Monday, December 31, 2012

What did I learn in 2012?

I waited until the actual day to write my final blog post of 2012. Stephen Hurley invited Ontario bloggers to submit their favourite blog post. I looked through my posts from this year, and although there were times that I read and thought "wow - I wrote that? It sounds good", there were no posts that I felt warranted a specific-shout-out. Doug Peterson turned to his blog stats to determine which posts garnered the most attention. The biggest page read on my blog for 2012 (my Webinar Reflection in March) drew a grand total of 10 page views, so this system for determining my most insightful post would not work for me.

A lot of people and media outlets are doing the "2012 reflection" and if you click this link, you'll read about what one person learned in 2012. The gentleman in question is Father Edwin Gonsalves, and I am blessed enough to have him as my church's priest. He stressed that family is important, and that "all of us are teachers and students to one another".

I've had so many teachers and students this year, and I've learned so much from reading different books and articles, talking to different people, and experiencing different conferences and situations, that summing it all up in one document is very difficult. (Geez, how do we do it with report cards? We miss a lot of the real and personal learning, I guess.) Let me end 2012 then, not with a list of things I've learned but with a list of gratitude to all my "teachers" and "family members".

Thank you to:

  • my husband James
  • my daughter Mary
  • my son Peter
  • my parents, Fred and Gloria (and my relatives - my extended family)
  • my students and fellow staff members at my school (present and past)
  • my fellow TDSB TLs and Ontario educators, including my colleagues from the OSLA/OLA
  • my pastor / associate pastor and fellow parishioners at my church (my "spiritual family")
  • my Twitter PLN and online learning comrades (my "digital learning family")
  • my friends, acquaintances, and even my "enemies"
I hope 2013 is a great year of learning for you - I hope it will be for me.

Monday, December 24, 2012

They all want to play

I'm writing this post in advance - as you read this, Ontario schools are on their winter holiday time, the one-day strike by my board's union members was last Tuesday, and it's Christmas Eve day, for those who celebrate. I want to tell you about something I noticed in my school library prior to the break.

I've been trying to incorporate aspects of a kindergarten class into my school library setup, and that includes having a "play area". It has bins of costume jewels, toy doctor and construction sets, games, a mini-basketball hoop set, and I'll soon add a beanbag chair or two. During book exchange, it takes some students longer than others to locate that "just right" book to borrow. For those students that choose their reading selection quickly, they are allowed to shoot hoops when they are done, provided they ask beforehand. My junior division boys really like this opportunity to get physical in the library on their own terms.

I haven't been tidying up these play bins much - I have other things that are more demanding of my time - and since they've been lying on tables near the play area, I've noticed that students of ALL ages have been playing with more than just the basketball net. Grade 8s pull the trigger of the toy drill to hear it buzz; Grade 5s sort through the necklaces, Grade 6s turn the knob on that knock-off cheap-o version of Perfection to see it pop.

That suggests to me that kids of all ages and stages need and want to play - to explore, goof around, and touch stuff just because it's there. How often do we give older students "free time"? Maybe I need to "accidentally" leave out some more items to let their playful sides out. I hope everyone that receives presents at this time of the year gets something to play with, no matter what their age.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Integrative Thinking and the Bill 115 Battle

Unlike the rest of the blogosphere, I'm going to refrain from writing about the terrible events in Connecticut. Instead, today's post stems from a Twitter request:

Sheila, Brian, Rodd and Heidi were having a very thought-provoking discussion via Twitter about discussing difficult topics online. Brian rhetorically asked "how transparent we really are prepared to be about educational issues in social media" and I found their conversation related well to a book I just finished reading. Brian recognized the book right away: The Opposable Mind: Winning Through Integrative Thinking by Roger Martin. Now is a great time for me to reflect on the message of the book and how it can apply to our current situation in Ontario education.

I never thought I'd read a business book, but Anita Brooks-Kirkland (@AnitaBK on Twitter) has often encouraged cross-pollination of ideas (like in her article from The Teaching Librarian magazine). I first heard about Roger Martin at the People For Education conference I attended in October (and wrote about extensively here on this blog) and was intrigued enough to purchase his book on the subject of his keynote: integrative thinking. This is Martin's definition of the concept:

The ability to face constructively the tension of opposing ideas and, instead of choosing one at the expense of the other, generate a creative resolution of the tension in the form of a new idea that contains elements of the opposing ideas but is superior to each. (p15)
The typical process of thinking and deciding usually involves four steps:
  1. Salience (What features do I see as important?)
  2. Causality (How do I make sense of what I see?)
  3. Architecture (What tasks will I do in what order?)
  4. Resolution (How will I know when I am done?) (page 29)
Integrative thinkers use these four steps in different ways:
  1. Salience (More features of the problem are considered salient.)
  2. Causality (Multidirectional and non-linear causality are considered.)
  3. Architecture (The whole is visualized while working on individual parts.)
  4. Resolution (Search for creative resolution of tensions.) (page 44) 
The "mental models" we use to construct reality simplifies and filters information. Causality is our subjective interpretation of data based on our favoured mental models. We see our theories as the truth, not as hypotheses or our own created models. (This made me decide to use the drawing game Telestrations with my grade 5 & 6 students, because their inquiry question is "What is truth? How do I know when something is true?" and one person's truth may be interpreted quite differently ["How could you think my word was 'tie'? I drew a banana!'] - although I didn't use the term "mental modes" with them.)

The second half of the book describes how to develop an "opposable mind". The three areas that need developing are:
  1. Stance (Who are you? What do you think about the world?)
  2. Tools (What are your theories, processes, and "rules of thumb"?)
  3. Experiences (Hone you sensitivities and skills.) (paraphrased, page 103)
Integrative thinkers, based on Martin's interviews and research involving some of the biggest names in the business world, have these thought patterns in common:

Regarding Stance
  • existing models do not represent reality
  • leverage opposing models
  • better models exist
  • I can find a better model
  • I wade into complexity
  • I give myself time to create
Regarding Tools
  • Generative reasoning
  • Causal modeling
  • Assertive inquiry
Regarding Experiences
  • Deepen mastery
  • Nurture originality (page 190)
Please forgive the lengthy summary - I'm still processing the ideas myself and found it easier to quote key sections. The book is written in a very accessible format, with plenty of anecdotes to illustrate the points made. I'm not fortunate enough to work at the TDSB school that is working with the Rotman School of Business at U of T on integrative thinking but the book is appealing enough that I thought I'd try to apply some of the ideas in my regular practice, especially that of assertive inquiry. It closely resembled the work on attentive listening that I was taught when I became a Tribes TLC (R) facilitator. Assertive inquiry encourages you to "investigate someone else's mental model" (page 157). Roger Martin actually has his students write "personal cases" of failed interactions for future productive resolutions.

