I was a bit shocked when I got to that age where everyone starts to wax nostalgically about the entertainments of their childhoods and when I was all “guys guys remember Betty Boop” everyone who had a normal childhood said “of course not, Alison, why did you grow up in the 1930s?” My family was the proud possessor of a Beta VCR well after everyone around us had purchased a VHS and the only Beta tapes available at the video store was obscure crap starring the less talented siblings of movie stars. So our options were limited to the stuff my father could find at this one hold-out Beta store in New York, where he went on business several times a year. And this store seemed to have a stock made up entirely of cartoons made between 1925 and 1960.

And that’s why I know every Cab Calloway song and trees and houses that breath in rhythm seem completely normal. What?

This particular cartoon has always been one of my favourites, mainly because of how the mother cat turns into a bed and also because Fearless Fred is a mega dreamboat. And “let’s put out the lights and go to sleep” remains a solid solution for dealing with any problem. See? Betty Boop. More educational than Dora the Explorer.

The Aikido Network

February 11, 2011

My high school started in grade seven, but wee little seventh graders were exempt from exam week, and instead we were forced to participate in a series of random activities (a week which included, for some reason, a screening of Forbidden Planet, which completely baffled even the nerdiest of a very nerdy auditorium full of 12-year-olds in 1994). Anyway, my favourite of those activities was always Aikido (maybe because we were not just allowed, but encouraged to wear pyjama pants). Evidently, I liked it so much that I didn’t try it again for almost 20 years, when I wrote about it for the Post last week. It was a much more comfortable (for me) atmosphere than the high-aggression Krav Maga class I took a few years ago (I won’t lie, though, Krav Maga was pretty rad).

And apropos of nothing, last week’s Popcorn Panel was about The Social Network because nothing good is opening this winter so I’m getting caught up on Oscar nominees.

Canned popcorn

September 22, 2010

Don’t worry, Dad – just because I’m not on this week’s Popcorn Panel doesn’t mean I didn’t organize and edit it. It’s still my thing. I just needed to not watch couldn’t get to Resident Evil: Afterlife, but fortunately some wonderful panelists could.

In non-zombie news, I learned how to make pickles and jam last week. Dawn Nita is a cool lady who is great at putting all sorts of things in jars, and Good Eggis one of my favourite stores in Toronto.

Don Valley Parkland

August 23, 2010

I almost died to write this story for Saturday’s National Post. I love love love the Brickworks, especially their awesome Saturday farmer’s market, which sells the greatest waffle I have ever eaten in Canada, but man do they ever need better infrastructure for cyclists to get to them.

Right now, unless you take a complicated secret route of ravine paths from Rosedale, you have to bike on the Bayview Extenstion to get to them. I made the extremely foolish choice of taking Rosedale Valley Rd., which is one of those awesome Toronto routes that has a bike lane that doesn’t connect to any other bike lanes – it just spits you out onto the Bayview Extension which is, for all intents and purposes to a cyclist, a highway. With a very busted up and broken shoulder that is not a functional bike lane even though cyclists are technically allowed on the Bayview Extension. And then there are the parts where you have to dodge cars coming off of the Don Valley Parkway. As thrilling as this all was, it’s not exactly ideal.

Of course, once I finally got to the Brickworks in the most terrifying way possible, I realized the less death-defying route I should have taken in the first place. But then I wouldn’t be all hopped up on cyclist self-righteousness.

In other Don Valley secret cycling adventures, this weekend I biked the entire length of the Don Valley Rec Trail, which goes from Lakeshore Boulevard right up to Lawrence. The southern half of the trail is somewhat post-apocalyptic looking (remember that demented Canadian kids’ show The Odyssey? It looks like that), but once you get north of the Bloor Street Viaduct (a bridge whose true beauty is best appreciated from below; riding under it is my favourite part of the trail), it’s positively bucolic. Well, as bucolic as it can be, considering the occasional glimpses of highway. You ride through a bunch of hidden parks, including Lung Cancer Grove. I assume the name is intended to raise awareness of lung cancer, and not as a warning to passersby of the immediate risks of lung cancer within the grove, but you never know in this city.

Last week in class we went for a walk and talked about our feelings. After we made collages that represented what type of learners we are.

It was that kind of a class.

Our homework for class this week was to read the first chapter of Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences, which is a pretty self-explanatory and obvious theory to anyone who has spent any time with other people, ever. Different people are good at different things. Yup.

