Monday, November 19, 2018

Recognizing a great teacher even if you don't see them teach

I am very fortunate to work with some talented and dedicated teachers. Our new French teacher, Saadia Isaahac, is no exception, but she is exceptional. Saadia is hard-working, passionate about French and a skilled educator.

Saadia Isaahac, our French teacher

She and I are both specialist teachers. Her work centers more on the junior and intermediate students and this year, my time is reserved more for the early years and primary students. I don't have time to sit in on any of her lessons. How do I know how great she is?

Listen to the Students

First and foremost, I witness the impact by overhearing conversations between students or watching students and what they do. Early in the school year, I eavesdropped on some Grade 8 students. They had no clue I was listening to their conversation. I heard them complimenting Madame and commenting on how much new French they have learned in just such a short time.

In the Grade 7 class, I was seated with the classroom teacher waiting for the morning announcements to play before taking the students to the library. I saw several of the students with their French notebooks open, studying for their test and practicing their vocabulary out loud. The classroom teacher confirmed that this was a frequent behaviour and that the students studied not out of fear of failing a test, but a genuine interest in doing well in French.

All of the home room classes on the second floor of the school have big wipe off sheets affixed to the doors so that students can write class reminders, inspirational quotes, birthday wishes, or whatever messages they deem important. The Grade 6 students wrote their message in French. Originally, there was a short note at the bottom saying "Are you proud of us, Madame?" When I took the photo of the door, Mme Isaahac had written a reply. In French, she wrote "yes, I am very proud. You all are wonderful".

Listen to the Staff

We teachers can be a gossipy crew. In this case, it's not to tear anyone down but to build someone up. I have heard so many glowing reports from the junior and intermediate classroom teachers about Mme Isaahac. Without naming names, teachers have told me about her effective classroom management (a truly remarkable feat considering that Saadia teaches French à la carte, which means she is "entering another space" that she is not usually the one in control of for the majority of the day). Other teachers are impressed with the amount of work that she is able to coax out of the students. They marvel at how engaging her tasks are and how games are not time-wasters but useful ways to reinforce vocabulary, grammar, and other key concepts. The teachers are delighted to see and hear how much French the students are learning, and how happy they are to be learning from her.

It's not just the classroom teachers that are wowed by Saadia. Our Educational Assistant spend some time supporting students in the Grade 4 French class first thing in the morning. Both our past and current EA have spoken highly of Mrs. Isaahac's teaching style. They've said that they themselves are learning more French as a result of supporting students in this class, and one took back handouts and activities that Saadia developed herself for use with his own child at home!

Look at the Displays

If I didn't have a physical space to call my own, I might not be motivated to create displays. A lack of a specific French classroom does not deter Saadia. I've noticed that in every classroom that Saadia teaches in, there is a section with hand-made French posters reminding students of certain sentence constructions or common phrases.

And the hallway - oh, the hallway! In the stairwell that leads up to Saadia's little office, the student creations from Grades 6, 7 and 8 are posted. Whereas some of my displays stay up for a long period of time, Saadia replaces the artifacts with new evidence of French learning monthly. Here are some of the items up for November.

In the downstairs hallway, I've seen some equally neat pieces of work from the younger grades. I wish I had taken a photo of some of the word-art pictures that the Grade 4s completed; they created illustrations but coloured certain sections by writing the name of that colour (in that colour) over and over again in the space. It attracted a lot of attention, both from the students that made the artwork as well as the students that passed by the display on the way to their own classes.

Look at her Involvement

We just finished Parent-Teacher Interviews. My role was the translator escort, ensuring that the five translators we had working on Thursday evening made it from one interview to another in a timely manner. Where was Saadia? She had a full slate, sitting in on interviews alongside the classroom teacher. I hope Saadia does not mind me guessing that for many of these talks, the parent(s) did not request a meeting with the French teacher. However, Mrs. Isaahac took the initiative to introduce herself to families, especially those where the student is struggling with some aspect of the French program, to explain in person the class situation. Her presence indicated that this subject matters, and student efforts in French matter.

Talk to the Teacher Directly

I love chatting with Saadia. We do not have many scheduled times together - our specialist teacher PLC meetings aren't as frequent as those attended by the classroom teachers - but informally we get small opportunities to exchange a few words. When I talk to Saadia, I can tell how much she cares about the success of the students. She never brags, but it's evident how much effort she puts into her lessons. What makes this even more inspiring is that she has a nine-month old baby at home!

