Monday, March 26, 2018

Feel Like a Star

I asked my husband this time for advice on what to write for today's blog. My original idea couldn't be shared publicly online because it would breach privacy expectations that teachers should usually maintain. He told me that I spent a lot of time this week making costumes and that my post should somehow tie into that.

The date of our school musical is fast approaching and I volunteered to be on the costume committee. My job is to outfit the animal characters and the student playing the sun. I love creating costumes! Like my cosplaying daughter and her process, some parts are found/repurposed and other parts are made by hand with help. I scoured thrift stores all over the east end of the GTA (and even in Calgary) for furry bodies and my discoveries saved us time and money. No need to "reinvent the wheel" if you don't have to do so! My daughter helped me make the ears combining head bands with felt and we had fittings during recess this past week.







Although I announced which specific actors were needed in the library to try on their costumes, many more arrived. I believe it's because the students enjoy the special treatment. They want to feel like a star - being fussed over, and that their opinions matter on how their costumes fit and feel. They appreciate having an adult's positive attention focused just on them.

This was Aviva Dunsiger's observation in her most recent blog post. She reminds us to "slow down, listen to, and form relationships with kids". When we connect, value, and love them, so many positive things can happen. It can be challenging when they all want it at the same time and it's tempting to try and multi-task so you can "get more bang for your buck". However, a costume fitting forces you to narrow your focus to that one performer at that one moment in time. You can't divide your attention, or you might stick a person with a pin, or worse! My sewing teacher warned me about this - while showing me about how to quickly remove stitches with a rotary cutter instead of a stitch ripper (you can see a photo of this on last week's blog post), she told me that she took off a chunk of flesh from her finger because she was distracted by the TV while using a rotary cutter.

The more I use my sewing machine and the related tools, the more comfortable I feel doing it - and I have to admit, I like feeling like a "seamstress to the stars", with my measuring tape draped around my neck and my ideas becoming reality. The tails I've made this weekend (a beaver, wolf, and squirrel) are looking pretty cool and I'm nervously excited about tackling the wings of the owl, cardinal, and raven. I'll try and share more photos (even of the mis-steps) as we proceed.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Body on Break, Brain Back at School!

Welcome back to school! I really needed that week of vacation to recharge my batteries. It was a nice mix of scheduled and free time, connecting with family and friends, and doing vs thinking. The funny thing is that I can be away from school but my thoughts aren't far from school. Here's a quick summary of what I did and how it led me to thoughts about education.

Saturday, March 10 and Saturday, March 17, 2018 = Sewing Classes

These were my last two sewing classes, and I was sad to see them end! I'm finally getting the hang of sewing now, especially because of my wise and wonderful sewing teacher. Having said that, I've made HUGE mistakes trying to make these "simple" pajama pants. I stitched my legs together and had to rip them all out. On March 17, I cut out the extra fabric that I thought was there erroneously - but it turns out that was the extra space for the behind, so the pants may not work anymore! My teacher was patient and showed me how to put an elastic into a pants, avoid fraying connections with a zig zag stitch, and many more things. My fellow student Tamra asked me to tell her everything she missed, but it's really hard to sum up several hours of mini- and mega-lessons when you weren't there to experience it first-hand.
Link to Learning: 1. Document, document, document! (I took a lot of photos to remind myself what things should look like when done right.) 2. Don't be afraid to make mistakes. (You can almost always re-do it - unless you cut stuff!) 3. Taking time to try helps learning sink in. (Natalie let us stay past our regular time and that helped a lot when we weren't limited to 90 minutes to absorb things.)

Natalie shows me how to pin the elastic in the waist

Natalie demonstrating how to pull while stitching elastics

March 10 progress - need to finish the seams so it won't fray!
Showing me how to CAREFULLY remove stitches

Saturday March 10 to Wednesday, March 14, 2018 = Calgary, Alberta

You already read about my son's first time on an airplane and our weekend in Calgary. As we predicted, we went to Banff on Monday and Drumheller on Tuesday. We could have crammed a lot into each day, but we refrained and only spent a few hours in each place. I'm glad we did, because it prevented us from being absolutely exhausted at the end of the day, and it allowed us some quality, low-key time with my sister. For Banff, the goal was the gondola up the mountain. In Drumheller, the focus was the Royal Tyrrell Museum.
Link to Learning: 1. Don't try to accomplish too much at one time. 2. Do the things that are outside your comfort zone (that gondola was pretty high up and although I'm not exactly scared of heights, it was a little spooky realizing that just a few cables were all that held us up). 3. Little things are just as special as big things (i.e. I enjoyed going over French flash cards with my sister as much as I did examining T-rex bones).

