P.A. Day Word Homework

Do you find yourself struggling to fill a whole extra day away from school?  Fear not–I have some relief!  Here’s a bit of word thinking or discussion that could happen.

For the students who were away from class enjoying the world’s most popular sport (that isn’t rugby):

dscn9996I hope you had fun at the soccer tournament!  While you were running about, we were having a rich discussion about the words pictured at right.  We learned quite a lot from asking questions about these three simple little words.  We’ll share our findings on Monday, but just so you don’t feel left out:  Why do these three words have to be spelled the way they are?  (Why does <too> have to be the three-letter word instead of the two-letter word?) Why is there a <w> in <two>?

Note:  I haven’t done a post yet about our approach to word study this year which will be familiar to some and new to others.  For now, know that we are working from the proposition that “English spelling makes sense.  All spellings are logical and explainable.”  If you don’t believe that statement (and you or your child may not yet) stay tuned!

For the students who were in class using word investigation tools:

See what you can remember that you can share with your families.  (Feel free to use the links at the sidebar of this blog to get to the Word Searcher of Etymonline).  And here’s a question that someone (who were you?) called out yesterday and we never got to:   Can you think of a reason why one of the words couldn’t have been spelled <tu>?


Have a great weekend!  Play outside!  See you Monday!

Thanks, Derek Ochej!

Hello!  We had a great visit today from Derek Ochej (pronounced like “O’Shea”)!  Derek is the City Clerk and facilitated a fine discussion about government–municipal government particularly–how decisions get made and a beginning look at how we (non-voters) can participate, can have a voice.  I could not imagine a better introductory class on this topic, so thanks!  (Note how Edan highlights the endless educational value of Star Wars as he connects his understanding of a “council” to the Jedi High Council).  I’m sorry I got too immersed to film the group discussions about whether city buses should be free, but here’s a glimpse.

Next week we will begin to look at the Parliamentary process, will do some debating and law making, and also begin to plant preparatory seeds for our time at City Hall which will culminate with an actual “council” debate  on an issue.  Also, we have some very juicy words to dig into:  <democracy>, <government>, <parliament>, <municipal>, <citizen>, <petition>, <public>, <council> and so on!


Asking our kids about their day

Jodi’s response to the previous post reminded me about an article I saw last week called We Ask Our Kids the Same 3 Questions Every Night.  (Click that link or the one below).  I continue to fall into the trap of asking my teenagers “How was your day” to which the response is “Fine”.  Period.  Every single time.  Now I try to be very specific, but that’s hard if I have no information.  I think I have come to realize that in fact my kids do want to tell me about their day, but in their own time.  I am hopeful we can use this blog to stimulate some richer conversation–but I’m still learning how.

So:  three questions every night. 

What would yours be?  I like these three but can think of at least one more I might add.   I’d love to hear yours.  I’d also love to hear what your kids think would be good questions.


rscn9993P.S.  Feel free to ask if they can tell you anything about the image at right.  It is Khaled’s name.  He did a little lesson on Arabic writing and pronunciation today because I had spelled his name wrong.  (My failure, his bravery).  Hey!–we have eight different languages spoken in our class!

Provoking thinking…


My low-tech note-taking system

It would be reasonable if you or your child have wondered, What do those teachers get up to when they are away at the Board Office? as I was today.  I spent the afternoon at a presentation by George Couros, a highly-energetic and inspiring educator from Alberta who I’ve been hearing about for some time.  He  travels about the planet provoking teachers and administrators (and students) to consider that innovation should be the central driver of our education system.  “Change,” he quoth, “is the only constant.” I think we should feel good about our Board inviting him regularly.  It signals a commitment to–or at least a commitment to a conversation about–innovative, inquiry-based learning in our schools.  I haven’t settled on how I feel about everything he said (he talks much faster than I can write) but I am doing a lot of reflecting about my practice.  His most pointy question to us all:  Would you want to spend the whole day learning in your classroom?   Hmm…

Helping our young people meet change with excitement and resiliency is the goal.  Mr. Couros  says a lot about the role of technology in our lives and our schools, and challenges us to think about how we can see it as an opportunity rather than a threat.  Trusting them to do so will help them to become aware, competent, responsible users with a positive “digital footprint.”   In particular, he promotes the use of Twitter as a means to exchange ideas and stimulate innovative teaching, and to share goings on with families.  I’ll give it a try at some point.  Parents:  how many of you are Twitterers?  Is this something you would value?

