Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Scratch and Grade 5 Triangles - TLLP Activity 3

This is the third in a series of blog posts connected to the Teacher Learning and Leadership (TLLP) I am part of. Our goal was to “Investigate ways that students can use Computational Thinking, across the Curriculum, to problem solve, create and remix - maximizing available technology.”
I need to thank Cliff Kraeker @kraekerc for the genesis of this idea. A colleague was using part of his Coding Quest Education Program and I made some variations to the lesson for my Grade 5 class.

Curriculum Connections - Grade 5 - Mathematics (Geometry)

By the end of Grade 5, students will:

  • identify triangles (i.e., acute, right, obtuse, scalene, isosceles, equilateral), and classify them according to angle and side properties
  • construct triangles, using a variety of tools (e.g., protractor, compass, dynamic geometry software), given acute or right angles and side measurements

Procedure (Over several periods, depending on knowledge and understanding)

1./ My students were familiar with the different triangles and most could already name them all. Experiences in earlier grades were obviously paying dividends. The review period for the terms (acute, right, obtuse, scalene, isosceles & equilateral) were quick. A brief review of an interior measure of an angle and an exterior measure of an angle is also helpful.

2./ We did a paper cutting activity where students were encouraged to make a large triangle of any kind on a standard sheet of paper. We cut the triangles out and then cut each corner off on a slight curve. We assembled the curves together and, in every case, we formed a rudimentary semicircle. The following guiding questions helped them come to some realizations
  • How many degrees in a circle?  What about half a circle?
  • If all of us could make a half circle from the corners or our unique triangles, what does the tell us about all triangles?
  • If an equilateral triangle has three corners with interior angles that are the same, and they add up to 180 degrees...What will each corner measure?
  • If a right triangle has a corner that measures 90 degrees - what do the other two angles measure? BONUS: Is a right triangle always an isosceles triangle?
  • If an isosceles triangle has two angles that measure 80 degrees, what will the third be? How do you know?

3./ As a kinesthetic learning activity students put a strip of masking tape on an open floor space. One partner walks the tape and turns his/her body to begin to walk an equilateral triangle at the corner (vertex). Before continuing, they must answer the question.

How many degrees did I turn my body? Was it more than 60 degrees? Was it more than 90?
The realization that they actually turned 120 degrees is an important one for the coding they will eventually do in Scratch. The interior angle is 60, but the person, or pen or coded line actually turns the distance of the exterior angle. The activity can continue as students explore the space for isosceles, right, scalene, obtuse and acute triangles. In previous years. In previous years, I would encourage them to mark the sides with masking tape - but this did not serve to enhance their understanding and took up too much time...and tape.

Coding with Scratch

The students are shown the following example.

However, it is paused after the Equilateral Triangle is shown. Expectations are discussed.

  • Using any sprite and the pen tool, create three different triangles.
  • Using the “say” function - provide your viewer with information about the triangle.
  • You must provide at least 3 truths about the triangle - but you can add more.
  • Use any background and feel free to add sound effects.
  • You can record your voice reading the information that you are “saying” on screen.
  • You can work with a partner, but must do an equitable amount of the work.

Students exceeded expectations, as seen here and here

The part they liked the best - beyond the absence of boring worksheets.

  • They got to choose which triangles they would share.
  • There was flexibility on the information they chose to share.
  • They liked the challenge of the scalene triangle.
  • They liked the freedom to add music, moving images, colourful backgrounds.
  • They loved working with a partner.


  • Struggling students were allowed to use a large section of my code and remix it.
  • Students with limited proficiency copied code from handouts, and were encouraged to look for patterns that could be duplicated.
  • Students comfortable with the program created it on their own - referencing my code when necessary.
  • Advanced students were encouraged to find a more interesting approach to the code and the final product or to find a different way to code it.

We shared our final products on Edmodo in order to allow other students to offer positive feedback.

