Deep Learning: Ensuring the “ISU” lives beyond the school and classroom.

A week ago today, on May 30th at Yorkdale Silver City in Toronto, the 4th Annual Ignite digital media showcase of creative works produced in Communications Technology at Chaminade College School came to life. It’s with this culmination of student learning that Ignite provided all invested in the program with a tangible and shared outcome; an experiential experience lived from applied knowledge (both theory and application), global competencies such as collaboration and the activation of the Catholic Graduate Expectations including but not limited to the Effective Communicator and Discerning Believer.

In leaving a system level position to pursue a resurgence in the classroom four years ago, the need to create a discourse for student learning that lived beyond the school building was of paramount importance. The new learning from a system level position as a resource teacher provided for a new scope and urgency to to re-engage in the physical space of the classroom. Ignite stems from that re-engagement and the promise to students that their learning will transcend traditional assessment and will provide for an authentic opportunity to create from self, for self and for an audience.

Now in its 4th year, the challenge is how to evolve the experience to provide the showcased students an opportunity to share their skills in real time; perhaps facilitating a community workshop in video production or graphic design in the theatre space. As such, beyond being a showcase it must evolve into a shared  community experience. Nonetheless, regardless of the next steps, the core principle of the event is not merely producing and projecting short films on the big screen or transforming the theatre’s concession area into an print and digital gallery, but to establish a shared experience and remind students that their critical and cultural voice matters . Film , is a cultural discourse and sharing in the theatre experience is like no other within the creative milieu.

Such events do foster so many rich opportunities to engage in “ed speak.” However, whether it be my experience facilitating a similar event titled “Digital” at St. Basil’s the Great College School or in my very early years of teaching in Niagara Falls and moderating the student production of a local community access television program, or in my years of organizing and managing the Focus Niagara Film Festival from 2002 – 2006, the promise of the “lived and shared experienced “ is transformational and a acknowledges that our students are more than a canvas for tests and quizzes and deserve true opportunities for deep learning that ensures that assessment is not merely “marking” but rather an opportunity to provided descriptive and ongoing feedback – allowing students to grow during the course of an activity and after.

The journey to such an event is magical and I’m continuously amazed by the students – not just for their technical skill but more urgently their critical voice and resiliency in changing, evolving and embracing the promise that assessment is learning and not just the evaluation of what has been submitted.

Don’t take it from me, here students reflect on their learning leading to Ignite 2018 .

Posted in Education, Media Literacy and Pop Culture, Student Voice, Uncategorized | Tagged , , ,

It’s not my Classroom: Reflecting on Cultural Responsive Pedagogy


If you’re a teacher, my sincere hope is that you can appreciate the need to serve students as individuals; recognizing that each child is shaped by a personalized narrative that can very much determine, or at least help shape, their success in a classroom. In working with students, its important for teachers to recognize their own philosophy of education. Mine, is quite simple: I want students to be active and mature citizens who value education as an extension of themselves. In my classroom, my concern isn’t merely the curriculum but rather that students leave with a critical sense of how my particular course can enrich their continued growth as a person. As such, the classroom space is grounded in the student and not curriculum. It may seem too sentimental, but students are the curriculum; their growth as human beings is the end goal and the focus in which teaching and learning is founded upon. This growth isn’t merely academic but importantly humanistic.

  • How has the student evolved as a person?
  • Do they see themselves or their world in a new way?
  • Have they been able to share their voice?
  • Have the been able to show what they know?
  • Have the been able to challenge or provoke thinking?

It’s with these questions in mind that I recently attended a conference on Culturally Responsive Pedagogy, where Karen Murray an administrator with the Toronto District School Board challenged teachers to embrace the reality of diversity and equity and to teach from and to it. Born out of or perhaps inspired by Constructionist Educational Theory, Cultural Responsive Pedagogy, recognizes the importance of the classroom and school as an adaptable and welcoming setting; recognizing individual students or the collective and ensuring, with intentionality, that the culture of the community (or the individual narrative) is embraced or leveraged in teaching and learning. Importantly, this notion of culture goes beyond such realities as race and gender and includes other cultural pillars such as GAMING.

