Monday, February 26, 2018

Radio Reality

If you saw my blog post from a few weeks back, then you are aware that my students and I have launched another exciting media unit. I like big, engrossing, complex topics to explore.

In 2013, it was media-tie in products related to movies.
In 2015, it was food and restaurants.
In 2017, it was clothing and fashion.
For 2018, it's all about radio.

I'm a big believer in making experiences as authentic as possible; therefore, I wanted my students to see the inside of a real radio station. Before everyone and their brother declares that this will be their next field trip, let me caution you: this sort of visit cannot be arranged frivolously. These are working environments not designed or intended for young children to tour. There are liability issues, transportation challenges, and security considerations. We were just extremely fortunate that the "stars aligned" and that we had two wonderful contacts (Dwane Read and Shawn Haswell) that made what is usually impossible a reality.

Gillian, Dwane, and Diana at CHUM-FM

On Thursday, February 22, 2018, 25 students visited the CHUM-FM radio studio in the morning and the Allan Straight Radio Institute at Ryerson University in the afternoon. We selected five students from every primary division class to visit. (Although I'm teaching this unit to the Grade 1-5 students in the school, only the Grade 1-3 students will have their entire media literacy grade determined through this inquiry and my administrator and I decided to prioritize those classes when deciding who should go.)

The Morning at CHUM-FM

Dwane (the promotions manager) and Gillian (the promotions coordinator) at CHUM-FM were informative and delightful tour guides. We learned about the different jobs that exist at a commercial radio station - such as music directors, program directors, imaging directors, the creative team, announcers (they aren't called DJs anymore), engineers, and more. We saw all the "tools of the trade", such as the control board, the microphones, headphones, computers and monitors. 

The students were exceptionally well-behaved and extremely quiet - so quiet that we were permitted to be in the broadcasting room with CHUM-FM announcer Richie Favalaro while he was actually on the air! I think I was more excited to be in the room with such a well-established radio personality than they were! Richie Favalaro is on the air from 9:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m. every weekday and on weekends too.

It's THE Richie Favalaro showing us where he works

Richie is not the only person we met. We were introduced to Wade, the imaging director, who described his job as "painting a picture with sounds". He said that it can take 4-5 hours to collect separate pieces of sounds and put them together effectively for a 45 second creation. Thankfully the clips are played often so it is not just for a one-time airing. This was a great lesson to hear when students want to rush through a project - good work takes time. 

Wade shows the students how he does what he does
We also met Lisa, the music director, who just happened to be meeting with Jody from a record company. Jody brought songs to discuss with Lisa for potential inclusion on the CHUM-FM playlist, and we actually got the chance to hear one of the songs she brought! I asked Jody how she persuades music directors to select her company's songs, and she explained that she uses all sorts of techniques - she points out the positive aspects of the song, offers "streaming numbers", demonstrates the potential popularity of the tune and uses other statistics to back up her recommendations. Lisa is responsible for scheduling and planning 300 songs a day and she credits her love of music and gut feeling for predicting hit songs for her success in her position.

Jody (L) and Lisa (R) describe their jobs
Thank you so much Dwane, Gillian, Richie, Wade, Lisa, and all the CHUM-FM staff for allowing us into your workspace to learn from you.

The Afternoon at Ryerson University

A short bus ride later, we were at the Allan Slaight Radio Institute at Ryerson University. Shawn Haswell, the manager of production and facilities, led us on our tour after the students had consumed their lunches. We were very fortunate that it was Reading Week for the Ryerson University students, so we were able to visit without interrupting students. The students really warmed up to Shawn, asking him if teenagers *really* came there, among other questions. 

Shawn tells us who Allan Slaight was and why this place bears his name
It was a wonderful opportunity to see similar radio production tools to those used at the commercial radio station, but actually have the chance to get even closer to the equipment. We learned about "cough switches", devices in an interview suite that speakers can use to quickly mute their microphones if they have to cough or sneeze. Shawn pointed out aspects of the learning space that we would not have noticed otherwise, such as the "floating floor" that holds and hides all the wires, and the sound-dampening walls. 

