and although all media are constructions and the media constructs reality, I believe it is possible to grow friendships online. These can sprout from spontaneous conversations (like the one below, where I responded to a post Kory Graham made linking to an article). It means some new people to follow, and maybe to learn from, and maybe to get to know a bit better.
We never know who will positively influence us or remain in our lives for more than a moment, but I'm grateful for the time to find out! Thanks to all these friends and potential friends!

Monday, December 11, 2017

Teaching About and Through Media As I Learn a Family Tradition

Last Wednesday, I went to my parents' house to participate in and preserve a special holiday tradition: the initial preparation of the Christmas meal of garlic pork.

My mother is 81 and my father is 77; they won't be around forever and their memories are not what they once were. My job was to help out but to record the required steps for making garlic pork. I've attempted this archiving before, but there is one small problem with my previous efforts - I taped it with my video camera on a VHS tape. My parents still own a VHS tape player but we ditched ours ages ago and replaced it with Blu-Ray DVD player. I'm not able to view what I made before. My hope is that by blogging about how to make garlic pork, this media text type will be accessible in the future. Since I always print a bound copy of my blog, compiling the year's posts, I am confident that I will at least have a print version of the instructions.

Echoes of concepts introduced by my media AQ course continued resonate even as I watched, typed notes on an app on my phone, and took photos with a "proper" camera. My mother started to pose for the camera, aware of her invisible audience. My parents' way of preparing this meal and the descriptions they used clashed with the directions that my brother and I needed so that we'll be able to replicate it; (this shows media has social, political, ideological and value messages)

"How much pork do you need to buy?"
"How much is enough?"
"I just eye-ball it."
"But how many pieces?" [runs to package and examines the weight]

Below is the commentary-free, "just the facts ma'am" version of how to make garlic pork, with photos for clarity. As you can tell, I kept all the commentary for the first part of the blog post - you'll notice that Stage 3 of the instructions are a bit vague; we weren't able to pin my parents down to specifics and I have no pictures of this part of the process, because it's done early on Christmas Day morning. Another caveat if you are going to try and make this - eating garlic pork will make you smell strongly of garlic and make you burp! The "cure" is to consume the garlic pork while drinking straight gin. I thought this was just an excuse to drink early in the morning but there must be some sort of folksy reason to it because once I considered myself old enough to drink the gin, the burping wasn't as frequent or as odiferous.

Portuguese-Guyanese Garlic Pork

(A Christmas Day Tradition)


  • 10 heads of garlic
  • 5 bags of oregano
  • wiri wiri peppers
  • vinegar (pickling vinegar or white vinegar)
  • 4-5 pounds of lean pork (e.g. boneless pork loin chops)
  • salt
  • water
  • vegetable oil


- a mill grinder (or small blender)
- 3 large bowls
- 3 large forks or tongs
- 1 big sharp cutting knife
- a glass or mason jar with a secure lid
- a pot for boiling
- a fry pan


A - Making the "Guck"

1) Peel the garlic

2) Grind or blend the garlic with the oregano in a mill (or small blender). Add a couple of wiri wiri peppers for every (or every other) batch ground up, depending on how strong or mild you want the guck to be. 

3) After grinding, add a little bit of vinegar to the ground up garlic, oregano and peppers so that it is the consistency of porridge.

B - Preparing the Pork

4) Remove the fat from the pork and cut into pieces that are approximately 2" x 1" (5cm x 2.5 cm)

5) Prepare three large bowls and three designated forks (use the forks or tongs only with the assigned bowl so you do not contaminate the contents).

The first bowl has room temperature water, enough to submerge the pork.

The second bowl has salt water. (Put 4 teaspoons of salt in the bowl.)

The third bowl contains vinegar and some of the "guck" (2-3 large spoons)

6) Put some pork in the first bowl for about one minute long. Swoosh it around and watch how the water changes colour. You must replace the liquid from the first bowl after every rinsed batch.

7) Shake off the excess water from the pork (using designated fork 1) and transfer the pork to bowl 2.

8) Stir the pork in the second bowl with the designated second fork. It should stay in this liquid for about two minutes. You can change this liquid once you notice that the water is a different colour (not as regularly as you'll have to change the first bowl).

9) Use fork #2 to place the pork into the third bowl. It should stay in this bowl for about a minute.

10) Just before placing the first pieces of the ready pork from bowl #3 into the mason jar, line the bottom of the mason jar with a layer of vinegar and guck so it has a base.

11) Use fork #3 to transfer the pork to the mason jar. Once you have a layer of pork, add more vinegar and guck - don't let the mixture get too dry; it should look moist.

12) Continue to marinate / soak the pieces of pork from bowl 1 to 2 to 3 to the mason jar. Add vinegar, guck, and then about 2 teaspoons of salt to the mason jar. Make sure you do not overfill it. Then, put the lid on the mason jar and seal it. Keep it sealed for two-and-a-half weeks.

C - Cooking the Garlic Pork

13) Boil the pork in some of the liquid that it was pickled in with a bit of water until it gets to the stage where, when you stick it with a fork, it feels soft enough.