A major industry that cannot be underestimated in his cultural depth and reach, “gamers,” of today are often active within collaborative or world building games that differ from the structures of their everyday. A world, with its own rules, regulations and language, the gamer verse is grounded not just in game, but connectivity, hardware and the perception of social connectivity and the potential success that potentially, does not extend to the “real world.” A film like Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One speaks to this so intimately. A narrative filled with avatars and conflict between the lived world and the gaming world, the film speaks to the challenges of “escaping reality” and the need to embrace not just reality but balance. It’s because of deep and complex emotional and psychological layers to gaming that teachers can’t easily displace its shaping of students, just like we can’t pretend that issues of race, gender, class, ethnicity and sexuality don’t play major roles in the lives of our students and that we as teachers don’t need to be responsive in our classrooms – we do.

As suggested by a fellow teacher at the conference, the classroom belongs to the teachers and students must adapt to the educator. In part this is true, as students must be resilient and adapt to expectations, but as public servants, the students as real people are the priority and teachers in the public trust must be adaptive themselves; responding to their “audience” and ensuring that education is immersive. As a teacher, I truly don’t see my role as “preparing students for the real world.” Although, I want them to be active learners who are resilient, responsible, disciplined, collaborative, creative, empathetic and innovative, I recognize that the “real world” that teachers often speak of, is not one that they’re necessarily a part of. For teachers, who refuse the open mindedness to embrace such thinking as Cultural Responsiveness (or PD in general), I wonder if they would be able to adapt to a corporate non-unionized structure that provides a mosaic of challenges.  As educators, specifically Ontario educators, we are guided by the Ethics and Standards of Practice above all else – this means we are responsible to the public trust. We can’t be non responsive.

In my own experience, I have grown so much from my intimate embrace of such principles of being responsive. As part of my Communications Technology course, the goal is to provide context as to why the study of popular culture holds critical merit. At the onset of the course, students engage in the critical screening and reading of popular film. In one particular course, I recognized that cultural grouping of my students and rather than watching a film that I traditionally teach to as an opener, I screened Jordan Peele’s Get Out and welcomed the opportunity to have real and pressing conversations about not only genre but race, representation and the colonization of body and mind. Furthermore, recognizing my limitations in addressing the African-American (and in my ways Canadian) experience, I leveraged Twitter to reach out to an authentic voice; Tananarive Due who teaches Black Horror Cinema at UCLA. As an African-African woman with a personal connection to the Civil Rights Movement and as a social advocate addressing today’s pressing issues, she not only educated me but spoke directly to the students in the room from a personal voice – something I couldn’t do. Also, not only did she speak to the politics of Get Out but she contextualized our future screening of Black Panther – providing a framework for Afro-futurism and why Black Panther is such an cultural responsive film in so many ways. It was in this experience that the classroom was not about me but rather the students and providing them all with an opportunity to see their world through a different lens and for many,  to see someone from their community, speak to the past, present and future; a future in much need of allies and advocates.

Here is an excerpt from our in class conversation where Tananarive Due addresses the notion of the “black erasure” in Horror Cinema.

In the end (or rather beginning), a teacher being Cultural Responsive is preparing students for the real world; a world that is layered with issues and one of much needed equity, justice and dignity. As such, perhaps the greatest goal we can achieve with including the actual student as a person in our teaching and learning is nurturing students to be cultural responsive themselves; good people who recognize their own lens and value the experiences of others.

Ultimately, the classroom doesn’t belong to me. It belongs to my students.

Posted in Education, Educational Leadership, Media Literacy and Pop Culture | Tagged

Encourage students to share their “Why.”


Over the course of the past few years , I’ve written and have actively advocated for the authentic integration of cross curricular portfolio design; not solely curating learning artefacts but building and sustaining a holistic digital presence including digital portfolios that showcase student reflective voice, artefacts of learning and highlighting a sense of who they are as an individual (hobbies, interests, etc.). Along with a portfolio , the leveraging of social media applications such as Twitter as an epicentre for connectivity, outreach and the sharing of an individual portfolio (and brand) is paramount. Recognizing social media as a new resume provides learners with a self-directed experiential discourse with the potential to support resiliency in asking for feedback , next steps and then applying such notes where, applicable .

In my work with educators in supporting the integration of cross curricular multimodal design and portfolio creation, I consistently assert that modelling is so urgent; building and sustaining a professional web presence that models the viability of connectivity with purpose and meaning . When having this dialogue with teachers, a common question arises:   “What is the point of this for students.”