There’s not much to argue about in Multiple Intelligences – he describes each of the identified intelligences (linguistic, musical, kinesthetic, spatial, interpersonal, intrapersonal, logical, naturalistic), and offers examples of famous people who represent each skill set. What’s fun about Multiple Intelligences is thinking about yourself and all the people you know and pigeonholing them into one of these eight categories. Personally, my dominant intelligence is linguistic (I’ve been reading since I was 3, I’ve always been able to memorize the lyrics to a song after hearing it two or three times, and I even dream in words), followed closely by intrapersonal, which is just a polite way of saying I am extremely self-absorbed. Intelligences!

My spatial intelligence is weird. I’m terrible at estimating how many people there are in a room, or how much something weighs. I find the prospect of organizing furniture in a room overwhelming. But I’m great at eyeballing measurements in cooking.

While I was reading about kinesthetic intelligence (I do my best thinking while I’m riding my bike, does that count as kinesthetic intelligence?), I kept thinking about grade 8, and this kid in my class who couldn’t sit still. In most classes, that was a problem for our teachers, but in science class, Ms. L. was cool about it and let S. pace around at the back of the class. He still contributed in class (like most of the kids at my nerd high school – aside from me, anyway – he was an excellent student), he just did it while walking around. Anyway, I’m glad there are teachers out there who understand the need to pace.

A is for Adios

My keychain broke. Not a big deal, really. The keys are all still connected to the ring, so it’s not even an inconvenience. Just a busted fob, Mickey Mouse leaning against an A, brought back from Disney World for me by SJ almost 20 years ago, and attached to any keys I’ve had since I was old enough to lock things.

You don’t really think about your key fob, don’t consider that maybe Mickey Mouse stuck to an A is not exactly a sophisticated thing for a grown woman to carry around in her pocket every day, it’s just the thing that’s attached to your keys, it’s just there. Only when it breaks, when the little loop of metal snaps off of the fake leather band and clinks to the ground, do you marvel at the oddity of this decades old chachka, made in Taiwan, purchased in Orlando, attached to your keys since you’ve been old enough to have keys. It’s held keys to one car, three bikes, and nine different living spaces. It’s resided in who knows how many jacket pockets. It’s outlasted the friendship that bought it by 15 years.

It’s funny that the Mickey Mouse A should break this past weekend, because SJ has been on my mind lately. Blame Dalton McGuinty. The sex education kerfuffle was all over the news in Ontario last week, and I can’t think about sex education without thinking about SJ.

We all had that friend, right? The one who develops early, who knows girls who do bad things in parks with boys (or says they do), who teaches you lingo like “sucked his wood” and “popped her cherry”, who makes jokes you don’t understand about other girls smelling like fish.

In my sheltered childhood, SJ was an ambassador from Maturity, or at least what passes for maturity when you’re nine and clueless. She filled me in on all the “real” stuff I was too soft to figure out on my own, stuff she’d heard from her teenage uncle. But the problem with SJ, for all her worldly swagger? She was only nine, too. She didn’t know, not really. She just repeated bits of things she heard from her older cousins. Things about where body parts went and what happened to them, things that didn’t really make sense, but still sort of sounded true.

I was mystified by all this information and misinformation given and taken out of context. All I knew was that sexual maturity sounded horrible and I wanted no part of it and hopefully I would just die in some accident before the age of 13 so I wouldn’t have to deal with it (that was my morbid solution to a lot of things related to adulthood that I didn’t want to deal with). Finally, when I was about 11, I was at the Science Centre. Their Human Body section culminates in a very graphic display about the birds and the bees, including an interactive video about different types of birth control and how they work. That’s where I got it – when all the weird things I’d heard about what goes where finally made sense.

A little information, especially when it comes to sex, is a dangerous thing. It’s friends like SJ that make thorough sexual education from an early age very important. No euphemisms. No shame. Kids deserve to know how their bodies work, and how to keep them safe. I hope McGuinty keeps these things in mind while “rejigging” (or whatever the hell they’re doing now) the sex ed curriculum, and doesn’t bow to pressure from people who are trying to impose their own sexual hangups on the entire province.

Prepare for geekery: I am pretty much in love with lesson planning.

Now that we are learning practical stuff in my Artist-Educator class, like curriculum requirements, class is getting to be really interesting. This week was especially fun, because I was in an excellent group (we do a lot of group work, which is sometimes amazing, and sometimes annoying) and we made up a great media literacy lesson plan predicated on the game “2 Truths, 1 Lie” (if you went to theatre you probably played this game. If you didn’t, well, too bad you didn’t get a degree in lying like me). The curriculum itself is written in obtuse bureaucracy-speak, but it’s kind of fun to decode it and figure out how “describe how forms and styles of visual and media arts represent various messages and contexts in the past and present” can be translated into an engaging activity. (It’s not always easy. I don’t think the Ministry of Education wants learning to be fun.) After getting all depressed by Laura Penny’s diatribe about how levels of critical thinking and discourse are going down the toilet, I am particularly interested coming up with sneaky ways to teach kids how to think critically, like a media literacy ninja!

