Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Tall Tales From the Front

Final drafts of students’ tall tales are due Friday. How do you know if their tall tale is satisfactory or not? First, take a look at the Tall Tale Checklist that I sent home yesterday.

If you didn’t see it for whatever reason, you can view it here:

One of the things we did a lot of in class is examine Tall Tales that have been written by others. We read published books such as John Henry and Thunder Rose. And we also read samples written by other students. These were meant to serve as a guide and model for them to follow.

If you’d like to take a look at another one we read, you can view it here:
It’s a bit on the long side, but it amuses me, so that's all that matters.

Since it’s their first exploration of a fiction writing genre, I’m not expecting masterpieces. But what I will be looking for is creativity and the ability to follow the checklist.

As you help your child complete their draft, you can ask the following questions as you work together:
  • Is the beginning of the story creative and filled with silly exaggeration?
  • Does the writer reveal the main character’s super-human abilities in the beginning of the story?
  • Is there a lot of action (examples of situations where the character uses his/her powers) in the story?
  • Is there a BIG problem that the character has to solve? (examples: a bad guy to defeat, a competition to win, people to save from something)

If the answer to these is yes and the story makes sense and is a bit on the silly, light-hearted side, then it’s probably a winner.

I really enjoy fiction writing and I think we picked a good project for our first try. I am really noticing that their writing skills are improving. The concepts we’ve been practicing all year are sinking in and becoming routine for them.

With writing workshop, I “begin with the end in mind.” I know what I want them to accomplish by the time they leave my room in fifth grade. Everything we do along the way is meant to get us closer to that end. As a parent(I’m one of those, too), and as a teacher it can be hard sometimes to adopt this philosophy. We want everything to be perfect right away. But the writing process just doesn’t lend itself to that kind of learning.

So rest assured and know that your child is an eager writer. They are working hard every day in writing workshop and I’m working hard to teach them. I’m conferencing with them regularly to give them individualized instruction and guide them along the way.There’s much more to say on this topic, but I’ll leave it for that now. I hope this makes sense and I hope you know that I’m always willing to talk about this or any of your other concerns.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Books for the Holidays

I probably should have talked about this earlier, but I have a feeling there are some last minute shoppers out there (me included). Books don't make the most exciting holiday gifts, but if you give a good one, they can end up making a huge impact. Here are five that I came up with that are relatively new and well-reviewed. Think about picking one up as a last-minute gift for your young reader. And if you do give any of these, whether it's next week or down the road sometime, be sure to let me know what you think...

Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis

Flint native and award winning author Christopher Paul Curtis is back with this tale of Elijah, whose parents fled slavery and are living free in Canada. Elijah faces difficult challenges as he returns to America to help free family members who were left behind. This would be a terrific book to read together as a family!

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart

11 year old Reynie Muldoon responds to a classified ad seeking "gifted children looking for special opportunities" and his life changes forever. It's a bit lengthy (512 pages) but it's great for an avid reader because it's full of plot twists and dramatic characters. It has a sequel, too!

The 39 Clues: Book One The Maze of Bones by Rick Riordan

First in a series of 10 books (each one by a different author, how cool! I might have to buy this as a gift for myself), The Maze of Bones is a tale ripe with adventure. When an old woman dies, she reveals a secret: 39 clues are scattered around the globe that reveal the family's secret. Plus, he or she who finds them all will inherit the family fortune. A five-line description of this book's plot can't do it justice. It is action packed!

Julia Gillian (And the Art of Knowing) by Alison McGhee

Much of the novel takes place in Julia's head while she is walking her dog -- it's the first summer she's been allowed to do so on her own -- and she has plenty of time to consider things: what she's good at, what she's afraid of, how her parents are not quite as perfect as she thought, how she dreads finishing her summer reading book because she can see a sad ending on the horizon. McGhee's book may sound slow-paced, but this is exactly what kids this age are thinking about, and boys have been as crazy about this book as girls.

