Monday, May 28, 2018

Innovation Exists Here - 4 Examples

Warning: this is a lengthy blog post. I could have broken it up, but I think it would do a disservice to the overall theme of the thought, which came to me as I slept and was scribbled on a used envelope during the night so I wouldn't forget.

I looked up the word innovation to ensure I was using it correctly. said it was the introduction of something new, or a new method, idea, or device. I think my four examples fit quite well.

1) Grade 5 Science Inquiry with Ms. Daley's Class

While other school districts are closing for the summer, we have a month of school left and we still have so much to do! Ms. Daley, our Grade 5-6 teacher, booked some partner time with me for May and June. We chatted and planned and decided that we'd incorporate some green screen technology use into what we'd do together. After realizing how very little time we had left, we chose to keep the green screen work but refocus on a science topic instead of the language arts one we originally planned. The Grade 6s are studying space and the 5s have properties of and changes in states of matter. Since there were two of us educators, we also felt like it would be effective if we uncovered some of the content separately by grade. This is what led me to the staff room kitchen, and to some odd kitchen science experiments.

We talked about the connections between changing states of matter and food. Students came up with plenty of examples. Our first challenge was to make popsicles. Easy, right? Well, not when you have to design the mold for it. How would the teams ensure that the liquid that turns into a solid adheres to the holder/stick but not to the container? How would the stick stay upright in the liquid? I loved that each group designed a different solution. One group used binder clips; one group used aluminum foil; one made Ts out of their sticks to balance on the cup lid and another used plastic wrap with an ice cube tray. There was some great innovating thinking happening!

Some groups finished early so we had a bonus challenge that went completely awry but in good ways. We were simply going to melt chocolate chips so we could examine the difference between it in its solid and liquid states. However, I burned the chocolate. We had to take the smoky mess outside. Fact - the students still ate it. Surprising fact - some of them said the scorched monstrosity tasted good!

Burnt chocolate!

We'll post our theories about why the chocolate burned instead of melted on their Google Classroom.

2) The Silver Birch Quiz Bowl and new Buzzer System

On Thursday, May 24, we held our annual Silver Birch Quiz Bowl event at C.D. Farqharson Junior Public School. What made this event extra innovative this year was the work of one of the wonderful parents from Percy Williams Junior Public School. 

Our Quiz Bowl is so popular now that the original commercial buzzer system we had was insufficient. It was impossible for all the schools to compete directly against each other so in the past we'd have to split up and that meant teams only had the chance to answer 5 instead of all 10 questions. This amazing parent attended past Quiz Bowls and decided to address the issue by building a buzzer system that would work for large numbers. 

Sara making introductory remarks - note the buzzer and banner!

The contraption is a structural wonder. The parent designed it so that the first to buzz in locks out all the rest, but unlike other versions, if the person guessing gives the wrong answer, you can continue to allow the others to buzz in and the system prevents the mistaken competitor from trying again. (We used to have a small issue with "sorry, you can't try to answer that question twice".) The students were nervous about the new buzzers and during the Q&A before the match, asked many variations of "What if I push it and my buzzer doesn't work?" but it worked perfectly.

Congratulations to Percy Williams Junior Public School for winning both the fiction and non-fiction competition (the fiction runner-up was C. D. Farqharson Jr. P.S. and the non-fiction runner-up was Berner Trail Jr. P.S.). Big thanks go to all the teachers who prepared the questions for the Quiz Bowl and Kathy Kacer, our visiting author.

3) The #tdsbEd Twitter chat at the TDSB Excellence Awards

The TDSB Excellence Awards were held that same afternoon (May 24, 2018) at TDSB headquarters. I was allowed to attend because I nominated one of the winners. Thankfully, the board was flexible and forward-thinking enough to consider (and choose) a "virtual entity" - the #tdsbEd Twitter chat. The two flesh-and-blood founders of the #tdsbEd Twitter chat, Arianna Lambert and Larissa Aradj, received the award and I was the lucky individual to give the speech that introduced them. I was limited to a few minutes, and I used the opportunity to share some of the words of praise from a letter we weren't able to use as part of our submission (from Peter Singh, the Executive Officer for Information Technology Services at TDSB). The nomination package from Lynn Strangway (a superintendent), Chris Sands (a secondary teacher), and me (an elementary teacher-librarian) demonstrates the impact that this innovative idea has had - uniting educators of all stripes, from different areas of the board and different sectors. Congratulations again Larissa and Arianna!

