Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Christmas Supper

Several years ago, the teachers here at Brennan School started a new Christmas tradition.  During the last week of school before Christmas break, we gather with all our students in the Essenschuel (children's dining room) for supper.  Usually our Essenschuelankela, (children's dining room supervisor), Barb arranges with the cooks to have one of the children's favourite meals prepared that day.  Typically that means pizza.  Barb also prepares a delicious dessert for all of us.
My sister Linda and I usually arrange the seating. Or should I say rearrange?  We like to mix things up from the normal boys' table, girls' table standard.  For this supper each table has a mixture of boys and girls of all ages as well as a teacher or two.
This year, rather than making tame tags, I created name pictures, using an idea I found here on Pinterest, with a few variations, of course.  I had our girls wear angel halos and our boys, wise men crowns.  This made for a host of angels and royal guests at our supper table! 



Candy Cane Wishes

After our meal we usually have some kind of game, activity or presentation and end with "Candy Cane Wishes".  This particular tradition began several years ago when our school trustee, Mr. Murray McLenahan brought several boxes of candy canes to our annual Christmas concert.  rather than merely handing out the candy canes, we place them on a table in the centre of the room and students and teachers take turns coming to the table, taking one and presenting it to someone else with some kind of Christmas wish, compliment or thank you.  In the end everyone has received a candy cane coupled with a wonderful Christmas greeting, which in some cases is remembered for years to come.
One of my favourite ones came came from Josh, (a former Brennan School student) when he was around fifth grade.  That year he was determined to be a wise man at our annual nativity play.   I had planned for our students to present a play where the angels took centre stage.  However, I had to change those plans when I realized that Josh really had his heart set on being a wise man and found a play that had a wise man role that Josh could handle.  At our supper that year, I realized just how much that part meant to him.  He strode up to the candy cane table, plucked one out of the container and marched up to me. "I am giving my candy can to the teacher who let me be a wise man!" he announced seriously.  I still get choked up whenever I think about that heartfelt presentation!  

I took the pictures in this post with my Blackberry and when I viewed them on the computer, they appeared right side up.  Once I exported them into my blog, they turn side ways and I cannot change them! Can anyone help me with this issue please?

What Christmas tradition have you started with your students, family or friends?

Christmas Gifts

Christmas gifts come in various ways, shapes andforms.  They can be wrapped in pretty paper, tied with shiny ribbon or trimmed with festive bows.  Not all presents need to packaged and presented in the traditional way though.  This year the staff members here at Brennan School took a different approach to presenting gifts to our students. 

On the first Saturday of December we all boarded our bus clutching non-perishable food items, which our families generously provided, and headed for Portage.   

Fort la Reine Museum

Our first stop was Fort la Reine Museum where the curator, Tracey Turner works hard to organize special events for people to enjoy at the museum throughout year, not merely during the regular summer hours.
For this particular Saturday, “A Dickens Christmas” was on the agenda.  Volunteers were on hand in period costumes to entertain museum guests with music, drama and of course a bit of history.  The main building was festively decorated and just after we arrived the first presentation began: a duo entertained us with Christmas music.  This was followed by wonderful piece of drama – an excerpt from Dicken’s A Christmas Carol.  I was impressed with how effortlessly the actors switched roles by simply donning a hat, vest or other costume.  I especially enjoyed this production as I knew several of the performers: retired teacher Fran Myles, current teacher at Airport colony and I believe school trustee, Preston Meier.
As a finale to the entertainment a couple of ladies played several songs on plate bells.  They started with seemingly simple tunes and progressed to more complicated ones such as “Joyful, Joyful we Adore Thee.”  For that particular number, the bells moved so swiftly from the performers’ hands to the table and back again, as they played different notes, there were a few instances when the bells almost flew of the table!
After the performance, we divided into smaller groups to visit other parts of the museum.  My group visited the general store first.  There people could purchase various types of sweets.  As well, a local artist had a craft table set up where she taught us how to paint snowman on tree cookies.  These could be used as gift tags, decoration or pendant.
Attendees also had the opportunity to take their picture with Father Christmas and see and/or pet animals – llamas, bunnies, donkeys and more.  Hot chocolate was provided for all who desired it and most of us did!
To end our visit at the museum, we all piled onto a horse drawn wagon and enjoyed a ride around the fort while joyfully singing Christmas carols. 