My response goes something like this:

Imagine the excitement you had as young learner when you brought home work from school and it was put on the fridge for display – your work being showcased.  In the early years we readily celebrate the skills that go along with the work and the overall achievement (the artifact). We celebrate student learning, but later on in school life, the focus turns to marks, content, quizzes, tests and less about the artifact that is an example of students showing what they know.  Where is the student in this? The web is the new fridge and can open many opportunities for students to connect and potentially create experiential opportunities (intentionally or by accident). Sharing online is not about celebrity but rather possible connectivity; showcasing, reaching out to like-minded people, asking for feedback etc.


Now, coming from me, this means little. With a film and digital media background I have a deep connection to the notion of “exhibition” and the need to be your own PR firm. So, take it from two students who have shown a commitment to leveraging social media within a professional discourse; activating their entrepreneurial spirit to not just wait for doors to open but to create their own. Its within the portfolio and reflection that students can find the “why” to their learning and how they learn.

The video below highlights two students who have participated in a Gr. 9 STEM Portfolio Camp that I developed and have been moderating for three years.  This camp, intentionally scaffolds the principles of the Ministry of Ontario’s Creating Pathways to Success but also enriches the reflective portfolio experience by nurturing students to harness transferable digital skills to show learning across all subjects, effectively communicate and create a positive online brand.

Specifically, in regards to STEM education the camp that runs all year through face-to-face instruction and blended learning, reminds students that STEM is not just about Science, Technology, Engineering and Math but importantly the need to be effective communicators who can share ideas readily, examine the world through a reflective and cultural lens and recognize the importance of be self-directed learners who can discover and share their “why.”

It’s only two-minutes long – worth the watch.


Final thought:

Also, speaking to transferable skills, students must be able to leverage digital tools to communicate in a way that is accessible, easy to share and extends their ideas. Here’s a great example of how transferable digital skills can live beyond a tech-centered learning environment.

The following video was produced by Gr. 10 student Jimmy Huynh who not only has a enriched digital footprint but has used digital video outside of the tech classroom; in other courses of study and in extra curricular life.

Check out his video below.


Posted in 21st Century Learning, Education, Technology Education | Tagged , , , ,

Roseanne’s back. Are you watching?


25 million on its second Tuesday; now let’s starting talking.

Firstly, I’m an unapologetic fan of the Conner family since the show’s glory days. It’s with my excitement, to not just watch but write about the rival, that I paused in posting last week; taking time to reflect on the show’s resurgence and also wondering if its 18 million viewers spoke directly to 80s nostalgia.

With 25 million viewers last night, it’s safe to say that Roseanne returns like it began: with cultural fury.

As a media and communications teacher, here’s why Roseanne is worth the watch at home and school.

It’s been nearly twenty years since the Conner family made their exit from American television after a tremulous season that saw Dan pass away and the family win the lottery. As a fan of the show since its first season, I remember watching the final episode with a sour taste. This was not the Roseanne that challenged, provoked and changed the way I looked at my existence within a middle class neighbourhood.  Although, I was only seven years old when the first season aired and grew with the series through syndication, its working class origins (nothing new as a critical study of the series) was transformational. Unlike Tony Micelli in Who’s The Boss who is a product of immigration in search for the stability of the American Dream and finds it in Connecticut or the urban and visible minority community of 227 that shared lived experiences in an apartment building, the Conner family was a depiction of working class white Americans that was counter-intuitive to  80s mainstream television.

From returning home with minimal groceries due to a strict budget or calling utility companies and scheming out of late and past due payments (or later episodes including a major broadcaster’s first inclusion of a Lesbian kiss), the world of the Conner family painted an anxious portrait of day-to-day life; one outside the realm of the “traditional” American family first broadcasted on television in the 1950s or reimagined in the 1980s with The Cosby Show or Growing Pains.   It’s within the day-to-day struggle with wealth, employment and the complexities of raising children, that the show was a marvel upon its initial release; dethroning The Cosby Show as the number one rated show in 1989. Now, after twenty years, the show returns like it first began; with cultural fury. It’s within the context that Roseanne then and now is a great discourse to navigate cultural conversations about class and representation and the how progressive popular culture not merely entertains but rises out of and speaks to the political.