Barack Obama: Son of Promise, Child of Hope by Nikki Grimes (illus. by Bryan Collier)

Collier's beautiful illustrations and the award-winning Nikki Grimes's beautiful story make for a gift that your family will cherish for generations to come. This will be one of those books that your kids will show their grandkids someday.

There are SO many more. I'll try to make book recommendations a more regular part of my postings from now on. Happy shopping!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Podcasting 101

Our first podcasts are ready to make their debut! What's a podcast, you ask? It's an audio file that you can listen to on the internet and/or download to an mp3 player and listen to on the go. It can be anything from a 10 second audio sound-byte to an hour-long radio show.

So, here's what we did...together with Ms. Barnes class, groups of four students wrote a script about a topic we learned about in social studies class. Then they recorded themselves reading the script. I handled the technical stuff this time (they'll learn more about editing, mixing, adding music, uploading, and subscribing before their time with me is done) and voila! The first four podcasts are now available for you to listen to right here on the blog.

There's a podcast player for our podcast "channel" (creatively titled Radio Free UPrep) on the right side of the page. If you click the word "POSTS" it'll give you a list of our most recent episodes. Simply select the one you want and it'll start to play automatically.

This little player is a new toy provided by . I've never used it before, so there may be bugs to work out.

There are a total of eight podcasts. I'll upload the next four soon. This week, students worked on even more of them so there's more on the way!

The nice thing about podcasts is that they're kind of like blogs in that you can subscribe to them. This can be done through iTunes or through a homepages such as iGoogle or My Yahoo or My MSN. Or you can receive automatic email updates each time a podcast is added. Just click the words "GET PODCAST" on the Gcast player and you'll be taken to step-by-step instructions on how to do this.

Of course, I'll also be mentioning them in the blog every time we add a new one. Or, if you want to download them directly to listen to on a portable player or to preserve for posterity, you can do so on the class homepage starting Monday.

The only remaining question to answer, I think, is "Why Podcast?" I think it's a great way for students to showcase what they've learned. It allows them to express what they've learned in a creative way. And it's fun. The kids are so engaged when we work on these. They really get into it and that's how I know it will help them comprehend and retain the material. On top of that, it's a technology that's becoming widespread both in society and education. Radio stations, news organizations and more publish podcasts. College professors upload their lectures or study guides as podcasts to help their students. It's not a fad, it's here to stay.

If you'd like to learn more about podcasts or need help listening to ours, let me know. I'd be glad to help.

Happy listening!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Tall Tale Tales

Our first exploration of fiction writing began this week. In case you don't know, I love writing and teaching writing. I've found that children are so naturally creative that if you put the right writing project in front of them, they can do amazing things.

Monday we began working with Tall Tales, a genre that can be lots of fun. We started by practicing exaggeration, which is the key element of Tall Tales. The kids were encouraged to exaggerate as they moved from table to table (appropriately titled "Exaggeration Stations") in the room.

Next we read some tall tales together such as John Henry and a more modern story called Thunder Rose. We talked about the characteristics of tall tales, learned a new word--hyperbole--and practiced turning regular sentences into hyperbole-filled statements.

We've got one more activity before we actually start our drafting. The students are creating the most important part of their stories--their main characters. Today they started posters that are, like the characters of all good tall tales, HUGE. As you can see, this took up quite a bit of room.

The goal here is to get them thinking about their character's super-human characteristics. This will help them in writing an entertaining, action-packed tall tale.

I'll be sure to share photos of the finished posters next week. Oh, and the stories, too. In the meantime, check out some of our exaggerations from Monday on the class wiki page.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Big Math Week Ahead

We'll be taking on one of our most challenging math concepts yet this week...Partial Products Multiplication. It's a method that was introduced in third grade with problems such as 68 *6. It involves breaking apart the bigger number into parts. I made a little video for parents and students to use as a reference. Here it is...

But that's not all. We'll introduce two and three-digit times two-digit problems (e.g. 245 * 56) on Tuesday. We'll use the partial products method for this, too. We had tremendous success introducing it last week with a game called "Multiplication Wrestling." Bet you're thinking it would be nice to have a video explaining this process...

