January 13

Copyright and Fair Use Middle School Workshops

Copyright and Fair Use are tricky subjects for adults as much as for students.  These issues can be quite complex and confusing.  The point of today’s workshop was to simplify it a little bit and help students to navigate these issues.  As our students become more prolific creators of content with blogging, social media, and artworks (to name a few) they will need to understand what their rights are as a creator and what rights other creators have.  They also need to understand in what specific situations using someone else’s work is actually okay (believe it or not!)

We opened by listening to a song, Pachelbel’s Canon.

Our students of course thought it was the Maroon 5 song Memories.

I explained that by the end of today’s workshop, they would understand why Maroon 5 weren’t going to be sued or have to pay royalties on stealing that song.

This video created by Common Sense Media is a great tool for explaining some of these concepts in a simple way.

Students were then give a series of scenarios and had to decide if it was fair use of not.  Fair Use is the ability to use copyrighted work without permission in certain ways and in specific situations.  In teams, they decided if it was or wasn’t and gave it a thumbs up or thumbs down and explained their group answers.

There is a pretty common misconception that you aren’t allowed to use anyone else’s photos or music for ANY purpose, but this workshop helped to define what is and isn’t okay.  When using songs and images for classroom-only purposes (like slideshows and presentations) it is actually fair use.  If these were to be put online that’s where you run into trouble as you would then be publishing them as your own and potentially making money from them.  A good habits for students when using someone else’s work for a project would be to cite it in a bibliography page.

Other common examples of fair use are;

  • schoolwork/education (unpublished and/or not posted online)
  • criticism or commentary
  • news reporting
  • comedy/parody/memes
  • If something is public domain – over 70 years old

Though it is always helpful to encourage students to use their own photos, videos, and music for projects, this workshop helped students to understand the concept of fair use and the situations when  it IS okay to use the work of other creators.

And finally, in the case of Maroon 5, Pachelbel’s Canon in D rests squarely in the public domain as it is approximately 339 years old.

December 2

First Footprints with Grade 2

Our two grade two classes got their first lesson about online footprints and how we leave them.  They learned how to make sure that the footprints they are leaving online are the good kind!

I made sure to highlight a few other ways we can leave our footprints online that were not touched on in the video;

  • Comments left on websites (ex. youtube), video games, and blogs.
  • Our search history
  • Posting information that is intentionally not true
  • Posting embarrassing photos or videos of ourselves or others

We played a game where two characters – Ellie the Elephant and Mervin the Mouse left their online footprints all over the library.  Students had to find these card footprints and decide which footprints were and were not the right kind to leave online.  We all had lots of fun with this lesson!


November 20

The Scholastic Book Fair Is Almost Here!!!

Today Grade 2 had the opportunity to hear about some of the books that we will have available at our Scholastic Book Fair from December 4-6.  The books they were most excited about (of course) are the Dav Pilkey offerings.  He has a great series for beginning readers called Dragon that they were all eager to get their hands on.

We then sat in the storytime area to hear another book that will be at the fair called Bruce’s Big Move.  This book was laugh out loud funny for me and the kids.

Every student will have a scheduled time to visit with their class.  Parents can visit at any time – drop-offs, pick-ups, or during the day.  Parents will also have the opportunity to attend when visiting the school during parent-teacher conferences.  It is also open to the community, so come one, come all.  It will be a great opportunity to pick up some Chanukah gifts!  If you want to help out, please get in contact with Jaimee Mitzmacher who is our PTA chair of the event.

See you there!

November 18

Continuing Our Work with Keywords

“Hey Siri, what makes a desert habitat unique?”

The answer to a complex question like that isn’t something Siri can answer so easily.  The problem is that students are using this Siri driven searching method every time they go online.  Typing long or complex questions into Google is a bad habit that needs to be broken in order to get the best search results for student research.

Grade 4 had a full period of practice on Thursday and it is already making a big difference in how they are approaching this task.

We first talked about the importance of being specific with our search terms.  Ari and Keira helped our grade 4s to get the idea with their tutorial.


Students were given a worksheet containing several long questions and asked to figure out what would be the most specific keywords to get the best results.  It was important for me to continually remind them that they don’t need to type a question in Google to get results.

Sample Questions:

1. My dog is digging holes in the backyard.  Is that because they are looking for bones?

Specific keywords to get a clear answer: dog digging

2. My friend just cheated at chess, what are the rules?

Specific keywords to get a clear answer: chess rules or rules of chess

We then gave students a research question:

Are video games addictive?  Can they affect child behaviour?