At the the core of the reboot or rather continuation of the series, currentl political discourse is very much in the DNA of the narrative; its intentional and speaks to current sociopolitical realities.  Darlene has returned home with her two children after being terminated from her job, D.J is home with his bi-racial daughter after completing a tour of duty in Syria, Becky is on the journey to be a surrogate for money and Dan and Roseanne continue to be plagued by the realities of the working poor. It’s within this framework enriched with conflict between sisters Jackie and Roseanne about the most recent election that the series, while entertaining, challenges the audiences’ own sensibilities. 

As I watched the first two episodes last week (and last night’s), it’s cultural bite and relevance was clear. Here’s a breakdown of key moments from the first two episodes:

  • As Dan returns home from the pharmacy he makes note that their health insurance doesn’t cover all of their required medication and the he and Roseanne swap pills and skim on their dosages.
  • Darlene has returned home and is trying to be balance her progressive views with that of her parents. This includes her nine-year old son Mark who is experimenting with his dress and thus challenging notions of societal masculinity.
  • Darlene shares with Roseanne that she feels embarrassed by her current unemployment and was hoping to “live in a big house” to hang over her mother’s head. This speaks to the shows grounded in generational poverty and struggle.
  • Becky, seeks to be a surrogate for money with the goal to pay of her credit cards, buy a car and not “worry about money.”
  • In fighting with Jackie about voting for Donald Trump (without directly stating his name), Roseanne asserts she was lured by the promise of change, jobs and that they almost lost their house during the Great Recession.
  • Jackie, now a life coach, speaks to the importance of women having control over their own body as Becky is challenged by her parents for her journey to be a surrogate.

With all of this, the show is not doom and gloom but rather is grounded, like in the past, with a sharp comedic tongue that reminds us that the notion of the American family is complex , diverse and popular culture does reflect and potential shape a sense who time and place.

Its within this cultural framework that speaks to current issues, that Roseanne is relevant both in the home and at school. It challenges – that is the intention. As a parent and teacher, the show forces you to engage with real conversations and by no means preaches on how to shape the dialogue. Just the same, the conversation that need to be had are real.

With 25 million viewers and counting, Roseanne is back!

Posted in Media Literacy and Pop Culture, Uncategorized | Tagged , , ,

What does assessment really mean? How do students know if they’re learning?

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Since the beginning of the new semester, I had the privileged to collaborate with education officers with the Ministry of Education – Student Achievement Branch with the goal to document student learning as it pertains to media literacy. The goal of the video series it to support teachers and provide them with a context that allows for critical literacy to be enriched with viable digital production; recognizing that as 21st century learners, students must be engaged in learning that activates transferable skills. It’s been a humbling experience to have my classroom efforts recognized while also applauding all of my students for their maturity, talent and willingness to learn.

The video series will document elements of the classroom experience – real world content – connecting with expert voice via social media – students creating – and culminating with the experiential experience of a student showcase in a public forum (Yorkdale Silver City). As the video series evolves, I have already grown from this experience; looking not merely at the end result of students producing short films for the big screen or other media artefacts such as posters, magazines, websites and more, but importantly, examining how my students learn and how they know if they’re learning.

That really is an eye opener as an educator: How do we know if our students are learning?

With this, the focus is not memorization or answers on quizzes, but the true understanding of material that allows for self-directed and life long learning.

How do we know and how do students then know or own their own learning.

This, has made me slow down in my teaching. Although I have always been committed to the experiential experience, I want to make sure that students have an opportunity to truly self-regulate; examine how they learn, potential next steps, etc. Finding a formal way is a work in progress but leveraging the practice of providing descriptive feedback (looking at assessment is learning), seems to be working.

For example, a student today asked if I could help him “figure out” Adobe Premiere, an editing software. As this student and his peers edit an original genre trailer they’re currently producing (students need to show their understanding of a respective genre’s cultural meaning and aesthetic tropes in the production), he recognized that his learning was limited. Rather than demising him with “you’ll learn by doing,” although this is very true, I asked what would help. He expressed that a video tutorial or a particular task to complete would help him learn – he needs to “see things” layed out for him. As such, serving him as a learner means that I will now create an editing challenge, supported with a video tutorial that I will create, which will allow him to learn (and hopefully ignite a curiosity to be self-directed).