Larissa, Arianna, and Diana after the award ceremony

All the 2018 TDSB Excellence Award winners with the chair & director

4) Red Maple Marketing Campaign Ideas

According to my notes, the former NE4 area of TDSB (now a combination of Learning Centres, mostly in the east) first started holding our Red Maple Marketing Campaign in 2012. Every year for the past six years, I'm always impressed with the quality of the campaign ideas presented. I'm doubly impressed considering I have first hand knowledge of how quickly some of these campaigns are pulled together. I put a thread on Twitter highlighting each of the ten campaigns.

I know that at my own school, I can tell how passionate the students are for STEAM because of what and how the student teams compiled their artefacts and strategies (and I also heard how they stayed late and started early in their classroom teachers' rooms putting things together - so thank you to the uber-supportive Farah Wadia and Dean Roberts!). My principal was equally amazed at what the students had created, so much so that he asked that we put some of their items on display in the school for the month of June. (The students did a draw for the 100 paper cranes and Ms Dixon, the teacher-librarian at Emily Carr P.S. won but kindly let us delay presenting her with the prize.)

Katana, Peace Monument, and paper cranes
Plan from Agnes Macphail PS for promoting this book

Fake blood made Summer's End spooky!

All the TLs, teachers, TPL staff involved with Allan Stratton, author

Our judges were also impressed with our young entrepreneurs. These are actual advertising executives from Manifest Communications Inc. and they took their job examining the projects seriously. Holly and Sarah took copious notes and actually asked if they could have time to type up the feedback forms before giving them to the teams. Below is their overall feedback to all the groups (as well as the announcement of the winning campaigns).

So what inspires innovation, and helps it grow? I'm sure some answers can be found in the book The Innovator's Minset by George Couros, but I haven't read that yet. And I'll be honest - I'm exhausted right now and so the analyzing portion of this blog post is going to have to wait. I just want to thank all the people who made these enjoyable events possible.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Hands-On Fun! Festival of Trees and STEAM Family Night

Thank you Doug Peterson for mentioning last week's blog post about the STEAM Family Night preparations in his post from his regular column, "This Week in Ontario Edublogs". His last sentence made it almost a prerequisite to center today's blog post on the results of STEAM Family Night.

I’m looking forward to reading her post next week when she reflects and sums up the activities.
The thing is, STEAM Family Night was only one of many activities from the past week! On Monday, we had our school's Track and Field qualifying day. On Tuesday, it was the Red Maple Festival of Trees. On Wednesday, it was the Silver Birch Festival of Trees. On Thursday, we had the STEAM Family Night. Friday was a "quiet day" as it was *only* Pizza Lunch.

What commonality did all these events have? How can I tie them together in one blog post? I think the answer is involvement or being hands-on. I'll summarize and reflect in reverse order. In the tradition of the "star and wish" method of reflection, I'll put a star ⭐near the things that went well, and a wish ⛅near the things that can be improved.

STEAM Family Night Organization Team

STEAM Family Night

Everyone was absolutely delighted with how this inaugural event unfolded! There were a few little uncertain moments leading up to the launch - some of the teachers who were not on the core team but volunteering on the actual night weren't really instructed on the nitty-gritty of the station they'd be monitoring ⛅, and we were worried that one of our key vendors would not show up. ⛅ However, everything worked out extremely well.

We had a short introduction in the gym, with brief but lively performances ⭐by the junior and senior band. Our vendors were in the gym where everything began and that was good for people to browse and shop around before the mini-performance. ⭐ Another clever move was to have the spoken remarks kept to a minimum and translated immediately after. ⭐ The crowd quieted down a bit when the explanation of the night was spoken in Chinese. Thank you Elmwood Electronics, Ellaminnow, and Logics Academy for being in our vendor hall, and especially to our two student-led pop-up stores, Coco Bombs and Caffinedles Candles. We also had student work displays in the gym and accessible via QR Codes. ⭐I was sorry that the crowds weren't as intense in the gym post-introduction, as everyone hurried to participate at the stations, ⛅but we'll figure this out in the future. Next time, we'll also arrange for some dual language books to be available ⛅ (thanks Ellaminnow for trying to accommodate us.)

The stations were located in different areas around the school ⭐ and supported with volunteer staff members and intermediate students. ⭐ The signage explained the station. ⭐

Last week's blog post elaborated on the straws and connectors task. This was in the library and the teachers stationed there loved how involved the adults were with the task. ⭐We loved taking pictures of the parents getting down on the ground, helping to measure and build these various structures.