14) After boiling it, fry it in a fry pain with a tiny bit of vegetable oil. Turn it while frying and fry it until just before it gets brown. 

I don't know when I'll be brave enough to try and make garlic pork on my own (my husband and children have definitely NOT acquired the taste) but I'm grateful I spent some time with my parents to go over the process and preserve the pork and the tradition.

Monday, December 4, 2017

The Play Predicament in my MakerSpace

Every recess, there's a big crowd by the library door, holding passes like they are hot tickets to a rock concert. When the doors open, they rush in and I spend a few minutes at the laptop recording the names of the visitors and their purposes. This wouldn't be possible in a school with a larger population - my school has about 300 students. (It wasn't possible to analyze the data when I once collected this information as a paper sign-in, even with just 300 students. Thank you Francis Ngo for the idea to go with Google Forms!) I make this effort to record visitors, however, because I'm a bit of a data nerd and these sort of statistics might be useful for responding effectively to the needs of my school population and being accountable in my annual report for the school library. I hadn't created an annual report for several years, for many different reasons. I returned to it but I really wanted my quantitative data to mean something more - ergo, the Google Form and the switch from student entry (which used up all their recess time as they lined up to laboriously key in the information) to teacher-librarian entry (because I can type faster and they can go quicker to do what they originally intended).

Since it's the first few days of December, I want to share the findings of my recess visit log here. This tallies all the school days from September 2017 to November 2017. (December 1 was Federation Day so students were not in school while teachers participated in professional learning.)

915 responses, but that doesn't count the amount during book fair that I wrote but never recorded.
142 people came during book fair week. The actual number is ... 1057!

Certain classes have students that use the library more than others.

In case this is hard to see, the big pink slice of the pie is the MakerSpace option.

As you can see, the MakerSpace aspect of the school library is a big hit. The section that I want to highlight in this blog post is the "other" option. The library is supposed to be available for almost any activity, within reason. Many students come to feed or spend time with the skinny pigs, so much so that I'll probably have to create that as a separate category. Several times, children came in and asked "Can I play?"

"Do you mean, use the Makerspace?", I'd try and rephrase.

Some would simply agree. Others would reply with "Play with the Lego"or "Play with that", pointing to one of the bins or boxes I have near the back of the library, filled with balls or dolls or planes.

I was quite stumped. Is play an okay reason to be in the library at recess?

When I'm faced with a moral or pedagogical dilemma, I often turn to others to talk it out and help me sort things out in my brain. This time was no exception. I spoke with Jennifer Balido-Cadavez, an amazing Early Childhood Educator at my school, and with Renee Keberer, the HSP/MART and a close friend. This is just a short pro/con chart highlighting just some of the issues we debated.

  • Increase positive perception of library by students
  • Play is part of learning
  • Recess time is student choice time so they can choose to play
  • Some items don’t lend themselves to outdoor play
  • Calmer, “quieter” atmosphere in library
  • Create negative perception by other teachers of library purpose
  • Messy library
  • Students don’t put away materials
  • Too many students will want to come to the library (supervision issues)
  • Students need to go outside for fresh air

Jen, Renee and I talked about heavy topics like the purpose of recess, student choice, and teacher mental health and well-being. They reminded me that I was not obligated to open the library at all during every single recess. Jen and Renee gave me a lot to consider.

I think I've come up with a compromise that I feel comfortable with implementing.

Giving students "carte blanche" to take anything and everything was almost too much choice. Objects were mislaid or broken when there were too many about. I remember reading that kindergarten teachers will often only put out a few play options so it's not overwhelming.
What I'm doing now is placing a few "play options" out on a visible rectangular table in the library. If students want to play, they can pick from one of the 2-3 items on the table. I'll rotate items out every couple of weeks. When recess is over, as long as they return items to that designated table, I won't panic at the disarray. (I have a pretty high tolerance for mess as it is.) We still have student limitations on the passes - 2 students per class pas - and I've noticed that many of the teachers have arranged systems in their classes to ensure that no one monopolizes the recess library pass and visits are determined fairly and equitably. This means that I will never have more than twenty-two students in the library during recess at one time. (Occasionally a teacher will request that three or four students use the pass simultaneously because the students are working collaboratively on a project, and I've agreed - it's important to be flexible.)

How has the change been going so far? Well, students often ask me to take photos of their work, as some things must be packed away after recess and can't be saved. Here are some of the free time creations.

I'm pleased with how the "play predicament" was resolved in my space. The final proof that I made the right decision came last Thursday when I received a note from four students in Mrs. Commisso's class, thanking me for allowing them to come to the library at recess. (I'll try and post a photo of their sweet note on here with their names obscured.)

Credit should also go to "C", a former student of Mrs. Commisso's who was an equity leader without realizing it. She first questioned the fairness of only permitting junior and intermediate division students in the library at recess and it was her initiative and perseverance that led me to open the school library to all grades at recess, a decision I have not regretted. Thank you to all the students and staff members who have prompted me to examine my teaching practices, ensure they are aligned with my philosophy, and make changes that benefit others.