O.K., Homework

First: we did it!  5 triangles with only five lines!  Here is a picture in case you hadn’t figured it out yet.  It was good to hear from students that some of them had puzzled away with family members on this–I hope nobody lost any sleep!


There isn’t much evidence that tons of homework helps most anyone get better at most things, and after a long day stuck at school I’d like to think students are playing outside, having family time such as playing board games or helping to prepare dinner, or pursuing their own interests.

However…The homework I will assign will often be:

  • “Ask me about…” or “Please discuss…” kinds of messages that are meant to stimulate conversation.  This is also what the blog is about.  Your asking your child to discuss or explain what’s going on at school is a way for them to deepen their understanding (teaching is also learning!), to help you understand so that you can help out, or to generate new questions to bring back.  It is my hope to link school and home as much as possible.
  • Orthography investigations like the <sign> matrix this week.  These are meant to link you to the nature of the work we’re doing as “word scientists.”  (More on this next week).
  • Times tables!  Yes, those old favourites!  While we will be doing lots of open-ended math exploration this year, students must improve their automaticity with their number facts, including the multiplication tables.  We simply cannot do enough of this at school, so it really must become a part of the home routine.  Try this at home:  “Pass the potatoes please, Mom.”  “Certainly my dear, but first–what is 3 x 7?”  Do not withhold food from your children for math reasons, but you get the idea: insert this practice wherever you can.   The internet has given us some funner ways to work at these.  In the menus at left there are links under “Mathematics” to some decent online practice sites.  But drilling from the table in their agenda is just fine also.

If you have any thoughts, questions or ideas about any of this, let me know (in the comments below or in a note or visit).  Have a great weekend–see you at the Demolition Derby!

Today’s Math Challenge!

After working on some number patterns and tables I threw out the following challenge:

My friend Dan says it’s possible to make 5 triangles with only 5 straight lines.  Try it!

A very busy period of fiddling and figuring and some very fired up thinking then occurred!   Some fine outside the box thinking included:  using the edges of the paper; overlapping the triangles; using a circle.  We discussed.  I shared that there was at least one solution where all 5 triangles were separate.

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At the end of the period, several students found such a solution, but most were still thinkering away.  See if you can figure it out together tonight!

Our Thinkers are Working!

Sorry if you are getting notified about this post a second time.

Hello folks!  The First Week has happened, and what a time we have had!  Thank you for sending your sparkling children each day.  The level of engagement and enthusiasm has been high– unhindered by the water dripping through our ceiling or spraying down the hallway (don’t worry, everything is under control now)!

As a trained professional, I had a few goals for the week:   First, I wanted to establish that we are going to be challenged!  The very first thing we did together was read one of my favourite poems, by Emily Dickinson.  Even though I began by warning (exclaiming!) that poems can be like puzzles, the first couple of read-throughs brought slightly outraged exclamations of “This doesn’t make any sense!”  It was an opportunity to see that by working together, and keeping our minds open, we could find the sense.  And, as it happens, the poem’s message about the power of minds and imagination was a good one to start the year with.

Click on this image to make it bigger!

Second, I wanted to begin establishing the idea of community, including the understanding that communities are diverse and that we have to find ways of understanding and supporting these differences.  Of course, these kids have been around, so they know exactly what the teacher wants to hear during these conversations, but–bless their hearts–they don’t seem at all cynical.  Opportunities this week to work together in various groupings, to tackle challenges, to journal and share and introduce their peers, have all been beginnings.  Among the activities that maybe made its way home was the story of The Three Brothers (beter, Bopdy and Davip), the first of a series of activities we’ll do about how our brains and learning needs can differ.

