Monday, May 29, 2023

The Similarities between Gardening and School Expos

 This week, I tried two new-to-me things. I knew others had attempted them with much success but I wasn't sure it would work. I wasn't sure what the end result would look like. It would take a lot of assistance from others to make it happen. In the end, it was a feast for the eyes and delightful for those who weren't part of producing it but could enjoy it nonetheless. The good weather contributed as well.

Today's title reveals what these two events were. The first was the School Expo / Open House on Thursday, May 25. It was too soon to have a second concert, as our first was in March of this year. We also wanted to share the workload and feature all the amazing things our students do regularly as part of their learning. That way, it wasn't an "add on". 

In the library, instead of a Book Fair like we typically have for Curriculum Night, I got to showcase some actual examples of curriculum. I played a video of the "Make A Machine" movement compilations by the Grade 1s and 1-2s that I see for dance and drama. I also had out the Pokémon cards that the students created as part of their media literacy unit. I also gathered with the Ukulele Club to make our public debut, playing "Mary Had a Little Lamb". 

We will discuss and reflect on this more in depth at our upcoming staff meeting, but in my eyes, this was a success. The free flow nature of an open house meant that people could spend as long or as short a time examining the displays as they wanted. It altered the dynamics of the educators and families; teachers didn't have to spend as much time enforcing rules or shushing audience members, which made for a more positive, friendly experience. The Expo also allowed other subjects that aren't performance-based to shine. Classes showcased their math/coding tasks/games, their students' history projects, their STEM/STEAM builds, their poetry/non-fiction books students wrote, and their artwork. The kindergarten classes highlighted inquiry projects that I was privileged to be included on, as the teacher-librarian. One of my favourite moments was when a parent asked me if schools were now encouraging children to bring Pokémon cards to school, and not only was I able to reference my signs (in Chinese and English) with sources touting the benefits, another parent mentioned that his business deals with distributing Pokémon cards. The parent with the original question agreed that her eldest child would find assignments like this highly motivating.

The second experience (rather than event) was my attempt at gardening. I am not a gardener. I can appreciate a well-maintained flower bed or the produce generated from a cared-for vegetable garden, but that's not my thing. Back in 2017, the gardens at my house got a much needed face-lift. My father's past, ill-advised overexuberance led to some very poor choices planted in our front garden and other bushes destroyed in our back garden.. We decided to dig up those front garden plants and replace them with new ones. For some reason, this time around, I was actually interested in planning what flowers to buy. As the official chauffeur of the house (since I'm the only one with a driver's license), I drove to a few garden centers with my hubby to select the plants. We chose some marigolds, some impatient flowers, a lily, some hydrangeas, some black eyed Susans, and I even got daring and bought a strawberry, cucumber, and lettuce plant to attempt a small fruit and vegetable garden. We got a lot accomplished, despite having to dispose of many weeds and other unwanted growth in the garden beds.

Hopefully my interest in the plants isn't a passing fad and I'll be able to even eat from my harvest, if they flourish. I'm sure I could have made a lot more connections between my gardening attempts and the school open house, with comments on growth and nourishment, but I'll leave it there. June is soon!

Monday, May 22, 2023

Forest of Reading Festival 2023: Network, Navigate, Need

 Tuesday, May 16 and Wednesday, May 17 were big days at my school because we weren't at my school. We were at the OLA Forest of Reading Festival at Harbourfront. This is the first time since 2019 that the Forest of Reading Festival has been an in-person event. I provided three "N"s to help guide the themes of my reflection on these wonderful two days. I'll address them in reverse order.