In this case, the student recognized that his learning was limited and asked for the supports needed.

Looking beyond production, my deepest concern is growing media literacy as cultural literacy; can students be autonomous thinkers outside of the classroom content?   Can they actually think on their own – go deeper and make cultural connections?

Here’s a video that looks at how students learn. This video was shot on location at a theatre, when taking my students to see Black Panther. The video highlights both student critical literacy but how they own their learning – how learning grows outside of the classroom. I hope you enjoy the video – more to come.

Posted in 21st Century Learning, Education | Tagged , , , , , ,

It’s that time of year. The ISU (Does it Really Matter?)


Although its been nearly twenty years since I graduated high school, I remember that chapter of my life with incredible fondness and clarity. I remember the movies my friends and I went to see, the hijinks of school dances, romantic blunders, course of study and the good, bad and ugly of learning.  In regards to courses, whether it be English, Art, Technology, History, the ISU (Independent Study Unit) was placed upon me and my peers with great authority. Now, as a teacher, I often reflect on that time and the great amount of stress my teachers placed on the ISU; the percentage value was the driving narrative. Completing the ISU for a Grade 13 (this was back when we had OAC), course was as if you were being chased by the T-Rex in Jurassic Park; I was Jeff Goldblum, limping to the finish line hoping for survival and a place to hide out.

Today, like then, I wonder:

What really is the point of the ISU?

Who I am as a teacher, derives from my own experience as a learner both in high school and post-secondary. The two worlds are most definitely connected.

What I wasn’t in high school:

In high school, I wasn’t the academic over achiever I was in College and University. In high school I was entrenched in my goal of studying and making movies. I loved all things media and as a visual learner did not connect to most teaching styles. This was at a time before differentiated instruction was a pedagogical approach – learning was strictly taking notes and taking teacher information as gospel. (Remember, this was pre-Google and having immediate access to facts and other point of views).

Although I valued the importance of learning and moving onto post-secondary, I didn’t benefit from a culture grounded strictly in Quizzes, Tests, ISUs and Exams. It seemed all so purposeless; all internalized and did not motivate me.

For example, take my Gr. 13 English course. Although I was able to squeeze out a B (trust when I say it was a challenge to score that grade), the entire experience was sterile. Although, my teacher was a dramatic lecturer, helpful and importantly a good person, the experience was terribly isolating. I wrote strictly for marks and assessment (not knowing any better) as the sole end result. I worked for the grade but not the learning; I didn’t receive descriptive feedback but rather lengthy notes once a submission was made with no opportunity to resubmit (nor would I ask, as such a culture wasn’t in place).

As such, I’m not sure what I really learned.

Yes, I learned (to some point) how to write an essay, but I didn’t learn how to think critically, apply that to my world view, construct knowledge, show learning, share etc.

So, what about the ISU?

Like my time in high school, today I still wonder about the ISU. As I see students stressing days before their exams, is their ISU really worth all of the stress and drama? Is it something we do as teachers because it was what we did or is there room to reimagine?

Are students really learning with the ISU or are they merely doing?

Is the ISU serving student learning or are students serving the ISU?

It’s because I was looking to really learn something new,  that I choose College as my first post-secondary experience. Disenchanted by a high school experience that was linear in thinking, I was looking for something experiential (even though I didn’t know that term). It was while at Humber College’s Film and Television Production program that I found my academic grounding; a provocation that the work I was doing is learning, leads to a final project and the final project is going to be experienced. Unlike high school where I received my ISU mark on the exam day or not at all, my work in college was going to be lived and was shaped by constant feedback. This was game changing.

Further, my elective courses in Communications, English and the Humanities, served my specialized program in Film; teachers were teaching me to be a critical thinker and shaped what that could look like. Whereas in high school, I could memorize effectively, in college I learned to think. It was because I felt empowered by that thinking that I not only worked thereafter in production but successfully completed a BA in Film Studies with Distinction – working not for the marks but a love of learning (the great marks were a bonus).

With all of this, as students in my Communications Technology program finish their ISUs, the stress they feel differs. By no means, do I want them to share in my past experience; their ISU is about deep learning, collaborating, provocation. They are not working to serve the ISU but rather the ISU serves them to produce work that their proud of and that will be experienced (I’ve written about this recently) well after the term ends. By the time they “submit” they’re aware of their success because of descriptive feedback.  Their learning isn’t isolated.

