Friday, 31 March 2017

Anime North 2016: II

This is a continuation of “Anime North 2016”, the 20th Anime North, now with more talk of art. Click here if you missed part one.


SATURDAY’S END


I left the kinks panel early (see, you should’ve read part one!) to have time to glance in the Manga Library before meeting my wife at the anime “Fresh From Japan” by 3pm. I forget what I checked out. The closest I have to a clue is a cryptic note about how 3/11 is the Japanese 9/11, because March 11, 2011 was the date of the big earthquake and tsunami (phones went down, ‘net was up). Guess the manga wasn’t that memorable.

Reaching “Fresh”, they had already played some “Fairy Tail Zero” (a prequel to ‘Fairy Tail’) and “Divine Gate”. I saw an episode of “Assassination Classroom” which, ehhh, not for me, but watchable. Then “Dimension W”. Okay, THAT was interesting. (Checking in the here and now of 2017, apparently picked up by Funimation.)


Expona by Ruuari
(Second commission)
Verging on 4pm, went back to the Convention Centre, I think to pick up my artwork (of note, one was going to be mailed/posted to me, first time for that option). I liked the Alijda so much (see prior post) I commissioned the artist a second time. Also bought stuff (pretty sure it was at this point, not earlier?). Some dealer was selling wall scrolls for cheap, and I found a bunch of “Nanoha” ones, so yoink on those five (young Nanoha, young Fate, swimsuit Nanoha, two StrikerS Nanoha). Also bought regular outfit Nanoha and Fate figmas from the same guy as last year's purchase. Then food/dinner at 5:30pm (hopefully before the rush?).

After food, I’m pretty sure I dropped items off back at the hotel (can’t be certain, but 22,420 steps on the day implies the trip). Spun back by artists shortly before Dealer’s closed at 8pm to get second commission (see above). Saw a pretty amazing cosplay of Fate Testarossa on the way out, and got pictures. Alas, the 8pm panel on “Anime vs Science” was FULL. So I wandered by the video rooms. Saw at least an episode of “Witchblade” (interesting but big on action, not looking it up now), and some of “Waiting in the Summer” (same director as “Ano Hana”, just spent more time looking at that one). 

A little before 10pm I went to “Fannish Music 101”, which was right after the Kari Maaren and Kraken concerts, so I got to say “hi” (and bought the CD of Kari that I didn’t have yet, the one with “Being Watson”). The filk panel was headed by Peggy Lalonde and Sally Hedford, the term defined as “the folk music of people who like speculative fiction and fantasy”.

Having been to variations on this panel through the years, I didn’t take many notes. There was talk of how communities these days are more online, posting music, not knowing about physical gatherings. Also “symphony orchestras are cover bands for the 1800s” and FAWM (February Album Writing Month). At 11pm things shifted to “Open Mic”. What the heck, I had my laptop, I performed “Polar Plot” which got some laughs, and a number of other people sang as well.

I left around midnight, checking the video rooms again en route. One room was doing a Marathon AMV Special, spent some time there. Another was showing “Library Wars” an anime which, well, at least warranted me making a note. Then there was the “Cream Lemon” retrospective, good for a bit of a laugh. I’m not sure exactly when I left, but (much like Friday) I was back in my hotel room for 1:30am (and it’s not a short walk).


SUNDAY


As often happens when I’m in the area, I met up with my parents for breakfast. Got back to the Convention after 10am. I remember having an interest in the “Precure Movie” but either the room was full or something else was going on, because I ended up in “Sugar Buzz Theater” instead. (Same difference?)

They were playing “Minky Momo in Tabidachi no Eki” (an OAV sequel with Momo) about people meeting on a bridge, which was okay I guess. Then a “Viva Happy” short (Hatsune Miku), a promo(?) for some anime where microphones become light sabres (and that search has led me to "AKB0048", an anime where idols fight because they are outlawed, now you must watch the OP/EDs because that’s somehow a thing), and then “Sugar*Soldier”. Also, “Jewel Pet” (with Laura in France?).

Around 11:30am there was a “Comic Artist Roundtable”, so a bit after the start I went to where I thought that was (Plaza C), but it turned out to be “Voice Acting, Behind the Scenes”? Neither volunteer seemed to know what the room change was about. I listened briefly to the “Voice Acting” thing, because they were talking about voice libraries.

Actors need to do “grunts and groans” every time that’s in the script, but things that may be trying on the voice (eg. evil laughs) are done once, and archived. Particularly useful if it becomes a character quirk. Then they had some volunteers to demonstrate “short” (half sec), “medium” and “long” laughs. I headed back out.

I went back over to the Dealer’s Area, and had a look at the “Shojo Anime Poster Exhibition”, which included a handout identifying the various “Heroine Typology”. It breaks down the common traits for everything from Magical Girls to Gun Bunnies to Harem Girls to Female Bishonen (including examples). Also, my second commission from Shirochya was ready. 


Sine by Tannistha
(Mailed out, arrived in June)
Also, I ended up back in the Dealer’s City. Do I really need a transformed Fate figma? I bought so much stuff yesterday. But it’s marked down below $100, and would be a nice counterpoint to the Nanoha I have. As I’m debating, the guy notices my interest and takes another $10 off. Sale. >.<

At 1pm, I was aiming for “Railgun S, Season 2”; I own Season 1 and have read the manga for this part of the story, and wanted to see if it was worth a purchase. Turned out to be English dub, but that was fine... and it impressed me enough that I bought the first part from HMV during their “going out of business sale” last week.