Creating a proper lesson plan is one of the big takeaway skills from this course – it’s one thing to come up with ideas about activities to do, but it’s even more important to figure out what order to do them in, how they prepare the students for what they’ll learn, how to develop their skills and confidence, etc. It’s a fairly intuitive process, but it’s not something I’ve ever broken down and thought about in terms of “preparation” and “development” and “application”, which is a helpful, organized way to create a lesson plan.

The other incredibly useful thing we’re starting to learn about now are “ages and stages”, that is, what kids are capable of at what ages, which is something I have only the vaguest inkling of from my own teaching experience, and a very important thing to keep in mind when creating a lesson plan. To personalize the information, we shared stories about our experiences at different ages, and it was a really nice way to get to know some of my classmates better.

So now we have to do independent projects in pairs, and getting our partners assigned was a bit of a nervewracking process: at the end of class last week, we each had to secretly write down the names of three people in the class we wanted to work with. It was terrifying, like speed dating, and you didn’t know if anyone would pick you and what if you got paired up with someone terrible and and and. But it worked out ok (for me, at least), because my partner is an incredibly talented writer whose work I have admired for a few years. (To be fair, we are the only two journalists in the class, so it’s not a crazy surprise that we’ve been paired up. But I am very pleased to be working with her.)

For next week, we have to read an excerpt from Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences. I will let you know how many intelligences I have after I read it.

(Beach) Balls

April 17, 2010

Researching this story in today’s National Post resulted in a colourful bruise that only started to fade yesterday, a week after I played. I don’t know if the sheer bizarreness of Beach Blast really comes through in my story. It’s a fun place, and I learned a lot about beach volleyball, but it’s pretty weird up there. I didn’t have room to mention the fact that they host bar mitzvahs (a beach volleyball Bar Mitzvah! That sounds insane even to me, and I once went to a bar mitzvah where former Montreal Canadian Steve Shutt had been hired to sign autographs!), or that all the coaches look like Matthew McConaghey (I think that’s just how beach volleyball players look – it’s not like you have many other career options when you look that way). I also didn’t have space to describe the owner’s adorable 4-year-old son who came over to me while I was interviewing his dad and started to talk up his bumping skills.

So if you have some driving urge to play in the sand indoors, and are tougher than me in the forearms, and want to hang out with a dude named Maverick, head up to Beach Blast.

Bet you thought that disjointed last post was all the arts education blather I had in me today, didn’t you? Nope! I promised myself I’d keep and account of my classes week by week, and I didn’t really write anything about what we actually did this week.

The course is designed for artists who want to teach in schools, so there’s been a lot of stuff about school and teacher culture so far. This week, the two instructors re-enacted a teacher-artist planning meeting, which was both instructive and entertaining. (Their fake planning meeting went very smoothly, and I was hoping for a second example that would demonstrate a less amiable meeting – I wanted drama!) The one thing that struck me most was that Michelle, as the artist going into a classroom, asked the Andrea (as the teacher) what her kids had been doing recently in class, so that she could plan to incorporate things that the kids were already familiar with and interested in into her own lesson plan. I really love this type of integration, and it really makes sense to me.

After their demo, we broke into groups based on our various disciplines (there are writers, musicians, dancers, actors, painters, sculptors, and more in the class – it was hard for me to choose between “writing” and “theatre”, since there is so much overlap for me, but I joined the theatre group) for one useless exercise that led into a more useful exercise where we started planning a project that we could take into a classroom. This is my favourite stuff – I had a great time coming up a puppet- and playwriting-based project that could be incorporated into an elementary level curriculum.

For next week, we’re to think about how a planning meeting with a teacher might go for this project, which I think I will do by way of scripting a little scene. We’ve also got a list of “teaching tactics” that we’re supposed to think about incorporating into our project. The tactics themselves aren’t bad, but the cutesy names are a bit much, and there are a couple that are sort of pointless and needlessly complicated (“Placemat” and “Lighthouse”, for example – can we please just brainstorm like normal people instead of wasting paper and time seriously come on!) But the tactics for getting the group’s attention and winding things up are helpful.