When I asked Mrs. Isaahac about taking her photo and writing my blog post about her, she was a little uncertain. She doesn't do the work for the attention, but for the students. However, I think it's important to a) celebrate the accomplishments of our fellow staff members and recognize when they are doing a good job, and b) to acknowledge that teaching isn't just something that happens behind closed doors. Forgive the biblical allusion, but don't hide your light under a bushel - even if you don't intend for it to happen, the light will peek out. It's not about self-promotion, but about helping others.

As I told our wonderful Grade 8 teacher, Farah Wadia, I'm so grateful that she tweets about what happens in her class because it makes me aware of what they are learning, helps me make connections for networking, and see the possibilities for what students can accomplish. I'll end with four tweets of Farah's that demonstrate the depth and breadth of the type of learning going on in her classroom.

Monday, November 12, 2018

ECOO Conference Reflections from #BIT18

On Tuesday, November 6 and Wednesday, November 7, I was fortunate enough to attend the Educational Computing Organization of Ontario's annual Bring IT Together conference in Niagara Falls. I've attended in 2016, 2014, 2013 2012, and 2011 (when it was in Markham, ON). I've noticed that this year's conference had some immediate consequences. Here's a breakdown of my learning.

Educational Computing Organization of Ontario #BIT18

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

9:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.
Minds on Media

Summary (taken from website): Minds On Media© (MOM) is a model of professional learning that respects the learner's 'desire to know'. Teachers come to learn and facilitators respect their choices in how they wish to do that. MOM is run in a large room with multiple stations. Participants choose which stations they would like to visit, how long to stay there and when to move on. Some participants spend the entire day at one or two stations building and creating things for their classroom. Others are like butterflies and spend short amounts of time at each station. The following stations will be at the BIT18 MOM this year. 

3 Key Points: 

1. We are all media educators.
2. Global competencies and media literacy go hand in hand.
3. Media teaching moments are everywhere; it's a matter of finding them, tying in the key concepts, and asking those good questions

So What? Now What? 

I spent my entire time at the Association for Media Literacy's booth. This was good because we had a steady stream of educators chatting with us. I was so happy to get time to speak with some colleagues (such as Danika) that I haven't seen in ages (or at least 2015). This was bad because there were so many great stations that I would have liked to visit. Doug Peterson made a special effort to introduce me to Dr. Elizabeth Pearsall from his former school board. She was also part of MoM but was equally busy. At least I eked out some time during lunch to talk with Ray Mercer, Melanie Mulcaster, and Alanna King. I also met some new contacts that I'm excited to connect with, like Mary and Melissa. The last-minute decision to bring some costume animal heads for selfies was a very good choice - it attracted people to our location and also prompted some great questions (like why do we smile for a selfie, even when we are wearing a mask that obscures our faces?)

Another important next step after Minds on Media is to continue to increase the visibility of the Association of Media Literacy. So many people told us that they had never heard of the organization before. It's the 40th anniversary of the AML, so we need to improve on spreading the word of effective media literacy awareness and instruction throughout the province. We are going to do that with a revised website, a transition plan and another new endeavor - a series of discussion salons. Stay tuned!

Visual / Social Media Artifacts:

Happy BIT18 and Happy Media Literacy Week!

Happy 40th Anniversary AML!

Lunch with Katina, Sarah, Alanna, Ray, Melanie and Michelle

Me, the horse and Danika

My new contact Mary, my old friend Lisa and me (with the horse)

The title image from our slide deck

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

8:30 a.m. - 9:30 a.m.
Opening Keynote by Dave Cormier

Summary (taken from website): Dave has led change based teams in K12 and Higher Education. He is currently finishing a two year contract designing a K-12 edtech strategy in PEI. This summer Dave is transitioning to the University of Windsor Medical School. As a change leader, an educational researcher and learning community advocate he has worked with groups around the world to better use technology to serve their technology goals. Dave has published on open education, Rhizomatic Learning, MOOCs (Massive/Open Online Courses), and the impact of technology on the future of high education.

Dave’s educational journey started in 1998 teaching little children to speak English. The pivotal moment of his career happened when he was teaching at Hannam University in South Korea in 2003 surrounded by the papers of 275 writing students and wondering if he had them all. That winter he started using discussion forums to bring all of his students together in a writing community (and to digitally keep track of their work) and he hasn’t looked back. He’s since helped organize online communities of teachers, spoken at events around the world and worked to understand how internet changes what it means to know. His educational exploration partners have included faculty and researchers from well-known universities, and lone teachers in small town classrooms. Some of them are even still talking to him.