ON COMICS


I then went to a rehash of sorts from 2015 - Loomis Heads with Kent Burles. Except in 2015 I’d been considering turning personified math into a webcomic. In 2016 I was actually DOING it, and figured that would give a fresh perspective. I mentioned back in the 2015 recap then how the trick is to have a delicate touch; still the case. “Line quality is your first line of defence.”

Pencil types came up again. “H” (light) pencils promote bad drawing. “B” (soft) pencils make marks more easily - you can always press harder once you have something you like. DON’T use mechanical pencils, they produce a dead weight line. “Draw from the inside out” was said again (as if things are made of glass), start with simple shapes, not detail. “The more mistakes you make, the better you get - the more problems you can identify, and it frees you.”

From there, into the Andrew Loomis heads. (No oval heads!) Sphere with midline (brow line), vary the spacing to make less generic. Wherever the torso goes, the rest follows from that. Avoid schematic or Egyptian eyes; large pupils for friendly, small pupils for evil. Avoid the field of grass syndrome for hair; eyebrows are thicker at the end (bridge of nose), taper inwards. The further away you are, the more impressionistic; hair is a block, maybe hairs at end if thinning versus darker (heavier) brows.

From there, into hour two, “Comic Book Basics”. Before looking at the subject matter, people will look at your lines. Working roughly with a 9 by 6; printed page is SMALLER. Your first conception is your worst conception. Work as small as you comfortably can (thumbnail). Have an active mobile camera (not always same angle), shouting through goblet-vision, etc. May be transitional or splash pages.

A grid takes some decisions out of your hands. Good! Many decisions exist already. (Also, modified grid, like a six panel array but two of them combine.) Design from the dominant panel, ask yourself “what is the point of this page?”. It’s not about putting pretty pictures together, it’s about storytelling. Visual variety, visual rhythm, a moving journey. (Avoid the domino approach wasn’t written down here, but I’ll toss it in too.) Design the page first, the costume later. Again a mention of the different views, noting that the long shot is ‘Where’, the midrange is ‘Who’ and the close-up is the ‘Why’.

Kent then gave an exercise to try (like last year) but different scenario. Five panels: A magical character; on the battlements of a castle; looking out over a vast desert plain (flying item in distance); a dragon now almost on top of structure; gout of fire sent out. (So it wasn’t a person waking up surrounded by hooked figures, as in 2015.) I did a couple thumbnails, like last year, and stayed around to talk to him, like last year, though I waited until the end (due to last year), meaning it was closer to 4:30pm when I went to find Anne-Lise.

Final thoughts by Kent on my work: I have good ideas, but execution issues. Don’t do a “hanging L” (big panel cut in corner), better to add a strip underneath. Consider having your character central, but offset by structure (a taller rampart one side) rather than making your character less central. He’d shown gridlines at one point, so I tried it in a panel, and he noted they shouldn’t go past/above the horizon line choice. Then have your path (river, whatever) flow along the grid... leading the eye into the next panel (rather than into horizon). Track your vanishing point (where grid comes together), may give more horizon space. Consider Scott McCloud’s book “Making Comics” -- and if I’m back next year, remind him to pick a different 5-panel comic yet again. :)


Karl Z and Me (from Friday)
My wife mentioned to me that “One Week Friends” might be an anime for me to check out, and we swung by the 404s Anime Improv (all the way in the North Ballroom) for a quick look before 5pm. They were trying a new game at one point, “Objection!”. It’s a 2 min 30 sec scene, where one person is making an argument until they’re interrupted with “Objection!” and if the objection is valid, the interruptor gets to speak instead. The winner is the one speaking when time is up. So obviously interruptions are more frequent towards the end. (I only recall at one point the “Objection! I can’t read!” being followed up with the person saying the objector has a book.)

Then, yes, departing before 6pm for the long drive back, with the teaching happening on the next day.


FINAL THOUGHTS


I’ve only been to 20 of these "Anime North" conventions. LITERALLY half my life. I can quit any time I want to. I can! Actually, really, I can; it’s fun, and I still get something out of it (seeing old friends, tips for my hobbies, fingering the pulse of popular anime for the school club) but there isn’t a level of anticipation to it these days. Even if I did get more merchandise in 2016 than I think I did the prior couple years combined. >.<

I registered for AN2017 this past week (mental note: book hotel), but that’s partially due to the fact that it’s taking place on the same weekend as the 50th Anniversary of my middle school, which is in the area, so I can make it a two-for-one. There’s also the chance I’ll have to back out, depending on medical things outside my control. We’ll see!

I’m glad I went in 2016 though. And I’m glad you read this post! Hope you found something of use within the recap. Feel free to comment if you have your own thoughts.

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Anime North 2016: I

Well, this recap got away from me. For the record, the 20th Anime North took place from May 27-29, 2016, in Toronto, Ontario. I’ve been to all twenty. I’ve recapped since 2013, so you can see 2013, see 2014, or see 2015 at those links.

To start June 2016, in the midst of clearing out my desk (taking this year off), marking exams, snaring a guest post to publicize my serial, keeping up with my webcomic and the rest of “life”, this recap fell off my radar, and was even briefly forgotten. We’re back, as I try to use my notes and photographs to reconstruct this momentous event 10 months later. (Hm, the first thing in my notes is the Nanoha Figmas I already owned, so as to not buy duplicates. Good thinking, past me.)

In this post, expect art and vocaloid information. Also, kinks.


