Architecture + Minecraft + Social Distancing

I’m not sure when our current situation will change, but for now, we’re spending a lot of time inside.  Hopefully social distancing will soon become nothing but a memory, but until then, it’s helpful to have some ideas for ways to pass the time.

Since my kids were little, they spent time doing artsy activities.  They didn’t really have much of a choice – it’s a part of who I am, so naturally it just makes sense to share creative ideas with them.  Gone are the days of crayons and smelly play-doh, since both of my kids are teens now.  Which makes me happy because I teach high school.

Not that I’m structuring our time at home.  Not one little bit.  It’s time to relax, eat too much junk food, watch an insane amount of Netflix and Disney+, and every now and then, try doing something productive.  While I was organizing my school bag, I noticed an architecture book I had quickly packed away on the last day of school before March break.


My son has always loved architecture, so I showed him the book and asked him to pick about five of his favourite buildings.  Within minutes, he had selected several buildings designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, his all-time favourite architect.  I challenged him to turn on his XBox and try to build his favourite building.

Voila:  hours of happy architecture studying, careful measuring, and then reading details about the building to find out more info.  I know it sounds a bit geeky, but when you find out that a child (or student) loves something, that’s where you start.  (If you want to learn more about this, research Teaching for Artistic Behavior, read The Open Art Room, or Dive Into Inquiry).


As I write this, Ethan has moved on to another building, inspired by the Glass House, and is slowly creating a world that will be filled with architecture inspired by noteworthy architects.  Not a bad way to spend his time.


Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House inspired Ethan’s design



Posted in Art Education | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Stitch in Time

This summer, I had planned to hike several local trails and make the most of our beautiful region.  I had a painting to finish, and wanted to make sure I had several images that would potentially inspire my next artwork.  My son and I headed out to Mazukama Falls in early July, and although the falls had dried up for the summer, the trail was challenging and beautiful, which made for great memories and pictures.

Soon after, I started to experience some health issues.  *Note:  if TMI makes you feel uncomfortable, stop reading now.  If not, you’ll get to know me better by the end of this post.

Throughout the month of July, I made several trips to the hospital in Nipigon to ask for help with what I thought was a relentless UTI.  I tried to make light of it, poking fun at myself for being ultra-sensitive, when others would probably power-through problems like this.  I had most of the symptoms of an infection, but not all, which seemed weird.  But it wasn’t clearing up and I began to feel guilty for bothering the doctors when I’m sure they could use their time to treat patients who really needed their help.


When the third round of antibiotics didn’t make a difference, I began to feel frustrated.  Why isn’t this getting any better?  Within a short time, I developed pain that got much worse, and we ended up in the emergency room where they treated me for renal colic.  After a number of speedy trips to the emergency room, the doctors began to run more tests so that we could find answers to the questions that were piling up.

X-rays led to ultrasounds, where a questionable lump was found somewhere near my left ovary, which could be pressing on nearby tissues and causing my symptoms.  More blood work, a CT scan, and a lot more pain medication helped us move forward even though we felt clueless and desperate for answers.

If you’re anything like me, you can become your own worst enemy when you’re trying to find out what’s wrong with you.  A mere sniffle can suggest that you’re on death’s doorstep if you browse through Google’s list of ailments that match your symptoms.  Not the best idea when your anxiety is already taking over the controls in your worried little head.

What did help, besides my constant conversations with my Mom and little sister, was the care I received at the Nipigon hospital.  There are challenges when you live in a smaller community, but they pale in comparison to the rewards.  Whenever I visited the emergency room, I didn’t have to explain what was going on because the nurses and doctors already knew.  It was strange being treated by nurses who, just a few years ago, were students in my classroom.   And not very often does a doctor give you his cell number and encourage you to call or text any time you need something.


Even though it was just an MRI, the idea that the doctors might find something scary was always at the back of my mind.





If I wasn’t going to be able to go for the long, beautiful hikes like I had hoped, I knew I would need something to keep me busy.  I was beginning to spend a lot of time on my couch or in bed, and I get bored quickly.  A change of plans became an opportunity to learn something I hadn’t had the time or discipline for, and I quickly became lost in my new world of knitting.



I became a fan of YouTube tutorials very quickly; they are absolutely perfect to use while learning a new skill because you don’t have to worry that you’re an inconvenience to someone else.  If you’re taking more time to understand a concept, or if your hands aren’t doing what your brain is telling them to do, it’s easy to pause the video or to re-watch a segment countless times until you feel more comfortable with the material.