Beautiful Banff

In a gondola, passing a gondola

My son and my sister on a throne of ice

Wise tips when in the Badlands of Alberta!

Everything is dinosaurs in Drumheller!

Thursday, March 15, 2018 = Marriage Prep Class

This was our "catch-up" day, filled with errands and ending with the second-last marriage preparation class. I've written three times about teaching marriage preparation so I won't go on at length. We didn't lead this session and we weren't particularly pleased with how it went.
Link to Learning: 1. Stick to your principles. 2. Proper preparation and training are key. 3. Humour helps.

Friday, March 16, 2018 = Canada Blooms

My parents need to get out more, but it's tricky to find a place or event that appeals to them. Thankfully, my brother reminded me about Canada Blooms, the flower and garden show. I bought the three of us tickets (thank you CAA for the discount!) and we went on Friday. I am not a gardening fan. It's not my cup of tea but my mom and dad had a wonderful time. My dad even took photos while he was there. I had to show him multiple times how to use the camera on their cell phone, but he managed. (The photos here are the ones I took.)
Link to Learning: 1. There's something of interest for everyone as long as you are willing to look for it. 2. Making others happy can make you happy too.

My mom and dad held hands wherever they walked

"The Old Folks" having fun at Canada Blooms

Saturday, March 17, 2018 = Breakout Con

My daughter worked at the ROM all March Break so on Saturday we spent a few hours at Breakout Con, a board game and role-playing game convention. I wasn't really enjoying myself until I met up with my friends Denise Colby and Jen Apgar (and Tasmin). The five of us played Lost Cities (a game about launching expeditions) and Celestia (a combination collaborative/competitive game of sailing and wagering if attempts will be successful). We had tried neither of these games before but we had two separate people come and teach us how to play. Jen made a great observation that I vowed I had to blog about - "explaining how to play a game is like teaching mathematics; you might be able to do it but not everyone that's good at it is good at introducing people to it". She had plenty of other nuggets of wisdom about play and practice and math and what makes a good game / math experience. I wish I wrote them down! Denise pointed out the benefits of explaining the game in multiple ways (especially with visuals). Jen's explanation led me to buy a game that may be a bit young for my teens at home but I think my school children will like (Food Fighters).
Link to Learning: 1. Hang out with people who make you think. 2. Math is everywhere. 3. Excellent mathematicians do not always make excellent math teachers - making something make sense to someone new to the concept is a talent.

Getting ready to play Celestia

Oops! We had the ship upside down the first time!

Celestia set-up!

Learning to play Food Fighters

Helpful sign - needed elsewhere?

I didn't talk about a lot of these things at school, because of a post Jennifer Brown tweeted.

Kerri Commisso balanced this in a wonderful way in her classroom today and I was fortunate enough to see it. She gave the students time to talk, in groups of their choosing, about their time away from school. After a reasonable amount of time, we returned to our organization of our guided reading groups. I complimented her on her approach and she said she read Jennifer's tweet, adding "we don't have to make students write about everything". Great point! I couldn't resist writing here, but no one forced me, and my blog is my "back-up memory". Hope everyone else had a beneficial break.

Monday, March 12, 2018

First Flight

Happy March Break to those on holiday right now! I'm writing this blog post at my sister's house in Calgary. My sister moved out west about a decade ago and has been keen to have some familiar faces from Toronto come visit. I popped by in 2010 while I was in town for the Treasure Mountain Canada library symposium, but hadn't been around since then, because in my opinion Calgary was too expensive, too far, and too cold.  This time, we found decent airline sales that coincided with my spring vacation. packed extra layers for Calgary's unpredictable weather, and took the plunge. What makes this trip extra special is that my son came with me and it is his first time travelling on an airplane.

Peter had some mixed feelings about flying. Part of his emotions may have to do with watching the famous Twilight Zone episode, "Nightmare at 20, 000 Feet" - his logical mind knew there'd be no gremlins interfering with the equipment, but when we are faced with new, unfamiliar challenges, our logical thoughts aren't always the primary ones.

Peter embodied the old Nike slogan - "Just Do It". He claims that he didn't have a strategy to make the first flight less stressful but I did notice a few things we did to make it less anxiety-provoking. He brought some manga to read to keep him occupied. He and I chatted a bit and watched the movie "Coco" together on the in-flight entertainment system. He was so engrossed that he didn't even realize that we had some turbulence.