FRIDAY


For the first time in years, Friday was possible, because they mailed the badges off to us in advance. So it didn’t matter that, after leaving school and getting to Toronto after 9pm, registration was closed. I had a badge! I could check online for what was happening, and go to panels! Like the 11pm panel “Your Art Doesn’t Suck”.


The panelists were Sofia, Emily and Kennie (apologies for any misspellings). One of the key things brought up was this “Art is a Cycle” graphic that I’d seen in previous months. In brief: As time goes on, your skill at making art doesn’t keep up with your skill at evaluating art. So while your art may seem to get worse, it may instead be steady, while your ability to evaluate goes up, creating more criticism. “We are our own harshest critics.”

There’s also the issue that practice makes perfect, while perfect is the enemy of done. Or we may be trying to live up to the expectations of others (or visions other people have in their head). Parents in particular may consider the work a “hobby” more than something to do post-secondary, and comic artistry is really hard (...and now I feel old). There’s also the need to be seen as an illustrator, and motivation (this is not seen as in “investment”). “Do something fun for you, it might lead to something better.”

In terms of actual drawing Watch-Fors: Children proportions are different (mathematically) as compared to teenagers or adults. Larger forehead, etc. “If you mess up your proportions, no amount of shading is going to fix that.” To add expressiveness, you can do things like put eyebrows on top of hair as a stylistic choice. (Personal preferences.)

One panelist mentioned a logo design story. You “must have a rationale, why is it appropriate to the target audience, what do you want to convey”. Make sure to have clear information up front, and to pay for work that’s done. There was also some discussion of handling trolls as well as criticism, like at booths. (“Do you think people are gonna buy that?” Maybe?)

The one comment we get from a stranger who “didn’t like” something tends to resonate more than all the support we’re getting elsewhere. It’s how our human brain is wired. (We focus on the different, which here is the negative.) Try to focus more on positives, and recognize good versus bad criticism. There may also be online groups for critiques (forums, mailing lists).

If blocked on art? For graphic design, there’s typically a problem to solve that draws the focus. Doodling in margins may help in concentration, things that get incorporated into figures. There’s random prompt websites. When starting out, don’t be afraid to copy (noting SOURCE) in order to learn (educational is “fair use”). And draw things from life. Maybe a dream journal. Can help to surround yourself with artists and art that you find inspiring. Art evolves too. Compare “Magic Knights Rayearth” or “X-1999” to what CLAMP is doing now (eyelash triangles, head sizes). 

When that ended (at midnight) I went to the AMV 20th Special for a while. (The Momiji Challenge and Judges Choice videos for the last 20 years.) Karl was there too! We chatted briefly, got a picture, then I went back to the hotel for sleep and such.


SATURDAY


No need to line up at registration real early! But no breakfast in the hotel (closed), so subs en route. I started out with the 10am panel on “The History and Culture of Vocaloid”. (Could I get Miku to sing some of my song parodies?) In fact, the software letting you input voice and edit yourself originated in Spain in 2000. The first english version (Gen1) with LOLA and LEON didn’t do too well, though it was aimed at professionals. MIRIAM was a voice bank by Miriam Stockley, and MEIKO sold over 3,000 copies in Japan in late 2004.

Then, silence until 2006 with KAITO. Reference to LOLA singing in the 2006 Japanese film “Paprika”. (Here, have a movie opening credits link.) There were generational upgrades; V1 to V2 was BIG, V2 to V3 was more “bug fixes”, then V3 to V4 was BIG again, now capable of growl feature. We’re looking at 60+ voices/characters, 120+ voice banks, and 5 official languages (Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Spanish and English).

Hatsune Miku hit Japan on June 29, 2007, selling over 100,000 software; stores were told to stop selling preorders, they couldn’t keep up. Miku’s first concert was Aug 22, 2009; not as big back then (guest billing). Also Miku FES’09 on August 31st. Her TV debut wasn’t until Oct 8, 2014, with David Letterman.


“Sweet ANN” was released in English on the same day as Miku, and did not do anywhere near as well (marketing not the best). The only Korean voice bank is SeeU, who also didn’t make enough profit. (Though a second, ‘UNI’ is now set to be released later this year.) For China it was Luo Tianyi first, then 4 more (latest from March 2016). In Spanish there’s Bruno and Clara, joined in 2013 by MAIKA. Note there’s extra phonemes for other languages.

Monds (the panelist) played a number of clips from the various vocaloids in other languages. (Noting, “Don’t hate on the Engloids, guys!” when playing AVANNA. Part of the issue is we can be troubled by what we perceive as pronunciation errors. Except Japanese vocaloids don’t necessarily get that right either.) Of note, Miku has 15 voice banks, second highest in number of vocals. (I think Stardust is higher?)

Outside the original five languages, there’s Prima (for Opera) who can do Latin (“Ave Maria”). SONiKA for Mandarin. There’s even Portuguese. And my notes get cryptic here, something about marketing taking into account fans versus pros, and then collaborations with famous singers like Gackt and Megumi Nakajima. At the end, Monds had buttons!

At 11am, I went over to the Convention Centre area, to scope out all the artists and pick a couple of them to draw commission works for me; I wanted one of Alijda for my serial, as well as some of my math characters. (Ran into Travis while I was there!) I took a peek in the Dealer’s... City as well. Don’t think I bought anything at this point. Stay tuned.