Dave’s keynotes in the last couple of years have centred around how coming to know is a messy, imprecise process at once intensely individual and necessarily embedded in a community – Rhizomatic Learning. You can follow him on twitter at

3 Key Points:

1. Edtech will not save us - the commonly quoted "fact" that we are preparing students for jobs that don't yet exist is fake; this has been said since 1957 but there is no evidence corroborating this.
2. We need to, consciously and overtly, build a prosocial web - what's missing from the Internet is "being nice". Target the 60% of the population that, with support, will do it (not the usual 20% keeners or the 20% naysayers). 
3. Embrace the use of complex (as opposed to simple or complicated) problems, which are not directly measurable, will lead to some failure, and can be confusing, uncertain and scary.

So What? Now What?

This was a thought-provoking talk, although as I re-read the notes I took during the keynote, I'm not sure exactly HOW we are supposed to build this "prosocial web". I guess that's one of those complex problems that Dave is encouraging us to use. 

Visual / Social Media Artifacts:

10:00 a.m. - 11:00 a.m.
Organized Chaos: Code and Create in a Maker Library

Summary (taken from website): I would like to share why I started a maker space and what I have learned along the way. I will discuss the changing role of the school library and the exciting way the technicians can help drive them forward. The session will end with some hands on learning where participants can get an idea of what a typical maker period would look like.

So What? Now What?

Confession - I skipped this workshop but I had a really good reason. My dear friend, Lisa Noble, who was busy at BIT18 with several workshops, discussion groups, and booths, took precious time out of her schedule to sit with me and walk me through the steps of creating a fabric fidget maze / labyrinth. This was not initially part of her plan for her self-regulation station, but I brought my sewing machine all the way from Toronto to Niagara and we spent an hour together crafting and collaborating. I loved it! She was so encouraging and reminded me (when I sewed some of the pathways too narrow, preventing the bead from travelling through) that this was a prototype and not to worry about perfection the first time around. What a precious gift! My next step is very clear - I'm going to try and make some more of these safe fidget tools to give to other teachers, (which I already began on Saturday November 10 at my sewing class) and maybe I can even encourage some of my students to try and make some themselves!

Another piece of learning that happened because of this interaction was some exploring around cross-posting on different social media sites. It really reminded me of Media Literacy Key Concept #8, that each medium has a unique aesthetic form. The way I post on Twitter differs from Facebook and Instagram. As a result of this exploration, I de-linked my social media accounts from each other. I still post similar content to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (like my blog post notifications) but I realized that I craft the message differently based on the social media platform.

Visual / Social Media Artifacts:

Copied the maze, compare measured to the original

Cut the cotton and plush squares

Lisa coaching me on leaving a space to flip it

Lisa pins the map to the fabric

Sewing the maze paths

Peeling off the paper guide

11:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.
The Embedded Librarian: Rocking your virtual Library Learning Commons in digital spaces

Summary (taken from website): How do we make students that we don’t see every day successful? Don't let physical geography prevent you from collaborating or supporting every student in your school! The library learning commons isn't just a change in furniture or a mindset. It's about creating a pervasive culture of learning and collaboration even in digital spaces. Embedding your librarian in eLearning and blended classrooms allows all staff to take advantage of digital tools to help students to become more: confident, metacognitive, independent and critical.

3 Key Points:

1. We need to create sustainable models for the Library Learning Commons - if I was to be hit by a truck tomorrow, could the LLC program and space continue without me?
2. Instead of a "growth mindset", consider Chris Hadfield's idea of "preparing for failure"; be aware that you, your staff, and your students will not "get it" the very first time
3. There is so much mental health in what school librarians do (for staff and students) - be the safe adult where they can ask questions about reading, texts, technology / if you can't be the "right person" for them at that time, direct them to someone who can be / offer hospitality like supplies, snacks (and consider how to replicate this digitally, like an "ask me" button in a Google classroom or offer to assess formative work and revision suggestions).

So What? Now What?

I love Alanna and the inclusion of the theme of motivation in her talk really resonated with me (and with my own research on readers choice programs and motivation). I know I can get overwhelmed with all the notifications with the Google Classrooms I can be asked to join, but maybe I need to ask to join some more. (Thankfully, Diana Hong has already included me in her class Google Classroom; my next step is to stop lurking and start assisting or offering.)