But, wait, there's more...

And then we'll be looking at another multiplication method called Lattice Multiplication. Not sure if this was touched on in third grade or not, but I'll have a video for that soon, too.

(Not sure how these videos turned out. Hopefully okay. If you can't view them let me know.)

All of this makes for a busy week in Math. And it all leads to a Unit Five test on December 19. And, of course, we'll have a quiz this Friday, too.

A couple of things to keep in mind with this method of muliplication that we're studying...if students have trouble picking it up, we'll be continuing to work with it later in the year (and in fifth grade, as well). Also, it's VERY different from the method you and I learned in school. If your child knows how to use that one or it's one you teach them, that's definitely okay. This gives them a different choice. They can use what works best for them. But know this...the Partial Products Method is grounded in the Distributive Property, a huge concept in high school Algebra! And I guarantee they'll see it on the ACT. Pretty crazy, huh?

Looking for more online help with this month's math unit? Try this link and let me know what you think:

Unit Five Activities/Resources

There's a lot more to tell you about. But I'm going to have to save it for a later post. Happy Multiplying.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Personal Essays due Monday

Students should finish their final drafts of their personal essays over the weekend and bring them back to school on Monday. These can be hand written or (preferably) typed. They must have 5 paragraphs (an introduction, 3 body paragraphs, and a conclusion)

We've been working on these for the last few weeks, and I think they're going to be pretty good.

Just to give you an idea of what they're doing--they started with a thesis (a thought, feeling, or belief...such as "I believe cats are better than dogs) and then came up with 3 reasons why they believe their thesis to be true. These 3 reasons become the topics of the body paragraphs.

Students filled in a chart as a way of organizing their ideas. They'll be bringing this home along with their rough drafts. They'll also have a checklist to guide them. And, of course, they have you to help.

Just a couple other notes:

*Report cards were sent home today in sealed envelopes. Sorry about the mix-up in the week's earlier blog post.

*Book-in-a-Bag sheets are due Monday. Their log sheet needs to be complete and they got an extra comprehension question that needs to be answered. Thanks for your help launching this. It's going great so far.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Welcome to December

I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving weekend. A new trimester is underway! We have a lot to do over the next three weeks prior to winter break. Here's a quick rundown of all that's going on...

Yesterday, most reading teachers started a "Book-in-a-Bag" program. Students were given a log and book that they selected with their teacher's assistance. This book should be read at home for at least 20 minutes every night. Keep track on the log sheet and have the student write a quick summary or reflection after reading. On Friday's we'll send home a set of questions that require deeper thinking and understanding. Those questions and the log will be due every Monday. Also, they’ll need to bring this bag back and forth to and from school every day.

Tomorrow, students will get a new weekly assignment, the "Problem of the Week," or POW for short. This will be a problem solving activity that will be started in class and will be due every Friday. These will be based on fourth grade math standards. Usually the POW will consist of a multi-step story problem and a written explanation. The first few will be on the easier side to get their feet wet, but they'll get harder as we move forward.

In the second trimester, students will be working on a project involving the class wiki. Most of this will be done in school, but the opportunity will exist for students to go above and beyond and do some of the work at home if you have a computer with Internet access. The first assignment went home over the Thanksgiving break. It was the
Worksheet titled “Curran-pedia.” The students will be practicing research and writing skills to create an online encyclopedia with entries that are of interest to kids. Their first entry will be about their interest project. It will make more sense when we have it up and running. I’m hoping to get the first entries typed in before Christmas break. It should be fun and educational, especially when it comes to learning how to do research.

If your child hasn’t selected a driving question for the second trimester, I need to know as soon as possible. The first milestone is already quickly approaching. A list of at least five resources is due December 19!

We’ve resumed our study of Michigan history. For the next six school weeks, we’ll be working from the Our Michigan Adventure textbook. We began Chapter 4 yesterday, which covers Michigan’s statehood. There are a lot of interesting people we’ll be learning about. Be sure to ask your child about them!