Trying out the microphone at Ryerson
Shawn was very encouraging about our planned goal of podcasting and broadcasting. He recommended free, novice and intermediate apps and software for us to use and gave us microphone usage advice.  Thank you so much, Shawn, for allowing our young students into your institution and giving us your time and attention.

We had to leave at 1:00 p.m. but the students learned so much from their brief times at these marvelous places. Part of the responsibility involved for chosen students was to use the photos they took while on the trip to create a presentation for their classmates so they could learn what "radio reality" is like. I won't be able to share those presentations publicly because the students don't block faces when they take pictures, but I hope to share them with Dwane and Shawn so they can see the impact that they made by making an exception and permitting us to visit. 

Monday, February 19, 2018

My MakerFestival Family

Happy Family Day everyone! Today I'm feasting on a buffet lunch at a favourite restaurant with my husband, son, and daughter. For the majority of this weekend, however, I've spent it with another group of wonderful people that I enjoy spending time with - my "Maker Festival family".

I didn't get permission from them to post their faces on my blog, so you'll have to be content with some of the more "artsy" photographs. This is a shot of my Maker Festival peeps hiking along the Bruce Trail.

Maker Festival Toronto "is a celebration of Toronto's tech, DIY, and maker communities" (see and our big event is our annual Extravaganza, held at the Toronto Reference Library. It takes a lot of planning and organizing to make it happen. The "core team" of volunteers met for a retreat peppered with meetings this past weekend at a picturesque farm near Walters Falls, Ontario. Why bother travelling two-and-a-half hours north for a series of planning sessions? It was much more than that. 

Never underestimate the importance of bonding as a team. I know it can be trendy to mock those "team-building exercises" that corporations force their employees to attend, but learning about the other people you plan to collaborate with can be a powerful and positive source of energy and motivation.  We all chose to devote our time this weekend to being present and it makes a huge difference. All work and no play makes Maker Festival a dull team, so we did plenty of both. Away from the regular distractions of our lives in a new location, we had fun indoors and outdoors.

In addition to the hiking along the Bruce Trail, we went tobogganing on the property and also made a snow dinosaur sculpture together. 

It was a great opportunity to try new things, take risks, fail and reattempt, and creatively solve problems. For instance, Vicki decided that our dinosaur looked like it would be fun to ride. It's hard to tell in the photo above, but this snow creature is pretty tall. The first try at riding it didn't go so well.

We modified our snow beast with foot holds and other members gave Vicki a boost - and she was successful! This was analogous to the activities we attempt for Maker Festival Toronto. As Eric said during one of our talk times (and I'm paraphrasing here), "If we don't fail in at least one thing we try, we aren't trying boldly enough".

Our indoor times together also served multiple purposes. We had a storytelling evening, where the quality of listening was unparalleled, and the sharing personal and riveting. We played games, such as "The Thing from the Future", which got our creative juices flowing.

We also talked business. We shared our "whys" - the reasons for volunteering with this organization. We used the World Café brainstorm technique, as well as the Unconference model, to consider what might seem outlandish ideas or new directions or best practices. This is not a "sit on your laurels" sort of event. The wonderful thing about these sessions was that we are an eclectic, diverse group of people from different backgrounds (i.e. I'm the only teacher in the group), and everyone's voice was heard and acknowledged.

It wasn't easy to sacrifice a large portion of a long weekend to leave my family behind, but I'm so glad I attended this retreat. (Sorry Sophie and Melissa that illness kept you away; you missed a great time.) Thank you Eric, Jen, Andrew, Paul, Tom, David, Nathan, Jounghwa, and Vicki for making our Maker Festival planning retreat a memorable and rewarding experience

Monday, February 12, 2018

Goldilocks Test my Radio Lessons

I've launched a new inquiry unit with my students for media, and it's all about radio. There don't seem to be a lot of pre-made lessons on the topic, which usually suits me just fine; I like inventing my own or modifying other lessons to make them my own and suit my school community. I don't know much about radio myself, so I'm learning alongside the students.

Work sample from lesson #4 - I love what the boss is doing!