WRITING RESEARCH


I left at about 12:30pm, heading for the Radisson, curious about the the panel “Let’s Talk About Kinks (18+)”. But I got there early, in enough time to catch the end of “Lesbian Sex 101 (18+). Look, I’m a WRITER, get your head out of the gutter. (I went to the “Writing Sex” panel in 2015 too.) The “Lesbian” panel seemed to be answering questions which had been written on papers and handed in earlier, which was pretty clever, for anyone who might not want to speak up in person.

In brief: Communication is key, if you start something but then find you’re not into it. “If they respect you, they’ll understand.” Lesbians are not necessarily into penetration. Sterilize your toys (glass can be boiled) or use condoms. There’s a big lack of research into female sexuality in general (internalized misogyny in the scientific world).


Alijda by Shirochya.
She did another commission
(Expona) you can see here.
There was a whole powerpoint presentation for “Kinks”, but there were some technical issues at the start, prompting discussion. Note that “kink” and “fetish” are NOT interchangeable words. A fetish is something that is a necessity or requirement for enjoyment, while a kink is more of a bonus. Where is the threshold? (Who’s to say?) MS (Master/Slave) is a more severe form of DS (Dominant/Submissive).

There is special bondage tape which won’t rip skin; it only sticks to itself. It can even be rinsed and reused. Don’t leave batteries in your toys when you’re done, and note that (electronic or not) they have a life span (wear and tear). With gags, have an alternative safe word, like hand signs or a bell. “If you’re already embarrassed, it’s way too late for you.”

Key rules: 1. Know your limits. 2. Know your partner’s limits (physical & safety words). 3. CONSENT. Next, here’s a rundown on all the kinks that were addressed from the powerpoint, in alpha order, no value judgements.

Adult Baby (loss of control). Clothing (particular items or simply not naked). Food Play (food is not lube). Futanari (more common among bisexuals or lesbians). Growth or Micro (fantasy, psychological). Knotting/Tying (often connected to canine kinks). Plants (can’t be reasoned with, connect tentacles). Species (ghosts, monsters, angels, etc). Stomach Bulging (fantasy, animal play connections). Threesomes/Moresomes (watch weight limits, connects to voyeurism). Vore (and absorption sub-genres). Worship/Torture (two sides, one coin).

There were images. So yeah. Now you have a sense of some quirks to give the main character of your next story (protagonist or antagonist). The “Kinks” panel was in fact two hours, so there was later discussion too. For instance, vampires (likely fits in Species) and blood play being dangerous (diseases, for one thing).

Also, humans aren’t made to swallow significant amounts of blood without vomiting. And if you’re going to ingest alcohol, don’t do it by soaking something in alcohol and absorbing it! (Seriously, I’ve heard from my brother-in-law, a First Aid responder, that people do this.) It goes directly into your bloodstream and pumping your stomach becomes pointless (hello alcohol poisoning). The things you learn at conventions.

To keep this from getting TOO long, click here for recap part two. There’s less on kinks but more on art. Feel free to comment here first, if something jumped out at you!

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Not Teaching: Week 38

Well, the Math Minutes were done, the Serial Fools Swap is regulated, and I’m into the WebComic Swap. I went to an Irish bar after St. Patrick’s Day (the waitress said she was less busy) and a Pizza Hut lunch after March Break (ditto). It’s still felt pretty crazy, but I think it’s working out on all ends, including medical. I wonder if this is how English teachers feel in March? (The Ontario literacy test is this week.) Also Bones is ending after 12 seasons! I won't get my David Boreanaz fix any more.

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Item counts run Sunday (March 19) to Saturday (March 25).

Step Count: About 55,000. 18 stars.
Again, all days staying between 7500 and 8300. Stars every day this past week though, that’s new.

School Email Count: 99 New (26 sent)
Conference organization and cancellation - busy week here.



Writing/Art Related Items:
 -Drew and inked comic for Monday
 -Finished reading research for April Fools post
 -Wrote 2000+ word entry for April Fools Guest post
 -Wrote majority of “Behind the Scenes” for Serial
 -Started reading research for April Fools comic

Non-Writing Items for the past week:
 -Doctor’s appointment Monday
 -Math Council meeting Monday and Minutes done
 -Dinner with friends Monday
 -Another chapter in Gleick’s “Time Travel”

POSSIBLE NEXT ITEMS:
 -Get Comic Guest Post done
 
Cat Cafe. A week old, but meh.
-Post recap about Anime North (from May)

 -Post recap about CanCon 2016 (from Sept)
 -Post recap about AFEMO Conference (from Oct)
 -Catch up with web serials I’ve enjoyed
 -Write a TANDQ article on Polling and Bias
 -Write a post about types of praise/encouragement
 -Organize all the paper clutter from school
 -Organize all the electronic clutter from school
 -Weed through/organize emails
 -Do another Parody Math Video
 -French Citizenship project
 -Actually market some of my creative stuff
 -Binging Anime (Magical Index)
 -Binging Anime (Steins Gate)
 -Binging Anime (RWBY borrowed from Scott)
 -Read some of the books sitting at my desk

Still keeping up with tumblr and RoyalRoadL reposts.

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Saturday, 18 March 2017

Not Teaching: Week 37

My guest post “Models of Time and Fate” went live this past Monday. Since then I’ve been crazy busy, which is kind of the opposite of a normal March Break. Largely because April 1st will involve two guest posts and the coordination of a Math Conference, yet all of my buffers and cued up posts are gone now. Gah. So, actual writing, very sporadic.
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On the down side, my “Cubic” song parody was not a finalist, and I don’t know why I submit math parody songs anywhere (including YouTube). On the plus side, actual comments on my serial, and another math fanart. Onwards.