Visual / Social Media Artifacts:

Great quote on sanity!

Alanna in action!

Icebergs are important educational metaphors

Quoting key motivation research

1:00 p.m. - 2:00 p.m.
How to Motivate and Engage Gamers and Support Healthy Digital Gaming Habits

Summary (taken from website): We will start by unpacking the the Quantic Foundry Gamer Motivation Profile and looking at our gamer learners through the lense of their motivation in the games they love. Then we will examine some concrete examples of the game based learning activities that would appeal to gamers with different motivations.

Finally we will look at the research based Practical Advice for Gamers by author and game designer Jane McGonigal which will explain the science behind why games are good for us--why they make us happier, more creative, more resilient, and better able to lead others. We will build our understanding of why some games are better for us than others, and that there is too much of a good thing.

3 Key Points

1. Not all gamers are the same; they have different motivations. Understand students' gaming profiles and then appeal to what they like, using "challenge language". You can even use tasks in a non-gaming environment that might appeal to those gaming profiles.
2. There is no wrong way to be a gamer. Gaming has some great positive benefits (see Jane McGonigal's work) and sometimes when needs are not met in real life contexts, sometimes it can be found for people in games.
3. Balanced technology management is good; positive benefits are linked to between 7-21 hours per week of game play but over 40 hours a week of online gaming will replace the positive benefits with negative impacts (these are research based findings, not theories). Consider how, what, and where you play because this can affect the benefits/drawbacks.

So What? Now What?

This was the best session I attended at #BIT18. I had way more than 3 key points to include. I am proud? delighted? blessed? (pick an adjective) to consider Jen Apgar, the presenter, a friend of mine. She had so many wise and perceptive things to say! This talk makes me miss our time together as fellow GamingEdus (when our group was much more active). My next step from this talk has already been implemented. I went home and completed the gaming profile from the link in her presentation. Then I begged my son and daughter to complete their own. I'll share our profiles and ramifications of this on our dormant Family Gaming XP blog. I loved Jen's analogy of a Minecraft environment to building snow forts in the school playground (consider how to manage the commodities, resources and space, and don't dismiss student concerns with "it's just X"). I also loved how Jen included the neurodiverse in her talk (e.g. that cooperative game  play helps us to be cooperative in real life; neurodiverse individuals can often do this in games and just need reminders and scaffolding to help them transfer the skill in-person). I wonder if I can encourage the students in my board game club (or even in just the intermediate grades in general) to complete this profile (or even have it included on the TDSB Virtual Library website as another tool for students to use to determine their strengths and/or learning profile)?

Visual / Social Media Artifacts:

Title slide from Jen's talk (see URL for link)

Reframe - we like to knock down block towers we build, how differs?

2:00 p.m. - 3:00 p.m.
Media Literacy: Past, Present, and Futures

Summary (taken from website): An engaging and informative panel discussion! We will examine the 40 year history of media literacy in Ontario in order to provoke thought and conversation on what the future of media literacy will look like. We will address digital literacy, Global Competencies, the role of ICT and more. Participants will leave with tools to enable them to address environments and media forms that may not yet exist, as we project into the future of media literacy!

3 Key Points:

1. Media literacy means agency through conscious, critical awareness.
2. Apply media literacy key concepts when teaching with technology creatively through production.
3. Anyone who uses a form of media in their classroom is a media literacy teacher.

So What? Now What?

Bias alert - I was part of this session. Our actual talk morphed a bit from what was initially proposed, but that was a good thing. We had a good talk with the small but interested and motivated audience members about news headlines about the Tony Clement sexting story, the viral image of the engagement with a substitute hand model, and other topics. We should have collected the names of the people in attendance. Our next step will be to contact at least one person present, Adam, to continue discussions of the future of media literacy in general and AML specifically.

Visual / Social Media Artifacts:

Michelle and Carol highlighting 1 of the 8 key concepts

Overall Commentary

I am grateful that I attended #BIT18 this year, even if it meant using up all my personal days for this school year to make it possible. Thanks Michelle Solomon for letting me bunk with you (and nice to meet you, Greg!). Thanks Tim and Max King for letting me eat dinner (Tuesday) and breakfast (Wednesday) with you and answering weird questions about sights and smells. Thanks Caroline Freibauer for the conversations squeezed in at the bar or between meals. 

