December 5, 2021

Noticing Water: Investigations with Indigenous Storywork and Mathematics

Dr. Jo-ann Archibald describes the principles of Indigenous Storywork–the 4 R’s of reverence, responsibility, respect, and reciprocity along with synergy, interrelatedness, and wholism –as strands of a cedar basket, woven together to support learning that happens from storytelling (Archibald, 2008). Noticing Water is a multi-disciplinary exploration of water contained and shaped by the four R’s of Indigenous Storywork.

Although drawing on science, culture, and language, many of the explorations in this project are mathematical in nature. It is our hope that the math will help students connect with local waterways and come to better understand the importance of water in our world. Guided by the 4 R’s of Indigenous Storywork, mathematics can become the voice of our amazing storyteller: Water.

Part 1: Reverence

EDCP 551 Work (September-December 2021)

Part 2: Respect

EDCP 553 Work (January-March 2022)

For Joy and Jen’s positionality statements, click here!

March 19, 2022

Noticing Water: ‘Water Songs’ – Reflections from a grade one class

I (Joy) borrowed a grade one class for two sessions to try out the lesson ideas we wanted to present here on our blog. Hopefully, my reflections on the experience will support educators trying out these experiences with their own learners. 

Situating the Learning:

Since I was not teaching my own class, and the learners had not worked with any of the water lessons from this blog, it was important to begin by situating the learning. I shared with students that we were going to be doing math- and our teacher would be water, a novel idea for them! I introduced Dr. Jo-ann Archibald’s 4 Rs of Indigenous storywork: reverence, respect, responsibility, and reciprocity, sharing that we would be focusing on the R of respect in our work with water.

As we began, we discussed how showing respect to water begins with making the proper acquaintance. As Dr. Archibald says in her book Indigenous Storywork, “creating the time to listen and having the patience to learn what storytellers are sharing and teaching are fundamental to establishing respectful relationships.”

Here is a brief outline of what we did, followed by my reflection of the experience.

Session 1:

Show video on Understanding Respect.

I also showed a brief clip of Water, Water Everywhere (0:00-1:09)

Students were asked to draw an image and/or write about why water is important, a memory of water or something they knew about water. (I gave students a ¼ of a blank sheet of paper.)

Examples of student drawing/writing about water

Students came back together and we ignited the sense of hearing by playing sound clips of water – natural and human made, inside and outside. (If time, experience these sounds in real life, inside and outside, rather than playing sound clips.) Students try to guess the sound. Examples of sound clips included: jumping into a pool, underwater sound, pouring water into a glass of ice, running tap, shower, sprinkler, quiet, gentle rain, a rainstorm, a rushing river, a brook, a waterfall etc.

Next, in groups of 3, students worked to create vocalizations. Choosing a water sound from the samples we had heard or other water sounds of their choice, students used their mouths and bodies to recreate the sound.

We came back together as a class and shared our vocalizations. Then we attempted to use letters to write out the sound – for example, a heavy rainstorm – “SSSSHHHHH”, waves crashing – Pssh, Pssh, Pssh.

Student Created Water Sounds

Session 2:

Session 2 was a few days later so we needed to revisit what we had done in our first session.

I quickly played a few of the sound clips again, to get us thinking about the sounds. Back in groups of 3, students had a bit more time to create vocalizations of a variety of sounds. Each group was given an iPad to voice record the sounds they were making. Sample here

We came back together as a class and shared the vocalizations. We represented some of the sounds on the whiteboard with letters, and created an image associated with the sound.

The groups then chose 3 sounds and created movements to go with each water sound. Once the sounds were connected to a movement, students created patterns with their sounds and movements.

A water sound pattern dance.

We wrapped up this session with groups sharing their vocalization/movement patterns with the class.

Next Steps:

If I had more time (another session or two), I would dig into the mathematics a bit deeper. We could sort and classify the sounds, and represent the classifications. For example, inside sounds/outside sounds, short sounds/long sounds, quiet sounds/loud sounds etc. We could also explore the patterns deeper and create written representations of our embodied patterns. We could take the patterns we had made, and combine them (perhaps two groups combined together) to create a song, and we could teach each other our songs and perform them for other classes. We could rearrange our original sound patterns to recreate other patterns and explore the differences. We could also create a variety of graphical representations to show classification of the sounds.


