Monday, 25 November 2013

WW II Deception, More Flags, and Audacity

What a week!


Last week the Penticton grade 3, 4 and 5s tried to work with the audio software Audacity, but the technology was not working for most students.  This week was a whole different story.  Everyone was able to get the software working and students started recording, editing, playing with effects, downloading music and sounds...  the list goes on!  This class was all about 'playing' with the software and finding out what it could do.  Students were encouraged to take risks.  It was exciting to see how engaged the students were, and to see them sharing their new found expertise with each other.  At times it was very loud in the classroom (something about recording your voice makes students yell) and at others it was very quiet as students listened through their headsets to their recordings.

World War Two Presentation

The Summerland classes (AIM and ASPIRE) were treated to a presentation by ASPIRE parent and World War Two history enthusiast, Myron Dueck.  Mr. Dueck created a presentation that discussed WWII in the context of our theme; Top Secret Communication.  Mr. Dueck gave students a brief summary of the events leading up to WWII as well as the war itself.  He talked about the Enigma Machine, which the students had been introduced to in an earlier class, as well as methods of deception used by the different sides in both WWI and WWII.

USS West Mahomet in dazzle camouflage, 1918. 
One method of deception that Mr. Dueck describes was the use of dazzle camouflage .  It was used on ships mostly in WWI .  Instead of trying to camouflage something as large as a ship, the idea was to paint it to make it difficult to tell what type of ship it was, how many ships there were, and which way the ship(s) were heading.  The photo to the left shows a ship with dazzle camouflage.

In addition to the images in his slide presentation, Mr. Dueck also brought in some artifacts from his WWII collection.  The grade 1 and 2 class, who are currently learning about flags, would have been interested to see the German flag from a U-boat.  It was specially constructed to enable it to withstand being submerged in water.  Students also got to see a bayonet, as well as some ceremonial daggers, a grenade (empty of course) as well as other items.

The students had lots of questions and the hour that we had originally planned on for the presentation stretched out for almost an hour and a half and at that, Mr. Dueck left them wanting more!  A big thanks to Mr. Dueck for giving this presentation, and a thank you as well to the AIM parents for accommodating a change in schedule so that the AIM students could also be there for this presentation.

More Flags

The Grade 1 and 2 class continued to learn more about flags this week.  First of all, the students looked at flags from various countries and discovered that there are 6 main flag colours: red, blue, yellow, green, black and white.  Other colours are used, but they tend to be less common.  We wondered what Penticton's flag looked like.  Did you know that it looks like this?

Penticton's flag.

The students quickly figured out what the different symbols on the flag represented.  We then looked looked at the North American Vexillological Association's 'Good Flag, Bad Flag' section to learn more about good flag design.  The students quickly learned that with flag design, you really want to keep it simple, avoid complicated designs or lettering and stick with 2 - 3 basic colours.  Next class students will be designing their own flags.  We'll see how they follow the guidelines of good flag design.

Thanks for reading and finding out what we did... This Week In Gifted!

Friday, 15 November 2013

Research and Flags

Here are some of the things we did... This Week In Gifted.


The Wednesday afternoon grade 1-2 class started looking at flags as a way that we communicate who we are.  We looked at the Canadian flag that is flying out front at Wiltse Elementary.  We brought the flag down to the bottom of the flagpole and many of us were surprised at how big it was.  We talked about what it means when a flag is at half-mast.  The students then went on the computer to explore different flags of the world.  Many of the students were inspired to make coloured sketches of the flags they found.  Below is a slideshow with some of our favourite flags.  Included are some of the student sketches and then some of our favourites (the flag images came from Flags of the World and The World Flag Database.)  

Researching Topics in Communication

Last week students brainstormed a variety of possible topics under the broad theme of communication.  This week the Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday grade 3, 4 and 5 classes all spent some time doing research on their topic.  The ASPIRE students (Summerland gr 4 & 5) faced challenges as the computer system was operating very S L O W L Y.  The students are finding out some interesting things in their research.  For instance, Olivia found out that when there is a noisy background frogs communicate by flapping their hind feet in the air.  Who knew?

Audio Recording with Audacity

The Wednesday and Thursday morning grade 5 classes have been the guinea pigs for trying out Audacity.  Audacity is a free open source software program for recording and editing audio (it can be downloaded here).  We will be using this program to record our radio shows.  We encountered a few problems with the program not launching, so not all were able to try it out.  Great problem solving though by Connor and Josh.  Hopefully the bugs are worked out now and it will work for everyone.  

The Wrap Up

These were a few of the things we did this week.  Thanks for checking in with us!

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Brainstorming, Scytales and Straw Bridges

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


This week all of the students in grades 3 to 5 brainstormed topics to research under the broad heading of communication.  We started out with each class as a group suggesting topics. 