Other people have already blogged about BIT18. For their insights, see

Monday, November 5, 2018

4 Things I Loved-Hated This Week

This week was a challenging one at school. Some of the challenges stemmed from situations and/or lack of communication. However, some causes of grief were specific "things" that I can also adore. What are these specific things about which I have such ambivalent feelings?

1. My "wobble chairs" and bean bag chairs

Why do I sometimes love them? - Students who struggle with staying still during a lesson really find it helpful to sit and squirm on the wobbly stools that I recently bought with my book fair funds. It can also be an easy way to show students my appreciation for them and their efforts, by offering them one of these "special seats" for a short time. Flexible seating can be a positive thing.

Why do I sometimes hate them? - Students fight over them constantly. I've tried to ensure that everyone has had a turn sitting on these alternates but it's mentally tiring to continually rotate students through. I wanted to get to a stage where we've all gotten the novelty out and then these seats can be for students who really need them, but we're not there yet. One student that I thought would really benefit from using the wobbly stool ended up standing on top of it and jumping off, which meant I had to lock the stools away in my office when his class came to the library. The bean bag chair was a donation from my son, who was dismayed to see that it had paint on it and was the worse for wear. The wobble chairs cost $100 each; I plan to get more to hopefully lessen the arguments, but that's a lot of money to spend!

2. My marbles

Why do I sometimes love them? - I was delighted with how the addition of marbles inspires students to be creative in their play. (See the post a few weeks ago about how students altered their Keva Plank builds to incorporate ramps when I included a marble.) I like how versatile and fun marbles can be. I bought a little book of marble games that I haven't even cracked open yet.

Why do I sometimes hate them? - Marbles are easy to smuggle out of the library, and some of my favourite marbles (that I bought while I was visiting my sister in Calgary last March) have gone missing (and have possibly been stolen). They roll all over the place (including under shelves) and despite having a specific container to live in, marbles get left in boxes and other unsuitable places, which means students often complain there aren't enough marbles available. Then there's a student who pushes things up his nose, so now we have to worry about having things that are small (like marbles and beads) around for him to pilfer and use inappropriately. It's literally and figuratively true that there are days when I've lost my marbles.

3. Lego

Who do I sometimes love them? - This is one of the most popular items in my Library Learning Commons Makerspace. Students of all ages can build anything. I can even include it in my library and media lessons, like I did this past week when I used Lego as "loose parts" and asked students to make different kinds of emojis. Here's just four of the many examples students made.

Why do I sometimes hate them? - I allow students to save their Lego creations on the tops of our shelves, but there's a time limit. I put the builds back after a week or two, and the creators are often irate that I've demolished the fruits of their labour, even though I've warned them that we can't preserve them forever and that we can take photos if they want. I find Lego pieces EVERYWHERE in the library, despite my best efforts to keep things tidy and remind students to clean up. With my emoji lesson, I received push back from students who wanted to stack and build what they wanted and not attempt the task at hand.

4. Halloween

Why do I sometimes love it? - As Doug Peterson has noted quite accurately, I adore costumes. I like making costumes, buying costumes and dressing up in costumes. It's fun and creative and playful. I love seeing other people's costumes too. It's a great holiday for taking photos. Plus there's the candy and the chance to see your neighbours as they bring around their children from house to house trick-or-treating.

Why do I sometimes hate it? - Aviva Dunsiger wrote a great blog post about how dys-regulating Halloween can be for some students (and adults). (This isn't her first post on the topic. Check this one out from the self-professed "Halloween Humbug".) Students can be wired and the routine is messed up. Emotions can run high, for students who get afraid of the scary imagery, or students who don't celebrate and feel excluded, or for students who are overly excited about the costumes or the excessive amounts of candy. We tried something new at our school this year, to try and combat the chaos. I'm not sure how successful it was; I really hope we take the opportunity at some point to analyze and discuss the change.

I don't really have any final thoughts on these four items that inspire such mixed emotions. There are positive parts to them, which is why I still continue to keep the Lego, marbles, and flexible seating around. And who knows - maybe "absence makes the heart grow fonder" and my upcoming two days at the ECOO BIT18 conference may rejuvenate me in unexpected ways.

Monday, October 29, 2018

DigCitSummitCA and the learning I choose not to share

On Saturday, October 27, 2018 I attended the Digital Citizenship Summit at OISE-UofT HQ in Toronto. I wasn't an organizer. I wasn't a presenter. I was *just* a participant. It was a pretty liberating experience.