*
Item counts run Sunday (March 12) to Saturday (March 18).

Step Count: About 52,900. 12 stars.
Still a very uniform distribution.

School Email Count: 26 New (4 sent)
March Break. But Conference incoming.



Writing/Art Related Items:
 -Wrote, drew and inked a comic special for Pi Day
 -Inserted NEXT posts for ENTIRE Math-tans serial
 -Reading research for April Fools posts
 -Started ANorth 2016 recap

Non-Writing Items for the past week:
 -Yoga Monday
 -Dinner with friends Monday
 -3 Family dinners and a lunch
 -Tidied house and hosted a dinner

POSSIBLE NEXT ITEMS:
 -Doctor’s appointment Monday
 
Picture is hung
-Math Council meeting Monday

 -Get Serial Guest Post done
 -Get Comic Guest Post done
 -Post recap about Anime North (from May)
 -Post recap about CanCon 2016 (from Sept)
 -Post recap about AFEMO Conference (from Oct)
 -Catch up with web serials I’ve enjoyed
 -Write a TANDQ article on Polling and Bias
 -Write a post about types of praise/encouragement
 -Organize all the paper clutter from school
 -Organize all the electronic clutter from school
 -Weed through/organize emails
 -Do another Parody Math Video
 -French Citizenship project
 -Actually market some of my creative stuff
 -Binging Anime (Magical Index)
 -Binging Anime (Steins Gate)
 -Binging Anime (RWBY borrowed from Scott)
 -Read some of the books sitting at my desk

At this point, I need to not fall further behind.
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Saturday, 11 March 2017

Not Teaching: Week 36

Seems the more caught up I am, the less productive I am. It’s not like I don’t have things to do, and the list isn’t that much shorter than it was in January. Do I fear being caught up? Relaxing? Possibly I fear a lack of scheduling. One of the things I discussed with the kinesiologist this past week was how yoga feels like a “disruption”, because it’s only once a week. Whereas I’m always up by 9am to watch “Mayday” on Discovery channel. I thrive on routine. I hesitate when it's absent.


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Interestingly, school is very routine - until it isn’t (tests, extra curriculars, assemblies). The mind is a crazy place. Remember to set your clocks ahead if you’re in North America.

*
Item counts run Sunday (March 5) to Saturday (March 11).

Step Count: About 52,800. 14 stars.
Very uniform distribution this week. A star is 10 consecutive minutes of more than meandering.

School Email Count: 56 New (2 sent)
I now need to pull together a short social media presentation by Apr 25th.


Writing/Art Related Items:
 -Inked in comics for last Monday and this Monday
 -Wrote more comics, up to #300 (not inclusive)
 -Finished Commentary 26 for T&T (mostly)
 -Wrote most of the guest post for Time2TimeTravel
 -Joined “ComicBookHour” forum + posted

Non-Writing Items for the past week:
 -Yoga Monday
 -Doctor’s Appointment Wednesday
 -Another chapter of Gleick’s “Time Travel”
 -Family dinner Friday

POSSIBLE NEXT ITEMS:
 -Post recap about Anime North (from May)
 -Post recap about CanCon 2016 (from Sept)
 -Post recap about AFEMO Conference (from Oct)
 -Catch up with web serials I’ve enjoyed
 -Write a TANDQ article on Polling and Bias
 -Write a post about types of praise/encouragement
 -Organize all the paper clutter from school
 -Organize all the electronic clutter from school
 -Weed through/organize emails
 -Do another Parody Math Video
 -French Citizenship project
 -Actually market some of my creative stuff
 -Binging Anime (Magical Index)
 -Binging Anime (Steins Gate)
 -Binging Anime (RWBY borrowed from Scott)
 -Read some of the books sitting at my desk

Holding pattern, I guess. Made some blog comments too, I don’t track those.
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Saturday, 4 March 2017

Not Teaching: Week 35

I’ve paid the College of Teachers and have the papers submitted for returning to school in September 2017. I’ve also been dealing with math conference organization and Cappies signage. Starting to think, maybe the only way to achieve work-life balance as a teacher is to not do any teaching? Well, let’s see what March brings.

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*
Item counts run Sunday (February 26) to Saturday (March 4).

Step Count: About 53,100.
After hitting 33 straight days of 7500 steps or more, today, only inched over 2000.

School Email Count: 69 New (8 sent)
Looks like the conflict with the school play is now Progress Reports, instead of Report Cards, so that’s something.


Desk needs tidying. Been working on dining table.

Writing/Art Related Items:
 -Inked in comic for last Monday. Sketched comic for next Monday.
 -Finished edits on “No Reason” (now “Free Will”) and submitted to Flame Tree Publishing call for Short Story Titles.
 -Did two Math COMA Recaps for 2016.
 -Did at least half of Commentary 26 for T&T.
 -Randomly sketched Megan (T&T), Rose and Paige.