Here's an example of me experimenting with assertive inquiry and integrative thinking: now that we are on official "work-to-rule" regulations, there are certain things that we are prohibited from doing. For instance, we are neither allowed to use student library helpers, nor are we to permit adult library volunteers to shelve books. I found this directive very frustrating. I am a teacher-librarian and I would rather spend my prep time planning lessons, assessing student tasks, or working directly with students and teachers. My job does not usually involve putting books away and adding this to my to-do list would be detrimental. The union representative's response was that books will just have to pile up, a physical reminder of our current battle. I really didn't like this either-or set up (either *I* put away the books or *no one* puts away the books) and I wasn't planning on breaking the union rules (I may complain but I do listen when it's required) so I decided to talk about different options with some of my colleagues in the staff room.

I realize that one of my weakness in developing my own integrative thinking is that I don't give myself time to find the best model - I want things to be fixed now, now, now. That made me push in my conversation to try and find an option I could live with. I described the pickle that I was in with the mountain of books that needed tidying, my prep time gobbled up by my attempt to keep my teaching area clean, and my concerns that the mountain would become a mountain range. (My students are allowed to borrow multiple books at once - 3 for primary students, 5 for junior students, and 7 for intermediate students -  and if they have clean records of return, they can increase that number by becoming a "silver star" member. Multiply 30 students by 5 books or more per person, and that's a lot of books to handle!) My colleagues offered all sorts of suggestions and I had to work hard to turn off the defensive answers that would pop in my mind (like "I can't limit the kids to borrowing just one book? That's not fair to them and they'd lynch me!" or "There's no way I could use the class' library time to make them shelve their own books - I'd have no time to teach anything because some of them already take 20 minutes just to pick their books, nevermind sort them!"). I tried to ask them to elaborate on their idea, so I could, in Martin's words, "recognize additional salient data and perceive more or different causal relationships" (page 166). Our Grade 6 teacher noticed some key salient data I had ignored when I first faced this issue: the borrowing exchange period is two weeks and most students do not complete all their books in one week. Why not allow a regular book exchange time one week (providing the usual twenty minutes of book exchange and twenty minutes of instructional time) and then the following week, have the students shelve books during their usual book exchange time (and no additional time would be lost for the lesson). This training on properly shelving books would also benefit them; they'd learn some valuable lessons on decimals, classification, and responsibility. I want to thank Lorna Chan for coming up with an innovative and creative solution to my problem.

I'm no integrative thinking expert by any means, but if my brief foray into this can already achieve some results, what might be the possibilities if our union and government or school boards employed this in resolving some of their conflicts? What if, like Captain Kirk on Star Trek, there's more than just Option A or Option B to handling a crisis, a third, unconsidered solution that everyone can live with and support? The union sees workers' rights as salient; the government sees economic frugality as salient - there are many more factors that we need to consider (like our students' needs, our parents' desires, and more!). We need leaders to design creative resolutions, not within a too-short time frame (December 31? Many of the school boards have said this deadline is impossible to meet), and by considering the whole as well as all the intricate parts. Roger Martin, are there any students there who can help us find a better model?

In the meantime, we prepare for our one-day strike action. Here are the posters I've designed that I will wear (with a special outfit) while I'm on the picket line. If I devise a creative solution to this mess while I walk the line for three hours, I'll let you know.

Monday, December 10, 2012

PD Interrupted

Last Friday was Federation Day for the Elementary Teachers of Toronto. I wasn't super-keen on going to the Toronto Congress Centre, but my colleagues offered to pick me up and there was some urging/pressure to attend because of the recent provincial labour situation so I planned to go.

Wilbur derailed my plans.

Wilbur was my pet skinny pig. On November 24, we took him (along with my school skinny pig Max and my daughter's rabbit Dolly) to the groomers to have nails trimmed. He was unsteady on his feet but we initially attributed his falls to a sore nail clipped too close. We observed him for a couple of days and realized that something was wrong. This began a series of visits to our veterinarian. Wilbur was put on anti-inflammatory medicine, antibiotics, and ear drops.  Instead of improving, he deteriorated further. Although he ate and drank normally, he lost a lot of weight. His droppings turned abnormal recently and we realized that we couldn't wait to see the vet again. I called my fellow teacher and canceled my ride. We took Wilbur to the vet on Friday morning to see what could be done. Our animal doctor told us that Wilbur was so dehydrated that he would have to be hospitalized for several days and that he would have to undergo blood work, x-rays and further tests to determine the root of his problems. We discussed all our options and realized that even with all these interventions, it was uncertain that Wilbur would pull through. We made the difficult decision to have him euthanized.

This is Wilbur when he was healthy (Orville is on the left)
This is a photo of Wilbur, taken December 2, obviously unwell.

Why am I writing all of this here? I already mentioned it on my family blog, Twitter, and Facebook, but I felt the need to mention it on my professional blog to justify my absence, to explain why I didn't / couldn't attend. I still went through with my afternoon's self-directed PD with another educator off-site, but life has a way of disrupting the best-laid plans. My loss was minor, compared to a wonderful kindergarten teacher that I wrote about here - her sister died suddenly of a brain aneurysm last week - or compared to the Swansea P.S. teacher who was killed while biking to work. School is important and so is professional development, but sometimes there are bigger things to deal with, and comforting my tearful son and daughter as they said goodbye to a family pet took precedence.

Monday, December 3, 2012

ECEs are A+

These two ladies are the Early Childhood Educators at my school. I received permission from both of them (Maria Theresa [Thess] Isidro and Jennifer [Jen] Balido-Cadavez) to post this photo on my blog.

We've had full-day kindergarten at our school for three or four years now. I remember the concerns that swirled around when it was first suggested to have certified teachers partnering with certified ECEs in these classrooms, but any reservations anyone might still have would disappear in a flash if they could see these two ladies in action. I have learned so much from Thess and Jen and I wanted to share some of the unique ways they have made me a better teacher.