I was awed by the amazing thinking and learning that happened for the grade one students during these lessons. Due to time constraints, I squeezed what could have been multiple lessons into two. I would love to have the time with the students to spread the lessons out and go about deeper with them.

The lessons integrated physical activity, phonics and literacy, and mathematics with the potential for science as well. Students were engaged and excited about the learning and fully embraced what we were doing. As a teacher, it was easy to SEE who was understanding the pattern and who was struggling to stick with the pattern.

One of the things I loved about these lessons was the negotiations (in groups and as a class) over how to vocalize and add movements to the sounds… How do we differentiate between a waterfall “SSSSSSHHHHHH”… and quiet steady rain “sssssshhhhhh” or is it “sssssssssss”? How to write out the sound when the water hits ice as it is being poured into a glass… is it clink, clink, clink or cling, cling, cling? A great phonics activity! Do we need two mouths to make the sound or can we recreate it with one?

Not only were we developing math skills (specifically developing conceptual understanding of patterns) but learners were also developing communication skills, social skills, creativity, problem-solving, teamwork and connections to our natural world as we elevated the importance value of water in our lives.

Students were developing a conceptual understanding of patterning and at the same time, creating connections to the importance and value of water to our world.

March 18, 2022

Noticing Water: A Labour of Love

Thirsty and hot

An 11-year-old child

Emerges from her Grandad’s

Chrysler Grand Fury

After hours of winding island highway travel

And bends to take water from

A cold mountain stream

Cups her hands and is amazed to be holding

Something so beautiful

So restless

And the deep drink she takes

Is felt throughout

Her small growing body.

Three decades later

A child no longer

She sits beside a clear mountain stream

Thirsty and hot

Startled to see that beautiful water

As a million billion clear molecules

Hydrogen and oxygen holding formation

Their crystalline structure so liquid perfect

Rolling and tumbling so gently

Over smooth stones

Something deep inside her cells calls out

And she is compelled to hold

That wondrous restless water once again

And drink deeply.

(Written by Jen Whiffin, Summer 2021)

That small poem represents two very profound moments in my life involving water. There were other amazing moments as well: swimming, fishing, washing, and simply looking and appreciating. I have enjoyed so many moments and spent so much money just to be near different types of water: lots of water cascading off a cliff, hot water steaming up from geothermal springs, blue water sitting there looking pretty, frozen water on a mountain. Water is awesome.

As a teacher, I tried to provide students will opportunities to have those profound water experiences, too. I liked to blend science, poetry, and art: deep observation, analogous thinking, and representation. Some of the most amazing poems came out of young students while studying water. Here are two that I found:

Aside from being beautiful, water behaves in intriguing and important ways. Water flows and pulls and pushes and swells and splashes and rises and disappears. It creates and destroys. It is ancient: the same water on Earth now has been here practically from the very beginning (just travelling around in different forms). And–importantly–it is accessible for all kids and teachers in and arounds schools. It is something you can directly engage with through sight, touch, hearing, smell, and taste.

When Joy and I started working together on the Noticing Water project in EDCP 551, we both saw the potential to connect the study of water to mathematics both at the primary and intermediate levels. We were also intrigued by the possibility that the 4 R’s of Indigenous Storywork (reverence, respect, responsibility, and reciprocity) could help guide both students and teachers as they engaged with water as a storyteller. After consulting with Dr. Jo-ann Archibald Q’um Q’um Xiiem and Dr. Cynthia Nicol, we carefully began finding and illuminating the connections. We continued to consult with both Jo-ann and Cynthia throughout this course as well. We did this to ensure that we were honoring and properly representing Jo-ann’s work and ideas. Furthermore, both Jo-ann and Cynthia offered valuable insights and perspectives, which means that many of our little films have had several iterations. Fortunately, the journey has been enjoyable! We still have 2 major themes to go: responsibility and reciprocity. The project is a labour of love that we will continue whether or not we have coursework.

