Ice Day January 23rd: What to do if you’re home

Hello folks stuck at home!  Students should be able to log into Google Classroom just as they would at school.   Grade Fives can open the assignment “The Struggle to Survive“.  Here at school, we will be reading that chapter and responding to the questions.

Grade Sixes have a project they are working on, and should be able to continue working on it at home also as it is in Google Slides.



James Hill

Here is a video with clips from our workshop and mini-concert with James Hill last Friday.  What a privilege!  I can only hope that students were inspired by this experience–to see that anything can be achieved with time, commitment, and a lot of practice!

I told the children that morning:  “If James tells you things that are different than what I told you, he is correct!  Please do not put up your hand and tell him ‘Mr. Caldwell said…’   Just make a list in your head and tell me on Monday.” 

I’m still considering where to go next with our own learning; I will survey the students about what they saw they’d like to try (and hope it is neither “Flight of the Bumblebee” or AC/DC).




Agnes Etherington Trip Cancelled

Dear Families,

I am writing in regard to Wednesday’s planned field trip to the Kent Monkman exhibit at Agnes Etherington Gallery.

As I said in the blog last week, I knew this exhibit was “risky”.   As a teacher, I am not inclined to shy away from risks or from taking students outside of their comfort zone.  Well-facilitated experiences and subsequent conversation can move students through discomfort toward a new or wider view of their world.   I take this responsibility seriously, and generally think I’m pretty good at it.

There is perhaps no more important conversation for us to be having as Canadians than our historical and current relationship with the Indigenous People of this land.  Today’s students will be impacted by this conversation in the years ahead, so I think it is vital they can participate as informed, thoughtful citizens.  

When the curator of the gallery contacted me, judging that this was an appropriate exhibit for Grade 5 and 6 students, I eagerly accepted her view.  As I had always planned to do, I visited the exhibit (twice) this weekend, and found it to be as impactful and important as I had predicted.  Really, it is very moving and I encourage you to go.  

But I do not agree that all of our students are ready for this exhibit.  The work is filled with powerful symbolism and complex, provocative images meant to be interpreted by mature participants.  Enough of the images will be confusing or distracting to enough of the children that I think the important messages of the exhibit will be lost.  (I do, however, think that several of the pieces are quite within our reach and deeply meaningful.  I will share these images when it is relevant to our studies).  As a teacher, I do not think I could effectively facilitate the questions and conversation that would arise.  Therefore, after much thought and discussion–with colleagues and parents–I have decided to cancel this trip.   

I want to thank the parents who contacted me about this proposed trip–both in support and in doubt.  I do not take your trust lightly on any day but have especially appreciated it this week.

If we can get to the Agnes at another time, we will.  As always, I am available if you would like to discuss this further.


Current and Upcoming Events: January

Hello folks at Home!  It is me, the Highly Infrequent Blogger–Happy 2018!

We have two events coming up that I wanted to give you some background on.

Ukuleles:  James Hill Visit, January 19th

James Hill, one of the world’s greatest ukulele players (I do not exaggerate), is coming to our school!  James and his cello-playing partner, Anne Janelle, are playing a concert in Kingston this Friday evening, so I contacted the organizer and asked if he’d be willing to come.

He’ll do a little 20-minute workshop with our class, and then do a 40-minute mini-concert with all the Grades 5 and 6 students.  (He preferred not to play in the gym, fair enough, so we’re going to squeeze into one classroom).  A couple of kids who are in a little ukulele club at Polson Park are going to join us.

I am super-excited about this.  I have seen James perform (and will be at his concert on Friday) as well as attending a huge workshop he did.  He is an amazing performer and teacher.  I am confident the students will be inspired.

That said, they hardly need any inspiration!  I am very impressed with the progress we’re making with these little instruments.  The ukes easily allow for students to progress at their own pace, but most everybody seems to be developing at an amazing rate.  (Perhaps I am so impressed because of my own relatively slow rate of learning–they are quickly catching up to me!)

Here is a quick taste of James Hill (starts playing at about 1:30).  I will be sure to follow up with a video of our own awesome playing, as well as pictures from his visit.

Agnes Etherington Art Centre:  Kent Monkman Exhibition, January 24th

In October we read and then saw an incredibe performance of Fatty Legs, the memoir of an Inuit girl’s experience at Residential School.  Though amazing, for most of us this was kind of starting the story in the middle.  Since then, the question has been hanging there:  How did the relationship with Indigenous Peoples lead to residential schoolsWhat went wrong?  

Our Grade Fives are now looking at the beginning of the story, learning first about The Wendat and other nations before European arrival and now looking at New France, where this relationship begins.  Cartier.  Champlain.  We will move our way forward over the next few weeks, through trade, military alliances, disease, treaties and the shift to British North America.

Our Grade Sixes have been looking at who are the different cultural groups that have historically made up our community of Kingston and more broadly Canada.  French, British, Indigenous, Chinese, Jewish, Black (through an exploration of Canada’s relationship with slavery), and so on.  We are becoming aware of how some of these groups are represented differently in the naming of streets and monuments and so on, how some groups have had different opportunities and privileges at different times.


I’ll be honest, I am slightly nervous about this trip: it feels a little risky.  Kent Monkman is a contemporary artist of Cree ancestory.  Shame and Prejudice:  A Story of Resilience is an exhibit he created in response to the Canada 150 celebrations, and it has toured the country.  Initially, the gallery limited the show to older students, but contacted me a couple of weeks ago:

It’s a very thought provoking show leading the viewer through the affects of colonialism on Indigenous peoples. From Residential Schools to a massive installation titled ‘Starvation Table’, the works are incredibly impactful. We were hesitant to offer this program option at first, not knowing if the content would be too ‘mature’.  Now that we have the show hung, I think for Grade 5/6 it is very suitable. The workshop to follow is a painting activity inspired by ways of Truth and Reconciliation.

Deeply in the “trickster” tradition, Monkman’s work is strongly provocative:  we will be challenged to look at our history in a very different light.  His work will be poking hard at widely-accepted ideas, and may make us feel confused or uncomfortable.  Some of it encourages laughter, but that is often nervous laughter.  My job is to help turn that discomfort into meaningful learning and help our young students to find context for what they see.  Be prepared for some interesting conversations that night.