Hints (Or Problem Solving Opportunities for them to debug)

  • Show them the “Clear Graphic Effects” and “Clear” option that starts their program.
  • Remind them that their Sprite needs to be reset with “Point in direction 90” - otherwise, they can’t test and debug as they are building their script.
  • Suggest that they start their first triangle well away from a central location - this will allow them room for the other two.

Have Fun - I think you will enjoy seeing and evaluating the results.

A Report Card comment could read:

"Name was able to construct and identify a number of different triangles according to angle and side properties using dynamic geometric software with (insert modifier here)."

Thursday, 11 May 2017

The Health Curriculum and Why Parents don’t need to worry (as much).

Open Letter to My Grade 5 Parents:

We are about to start our Health Unit on Human Development. This is often dubbed the “Sex Ed” curriculum and is the one that has created concern for some parents. Please realize that much of that concern is because the facts have been misrepresented. Last year, I read a note that was being circulated in my community. I was shocked to see how much it distorted the facts. It seemed as if it was intentionally designed to frighten parents about what will be covered in class. Hopefully, I can alleviate any concerns with the following information about the specifics of the Grade 5 curriculum.

Look here for more information (Pages 160 - 162 on the PDF).

First off - the curriculum did not change much in Grade 5. There is a lot of information out there to suggest that this is an entirely different program - it is almost the same as it was 20 years ago.

Here is what it said in 1998 (When I taught my first Grade 5 class)
  1. describe the secondary physical changes at puberty (e.g., growth of body hair, changes in body shape).
  2. describe the processes of menstruation and spermatogenesis.
  3. describe the increasing importance of personal hygiene following puberty.

Here is what it says now
  1. identify the parts of the reproductive system, and describe how the body changes during puberty.
  2. describe the processes of menstruation and spermatogenesis, and explain how these processes relate to reproduction and overall development.
  3. describe emotional and interpersonal stresses related to puberty.

Some other facts to put your mind at ease

  • We just finished a unit on human body systems and have already talked about a lot of our inner workings (including all the less pleasant parts of our digestive system). Consequently, the students are familiar with the fact that we talk about the human body like scientists - uncovering the secrets of many systems that help us function.

  • Remember that the curriculum is not delivered by a robot. There is a caring, responsible adult who exists between the curriculum and your student. I want your student to be an informed pre-teen who is prepared for the changes that will happen in their bodies. I want them to be considerate, compassionate citizens who will treat others and themselves with respect, patience and kindness. I take great care to craft my lessons and presentations in a way that is honest and as comfortable as possible.

  • For you, the curriculum is about your kid, but it is actually written for all kids. Specifically, it written to provide important information to children who would not get this information outside a classroom. A young person’s best advantage when navigating the pitfalls that come with a changing body is knowing the facts. Life changing, and even life ending, mistakes are best prevented by education.

As a final note, I will understand completely if you wish to remove your student from class during these lessons. It is your prerogative to provide this education to them in the way in which you see fit. Drop me a line, and I will let you know the exact periods (to the minute) in which this instruction will take place. You will need to sign your student out at the office and return them for the next period if possible.

However, I will warn you that they will likely ask their friends what was said while they were away. They are naturally curious - which is one of their greatest gifts. I would much prefer that they hear the facts directly from me and not second-hand, through the filter of students who, themselves, are just becoming familiar with this new information.


Marc Hodgkinson
Grade 5 Teacher

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Haiku Coding Activity for Grade 5 -TLLP Activity 2

This is the second in a series of blogs connected to the Teacher Learning and Leadership (TLLP) of which I am a part. Our goal was to “Investigate ways that students can use Computational Thinking, across the Curriculum, to problem solve, create and remix - maximizing available technology.”

I need to thank Scott McKenzie @ScottMcKenzie27 for this great idea. He let me know that he got it from Kim Gill @Gill_Ville. Regardless, I am sharing it because it has so many great curriculum connections and it really "bumped-up" a Haiku activity that had gotten stale for me.  Additionally, it allows even early English Language Learners to experience wonderful success.  Finally, there are some great connections to decomposition in Computational Thinking.

A few Curriculum Connections taken from Ontario Grade 5 Writing

1.1 identify the topic, purpose, and audience for a variety of writing form.