I'm providing these lessons to students from grades 1-5. We began with a "Jail Man" (not Hangman - we had a media discussion about the message in losing a game of hangman which led to some fascinating talk about what students think jails are for) to guess the mystery word: radio. Then we conducted a KWL brainstorm, but instead of a "What do we know? What do we want to learn? What did we learn?", I changed it into a "What do we know? What do we wonder? Where can we look for the answer?" This was a helpful exercise because it gave me an idea about the students' preconceived notions and prior knowledge about radio.

I wish teachers were able to guarantee the success of a lesson prior to teaching it. Thankfully, I have the opportunity, since I teach the same lesson to multiple classes, to tweak the specifics to try and improve the experience. With these brand-new learning experiences, I worried (and justifiably so) about whether the content or approach would be beyond their comprehension or abilities.  I needed to do the "Goldilocks Test" on my lessons - are they too easy, too hard, or just right? Below, I've reproduced five lessons that I've taught so far about radio, and included my personal feedback and reflection on them. (I didn't include the curriculum expectations in the lesson plan because this is an old File Maker Pro program I use to generate my lesson plans and it doesn't contain the most up-to-date expectations; I will mention which expectations match which lessons in the reflections.)

1) Radio Stations in Toronto: Who Owns What

One lesson that I thought would be really boring but ended up being quite engaging and revealing for the students was about discovering the producers behind radio stations. The key to the success of this lesson was a) to ensure I had many differently coloured highlighters, and b) to provide adequate time to complete the task. A grade 4-5 class did a lesser job on this task than a grade 1-2 class, and I suspect it was because they had less time to complete it. I really liked how the students worked well in their groups to search for the repeated names. Did it matter that I cautioned them that this would be evaluated? I liked how some of the students made a connection between the inventor of the telephone and the name of one of the major radio-station owning companies. My regret with this lesson is that I didn't immediately do a follow-up on why knowing who owns the radio station actually makes a difference. I hope it's not too late to do another lesson based on this list, and talk about how the ads chosen reflect the company interests, and other potential impacts. The expectation met by this lesson is #1.6 - "identify who produces selected media texts and why those texts are produced".

2) Increasing Our Radio Knowledge via Online Databases

Pebble Go is a wonderful database for elementary school students. The information is provided in digestible chunks and has read-to-me capabilities. Yet, I am not certain that this lesson was as instructive as I had hoped. The Pebble Go questions that were provided along with this section of the database were not always linked as closely with the text as I might have liked, and the definition of things such as electro-magnetic waves, was even still a little uncertain for me as an adult after reading the explanation.

Even though there were only four questions, I found it helpful to separate the answering of the questions from the reading of the text. We completely ignored the last question because it was covered by our introductory KWL task. When students only had to answer one question before taking a break, they were more enthusiastic about answering them. If I divided up the task like this with a class, it gave me the opportunity to re-read the Pebble Go non-fiction text passages a second time before tackling the questions. This provided another assessment piece. I think I should have modified the questions. The first one asked about why radio might be better than a telephone in communicating messages. This presumed that radios are better. A t-chart to compare might have been a better choice. The expectation met by this lesson is #2.1 "identify elements and characteristics of some media forms".

3) Radio Vocabulary Pre-Assessment

I wanted to pre-teach some of the challenging, radio-specific vocabulary, and tap into their own ideas - students are not "tabula rasas". I wracked my brain about a fun and engaging way to begin to introduce these words. I chose to use the Senteo Clickers because I felt like the students needed practice using these devices before using them in a high-stakes situation, i.e. a test. I also wanted to foster some growth mindset by giving a difficult task but showing them that they don't have to be successful immediately. This was probably my worst lesson so far. The students were thrown off because they were taking the test anonymously instead of logging in with their student numbers. I told them that the results didn't matter because it was unfair to test someone on content they haven't learned yet. They were more preoccupied with the device than they were with discovering these new words. Even though there were only 5 words (taken from a fantastic book called Media Madness by Dominic Ali and Michael Cho), they were completely befuddled and bewildered. The students were not interested in learning about the correct answers after the pretend quiz. The questions were too hard. I didn't bother trying it with the junior division students I see, but I wonder if they might have responded differently. The expectation met by this lesson (somewhat) is #2.2 "identify the conventions and techniques used in some familiar media forms and explain how they convey meaning". The funny thing is that this lesson wasn't a complete waste of time - a student made a reference to one of the vocabulary words in her drawing from the next lesson.