Students had to come up with all of the possible keywords and keyword combinations (called a query) on a whiteboard that would yield great search results for a paper on the topic.


Some of those were;

video games and addiction

children and video games

child behaviour and video games

video games and emotions

children and addiction and video games

etc.. etc…

Asking students to practice these skills with a daily in-class question is a great way to give them practice in this more precise way of searching.  Through regular practice they will learn how to get meaningful results and this will improve the quality of their work overall.

November 13

My Wonderful Experience with Student-Led Conferences

(This article was written a few years ago and is being re-posted here to share as a part of a twitter chat #2ndchat on Wednesday November 13th at 8 pm.)

What a Grade 1 Student-Led Conference Might Look Like

My daughter’s school holds student-led conferences once a year for all grades.  Last night, my husband and I attended my daughter’s conference and it was such a great experience I wanted to share about it with teachers who may be in need of some inspiration.  

Parents signed up for a 30 minute time slot, and in that time slot, five children consecutively got to have their conference at different tables with their own parents.  My daughter grabbed her portfolio and chose a table for us to sit down at.                                                                           

This is the portfolio she made for her best work.







Each student has a checklist to work through of their school subjects and the work that they have chosen to share with their parents.

My daughter read us passages from her favourite book, spelled words using a “Boggle” game, demonstrated an exercise with fractions, and showed us her best art piece.

She also presented us with a research project she did on penguins which really impressed us!

She was very proud of her work and moved on to telling us about her favourite activities in subjects where she couldn’t necessarily show us her work… her favourite game in gym (Vegetable Soup), her favourite song in music (Something Just Like This) her favourite activity in French (none apparently.)

I had an opportunity to ask her teacher about her take on these conferences. She said she had never done them before but really liked them. They were so easy to organize… the kids do all the work!

Setting Goals

Eleanor was able to set a goal at the end of our conference and think about what steps she would need to take to get there.  That was great because she got to choose an area she felt she needed improvement and her teacher then read through the goal with her and let her know it was good one to work on.  

The last word…

Overall it was such a great experience to be a parent and have your child share what they do all day because the typical response when I ask her is always the classic response; “nothing.”  She is certainly doing a lot more than nothing and it’s great to see it for myself. We were floored at some of the things she had learned. We had no idea she could do some of this stuff.  

When we were walking out I said “Mom and Dad are so proud of you Eleanor.”  

“Yeah,” she said, “you should be.”


November 5

Critical Pedagogy and Our North Stars

Over the past month I have been taking a course on a wonderful philosophy of education called Critical Pedagogy.  Critical pedagogy’s most influential theorist, Paolo Freire, compared the education system to banking.  In this banking model, teachers make deposits of knowledge which students bank for future use.  Because of this, students often approach their education as consumers and passive receivers of knowledge rather than active agents shaping their own lives.

And yet, this is how UNESCO and the IFLA define information literacy, and it is a far cry from passivity;

Information Literacy lies at the core of lifelong learning. It empowers people in all walks
of life to seek, evaluate, use and create information effectively to achieve their personal,
social, occupational and educational goals. It is a basic human right in a digital world
and promotes social inclusion of all nations.

Lifelong learning enables individuals, communities and nations to attain their goals and
to take advantage of emerging opportunities in the evolving global environment for
shared benefit. It assists them and their institutions to meet technological, economic and
social challenges, to redress disadvantage and to advance the well being of all.

This definition of information literacy means that the banking model to teaching is not going to cut it.  Students need to learn how to use information for more than financial gain.  They need to use it to make this world a better place for everyone.  At the OJCS one of our North Stars is ‘Each Person is Responsible for the Other.’  This is at the core of critical pedagogy.

The OJCS is already very active in empowering our students to be active agents in their own education.  ‘Genius Hour’ is one example of how our teachers are living these ideals and allowing students the opportunity to pursue their passions and become creators of knowledge.  Many of these projects have the goal of changing the world for the better too.

Another facet of critical pedagogy is that each student has unique perspectives and experiences to share, which is a way they can teach the teachers and their classmates.  This concept connects to the North Star ‘We are always on inspiring Jewish journeys.’  The unique perspective at our school is the Jewish perspective.  That perspective will make the experiences of our students different from those of students at non-Jewish schools.  For that reason, it is important for teachers to see through that lense.

