Posted by: jwhiff | May 13, 2018

Outdoor Classroom Past the Idea Phase

Good ideas are all well and dandy.  I have lots of those.  I have stopped patting myself on the back for having good ideas.  They aren’t worth much unless you can bring them to fruition.

Now, the outdoor classroom idea is an undeniably good idea.  Worth stressing myself out over, for sure.  The concrete wasteland with a water source is just too ugly and too perfect:

Perfect location (right close to bathrooms, water and the office), perfect sun exposure (sun for garden, shade for play), and perfect bones (amphitheatre-like steps, ample classroom-sized space, old shady gravel pit with benches). It needed life!

It took me a couple of months, but I finally have the basic elements (mostly) in place: gardens, barrier between parking lot and classroom, sand instead of gravel.  The water tables have arrived and the plants are growing.  We just need some flexible seating, tables and some ongoing imagination.  And fewer ants.

Here’s how it looks so far:

The biggest strength of the space?  Exposure and traffic.  Kids and parents pass by the garden everyday to enter the front door of the building.  They pause to check out how the plants are doing and they love to hang out and water the plants after school. I have more kids asking to join the outdoor club everyday.

I’ll keep you posted as it develops!

Posted by: jwhiff | April 21, 2018

Updated Shape Shifter Lessons

Here are three other powerpoint lessons that I used in my presentation yesterday:

Intro to Using Shape Shifters

Shape Movements

If you are interested in the Orca Chief powerpoint, please contact me directly.

Thank you!

Posted by: jwhiff | April 21, 2018

Shape Shifters Daily Challenge

This powerpoint is to get you a start.  Kids can work on the daily challenge at the start of math class, or after finishing work.  When they have accomplished the daily challenge, I recommend you challenge them to create an interesting shape that can be used for the daily challenge in days to come.  When they are done, take a picture of their creation and then add it to this powerpoint!

Shape Shifters Daily Challenge

Posted by: jwhiff | March 30, 2018

Grazing Garden

I keep tinkering with my outdoor classroom ideas. I know what resources I get to start with and have had a bit of extra time to think. I’ve also had several years experience gardening with kids to draw on. I really want this to work!

My most successful gardening years came when I taught K. During those years, I was not really worried about growing something until it reached maturity. I wanted my K’s to play in the garden–planting, digging, watering, picking, munching and planting again. As a result, the garden was a pretty lively place. I didn’t have a huge garden space either (only 6 milk crates!), so I knew we weren’t aiming for any big feast. Still, we made good use of what we had and the garden was an important learning focus from the time following Spring Break until the end of the school year.

I was less successful at the intermediate level. For some reason, I was caught up in the idea that the plants needed to reach maturity. There was a flurry of activity at the start with all the planting and then….waiting. A bit of watering, but that’s it. Our climate doesn’t allow for many spectacular fruiting veggies to be ripe by the end of June, so the end result wasn’t super interesting (radish and spinach salad, anyone?)

This time, I would like the garden to be a place of continuous planting and munching, just like back in the good old kindergarten days. Here’s a drawing that I did recently to give you an idea about how I’m going to set it up:

While we wait for the planters to arrive (bought 3 from Costco), I’m going to work with the kids to plant seeds in little compostable containers made out of newspaper. These will be planted in one of the three planters. We will also buy some plants this year to give us a head start (cheating, I know) and these will planted in another planter. Next year, we will start these ourselves before the break. The final planter will have seeds planted directly into the soil. This should give us some interesting variation between the planters. We will start another round of seed planting every time we free up space.

This should allow for continuous garden activity. By the time June rolls around, we’ll stop planting and let the soil in the planters dry out. Then we’ll store the soil and the planters in the undercover area over the summer.

Posted by: jwhiff | March 14, 2018

Outdoor Classroom Ideas!

This should give everyone a rough idea about where we can go with a previously overlooked space at the school.  Best part is, we can use this space right away.  We were given the official thumbs up!

By the way, none of the ideas are set into stone.  They are simply a good starting place.  Check out the powerpoint:

Outdoor Classroom Presentation

Check this idea out, too:

I know the perspective in my drawing is out of whack, but you get the idea!

Bottom line: this is going to be fun.

Posted by: jwhiff | September 30, 2017

Mystery Numbers!

Mystery numbers + hypothesis + investigation = Aha!

It was a fun exercise.  My kids were completely engaged by this.

Step 1:  You need to find some numbers that tell a story without revealing what the title to the story is.  You need to provide some clues that kids can use to figure the title out!  This week, I choose numbers related to Terry Fox.

Step 2: Give them to your students in random order.  Because I have a range of needs in my class, I pre-cut mine and put them into ziplock bags.