Early Childhood Educators are "trained in a program accepted by the College of Early Childhood Educators (College of ECE) and must be a member of the College". ( Their focus on the youngest learners really add a much-needed different perspective that teachers may obtain while earning their Bachelor of Education degree and Ontario College of Teachers qualifications.

As a specialist teacher, I am blessed to have the ECE come with the kindergarten students during library, computers, and media classes. Thess and Jen are solid bridges that can link together the big ideas discussed in the regular classroom with concepts taught in my lessons. They also know what makes some of these kids "tick" and can redirect, individualize instruction, and alert me when one of their charges is a bit "off". They know what strategies work for which child and will often intervene before a situation escalates out of control. We team-teach and discuss what went well in a lesson and what we noticed students doing as they work or talk. Jen and Thess give me descriptive feedback so that I can improve my lessons and help the students learn more effectively. Thess and Jen also make me laugh and we can share the amusing things that happen when you regularly interact with 4- and 5-year-olds.

Let me give you just a few examples so you don't think I'm just being a sycophant. A few years ago at the Ontario Library Superconference, my colleague and dear friend Denise Colby presented on kindergarteners in the library, and she recommended that we make our school libraries similar to kindergarten classes. I thought I'd play with this idea by having centers to explore our latest learning goal: "We are learning to identify the title and author on book covers". Jen and Thess gave me advice about setting up the centers, set up the supplies in a much more organized fashion, set up the rotation groups, monitored the performance of the students as they worked on the center activities, noted difficulties with some of the centers (for instance, one of the centers involved using pages from a vendor's book catalogue and circling the titles - some of the pages we gave had too many book covers on them and it overwhelmed some of the students), and after doing the centers (which were intended as "assessment as learning" and "assessment for learning" [ page 28]) helped me plan for the series of evaluations I wanted to use for my "assessment of learning".  They recommended using four book covers instead of just one, in case some students over-generalize and "mess up" (some of the success criteria they came up with said that most titles are near the top of the cover - this isn't always the case and some kids may automatically circle words near the top). When I showed the different options I was considering, they recommended I place one at the back of the main evaluation page for the students who need greater challenges.

In computer class, we just took a break from our learning goal centered on identifying the program we chose to use during free time and explaining/justifying our choices. I noticed that the students could recite the name of the program while at the carpet but would shrug or say "I don't know" when asked while they were playing/using. The ECEs recommended using actual screen shots from the program in addition to the extra-large hand-drawn icons of the programs we had been using. The ECEs would go around and practice asking and responding with the students and since the children feel extremely comfortable with Mrs. Isidro and Mrs. Cadavez, they would more readily answer the questions and the ECEs could coach them using the learning goal and success criteria charts (which, based on another suggestion of theirs, I made multiple copies and placed in the computer lab as well as their regular classroom). They tied in the math language they were using in the regular class (to justify - although I had a fantastic conversation with Thess' teaching partner about the difference between explain [say why] and justify [say how do you know] and made alterations to the words used on the charts). I'd show them my anecdotal notes I'd take each week and they'd add their own observations and together we'd consider who needed extra talk-time.

I could go on at even greater length about how Thess and Jen have influenced me, but I think you get the picture. I miss them on the rare occasion when they are absent from school and they are a great source of professional development for me. Thank you Jen and Thess for everything you do!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Sitting Standards

When my husband asked me what I'd be writing about for this week's blog post, I told him the topic was sitting.

Yes, sitting.

Before you roll your eyes at how incredibly boring that idea seems, bear with me.

I teach in an elementary school and a lot of the direct instruction time happens on a carpet. The teacher will sit on a rocking chair (or stand near a SMART Board) while the students sit on the carpet to watch. I've thought about this practice and wondered about the benefits. I vaguely recall reading somewhere that standing while working/discussing makes you more active and productive than doing the same thing while sitting. (Now if only I could find the source of that information!) Does it really make a difference if a student is sitting on a chair or on the floor for instruction? Because of these musings, I've allowed quite a variety in how students are permitted to position themselves during direct instruction in the library: they can sit on the carpet, pull up a chair, or stand. My only caveat is that you put yourself in a way that helps you learn; if someone spends too much time chatting while parked on a chair near their pals, they are asked to move.

There are two notable exceptions to this unofficial policy of mine. One has to do with a particular junior division class that really has issues with excessive talking, which unfortunately leads to some social conflicts. I've resorted to something my predecessor used to do: "library lines". These are predetermined spots on the carpet for every single student. To be frank, I'm not a big fan of the set-up and neither are the students, but I can get 10 minutes for delivering information in a lecture format without gossip and distractions. I hope that this class and I can renegotiate these arrangements so we can gather in a manner that suits our goals and personalities.
The second exception involves the kindergarten students and I keep to a traditional form of seating because the students are still learning about the culture of school. The teachers might not be happy if I undo all their efforts to instill the "criss-cross applesauce" / "5 point check" routines involved with instruction on the carpet.

I suspect, however, that this laissez-faire approach to sitting may sometimes backfire on me. Some students might feel that since I am not strict about how they sit, I might be lax in how they listen (which for me are two separate things). I notice that as a specialist teacher, some kids are more likely to attempt some form of misbehaviour (e.g. talking during instruction time) with me than with their regular classroom teacher - are there other factors at play? Can it be that by demonstrating bodily forms that indicate attentive listening (such as keeping your eyes on the speaker, folding your hands so you don't fiddle, and positioning your body directly toward the person talking), you can trick your mind into truly listening? Or is that a fallacy, because you can sit nicely but your mind is a million kilometers away?

I'd love to talk with people more about this. In the meantime, I'll search around and in the comments I'll post any links to the importance of sitting for learning purposes in school.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Media Production Primary Division Style

I am so proud of the students I teach. They come up with such insightful thoughts and can create such interesting products. My schedule this year lacks open flexible partner time (not good) but grants me time for library, ICT, and media lessons for everyone from Grades JK-4 (among other assignments).

A Twitter post from Colin Jagoe inspired me to try a pretty ambitious project much earlier in the school year than I would usually attempt. He asked if the very kinesthetic definition of media that I use with my primary students was available to see online. I was originally going to make my own YouTube video but then it struck me: why not have the students make these videos?