I was located at the Squishy Circuit area in the lunchroom and it was also a big hit. I was concerned about how well this would work, because it took me three days of trying ⛅to make the bulbs light up. Melanie Mulcaster from Peel provided long-distance aid, but it was Mr. Tong who solved the problem - the wires hadn't been stripped enough. Once again, my heart just burst with joy when I saw how, with just a tiny bit of encouragement, the adults were working alongside their children and grandchildren to make things work. ⭐ It was so rewarding to hear the gasps and shouts of glee when the light illuminated. We had challenge cards and I like how some students invented their own challenges! ⭐

Also in the lunchroom, at the other end, was the "make your own birdhouse / bird feeder" station. This was very popular ⭐and we'll have to brainstorm how to distribute the crowds a bit more ⛅ if we do this again in the future.

Upstairs in the computer lab, there was "unplugged coding" as well as traditional coding with Scratch. The Pokemon theme really enticed participants. ⭐ I really admire how the supervisors at this station, both students and staff, ensured that older family members got involved. ⭐All these tasks were accessible to learners and explorers of all ages, so families could go from station to station as a group instead of splitting up. ⭐

Also upstairs, in the staff room, was the green screen station. Big thanks to our principal for allowing us to purchase a small photo printer so families could have a tangible souvenir of the event. ⭐The line up extended out the hall ⛅ but the people managing this station worked quickly and made e-mail delivery of the photos an option. ⭐

Downstairs in the primary hallway, Dash robots were being manipulated. Big thanks to Remy from Logics Academy for supporting this station with his presence. ⭐

We had some fantastic prizes and we did the draw the next day at school.

The organization team hasn't met yet to debrief, but I think we were very pleased with the results. The language barrier is a big obstacle for holding school-wide events at our school, but due to the excellent translations for signs, ⭐ spoken directions, ⭐ and roaming student translators  ⭐(thank you Ms. Lung, Ms. Shi, and students!) as well as the hands-on aspect of the night, we overcame it. Families love taking photos, which can become almost oppressive in a concert-like scenario as parents rush the stage like paparazzi, but with these activities, it was welcomed and encouraged. ⭐ We even had a Twitter / Instagram hashtag contest for the most shares. One little misstep at the end of the night was that our flyers said #amsteam18 and our t-shirts and program said #amsteam2018. ⛅Thankfully, people used both hashtags. The best part for me was seeing the family members working together, as a team, on tasks. ⭐

Festival of Trees

Last year, I didn't go to the Festival of Trees - I arranged the trip and sent others in my place. This year, I made it a point to go, although I didn't see that much of the Festival. ⛅Why? I was working at the Forest of Reading Research station. I'm collecting data for a study of the Impact of Readers Choice Award programs. I needed to be there to supervise the station. Did I regret it? Not at all. Being directly involved with this important project meant that I had a vital part to play. ⭐Here are a few of the photos I took of students filling out surveys (and getting lollipops as a thank-you) and posing with some awesome volunteers.

I noticed that those students who also were more heavily involved with the mechanics of the Festival enjoyed it more, despite the demands on their time. I had seven students who were on stage either as sign carriers, speech presenters, or results announcers. They were excited to be part of the action. Driving the students that were scheduled to present at the non-fiction Silver Birch ceremony in my car saved me a lot of headaches ⭐ - by not relying on the bus, we made it on time. (The buses are better for us than TTC but can take a long time to travel.) I saw some teachers and students from my school throughout the two days, and they seemed to have fun. This trip can be stressful to adult supervisors who have to keep an eye on their charges but for whatever reasons (well-behaved students? decent adult-student ratios? solid organization and pre-planning?) even the staff members and parents with primary-aged children from my school did not seem frantic. ⭐ The junior and intermediate teachers in attendance from my school were pleased that their students (mostly) demonstrated responsibility by arriving at check-in points on time. ⭐ More than half of my intermediate students skipped the Red Maple awards ceremony to purchase snacks, ⛅but that was their choice and it did not negatively impact the day.

Track and Field

Thank you Ms. Daley, Mrs. Commisso, and Ms. Keberer for organizing a wonderful Track and Field Day at our school. 

I could write an entire blog post just on track and field. For some students, this is the best day of the year. This is a chance for them to shine, for their abilities to be prioritized and celebrated. For other students, this is a day they dread. Some actually even skip school to avoid participating. Then there are the tears and meltdowns as students struggle with competition and not getting what they want. Thank you to all the staff members, especially Mrs. Paterson, for being there for the students and patiently helping those who were dis-regulated to try and calm down. 