Using the word "playlist"

4) Imagine Inside a Radio Station

I wanted to provide time for the students to listen to commercial radio, since many of the students claimed that they never heard a radio before. I didn't want the students to just sit and do nothing while they listened to the radio. My first attempt was to allow them to play with some toys while they listened. This backfired - they were too focused on playing and talking with each other to pay attention to the radio. What else could they do while they listened that was productive but still allowed them to hear what was going on. This then evolved into the lesson task you see to the right. Students could draw what they thought the inside of a radio station looked like. This task bombed again when I first tried it, because many of the students were frozen and drew nothing because they said they had no ideas because they had never been to a radio station and just couldn't imagine anything. Too hard? The task became more manageable and possible when we added a short group brainstorm at the start. By asking who and what they thought they might see, students heard other students make suggestions that they could piggy back on for their own drawing.  Drawing while listening meant that they could hear the radio better, and this led to great observations and some clearing of previous misconceptions - e.g. students thought that they only time they'd hear "just talking" would be for the news, but they discovered that DJs or radio hosts talk quite a bit in between songs. They also noticed that the name of the radio station is mentioned frequently. The expectations covered by this are overall #1 "demonstrate an understanding of a variety of media texts", #1.6 "identify who produces selected media texts and why those texts are produced" and #4.1 "identify, initially with support and direction, what strategies they found most helpful in making sense of and creating media texts"

I plan on having them do a second drawing to show the learning

Drawing means they can illustrate what they don't yet have words for

5) Radio Station Similarities in our School

I've been in contact with some commercial radio stations to try and arrange a visit, and we have concrete plans to participate in a broadcast with an Internet-based radio station, VoicEd Radio, closer to the end of this unit. In the meantime, however, I wanted the students to get a firmer idea in their heads about what happens in a radio studio. The idea to connect radio to the school PA system was Ms. Lung's - she mentioned it as I was talking to her about my media lessons. I thought it was brilliant, hands-on, and useful. For some classes, I combined it with watching one full but short video (How a Radio Station Works, Radio Station Equipment ) and part of a longer video (KMKT Studio Tour). Once again, I found it was more successful if these two experiences were split up into two separate, short lessons. I also wish that I could allow the students to do more than buzz their empty classroom (or classroom where we sent some of their fellow students to hear them speak to them), but the students knew that playing with the PA system while other classes were in session would probably be frowned upon. The same expectations mentioned for the fourth lesson would work for this lesson as well.

Performing a "Goldilocks test" on my lessons can be a bit inconclusive. Were the students in a good mood the day I delivered it? Did I split it up or combine it? Did I provide enough time to think and do? I plan on doing some more reading from that Ali book, and teaching with Stephen Hurley about VoicEd radio's purpose and methods, but if anyone has any suggestions for future lessons, please let me know. This is definitely a work in progress!

Monday, February 5, 2018

The Need for Feed(back)

Determined that my past sewing adventures were not merely a fad, I decided to sign up for sewing classes with the Toronto Parks, Recreation and Culture Department. It's been a different experience than my attempts to learn how to sew from my mother. Our assigned instructor was not available due to a family tragedy, so we did not have classes for the first two sessions. For the next two sessions, we had a substitute instructor, who had to hurry all the way from Richmond Hill to Scarborough to teach and who was unfamiliar with where the resources for these classes were located. This past week, our original instructor returned, but she had to do a lot of administrative catchup. Despite all these setbacks, we've actually done quite a bit of work. We learned how to measure ourselves and each other properly. (My fellow classmates, Tamra and Judy, and I have gotten quite up close and personal while practising these skills!) We also learned how to thread a sewing machine, cut out patterns, pin them to fabric, cut out the fabric, and stitch parts together.

Pinning my pattern, aligned with a fold

Re-pinning my pattern correctly on the right side

Unlearning/relearning which way the pins are placed

Shoulders stitched on a prototype top
I noticed that I peppered my sewing teachers with a lot of questions, a lot of them along the lines of "am I doing this properly?" I found that I really needed feedback.