Non-Writing Items for the past week:
 -Saw “Lego Batman” with friends Sunday
 -Yoga Monday
 -Dinner with friends Monday
 -Went to school’s “Annie” production Wednesday
 -Got back to reading Gleick’s “Time Travel” (also Time2TT site)
 -Went to NAC “Infinity” production Friday
 -Brunch with friends Saturday

POSSIBLE NEXT ITEMS:
 -Doctor’s Appointment Wednesday
 -Post recap about Anime North (from May)
 -Post recap about CanCon 2016 (from Sept)
 -Post recap about AFEMO Conference (from Oct)
 -Catch up with web serials I’ve enjoyed
 -Write a TANDQ article on Polling and Bias
 -Write a post about types of praise/encouragement
 -Organize all the paper clutter from school
 -Organize all the electronic clutter from school
 -Weed through/organize emails
 -Do another Parody Math Video
 -French Citizenship project
 -Actually market some of my creative stuff
 -Binging Anime (Magical Index)
 -Binging Anime (Steins Gate)
 -Binging Anime (RWBY borrowed from Scott)
 -Read some of the books sitting at my desk

The list IS shortening. I’m considering reaction writing to my anime binges.
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Friday, 3 March 2017

PD Social: Ontario Math

The Carleton-Ottawa Mathematics Association (COMA) aims to have a Social every year, in September. It doubles as a chance to hear a speaker. I previously blogged about 2014 (Marian Small) and 2015 (Kyle Pearce), so here is 2016. Chris Suurtaam (from University of Ottawa) spoke about the topic “What makes math education in Ontario great?”.

Viewing mathematics education from an international perspective, we’re doing pretty well. Where do we stand?

Consider equity versus quality on a graph (from Pasi Sahlberg presentation at ICSE 2016). We often measure equity (horizontal axis) by how narrow the gap is between high achievers and low achievers. Quality of student achievement can come from scores (as PISA). Where would a country like to be? Where is Canada?

Chris notes she was “in Scotland, listening to someone from Finland” and up in the cloud, high in both measures, was Canada (along with South Korea, Japan, Estonia, Finland, Hong Kong). Those countries are “Well known” for high achievement in assessments but also high equity.



We don’t hear about this, we often get painted with the same brush that the US gets painted with. While others, like the US, are still climbing the “stairway to heaven”. If we look at PISA scores for 2012 (international assessment of 15 year olds), Ontario is 514, while International Average is 494. So we’re well above, while the US is below that average. Yet as their stories are perhaps not as positive, we get drawn across the southern border.

Chris says that a researcher came to visit recently. A fellowship to Canada to see what we’re doing. They could “find out what’s in Singapore or Hong Kong” but that’s a very different context, Canada has more similarities to the USA. “You should all pat yourselves on the back”, because instead, you get beat up over the kinds of things that are happening. Yes, PISA scores dropped slightly in the last assessment, but it was exaggerated in the media.

Canada is fairly well respected in terms of our math education system. And we have high standards. We’re just not showing it. So what is it that makes us great? Chris doesn’t have all the answers, but wants to use a framework based on what she’s done in Ontario with teachers, to do some analysis. (ASIDE to Blog readers: Canada’s education system varies by province; Ontario isn’t the same as Quebec, which isn’t the same as the Western or Eastern provinces.)


FRAME WORKING


The framework is based on the guiding principles for school mathematics. Consider “Principles to Action”, NCTM 2014. We’ll go through these points: (1) Access & Equity. (2) Tools & Technology. (3) Curriculum. (4) Teaching & Learning. We’ll save “Assessment” and “Professionalism” for another talk. Chris will be drawing on her recent research over the past 10 years. Which includes “Curriculum Implementation in Intermediate Mathematics” (CIIM), a focus on Gr 7-10 teachers, “What Counts in Math”, communities of practice studied over 2 yrs, “Pan-Canadian Pedagogy Project”, which looks at what things are like in BC, Quebec, etc, and the “Grade 9 Applied Project”, also studied over 2 yrs.

(1) Access & Equity. “I think we’d all nod to that”, and we want to be sure that’s not just for our gifted students, but also for our struggling learners. All students have the need - and Chris would say the right - to engage in rich mathematical activity. All students need (and have) the right to these things: To Engage, To Have Opportunities, To Time, To Feel Valued. It’s more than just worksheets.


(2) Tools & Tech. “Some of you had me when you were teacher candidates”, thus know Chris refers to manipulatives and mathematical thinking tools when she instructs. But it’s not just about manipulatives. Look at the kinds of technology that many of you use: Kahoot, Nearpod, Plickers, Desmos, Geogebra, Geometer’s Sketchpad. “All of these things I observe you using in your classrooms.” And they’re used in interesting ways.

Chris shared one way she saw a teacher use EQAO questions (from the Gr 9 mathematical equivalency test in Ontario). At the time it was plickers, could easily be kahoot or other. These were Gr 9. Applied level students, looking at a summer gardening job question: $10 flat plus $8 per hour, which graph matches (A, B, C, D). The teacher gave them a couple of minutes, they keyed in their response, and then she displayed responses... a pie graph about evenly split four ways.

Chris wonders where she’ll go with this. Teacher: “Turn to your partner, and tell them why you think your answer was right.” After some time for this, she put it up again, everyone individually keyed in responses. Now almost ALL of the responses were the same, and on the correct answer. It was a wonderful example - and this teacher did many more - of using the technology in a very collaborative kind of way. It was formative assessment for her, in a collaborative environment, more than a timed competition (which can be how some use those devices). The students can talk about why to pick this one over that one.

(3) Curriculum. Phrases like “Develops important..." are defined in that “Principles to Action” NCTM document. Chris claims these are satisfied in Ontario. But even though our current curriculum has been around since 2005, over 10 years, why are people still talking about it as NEW math?

Consider, what does the research tell us. What about learning progressions (what to teach first), about a network of learning, about new pedagogies? And what are other countries doing and how do we compare? ”When I visit other places”, they’re surprised that there would be consultation with education researchers or teachers. It’s not as though the curriculum comes out and we totally disagree, so we’re lucky to have that consultation progress. 