Step 3: Students place them into some sort of meaningful order.  This week, I asked them to place them from least to greatest.

Step 4: Make sure students understand these numbers.  This step involves saying them, expanding them and building them out of base 10 blocks.

Step 5: Start providing some clues.  This week, I gave students units ($, km, days, years) that match the numbers (also pre-cut and random).  The students used these to make hypotheses about what the number story could be.  Most were very certain the number were about Terry Fox because of our run this week.  I imagine making a game out of this step in the future.

Step 6: Pair the units with numbers.  This is another guessing step.  I ask the kids not to glue them down, because they need to follow up with some research before they can be sure.

Step 7: Research and glue down.  This is big Aha! session.  The kids loved figuring out whether or not their number/unit combos were right. We used our school laptops and a single website for this part:

Step 8: Fill in the details of the story. This involves reading and writing.  This was the hardest step for some of my students, although important enough that they stayed on it.  In this step, they already knew (for example) that 5,373 was paired with km, but now they needed to figure out that Terry had run 5,373 km when his cancer came back and he needed to stop.

In the end, it was an engaging, inclusive activity.  I think it is very important for numbers to be studied in meaningful contexts.  Numbers make stories amazing, and stories make numbers meaningful.

Here is an idea that I have coming up: Arctic explorer timeline mystery numbers:

Posted by: jwhiff | September 22, 2017

Shape Shifters

Last year, I updated all of my lessons.  Specifically, I refined them and decided to focus on one subtopic at a time.  Much more useful.  I also added graphics to help with analysis and extra student activities as well.  I hope you find them helpful!

Lesson 1:  Intro to Using Shape Shifters


Lesson 2: Polygons

Lesson 3: Parallel and Perpendicular

Lesson 4: Angles

Lesson 5: Symmetry

Lesson 6: Quadrilaterals

Lesson 7: Shape Movements


I would love feedback, especially if something does not work.  They are meant to be used to teach students in a step-by-step way.


Posted by: jwhiff | February 12, 2017

More Measuring Projects…

The more measuring, the better. I’m constantly on the lookout for interesting measuring projects. Here are a few that I am working on:

Maps. Kids like creating maps. My students created maps of their team’s fictional homeland (in Social Studies). They had to mark out where specific resources could be found (clam beds, cedar groves, egg-collecting spots, etc) and the location of a village site. They had to calculate the area of each resource patch and the perimeter of the island. They also created a map scale and marked out distances between their village site and important places in their homeland.

By the way, I highly recommend that you create cm grid transparencies. These are very handy for measuring the area of irregular spaces. More than that, they are an excellent scaffolding tool for students who need to see that 6cm x 7cm = 42 cm squared. I have them at the ready whenever I’m helping those less-confident students.

Floor plans. Start by researching and creating a model house (always fun). My kids used the SFU Time Immemorial site to research the inside of a Coast Salish longhouse. We are currently working on models and they are having a blast. Next comes drawing out a floor plan. Of course, kids will be measuring parts of the house (length, width, height) and calculating the areas of important spaces. They need to calculate house perimeters and estimate the size of the potential classroom village site. Scale is an important concept in this project as well.

Time Schedules. There is always opportunities for kids to create schedules, whether for special days (like Valentine’s) or ordinary days with some flexibility in the schedule. It seems simple enough, but is an excellent test of a student’s time measuring skills. The nice thing about a school day is that events must fit within the strict parameters of a school’s schedule. This means event durations must add up properly and conform to the start times of recess, lunch and the final bell. Plus, there is a cross-over between am and pm. Students can record times in both standard and 24-hour time. I have a nice standard scheduling sheet that students use for any scheduling activities. It is very versatile and I am willing to share it with you!

Posted by: jwhiff | February 10, 2017

SPCA Budget Project

Here are a few links that will come in handy:




Real Canadian Superstore



Posted by: jwhiff | January 28, 2017

Critical Thinking and Liberal Democracy

We are fortunate to live in a liberal democracy.  In liberal democracies, people speak up for themselves and are heard by those in leadership positions.  This includes all people, whether they be male or female, elderly or young, disabled or able-bodied, rich or poor.  People don’t always agree with one another, but we expect that.  In the end, we try our best to seek the truth to help us make good decisions. The truth isn’t always obvious.  It takes effort to find.  We collect evidence over many years and consider the opinions of people who are experts.  This is called critical thinking.  Without this kind of thinking, we won’t discover the truth.  Without truth, there is no democracy.

I write a focus paragraph for my students once every two weeks.  It is the source of important vocabulary, spelling words and reading fluency practice.  It is alway about an important learning topic.  Thought I would share this one.

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