I undertook this task with four of my upper primary classes (two Grade 1-2 groups, a Grade 2-3 class and our Grade 3-4 class). My main request was that our video share our definition of media. They were allowed to select the means and method to do this within a TV show / movie format. Each class took a different approach. I'm proud to announce that three out of the four videos are now complete and available for public viewing on YouTube. (The last video, to be created and filmed in Minecraft, has experienced "technical delays" because the open LAN connection wouldn't work and the multi-school server IP has not yet been approved by the school board. I'm not a very patient person but the students are still committed to making this film, so once this gets settled, we'll resume the project.)

Here are the other three videos. The students took on all the roles (from script writing to camera crew to technical team). I don't think Stephen Spielberg has to fear the competition just yet (as these are 6-9 year olds) but I was still very impressed with the quality of their work.


Just in case anyone wonders, for the last video, we obtained special permission from the parents to have their children appear in the movie. We kept names out of the credits and used initials instead.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Bitten by the Research Bug

While I was at last week's People For Education conference, I had the chance to speak with one of the most upbeat people in their organization - the incredible Gay Stephenson. I met Gay several times in the past. One of our lengthier encounters was while she was working on the Queens University / People For Education / Ontario Library Association study on "Exemplary School Libraries in Ontario". This 2009 study was the first research study that I read because I was genuinely interested and not because it was a course requirement. In fact, it was influential in my Masters of Education capping paper on The Factors that Support the Development of Exemplary School Library Programs with the University of Alberta's Teacher-Librarianship via Distance Learning program.

I finished my M.Ed. in 2010 but I still craved something more - I had been bitten by the research bug. The original topic I wanted to pursue for my final M.Ed. task was impossible to investigate because there was an insufficient amount of research done on the topic. Thanks to conversations with Dr. Elizabeth Lee, she helped me to formulate a potential research question. With further assistance and support from Dr. Marie-Claire Shananhan, Dr. Lee, JoAnne Gibson, and the wonderful folks at the Ontario Library Association, I created my data tool and conducted a survey. It took five months to get the survey questions just right! Now I am indebted to Dr. Bozena White as she analyzes the data to help me understand my findings. I've had to "take a pause" at this point to look for some external funding - my husband is very tolerant, but he began to get concerned when he learned that I planned on paying for the research analysis out of my own personal funds!

My love affair with academic research is not limited to my own study. Last year I answered questions for Stephen Smith for his research project on "Graphic Novels in the Ontario Social Studies Curriculum" written for his Research Methods Summer 2011 at Canisius College for the Masters of Education program. In 2011, I was a case study for Leo L. Cao's study called "Serious Play: An exploratory multiple-case study on the emerging practice of appropriating digital games for academic learning" for the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. (I wasn't so keen on the title or the idea of "appropriating", but it wasn't my study.) I've written academic papers a couple of times for Robert G. Weiner, an associate humanities and sequential art librarian for Texas Tech University. This year, I am delighted to be involved in two projects ... actually, both are still in the formative stage of things, so I can't say too much right now but I'm very excited to be possibly involved.

The wonderful thing I discovered recently is that my staff doesn't look at me like a freak when I get passionate about research. My inquiry topic with my primary division students focuses on control; their questions are "what is control?" "what can I control?" and "how can I keep control?". This links to the learning skill of self-regulation on our report cards. There's been a surge in interest on this topic and while reading about it, I heard about the Stanford University "marshmallow experiment". I decided that as one of my lessons, I'd recreate a version of this experiment to see what occured. I have three kindergarten classes in my school and the results were very interesting.

  • The first class had 4 students that ate the one candy instead of waiting
  • The second class had 0 students that ate the one candy instead of waiting
  • The third class had 7 students that ate the one candy instead of waiting
I shared the results with the kindergarten teachers and it lead to some very rich discussion. Some of our discussions centered on individual students - the class teacher tried to guess who ate the single candy and it was interesting to see how accurate the guesses were to the results. Some of our discussions examined the other factors that may have come into play based on the way I administered the experiment, such as peer pressure or influence and challenges involving English Language Learners. The original study has suggested that if the child has trust in the adult to follow through with promises, they are more likely to wait and wait longer; this was shown with a "pre-task" involving crayons to use prior to the candy portion of the task. In the real research experiment, the child was alone; in my version, the students were sitting at desks but near each other (and in one class I could hear a child telling another not to eat the candy yet). I'm tempted to repeat the experiment, to see if those factors that skew results can be reduced and to see if we can teach delayed gratification (or "the big C" as my students like to call self-control). Assessment is like action research - do some investigating, examine the results and contemplate some next steps. I'll let you know how these various projects go in the future.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

P4E12 in Photos and Tweets

As promised, here are a few photos from the People for Education conference, held at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto on Saturday, November 3 and Sunday, November 4, 2012. I didn't attend the Sunday session but I heard great tweets about it.

Here's the OSLA table, with Shelagh, Stacey, and Barbara. We had some sweet swag to share (like the funky frisbee Barbara's holding).

I took this photo with my iPad - apologies for the poor quality. This is a picture of Joe Mazza in his presentation on being a "social media principal". I was delighted to get a shout-out today from both @Joe_Mazza and @Sheilaspeaking on yesterday's blog post about the Parents for Education conference - proof that people DO read blogs!

 This is a photo of the closing remarks by Annie Kidder - once again, not the most ideal shot. At least it's proof that I didn't skip out early, despite my brain beginning to turn to mush around this point in time. The rooms at the Rotman Centre were gorgeous - my pictures don't do them justice.

I hope that by waiting a day, I haven't lost some of the best tweets I read from the conference. Here's a small sampling of some of the conversations happening in the Twittersphere about #p4e12. This is a puny portion of the conversation, but it took me a long time to re-teach myself how to embed tweets in my blog!

Monday, November 5, 2012

#P4E12 Conference Summary

I have so many things to write about! Thank goodness Twitter can satisfy the itch a bit by allowing me to post tidbits - I know I should devote an entire post to my "marshmallow experiment", for instance. However, the biggest part of this past weekend was the People for Education conference. I attended as a representative for the Ontario School Library Association but I also wore my "parent hat" and "teacher hat" as well. Here are my reports and reflections on the event.

People for Education's 16th Annual Conference

Making Connections

Conference Reflection by Diana Maliszewski

Saturday, November 3, 2012 - 8:00 a.m.