There was a hunger to return to this kind of literary celebration. My school had a record number of students presenting and carrying signs as part of the awards ceremonies, with 18 students total involved. We had a smaller number than usual qualify to vote and attend the festival, with 44 students on May 16 and 19 students on May 17, but with a three year interruption, those are decent numbers. We also need to thank a lot of people for making the trip and event possible. Meredith Tutching is the Director of the Forest of Reading at OLA. Then there's Ruth Gretsinger and Isabella Hobbs, the co-chairs of the Forest of Reading program. There are also the members of the Forest Selection Committees, the Forest Steering Committees, the OLA staff members and volunteers. The combination of the authors and the readers are what makes it feel like a rock concert. Thank you to all the authors that were able or chose to attend. On the school side of things, I'm grateful for the teachers who read some of the nominated titles and chatted with the students so they could have their passports signed. Our staff trip supervisors were Lisa Daley, Renee Keberer, and Shanu Thiyagalingam. We also had six parent/grandparent volunteers come along on May 16, so we had many extra hands and eyes to take care of our students. 

We needed to gather together and celebrate reading. Just look at this photo, taken at the moment that the winner of the Silver Birch Fiction Award was announced.

Below is a photo of the Red Maple Awards stage.

This is a closer shot of the Silver Birch Express ceremony in progress.

There was also a need to change things up a bit. Instead of three award ceremonies in a single day, there were two. Other ceremonies were shared virtually. The switch made sense because it's tricky to travel down in time for the past schedule (with awards at 10:00, 11:30, and 1:00 - this year, the awards were at 10:30 am and 12:00 noon; the new format felt less rushed). Speaking of travel ...


Getting down to Harbourfront is a lot harder than in the past. School buses are almost impossible to book at this time and the companies insist on very early departure times. Taking the TTC isn't a great choice either, partly because it takes so long and because it's not as safe as it used to be. Thankfully we had a third option we employed that worked for us - using the GO Train. The nearest GO Train station isn't exactly close to our school. For the GTA Resource Fair, we walked from school to the train station. For the Heritage Fair, we shuttled students in cars to the train station. For the Forest of Reading Festival, there were too many students to use private vehicles, so we walked part of the way and took a short TTC bus ride to the train station. As Ms. Thiya reminded me when we did the GO trek in the fall of 2022 for the GTA Resource Fair, travelling via train was part of the adventure. For several of our students, this was their first time on the GO Train. From Union Station, it was a manageable walk south and west to Harbourfront. Obtaining tickets for the older students (GO is free for students younger than 13) and the teachers became easier the more I had to do it, but I wish that there was a way we could use the school Presto Cards. Buying a group set of GO Train fares online meant I had to pay the non-discounted price. 


Some of our students actually attended both days. We wondered if they would find it boring or repetitive to go twice but that didn't seem to be the case. In fact, it seemed to help the students understand how to best use their time the following day. One of the students actually had a specific request of me: introduce him to as many of the people I knew as possible. He wanted to make connections and network with as many individuals and organizations during his time at the festival. I was amazed and impressed by his goal. I don't think I was that focused or ambitious when I was in middle school. The students made sure to take advantage of all that the Forest of Reading Festival had to offer. It's easy to get obsessed with buying yummy food, but I found that this year, our students, especially our Red Maple participants, collected autographs AND attended workshops AND cheered for their peers at the awards ceremony AND won book prizes AND enjoyed the free entertainment, in addition to feasting.

The Forest of Reading Festival is a great place to network. You can meet authors, publishers, school library professionals from other schools/boards, and other important/influential people. For me, it's a happy place to reconnect. Here are some (but not all) of the selfies I took. (Note: if your photo is on here and you'd like me to remove it because I didn't get explicit consent, please let me know and I will happily remove it.)

Thank you everyone. I was exhausted but elated afterwards. (I took two hour naps each evening to recover!) The Forest of Reading fun may be officially over for the OLA, but not for our school. Quiz Bowl and Red Maple Marketing will be coming up in June. I'll share more about those events after they occur. 

Post Script Addition: The Importance of Authors

My mind is often writing these blog posts ahead of time, and I realized that I had forgotten a focus I originally intended.