Now that Exhibitions are over, I’d love to have you visit the classroom. I’ve added a block of time, too. I’m now looking for volunteers from 9-10 (Writing), 10-11 (Math), and 11-12 (Reading). If you come during Reading, you may or not be working with your own child. During that time you’ll be helping kids with their reading, listening to them read and guiding them as they go.

Monday, November 24, 2008

We're Going Green

I've been meaning to post about this for the past week...sorry so slow with the update.

We're taking on quite a project here on the third floor. In case you weren't aware I led a team of five teachers in creating a grant proposal last year. We designed a project around the idea that we wanted our students to learn about how to take better care of the environment. Apparently, someone liked our proposal. A lot. The school was awarded about $20,000 in new technology, including five laptops like the one I use along with five digital cameras, LCD projectors, and printers. The catch is that we have to use all of it in bringing our project to life.

Well, we're underway. The first step was for the students to design a PowerPoint presentation that teaches students about trash and recycling. They completed it by working in groups of 3-4. Then, they presented it to three classes. It was pretty cool. Here's the presentation:

Garbage And Recycling
View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: recycling environment)

Now, the class is collecting the recycling bins from these three classes at the end of every day. Then, at the end of each week, they'll weigh it, keeping a running tally of the weights using my laptop computer. By the time we're done, we'll have a good idea of how much of an impact we've had on the environment.

There's a few more phases than just that. But so far it's been a great way to teach science, social studies, and math. I'm looking forward to seeing where this will lead. I'll keep you updated along the way. And be sure to send in any recyclable paper you have at home!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

And We're Back

17 days since my last post...sorry about that. Exhibition week sure throws everything for a loop. Parents, kids, and teachers are all scurrying to meet deadlines and make sure everything's ready for the big day(s). Overall, I'd say we did a pretty good job, wouldn't you? I obviously got to view the most Exhibitions, but I was tremendously impressed and very proud. The students worked hard and did a terrific job, especially considering it was their first one in fourth grade. And of course, none of it would be possible without the help of the parents and grandparents and other family members who take time out of their busy days to attend and help and practice and more. I thank all of you very much.

One of the best parts about the first exhibition is that there isn't a single person involved that doesn't learn something that will help them the next time. Students learned what they need to improve and the importance of picking an interest project that truly interests them. For parents, I think the format and my expectations became a lot clearer. And I learned a lot, too. I'll prepare and communicate a little differently next time, in an effort to make sure everyone knows what is required. And I'll stress preparation, the use of note cards, and using a conversational/energetic tone when presenting. I'll also assign different math problems for every student, so that no one has to sit through the same one twice.

And now that we've made it through weeks and weeks of hard work, we are rewarded with a three day week leading up to the holiday weekend. We still have a lot to do, though...
  • This week we'll be pushing forward with our essays. These will need to be worked on over the weekend. I'll provide more on that before Wednesday.
  • We're finishing Unit 4 in math class. That means we'll be taking a unit test on Wednesday. We'll review Tuesday. Pay careful attention to Tuesday's homework. It will be a test review. Tests should be graded and sent home on Wednesday.
  • Students will resume meeting with their regular reading classes this week.
  • We'll return to a more regular homework schedule starting on Monday the 24th. After a long respite, the homework calendar on the class website WILL be updated starting Monday morning. Expect it every night, even during Thanksgiving break. Check out the poll at the top of the blog page. I'd really like your input as to how much homework is acceptable during a holiday weekend. Be honest. If you think there shouldn't be homework, by all means, let me know. I'll take the responses into account when selecting the assignments.
  • Finally, students will be wrapping up the six-week science session. After Thanksgiving, we'll dive back into Social Studies for the next six weeks.

And in other news...I'm looking to get back into the swing of parent volunteering starting in December. I'll post more on this at a later date, but keep it in mind. Help would be needed at 9:00 for writing and 10:00 for math.

Look for more posts later this week as I continue to get caught up.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Six Days?

Does that counter say six days? Is that possible? Are we that close having a third of the year be completed?