Summary = Typically I wouldn't summarize registration, but I need to share that I was out of bed on a Saturday an hour earlier than I usually would be if it was a workday. I'm not a morning person so this was a challenge for me. I needed to be downtown for 8:00 a.m. to help set up OSLA's booth with Stacey, Barbara, and Shelagh. Thankfully, they can compose full sentences that early in the morning. 

Saturday, November 3, 2012 - 8:45 a.m.
Welcome and Introductions

Summary = The entire room introduced themselves to each other. This took me by surprise but was a smart move on P4E's part: it was an opportunity to know who was in the room and plan your networking moments during the breaks.

Saturday, November 3, 2012 - 9:15 a.m.
Keynote Address by Roger Martin

Summary = Martin spent years studying what highly successful leaders do and what he discovered was the one consistent but not new "thing" that they all had in common was the ability to hold two opposing ideas in their minds and still function - something he calls Integrative Thinking.

3 Key Points

  • Integrative thinking is not "natural" because the way we make sense of the world - through building models - drives us away from this form of thinking (we make models but forget they are just models - when our models clash with others, we see them as wrong, or stupid, or evil with agendas)
  • Integrative thinking is not just finding a consensus; it's "seek and leverage", it's finding seeds of a better model we do not yet see (instead of either/or, consider AND)
  • Integrative thinking can be taught and they've learned that Grade 10 students can do it just as well as MBA students (and in some cases, better)
So What? Now What? = I bought Roger Martin's book, The Opposable Mind: Winning Through Integrative Thinking so I could read and learn more about this approach. He offered the crowd two key phrases and one type of question we could begin to use right now to start us on this way of interacting: a) tell me more b) to what extent, and c) how might we. I could see using these sentence starters with my own children and students. He also stated that he believes in a pull not push approach - when the audience kept asking if he's approached Faculties of Education or school boards outside TDSB and private institutions, he reiterated that they came to him and he believes that his results will call others to try it out - a very good approach for getting teachers to partner with the teacher-librarian, for example.

Saturday, November 3, 2012 - 10:30 a.m.
Morning Workshop: The Social Media Principal - How to tweet, blog and mobile app your way to increased parent and community engagement by Joe Mazza

Summary = Joe is an elementary school principal in Pennsylvania doing his PhD on "eFACE" (electronic family and community engagement) and shared how he has worked on developing great relationships with his school community.

3 Key Points
  • You MUST develop relationships first; invest in the face-to-face connection first before using the tech (relational trust, transparency, collaboration, communication) - Joyce Epstein is the guru on family engagement and she lists 6 types, but in most published research on the topic, "electronic" engagement meant PA announcements or faxes or emails (we have so many more tools we can use than that)
  • Schools must meet parents were they are if they are committed to building and maintaining partnerships; this means that we need to hear what's not family friendly even if it is critical of school practices - in Joe's school, they had a home and school meeting at a local mosque and they stream their meetings so people can attend at home (attendance used to be 13 - now it's 43 on average)
  • Confirm any theory or technique with your own school population and use a variety of tools (families can choose which tools they use because "you can't eat everything on a menu") ; e.g. you must account for those who don't have e-access for the newsletter (which he co-writes with parents using a shared google doc) and ensure information sent is mobile friendly for cell phone access (despite being in a mixed economic area, Joe has 95% of his parents in contact via cell phone or mobile device)
So What? Now What? = I need to look at Joe's presentation slides (at to think more about what he said. People in the audience were so keen to talk to him and share their own examples that I didn't get to hear as many stories from his experience as I would've liked. He feels that Twitter is his first key tool because by being connected, he learns from others. He cited several educators he follows on Twitter and I will be "borrowing" from his recommendation list. I've already started to follow him on Twitter. He mentioned about the language barriers and his solutions - Pennsylvania has a 1-800 district language line where live people can translate over the phone; they also use families who volunteer to translate for free and they partner new families with another family in the school who will help them understand. We could begin to explore things like streaming or even just podcasting our school council meetings.

Saturday, November 3, 2012 - 1:00 p.m.
Plenary Panel: Who Is In Charge Around Here with Cheryl Jackson (TVO Parents), Ken Coran (OSSTF), George Zegarac (Deputy Minister of Education), Michael Bartlett (OPSBA) and Carole Allen (CPCO)

Summary = This panel discussion surrounding Bill 115 had representatives from teachers, trustees, principals, and the government.

3 Key Points

  • Bill 115 took away power and decision making from several camps (for instance, the principals were not consulted about Bill 115 but they were mentioned in it)
  • The government is not planning to "slow down in their early learning investment"
  • It is important to return to the table to negotiate and for concerned parents to get vocal with their MPPs and other people to "make noise" about their feelings about the current situation
So What? Now What? = Unfortunately, I had a coughing fit in the middle of the session and had to leave so the cameras could still record the action. Thankfully, while recovering in the hallway, I had a chance to speak with Gerard, a teacher-candidate at OISE who also goes to my church. It was a great chance to get to know him better - I discovered that his practice teaching placement is at a school very close to mine. I made it back into the room in time to hear a parent say, during the Q&A time, "Okay, you've got my attention. My child can't play soccer this year. What do you want me to do?" - it was a frustrated but poignant plea, and everyone said some version of "try to get the players back to the table".

Saturday, November 3, 2012 - 2:15 p.m.
Afternoon Workshop: The Flipped Classroom

Summary = I didn't attend my afternoon workshop because I was by the OSLA table. Thanks to Stephen Hurley's tweets, I was able to have an idea of what was going on at the session. Instead, I had a great conversation with Shelagh (director of the OLA) Barbara and Stacey (two parents who have worked hard to support their local school library). We discussed the morning sessions they attended (Shelagh enjoyed the panel on "Sensationalizing Education: What Makes an Education Story Newsworthy?"), issues surrounding school libraries (will Bill 115 affect the Festival of Trees attendance?) and other items. While chatting, we ended up connecting with the person manning the display next to ours, Tanzila Mian from the Canadian Parents for French organization.

Saturday, November 3, 2012 - 3:45 p.m.
Closing Remarks by Annie Kidder

Summary = Annie summarized key points from the conference so far (some of which I tweeted) like the idea of AND in education, in including people who don't feel like they belong in education, and on how to evaluate things like "did we produce good citizens" rather than testable things like their literacy and numeracy skills. She brought up a potentially crazy question: "what more do you want P4E to do?" and let the audience speak their minds at microphones. Annie said starting petitions against Bill 115 is outside their mandate because as a charity they have to work not to antagonize so doors aren't closed but she encouraged the use of the P4E discussion forums (and showed that "anything goes" on the forum with an example of a thread that was criticizing her).