Perfect timing on that notion of feedback. I'm involved as a participant in the TVO Teach Ontario book club for The Feedback-Friendly Classroom by Deborah McCallum. The book's subtitle suggests that it will help readers "how to equip students to give, receive, and seek quality feedback that will support their social, academic, and developmental needs". I like how Maureen McGrath, our facilitator, has set up ways for us to provide our own feedback on our learning through this text. Participants such as Beckie, Maureen, Kit, Alexis, and Alanna have provided great insights via the discussion threads. For instance, I really like how Maureen gave an example of a single-point rubric - it gives a lot more room for specific feedback that a traditional, four-column rubric doesn't always provide.

This is Maureen's sample posted on TeachOntario

 It hasn't been all back-pats and celebrations, however. I've struggled with this quote:
"Teachers sometimes need to provide feedback next-steps that highlight what to do better; students sometimes perceive this as negative feedback. When students give feedback in a feedback-friendly classroom, we want them to focus on only the positive aspects of someone's work." (page 91)
I'm not sure how much I can support this statement, especially considering my recent sewing class experience. If my instructor is too busy with someone else to tell me what's wrong with my pinning performance, I don't want to have to wait until she's free for me to proceed - I'd rather have a fellow student, who I know has the expertise to advise wisely, to tell me that I've pinned the pattern to the wrong side, or that there's a bump in the fabric that I didn't notice. If I'm approaching a situation with a dis-regulated student that might escalate the negative reactions, I'd rather have a colleague give me a heads-up on what not to say to that student, because as the classroom teacher, they might have had more experience dealing with that student's outbursts. Maybe the "focus on only the positive aspects" only applies to students? But if that's the case, is that implying that students can't identify the flaws in someone's work? Or that they cannot make those suggestions in a helpful way? I'm not certain.

I know for myself that if I genuinely want to improve something, and I'm mentally ready to separate myself from the work, I don't just want to hear the "good stuff". This was well illustrated at a meeting I went to very, very early in the morning on Friday, February 2. I'm thrilled to be the incoming, junior OSLA Super Conference planner. Jess Longthorne is the outgoing OSLA SuperConference planner. Alanna King is the formerly junior, now senior OSLA Super Conference planner. These are big shoes to fill with this role but I'm excited about the opportunity. This 7:00 a.m. meeting was for all the new and current Super Conference planners, led by the absolutely phenomenal Michelle Arbuckle from OLA. The entire meeting was focused on feedback. They used the "2 Stars and a Wish" strategy and Michelle took copious notes on what everyone shared.
These are volunteers who have been working together for a year, and non-stop since Tuesday to put together a fantastic conference. They were exhausted but they realized the need to reflect and share. Key to the sharing was the "wish" portion - the things that hadn't gone well, the next steps, the aspects that might need changing somehow if possible. It would be completely understandable if some people were not willing to hear these "criticisms", but coming from those who were part of the team meant that they weren't personal affronts, but observations that shouldn't be shunted under the carpet. We don't have to act on every single one of these feedback suggestions, but we should hear them out.

Another great example of listening to feedback and then making your own decisions came from a Forest of Reading Silver Birch nominee I read this past week. (I got caught up with some more of my reading by borrowing books from students - I read The Doll's Eye, Summer's End, The Stone Heart, Yellow Dog, and From Ant to Eagle - all really good books!)

In the back of the book, From Ant to Eagle, the author describes getting feedback from the first literary agent who responded to his inquiry, suggesting that he change the ending of the book so that (SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT!) Sammy doesn't die. Alex Lyttle tried it - he rewrote the second half of the book. This is what he said happened next in this process:
But after rereading it, I decided it no longer felt like my novel. Yes, it was happier, and yes, many people would likely prefer it that way, but it wasn't what I had set out to write. The harsh reality of pediatric oncology is that there are thousands of children like Sammy and Cal out there, and in the end, I chose to tell their story.
Even those this book probably caused me some dehydration from crying so much, I'm glad that Alex Lyttle didn't change his original ending. It seems like even experts like literary agents and editors can provide "incorrect" feedback, which still leaves me struggling with that idea from Deborah McCallum's book that I wished was more developed: how to reverse inaccurate feedback from peers (and when to allow critical comments). I welcome any feedback from readers about how to deal with this, either via Facebook, Twitter, or through comments directly tied to Blogger.