Even though I didn't have fond memories of track and field from when I was a child (as I wasn't very athletic at all), I think it is a hands-on (or feet-on?) method of getting active. Maybe next year, I can get more involved with mentally preparing students for the possible disappointments this day might bring and re-framing their thoughts to focus on personal bests instead of ribbons (although everyone gets a ribbon of some sort at the end). Maybe we can talk with students who were unhappy with the day to let them offer choices (that don't necessarily involve them completely opting out) so that it can be a good day for even more students.

What's Next?

Stay tuned for the Silver Birch Quiz Bowl, Red Maple Marketing Campaign, CHFI/KISS.FM radio trip, Media AQ Reunion, and ETFO ICT for Women Conference, all in the next two weeks!

Monday, May 14, 2018

STEAM Team Evolution

My default answer to questions of how I am is pretty consistent this month: tired. With five trips planned in the next two and a half weeks, plus the yearbook deadline looming and other school-wide events, it feels very busy and my energy is lagging.

I've had to get a bit creative in arranging prep coverage for my days away. I took some unused partnering periods to provide some advanced prep pay back for one of our kindergarten classes. They received a double block of time. What could I do with the class that would be useful and productive?

One of the most popular items in my school library maker space are straws and connectors. Students love to build things, but most of the time, due to space restrictions and the large amount of mess it makes, I usually ask that structures get dismantled after the time is up. I'd been making a few exceptions lately, such as when another kindergarten class asked if they could keep their "library" up to play in the next day they were scheduled to visit. This led to a bit of class jealousy ("Why do THEY get to keep their building up?") as well as some class inspiration ("Can WE do that TOO?")

Since straws and connectors were going to be one of the stations available at our school's upcoming STEAM Family Night, we thought that it would be good to expose our youngest students a bit more to the possibilities. Another structure was already erect and so this class decided to try and make a building that was larger than the one that was currently standing.

This is the original structure that inspired the Ks

We took three and a half periods to work on this project, and the ECE and I really noticed a evolution in the students' collaboration skills, problem solving, and communication. At first, the students were very self-centered. They went off by themselves or in pairs to do their making. One made a door but had nowhere to attach it. Another built part of the roof, but had nothing to stick it on top of to use it. The students started to connect their builds only once Mrs. Isidro and I encouraged them to join forces. They still didn't quite have a "big picture" yet, as they connected the straws up and somewhat willy-nilly. By the end of the first period of work, the structure fell down.

Mrs. Isidro and I wanted the students to do the thinking and building. Our role was to redirect and amplify student ideas. The second period was the same day in the afternoon. The students were keen to try again. One of the adults commented on how a cube built by a student seemed to be stronger and then the enthusiasm in the room increased and the language changed. One of them said, "It's more stable. We need a wider base." Then we started to see small groups making cubes and then adding those cubes to create a wall. We saw counting as students examined how long their structure was growing, compared to the one made by another group.

The finished project!

The third period was almost magical. The students could see the progress and they started to take on different roles. Some students decided that they needed to be the "fixers", and so they examined the structure to find where straws had come loose from the connectors and put them back together. This was a really important role, as it maintained the structural integrity of the bottom of the building. Others chose to make the structure taller, and then they had to brainstorm what to do when the structure rose above their heads. "We need a step stool!", someone yelled. Since there were no step stools to be found in the library, they used chairs to stand on. Still other students took it upon themselves to pass the builders more straws or more connectors, so they didn't have to get off their chairs. We started to run out of straws, so I cracked open another set of straws and connectors. This building used two and a half boxes of straws to complete. 

Then there was the matter of the roof. Should we put a roof on? Will it fall in? How will we do it? In the end, we decided to leave it open, with a "sky light".

The pride in their accomplishment was evident. One little JK girl kept saying, over and over, with glee in her voice, "It's not broken!" We spent part of our last period together choosing which teachers we wanted to show the building to, and fetching them. My job was to watch the other teacher's class so the guest could go to the library to view the impressive build. It was 7 cubes across and 6 cubes high. The teachers they brought in were suitably impressed. They were able to enter the door (a big improvement over the 2 cube wide, 2 cube high door the boy working on his own two days prior had developed) and stand inside the building. 

All good things come to an end. I had to be pretty sensitive about taking it down. Instead of involving the whole class, Thess and I chose a few students to come to the library before school ended on Friday to dismantle it. As I apologized for having to remove the structure, one of the SKs said, "That's okay. We can always rebuild it. And we can make it even bigger!"