Saturday, November 3, 2012 - 4:15 p.m.
Reception and Book Launch

Summary = The networking continued. I had the chance to speak with my favourite face of P4E, the extremely positive and delightful Gay Stevenson, whom I adore. She's retired from P4E but attended the conference. We talked about our mutual admiration society, our interest in research, and general topics. Megan at P4E says I can get photos from her they took so I can use them for the magazine, and their photographer let me hold his massive camera (and I had lens envy). I talked with a parent from Ottawa about her daughter preparing to enter high school and made small talk with several other people.

I made it home 12 hours after I left and after a very quick dinner, the family and I went to see Wreck It Ralph at the movies. It was a fantastic film and some of the themes echoed some of the thoughts from the P4E conference, like what's important (is it marks / a medal or something more?) Like last week, I'll post photos tomorrow.  

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

ECOO 2012 in Photos

I could've kicked myself - how could I attend the Education Computing Organization of Ontario annual conference and NOT bring my camera? Luckily, I brought my new iPad along with my laptop and I snapped a few shots during the afternoon. Here are a few to share.

This is a shot of Royan Lee's students playing on the GamingEdus server.
Here's Liam addressing the crowd at the beginning of the session.
I couldn't fit the whole scene in, but there a lot of people there.
Here's Denise explaining, while our creeper stalks her in the background!

The visitors were able to ride the rails to the Wolf Zone / PVP area!


Monday, October 29, 2012

ECOO 2012 - Learn in the NOW Century

As is tradition, here is my reflection on my experiences at the most recent ECOO conference. Thanks to all the organizers for another great educational experience. I'll post the (very few) photos I took in a separate post.

Educational Computing Organization of Ontario

“Learning in the NOW Century”

Conference Reflections by Diana Maliszewski


Friday October 26, 2012 8:30 a.m.

Learning, Meaning, and Values in the Age of the Data Map with Nora Young

Summary = The Friday opening keynote by @nora3000 dealt with information, privacy, and digital trails. Traffic was busy so I was unable to attend the talk but the talks are archived on . I was able to connect briefly with Diana Hong, a teacher at my school also attending the conference.  There were many other familiar faces at the conference that I was happy to see and speak with, albeit briefly.

Friday October 26, 2012 9:45 a.m.

Innovative or Novel with Shannon Smith and Brent Smith

Summary = These two principals from the Ottawa Carleton District School Board wanted to know how to create learning communities where creativity thrives. OCDSB surveyed their employees to see how was happy; some didn’t feel honoured & so the board worked on celebrating the ideas of folks in the Plant Division, for example. In their interactive session, we discussed the differences between innovation and novelty and shared ideas on how nurture creativity.

3 Key Points

·         When it comes to innovation & technology, remember that you can do old things in old ways, new things in old ways, or new things in new ways > strive for the  third option

·         Tinkering, aka PLAY is a gateway to meaningful transformation (play is not a process, it’s a way of being where uncertainty is celebrated, it’s intrinsically motivating, open to possibility, cooperative, adaptable to change) > see the TED talk by Beau Lotto and Amy O’toole

·         You don’t need permission to try and it’s okay to fail (failing is data about learning, not that you are a bad teacher); repurpose space, differentiate, try creative labs or student-led seminars

So What? Now What? = Clubs are a great way to nurture creativity but in the past I felt like I was inundated with requests to run many different clubs and teams – with the “creative labs” concept, multiple types of clubs could go on simultaneously (at J. H. Putnam P.S. their creative lab time is in the school library/lab space and they have 60-70 kids doing things like Minecraft, Glee Club, Photography, moving making, etc.). Once we are done with all this contract negotiations and we choose to run clubs again, this would free me up to offer more without sacrificing too much of my precious little time.


Friday October 26, 2012 11:00 a.m.

Inquiry, Innovation and ICT with Rick Budding and Brian Smith

Summary = Encouraging developing and facilitating student inquiry is key. The sessions shared “strategies for making inquiry central to learning tasks and look at ICT tools, templates, and techniques that classroom teachers and teacher-librarians can implement collaboratively as they guide student inquiry in a variety of elementary grade levels and subjects.”

3 Key Points

·         Move away from fact seeking and you can use IT tools for all four stages of the guided inquiry process (see OSLA T4L) > for instance, at the explore stage, use curation tools like Scoopit, Pinterest, Pearl Trees, Storify, Diego, Dropbox, etc.

·         If you have a Google account, you can create a customizable search engine (

·         There are many options for the 4th stage of inquiry, think beyond the typical ones > for instance, Popcorn (described on a TED talk as dynamic remixable video), Kickstarter, Indigogo, Goodreads, Twitter, (fake) Facebook [Facebook doesn’t allow fake people accounts), Voicethread, etc.

So What? Now What? = I know and like both presenters. They were kind enough to give me and my ECOO session a shout-out during their talk. At times the list of possibilities was overwhelming (how do you choose?) but they tempered that with specific examples used in (Brian’s) classrooms. I’m working on a unit with my junior division students on how to determine if something online is true, and Brian’s reference to a “feline reaction to bearded men” website would be a great addition to my repertoire. I also want to check out the Marvel Superhero creation tool – I know many students that would love to use it.

Friday, October 26, 2012 1:15 p.m.

Play with TNT & Other Lessons from Minecraft with Liam O’Donnell, Diana Maliszewski & Denise Colby

Summary (excerpt taken from program description) = Join the GamingEdus, three TDSB teachers, as they talk about the successes and challenges behind their Multi-School Minecraft Server Project, a single virtual world open to selected low-performing TDSB students from three schools. Learn why Minecraft (and other video games) are ideal at teaching when schools seem to fait at it, get the basics on running your own Minecraft server and see how educators can use Minecraft in a student-led, inquiry-based approach that fosters authentic learning and critical thinking.