Usually, when I attend a conference, on my blog I list the sessions I attended, a summary of the workshops, three key points and my "so what, now what" next step. I'm not going to do that this time in quite the same way. Why?

A) I did a lot of "session surfing" at this conference, because there were so many talks I wanted to hear and people I wanted to support with my presence at their workshops.

B) Not everything needs to be shared digitally. Some of the conversations that I had were chock-full of learning, but intensely personal and/or private. Consent and confidentiality are crucial concepts. (How's that for a lot of alliteration?) I still want to acknowledge that learning happened, and thank the people that made it happen, but I'm not going to reveal details of what was said. (This fits with Chapter 2 of that book I'm currently reading on documenting learning.)

9:00 - 9:45 am

Sneaking in this pic of T at TT
I was delighted to see how many people I knew as soon as I walked into the space! I didn't even have time to properly take my coat off before I was grabbed for a TDSB group photo! Teresa Allan (my Tinkering Thursday partner from just a few days prior) gave me an adorable "T-bird" that she made by hand. (The T stands for Twitter, Teresa, and tea, since she is my "tea mentor" who taught me how to make wise, healthy tea choices.)

I sat with Chelsea Attwell for the opening remarks, which were led by someone I'm honoured to call my friend, Jennifer Casa-Todd. As part of the whole-group beginning, Andrew McConnell came to give "community wisdom". I'm used to hearing land acknowledgements at the beginning of conferences but this was different. This was the first time I heard someone speak Annishnabek (did I spell this right?) with such a degree of fluency - and Andrew told us that this was his fourth language.

With TDSB friends, new and old (Julie, Larissa, Laura)

9:45 - 10:40

I had planned to attend a gaming session, but it seemed to be more of an introduction to a platform I was already pretty intimately familiar with, so I passed. Instead, I had not one, but two, fantastic conversations. Laura Collins, I want to thank you for your positive nature. Larissa Aradj, I want to thank you for your honesty. I am a privileged educator because I have the opportunity to access both of you virtually and in person and I'm grateful for it. I also squeezed in some time reviewing how to use a MicroBit with kidscodejeunesse and scored a free Bit to try out in my Library MakerSpace!

10:50 - 11:50

Being a session butterfly isn't all it's cracked up to be! I wanted to grab as much information as I could from as many different people, but when you are moving from place to place, all you can hope to achieve are little snippets of ideas. I spent a bit of time first in the session called "Where Does Media Literacy Fit In?" which was a panel with Michelle Solomon, Jane Mitchinson, Matthew Johnson and moderator Carlo Fusco. I heard a couple of good observations around algorithms and echo chambers, but I can't accurately report on the entire experience because I didn't stay long enough. I then popped into "Samaritans on the Digital Road: the OCDSB journey from Digital Citizenship to Digital Integrity". Bill Cocoran, the session lead, made me really think about the purpose of filming good deeds and how much humility and kindness could and should play a part. (Heads up - a friend who wasn't at the conference posted a reply to my tweet and I deleted my reply to her because it sounded too snarky and could have been misinterpreted as mocking the message - a valuable reminder that wry observations or dissenting opinions shared online should be carefully phrased so they don't accidentally offend.) I ended this time slot by visiting Annie Slater, Artemis Manoukas and Katina Papulkas as they concluded their talk on "Digital Citizenship of Staff and Students (and Parents too)".

Selfie with Katina and Annie

11:50 - 1:00

Lunch is still a time to learn! I sat down with a good TL friend who isn't in the GTA, Ruth Gretsinger. Time spent with her is always valuable. We had a great conversation that was wide-ranging in scope and content. Ruth, thanks for sharing all the many things you know and explaining to me things I didn't know.

1:00 - 1:55

I had planned on making this another "butterfly adventure" because I really wanted to hear Julie Millan's talk on "Go Google Yourself: Building an Online Presence" as well as Jennifer Casa-Todd's "Empowering Students to be Digital Leaders". Plans change, and I ended up spending the entire time at Diana Hale's focused discussion on "Integrating Digital Citizenship in Elementary Classrooms". This was because the people in the room - Diana Hale, Jessica Longthorne, Teresa Allan, Matthew Johnson and Carlo Fusco - had so many darn tweetable things to say that I couldn't go! I learned some great new phrases like "empathy trap" and "digital sunset". Literally every person had something wonderful to contribute. I'm going to share Diana Hale's continuum with my staff, since I need to extend my "tendrils of influence" further, now that our school's technology is decentralized and more class-based.