Since we had time between our museum visit and our next event, we made a stop at our local library.  We all enjoyed cozying up with some good books as we warmed up from our wagon ride.

CP Holiday Train

Each year the CP Holiday train makes its way across our frozen land and this year it passed through Portage on the day we were there!  Typically, wherever they stop, that community has an opportunity to do some sort of fundraiser.  Here in Portage, people were encouraged to bring non-perishable food items for Salvation Army’s annual Christmas hamper drive. 

The train was to arrive in Portage around 4:00, so we bundled up and made our way to the BDO Centre.  Our students excitedly grabbed their packages and headed to the Salvation Army truck to make their donations.  As to be expected, the train was late, so it got rather chilly waiting out near the tracks.  We ended up going back to the bus until we heard that welcome train whistle echoing through the frigid air.  Once again we braved the cold to see that festive sight! Train cars upon train cars were lit up in colourful lights displaying Christmassy pictures, shapes and greetings.  A concert was also offered; however, we didn’t stay for that as we felt it was not really geared for children.
Indeed, as the Brennan School students can vouch, Christmas gifts can be presented non-traditionally - in the form of an exciting December field trip!

Friday, 16 September 2016

Agriculture in the Classroom

Manitoba Cooperator

Over the years I've had several children's books and many blog posts published as well as editorials in our school newsletter, the Brennan Bulletin.  This week I can add another feather to my writer's hat.  I had my first article published in the Manitoba Cooperator, a weekly agriculture based newspaper.  I can now rub shoulders with other Hutterite writers such as Fairholme teacher, Dora Maendel, her sister, the late Selma Maendel and my sister, Linda Maendel, for all three of these ladies have had numerous articles published in the Cooperator. 

Agriculture in the Classroom

Click on the link below and scroll down to page 40 to read my article on Brennan School's experience with Agriculture in the Classroom. 


Made in Manitoba Breakfast
Making Butter - "It's finger licking good!"

Checking Canola Seed for Ripeness

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Bringing Butterflies Back to School


In the summer of 2010, I had the opportunity to attend a fabulous three-day PD session on bringing Monarch butterflies into the classroom.  Since then, every September we've brought in at least one Monarch caterpillar and observed its metamorphosis from caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly with the accompaniment of excited squeals from our students.  One summer they were so plentiful, my family actually raised over fifty of these royal butterflies.  Sadly this year was different. 
My sisters and I as well as our middle grades teacher Robert went out on numerous occasions to hunt for caterpillars, to no avail.  Ironically, the only thing I brought home was a poison ivy rash!
Not to be daunted, I contacted one of the presenters from the PD session, she forwarded my email to other teachers and one of them informed me that she also couldn’t find any Monarch caterpillars, that a substitute was available though.   


She said that swallowtail caterpillars are easily found on dill, carrots, parsley and fennel.  Before I had an opportunity to pay a visit to our community vegetable garden, our ladies were working with parsley – packaging it up to freeze for the winter.  My nephew Jakobi who had been at the cannery at the time, proudly came home carefully carrying a sprig of parsley. “Elma, do you want this caterpillar?” Did I ever?
A second one came to me similarly when my sister Shirley was working in her herb garden where she also raises dill.  Since then I’ve hunted through our vegetable garden several times, wading through the carrot, parsley and dill patches, but haven’t found any more.  The pair of caterpillars feasted on dill and parsley greens for several weeks before slipping into their chrysalises just days before school started!  I’ve brought them to school for the students to observe, as it’s the first time any of us have seen this bumpy, brown shell-like case.  The down side of having swallowtails as opposed to Monarchs is that we’ll have to wait until spring to watch them emerge.  Undoubtedly, we’ll have to learn the virtue of patience from them throughout our long cold Manitoba winter as they, diapause (an insect’s version of hibernation) in our garden shed.
Since we don’t have live Monarchs, my back-to-school activity this year was one I gleaned from that Monarch PD session.  All our students, since coming back to school have emerged into marvelous Monarchs. 