3 Key Points

·         Embrace games and learning but avoid gamification (gamification is the use of game design techniques and mechanics to enhance non-games)

·         Things like social etiquette, economics, architecture, reading, writing, all are learning experiences that came out of playing Minecraft – teachers didn’t go with these specific lessons planned, all came out of the experience of play > stories shared

·         If you want to try Minecraft with your students, you need to try it yourself (play is good for adults and kids alike) – lots of time was set aside during the presentation for people to play

So What? Now What? = As I’ve said before, it is difficult to objectively assess how well a session I’ve led has gone. The room was packed with people and the best part was that students that were there to present at a different workshop came in to play on our server and the computers we had set up. Liam, Denise and I met after the conference to reflect on our session. Our next steps involve creating business cards for the GamingEdus (people wanted to contact us to try playing later and promote our server), making clear the distinction between the Gaming Edus server and the EDGE Lab / Minecraft Club Hub server, bringing the creeper costume to future talks (it was a popular prop and PR tool) and holding another Open House in the near future.

Friday October 26, 2012 2:30 p.m.

Engaging at-risk boys through the use of video games by Jeff Pelich

Summary = This teacher uses video games regularly with his intermediate behaviour students. He shared several games that his students use, let volunteers play them, and showed how he connects the games to curriculum expectations, especially related to writing. Opportunities were also given for participants to brainstorm other ways these games could be used in the classroom.

3 Key Points

·         Many of the games Jeff uses are iPad games that they play as a group (he has 4 iPads & uses the SMART Board); he says it lessens their anxiety when the player has a supportive audience there to watch and help, and playing together works on the social skills many of his boys lack

· is his website where you can find a list of all the games he uses / has used (like Plants vs Zombies, Fishing, Wipeout, Gehsundteit, Scribblenauts, etc.)

·         Playing games teaches the kids patience and engages them much more than other means (e.g. he used the game Mechanarium as a novel study)

So What? Now What? = I was a bit put-off at first by the presenter’s philosophy (“I’m not a gamer”) but agreed with many of his other points (e.g. edu-games aren’t as good as “real” games). Once I got home, I immediately downloaded Gesundheit (but was sad to learn that Mechanarium is only for iPad2 and newer). My son loves it.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Annual Learning Plan pondering

The classroom teachers in my school have a lot of things due on/near the same day: focus student forms, DRA/CASI results, progress report cards, and personal annual learning plans. As a specialist teacher, this year's directive regarding focus students recommends that I choose a student already selected by a classroom teacher to support their observations and interventions. I don't have to worry about DRA/CASI and my media marks for the Grade 1-4s and technology comments for the Ks are not too onerous to complete. This leaves me with my annual learning plan, (ALP).

I've said this before but it bears repeating: I really admire Aviva Dunsiger, @avivaloca on Twitter. I read her blog regularly and was delighted to meet her last year in person at the ECOO conference because I discovered that she is just as nice in real life (IRL) as she seems to be online. Aviva takes her ALP very seriously and it guides a lot of her thoughts and actions. Here's just one example of Aviva thinking about her ALP as she switched grad assignments. 

I take my ALP pretty seriously as well. In fact, I took to Twitter to try and contemplate how to gather parent feedback that would inform my teaching. These are some of the responses I received.


These are all pretty good suggestions. In the end, I used (I know it may not be an ideal source - there can be a lot of vitriol on the site and it's banned from accessing on my board's computers) but I wasn't convinced I could collect authentic responses from parents in such a short time frame. (The ALPs are due at the end of October.)

Another aspect of the ALP that I thought long and hard about this weekend while writing it was my goal. A comment by one of my students led me to switch gears.

Remember that success inquiry I'm embarking on with my grade 7-8s? In ICT class one day, I had just finished explaining about the concept of a personal bank account and metaphorical withdrawals and deposits, as outlined in the book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teenagers. I was feeling pretty content about how the lesson had proceeded, when an ESL student came up to me and asked what exactly they were supposed to do. Ouch! In my enthusiasm for the task, I totally forgot to consider my English language learners. Although I had used the blackboard as well as oral instructions to explain the task, it still wasn't scaffolded enough for the ESL students to comprehend significantly enough to attempt the job.

That interaction made me realize that I need to set a teaching/learning goal for myself that is very practical and will help my students achieve success (and wasn't that part of the unit's goal to begin with?) I realize that I have a lot of goals I want to accomplish this year, but I settled on two major ones. (I base my goals on two of the three primary roles of the teacher-librarian: instruction and leadership.)

Professional Growth Goal #1: Work on a cross-Canada literacy research project (on whether or not student choice awards influence reading engagement in students) and participate in new presentation opportunities; in-school leadership will focus on enhancing communication by students (TLCP) and my own as well as continued personal exploration of Games Based Learning. (Leadership Role)

Professional Growth Goal #2: Focus on accommodating and modifying library, ICT, media, and dance/drama lessons for ELL students, through advanced planning instead of just-in-time alterations. (Instructional Role)

Some of the ways I plan on achieving these goals involve conference attendance. This coming week will be the Educational Computing Organization of Ontario (ECOO) conference. I'll share my insights in next week's blog post.

Monday, October 15, 2012

The director is coming! The director is coming!

Next Monday, our board's director of education will be visiting my school. At our admin team meeting, I asked if there was anything special we needed to do to prepare for his arrival. My principal reassured me that we should just be who we usually are and not do anything out of the ordinary. He said he did not want to turn the director's tour into "a dog and pony show".

I agree with and understand my principal's position but it's difficult not to pull out all the stops when special guests enter the school. When I had my last Teacher Performance Appraisal (TPA), I arranged for my last principal to see the culminating task for one of my favourite collaboratively taught units - the NADCAA auction after our Grade 4 research study on Canada's natural resources. Although it is not necessarily indicative of the type of daily activities I undertake, it is a better observation of what my students are capable of as learners and what I am capable of as an instructor/facilitator.

I realize that he will only be in the building for an hour or so and it's not a TPA scenario, but I thought I'd list three things I wish my director could see in my school library.

