Solstice Reflections

Sitting here in the silent vacuum of a classroom 15 minutes after the kids have cleared out, feeling tired, thankful and humbled.  Thankful for the sweet, deeply thoughtful gifts families thought to bestow on me (and Ms. Sarah Hogan, our utterly wonderful E.A.).  Humbled by the notes the children wrote, and the trust I am afforded in their growth.  And thankful again for this truly lovely class!  Thank you for them.

Our gift was blueberry pancakes yesterday; it seemed appropriate on a cozy Pyjama Day.  A number of kids had never tried blueberry pancakes, and did.  So that’s a small triumph, each new thing a bit of bravery we can use somewhere else.  (And, they’re blueberry pancakes!)

It’s been a busy time in our class!  (And I, having a busy time outside of class, have not been blogging much).  Here’s a bit of a recap:

Province Projects

Oh my goodness, these were such a success! The kids worked so hard (most of the time) and put such heart into them.  They are still displayed,now in the hall–please come and see them all if you haven’t been able to.  I reflected that the last time I did a version of this project, we did it in the Spring.  Those students had had a lot more practice with “research” and writing.  For this class, the project was the process of learning the skills.  I feel like we learned a lot beyond the specifics of the provinces, and that is of course the point–learning we can carry to other situations.

You will have hopefully seen a copy of the rubric and comments I produced for the projects.  I would like you to know that I struggled a lot with a question of pedagogy:  do I put a mark on the project (We’ve been reading a book called There’s a Boy in the Girls Bathroom in which marks and “gold stars” figure heavily).  In the end, I could not bring myself to do it.  As will always be true, the finished projects represent a huge range in ability.  But the range in achievement is not nearly as great.  Kids who struggle with writing or reading or organization worked just as hard as those for whom these come easier.  In some cases, harder.  And because I was really looking at three areas of assessment–the writing, the presentation, and the understanding of the content–it seemed weird to lump that into a single mark.

My main worry was that the moment kids got a piece of paper with an “A” or a “C” on it, the mood of mutual celebration and appreciation and general success would evaporate.  All that would be seen would be the mark. So instead, I opted to give the rubrics with levels checked in various areas, as indicators of where the achievement was and where the future learning remains.   I checked in with the class as a whole and with some individual students, but this is a conversation I am still having with myself and would be happy to hear from parents about.

The other thing we did was I asked the students to fill in a survey about their experience and learning, and any feedback they had.  Interestingly, the thing that most came up was “more time”.  We had a great conversation about how people use time, including “more” time and I shared my personal experience(s) of time wasting as well as my teacher experience of what happened if projects were given six weeks instead of three.  (Identical quality).   I very much appreciated their thoughtfulness.


Our biggest focus in the last while has been fractions, which of course are wrapped up in multiplication and division and a lot of other mathematicalness.  But through fractions, we have been doing math that doesn’t look like math I did as a kid, and probably not like you (much younger than me) did either.   They love 3-Act Math problems that they work together to solve as they get more and more information.   Number talks, where we sit together and work on mental math strategies.  And so on.

The themes that run through all of our activities are flexibility in which we see that many problems can be solved in more than one way; representation in which we learn to show our thinking (often in more than one way); communication, which is what it sounds like–the capacity to explain our thinking; and fluency, building our capacity to do arithmetic easily so we can apply it to complex problems.  All of these things can be practised in various real-life ways at home.  But fluency is the one thing that is hardest to practise enough at school.  Times tables and mental arithmetic practice at home is very helpful!


We’d been messing about with sketching in 3-D, and then our lovely Queen’s placement student Ms. Mouncey helped take that to 3-D painting.  This led to some sweet, highly-civilized Friday afternoons of  painting and listening to classical music.  A tradition worth continuing in the new year.


know that not all the kids like playing the ukeleles.  Many find it hard.  I have told them all from the beginning that being hard is partly the point.  Doing hard stuff is how we grow.  If you can fight your way to a G7 chord on the uke (or take a chest pass in basketball or whatever) maybe you can do anything.  Trying is the main expectation.  I’m thinking about new strategies for making more kids feel comfortable with that.  I’m also (warily) rolling around the idea of “take-home” ukes so that kids could have more practice time.

I am terrible at getting pictures or recording the kids when we are playing.   If you were able to come in last week and hear us play, great!  Yesterday we took our ukes on the road for a few impromptu holiday uke concerts in other classes.  It was fun.   Some kids just sang because that’s all they could manage.  Thanks to them.