In addition to Indigenous Storywork, Joy and I were inspired by the following pedagogical frameworks and ideas:

  • Ecojustice Mathematics (Wolfmeyer, 2017): “Mathematics plays a role in constructing our understanding of our world and we come to perceive it as relational to all living and non-living things
  • First People’s Principles of Learning (FNESC, 2014): “Learning supports the well-being of the self, family, community, land, spirits, and ancestors; learning is holistic, reflexive, reflective, experiential, and relational
  • Pedagogy of Responsibility (Martusewicz, 2018): love of our place in the form of collective responsibility and meaningful work as an antidote for despair and exhaustion.
  • Ecological pedagogy of joy (Latrimouille, 2020): “Yes, it looks bleak. But you are still alive now. You are alive with all the others, in this present moment. And because the truth is speaking in the work, it unlocks the heart. And there’s such a feeling and experience of adventure.”
  • Embodied Learning (Macedonia, 2019): “The Cartesian Era is over. Neither Descartes, nor Kant or Fodor were right. Cognition is neither amodal nor symbolic. Empirical evidence shows that in at least two educational domains, i.e., second language and mathematics, embodied strategies lay the base for enhanced understanding and learning.”

My my personal challenge for this project was to create a set of resources that would help scaffold and make accessible embodied, joyful, responsible, and holistic mathematical experiences for teachers and their students with a focus on water in local places. It was (and continues to be!) challenging, but as I said before, it is a labour of love.

March 17, 2022

Noticing Water 5: Making Water Sounds

If you have respectfully taken some time to get to know water and have made observations based on what you saw and what you heard, it is now time to put those observations into practice: we are going to create water songs.

First, we are going to challenge you to identify some interesting water sounds! Watch this video and see if you can identify the five water sounds:

To create a water song, it is helpful to think about sounds that water makes in different forms. It is also helpful to think about sounds that creatures (including humans) might make when they are in the water. Your challenge is to reproduce those sounds to create a nice water sound collection that you can use to make your song. The following PowerPoint will help to inspire and guide you:

Mouse Woman Sneaks In

Math has a way of sneaking in and helping out, just like Mouse Woman (click here to get to know her better). This time, we will be representing our sounds using drawings and symbols and then sorting our sounds into groups based on length, speed, and volume. If you are ready for a interesting challenge, you can match up different sounds with whole, half, quarter, eighth, and even sixteenth notes. That’s right: sound fractions! Notes (or sound fractions) will help you relate your water sounds to one another in interesting and proportional ways.

The following PowerPoint will help you guide your class through the mathematical connections, from representing, to sorting, to patterning:

Math and Music: Why make this connection?

The key point here is that the intrinsic nature of mathematics and music suggests that
the studies of both research mathematics and improvisational music could play
valuable roles in modern education, as their abstract yet cohesive structures serve as
models for developing flexible skills and the ability to generate spontaneous
constructive thought.
(Schneiderman, 2011)

There are many reasons that math and music make wonderful partners:

  • Mathematics is used to express and represent music: “the architecture of a musical space, its tensions and relations, its resonances and proportions” (Roberts, 2016).
  • The beat and rhythm of music is fundamentally related to counting (Roberts, 2016).
  • Working with fractions (and proportional reasoning in general) is a foundational mathematical skill. Perhaps musical exploration of fractions through sound length, proportion, and notation will help students develop this skill more fluently and intuitively.

I (Jen) have personally witnessed the transfer of understanding between the composition of music using ‘sound fractions’ and the comparison of fractions in more traditional school mathematics contexts. Students who were adept at reading music were often able to articulate the relationship between whole, halves, quarters, eighths, and sixteenths with a certainty that students without musical training were not.


Roberts, G. (2016). From Music to Mathematics: Exploring the Connections. Johns Hopkins University Press.

Schneiderman, J. (2011). Can you hear the sound of a theorem? Notices of the American Mathematical Society. 58:7 (2011), 927-937.

March 15, 2022

Noticing Water 4: Respect

What is Respect?

