An Interview with Melanie Mulcaster

Melanie

the_mulc” is a teacher-librarian with the Peel District School Board who is slightly obsessed with the Hunger Games, reading, making, tech and laughter. Like Coconut Joe, a legend in her own mind.

Doug:  My first question in these interviews is always the same.  Do you recall when our paths first crossed? 

Melanie:  Well I’ve been following you (and all the other active Ontario teachers you recommend) on Twitter for years. We have several mutual acquaintances. I met you for the first time face to face at EdCamp London. There’s something so exciting about meeting people face to face that you feel like you’ve known for years….you ARE real!

Doug:  And you ARE real too!  I believe that we were both in the library when we met.

You have a very active social media persona.  How do you decide what you wish to share with others?

Melanie:  Sometimes I think I share too much. As an educator though, I remind myself, isn’t it our moral imperative to help others in their learning? I’m not gatekeeper, that’s for sure!  I remember hearing Dean Shareki speak about sharing and his words are the ones I try to live by (I may have paraphrased).

“You shouldn’t feel guilty about sharing too much. But you should feel guilty about not sharing anything”.

When I share, it is my intention to share our successes, struggles and questions about learning – whether they be intentional or not – with the goal that our experiences might be of assistance to others. Through documentation and amplification of learning, it is hoped that others will share their thinking with us so we can continue to grow as learners.

Doug:  So let’s name names.  It’s the summer and there are perhaps people diving into social media for learning for the first time.  Who would you recommend that they connect with?

Melanie:  Well Doug, how many characters am I allowed? 🙂

My passions lately have been for design thinking, make writing, and the documentation of learning. Some key inspirations for me have been:

However, there are far too many to list – I follow so many unsung heros.

Doug:  Thanks for the restraint!  That’s certainly a nice list.

Staying with the summer theme, I just know that you’re not just sitting still.  What are your personal learning plans for the summer?

Melanie:  So far, I’ve been to MakerEdTO, taking my Librarianship Specialist AQ, on a few writing teams, catching up on my reading and prep for Global Read Aloud and wanting to participate in a Canada Learning Code workshop. The last one may not happen :} … my kids are telling me to slow down. But it’s not working it’s learning I remind them…

Doug:  I like that you make a distinction here.

Are you leading any professional learning sessions over the summer and into the fall?

Melanie:  Nothing scheduled for this summer (I’ve been working on my own PD :), but into the fall I will be presenting with my peers at #BIT18. I haven’t been at this conference for the past few years, so I’m excited to return. There are some other opportunities I’m looking into as well.

Doug:  How about EdCamps?  What are your thoughts about the philosophy behind them?  Where is the value for the learning educator?

Melanie: I really like the concept about workshops for teachers BY teachers and self directed PD. It’s grassroots learning at its best by educators already entrenched in the process. It’s low key, low stress, and a great way to connect, learn and grow from and with your peers. I love the free flow of it all – nothing prepared, just spontaneous learning.

Doug:  What’s your favourite term – Library, Learning Commons, Resource Centre, something else?  What’s in a name and why?

Melanie: I like Library Learning Commons because it represents what this space has evolved into. It’s a hub of activity and learning, a place where all can find the resources and information they need to pursue their interests. It’s a place for learning, sharing, exploration, reflection and discovery. In this space we are in the pursuit of the creation, not consumption of knowledge – and knowledge building is showcased in many text forms.

Doug:  Can a library be staffed effectively by someone who is not a teacher-librarian?  Why or why not?

Melanie: I honestly don’t think so. All libraries support learners with resources tailored to their interests, skill sets and passions. However, the end of the day, in a school library learning commons we are still bound to the curriculum. Who else is better to help make these connection for students than someone who is waist deep in the learning? Would you go to the dentist to get your shoe fixed?

Doug:  Absolutely not!  Think of your traditional library.  (whatever that is) What would be five things that you’d absolutely get rid of, with no hesitation at all?

Melanie:  Encyclopedia sets, DVDs, a full computer lab setup, books with non- inclusive themes, clunky old furniture that can’t be moved easily.

Doug:  OK, those things are gone.  What would you replace them with?  Price is not an option. Well, within reason.

Melanie:  I would replace the encyclopedias and DVDs with access to online databases (which we already have) and create video tutorials linked to QR codes around the LLC to teach students how to use them. (I haven’t done this yet – it’s a good thing summer’s not over)

The full computer lab setup? I wouldn’t remove all the computers, but most of them for a well rounded set of technology that can be a bit more mobile. Having CPUs is still essential – there are times where you still need one, and it’s nice to have a variety of resources. And when I say technology, I mean an assortment of low to high tech items. A loose parts collection, in my belief is essential for any learning environment.

