Cell! Cell! Cell!

We are beginning to explore Human Organ Systems, probably the unit of study with the greatest gross-out awesomeness potential.  Yesterday and today we discussed cells.  Not an easy topic, and not central to our study (they’ll com back to cells in Grade 8), but it will keep coming up so it seemed a good idea to try and look at some.

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A wee apology and an update

A couple of weeks ago I did a post about orthography and highlighted videos the students had made about twin bases.  I also commented on some of the things that, after watching the videos, I felt were going to need some more emphasis.

In the blur of that week, however, I missed a video!  Never saw it, never posted it, and while I recall wondering about where the work of these students went, just never got back to it.  And the students, Abbu, Ethan and Ryan are the Three Students Most Likely to Never Speak Up About Being Neglected.   Then–yesterday–I found it!  And it’s a really good little summary of what we know about twin bases with exactly the emphasis on meaning that I was looking for!

So, with apologies to Ryan and Ethan and Abbu (and the hope they will be more on my case in the future) I present:

I really appreciate a couple of things about this investigation, including what it show about these scientists’ ability to question their own findings and seek supporting evidence.  But what I most love are the questions I am left with, such as do twin bases only come from Latin roots?  I love it when our learning leads us to new learning.

Winter Solstice Feast

My film making skills could not do justice to the gorgeous food and good feelings of our feast today.  It was a very sweet time–a time to celebrate our little community, and to feel gratitude for having food when so many in the world (and here in Kingston) do not have enough.  I felt very lucky to be here, with these kids.  I was delighted to see how many tried something they had not before.  The “Dump Punch” was apparently kind of sour but Dara figured out that eating a pickle right before magically made the punch seem sweeter!

Stretching our learning through intense attention to words

win-dixieWe are currently reading one of my favourite books:  Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo.  It is a book rich in humour and sadness and complex language (and which I try to read with a Florida accent).  On Friday, we encountered the word <melancholy>–one of my favourite words, in that it means “sadness” but sounds to me like a flower.  Ask your child about the word  and how sad and sweet are unexpectedly combined in the last chapter we read (bonus points if anyone can remember what the <ch> pronounced /k/ denotes).


Abdul’s hypotheses for . (I am still hoping someone will take on an invstigation of the word , which baffles me).

If you saw the post on Orthography from a week or so ago, you may recall me noting that we needed to dig a little deeper into meaning.  Earlier this week, I gave the students a copy of one chapter from Winn-Dixie and asked them to record words they spotted as complex, confusing or new.   As is our routine, this included an analysis of the structure of the word.  Abdul wrote a couple of hypotheses for the structure of the word <pretended>, after which we discussed which we thought the most likely.

What followed was a wonderful example of how studying (not memorizing) one word can lead us to better understand a whole family of related words.  Having agreed that the base was likely <tend> students began to do three things:  investigate the root and meaning of <pretend>; hypothesize possible relatives; test those hypotheses using dictionaries.

As we headed down this path, many discoveries unfolded.  Having confirmed that the <tend> base came from the Latin <tendere>, meaning “stretch” we had to think about how this meaning connected to our understanding of <pretend>.  Students shouted out “it means to stretch our imagination!” and “we stretch the truth!”  (It is very striking to me how often our idiomatic language such as “stretch the truth” connects to the root meaning of words–watch for it!)

img_1074We then had to check whether our other hypothesized words shared this root.  Most did, but some felt like a “stretch” to see how the root meaning fit our contemporary understanding of the word.  For instance, we thought of “attend” as simply being “present”.  But the dictionary revealed an older meaning, less commonly-used today, to do with caring for another person:  “attend” to someone’s needs.  We could now see the notion of “stretching toward”.

And <tender>, which Nate had offered–as in “a tender steak”–didn’t seem to fit.  It comes via French from a different root denoting “soft”.  (I have a hunch it has a connection somewhere back in time).  But it turns out there is another word <tender> that we had not seen before, which has to do with making a formal offer, therefore a “stretching toward”.