My first stitches were horrible but I continued anyway, because hey, I had time to kill.  Ever so slowly, my little projects didn’t look as weird as the first one, and I began to feel proud because I could see progress.



After I finished my first hat, I was so excited that I could actually make something that could be useful, so I made another one.  This time, I learned how to decrease stitches so that the top of my hat wouldn’t be so wrinkled.  The next hat was fully decreased and had no wrinkles in the top at all.

By this time, I’d had one surgery (a stent, which made sure my kidney could function properly) and was waiting for a hysterectomy.  The doctors found that I had a large fibroid on my uterus, which had been causing renal pain.  My husband made an odd comparison, but it made sense to me:  it’s like a large rock sitting on top of a garden hose, blocking the water.  You can strengthen the hose, but it’s important to remove the rock.

On September 16th, I had my surgery.  It felt so odd to be off work in the fall (I think the last time this happened was when I was on maternity leave), but I was so happy that we were making progress with my health.  Even though there have been a few complications after my surgery, I’m feeling better and better every day.  My strength is back, and I’m loving my independence rather than having to ask for help all the time.

In a few weeks, I’ll be back in the classroom, catching up with my students after a long break.  I’m so thankful that I’ve been able to take my time to fully heal and that I will have a rewarding job to return to (thank God for my union).  I have a feeling that I’ll miss having the time to knit, and I’ll definitely miss the slower pace of each day.  Until then, I’ll make a point of listening to podcasts, learning a new pattern, and hopefully visiting with friends and family that I miss.



Posted in Art Education | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Clay: Hard Work but So Worth It

One of the challenges of studio work is organizing “messy” materials with large classes.  Some teachers might be hesitant to work with paint or clay because of the possibility that the materials won’t be used properly, clean-up will be too difficult, kiln firings will interfere with the class schedule, the list is endless.

The bonus of working with these materials is waiting beyond fear.

Today, I was able to phone a parent whose child discovered an unknown talent that had been waiting for the potters wheel.  As soon as he began centering his clay and forming his first bowl, I could see that something was different in the way he worked.  Pure talent.  I can’t wait to see what else he creates.


Tomorrow, I get to phone another parent because of what I’ve seen when her child works with the coil technique.  Beautifully formed vessels that are structurally sound and so much larger than I can create.  So unexpected, and so refreshing!


Right now, both of my grade 9 classes are working with clay, which means that I need to make sure that there is enough material ready for over 50 students.  Organizing this much clay is keeping me on my toes, but it’s been so much easier to recycle used clay since I began using our pug mill.

Until this year, I’ve had to soak any clay that dried-out, and wedge it all by hand.  Sometimes it was too much for me, and I ended up hurting myself which meant that I had to ask my students for help or accept defeat and postpone using clay for a while.

Everything has changed this year.  I’d been saving old, dry clay for *years* and I’m so happy that I can breathe new life into some old dusty bricks.

An unexpected bonus is the ability to participate in an Empty Bowls fundraiser next month, which will benefit our Legion and our Food Bank.  It makes a huge difference for students when they know that someone will need to eat soup out of the bowl they make!

I am so grateful for the funding that was provided for purchasing our pug mill, and I hope that our community benefits from the work we do in the studio.  In a small way, I hope to pay it forward, and to share this story with my students while they create.



Posted in Art Education | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Keep It Simple. (thanks, Rachel)

I wanted to share a few things because they stood out to me, and maybe they’ll stand out for you too.  The first is an image, shared by @Alison on Instagram:

Sometimes I get a bit caught up in trying out new things.  Which lead to more things.  Soon, I’ve got so many things to keep track of, I don’t know how to handle it all.  That’s basically been my life over the past 5 years, and I’m learning how to keep things simple.  My health requires it, and my family deserves it.  And so do I.

Six days ago, as I was tidying up, I somehow made my back unhappy and it didn’t let me off the couch for about four days.  While in my couch “time-out”, I had the time to watch a few movies, dig in to “Girl, Wash Your Face“, by Rachel Hollis, and I even listened to a few podcasts (also by Rachel — holy cow, she is a creative force).

One page stood out above all the rest:

I stopped.  I think I might have even held my breath a little.  How did Rachel know this feeling?  Goosebumps.

I haven’t been painting for months:  there is always something else to do.  Work, of course, and cleaning, and bringing the kids to lessons, and…, and… .  How is it that I let the most important to-do item fall to the bottom of my list?