First, a confession: when I saw Rosena Fung at the OLA Forest of Reading Festival, I cried. (You can't tell me because I was wearing sunglasses when I took the photo of us.) Here is the photo again.

I wept because I was trying to tell her what her book meant to me. I passed along Living with Viola to a family member to read. That family member loved it and cried at least three times while reading it, saying that Fung captured their own feelings of anxiety and dealing with pressure. Rosena was gracious with my blubbered compliments and said it meant a lot to hear that.

Authors are amazing.

Authors are powerful.

I spoke with Colleen Nelson, the winner of the 2023 Silver Birch Fiction Award for her novel, The Undercover Book List. We are part of a mutual admiration society. I like Colleen's books and, remarkably, Colleen has heard of me. This is a photo of us together at the OLA SuperConference a couple months ago.

I had to tell Colleen how transformative her book was, especially to the young student who introduced her on stage, who went from a reluctant reader to an avid book consumer because of The Undercover Book List. Colleen tried to deflect or share the praise by saying that the student (one from my school) had a fantastic teacher-librarian that grew the love of reading. 

"No Colleen," I replied. "It wasn't me. It was you. You and your book."

Authors are amazing.

Authors are powerful.

Not one, not two, but three authors at the OLA Forest of Reading Festival gave their student presenters a free autographed copy of their book to thank them for their efforts creating the introductory speeches. Thank you Eric Walters. Thank you Alma Fullerton. (And thank you again, Colleen Nelson.)

Authors are amazing.

Authors are powerful.

Monday, May 15, 2023

3 Heads are Better than 1

 At first, this was just going to be a Jennifer Brown (PDSB TL) appreciation post. It's still going to be a love letter to a great teacher-librarian, but it's also going to squeeze in themes of collaboration, shared virtual calls, and Track and Field Day. 

First, a note about Jenn Brown. I met her initially in 2016 and since then, she's been a wellspring of inspiration. She challenges my thinking. She makes me a better educator and person. We've travelled together to Winnipeg for conferences and co-taught Summer Academy sessions for ETFO in 2019,  in 2020 and in 2021.  We served together on OSLA Council for a time, and in both 2018 and 2019 she agreed to be an in-person presenter for my AQ courses. Once we moved online, she has continued to speak to TL AQ candidates for me and is a powerful speaker. She makes excellent book recommendations.

I'm going to quote myself from a previous blog about Jenn Brown:

I had so much fun with Jenn, even when the work was serious and sobering. I've tweeted and written in the past about what a joy it is to be in her presence at these type of events. At the risk of repeating myself ... I feel so fortunate that I get to spend time with this person. She is passionate, caring, energetic, experienced, authentic, equitable, observant, hard-working, and knowledgeable. I even spend time with her for recreational reasons (on our Animal Crossing New Horizons virtual islands). Thanks for including me in your life Jenn! Love you oodles!

This is all still true. Considering all the links to previous blog mentions of Jenn, you think I'd be tired of talking about her, but she still continues to teach and amaze me.

On Wednesday, May 10, she made an appearance as a guest speaker for the York U TL AQ courses. Her theme was on collaboration. She created a tailored-for-us presentation and from beginning to end celebrated us and educated us. She continues to make wonderful book recommendations that make me want to find and read more. I've read This Book Is Anti-Racist but I love the approach that Jenn provided. Jenn includes the author as a co-teacher in the room. The second photo is of a new book she is currently reading. 

Did you notice the other person in the second image? That's Francis Ngo. He is co-teaching the Part 2 and Specialist sections of the TL AQ with me, and thank goodness he is, because we have an exceptionally large enrollment this term. We work so well together. Eventually, I will get around to writing my Francis Ngo appreciation post; in the meantime, just know that his involvement with the AQs make them better AQs.

Back to Jenn ... I knew that she had an impact as I read post-May 10 reflections from the AQ candidates, citing Jenn and sharing relief and delight; she opened their eyes to different interpretations of collaboration in the school library setting, alleviating some of the pressure they feel that they "don't do enough" while still aiming to do more.