Chatting with Teresa, Jess and Diana

2:05 - 3:00

Being at a conference can be tiring, even if you aren't the one presenting. I took a break to visit the Pop-Up and Playground space on the first floor. I spoke with Tina Zita about some of the cool items she brought with her (including a retro phone receiver that actually plugs into all devices to use as a mic and headset). I then took a "people break" to catch up on the Twitter feed for the event. I snuck/sneaked into Carlo Fusco's session, "Taking Care of Your Digital Identity" for the last fifteen minutes and was able to learn something new even in that brief slot of time.

Check out the "phone"!

Photo with URL for Carlo's presentation
3:10 - 3:30

Our closing keynote was the effervescent, enthusiastic and energetic Olivia Van Ledtje. She's a youth activist and reading enthusiast - and when I say youth, I'm talking a Grade 4 student!

My own networking didn't stop with the end of the conference. I got to "meet" two people that I've known for ages but have never met in person previously. Thank you to Helen deWaard and Julie Johnson for delaying their departure from the conference so we could chat, if only for a little bit.

Diana and Helen

Julie and Diana
Thank you so much to the organizing committee for creating such a fruitful (and affordable) conference. I was reluctant to come, as I have report card comments to complete this weekend, but it was worth it. Thanks also to the people who talked with me, as well as the people I wanted to talk to but ran out of time to do it thoroughly or at all (Natasha Khakoo and Stephen Hurley, I'm looking at you two here!) All of you accelerate my learning!

Monday, October 22, 2018

Always room for improvement -for sleep sacks and library set-up!

Who was it that said "practice makes perfect"? It's not an accurate statement. It'd be more true to say "practice and people's pointers make progress". I have a couple of examples, both in and out of the classroom, to support my thesis.

Ernie in one of the sleep sacks I made

Sleep Sacks

I sew. It's a relatively new skill set for me, begun in earnest in 2016 with some tutelage from my mother, followed by a session offered by the Toronto Parks and Recreation department, first with a supply teacher, and then with my wonderful regular teacher, Natalie. I've made a flapper costume for myself, tails and ears for the animals in our school musical, as well as a replica of the outfit Joy wears in the movie, Inside Out. I've hemmed my daughter's prom dress, and attempted to make pajama pants.

My latest sewing project has been sleep sacks for my skinny pig. I used to buy them from someone online for $15 each. My vet told me that I needed to change Ernie's sleep sacks daily so that he would not get another foot infection - he likes to urinate and defecate where he sleeps, which becomes detrimental to his health when he sits in it for too long. I realized that I needed to try my hand at making these sleep sacks, so I would have enough to use. I consulted with Cathy, the lady who sold me my sewing machine, and owns a sewing store. I brought her one of the sacks I had purchased, which had been bitten through, to expose all the different layers. She instructed me on what each type of fabric was (cotton, batting, and a kind of fleece) and showed me the measurements to cut, how to stitch each square together, combine the squares, and sew everything together at the bottom and top. When I went to Fabricland to purchase the materials, which I got for a great deal, Patrine, the salesperson asked me what I was doing. She suggested that I sew all three layers together at once, to avoid having to make a fat connecting stitch at the bottom. I tried out both ways, and each had its drawbacks and benefits. One major snag to both methods was that the material was so bulky that it was hard to fit under the foot of my sewing machine. Still, I was able to manufacture six bags.

Six bags made, photo taken September 12, 2018

I signed up for the fall session of the Toronto Parks and Rec Sewing Class and I brought a couple of bags to stitch. Natalie had some fantastic advice for me.
  • stitch the cotton and batting together, and then afterwards stitch the fleece layer on - that way, if I confused the sides, I'd only have one layer to redo
  • use a different type of sewing foot - she switched my regular metal one for a see-through plastic foot that did not get caught in the batting
  • alter the stitch length, stitch width and something else (at a 4 setting instead of a 1) for bigger stitches to accommodate the fatter material
  • snip the ends of the fleece so when it's combined with the other bags, it won't bunch up at the corners
Natalie shows me how the new foot won't get stuck

Snipping edges to make it fit easier (Oct. 13/18)
I got so excited about these improvements to my process that I purchased more fabric to make more bags. My new bags were much better - but they weren't perfect. There were still gaps where the fleece folded over for a ridge opening. One of my fellow students who has been taking class for longer than I have (and whose name, for the life of me, I cannot recall but will add in later) came to look at what I was doing. She had additional suggestions - instead of sewing the fabric all the way up to the top, she said to stop where the batting and cotton ended, and then flip the remaining edges the other way to sew closed. Then, add a tuck and hem for a neater finished look. When I flippantly said that the skinny pig would not care what the edge would look like, R wisely replied that it's better to try to do our best with any project, even if we'd be the only ones to appreciate the effort.