Back-to-School Activity

Each student wrote a sentence on what they are “a-flutter” (excited or nervous) about regarding coming back to school.   

I’ve read them several books from my butterfly collection as each class in our school came to my room to complete their butterfly creation.  My personal favourite thus far is “A Butterfly is Patient” by Dianna Hutts Aston, a book I’ve had in my classroom library for quite a while, but hadn’t taken the time to read before.  The information coupled by its charming illustration held captive the attention of all my listeners.  What I especially

appreciated was that the inside of the front cover displayed dozens of caterpillar species along with their names.  By the time we’d read our way through to the inside of the back cover, they had all emerged into beautiful butterflies that were also labeled!  In fact, just looking at all the illustrations in this book and reading the labels gives readers much information on the appearance of both pupa and adult stages of dozens of different butterflies!
My hope is that like butterflies sipping on sweet nectar, so too will our students enjoy studying science, social studies and all the other subject and skills in all stages or grades to grow and emerge into knowledgeable adults.

Where have they gone?

Throughout the summer there didn’t seem to be a shortage of Monarch butterflies around our flower gardens, which left us baffled as to why we couldn’t find their eggs or caterpillars.  As well, milkweed was in abundance and I don’t think there’s a patch around our colony from the railroad tracks to the south of us to the Assiniboine River to the north that wasn’t inspected by eager caterpillar detectives. 
Was anyone able to bring any caterpillars in this summer?  Do you grow any specific flowers to attract them? If so, I’d love to hear from you. 

Friday, 2 September 2016

Canadian Postcard Exchange project


Social Studies Grade 1, Cluster2

Learning About My Province and Country

My class received postcards  from across Canada almost every week throughout the past school year and learned so much about our fabulous country!



I registered my class for the Canadian Postcard Exchange project in August at: Pro Teacher.  The organizer, Betty Welch, a teacher from Sylvan Lake, Alberta organizes the entire project and works hard to ensure that at least one school from each province and territory isinvolved.  She sent a schedule for when each class was to send their postcards. I prepared a bulletin board with a Canada map in the centre and an outline of a bar graph with provinces and territories as categories.  I also created a black line master for recording interesting facts about each community that sends us a postcard.  These were placed in a binder.


     I asked students if they have ever seen/received a postcard and showed them samples of postcards.  We brainstormed for ideas to write about to tell people about facts and special things about our school and community.  Next, we decided on a picture idea and created a postcard using Microsoft Publisher.  Once our postcards were completed, we took a mini-fieldtrip to the tiny post office in Newton to mail them.

Postcard Lesson

As the postcards arrived: I read them to my class and had students relate several interesting facts from the postcard; recorded them to BLM.  I also had them note the symbol on the postage stamp.  We used Google maps (on our SMARTboard) to look up the communities they come from and graphed what province or territory the postcards are from.  Students located the community on the BB Canada map and stapled postcard to BB and drew lines from the postcard to the location on the map.  After the first few weeks of reading postcards as soon as they arrived, we designated Friday as Postcard reading day. 

At the end of the year, we took down the postcards.  I suggest allowing time for students to enjoy and reminisce.  We created a concrete postcard graph on our Learning Carpet and checked if the data on this graph matched that of the bar graph.  In addition, we compiled a scrapbook which includes all the postcards in the interesting facts BLMs.  This proved to be rather time-consuming, so I suggest numbering the postcards as you post them on the BB which would make the year-end scrapbook project easier.  

I encourage all primary classrooms to sign up for a great year of learning about Canada one postcard at a time!  Just click on the link above to register your class.