The more we can involve others, the better. This was proven earlier that same day (May 10) during our school's Track and Field Day. I'm no athlete but as part of the shared responsibilities, I was in charge of the 80m / 100m sprint event. We had to record results to help the Track and Field Committee (another important example of collaboration) decide on the students to send to the regional competition. Thank goodness that I had two adult volunteers with me to help with the task. I'd mention them by name but I didn't obtain consent first. One stood at the starting line to signal when to go. The other stood with me at the finish line to help me see the placement order. This wasn't always easy, as sometimes the distance separating the runners was quite small. We eventually started video recording the end of the race to double-check. Thank you, thank you family volunteers! Thank you Track and Field Committee!

Another example of a team effort happened/happens during the weekly online chat my sister and I have with our parents. I didn't realize that one of the features of the particular platform we use to connect (Facebook Portal) includes an option to read interactive books. My sister picked a Dr. Seuss book yesterday to share and it really entertained our mother. (My brother kindly kept our mom hydrated with healthy drinks during this time.)

Multiple heads / minds / eyes are going to be part of this coming week's events. Next week's blog post will most likely be about the Festival of Reading, which has taken a lot of coordination from a lot of different people. I'll thank them after the event is over and we have time to catch our collective breaths!

Monday, May 8, 2023

Heritage Fair & the Thrill of Wider Audiences / Recognition

 Last week, I took the unusual step of announcing exactly what next week's topic would be for this blog. I knew that I wanted and needed to reflect on the TDSB Heritage Fair in depth.

In December and January, I worked with the Grade 6s on their social studies inquiry projects. The Grade 7s had an intense but productive and informative history blitz in April. The Grade 8s worked on their history tasks at the same time, although I acted more as a consultant than as a direct teacher. (There's only so much collaborative teaching time in my day!)

I've noticed I've used the word "thrill" several times when describing these collaborations. It's because it's genuinely exciting, as a teacher-librarian, to be involved with inquiry projects from start to finish. Often, school library professionals are asked to intervene during the research portion of the process, to help students find sources and cite appropriately. Thanks to the generosity of spirit of the homeroom teachers, I had the opportunity to help students shape their inquiry questions and shepherd them to the end. The way the questions evolved as they thought and wrestled with concepts were wonderful to witness. To be honest, I probably should have dedicated more time to the research stage. It was just so glorious to get to see the start and the finale, with all the hills and valleys associated with a big project like this.

8 schools made the trek to George Brown College's Waterfront Campus (where my son attends) for the TDSB Heritage Fair. In the past, there was an East Region and West Region fair. Looking back on my blog and photo albums, I see we participated in the Heritage Fair in 2005 (where a student was recognized for his fictional journal of William Baffin with a special award) and 2010 and missed the 2012 Fair because I confused the dates. In 2014, our school took part and we sent a delegate in 2014 to the next level. We had another student who had a project good enough to move onto the Provincial Heritage Fair in 2016 and I got to be the teacher supervisor for the TDSB delegation on the trip.

Our students were fantastic. Their projects were amazing. Considering the short time they had to work, they did so well. They fielded questions from judges and curious onlookers. Take a look at some of the projects. (Our school entered 13 projects with 18 student participants, although only 16 could attend because 2 were on their overnight outdoor education trip.)

Heritage Fair tries to de-emphasize the competitive aspect of the fair, but evaluation and awards can be highly motivating factors. Our students couldn't help but compare their projects to the ones brought by other schools. They were worried that other tri-fold boards were larger than theirs, but confident when examining the depth of the inquiry questions. Many - not all - enjoyed the challenge of answering questions. Some demonstrated the ability to think on their feet. Others got a chance to show how articulate they could be. Compliments flew like the granola bars I brought as snacks, and for the most part, students beamed when they heard the accolades. 