And so…

Sometimes I actually do not know what is going to happen with an activity (which is sometimes the point).  The First Day of School seemed a good time for one of these.  I provided each of three groups a package of symbols and asked them to act like archaeologist/detectives.  Can you find some meaning in these symbols, and do you think you can put them in a logical order?  This worked more beautifully than I could have hoped for.  Students were very quick to grasp and embrace the dual roles that mathematics guru Jo Boaler calls The Skeptic and The Convincer.  Rich conversations, multiple theories, and vigorous arguments followed!  On the second day, each group shared their working hypotheses as well as their reasoning.  I particularly loved the idea that this might be a coded alphabet, based upon the observation that there were–completely by accident on my part–26 symbols!  As one of our young scholars discovered, this is actually the numerical system of the ancient Maya, and the key to finally grasping all the symbols was seeing that this was a base 20 system (as opposed to our own base 10 system).  We had a splendid time messing about with this afterward, in which we found ourselves reviewing our own number system and having to do some nifty calculating to understand the Mayan system.

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Yes, click on this image also to make it bigger!

Thursday, we had another numberish challenge (also courtesy of Jo Boaler).  If, as we all agreed, 5 twos is 10, can 5 twos also be 24?  Or 15?  After some playing about with that, students were given the task (independent or collaborative, most chose the latter) of seeing if they could find ways to make 4 Fours equal each of the numbers up to 20.  Again, the thinking was rich and the conversation lively–bringing in various operations, as well as the interesting concept of Order of Operations.  Homework:  (Parents, I hear your mouths watering with excitement).  Let’s see how many more of these we can fill in by the end of September!  Go!

And finally, a perfect wrap-up to the week’s investigations was our discussion of Spelling.  Or…Not Spelling.  Or…well, Word Science.  Well, in fact, just Science.  We are headed into a year-long (life-long) exploration of the English writing system that I will share in more detail later.  The following are all the concepts the students generated in response to the central question, What do Scientists Do?  Honestly, every one of these ideas came from them.

Can we really do “Spelling” this way?  Yup.  But really, I hope that this collection of ideas will guide our inquiry all year, in all subject areas (including Science).

As long as our Thinkers are turned on (and I think they are)!


P.S.   If you are here, the Blog is working!  I promise that not all the posts will be this long!  I will post weekly–sometimes more, sometimes less.  Sometimes it will be a quick shot of information; sometimes it will be more descriptive as above; sometimes it will be the students’ voices and words and video.  Along the way, I welcome your thoughts and questions and comments:  we’re in this together!






Morriseau and Janvier

All term, we have explored the relationship between the First Peoples of Canada and the Europeans who founded New France, the fur trade and ultimately Upper and Lower Canada.  A challenge for me is to avoid representing our Indigenous People as “historical”–ensuring that we understand they are an enduring part of our modern society, without having to badly teach another 200 hundred years of complex history.  The Pow Wow was an excellent opportunity to see ancient culture in modern context.  Another is The Arts.  (See “A Tribe Called Red” two posts back).

We haven’t had so much time for this, but a little while ago we looked at Norval Morriseau.  To balance an appreciation for his incredible art while also avoiding just “copying”, I spoke about Morriseau’s inspiration and process, and how he painted quickly, almost in a trance, often working on multiple paintings at one time.  Then I put on some soothing naturey music and said, Go!  Paint!!  As usual, it was pretty interesting to see them get into it and the results were predictably rough, but energetic.  Here we were interested in process over product.


Today, we were introduced to the amazing and original work of Alex Janvier, a Dene/Saulteaux painter from Northern Alberta.  (In March, I went to a huge exhibition of Janvier’s work, which I was totally unfamiliar with, at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa).  We watched an interview with him, and then explored images of his paintings, which are abstract and unique.  We talked about his experience in Residential School from the age of 8.  We talked about his discovery of art, and his influence by European artists such as Paul Klee and Kandinsky.

I put out watercolour paper, compasses, rulers, crayons, pencil crayons, and paint.  Then, I put on woodsy music and off we they went.  This time, process was important, but not speed–a balance between free-flowing line and careful application of shape and colour.  I don’t know that the students are really channeling Janvier or nature doing this, but the results were original and cool.  Good way to spend a bunch of our last Friday together.