1.2 generate ideas about a potential topic using a variety of strategies and resources.

2.6 identify elements of their writing that need improvement, using feedback from the teacher and peers, with a focus on specific features.

2.7 make revisions to improve the content, clarity, and interest of their written work, using several types of strategies.

2.4 use sentences of different lengths and structures.

3.8 produce pieces of published work to meet identified criteria based on the expectations related to content, organization, style, use of conventions, and use of presentation strategies.


1./ Introduce Haiku to students by way of this book “Guyku: A Year of Haiku for Boys” by Bob Raczka and Peter H. Reynolds. This makes the idea of this poetry more accessible to boys who are, sometimes, a little more reluctant to create poetry. There are also some great resources and activities at that website.

2./ Allow the students the opportunity to recognize the pattern themselves? What do all of these poems have in common? This is decomposition - the first step in Computational Thinking.

  • Three lines - not rhyming.
  • 5 syllables followed by 7 syllables followed by 5 syllables,
  • Each poem tells a short story or has a complete idea.

3./ Lots of scrap paper, pencils and GO!  

  • Let them create.
  • At least three is the expectations, but there is no limit on creativity.
  • Reinforce the idea of tinkering - massage the language to get more from less.
  • Encourage sharing and, most importantly, syllable counting and checking.

4./ Have them select a favourite and present it using two sprites on Scratch. One sprite to read the poem, while the other claps or drums or meows the syllables. Additionally, they are to add a variable counter for Haiku Lines and Syllables.  

My students were familiar with Scratch, but at different stages of proficiency. My mid-year arrivals are still beginners, while others in the class have long since eclipsed my skill level.

I used this example as a guideline. It also provided me with a comfortable way to introduce the upcoming Health Unit on Human Development and Puberty.

  • Struggling students were allowed to use my code and remix it.
  • Students with limited proficiency copied code from handouts, and were encouraged to look for patterns that could be duplicated.
  • Students comfortable with the program created it on their own - referencing my code when necessary.
  • Advanced students were encouraged to find a more interesting approach to the code and the final product.

We shared our final products on Edmodo in order to allow other students to offer positive feedback.

Here are some examples.  Nevaeh's Haiku Diya's Haiku Hadil (ESL) Haiku

Have Fun!

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

"Talk Less - Smile More" Aaron Burr from "Hamilton"

When I was in my second year of university, I took a course called “An Introduction to Personality Theory and Research”.  I loved it and I dove into my studies voraciously. It was as if I was perpetually on the verge of cracking a secret code miraculously overlooked by Maslow, Freud, Jung and Skinner. You know - the typical delusions of grandeur that possess a twenty-something with an inspiring professor, easy access to books and a patient girlfriend willing to indulge half-baked theories and rants.

Around mid-November, I began to craft my coup de gr»Éce - An essay of such deeply referenced research and powerful eloquence that my professor would be utterly bewildered by my brilliance. Much like Ralphie in “A Christmas Story” I anxiously awaited its return. Unlike Ralphie, I received a B and not a C+.  However, more stinging was a single word, aggressively etched in red ink on the third or fourth page of my treatise.


I’ll admit, I had to look it up.

Parsimony is stinginess. It is the quality of being careful with resources or, as Merriam Webster puts iteconomy in the use of means to an end; especially:  economy of explanation in conformity with Occam's razor.

It was a valuable lesson, and one of which I still need to remind myself. Say more with less. I thought about that today when I debated writing another post. I have a whole bunch of them rattling about my cranium like errant billiard balls and I wondered why I kept procrastinating. I think it is because I know I won’t easily respect the need for parsimony.

  • I must respect the need for parsimony.
  • I will try to write more often.
  • I will make use of bullet points when it helps me summarize ideas.
  • I will write in the same way that an Ignite Talk is done. (Perhaps even recording them with pics and posting them on YouTube).
  • I will try to keep my posts in the 500 - 750 word range.
  • Hyperlinks are my friend.
  • “A Christmas Story” is still one of my favourite movies.