Next along the path, the discovery that a “twin” base (a concept we just learned) seemed to exist: <tent>.  We could see that <intend> clearly linked to the idea of <intent> and that to <attend> connected to <attention>.   And a <tent>?  Canvas that is stretched across a frame!  (I have to think it relevant that the original speakers of Latin spent a lot of time in tents as they marched about Europe and Asia Minor, extending their empire).

But wait!  The word <extend> reminded Khaled of his recent protest about the Wellington Extension.  The discussion now became especially intense!!  Was there a third base here?  “Can bases be triplets?!” shouted Addison.  (You could see his excited tension).  Our evidence suggests they can.   “And they are all free bases!” observed Olivia, noting that all could stand as words on their own.

I hope this conveys how a scientific approach to word study can work.  Do I think that students who learn words this way will spell them more accurately?  Well, yes I do actually.  But much more importantly, I think they will understand them better.

Home Challenge:

Can you think of any other words that share one of these “triplet” bases?  Share your findings (along with evidence, of course) in the comments below!


Finally, a last-minute Christmas shopping note:  children often enjoy reading a book themselves that we have done as a read-aloud.  This book and DiCamillo’s others are all within many students’ comfortable reading range (or will be a good stretch).  And don’t discount how much joy and benefit children at this age still get from being read to!  The library also has all DiCamillo’s books.


Potluck Date

Hello good people!  I believe I asked the confused children to write completely wrong information in their agendas on Friday–in spite of at least one shout of protestation from the crowd.  (Don’t interrupt me with logic, child, I am the teacher–I must know what I am talking about).  I blame the cookies that have been arriving.  To be clear(er):

The Solstice Potluck is and will remain on Wednesday, December 21st (the Solstice) as per the previous post and note sent home.



Ha!  I am struck by the contrast between this post and the one directly below it, in which I celebrate children’s right to “speak out”!  Clearly those who knew I had my dates mixed up should have written me a persuasive letter so I would have “heard” them!!  Pending word study:  <hypocrite>.  

Speaking Out for Change

There is a very real risk in helping children (or any other humans) see that they have a voicethat they will use it!  It is my hope that through projects such as these, young people begin to believe:

  • that they have a right to speak up;
  • that we can do so in various ways that increase the chances that someone else will hear us;
  • that maybe we have a responsibility to speak up when we think they see a better way; and…
  • maybe, just maybe we can help improve things in our world (often by joining with other voices).

The other risk (that I actually worry about) is that they will learn this doesn’t work.  Not all these things are going to be changed by one or even ten thousand persuasive voices like the ones below.  So, encountering other people who have persevered against the odds, or who have devoted their lives to improving their community or world will hopefully help to provide inspiration.  I hope we’ve done some of that this term also.

Anyway, I’m proud of them all for caring to try.


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This post has been updated from its original.img_0924


Is anybody missing weekly spelling lists?

We don’t do spelling.  We are orthographers, word scientists.  We study the writing system:  we ask questions, make discoveries, explore and learn concepts, test hypotheses.  And we teach as you will see from the work below.

  • img_0857One of the first concepts we learned was that all words have a base.  In many words, this base can be built upon with suffixes and prefixes.  Here you can see a matrix that Seohyeon, Sitara and Wed worked on around the base element <heal>.  Check out all the concepts touched upon in this on investigation–homophones, shifts in pronunciation, and so on.
  • img_1039img_1036Later, we discovered that some bases are free (can stand as a word on their own) but other bases are bound (can only exist in words with affixes).  At right is a matrix that Kyle and Nate were beginning to work on with the bound base <pose> which they have discovered comes from Latin ponere meaning “put or place”.  Interestingly, they are proposing that in the word <position> there is an <-ite> suffix.  This was interesting for Abbu to hear, as she had been wondering about whether there was an <-ity> suffix.  (Sometimes scientists doing parallel investigations draw conclusions that help one another).

Our guiding questions for investigating words:

  • What does it mean?
  • How is it built?
  • What are its relatives?

Recently, we came across the concept of twin bases and so we investigated several of these.  I have assured them that many of these concepts are as new to you, their parents and public, as they were to me not very long ago.  Here are the results, a chance for “experts” to share their understanding, for your elucidation.   Both the investigating and the film-making are new processes, as unpolished as one would expect.  But I hope the learning is as evident to you as it was to me.  I trust there is learning here for you also!