I couldn't help being a bit of a proud mother, taking photos of my very patient son as he sat in his seat and whispering to the flight attendants that this was his first flight. They offered to introduce him to the pilot after the journey, but we had some delays with take-off, so it was after midnight when we landed and we were too tired to take them up on their invitation.

We don't have a long time to spend exploring "Cow Town" and the main purpose of our visit is to spend time with my sister and her significant other. Peter continues to embrace new experiences and actually went ATVing on a frozen Albertan lake. My son inspired me to try new things as well; my adventures weren't as hair-raising - I tried some fancy new tea and arancini at an Italian restaurant in Kensington for lunch. Our other plans include seeing Banff and the Royal Tyrrell Dinosaur Museum in Drumheller.

If I had to determine what the "big idea" was for this blog post (hey, it's hard turning off your "teacher brain" for a week!), I'd say that it's important to try new things even when they scare you, and make a point of spending time with people you care about. We all don't have the financial freedom or room in our schedules to fly across the country, so in your own ways, in your own neighbourhoods, try something new and reconnect.

Monday, March 5, 2018

The Dean Machine

This past week, my ball hockey team made it to the finals in our school tournament. This past week, several of our intermediate division girls attended the LC3 Girls in STEM conference. The common factor in both of those events is an amazing teacher that often doesn't get the credit he deserves - Dean Roberts.

Ms. Lee & Mr. Roberts on PJ Day

Let me tell you a little bit about Dean. I first met him when he was a student teacher. Teaching is a second career for Dean and he took to it like a duck takes to water. We "lost" Dean a couple of times as a permanent teacher due to surpluses and seniority numbers, but somehow he always made it back to our school, for which we all should be incredibly thankful.

Dean is willing to do almost anything for his students, staff, and school, even if it means looking a bit ridiculous or sacrificing what little of his free time he has available. (He teaches Grade 6-7 and is often one of the last ones to leave the school at night because he stays behind to mark and plan.) Let me provide just a few examples. When I was teaching the ESL self-contained class for history, the students needed some fun but concrete ways to understand the type of people populating New France. I asked Dean if he could pretend to be a coureur de bois and answer questions from the students. Dean gave up his prep time to do it and even improvised when he forgot his special clothes.

Dean the coureur de bois and Diana the nun
 Dean participates actively in our school spirit days, and in 2016 for "Movember", Dean allowed members of the class that raised the most money for prostrate cancer research to shave him on stage.

Taking it on the chin (literally) for a good cause
When I saw a leather couch on the side of the road just before school began this year, I turned to Dean for help transporting it to use in the library. Dean didn't hesitate - he drove his truck to my neighbourhood and carted it back to school.

I've mentioned the ball hockey tournament - it is now a school tradition and Dean organizes it all, from the "draft pick day" to refereeing the games, from publishing the statistics to paying for the engraving on the trophy. This takes a lot of time and effort but Dean gladly performs this service because he knows how much it means to the community.

Dean presents the trophy to Siobhan's winning intermediate team
Within his class, Dean is always trying out new, engaging tasks for his students to undertake. Often, it means a lot of work on his part. Right now, he is re-designing a better green screen film studio for his students to use for their commercials. He built this incredible puppet theatre the year he had students create and perform their own puppet shows and he let me borrow.

Here's the deceiving thing about Dean - because he has such a jovial nature and comfortable rapport with his students, sometimes people don't realize what a talented, competent, committed, professional teacher he is. His students love to joke with him and tease him, which for me is evidence about how much they like him. They feel perfectly at ease to complain about a math lesson or try and persuade him to give extensions to assignments. They talk to this male role model in ways that I suspect they dare not with their own parents. Dean is fun-loving but Dean is also serious - about teaching and learning. A lot of what he does pedagogically happens behind the scenes. For instance, Dean approached me last spring about a student that he had some concerns about regarding his reading. Dean asked for book recommendations that matched the student's passions and strove to read these books himself so he was more knowledgeable about what he could suggest. This student, now in his second year in Dean's class, has become an incredibly motivated reader who reads constantly instead of minimally and shares books with his fellow students to support their love of reading. I can't place all of the credit for this transformation on Dean; sometimes it's a matter of the right reader finding the right book to launch the love. However, Dean's unwavering support, positive reinforcement, and determination to help this student reach his potential has been important to his development. 

I am very fortunate to co-teach regularly with Dean for a shared library-media period this school year and I can testify to the amount of consideration he puts into making the best learning environment to help all of his students succeed. Dean, I hope I haven't embarrassed you too much by devoting today's blog post to you, but you deserve the recognition. Keep up the good work!