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.

Posted by: jwhiff | January 28, 2017

Potlatch Gift Research

I have created a set of potlatch gift cards with some very spectacular items.  Students must collect gifts to give away at potlatches that equal or exceed gifts they have been given by other groups.  This creates an interesting problem.  What is the relative worth of each gift?

We are going to do some research as a class before deciding for ourselves.  Each gift comes with a decent link so that students might understand them better and make informed decisions.  Hopefully this is helpful to you, too.

Gift 1: Copper Shield  (when you get to the page, make sure you scroll down until you get to the “Copper” subheading)


Gift 2: Bentwood Box


Gift 3: Chilkat Blanket


Gift 4: Salish Nobility Blanket


Gift 5: Eulachon (ooligan) oil


Gift 6: Nuu-chah-nulth Ocean Canoe or Haida Canoe


Gift 7: Woven Cedar Blankets


Gift 8: Tlingit Copper Knife


Gift 9: Carved Mask


Gift 10: Woven Hat


Gift 11: Carved Feast Dishes


Gift 12: Smoked Salmon


Posted by: jwhiff | January 28, 2017

Quick, Good Measuring Projects

Lots of measuring, lots of numbers. I think good quality measuring projects give kids lots of practice using not only interesting units and types of measurement, but also decimal numbers. Here are a couple of good little projects that get to the heart of the matter (namely the math) pretty quickly, but also allow for some hands-on fun and creativity.

Lego Catapults:

I get my kids to bring in an old paint stir stick (which we reinforce with duct tape and popsicle sticks) and a big ziplock bag full of random lego (and at least one green platform piece).

Kids build a lego fulcrum, a stir stick arm and a bit of eraser as the projectile and get ready to let it fly. I give them an assortment of measuring tools to share (meter wheels, meter sticks, measuring tapes…) and give them some time in the gym to record their measurements. They record their measurements as accurately as possible (no rounding) with meters as the main unit.

They finish off by recording their measurements on small pieces of paper and arranging them in order like so:

Then we discuss the results in terms of consistency, averages and outliers. In all, this project takes very little time…maybe a week or two at most.

Shoe measuring:

I know you’ve probably done something like this before, but have you measured the capacity of each shoe using popcorn kernels?

Or weighed them on balance scales?

Or calculated the area of the footprint using cm grid transparencies?

I also get the kids to measure how far the shoe travels from point to point in the school (using meter wheels). Finally, I get students to draw their shoes (side profiles and footprints), assign points around each, and measure and record the length of all possible line segments. This is actually a good little puzzle in and of itself.

How long did it take? 3 math periods. Great little project. I envision a similar project using mittens or baseball caps or crafty, kid-made boxes (I mean rectangular prisms).

Right now, we are drawing maps of their imagined territories in Social Studies. Lots of opportunity to measure areas and perimeters, and calculate distances between points based on map scales.

Up next: Puffball Olympics. Worthy of a post all by itself 🙂

Posted by: jwhiff | January 24, 2017

Potlatch Masks

screen-shot-2017-01-23-at-7-36-53-pmThis is the mask project my students are working on for the potlatch portion of the game.  They are beautiful, fun and easy to personalize.  They are also cheap and involve a lot of recycling.

Every student will need a medium-sized cereal box (or two, just in case), a roll of masking tape (1 for every 3 students works for me) and newspaper.

I’ve make a powerpoint with step by step instructions and photos.  Check it out and have fun!


By the way, you can make your own paper mâché paste.  I like the following recipe:

Mix 1 part flour with 5 parts water.  Boil (whisking steadily) until nice and thick.  Allow to cool before use 🙂

Why cook it?  It dries clear.

Posted by: jwhiff | January 22, 2017

Northwest Coast Game Part 2: The Potlatch

I’ve been doing a bunch of research for this one.  Potlatching is complicated business!!  I really wanted it to be a critical portion of my game somehow, though.  Before I get started, I’m going to give you two excellent links, so you can verify what I am proposing yourself:

Living Tradition: The Kwakwaka’wakw Potlatch of the Northwest Coast

SFU: The Potlatch Ban

The first link is a virtual museum, full of fantastic videos and photos.  It is an absolute gem.  The second provides a clear, detailed explanation of the potlatch in a couple of paragraphs.  I found it very handy.  I looked through a bunch of other websites as well, but they weren’t as appealing.

If you haven’t read my first post on this game yet, you should.  It will give you the necessary background and provide you with essential game pieces.  Basically, my class is split up into three teams and each team is working to accumulate:

  1. population
  2. claims to land, ocean and river resources

When they claim a resource area, they post a team crest logo up on a map.

However (here is where the potlatch piece comes in), in order for you to have official rights to these claimed areas, you must host a potlatch. The other two teams are invited to your potlatch as witnesses.  You must provide the other teams with gifts in order to assure their support of your claim.

Now, from the research I’ve done (see Purposes of the Potlatch), I’ve determined that potlatches were largely for:

  1. publicly recognizing class structure and status
  2. passing on a family’s rights, privileges and inheritances (this includes the rights to land, property, fishing holes, etc. AND rights to songs and stories, etc.)
  3. celebrating, honouring and supporting individuals (and the community as a whole) at important times

The focus of the potlatch in my game is the recognition of rights to resource-rich areas, not passing rights along.  I figured that the combination of 1. and 2. make my take on the potlatch defendable.   Plus, each team will need to make their potlatch a time of celebration.  We are in the process of creating masks for this purpose.  I am envisioning dancing, drumming, acting out stories and eating snacks.

Teams are ready for a potlatch when they have built up a store of potlatch gifts.  These gifts are acquired by trading 5 health points for a chance to draw out a gift (printed on paper) from the Potlatch bag in each game bin.  There are bunch of different gifts.  I am going to consult with the kids on the relative worth of each gift this week.


**Note that I have included 4 “trespass” cards in with the potlatch cards.  I wanted to intensify the game a bit, so I added these.  If you draw out a trespass card, your team has just trespassed on the territory of another team (crest on the card determines whose territory).  If this team has official rights to a territory, they can demand a gift to settle the score.  This includes potlatch gifts, or even people (to take as slaves).  If you don’t like the confrontational nature of these cards, just don’t include them.

Finally, after one team hosts a potlatch and gives away gifts to each witness, other teams must follow suit.  The second host team must honour the first by making sure that their gifts equal or surpass the gifts of the first (which, in fact, was expected).  In this way, our teams have the chance to show off their status.

I haven’t actually tried this out yet, so bear with me.  As the game progresses and (inevitably) changes, I’ll post updates.

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