I’m not uncomfortable with new gadgets or the Internet, but I do feel that what Couros proposes is not centrally a question of technology but one of structure.  It is the matter of re-orienting our teaching/learning so that it is increasingly driven by our students and their questions and passions.     That re-orientation doesn’t always come naturally or easily within the school system, a classroom or, frankly, to me  at any given point.   The reality is there are things we have to cover.   But a “Growth Mindset” intends that students are deeply engaged with a cycle of setting and monitoring their own learning goals.

I did feel pretty good about the conversation we had yesterday in Science in which students argued vigorously about evaporation and the qualities of clouds; and that three students arrived back at school today with new number patterns from the ones we began exploring in class.   This signals the blossoming of a learning community.  Now we have to nurture it, technology or not, and make sure everyone feels a part.  That’s all.  Phew!  




A sketchy afternoon

As part of the preparation for our City Hall adventure we are working on our “sketching” skills.   Just a few minutes to capture an image, no time for erasing or correcting, just about following the line.  We spoke a little about Paul Klee, the German artist who made this his specialty.  (It is claimed he said “A line is a dot that went for a walk.”)  Today’s challenge, which we will repeat on other days, was to pick a point in the room and just begin drawing:  one continuous line without lifting the pencil.  It was hard for some students to let go of the idea that perfection or accuracy are necessarily success in drawing.

I do not have permission to share the results, but I will share the process–partly for the contrast to yesterday’s high-action video.  Do not adjust the volume on your computer.  I promise I made no threats (like “I’m going to video this and show it to your parents”).  This is 30 seconds or so, but we went for eight minutes.  (I make no promises past ten).

Radioactive Cup Challenge

Stack the cups without touching them, or touching anything that is touching them.  Tools:  string and elastic band.  Shamelessly stolen from the Internet, this activity has pretty much nothing to do with anything.  (Oh, except learning how to collaborate, flexing our ideas about what a scientist does, and seeing how we manage working with potentially hazardous science materials and equipment).

They all did it, by the way, without any serious exposure to radiation.

P.S. I will generally not be so prolific with my blog posts (and at times may disappear altogether).  I am just trying out things to be sure they work, and have a bit more time right now.

In the classroom and beyond


 Today we had a rousing conversation about what it means to be a scientist.  This is the collection of ideas the students gathered.  In the afternoon, we did some science that looked like what we think science looks like.

Our next question is:  Can spelling look like this?


Big news!

I am delighted to let you know that during the week of October 17th to 21 we will be spending our days at City Hall!  This is part of the Beyond Classrooms program in which classes spend a week in a Kingston museum.  (Several of you have kids who went to the Museum of Healthcare last year).  I was excited to get accepted last Spring, and spent time in the summer doing prep on my own and with other teachers.

city-hall-1Of all the possible sites we could have gone, this one is a living space:  though it has wonderful historical and architectural marvels,  City Hall is of course a workplace.  We will more or less have the run of the place.  We will probably meet with the Mayor, as well as at least one Councillor, and possibly other people who help to provide municipal services.  We will also explore the amazing history of the building, including its many uses past and present.

cityhall2Frankly, I’m not completely sure how this will all work, which is deliciously unnerving.  Our launching question will be “What role does government have in our lives?”  But an open inquiry approach will allow students to generate questions they then explore (remember the root meaning of <learn>?).   How we participate and influence the government will also certainly be a part of what we begin to explore.  Wednesday, Karla Tynski, the coordinator of Beyond Classrooms, will be doing a workshop on journaling with the students, as this will be a big component of that week. We will then meet to do some planning.

I have several helpers lined up for that week, including a teacher candidate from Queen’s, and possibly a retired professor from Queen’s.  But in order to have the students able to follow their lines of inquiry as freely as possible, we will need a few parents who can devote preferably two or more days to being with us.  Please check your calendars and think about whether this might be possible for you.