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Some of the things we did on the First Day of Summer

Today is the First Day of Summer, the Solstice, the Longest Day of the Year.  It is also National Aboriginal Day and the day about 2200 years ago that a guy called Eratosthenes figured out something nobody had ever figured out before.

So, we made cornbread!  This traditional treat of our Indigenous peoples has been on our To Do list for a while now, so this seemed like a good day for it.  The addition of maple syrup, another gift from our first people, just made it better!

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We finished a chapter of The Birchbark House, a challenging but very real-feeling novel about an Anishinabe family living near Lake Superior around the time the European traders become a bigger presence on their land.  The change and challenges this brings is hard to read about, but the story is very powerful.


We also listened to an awesome Canadian band called A Tribe Called Red, who take traditional Indigenous sounds and themes and shape them with contemporary sounds to make something new and original.  I think they are awesome, a great example of how  Indigenous artists and innovators are injecting newness into our culture in lots of ways.

Party on!  May not be your thing, fair enough, some of the kids thought it was cool.  Jayce had the maturity to say, “It’s not a kind of music I like, but I appreciate the concept.”  (Admission:  I actually feel the same way about cornbread).  The message I get from the music of A Tribe Callde Red, especially important after the sadness of The Birchbark House, is:  we’re still here.  That’s worth celebrating.

Later on, just after Noon, we gathered around the flagpole in front of the school and talked about what it means that this is “the longest day of the year”.  We looked at the shadow from the flagpole and talked about why the sun isn’t directly overhead here at Noon.  Then we watched this clip from the old, old TV show Cosmos, with Carl Sagan.  In it, he tells the story of Eratosthenes (fun to say) and how he used an old story about the sun on the Solstice to calculate the circumference of the Earth.   As we watched, we tried to do the concluding and figuring ourselves.

Which is really just the same lesson from my old mentor that I’ve been trying to get out there all year long:

scholars (scientists) notice things.

That’s all:  to just open our eyes and really look (with our thinkers engaged) is all that learning is.  Happy Summer!




Fun Fair Basket

Thanks to everyone who has already contributed to our basket!  In case you missed it:

Hello good people at home,

As you know, next Thursday, June 23 is our Family Fun Fair, a great celebration at the end of the school year and an important fundraiser.

One of the Fun Fair traditions is that each class puts together a themed basket, which is raffled off.  The money raised supports purchases of technology, books, gym equipment and field trips.

The theme of our class basket is Summer Road Trip!  Please consider picking up something this weekend that could be added.   We brainstormed some ideas, and here they are:

Snacks! sudoku Magazine, comics Fidget spinner or car games
Dice Audio books DVD Favourite kids music
Book Drawing materials Frisbee, soccer ball sunscreen
Sunhat, sunglasses Water bottles …any other great ideas that you have!

It would be so helpful if these arrived early next week, so that we can get the basket ready and decorated.

Thank you thank you thank you thank you!


The Grade Fives and everybody at Centennial

See you there!

Projects and Fidget Spinner Day!

Inquiry Projects

Very quickly, the project presentations have started and–phew!–the kids have really done so well!  As an experiment in “open” inquiry, I am really pleased with the overall results. There’s already been a good variety of media used, and even some edibles!  While the process really was the biggest point for me (and I hope for them), the product is so far demonstrating that they have a) a deeper understanding of the subject they’ve dug into, and b) a continuing desire to learn.  Questions leading to questions–that’s inquiry!

Next Friday, June 9th, we would like to invite you to our class to talk to us about our projects, ask questions and so on.  I think we’ll do it last block, so 2:00 to 3:00.  Come if you’re able.  


Fidget Spinner Math Day!

