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.

Pow Wow

I did a pretty poor job of documenting everything at the Pow Wow today, but it was a wonderful event.  Chi-miigwech to the organizers who brought in so many welcoming engaging presenters, teachers, storytellers.  Somehow I managed to not get any pictures of folks in regalia, but I’ll add these if I get some from other teachers.  As you will see, hoop dancing is my favourite.

As usual, our students dove in with respectful enthusiasm, participating in everything from the sacred fire to dancing to puppet shows to drumming.   They’ll have to fill in the pictures with words when you ask them.  A great day.  AND IT DIDN’T RAIN!!

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Here’s the note I got from the Wintergreen folks today:

Thank you all for joining us today – what a true pleasure. Your students were all so well behaved and enthusiastic about the land. It was refreshing to see and made us feel as though this program was making an impact.  

This in spite of the fact that I left behind a bag of vomit from the bus trip up.   So the kids must have really impressed them!

Inquiry Projects Check-in

Hello folks at home.

Four-day weekend for your kids and I know that you and they are thinking at least some about these Inquiry Projects.  I thought I’d better have a little check-in.

This project is a bit of an experiment for me, to see what the students would/could do with it.  Generally-speaking I’ve been really impressed with their focus and their use of time in class.  One of the basic skills I was hoping to really introduce was that of taking notes and organizing these notes, and I think the journals have worked pretty effectively for this.  But I understand that research–especially Internet research–can seem overwhelming.  Which website is worth checking out?  What information is important or reliable?  Much of this relies on critical thinking skills that are pretty sophisticated, and we’re only in Grade 5!  Let’s not be overly stressed (while still trying to do our best)!

So:  what are we expecting to produce?

  • Some amount of coherent, organized writing.  For most students this should add up to at least a page or two of writing, organised into sub-topics or sections.
    • The writing may be arranged in “report” format, or in captions connected to images.  Several students are preparing theirs as a speech–they should be prepared to submit this in writing.
  • Some sort of visual presentation.  Check the report journal for options.  Here is the post with that description.
  • An oral presentation.  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.

do not expect that kids are spending their whole weekend on this project.  But many would probably benefit from spending a bit of time and checking in with you and also beginning to prepare their presentation.  Ideally their research is done, or will be done when they return to school next week.  But of course different kids are and will work at a slightly different pace.  We only have two days in class next week, and we will give as much of these days to project work as is likely to be productive.

The original timeline indicated that we would have project sharing in the week of May 29th to June 2nd.  I’d very much like to begin those that week but understand that it may be better to spread these out and that we may need the following week also.

Google Classroom

All students who have access to Internet should be able to access both Google Classroom and their Google Docs.  This is a powerful tool that I am still learning about. I have posted a new “assignment” which is basically a frame some students are using and others may choose to use to organize their research notes into sentences and paragraphs.  By taking the notes they’ve made in their journals (or in a Google Doc–some have done that) and writing them in this framework, they may be better able to see how much they have for each subtopic.  This may help them focus on a subtopic they need more information for.  They can edit and finalize their writing in this document and then copy and paste it into a Powerpoint, into Bookcreator or Explain Anything or to format and print off for a display or whatever.  Again, we will have time in class to work on these next week, but probably students are going to want to work at home also.

Hope this helps!  Check in next week if need be.