I hope this will encourage and inspire our students to come to our first ever school Family STEAM Night. It's being held on May 17, 2018 from 6:00 - 7:30 p.m. This event would not have been possible without our "STEAM Dream Team" of planners: Farah Wadia, Tina Voltsinis, Jennifer Balido-Cadavez, Hager Awara, Diana Hong, Ashley Clarke, and myself. We really worked well together. There will be stations that explore straws and connectors, squishy circuits, green screen technology, unplugged coding along with Scratch, Dash robots, and bird feeder construction with recycled materials. The bands will play, Mr. Roberts' Girls in STEM group will sell bath bombs and candles, and vendors like Elmwood Electronics and Ellaminnow will be there. It looks like it will be a lot of fun. Check the #amsteam18 hashtag on Twitter as well as the @agnesmacphailps Twitter account for photos of the event. 

Monday, May 7, 2018

Fearful but I Finished! #MADPD and Hemming

A lot of my learning this week happened during the weekend. On Sunday, I participated in #MADPD - where educators share what "Makes A Difference" in their classrooms and schools.

I mentioned in a previous blog post,, that this would be a departure from my regular presentation mode. When I've done webinars in the past for OTF (the Ontario Teachers Federation) or TVO (Teach Ontario), I've had others standing ready in the background to make it a smooth experience. Even though #MADPD is not affiliated with an official organization, there were many emails with technical tips and reminders in preparation for "D-Day" (or is that "PD-Day"?). I touched base with Jennifer Casa-Todd via Twitter DM for any last-minute suggestions, checked that the tech was ready to roll, and even made sure the basement background, my hair, makeup, and nails were just right. I took this photo a few minutes before I was scheduled to start.

When it was time for me to present at noon, I could not locate the "start broadcast" button on my channel page. Yikes! Thankfully, Jennifer was still in touch and I could see her messages on my cell phone next to me. I started a new live broadcast and delivered the presentation, only a few minutes behind schedule. I even had two live viewers during the actual broadcast: Stephen Hurley from VoicEd Radio, and my daughter Mary (who was checking to make sure everything went well). I was so grateful for Jennifer's advice and heads-up - it meant I was aware of the lag in sound and to monitor the YouTube chat link. Here's a copy of the archived #MADPD session I did

After it was done, my teeth ached! I think it was because my jaw was clenched with tension. I was really nervous, and frankly, a little frightened that it would bomb spectacularly. It didn't, and it wouldn't have been the end of the world if it did, but I'm relieved that it worked. After all, Doug Peterson and Stephen Hurley talk almost fondly of the time they tried to do a broadcast of VoicEd Radio live at the Bring IT Together conference, and the recording failed - they call it the "lost recording". It was nice to have a live audience for our #MADPD talks, but Carol Salva, a #MADPD participant from this year and last year, told us:

OK!  So *IF* you have tech issues and your session does not work out, NO STRESS!  We have had a few like that and I am speaking from experience here.  Do what I did last year.  Keep trouble shooting and then if all else fails you can always re-record your session on  your own.  Give Derek/Peter the new watch link & also Jennifer for the Master schedule.  
That way, your updated/fixed video will be viewable in replay.  Today is exciting but really, most of the views happen in replay over time.  I had 2 live viewers last year but over 100 in replay.
We don't always talk about how trying new things in education can actually be a bit scary. (The original title for this blog post was Scared but Successful - but I already used the word success in last week's post!) The day before, I finished a project that I was really terrified that I'd mess up. I've been taking sewing lessons and my latest task was to hem my daughter's prom dress. My daughter bought her own dress with money she saved, and although it was not ridiculously expensive, it was costly enough that I did not want to make a huge mistake that would involve buying another one to replace the dress if I damaged it beyond repair. Last week, my sewing instructor showed me how to get the proper length, pin it, iron it to show the new goal length, chalk an inch for the inside hem, and then cut it. I was so scared to take a scissors to the dress, but I did. This week, I stitched the cut ends so it wouldn't fray, folded it and sewed the hem. It worked!

I think it's important to try things that aren't guaranteed to work, and that actually might fill you with trepidation. It definitely makes me more empathetic to students when they have to try new things. On Friday, May 4, I escorted our First Lego League Junior team to their event. I think they were nervous about speaking to the project reviewers, but like me and my projects, they survived and thrived!

So here's to trying things that make you anxious and here's to friends and supporters (Jennifer, Derek, Peter, my sewing teacher Natalie and classmates Mumtaz, Marcia, Angelina) who make attempting these things a little less frightening.