1) My Primary classes working on their TV shows

The folders contain our related media texts.
I teach media literacy to all the K-4 classes. The Grade 1-4 students have been working on creating a TV show that we plan on posting to YouTube. The purpose (or main message) of our shows is to teach viewers a simple definition of media. This unit was inspired by Colin McCauley (@cmcauley on Twitter) who asked me if my action-filled definition was available in video form. The students and I have realized that it takes a large group of people a pretty long time to produce a TV show. They've also realized how crucial writing is - we could not begin anything until we had a script in hand and this script (along with the directors'/producer's vision) guides the various decisions that must be made with everything from wardrobe choices to camera angles. Each group selected a different method of filming their TV show, and we are now at the exciting phase where the groups are preparing to film. For instance, on Friday, the wardrobe, makeup, and prop departments for a Grade 2-3 class were busy creating Media Man's logo for his superhero suit and spikes for Bowser's shell, while I helped the camera crew, directors, and actors in the same class practice their scenes. I'm delighted when I hear the students say "Is it media time? I looooove media class!" I hope my director could see the level of engagement and teamwork.

2) My students using Minecraft

One of the classes that have media with me chose to use Minecraft as the vehicle for their production. I had some trouble with opening the LAN so the students could build the sets needed for the show and one day, a recent graduate came by to volunteer. He showed me how to get the LAN connection to work and changed all the character skins to match the requirements of the screenwriters and wardrobe crew. Word must have spread because the next day, three of our former Minecraft Club members that are now in Grade 9 were waiting after school to see if I needed any Minecraft-related "help". Although Minecraft Club is "paused" right now, I wish the director could see the incredible creations our students build while in Minecraft.

Technascribe built this medieval church in our GamingEdus server.
3) Book Selection during Book Exchange

Book exchange is often boring to watch. I tell my students that if we only did book exchange during our library time without lessons, then they wouldn't need a teacher-librarian with the training I have. However, there are times where it would be lovely to have people witness what occurs during some book exchanges. Public librarians call some of these moments "Reader Advisory" - that time when someone approaches and asks for a recommendation. Then there's the conversations that occur about how to find desired books (which often lead to individual review lessons on the online catalogue) or on whether or not students are permitted to borrow certain books (which they then reference the strategies list for selecting books on a semi-permanent bulletin board). These kinds of interactions happen when I have a library assistant or one of my adult volunteers manning the circulation desk, leaving me free to circulate myself and be available. I wish that the new shelving unit we ordered for our graphic novels would be there for his visit, to showcase the great collection of comics we own - I suspect we have the largest collection of graphic novels in any elementary school in our board (and this wasn't noticed by the team that conducted our District Review, to my chagrin) - but maybe seeing the students rush to this area, cobbled together with tables and metal stands, will show that our school still has needs as well as successes to share.

I've been working with my students on articulating what and why they are learning, related to our division inquiry questions (on control for primaries, truth for juniors, and success for intermediates). We'll see how it goes next Monday.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Learning Goals Samples Part 4

More learning goals examples - this is a hall display near the Grade 1-2 class. It accompanies the language and art work they posted after their trip to Downsview Park.

Here's another listening-related learning goal - this is in a Grade 6 class, if I remember correctly. I like the little symbols drawn next to the words.

Here's ANOTHER couple of learning goals and success criteria (notice they don't always have to be labelled "Learning Goal" and "Success Criteria"). This comes from a kindergarten class. The left side is about listening and the right side is about tidying. Once again, there are little drawings to help with comprehension.

This is one that I worked on in a dance-drama class for Grade 1-2s. I respected the ideas the kids brought forth - for instance, I felt that changing pitch, volume, and speed are all elements of how to make your character's voice different from your original voice. It's also missing something that it's hard to capture. We have done several different tasks and referred back to this chart. During one class where my intent was to provide detailed descriptive feedback, the students had to converse with me as if they were a toy I placed in their laps and we sat right in front of the anchor chart while doing it. When the students wrote 3 clues for their "Who Am I" task and then we recorded them reading it in their character's voice, we picked some of the best ones and justified our opinions by using the chart.

Here's a sample from an intermediate classroom, on accountable talk. I was delighted to see this because it tied so nicely with my Grade 7-8 inquiry question: what is success and how can I attain it?

People have posted a couple of new learning goals so I'll have enough for a final installment of "learning goal samples". Don't get too accustomed to daily Monday Molly Musings, okay?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Learning Goals Samples Part 3

I didn't expect that I'd have three days worth of material to share on this topic, but learning goals and success criteria are very popular teaching strategies in Ontario right now. I hope these images help people see what real-life examples are like. They aren't perfect, because they are co-created by children and teachers, but I think they can show a variety of methods and presentation styles.

Our primary division teachers try very hard to teach similar units and use similar language, so a student in Grade 2 in Room 115 gets a similar educational experience to the Grade 2 student in either Room 116 or Room 117. On Monday I shared the art learning goal from a Grade 1-2 class. Here's one on the same topic of line art from the Grade 2-3 class.

 The primary division teachers noticed that our new Grade 1s sometimes have difficulties finding safe and fun activities to do at recess. (In kindergarten, their snack time is in the class and free time means there are bins of toys and centers to visit.) This is a social learning goal in Grade 1-2, with different options - don't worry, they don't have to complete them all in just one recess!
Here is a follow-up learning goal about recess conduct, complete with photos of the types of desirable behaviour.

Wow, all of my samples today come from the Grade 1-3 classes!
Here is another language-focused learning goal, a huge one for early writers. This is posted in a Grade 1-2 class. I'm sure the teacher has (or will) talk about alternatives to the period such as question marks or exclamation marks - and that's how success criteria can be modified as the students learn more.

Here's a retell learning goal mixed with art! The children read a version of "There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly" and used their art props to retell the narrative. This one has only two success criteria and has been modified by the red words "to a friend". There's no hard and fast rule about how many points need be in your success criteria - as long as it's not too many! More photos coming tomorrow!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Learning Goals Samples Part 2

As promised, here are some more samples of learning goals and success criteria from the various classes in my school. Once again, I won't spend time critiquing them - instead, I'll describe the grade and context.

This is from a kindergarten class and, unlike the one I posted yesterday, I can read a few of the pixelated words. The title is "Readers Respect" and their goal is stated as "We are learning how to read." The lower right criteria says "I can look at the pictures and words." The lower left says "I can be gentle with the book ..." - okay, so much for being able to read my privacy-protected photo!

I admit, I still get retells and recounts mixed up in my head.
This is a recount writing goal in a Grade 1-2 class. The interesting thing is to compare this with the next two images, of a recount writing goal created by another class, and of a retell writing goal. The retell and recount learning goals with the coloured words are from a Grade 2-3 class, and the retell is from the same Grade 1-2 class that this recount came from.

Looks like I'll try to do five photos per day. More coming on Wednesday!