Another key aspect of critical pedagogy is that teaching shouldn’t be the domain of the teacher alone.  Allowing students self-directed learning and discussion time during lessons is one way empower students to think for themselves and find ways to apply the lesson to their own personal experiences.  One OJCS North Star is that “We own our own learning.  We own our own story”.  Each student has so much to share and so much to teach us.  But to do so, they need lots of teacher-created opportunities to share.

One of the things we hear a lot at staff meetings is that at OJCS we are all lifelong learners.  Teachers and students are always challenging themselves and learning all the time.  This is another North Star “We Learn Better Together.”  So this course presented an opportunity for me to learn and grow.  Learning about critical pedagogy will directly impact the way that I design workshop curriculum and will change what I expect as outcomes.  Right now I mainly educate about information literacy, but to me critical pedagogy is about empowering students to take that knowledge and become ethical, active, global citizens.


Accardi, Maria T.  Critical Library Instruction: Theories & Methods.  Duluth: Library Juice Press.  2010
Elmborg, James.  Critical Information Literacy: Implications for Instructional Practice.  The Journal of Academic Librarianship, Volume 32, Number 2.  2006.
Delpit, Lisa.  Other People’s Children: Cultural Conflict in the Classroom.  New York: New Press, 1995.
October 17

Introduction to Digital Citizenship

Our grade two class got to meet some fun friends today, the super cute Common Sense Media Digital Citizens!

Each one represents a different aspect of digital citizenship;

  • Arms: Use your arms when you’re online to balance your time. 
  • Guts: Listen to your gut to stay safe online. 
  • Feet: Use your feet carefully when leaving tracks online.
  • Legs: Use your legs to stand up to bullies online.
  • Heart: Use your heart to be kind and respectful online.
  • Head: Use your head to ask questions about what you see online.


Our students listened to the song we discussed what they think the song was about and they gave examples of their own experiences.  They then drew a picture to represent how they can be good digital citizens.

September 26

The Essentials of Research

Over the course of the past two weeks our middle schoolers have been working very hard to learn the following critical research skills;

  • Using the right keywords in a Google search to get the best results
  • How to effectively take notes
  • How to use in-text citation
  • How to create a bibliography

Students were asked to practice these skills in the form of a small assignment on the history of the microwave.  Some groups came back for a second session and practiced these skills with a series of exercises, and other groups made video tutorials to share with other middle schoolers.

Students are getting a strong grasp of these concepts that they will carry with them for the rest of their lives.

September 18

Using Non-Fiction Books and Kids Search Engines for Research

Our grade 3s got a feel for what research is all about on Tuesday.  Research is defined by Merriam-Webster as;

1careful or diligent search
2studious inquiry or examination especially investigation or experimentation aimed at the discovery and interpretation of facts, revision of accepted theories or laws in the light of new facts, or practical application of such new or revised theories or laws
3the collecting of information about a particular subject

Our students were tasked to carefully and diligently search through our book resources for information about the insect of their choice using a Table of Contents and/or an Index page.  They took notes in their own words on the insect of their choice and kept track of their sources.

They were then asked to search their subject online using very specific keywords.  The proper use of keywords in online searching is an underrated skill.  It takes some forethought to clearly use keywords to create the perfect query and yield the best results.  A search on kiddle.co for ‘centipedes’ will not yield half as much useful information as the query ‘centipede facts.’

They tracked their information in a special graphic organizer.

It is important that we don’t overlook the importance of teaching children to use books to find information.  Learning to quickly scan a page and find pertinent information is a critical part of learning.  So many children wanted to jump straight to finding the information they needed online, but learning to use non-fiction books is where children should begin.  Once they can easily navigate a book, they will have the ability to quickly and efficiently scan websites in the same way.

We will be continuing to fine-tune these skills with all of their research projects this year and I look forward to seeing this class on a regular basis here in the library.

September 9

Little Synagogue on the Prairie

The OJCS was very fortunate to get a visit today from author Jackie Mills.  She wrote a wonderful new book called Little Synagogue on the Prairie about a Synagogue, the Montefiore Institute, in Alberta that had to be moved three times.


The kids were held rapt by this fascinating true story.

After the story, Ms. Mills gave a copy to each student to take home.  They were incredibly excited and grateful.

Today we at the OJCS got to learn more about Jewish Canadian history and it was a wonderful experience.