My friend Liz (a retired teacher who is adventuring and teaching in China) spoke to me about using our gifts, and that there is a reason why they’ve been given to us.  It’s true — when I create, and especially when I paint, I feel that I am living life to its fullest.  In a way, it’s a bit of a selfish feeling, but I also feel closest to God in those moments.  And I miss it.  In this way, Rachel is right:  it is a way to worship, to reach closer.

Now, to carve out the time.




Posted in Art Education | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Take 10 Minutes

Take 10 minutes and go for a walk.  This is one of the suggestions provided by my therapist today.  I think it’s important to share this with you for two reasons:

  1. It really is important to go for a walk, even if it’s a short one.
  2. We need to mention therapy more often.  If we talk about it, perhaps it will become more normalized and people would benefit from getting help when we need it.


Although some of our conversations have improved, and we encourage “others” to talk about mental health (think about #BellLetsTalk Day), we rarely discuss our own mental health.  There are a variety of reasons for this, including social awkwardness and the potential of sharing too much information.  I get it.  There’s a time and place for everything.  But where and when do we have these conversations?

So, I’m having one.  Actually, I’m having a few.  Last week, I asked my doctor about therapy, and he was more than happy to book a referral.  Until then, I learned more about my workplace EAP (Employee Assistance Program), and had my first over-the-phone session this evening.  Surprisingly, it went rather well, although I had been disappointed that there were no face-to-face options for our area.


What are your thoughts about mental health?  Do you talk about it?  Are there people you feel more comfortable talking to?  Have you talked with a therapist?  Have you benefited from using your EAP?


Posted in Art Education | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Have You Participated in a TLLP Project? Please Share Your Experience(s) with Technology!

Next month, Leanne Oliver and I will be leading a session for new TLLP groups.

We are going to provide a variety of technology options for these new groups, such as Google Tools, Flipgrid, TeachOntario, Twitter, Telligami, etc., but we would prefer to have a collection of stories from our PLN!

Use the comment section below to share your story:

  • When did you begin your TLLP?
  • What was the experience like?
  • How did technology help you share your learning?
  • What worked well, and what didn’t?
  • What advice can you give to new TLLP participants, re: technology?

When you have shared your story/advice, please share this blog post (feel free to tag other people who might help too).  It would be great to provide some solid options for our new TLLP groups!

Thanks so much 🙂

Posted in Art Education, Ed tech, Education, technology, TLLP | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Benefits of a Flexible Workplace Day

The transition between semesters is hectic, to say the least.  High school teachers enjoy tying up any loose ends from first semester, marking culminating tasks and/or exams, calculating final marks, writing report cards, and preparing for new courses that begin in semester two.  This is why I wanted to take advantage of a Flexible Workplace day; to have the freedom to stay at home if need be, and to focus on a course that I haven’t taught before.  I knew that a lack of planning would affect my stress levels, and that’s the last thing anyone needs at this time of year.  Or any time of year.  *I also knew that my friend Lindy would be presenting to new teacher candidates at Lakehead University and I couldn’t wait to hang out.


While Lindy shared her presentation in the Bora Laskin auditorium, I began preparing my Course of Study for ICS2O (Introduction to Computer Studies, Grade 10).  It was my opportunity to text my Principal a number of times as I refreshed my memory on the requirements for courses of study, since I hadn’t had to write a new one for some time.

Later, I stopped in at my high school to speak with Sam, our Information Technology Services Technician, who sorted through a variety of computer parts to help me build a collection of equipment that could be used in my course.  Not only did we begin preparing a rough plan for the first few weeks with Computer Studies students, but we discussed his role and how his post-secondary education related to his work.  He also agreed to visit my class to share his knowledge with students!


I left school *early* (because I could), and because I had arranged to meet with Peter McAsh and Doug Peterson, my two friends (and superstars from ECOO).  When I found out that I would be teaching ICS2O, they were the first people I contacted.  I have relied on their amazing support for years, and I wasn’t about to stop asking for help now!  😉

We reviewed a long list of resources that they had been sharing with me over the past while, and they helped me gain a better understanding of the overall flow of the course.  I could feel my stress levels subsiding as my familiarity with expectations grew.



So, I guess this post is a bit of a thank-you note.  Thanks to our union for negotiating a day that respects teachers and allows them to use time that suits them best.  Thanks to my Principal for allowing me to use this day the way I needed.  Thank you to Doug and Peter, for helping me wrap my head around this course (and for the constant hand-holding that will probably be needed through this semester).  Thanks to Sam for helping me prepare the equipment that we will need for hands-on learning and for your courage to come and speak to my students.