The biggest risk to holding a day built around fidget spinners was that people who previously had no interest in them would fall in love with fidget spinners, including me.  And yes, I do really like the things–they’re kinda cool and pretty addictive.  (But more on that later).  We had some fun, and applied/practised a wide variety of math skills:  addition, multiplication, division, subtraction, calculating averages, using calculators, time, linear measurement, tons of stuff around data management.  Tomorrow we’ll use the data to do some graphing and further analysis of our results.  It felt like real science.  (And full disclosure:  I didn’t think up most of these activities–the idea of building a day around the gadgets just made sense to me).

So, tomorrow is also June 1st, the day we (okay, I) declared the beginning of Fidget-Spinner-Free Month!  Here’s the thing:  they really are a pain in class.  Even today, we could see that anybody with one in reach could hardly focus on instructions.  Yes!–some people (including me) really do pay attention better if they are doing things with their hands.  Your child may be such a person.  But two months ago, nobody needed a fidget spinner and lately about 18 people have.  Any such aid requires some training and understanding.  There are lots of other, quieter options that can be used in their desk, in their pocket, without detracting from the attention of everybody around them.  And, alas, in spite of my repeated efforts to put in place “proper use” guidelines, there have been times where so many of them are visibly spinning I start to feel dizzy.

Sometimes it is like a mini autobody shop in the middle of any given class, with little spinners in various pieces all over desks.  As cool as that kind of exploration is–not in the middle of…well, you get it.

So, hooray for the fun and active learning today, a good reminder of what math should look like maybe more often!  Hooray for awesome kids!  Hooray for the amazing technology of ball-bearings and the dynamics of gravity!  

And thanks for leaving your fidget spinners in your backpack or at home.   Hooray for that!

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I’ll end this post with how the day started, creating a little fidget-spinner poetry.  I began (and later ended) the poem, a collection of rhyming couplets.  I’ll leave it to you, our readership, to decide if these little gadgets are improving our poetic abilities:

The Magic of Fidget Spinners


He said, “I’m taking these spinners, they are driving me mad!”

But he didn’t know the magical powers that the spinners had.

Joe took his spinner out of his pocket,

He spun it quite fast–it turned into a rocket!

Fred put his spinner into his hand

And all of a sudden, it turned into sand!

Jeff put his spinner in his hand,

And suddenly he turned to sand!

Yuma spun his awesome  Lego spinner,

He went to a fair, and he was the winner!

All colours of fidget spinners there in the store,

When one got bought there were a thousand more!

My fidget spinner red and black spun super fast

Then there was an atomic blast

I had a fidget spinner, it spun and spun

And then it flew into the sun

I had a pocket full of spinners,

But when I spun it turned into My dinner

I had spun a spinner that was very disturbing,

It was a terrible habit hard to be curbing!

Nobody in the world was interacting

The spinner was just too distracting!

Liam had 5 spinners but bradley had none

…But bradley had a nerf gun.

Some spinners are rainbow, yellow, green and cool

But mine is the only one who can spin in the pool!

As the spinner spins the world around fades

When it’s very sunny outside it turns everything into shades.

Ehk’lu spun Trinity’s favorite spinner .

It went so fast it was always the winner.

There’s blue there’s green there’s purple and pink

Fidget spinners are magical and I think they just winked.

Fidget spinners can do many things,

But mines the only one with wings.

Laying in bed spinning light

To keep you from feeling any fright

And so…did the teacher change his mind?

Not much chance, I think you’ll find.





Inquiry Project Presentations

Hello folks!  On Wednesday, we spent time together deciding how we wanted to organize the presentations of the projects.  Everyone signed up for one day over the next two weeks, with no more than three presentations per day (so we can give them the attention they deserve).   Below is the schedule as it stands.

As I said before, the “presentation” is not meant to be a big deal.

Not a speech (necessarily).  But the capacity to:

  • stand up and share what they have;
  • maybe answer some questions to show that they are an “expert” on their topic (compared to the rest of us) and to show that they have learned;
  • talk about their learning experience.

On Friday, June 9th, we will end the day with a Project Fair.  You are welcome to come between 2:00 and 3:00 to see what the children have been studying and ask them questions.