Actions that students should do in a mathematics class: Identify, Compare, Describe, Pose problems, Evaluate, Gather, Connect, Expand, Investigate, Sketch. Chris adds her beginning teacher candidates are often doing those things themselves too. It’s not about the number of manipulatives on the table. Manipulatives don’t always mean it’s good lesson.

Chris shows an image from Singapore, their framework. (Note: Singapore was an outlier in the country graphic above, high quality despite middling equity.) The graphic shows math problem solving at the heart, and pod areas around for: Attitudes, Metacognition, Processes, Concepts, Skills. “You’ll see words that pop out from our curriculum.” Then there’s also talk of mathematical competencies with South Koreans, French, and Germans, similar to our mathematical processes. (You can just look on the internet and see other curriculums.)

(4) Teaching & Learning. We need to engage students in meaningful learning. So they’re not just cutting and pasting, they’re doing some math. Big ideas that get broken down, what does that look like. “Productive struggle”, support this, even if “we want to rescue those kids, to save them”.

Look at implementing tasks that promote reasoning and problem solving. “Rich Tasks.” It’s like a buzzword, but we’re looking for varied opportunities with multiple entry points - not a simple task, more one with high cognitive demand. Everyone at tables had the following problem on a sheet, and were asked to work on a solution “that you think a Gr 5-8 student might produce”.

PROBLEM: Tug of War 1: 4 frogs tie with 5 fairy godmothers. Tug of War 2: 1 dragon ties with 2 fairy godmothers and a frog. Who wins the third Tug of War: 1 dragon and 3 fairy godmothers versus 4 frogs?


PROBLEM SOLVING


We had 5 minutes to play. I think I had seen something like this before, as my immediate inclination was as follows. Focus on the 3rd scenario, swap out the 4 frogs for 5 fairies. Then, remove equal fairies until I had 1 dragon versus 2 fairies. The dragon will win; the fairies are missing a frog. Others at my table were looking at unit rates. We spoke briefly. Should the scenario be modified to avoid such a direct swap on my part? How deliberate was this option? If someone finds this solution, should they be encouraged to look for other ways?

Chris warns sometimes we give a task and “scaffolding too early can reduce the cognitive demand”, taking away opportunities for students to explore and build confidence. Support productive struggles.

Grade 7 teachers in a conversation on October 9, 2013: “I like the struggle, and I do that too.” ... It’s “part of my own struggle as a teacher, because you’re so wanting to just get in there and help them and save them. But the standing back and giving them time, and realizing that often they WILL get it, and get more out of it when you let them do that - when you let them struggle.” Which, Chris says, is what she knows Ontario teachers do.


We looked at some different kinds of solutions from a class. “Did you draw pictures like this?” One student explained reasoning as “we started with 4 frogs and we decided to value them as 10, because 10 is a friendly number”. It was a value of their “strength”. Why strength? “Well, I thought about Pokemon.” And from there to rates. Another student valued 20 and 20 (each side of the rope), so in a way, they’re doing a similar thing. “Once you assign a value to one, it influences the others” and that’s huge, realizing that.

Chris said it was very interesting, the diversity of solutions. Not necessarily using algebraic reasoning. (See mine, above.) In the end, the teacher pulled the students together and had them compare, to see a richness in the kinds of solutions. That deals with another teacher practice. Use and connect mathematical representations, to deepen understanding of concepts and procedures.

Also, facilitate meaningful mathematical discourse. Used to be teacher to student, student to teacher, but students hearing teacher talk is like in Charlie Brown. Understanding comes from student to student discussion, need to facilitate those. Give the opportunity for debate. “I teach with my door closed all the time because we are loud.” It’s okay not to agree. See shared thinking that almost sounds like one voice, back and forth discussion, while working on a problem.

Another practice is: Elicit and use evidence of student thinking. Such as having whiteboards around the whole room, shoutout to Peter Liljedahl (who was in the audience). It’s about making student thinking explicit, and eliciting student thinking, making it so the teacher can also see their thinking. Otherwise there’s no way to see what’s going on inside their head.

Also, pose purposeful questions. The teacher in “Ferris Bueller” (Anyone, anyone...) is not asking purposeful questions, ones that help me get a sense of understanding. Ask “What makes this a linear relation”, then give wait time, and listen, not just waiting for someone to say y=mx+b. “Teacher questions in action.” At the end, “Why does that make sense?” If there was one question to tattoo on your arm, that could be it.


WRAP UP


And those are the kinds of things happening in Ontario classrooms. It’s that list (above) that Chris often sees as she wanders around classrooms and engages with teachers. And that’s what the principle document says too. We’re building classroom environments to promote math understanding and thinking.

What are the things that are common elements? (“Oh I do that too”.) Chris says they tried a concept map. What often came up was the goal of teaching, that idea of “Developing students’ math thinking and understanding”, from which components of a lesson come out. But a lot was on the environment. Knowing when to step in, making connections, choosing groups... and valuing student voice. “We saw that as huge.”

So Chris thinks we’re doing a great job in Ontario. There’s ways that you can engage in student learning, and it helps us stand out internationally. If there were any questions, feel free to ask her, suurtamm@uottawa.ca


For more on Peter, see this post.
A final note: As I mentioned, Peter Liljedahl was in the audience. He chatted briefly with some of us afterwards about an experiment that had been done in Chile, in Spanish. They filmed classes for 21 teachers, with one fixed point in common: The same problem to solve. Then they separated 30 second segments of the results, to create a video highlighting key points (the intro, student work, wrap-up, that sort of thing). Then had teachers watch the video. “Why did you think to do that?”