Orthography is worth about twelve posts on its own, all overdue.  Suffice it to say that we study words.  Their meaning, how they are built, the stories that explain them, their connections to one another, their pronunciation.  It helps.  We are word scientists, and we are good.  Collectively and individually we have made discoveries about words that you have never known; answered things you probably always wondered (or complained) about.  We know why <know> and <knot> have–not a “silent k” but a <kn> digraph–denoting its Old English origin.  We know why <have> (and Olive) are spelled with a final non-syllabic <e>.   We can look at words like <denominator> or <numerator> and take them apart, which helps us understand them better.

In recent weeks, we discovered that words can have a base that is “bound”.   One such base is <hap>, that connects words such as <happy> and <happen>.  We have since found bound bases in words such as <erupt> and <interrupt> or <produce> and <introduce>.

I believe to my core that doing this work supports our understanding and our reading ability, and makes us stronger learners generally.

Yesterday, we looked briefly at the word <solstice>.  We found the likely base <sol> also found in <solar> and saw the connection the French word <soleil>.  What we did not do is spend time hypothesizing word sums for the structure of that word.  Feel free to play about with that over Christmas dinner!  I’ll just say that there are surprises and a lot of learning hiding in that word.

Please feel free to challenge my assertion that English spelling is highly ordered and sensible!  Please send us questions!  Start by doing the analysis together with your child, see what they can observe and hypothesize.  In January, we’ll have individual “word projects”, just to flex and stretch our skills!


  • On Friday, January 11th, the St Lawrence College Women’s Basketball team is playing the Georgian College Grizzlies in the new St. Lawrence gym at 6:00.  Our wonderful St. Lawrence placement student, Kylie Moyer, who just finished in our class two weeks ago, is a key member of that team.  She has arranged for our class and families to get in for free!  Just say you’re from Centennial!  I’ll send a reminder in the first week.
  • We’ll be doing a whack of Science in January.   I am still deciding what.
  • We’ll also be working our way into an extended study of Early Civilizations–probably beginning with The Greeks.
  • We’re booked to go to Gould Lake on January 18th!  Details as soon as we return–we’ll hike or snowshoe and cook out.  (I have a new hatchet I’m dying to try!) Pray for lots of snow!  Plan to come.

If you read all that, thanks for making the time!  Have a great holiday!  See you in 2019!


Last Week, This Week

Hello folks at home,

Well, last week got a bit weird!   The whole mess at other schools on Wednesday and then for us on Thursday…there was both an emotional and a practical toll.

For the kids, the emotional toll was hard (for me) to measure.  For the most part I saw what we’d all hope for:  reasonable questions, moderate worry, but generally expressions of trust in the adults around them that our precautions would keep them safe.  It’s a tricky path–isn’t it, parents?–giving our children enough information that they are comforted and reassured, but shielding them from too much information that will make them anxious, unsettled.   Even before we got the call on Thursday, our class was engaged in a conversation about the rumours flying around regarding Wednesday.  Social media and social reality make it hard to shield our kids from the world.  The challenge I was trying to tackle was helping them believe in the rarity of the terrible things which are so present in the media.  Please let me know if you think your child has ongoing worries from all this.

At a practical level it meant we had kids away Thursday and Friday, and the plan kept changing every ten minutes on Thursday!  Gym, then no Gym.  Recess, then no recess.  And, we’d all prepped for a Substitute for the afternoon, as I had to take my mom to an appointment, then I couldn’t leave, then I could, then it was a different sub, etc., etc.   Frankly, was rattled!

But I have to say that throughout the week and throughout Thursday, all the students were highly engaged with their “Province” projects (as well as other stuff we did).   I was so proud of the kids for their focus and thankful for their trust and flexibility.  (I brought donuts on Friday to say thanks, and then forgot about them until ten minutes before dismissal!)

So, this week:

Library Books!  

The books we signed out at the Calvin Park Library are due this week.  I said that I would take back books for anyone that wanted me to on this first round.  Books in by Tuesday will get a free ride in my old car.

Province (and Territory) Projects!

The projects were meant to be a first real “research” experience:  how to take notes; how to organize sub-topics; as well as a chance for us to focus on the fine art of paragraph building.  We’ll have more this year, more open in their structure.  The point was to learn about Canada, and learn about learning, hopefully have some creative fun.  I think that’s happened.   I’ve learned lots!

Tomorrow, Monday, we’ll check in and see where everybody is at and give people as much time as they need .  My plan is still to have a class project sharing time on WednesdayThursdayyou are all invited to school!  (Hopefully you knew this).  Sing-along in the gym at 9:15, then a little visit in our class until 10:15 or 10:30.  We’ll have our projects up (this was the reason for the due date) and hopefully play some ukulele for anyone who can come!  (There may be some extra ukes if you’d like to join in).

Hope to see you this week!