Reflecting upon these videos, I can see there are some things worth reviewing and emphasizing.  For instance, I can see that spelling out affixes (because they aren’t words) and bases (because their pronunciation shifts) has not been embraced by everyone.  It took me a long time to do so as well; students will do it when they fully understand why to do it.  Also, it became clear through the process of making these that students were focussed on the structure of their words but had not really focussed on the meaning of the related words.  Towards the end of the last video, Abdul demonstrates how understanding the meaning of <vert> can show us how <advertise> literally means getting someone to “turn toward something”.   This is the point of this work!  So the good news is that we have work ahead.

Update:  Please see this post with an additional video on twin bases that I totally missed doing this original post!

Goings on…

Hello!  Remember me?  I warned you I’d disappear from time to time.  It’s been a very busy couple of weeks inside and outside of school and I just haven’t been able to get to the blog.

We have been busy doing learning things here though, I promise!  Our Speaking Out for Change projects have been ambling along, and we’ll begin sharing those in the next few days.  Posters are in production, envelopes getting addressed.  The world will soon begin to improve.

We are also busily at work on Orthography investigations that will be shared in picture or text or video form.  Stay tuned for these.

In mathematics, we’re in an ongoing unit on number sense that will really define what we do for the rest of the year, spiralling back to concepts as we later explore.  We began with a look at larger numbers, launched by our 10,000 projects.  Here we are doing some practice with reading and organizing large numbers that flowed into some work with rounding.

Since then we have been really looking at problem solving.  Each week we will tackle at least one large, open ended problem.  (By open ended I mean more than one possible strategy for solving, and possibly more than one solution).  Last week, we did a problem about selling peanuts that was fabulously too hard!  One of the main things that hung us up was language.  Many students had trouble understanding the concept of “profit” or the notion of “saving” meaning putting money aside toward a goal.  The discussion and work was very rich.  This week, a different problem to do with planning a field trip raised all kinds of interesting questions as well.  Multi-step problems are challenging some students; communicating their work can be difficult for others; choosing an effective or efficient strategy is the main goal for many others.  Here is the “S.T.A.R.” model we introduced last week (familiar to those from Mrs. Beardall’s class):

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We’ve been talking about times tables!!  These are a must!  For students who understand the concept of multiplication, they need to now establish automaticity.  There is never going to be enough time to practice this enough in class, so please help them to practice at home.  For many kids it’s a great idea to focus on one set at a time.  But we are also talking about strategies like using the facts they know to find others.  I do not intend to send home endless worksheets because there are lots of other non-tree-destroying ways to practice.  These include the chart in their agendas, as well as many online resources.  A couple of links are marked in the side menu of the blog.

A number of students also need to solidify their automaticity with addition facts to 10 and to 20.  Again, dinner time “Yes you can have the potatoes–what’s 7 + 8” or “What’s 9 + 4?” car rides will be helpful.   Practice!

The Mystery of the Week comes home most weeks (hopefully you know this).  It is not designed to make you crazy.  Ideally it is about providing a bit of an extra challenge, and some practice with coming up with strategies.  For instance, last week’s was about the need to come up with a system for organizing information.  Anybody is welcome to come to me through the week with questions.  When we take it up, usually on Friday, it’s about learning from each other.

Jochabed Katan

Finally, we had a very interesting visit from Jochabed Katan yesterday.  In the wake of our visit to the Anne Frank exhibit, it was quite affecting to meet someone whose life so paralleled Anne Frank’s.  As Ms. Katan shared her story of survival and loss, and the risks her parents and others took to save her, it was hard not to imagine the life Anne Frank or other Holocaust victims might have had.  What a privilege–as she said herself, there are very few left who can tell these stories.

I expect your child will be able to tell you something of the relevance of the pictures below.

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Ms. Katan had not, I think, presented to a group of students quite so young, and had prepared especially.  She ended by singing a version of a poem she had written about the tree outside Anne Frank’s house, now so grown so huge in the ensuing years.