Peter quipped that “every time I do something, I get 10 years worth of data”. Since it takes 10 years to do proper analysis, he’ll likely be busy for about 160 yrs now.

And with respect to the PISA study, referenced above in the measure of quality of student achievement? The last questions are: “How hard did you try.” and “How hard would you have tried if this was worth marks.” They don’t publish this in Canada, but Peter had recently tweeted the information out. (He got this data from Sweden.) The biggest differential between those numbers? Is in Sweden. The second biggest? Canada. Is it the students that “really try” who have the higher scores?

Thanks for reading this post! Feel free to comment below on any questions you might have, or anything that stood out for you. If you teach in Ontario, consider joining the OAME, and if you’re in Ottawa, your chapter is COMA.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

PD: A Measure of Success

The Carleton-Ottawa Mathematics Association (COMA), the local chapter of the OAME, tries to have a Conference or Forum of some sort every year. I should know - I'm the secretary.

I believe the last time I blogged about it was in this 2013 region PD post, when it took place in November. I have covered the COMA Social (a September event) more recently: In 2014 with Marian Small (Public Math Relations), in 2015 with Kyle Pearce (Math in Context) and in 2016 with Chris Suurtamm (Ontario Math) - tomorrow's link now active.

Due to logistics, since 2013, our local mini-conference has changed venue and time of year. This post will look at what occurred during the 2015-16 school year, specifically on April 23, 2016. I happened to attend the session run by Bruce McLaurin, entitled “What a Rowdy Grade 9 Applied Math Class Taught Me About Teaching”. I reproduce a summary of that here.


THAT CLASS



Bruce had presented this topic at a University “Ignite” session (12 slides at 15 seconds each for three minutes), and is slowing it down here to provide more truth.

Knowing when to shut up is a gift that few people are born with. This particular class, it would take them five minutes to settle down, then a deluge of stuff that can be unrelated - so Bruce learned to shut up. They were not good listeners, they would keep talking, so no lectures.

Also, Bruce didn’t have a textbook. TIPS4M (a collection of questions, TIPS = Thinking/Inquiry/Problem Solving) let him pull away from a text. Students were nervous, they questioned this, they thought they couldn’t learn math without a textbook. He gave in, the text lasted a couple days, then they put them away again.

There were no notes. They just did the math every day, handouts going into lockers - or recycle bins. There was no homework. After this, Bruce is not a huge fan of homework in general anyway. (As a parent, homework ruined his family life.) The French president (Hollande) even proposed banning homework in 2012. Truth is: “Most who do the homework, don’t need to. Most who need to, don’t do it.” Don’t even call it homework, call it PRACTICE.

So what do you do with no lectures, no text, no notes and no homework?

Bruce brought his math class to shoot baskets in the gym, to get data, to determine where on the court is the toughest shot. Once they had the data, the students did 20 minutes of quiet working analyzing it - unplanned. Bruce thought, there’s something to this. Not merely gathering their own data, but the movement. It was not easy to implement this. (He spoke about EQAO results and changing schools.)

Children need love the most when they appear to deserve it the least. An exercise: Write your feelings on a piece of paper. Crumple it into a ball, and throw it. Read the crumpled messages of others. Anonymous (but may be able to find out?). Question to use: How Do You Feel About Math?

“Parents are sending you the best kids they have. They’re not keeping ‘the good ones’ at home.” It’s not you, it’s me. Bruce also remarked here that he’s concerned about repeating his stories, and explained why, personally and professionally.

Even though Grade 10 Applied is a huge amount of work for him, he has now requested that course. Just step off the cliff, try new things. Bruce then opened up the floor (if memory serves, based on a shift in my handwriting), wondering about directions from here.


SOME DISCUSSION


Questions that came up: How do we judge or measure success, if it’s not immediate? (Things can change day to day in a classroom.) What do we value in a math classroom? (Some students value repetition, so is that the practice they need?) Grouping and randomizing was also brought up. Is it true that 60% of things we tell kids, they already know? (Consider students who don’t do well on stuff from last year, even if they did well on it then.)


Student survey: It’s a little scary, but we need to do that, to look at the effectiveness of what we do. To start looking at data. How good are our techniques? Try a survey in September versus January, see if there’s a change.

Bruce had some information here. Statements for students to rank: “You can be creative in math class.” “I talk about math when I am not in school.” Agreement with “I like math” versus “Math is one of my favourite subjects.”

The danger with small changes, is you’ll reset. Big changes tend to stick. Bruce’s closing words: “Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.”

A couple other items referenced afterwards:
-Slogan of some shoes: “Always in Beta” (New Balance), it’s a bit like a classroom.
-GERM (Global Education Reform Movement) is not great - look to Finland for better work.
-A possible claim to prove: Two exponential equations can have more than one solution/intersection. More engaging that way?
-We should be talking more with elementary and middle schools towards choosing Academic and Applied in Grade 9.
-Instead of “assigning homework”, “offer practice”.

Thanks for reading this recap! (Try to be vaguely impressed; by helping out with the school play, I wrote this after being at school every day since Easter in late March. April 23rd here was my first day off.) Comment below with thoughts or questions. Note COMA's Ottawa mini-conference this year (2017) will be at the start of April, only a month away - do let me know if you want more details.