Today, I’m thrilled to welcome teacher-librarian Melanie Mulcaster to my little corner of the web. Melanie has made a home at Hillside Public School in Mississauga, Ontario. I had the great fortune to meet her in person last summer, and we became fast friends. I’m honored to feature her reflections about making, reading, writing, and documentation here today. Please follow her on Twitter and drop by her blog to get to know her better.

Making it Up as We Go Along

I like to think of myself as a maker of ideas. For me, the maker movement is serendipity in the form of eggs in a basket: multiple opportunities to test and tinker, and play – to figure out how we can connect making to the curriculum to suit the needs, interests, and skill sets of our students. Each egg brings new learning to life.

Finding and embedding meaningful and purposeful making learning opportunities is my passion, and it is on its way to becoming  a natural and ubiquitous process in our school. (I try to use the word ubiquitous as many times as I can in my writing simply because I  adore the word so much). And I say this not to put myself on a pedestal, but rather, to put our maker community on a pedestal.

To quote David Weinberger, the smartest person in the room, is indeed the room.  A makerspace is not about the space; it’s about the mindset: the making, the sharing, connecting and reflecting. We would be nowhere if it wasn’t for the support of the learning community within the school and the professional learning community beyond it.

In our learning commons, we like to broach making using a four part lesson framework (an adaptation of Dr. Marian Small’s Three Part Lesson).

We like to use a text to anchor our learning as much as we can. Currently, our school is participating in the Forest of Reading Program run by the Ontario Library Association. This program is run to encourage and foster a love of reading, emphasizing the works of Canadian authors. We have really enjoyed transforming many of the books in the Blue Spruce category into maker extravaganzas. One of the last titles explored was Milo and Georgie. Before coming the LLC, (Library Learning Commons) all teachers had the chance to preview the text and generate some ideas about what might work best with their class as extensions.  The explorations that resulted from the melding of minds simply blew me away.

Our targeted learning goals developed across the curriculum as we uncovered what we could discover, create, share, and explore, using the book as a provocation.

  • I am learning how to express personal thoughts and feelings about what has been read
  • I am learning how to sort ideas and information to express my thinking
  • I am learning how to identify and order main ideas and supporting details, initially with support
  • I am learning how to create multimedia artifacts to communicate and share my thinking
  • I am learning how to problem solve and work as part of a team
  • I am learning how to describe the relative locations of objects on concrete maps created in the classroom (1)
  • I am learning how to identify some services and service-related occupations in a community (1)
  • I am learning how to describe the relative locations and the movements of objects on a map (2)
  • I am learning how to draw simple maps of familiar settings, and describe the relative locations of objects on the maps (2)
  • I am learning how to describe movement from one location to another using a grid map (3)
  • I am learning how to estimate, measure, and record the distance, using standard and non-standard units (K,1,2, 3)
  • I am learning how to estimate, measure, and record the perimeter of two-dimensional shapes, through investigation using standard units (2)

Minds On:

We began our learning with a scenario: Imagine you are you are in a big  crowd with your family and/or friends. What strategy might you use so you don’t get separated from them?

(Now that I think of it – this also might have been a good opportunity to tinker. What might have we created that would keep us attached to our family? A variation of the 5×5 strategy would have been ideal!)

Let’s Read:


Let’s Make:

With the support of my colleagues, things really got exciting as we used the mentor text as a provocation to explore making as a means to uncover the curriculum. Our K-3 learners experienced the following:

  • We re-told Georgie’s story with scaffolds. We created our own string stories, imagining the adventures Georgie might have taken. (Our grade eight students helped to mentor this process) This also sparked a resurgence of Cat’s Cradle string games 🙂 (Again, now I’m wondering how we could have capitalized on this, too).
  • We created, described and measured paths Georgie might have taken around the neighbourhood using digital (Ozobot and Beebot) and non-digital tools.
  • We identified some services or service-related occupations Georgie might have encountered and mapped them using digital (Ozobot) and non-digital tools.
  • We learned how to finger knit and are in the process of creating our own community pieces of art through weaving.

Let’s Connect and Reflect:

As a teacher librarian, I often get to spark the learning but do not get to see it in its’ entirety. However, I do get to see some follow up. Our grade three class, in particular, is getting very good at documenting their own learning and sharing it with the school. Student documentation of knowledge is something we are trying to encourage as part of the learning process.

Our next step is how to make this more of a visible process within the entire school.

What I noticed:

I noticed that as a community we really came together. I noticed that making experiences were tailored to meet the needs of the students first, and how we could address curricular expectations second. I noticed that as we got into the making – we were rapidly able to unravel and uncover curricular expectations.  I noticed that learning experiences varied – what worked for one class did not work for another – and that this was okay. Through sharing and reflection, we were able to tailor learning experiences that were meaningful and purposeful for all.

What I wonder:

I wonder how to keep the momentum going. I wonder how we could have extended the learning even further. For example – the finger knitting –  we could connect easily to procedural writing – then to media – students could make their own videos teaching others how to finger knit?

I wonder how we can use digital communication tools to help explore, find and share mentor texts together. Or share the learning in general. What did your class do that worked? Might it work for mine? We have had success documenting and sharing our learning on social media using our school hashtag #hillsideinspires – but how do we continue to build if all are not using these platforms? Perhaps we can start a shared Google Doc to map out our learning? Or a Pinterest board to share exceptional reads based on strands? Or should we let it continue to evolve naturally as it is now? Or do we continue to focus on building capacity with a few and grow from there?

Next Steps:

Firstly, I think we need continue the shift in our mindsets. We need to continue to discover how making can be used as a vehicle to uncover, rather than cover the curriculum. We need to continue to reflect, share and document our processes in order to drive learning forward. We need to continue to build capacity for making, sharing and reflecting.

The sharing of learning with our learners, staff, parents and community is something I don’t think we are quite good enough at …. yet. How do we encourage and facilitate dialogue about the learning? How do we continue to help place emphasis on the process rather than the product? What is the best way to communicate and share with each audience?

Time to get crackin’. (Please remember the egg metaphor I used at the beginning. I’m trying desperately to be terribly witty.)

Silvia Tolisano and Janet Hale’s book A Guide to Documenting Learning is a great resource to help continue to guide my process.  I need to crack this book open for another dose of learning. (Oh my gosh. See? Now I can’t stop)



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