Communication Research Topic Ideas

Then students worked individually or in pairs; writing topic ideas on post-it notes and sticking them onto large sheets of paper.  Using post-it notes meant that if a student wrote down an idea and wasn't happy with it (either the idea, or that it was misspelled or messy) they could just discard it.  Handy for those perfectionists in the group.  It also meant that they could move ideas around on their page and group similar ideas together. 

Post-it note brainstorm

We talked about the DOVE principal of brainstorming:
D--Defer judgement
O--Oddball or outrageous ideas encouraged
V--Vast number of ideas
E--Expand or elaborate on ideas

The hardest DOVE principal for most students is deferring judgement.  We talked about how the key is to start getting ideas down.  Because one idea often leads to another, and another.  Eventually you end up with an idea that really strikes your fancy!  At times in the brainstorming process we stopped and looked at the ideas others were coming up with.  The ideas we liked, we borrowed, or they made us think of new ideas.

After brainstorming, some of the classes were able to start researching the communication topic in which they were most interested.  All of the grade 3, 4 and 5s will be spending time more time on this research in upcoming classes.


What is a scytale?  Ask our grade 1 & 2 Wednesday afternoon class!  We continued our exploration of steganography (hidden messages) by creating our own scytales.  Scytales have been in use since at least the 7th century.  A message is encrypted by wrapping a strip of paper (parchment or leather were used in earlier times) around a cylinder.  The message is then written on the paper.  When the paper is unwound, it just looks like a random collection of letters.  To decipher the message, it must be wound around a cylinder of the same diameter as was used originally.  We used long strips of paper and wound them around some wooden cylinders.  At home you could use cardboard tubes from paper towel rolls or wrapping paper rolls.

Straw Bridge Challenge

The Summerland ASPIRE class did the Straw Bridge Challenge.  Last week they were given the instructions for this challenge, but they were encrypted.  Students had to use their code breaking savvy to decrypt the instructions.  This week it was time to do the challenge.  Each small group of students were given 
  • 15 thin drinking straws
  • 25 cm of masking tape
  • 1 pair of scissors
The goal was to make a bridge that spanned a 30 cm gap and was strong enough to support a coffee can.  The can could be rested on the top of the bridge, or suspended below the bridge using string.  The next part of the challenge was to see how many golf balls could be placed in the coffee can before the bridge collapsed.  

This activity encouraged students to think creatively.  They also had to be able to communicate well with their partner(s).  Below are photos of some of the bridges as they were being built:


The photos above show three very different approaches to the bridge structure.  The top bridge was the strongest; holding the coffee can and 2 golf balls.

Non-Verbal Communication

Finally, all of the classes have been looking at non-verbal communication.  Whether it is by playing Charades / Funny Faces or by acting out a narrative walk.  So beware; the students are becoming skilled at interpreting the non-verbal signs we all transmit! 

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

Monday, 4 November 2013

Caesar Ciphers, Enigma and Steganography

The past couple of weeks have been busy!  There are seven different classes in the Gifted Program.  Though they are all working on the same theme, Top Secret Communication, each class is doing slightly different activities depending on the age and interests of the students.  Here are some of the things we have been doing in the past few weeks.

Caesar Ciphers

All of the classes have made their own Caesar Cipher Wheels and have been busy encrypting and decrypting messages.  Students in grades 3 - 5 have all become quite adept at decrypting Caesar cipher messages, even if they haven't been given the key!  One letter words are a big tip off, since they can only be the words/letters "a" or "I".  If there are no one letter words, have no fear!  The students know to look for three letter words that are repeated (as they may represent "the" or "and").  Words with contractions (such as "I'm", "can't" or "she's") are also helpful in breaking Caesar Ciphers as the final letter is usually "m", "t", or "s".
Caesar Cipher Wheel

A wonderful website that the Wednesday and Thursday morning grade 5s have been exploring is the Crypto Club site.  It has tools to help you encipher and decipher messages using a variety of ciphers, including the Caesar Cipher that we have been using.  It also has some fun challenges and games for students to try out.

The Enigma Machine

A student from the Tuesday morning grade 3-4 class brought in her Pocket Enigma, which led to an exploration of the history of the Enigma Machine, how it worked, and the staggering number of possible settings for it.  In many of the classes we have watched this video (or will be watching it soon) on the history and mathematics of the Enigma machine.


Steganography, as the Wednesday afternoon grade 1-2 class can tell you, is hidden or concealed writing.  This past week the grade 1-2 class explored steganography as we experimented with invisible inks.  Students painted pictures or messages using lemon juice, milk, vinegar, tonic water, and Tide or baking soda (both diluted in water).  After the paintings had dried we revealed the hidden images/words by using heat (on the lemon juice and milk), painting over them with red cabbage juice (on the lemon juice, vinegar, and baking soda) or by shining a UV light on them (for the tonic water and Tide).  

The Wrap Up

These are just a few of the things the students have been doing.  In the weeks ahead we will continue to explore ciphers and code making and breaking as well as looking at non-verbal communication.