Posted in Art Education | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

One Word 2018

I’m not sure if there is a term for the kind of moment that helped me realize what my #oneword2018 would be, but maybe someone who reads this post will be able to help me find it.  What is it that happens when we finally allow ourselves to relax and to drift, to forget about our daily stresses and allow our minds to wander?  Those moments when we are just about to fall asleep, or when we are driving a familiar road and we begin to daydream — where new ideas are formed, and we connect what seem to be distant thoughts that become an entirely new creature.

Yesterday, my family and I went to see the movie Star Wars:  The Last Jedi and at one point I found myself emotional because I had been pulled into the story and found myself connecting to one character’s desperate need for hope.  In the middle of a movie theatre, I found what I needed to move forward, whether it was the realization that I yearned for hope or that I loved the feeling of wandering and getting lost for a time, I’m not sure.  Maybe both.



Image credit:

Posted in Art Education | Tagged , | 5 Comments

Too Much

This year has been tough.  I discovered that I have limits because I pushed myself past them; my commitments, projects and goals became too much as I began to cope with a variety of health concerns in my family, including my own.

For the first time in my teaching career, I was overwhelmed — but it took me a while to understand the reasons why.  I neglected the professional goals that I set for myself this past summer because I couldn’t even think about work.  In fact, I still haven’t opened the two books I planned to read during July and August.  Usually I love diving in to new ideas and challenges have always excited me.  That’s not the case right now.

The beginning of this school year didn’t feel the same way as other years; the excitement was somehow muted because I couldn’t seem to fight my way through sadness and anxiety.  It felt a bit like being under water while everyone else was on dry land.  Sights, sounds and even movement became clouded and murky.

Thankfully, I have had people I could turn to, who would listen without judgment and offer compassion.  As much as we hear about the importance of talking to others when you’re struggling, it is a seemingly impossible task when you’re the one who needs to talk.

Look for the silver lining.  There are people who are going through much worse than you.  Other people are busy with their own problems, they don’t need to hear yours.  If you tried hard enough, you would find a way through this.  It’s not that big of a deal.  There are thousands of ways I could convince myself not to make that phone call to my little sister, or to text a friend.  These moments are the hardest:  coming to terms with the extent of your problems and needs, and accepting them enough to reach out — and to fight the fear that the person you talk to won’t be able to (or want to) help.

My family and I have begun to focus on our health, something that requires a bit more effort and planning than we have been willing to sacrifice in the past.  My daughter and I began working together on a side project that was completely different than anything we had done before.  I’ve needed to readjust my sails and rethink my priorities, sometimes a few times a day.  Joyful moments are slowly finding their ways back in to our lives and I will do my best to welcome them with open arms.

To my family and friends who support me, thank you.  Some of you have held me through some of my raw moments, and your kindness means everything to me.

If you are struggling in any way, and find it difficult to cope, take a moment.  Or two.  Or as many as you need.  Be patient with yourself and allow yourself to accept love from others.  Don’t forget to talk.  A lot.

Posted in Art Education | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments


Yesterday, I listened.

Doug Peterson recently spoke with Stephen Hurley on VoicEd Radio and together they discussed one of Doug’s blog posts which highlights some of the work by educators in Ontario.  I paused when I listened to these gentlemen discuss Jennifer Casa-Todd’s post, “Blue Whale App:  What is it and what should I do?”.  I hadn’t read her post at that point but I’m glad I finally sat down this morning to absorb her message.

What I appreciate most about her post is that it serves as a reminder to us, to listen.

Two days ago, one of my students spoke to me in class about the interactions between two of her classmates that concerned her.  The next day, I made sure to follow-up on her concerns by sharing two videos (shown below) and then explaining the reasons why we weren’t jumping in to our academic class activities right away.  I also let my students know that sometimes we forget to act like the people we hope to be.  Sometimes we make mistakes, but we have friends (and teachers) who are there to catch us when we fall.

*I also shared this clip from Will Ferrell’s commencement speech.

Yesterday, my student came and spoke with me about the messages I shared because she wanted to check if I had done this because of what she told me.  Then she smiled and thanked me.


Thank you, Jennifer, for your thoughtful post.





Posted in Art Education, Education | Tagged , , | 1 Comment