Me flipping the material to sew the ends

No more large gap/hole in the sides

Tucked edge under and then stitched it

The newest bags, made Oct.20/18

So I took Natalie and R's advice and made seven more sleep sacks. They are way better - but they still aren't perfect. I can sometimes see the sewed-together-inner-layers peeking out of the inside of the bag. I'm going to put a hold on making any more bags for now, but I must say making several in a row definitely helped my technique. I've made sixteen sacks so far, including one I sent to a teacher-librarian colleague.

All but 2 of the bags I've made so far

Side, closer view - can you see the gaps & inside lining peeking out?

Library Set-Up and Routines

I have been a teacher-librarian for my entire career (which is 22 years and counting). You'd think that I'd have circulation routines and layouts mastered, but it's never perfect. I have several new teacher-librarians that I'm mentoring this year. One of them came to visit my library before school began. We were chatting about signage and I was reflecting critically (and a bit negatively) on my current shelf signage set-up and shelf labels. I liked how I use old textbooks wrapped in bright paper as section markers (an idea I borrowed from another TL) but disliked my messy and inaccurate tape labels that indicated what specific section of books were on that shelf. He offered a recommendation - why not try Velcro strips? That way, if I weeded or reorganized a section, I could simply rip off the old one and replace it with a new one. Simple, affordable, and brilliant!

I didn't want to make new labels until I had continued my never-ending weeding of the collection. (Pssst - here's a job secret - libraries need to be constantly weeded. I try to pick one section each year and slowly make my way through it.) I shared my plan with my adult volunteer, the amazing Mrs. Pat McNaughton (mother of another teacher-librarian, Kim Davidson). She liked the idea, and had one of her own. The dual language section was getting crowded and cramped. It didn't need weeding as much as it needed a different space. We talked and chose part of the periodicals area, which itself needs serious revamping. 

I also talked with Mrs. McNaughton about something new I'm trying but am struggling with implementing. In the past, when students forgot their library books, they'd be sent back to class to fetch their agendas and receive a "reminder stamp" to encourage them to bring back their books. Why not make bringing agendas just a regular part of the library routine, and increase the positive communication between the school library and home by providing a "thumbs up stamp" to indicate when students have done a great job of returning their books on time? This shift in routine has been bumpy. I'm transferring responsibility to the students by trying to have different groups of students a) check in the books, b) check the status of their classmates and stamp the agendas, and c) check out the books, but depending on the age and ability of the students, this goes slowly or with mistakes. Agendas are sometimes left or lost in the library. My library helpers, who work at recesses and at lunch, are trying to lessen the load by collecting books to check in during their shifts beforehand so the younger students have less to do. It goes more efficiently when Mrs. McNaughton is around to supervise the circulation desk and I can teach the lesson, but I can't monopolize Mrs. McNaughton's time, since I share her with her daughter (and adorable grandson, Henry).  

Generalized Lessons Learned

1) Things will never be perfect. Hubby and I talked about the difference between improvement and change (a common rally cry on election signs we see). I'm going to keep trying to improve and not change for change's sake. At some point I'm going to need to move onto other things that need my attention and accept my efforts as a constant work in progress. 

2) Getting multiple opportunities to try things helps a lot. I've made sixteen bags and still haven't gotten it to the point where I'm 100% satisfied. I guess that's true with sports or music too.

3) "How it's always been done" isn't always how it has to remain. This is great if it's working well, but what might one tweak do to make it even better?

4) Keep the celebration intact while still seeing where improvements can be made. I will try not to get discouraged that the sleep sacks aren't exactly to my specifications, or that the agendas aren't completed within the first 15 minutes of the 40 minute period. That's what makes revising and editing writing sometimes a chore - we forget to congratulate ourselves on what's been accomplished so far and focus instead on the many items that need correcting.

5) Getting advice from others really helps a lot. They provide different perspectives that can revitalize a project or process. I don't always have to accept every piece of advice provided, but listening to different points of view won't do any harm.