Some students. I wish I could communicate to some of our more timid students how incredible their work was and "inject" them with pride. One frustrating moment for me was when a student, who had created a project that generated a lot of buzz among the fellow participants, and not just from our school, kept hiding. She was even reluctant to put her board on display, but the moment she did, almost everyone passing by would stop to gasp, read, and admire it. 

In addition to the presentations/judging, there were two workshops that the students attended. The morning session was about drumming. Our instructor had high standards and words of wisdom, like "Education is the sacrifice you make today for the future." He taught terms, concepts, and musical patterns at a rapid-fire pace but our students responded to the demands.

The afternoon session was hosted by the Archives of Ontario. There were several stations the students rotated through and they saw that careers in history aren't limited to "historian" or "history teacher". They really liked the painting activity they did in small groups.

Hopefully, this coming week we will hear if any of our school's projects have been selected to move onto the Provincial level. Our fingers are crossed. That wasn't our sole reason for participating, but having a goal like this to aim towards benefited many. All of the projects will have other opportunities to be seen, both at a school tour of the Grade 7-8 projects this coming Thursday and a community tour during our School Open House / Expo / Exhibition later this month. 

Monday, May 1, 2023

CNE Twice in a Week

 Last week, I was at the CNE twice. Once was on Tuesday (April 25) for the TDSB Unleashing Learning conference [technically at the Beanfield Centre] and the other time was on Thursday (April 27) for the Spring GTA Resource Fair [technically at the Queen Elizabeth Building]. Being away from the school building twice in a single week isn't always a good thing, but it was worthwhile. 

Unleashing Learning 2023 (#tdsbUL23)

I drove down to the Beanfield Centre, which was probably a mistake, because it took 90 minutes to get there and over 2 hours to get home. Thankfully, I made it in time to hear the opening keynote, from TDSB Director Colleen Russell Rawlins.

I like our director. I knew her when she was a superintendent. She toured our school and was attentive during that visit. I sent her a hand-sewn fidget maze with a short note a few years back. (To my chagrin, I realized after the fact that I had misspelled the word fidget.) 

Colleen's talk was solid. It was impressive how she invited all present trustees and executive central staff on stage and proceeded to thank them all by name by sight. There were several things I liked about her speech, such as mentioning AI (which was the subject of my #tdsbUL23 presentation), appearing to understand the limitations of gamification (which I contend is inferior to actual games based learning), and highlighting the importance of building our emotional vocabulary.

After Colleen's talk was the first session. I gave a session called "Exploring Algorithms with Primary Students: Magic, Mystery, and More!". It was similar to the talk I gave at the Global Media Education Summit called "Fostering Primary Division Students' Critical Exploration of Algorithms". Unfortunately, the technology was not very cooperative. The HDMI cord wouldn't fit into my school laptop. The extra HDMI cord I brought wouldn't fit either. Agnieszka Kopka lent me her extra laptop, which did fit the cord, but wouldn't allow me to log in. I considered emailing a copy of my slides to her email so I could show them, but my session was only 20 minutes long. It wasn't worth struggling any longer. Thankfully, I printed hard copies of my lesson plans and used Agnieszka's computer to show the websites that I referenced as part of my lesson plans. 10 people attended my talk. (I know this because I collected emails so I could send them my slide deck afterwards.)

The rest of Session 1 was filled with visiting the DLL Marketplace and reconnecting with some wonderful colleagues

Here's Jennifer Cadavez showing people her work on using and annotating photos.

Here's Ashley Clarke demonstrating the integration of loose parts and tech.

3 fantastic TLs: Mira Campbell, April deMelo & Larissa Aradj

Me and Ken Jinkinson

Let me tell a quick story about the amazing Ken. Long, long ago, I attended a workshop with my friend Renee, led by Ken. Ken may not be OCT-certified, but he taught me so much that day about instructional management strategies related to technology that I've been a fan of his ever since. Renee was lucky enough to work with him directly for a few years when she was in the Assistive Technology Department. Any time I see him, it's a day-maker.