Respect is the second of the 4 R’s of Indigenous Storywork that we will be exploring. So far, we have practiced reverence to help prepare us to learn from water. When we are behaving with respect, we show that we understand the importance of the people we are with or the situation we find ourselves in. We are kind and patient, taking the necessary time to get to know the storyteller.

According to Dr. Jo-ann Archilbald Q’um Q’um Xiiem (2008), “creating the time to listen and having the patience to learn what storytellers are sharing and teaching are fundamental to establishing respectful relationships.” One of the first steps to establishing this respectful relationship is to make the proper acquaintance. Our storyteller is the restless, powerful, and ancient traveller, Water. How will you make the proper acquaintance with water in your community?

Take five minutes to watch the video Understanding Respect, so that you have a better idea about how you might come to respectfully engage with water in your community:

After Watching the Video

The first step in making the proper acquaintance is to observe the water in your community carefully and patiently. When you observe, you will use your eyes to notice what form the water is taking, but you will also notice what might be around or in the water. Do you notice certain kinds of plants or animals? How about evidence of human beings? You will also use your ears to notice sounds of the watery places you find. The water might make sounds, but so might things that live around the water, such as plants and animals. What do you hear?

Mouse Woman Sneaks In

Math has a way of sneaking in and helping out, just like Mouse Woman (click here to know her better). This time math will be helping us see patterns that we can use to understand watery places better. The following PowerPoint guide will you explore watery places and collect data on what you notice:

December 5, 2021

Noticing Water 3: Research and Reverence

If you teach grades 5-8, you might want to inspire reverence by encouraging students to discover amazing water facts through research. In this post, you have access to curated, age-appropriate websites that are loaded with fascinating information for your students to discover! We call this a “research playground”.

Mouse Woman Sneaks In….

Math has a way of sneaking in and helping out, just like Mouse Woman (Click here to know her better). This time, it is through researching numbers that help us understand the importance of water.

This is an excellent opportunity to dig into the meaning of the numbers: Do we really understand what these numbers are telling us? How might we understand the magnitude of the numbers? Who collected these numbers and why did they think they were important for us to know?

Teacher’s Guide, Student Work Page, and Research Playground Link:

December 5, 2021

Noticing Water 2: Amazing Numbers to Inspire Reverence

Math has a way of sneaking in and helping out, just like Mouse Woman (Click here to know her better). This time, numbers will help you better understand why water is so amazing. You are going to practice reverence by exploring numbers.

If you teach grades 2-5, Mystery Numbers is a fun way to introduce your class to some amazing water facts. Simply download the PowerPoint, set to “View Slideshow” and read each slide together as a class. Your class will be challenged to make predictions using mathematical clues.

Noticing Water Mystery Numbers Part 1 and 2 (15 mins each):

November 14, 2021

Noticing Water 1: Beginning with Reverence

What is reverence?

Reverence is the feeling of awe you experience when you are in the presence of something greater than yourself. It is one of the 4 principle R’s of Indigenous Storywork. Dr. Jo-ann Archibald Q’um Q’um Xiiem describes reverence as listening with the heart and holding the storyteller in the highest esteem (Archibald, 2008). This important feeling helps us become ready to learn from stories, or in other words, become “Storywork ready”.

The land holds stories as well. To learn from the land, you must be both a good listener and observer. It is our hope that this series of activities will allow you and your class to become Storywork ready. We would like to help you and your class understand and hopefully experience the R of reverence as you learn about and from one of the most important life-giving substances on our planet: Water.

The first place to begin is with the following short video that explains reverence and introduces our storyteller:

Video Link: Reverence and Noticing Water (5 mins)

After watching the video:

Time to do a little time travelling! Take a bit of quiet time and remember times you have spent with Water. You might want to have a class discussion and share your ideas.

Mouse Woman sneaks in…

Math has a way of sneaking in and helping out, just like Mouse Woman (Click here to know her better). This time we hope that math will help students make sense of the memories that everyone in the class will share! Specifically we will be sorting, comparing, looking for patterns of similarity, graphing, and counting to better understand what reverential feelings we might have experienced in the presence of water.

Teacher’s Guide, PowerPoint, and Student Work Page: