Saturday, 12 January 2019

Ready, Set, Design!

This week was our first time together for over a month -- I think it is safe to say that we were all pretty excited to get back into the groove!  We also welcomed three new students to the program -- I'm optimistic that we didn't scare them off and that they will be with us next week too...   

When Suddenly...

We combined learning how to use the field recorder and practicing our storytelling skills.  "When suddenly..." is s storytelling activity where each person in the group adds a sentence to the story and ends their bit with the words "when suddenly..."  Students said their part of the story into the field recorder -- we are learning how far away to hold the recorder, at what angle to hold it and how to adjust if we are whispering or yelling.  In the weeks ahead students will learn how to edit audio, starting with editing these stories!

Design Challenge

All of the classes did the Ready, Set, Design Challenge.  It is based on an activity described here.  Each student (or pair) received a paper bag containing a slip of paper with the challenge “I need to keep my hands warm”, as well as 2 paper coffee filters, 3 thin plastic straws, and 3 large paper clips.  With the materials in the bag, students had 15 minutes to come up with a prototype that addressed the challenge.  And it was challenging!  They could use tools to work with the materials, but they couldn't add anything new to the structure (like tape).  The materials were a little difficult to work with, but all of the participants came up with interesting solutions. 

At the end of the 15 minutes students shared their designs with the class.  We had solutions that were similar to mittens or muffs, solutions that involved blowing warm air into the cavity where you placed your hands, a double ended lamp, and so many other possibilities.  There was lots of revising and rethinking during the design process.  The conversations between students were great!  I haven't tried this activity before, but I think it is a keeper!  Below are some photos of students working on their designs (link).

Structure of a Radio Show

In preparation for our big radio project, we listened to the first 8 - 10 minutes of Road Trip Radio Episode 1 (link).  The goal was to get a sense of what a variety style radio show sounds like.  We identified the following parts of the show:
  • introduction with theme music
  • what the show is about
  • fun facts
  • coming up later...
  • interviews
  • you're listening to...
Students are starting to generate ideas about what they'd like to include in our show.  Those who aren't keen to have their voice on radio, can be involved in scripting, recording, editing, sound effects, researching... well you get the picture -- there's a lot more to it then recording your voice!

Coming Up

Over the next few weeks students will be learning how to edit audio and they will be getting more experience with the field recorders.

Thanks for checking in to see what we've been up to!

Friday, 7 December 2018

Presentations -- Part 2

Here are a few of the things that we did... This Week In Gifted!


Last week a few of the Wednesday morning students presented their Communication Mini-Research projects.  This week all of the other students presented theirs.  We learned about:
  • Morse Code
  • How bees, bats and seals communicate
  • The Rosetta Stone and hieroglyphics
  • Computer coding (with a focus on Java Script)
  • Communication Technology (with a focus on how text messages are sent and received)
  • The history of emojis
  • How the Enigma Machine works
  • Sign Language
  • Braille
  • How Radios work
  • The Commercial Code / Telegraph Code

A sampling of slides from a few different presentations

All of the presentations were created in PowerPoint (with the exception of one student who used Google Slides).  Many of the younger students had not used PowerPoint before, but they quickly became pros!  Students uploaded their PowerPoint presentations to the school district portal.  It is my first time using the portal this way and it worked well.  You child *should* be able to log on from home and show you their project.  If you try following the instructions below and they don't work -- don't panic!  It may be that students don't have access from home.  Just shoot me an e-mail if this is the case.
  • go to
  • click on 'Portal' in the top right of the menu
  • the student will be prompted to sign in with their usual school district username and password
  • once in the portal, click on the class, then select 'Assignments' from the top menu
  • click on the lone assignment listed there
  • now you have the option of previewing the slide show (none of the transitions will show up in preview though which will make your child unhappy--trust me) or downloading the presentation.  If you have PowerPoint on your computer then downloading is the best option because then all of the animations and transitions will work.
After each presentation, audience members asked questions of the presenters and gave appreciations for what they thought the presenters did well.  All of the classes did a good job with this, but the Wednesday afternoon class particularly impressed me with their thoughtful appreciations of each others' work.

Thom(p)son X 2

Last week Mrs. Thomson visited the Wednesday afternoon class and this week she dropped by the Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning groups.  Susan Thomson is the Director of Instruction for Student Services and the Gifted Program is part of her portfolio.  She was able to take in many of the student presentations this week.  Students also shared with her some of the other things we have been learning about including having her participate in the storytelling activity 'When Suddenly!'

Last Class

This week was the last week of classes for the Gifted Program in 2018.  Classes will resume the first week back in January.  We will dive into making radio!

Friday, 30 November 2018

Presentations -- Part 1

When Suddenly...

This week the Tuesday and Wednesday afternoon classes participated in the storytelling game "When Suddenly..."  As a group we build a story sentence by sentence.  One person starts it off and ends their piece with the words "when suddenly..." and that's where the next person takes over.  You really have to be on your toes, keeping track of what has already been said and then moving the story forward from there.  We recorded the stories, and will be doing more of this in the future with an eye to doing some audio editing to really jazz up the stories.

Double Trouble

The Wednesday afternoon class had a guest in the classroom, Mrs. Thomson.  Yes, that's right!  It was Thompson and Thomson.  Susan Thomson is the Director of Instruction for Student Services, and the Gifted Program falls under her purview.  She dropped by to see what the students were up to.  They showed her how to decrypt a Scytale message and then shared with her the work they were doing on their communication mini-research projects.

Baby Talk

We've been looking at the myriad of way that we communicate with one another and this week we watched a short video with two babies having a conversation.  The students picked out the different ways the babies were interacting -- they were doing many of the things that we do, we just couldn't understand what they were saying.  Some of us think that they had a big plan to break into the fridge...  (link)


In the Wednesday morning class we started on the student presentations.  We learned about how bees communicate, the history of emojis, the importance of the Rosetta Stone, and the Commercial / Telegraph Code.  More presentations from all of the classes next week!

Thanks for checking in to see what we've been up to... This Week In Gifted!
I'll leave you with a photo from Social Time in the Wednesday afternoon class.

Saturday, 24 November 2018



This week the students learned how to encrypt and decrypt using scytales.  A scytale is a transposition cipher -- letters in the message are rearranged.  Scytales were originally used by the Ancient Greeks and especially the Spartans.  They involve a cylinder with a strip of paper (parchment or leather back when they were originally used) wrapped around it.  A message is written on the scytale, when the paper is unwound the message is just a strange jumble of letters.  Here is an example from Wikipedia explaining how it works (
To encrypt, one simply writes across the leather:
       |   |   |   |   |   |  |
       | I | a | m | h | u |  |
     __| r | t | v | e | r |__|
    |  | y | b | a | d | l |
    |  | y | H | E | L | P |
    |  |   |   |   |   |   |

so the ciphertext becomes, "IryyatbHmvaEhedLurlP" after unwinding.

Scytales from the Tuesday afternoon class.

Wordlink and Pass the Koosh Ball

The Tuesday and Wednesday afternoon classes each played Word Link; a game where you start off with a word and then the next person says a word that goes with it and the next person says a word that goes with the new word and so on.  For example you might start with the word bear --> stuffy --> nose --> cold --> ice --> hockey etc.  It is always interesting to see where you end up!

The Wednesday morning class played Pass the Koosh Ball.  Students stand in a circle with one person in the middle with their eyes closed.  The kids in the circle pass a ball from person to person until the person in the middle says "Stop!" and then a letter.  The person who has the ball at this point has to pass it along and then name off 5 words that begin with the letter.  If they can't do this before the ball gets back to them, then it is their turn in the middle.  5 words doesn't sound like much, but when you are under pressure it is amazing how hard it can be!

Communication Mini-Research Project

Students continued to work on their research projects.

Thanks for stopping by to see what we've been up to... This Week In Gifted!

Recess with the Wednesday morning group.

Friday, 16 November 2018

Communication Research

Here are a few of the things we've been doing this week (and last!) in gifted.


Last week the grade 4s and 5s learned how to encipher and decipher keyword ciphers.  They used letter frequencies to decipher keyword ciphers when the keyword and keyletter were unknown to them -- a pretty challenging task!  They then put these skills to work playing the game Rogue Computer.  

My favourite student quote last week came from a student in the grade 2/3 afternoon class.  The students were working on deciphering Caesar Ciphers in order to solve the clues in the game Desert Oasis.  It's pretty challenging work when you don't know what the shift is and have to use letter frequencies.  To no one in particular a student said, "This is hard!"  I waited and watched.  "This is hard!"  Again, I waited and watched to see if the student was hitting his limit and needed intervention before frustration took over.  "This is HARD... but it is so much FUN!"  Yes!

This week the students were introduced to a new cipher -- the Pig-Pen.  They were able to decipher the message on the board in short order!

Students in the Tuesday afternoon class tackling the Pig-Pen Cipher

The Wednesday afternoon class at work on the Pig-Pen Cipher

Body Spell

This week the Wednesday morning class played the game Body Spell.  Students were in two teams and each student had letters drawn on their hands and feet.  They were then given a word that they had to spell with the letters on their body -- crazy!  They handled the small 4 and 5 letters words quite well and easily progressed to the 7 letter word they are spelling in the photo below (the letter on the sideways foot is a 'T').

Communication Mini-Research Projects

This week all of the classes started doing research on topics related to communication.  These will be small projects just to whet everyone's appetite before we get into our bigger radio project.  Some of the topics students are investigating are: hieroglyphics, the Rosetta Stone, the Enigma Machine, American Sign Language, Braille, Morse Code, the telegraph, the history of emoticons/emojis, communication in different types of animals (bees, seals, whales...), codes used in WWII, computer coding... It's going to be fun sharing what everyone has learned!

Thanks for stopping by to see what we've been up to... This Week In Gifted!

Monday, 5 November 2018


Here are a few of the things that we did this past week in Gifted.

Snap Circuits

The Tuesday afternoon group at Trout Creek is enjoying building more complex circuits with our Snap Circuits kit during social time.

This circuit uses a solar cell, resistors, a simple LED, a 7 segment LED display, motor, speaker, resistors...

Keyword Ciphers

The Tuesday group also learned how to encipher and decipher messages with the keyword cipher.  The rest of the groups will be spending time on that this week.

Halloweeen Hijinx

The usual students did not show up for the Wednesday (Halloween) classes.  Instead there was Minnie Mouse, a cowgirl on a horse, a grim reaper, a dark fairy, a demon (sorry Skyler -- I couldn't remember the full name!), the Childlike Empress, Spider Girl, and a mummy.  Yikes!  Also, Julius Caesar took over teaching the class (he does know a lot about Caesar Ciphers after all.)

The morning gang at social time.
Love those creepy fingers!

Field Recorders and Movies

In preparation for our radio project, the Wednesday morning group learned how to use the three H1 Zoom recorders that we have as well as a voice recorder on the mini-iPad.  These are all portable audio recorders.  Students experimented with interviewing each other and getting a sense of how far away to hold the recorders from their mouths.  All of the classes will be getting a chance to work with the field recorders in the weeks ahead.

In addition, the morning class made a short silent movie.  The Dark Fairy (aka Sage) suggested making the movie since we had all of these characters in their amazing costumes.  It was a collaborative effort and came together really well!

Thanks for stopping by to see what we've been up to!

Saturday, 27 October 2018

Code Breakers

Here are a few things we did... This Week In Gifted!

Deciphering When You Don't Have The Key


Do you understand the text above?  Using the Crack a Caesar Cipher tool on the website, as well as an understanding of letter frequencies, all of the students this week got practice deciphering long messages encrypted with the Caesar Cipher.  Interested in trying to crack the message above?  Just copy it, open up the  Crack a Caesar Cipher tool (you may have to enable Flash) and paste the text into the 'CIPHERTEXT' window.  Use the 'Letter Frequencies' button to help you to decide where to set the cipher wheel.  Then in the 'plaintext' window enter the first 3 deciphered letters and press the 'Decrypt' button.  If you get gobbledygook, then you didn't set the wheel to the correct key.  Delete the plaintext and reset the wheel to a different spot (based on letter frequencies).

Wednesday afternoon code breakers.

Kids on the Radio

We also listened to part of this interview.  It was conducted and produced by elementary students at Brant Avenue Public School in Guelph, Ontario.

Each week we've been talking about radio, and for the past two weeks we've listened to samples of radio created by kids.  All this in preparation for creating our own radio show!

Thanks for stopping by to see what we've been up to.