Brain Awareness Begins

Here in Grade 5 we’ve been hearing for some time about brains and their theoretical uses, but today the good people at Queen’s University–in this case Mandy and Olivia from the Neuroscience Department–helped us to see that these things are really important.  They will be visiting our class monthly from now until May.  Then we will go to Queen’s for Brain Awareness Day and meet lots of different people doing brain research.  Here is some photographic evidence.

(Easy) task between now and their next visit:  record any “brain” questions we have.

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Tree Trouble?

ryan-treeHello families!  It’s been a couple of weeks now since we received our trees from Paul at Western Landscaping.  If you still have yours but haven’t found a suitable place for it, it really should get in the ground very soon.  Ryan’s mum, the venerable Mrs. Murphy, shared the above photo of Ryan planting his with his grandfather near Verona.  They’d happily take any unused trees and find a spot.  And in the interest of boosting the “urban” forest, I think I could find room for one or two as well.   Feel free to send them in!

Update:  Yes, since writing this–since  this picture was taken–the entire area has been blanketed with snow!  But how long can that last??  And really, I’m sure Ryan would appreciate the extra challenge!  Send in trees if you’ve got ’em.  


Math Movies

I think I teach math a little differently every year.  (I know I do).  We began the year looking at patterns in numbers, and then spent some time looking at the important idea of “proportionality”–this is what we were exploring in If the World Were a Village (here).  We’re moving into an extended look at larger numbers, place value and operational problem solving (that means figuring stuff out with adding and subtraction and multiplication and division).  If I am doing my job right (an open question) we will kind of spiral back to each concept throughout the year–so proportionality will be revisited through place value, but also through fractions and through graphing.

My goal is to bring the idea of inquiry into our math experience, balanced with instruction and practice in arithmetichow to perform the different operations, as well as greater “automaticity” with mental math.  Most importantly, I want all students to believe they can be good at math (and that it can be fun)!

As a kind of pre-assessment, but also as a way of challenging the various kids in various ways, I tried something a bit different last week.  The focus:  10,000.  I tried to come up with five different tasks aimed at testing their understanding of how larger numbers are constructed.  Bless their hearts, their engagement with my weird questions was universally fabulous!  In each, they had to figure out how different “units” could be used to reach 10,000:  in some cases this was tens, hundreds and thousands; in another it was 500; in others the numbers were less round and they had to do some significant figuring (and re-figuring).

Then I asked them to make a film that explained what they did and why.  Today we had a little film festival (complete with popcorn:  is this a physical or a chemical change??) so everybody could see what everybody else had been up to.  Check these out!

(Warning:  you may have to adjust the volume as you go).

Elephant Toothpaste

We are lucky to have Ms. Tchigak with us (for one more week).  Here’s a glimpse from today’s science.  (Not to overwhelm you with blog stuff–I promise there will be many weeks where I lose the thread completely–but Haadi insisted on sharing this).

Sorry if we were being too clever with our suspenseful question:  keep watching to the end!

One or two more things: November 9th

It’s late now, but as I finally get to breathe out and reflect on the last 24 hours or so, I wanted to mention two more things:

The Election...

You’d have been proud of your children this morning.  We all awoke to the shock of the results south of border, and they arrived full of it:  a lot of fairly simplistic but passionate statements of the kind you’d expect from our less sophisticated media sources.  But it was pretty much how a lot of us were feeling.  These kids are awake to their world!

This is what I had up as they came in:



I wanted to make the point that this is the deal.  The people choose.  And if the people made the choice they made yesterday, there are reasons.  (We didn’t get into the fact that the American electoral system, like our own, is woefully non-representative of the popular vote; that’s a different discussion).  Once we’d cut through the shouts of outrage, we spent almost forty minutes discussing what this was all about.  I heard some anger and some fairly accurate comparisons to what we’d learned last week about the rise of Hitler.  (My daughter just reminded me that, incredibly, this is the anniversary of kristallnacht, when the Nazis destroyed Jewish homes, synagogues and businesses.  We heard about this last week).

I echoed their sadness and concern.  But I wanted to help them see that there is always a Trump, always a Hitler:  they only get power when they are granted it.  And I don’t think I am just being all teachery when I say that this begins right here: in our classroom, our school and our community.  If we tolerate bullying or exclusion then a seed is planted and that seed can grow.   And I also wanted to be very clear that when we look at the mess in America we must not fool ourselves that every nasty idea expressed in the past months doesn’t exist right here in our country also.   We must fight this with love and kindness and patience and an attempt to understand those with whom we disagree.

To the hardly-surprising cynicism expressed this morning as to whether “all politicians are bad”, I was able to ask them about the politicians they’d recently met at our City Hall.  Why did those people seek this job?  “To help,” someone answered.  I think we can trust that this is the motivator for most of our political leaders.  Hope is still the best way to combat cynicism.  Hope and participation.

But I also said that we must remain vigilant–that this is our responsibility as members of a democracy.   Following the above entry in Etymonline is the following quote from troublesome poet Ezra Pound (note the date):


That’s a mouthful.  But I think it means that we don’t just vote every four or five years and then disappear.  We continue to participate.  Two of our students have already written letters to City Council since we began this study, one received a response this week.  (He wasn’t all that happy with the response–sometimes that’s the deal too–but at least we saw that he was heard).   We want our voices to be heard!