I suppose, as so many of my students are now running around completing ISUs, I only hope that their not running from their own T-Rex.  If they are, it may be time to reimagine the ISU and what is really stands for.

Here’s an example of a Gr. 12 ISU from my College/University Comm-Tech class. All projects, will be screened at Yorkdale Silver City – ensuring that the ISUs are lived and shared.

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Parents. Are you watching Andi Mack? You should.


If you’re like me and have young children at home (my daughter is 7 and my son is 4), then you’ve probably heard of, or have at least watched, one episode of Disney’s Andi Mack. If you haven’t, this is a show that is both for you to watch, reflect and navigate and for your children as they grow to understand who they are, friendships, diversity and the importance of inclusion. Where as recent Disney pop-culture artifacts such as Descendants 2 was painted with a hyper racist lens that vilified and misappropriation blackness, Andi Mack represents the maturity that a major broadcaster can demonstrate when it comes to addressing and importantly representing “otherness,” on screen.

Let me begin by stating that I unapologetically love this show. In many ways, it really is the This is Us for early teens, tweens and preadolescents. With the narrative of young Andi Mack so dependent on the relationship between the past and present, it presents like This is Us, the complexity of family, choices, relationships and importantly the art of moving forward. If you’re my age, you may remember the early 90s and short lived series My so called Life. Like that show, Andi Mack doesn’t shy away from the realities of the current day; progressive and liberating. 

For those, who have no concept of the show, young Andi is an intelligent, charming, innovative and creative Tween (in season 1) who’s life becomes unexpectedly complicated when she finds out an long seeded secret – that her older sister Rebecca, who is estranged for her parents, is really her mother. In having Andi as a teen, Rebecca was sent away and consequentially never truly returned home. As such, Andie’s grandparents acted as surrogate parents with her mother/grandmother laying down a foundation for discipline and expectation. Andi, like Rebecca, is bi-racial (Asian and Caucasian American) and as such, her existence is grounded in finding the balance between old tradition and new, while respecting and embracing who she is as a person, daughter, granddaughter and friend all while having a maturity to be reflective and to be a self-advocate. 

It’s with this, that the show runners have created a “kid show” with rich maturity and a range of emotional intelligence. From Andi to her African-American friend Buffy (who is stereotypically athletic but progressively, and equally intelligent and self-directed as she navigates pre-teen life as her mother serves in the U.S. military and leaves a void), to Cyrus (the boy of the group who feels inadequate as a result of the strains that come from divorce, re-marriage and navigating step-parents), each episode provides a teachable moment when watched through a critical lens.

As a parent that is really my personal goal; to allow my young kids to escape and be entertained but to also leverage the time spent together on the couch to shape critical literacy, allow for questions to be asked and to also quietly observe how the kids react to narrative and messaging; perhaps not addressing big ideas in the immediate but taking cognitive note.

This speaks to the show’s most progressive narrative piece thus far. Beyond Andi trying to bring her once teen parents back together within the frame of what she perceives as a “traditional family,” to her mother Rebecca’s rejection of her ex’s proposal or the interracial coupling of both Andi and Buffy with two Caucasian boys, is the narrative of Cryus’ sexual discovery; when he recognizes that while having a girl friend he has feelings for Andi’s boy-crush. This is not to say that Cryus pursues such feelings, but rather the particular episode allowed for his character to verbalize his “internal conflict” and bravely embrace who he is. In conversation with Buffy, he shares the awkward feelings he’s having – cautious and uncertain of Buffy’s reaction. Buffy, emotionally grounded, mature and loving, ensures that Cyrus feels loved and confident in who he is.

As evident in the scene below, the writers, directors and show runners create a touching scene that voids exploitation or dismissal  but provides not only the characters but us at home with a cathartic moment that is real for so many people – not just adults.


It’s with this brave programming, that promotes inclusion and respect that we as parents are reminded that our children are multifaceted and in the case of Cyrus, our children need to feel and be loved – accepted for who they are and not who we want them to be. As such, as a parent, I must ensure that the door is left open for the honesty that this show promotes so richly through the lens of children. 

Andi Mack airs Monday’s on the Disney Channel – don’t miss it.

Posted in Media Literacy and Pop Culture | Tagged , , ,