Four days in

Quick post just to say, we did it:  it’s Friday and everybody seems OK.  Better than OK–I mean, very OK!dscn9989

This is a very fine batch of children!  We have tackled tricky math challenges and word explorations and done some weird drawing exercises and had to write things about ourselves;  we have worked in groups we chose and with partners that the teacher chose; we sat outside together and listened to a novel; today we had a fire drill!  I am here to tell you that it all worked!  We are contributing and participating (some more than others, true, but we’ll all get there) and taking care of the things that Grade Fives can take care of independently.  Agendas have been  getting filled out without reminders and arriving signed which is so helpful.

Is this difficult to read? With patience, understanding (and a bit of help) it becomes possible.

Is this difficult to read? With patience, understanding (and a bit of help) it becomes possible.

We have had rich conversations this week about diversity, some of which has hopefully made it home to you.  Many students have communicated to me openly about the things they find difficult and the things they are hoping for or working towards this year.  We will work to refine and define our goals.

All of this leaves me feeling hopeful and positive.  I think we can afford to be pretty ambitious this year.  Curves and bumps are ahead, but I am already confident that we can turn these into learning and adventure.

Folks at home:  I know that I am going to sometimes throw things out there that leave you baffled–sorry.  Start by asking your child to explain, then get in touch with me.  I am expecting that this whole learning journey is shared, so it is important that we are connected.  If you are reading this, then the blog is working at a basic level.  If you feel moved to leave a comment, that would be great, or send me a note in the agenda.  Students who have emails are of course also encouraged to sign up and join the conversation!  Have a great weekend.  Lots to share with you next week.

First steps, the Path Ahead

When you begin a journey, you don’t know why. The trail will show you the way.

Stanley Vollant, Quebec’s first Aboriginal surgeon, founder of the Innu Trail Project

Hello!  This is the blog!  Thanks for making it here.  The first couple of days of Grade Five are now comfortably behind us, and I am feeling very good about the group.  There is very healthy diversity in our class and this is going to bring wonderful challenges and opportunities.  The best part is that every single student is showing up ready and willing to try!  Thanks for supporting that energy with food and love and whatever else you are putting in them!

What is this blog for? I guess the point is to communicate what we are up to as well as what we are wondering about, or things that I am reflecting upon.  Eventually, students will begin contributing their own posts.  Sometimes it will be straight-up information!   (For instance:  September 30th is a P.A. Day).   And hopefully very soon both parents and students and conceivably other learners around the school or around the world will also begin sharing their comments.  Then it becomes a conversation!

This year, we will be scientists.

Inquiry will be our main tool for learning.  In all subject areas, we will wonder, question, hypothesize, gather evidence, test, argue and make interesting discoveries in surprising directions!  This is inevitable when learning is actually happening.

For example, our first “math” question of the year was “Can we make 5 triangles with only 5 lines?”  The first step in tackling what seemed an impossible task was bravery, and clearly everybody found some.  Eventually a star-shaped solution was found, but then we had an important discussion about whether there was another solution.  This involved looking at the problem a different, surprising way.  Here are Carlos and Graeme’s picture of two possible solutions.  Beside it is Olivia’s hypothesis that every time you add a line, you get another triangle–forever!  (I think this might be called Fractal Theory, not sure):










I have come to see that understanding the history of words brings me to a much deeper understanding.  Check out this entry for <learn> from the Online Etymology Dictionary:


Did you see that?  The root meaning of  “learn” is literally to follow a track: a path!  It doesn’t necessarily mean we know exactly where that path will take us, and that can be exciting (and a little alarming sometimes, so we stick together).  In my experience, the best learning happens when the students are leading.  So my job is to encourage them to look for the paths.  (If that sounds like I’m not doing any work, well, that is the goal but it’s a secret).

Words are definitely going to be a theme this year.  We will be exploring words deeply as a means to heightened understanding in all areas.  I’ll talk more about my approach to the English writing system in another post soon.  (Yes, I’m talking about “spelling” but I’m also not).

So, thanks for participating by visiting the blog.  Keep participating!  (At some point it will be homework).  I’ll try to keep at it; constructive feedback is welcome.

P.S.  I will sign you up when I have your email, but you can subscribe yourself by clicking on the “follow” button.