These Projects!

I know that most of you will have seen the Speaking Out For Change project outline that went home this week.  Please discuss it if you haven’t; send me a note if it didn’t get home or if you have questions.  It’s a fairly tight timeline.

Choosing a topic can be tricky.  It is a good idea if they choose something pretty specific:  so, rather than “pollution”, say, looking at “reducing cars” might be easier to tackle.  Rather than “endangered species”, choose one species or one habitat–preferably but not necessarily Canadian.  I’ll check in with the students Friday and Monday.   The bulk of this project will be done at school, but of course they are welcome to do research and other components at home if they wish.



And hey, in case you didn’t get enough videos of your children to share with your relatives, here’s one that Karla from Beyond Classrooms sent yesterday:



Coupla things: November 9th

Just to say, we did some awesome math explorations today that students are going to try and make little movies about tomorrow.  I was so dazzled by the engagement and energy the students brought.  So stay tuned for that.


Talking to someone old(er)

O.K. they get to talk to me every day, how much older do they need?!

In our learning about Anne Frank last week, we also looked at the Whig Standard article about this man, Paul Smits, and this woman, Jochabed Katan, who brought the exhibit to Kingston.

There grew a discussion about all the stories related to the wars; all the stories that were ended or never happened as the result of lives lost; and how all older people have stories.  Their own, those of their parents, and so on.  As we head toward Remembrance Day this Friday, but really as an ongoing thing to do, I encouraged the students to speak to the oldest people they knew and to ask them.  There are stories there to be told and to be carried on by our new generation.  You might be the oldest person they can access–share your stories of your parents and grandparents!  I would love it if we could begin Friday with a chance to share any stories students bring.  About the war, yes, but also simply about the past, about challenges and adventures and change.

P.S. I am hoping Jochabed Katan will come and speak to the students sometime soon.

The Mystery Powder

Here’s some clips of the Science we’ve been doing this week, courtesy of Ms. Tchigak.  The challenge:  to test the chemical changes when adding different liquids to different white powders to see if we can identify the mystery powders in the mixture.



Breaking news from the world of Gummy Bear Science

This is as close to tweeting as I can get:  I am writing this quickly as it is happening.  The question put to us by Professor Tchigak:  Is this a physical or a chemical change?  Our scientists are debating.


img_0749img_0748Questions we are pondering:

  • When sugar “dissolves” in water, does the sugar actually disappear?  Can you get the sugar back?
  • How did the water get into the gummy bear?
  • Can the gummy bears go back to their original size?  (i.e. Is this change “reversible”?)
  • How did the water get pink?  Can it get un-pink?

Boosting our biomass

I think I said “yes” to everything this term!  Just this week we had our trip downtown to see the Anne Frank Exhibit (post about this pending); today we had a visit from Western Landscaping to talk about the urban forest; and tomorrow we will have the first of our visits from Queen’s dance students.  I don’t know if we can maintain this pace, but it sure seems great to have a lot of faces and voices.  (Between all this and wonderful Miss Tchigak, the students hardly have to listen to my voice droning away at all!)  It might seem we are just having a lot of fun–which I hope we are–but I am confident that each of these experiences gives us a touch point that we can refer and make connections to in our future learning.  (I said “yes” to three more things this week for later in the year!)  

So, today:


Paul from Western Landscaping was wonderful today.  A fairly long classroom presentation could have been too long if not for his patience, the students’ enthusiastic questions, and a whole lot of cool tools (and t-shirts; ask your child about that).  Then we planted a tamarack on the schoolyard that we will now have to teach the rest of the school about.  Following are some pictures, but a couple of words about the cute little spruce tree that came home today:

We were supposed to get pamphlets about the planting, but I think the main message was to choose a spot about 6 feet from a building, road or pathway; watch for hydro lines; and the north side of a building will eventually create a wind block to help your house stay warm. (Update:  I have the pamphlets; will send home tomorrow).  If you don’t have a place to plant it because you are renting or whatever, ask around your family or community to see if there is a good spot.  If you don’t find a good spot, send it back in and we’ll find a home for the tree.



Matter to Discuss: Physical and Chemical Changes

(Mr. Caldwell here.  I was supposed to post this last night but missed it!  Check it out and we’ll discuss this week!)

Miss. Tchigak here! 14907887_323356901367974_1146474692_o

Today me and our scientists attended an International Science meeting in our very own classroom. We had a very full agenda (as scientists normally do) and spent some time exploring physical and chemical changes of matter.

We completed A LOT of experiments and got into several debates about what is considered a p14894396_323356894701308_317616187_ohysical or chemical change:
– popping a balloon?
– leaves changing colour?
– baking pancakes?

As a final experiment we heated up a pot of milk and mixed in white vinegar. Here is what happened… the milk and vinegar formed something called a precipitate. Here is what happened when I strained the milk and vinegar mixture.

FOR HOMEWORK: think of 3 more physical and 3 more chemical changes that we did not talk about today.   Be prepared to share your reasoning in class later this week!

Miss. T