I think it’s important for us to look at our collection with a critical lens and curate resources that students in our community see themselves reflected in. Whose voice is present in our learning commons? Whose voice is missing and needs to be heard? I think building a collection that is reflective of the needs of our community is paramount. Canada is a country full of stories that need to be heard and shared. Our story is everyone’s story.

Having furniture that is easily movable is important for an ever changing space. I can’t tell you how many times we switch up the furniture depending on what we want to do. Moving tables and shelves with castors and wheels maximizes time spent making the space so much more flexible for learning.

Doug:  Your Twitter profile indicates that you are Raspberry Pi certified.  What does this mean? What have your done with your abilities?

Melanie:  Through the Raspberry Pi Foundation, I attended a two day workshop in Ann Arbour MI last year to learn about all the possibilities for learning with the Raspberry Pi. It was an amazing experience – I often don’t have the time to tinker myself and this is exactly what I needed.

I have shared my learning and the resources offered through the Raspberry Pi Foundation with my colleagues and students across Ontario. Our school participated in the Astro Pi initiative this year which was exciting. I have connected with other Canadian Raspberry Pi educators and am hoping to attend more Raspberry Pi Jams in the future. Maybe organize one of our own?

Doug:  iPad or Chromebook.  If you could have one or the other which would it be?  Why?

Melanie:  Ummm…it depends on what I’m using it for? There are things that I use my iPad for that I wouldn’t use a Chromebook for. For quick tweeting and the creation of some multimedia presentations, I use the iPad (I also read a lot on my iPad). It depends on my purpose? And truth be told, I prefer my laptop any day over a Chromebook because I can download more applications – and word process –  it’s more robust. Although I suppose if I had a keyboard to go with my iPad, I would choose it over a Chromebook? Was this question supposed to be this complex?

Doug:  Actually, yes, that was the actual intention.  So many people are wrestling with this question.  Of course, it would be nice to have it all.  But, that isn’t realistic.

In Ontario, we have a new government, Premier, and Minister of Education.  If your phone rang tomorrow and you were asked for advice about modernizing Ontario schools, what would you recommend?

Melanie:  I would ask how we are honouring student voice and choice in learning. I would ask us to focus on issues that matter to our students – and find out where our students see a need for change  – especially in our indigenous communities. I would ask them to consult our students first before making any drastic changes. Controversy over proposed curriculum changes? What do our students think they need to be prepared for?

Let our students guide our learning before we throw out massive amounts of money to implement changes that do not matter enough to the students we teach.

Doug:  Those who follow Melanie Mulcaster know that she doesn’t sit still for long.  What’s in the future for you?

Melanie:  I honestly don’t know! I feel on most days I’m just mucking through like the rest of us. I’d love to continue to build capacity for making with schools – using making as a means to purposefully and intentionally get students (and teachers) excited about learning.

I’d love to help all learners re-discover the joy and playfulness of learning and I think making could be a vehicle for that with the right pedagogical framework.

One idea I have floating around in my head is to create a website where I can begin to post examples on how making can elevate learning experiences that relate directly to the curriculum while honouring student voice and choice. The ultimate goal is to share this website with our learning community so we can continue to build meaningful and valuable experiences together.

I’d also like to continue to explore the documentation of learning in our makerspaces. What does making really mean for our learners? How might we all, as learners, document and share and reflect on learning experiences? Peter Skillen often says, making does not equal constructionism – necessarily” and I wholeheartedly agree. Our students may be making, but they may not be learning. What are we doing to share and reflect so that we know new knowledge is being built? How do we make this visible?

Doug:  For those who haven’t connected with you (yet), tell us something about yourself that we don’t know.

Melanie:  My family knows this, but I am addicted to Home and Garden television. I could watch House Hunters, or Tiny House Hunters for days 🙂 (but I rarely do…because I’m either reading or learning). I’m addicted to reading young adult novels. Peeta from the Hunger Games is my teenage self’s imaginary boyfriend. I’m also a bit of an all or nothing personality. I eat the whole bag of cheesies or none at all. And sometimes I eat cheesies while reading – a  cardinal sin….

Doug:  Thank you so much for taking the time for this interview.  I appreciate it and I know readers will as well.

If you’re not connected with Melanie now, connect here:

This interview is part of a series of interviews that I’ve conducted with very interesting people like Melanie. You can see all of the interviews here.

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3 thoughts on “An Interview with Melanie Mulcaster

  1. Yay! As a person that many people see as an “energizer bunny”, I have to say that Melanie makes me look like I’m standing still. You really captured her passion and enthusiasm here. She’s such an amazing educator.

    Liked by 1 person

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