After a delicious lunch with Michelle and Nadine (and kudos to Peter Singh for directing traffic to the buffet stations with calm efficiency!), I attended Session 2. My choice for this was Linette Ballantyne's talk on Dr. Gholdy Muhammad's Five Pursuits. I've read both Cultivating Genius and Unearthing Joy by Dr. Muhammad, but I still need tips on how to incorporate the five pursuits more explicitly in my plans. Linette had soca playing as people entered the room. In her talk, Linette highlighted some key understandings of Muhammad's work. The use of the word pursuits (as opposed to the Eurocentric term "standards") is deliberate and based on the goals of 1800s Black literary society goals. Intellectualism is action-oriented. Criticality is linked to the idea that we have authority on a topic when we can critique it and have an understanding of marginalization. Linette gave many examples of how to develop those pursuits. She mentioned that an educator she was co-planning with wanted to focus on kente cloth as part of a unit on 2D shapes, but wasn't sure where the criticality was. Ballantyne prompted thinking on where people are able to buy things that represent who they are, and helped students search online mall directories for kente cloth; students realized quickly that many of the "major" malls did not offer this. The question (which made my media literacy heart happy) was "What do you notice? What do you wonder?" I will have to check out to explore how maps make some places more or less prominent based on size (for as a student of Linette's remarked, "When you have size, you have power".) Another website to view in the future is Forebears, which examines the popularity of names. Linette's sample lessons are on the TDSB English Language and Literacy site. 

Session 3's offering was called "Tinkering with the New Science Curriculum" by Mahfuza Rahman and Stephen Gilbert. They have tons of slide decks created to help with many resources linked in the TDSB Virtual Library and on their board site, such as TVOLearn, Women in STEM posters, Microsoft Hacking STEM, the Skills Ontario Junk Drawer races, the STEM Equity Conference 2021 sessions, and more. In classic STEM action, the audience had a chance to use the Engineering Design process to build and tweak a Rotocopter. I took a photo of mine (along with my cute new shoes, which unfortunately [Kim Davidson, take note] gave me horrendous blisters!).

The closing keynote was Takara Small. Only about 1/3 of the initial crowd remained and if I'm being honest, the only things I can recall involved her explanation of the Shirley Card, ways people were photographed, and that it took chocolate and furniture companies complaining about how their product (not their people) appeared in ads that led to changes.

I saw this tweet and the justifiable concern about the whitewashing AI does, and it reminded me of Takara's talk. (If you didn't notice, the child's drawing is of a brown hand, and the AI turned it into a white person's hand.)

Spring 2023 GTA Resource Fair

Why are we going again? As this blog shows, I just took students to the Fall 2022 GTA Resource Fair. Why did we return? There are several good reasons.

1) We still had budget money to spend.

2) It's the best way to see many TDSB vendors in a single location and touch the books we want to buy.

3) My Library Helper President made it so.

Let me explain. The Library Helper Club elects a president every year. The president is in charge of maintaining and checking the schedule to see that other library helpers are attending and working. He/she/they monitor how the library operates for students and makes suggestions. This year, my Library Helper president had two major suggestions regarding the major perk offered to library helpers - the perk being the GTA Resource Fair trip. In the past, I only took enough students to fit in my car. Her first suggestion was to reward everyone who had not been fired the year they worked. The only way to make that possible was by taking the GO Train (which was faster than my solo drive in my car, but longer because we walked from school to the GO Station). Her second suggestion was to have Tippett ship the boxes of books to our school instead of carrying them back with us. How can you turn down a reasonable request like that? My son even accompanied us this time as a supervisor, and it was nice to have him along, even though he was "peopled out" by the end.

 Stay tuned for next week's report on the TDSB Heritage Fair, which isn't at the CNE Grounds but still downtown.