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!