In a word...yes. It's unbelievable, I know. But it's true. So it's really time to get to work on Exhibitions. I'm hoping that almost everyone has their interest projects completed. Once they're done, it's time for the kids to start practicing what they're going to say. Remember, their job is to teach us all that they've learned. Be sure to practice ahead of time! Their Exhibition will go much more smoothly if they rehearse over and over.

This week, we've been preparing the social studies portion of the presentation. They have to have a timeline with 10 events on it from chapter three in their social studies book. They will display this at their Exhibition and then give us details about ONE of the ten events. They don't have to talk about all ten or even list them. Just pick one. We'll work on completing that tomorrow so it can be practiced and ready.

This week we're also working on publishing our personal narrative stories. We've been using the school's new mobile laptop lab (yay for fundraisers!) to type and print these stories. No one's gotten done yet, but we should have quite a few get finished tomorrow. They are very excited about these stories and I'm proud of how hard they've worked. These are the stories that they need to talk about at their Exhibitions.

We did take a math test yesterday on Unit 3. Please go over it with your child tonight. We'll have a short quiz tomorrow. That will be the one you need to sign and return if the score is lower than 80 percent.

A look ahead to next week...we'll be going over the science requirement and putting the finishing touches on all the other parts to make sure students are ready.

I'm officially suspending assigned homework until after Exhibitions are completed. Maybe a better way of saying this is: the homework every night until Exhibitions are over is to work on Exhibitions. :)

Just some other notes...Scholastic Book Club order forms went home last night. They are due back next Friday, the 14th. No one has used the online ordering option yet, so I'm not going to set it up this time. If you're interested in ordering and paying online with a credit card, let me know.

Also (I know this is short notice) but I could really use some help with publishing stories tomorrow. If you can come in from 9:45 until 11:00 to help me get the computers set up and to help students edit and print their stories, that would be great. Send me an email if you're available. Thanks!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Math for Exhibitions and a note on Birthdays

Yesterday and today, we went over the math requirement for next month's Exhibition. Just to clarify...

The students were given a sheet with four problems on it. They have to show us how to do the one about maximum, minimum, mode, etc. Then they choose 2 of the remaining 3 to do. They should have written their choices on their Organizer worksheets. The problems on the sheet are the exact problems they will present. They will not be required to make up their own problems.

When presenting, I've told them to "teach us" how to do the problems by explaining them step by step. I'll create an overhead transparency to project so they won't have to spend time writing the problems on the board themselves.

Tonight, for homework, they should work on the reading portion of the Organizer. At the Exhibition, they're required to talk about a book they've read this year. They must come to class tomorrow with that section filled out. The required information is: the title & author, the genre, the main events from the story, and their personal response (i.e. I liked this book because...).

Tomorrow, in class, we'll go over that part and start working on the Social Studies portion. Next week, we'll wrap up the writing and science portions.

As for tomorrow's birthday club party, it will happen after lunch and recess. Ms. Barnes and I used part of the donated funds to buy a cake. Students can also bring in other treats (juice, cookies, etc.) as long as they bring in enough to share with 32 kids. Thanks to those of you that sent in the $4. If you weren't able to this time, try to get it in by the next party, in mid-December.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Exhibition Update

As you can see from the handy dandy countdown clock on the right side of the page, Exhibitions are quickly approaching. Since this is the children's first presentation with me, I am going to try to be as clear as I can about my expectations.

Notice that I said try. In the next two weeks, if you're ever feeling "in the dark" or confused about the Exhibition, be sure to contact me ASAP.

Here is what you and your child should have in your possession by the end of the day today...
  • Exhibition Checklist--the detailed list of everything that must be presented.
  • Exhibition Organizer--a form to help the students organize all the information they need to present. I handed these out today and we discussed the math, reading, and writing requirements.
  • Exhibition Sign-Up Sheet--use this form to book your appointment for your child's Exhibition. These went home today.

If you need another checklist or organizer, I have a link where you can open and print them on the front page of the class website.

From now until Exhibition Week, students should be doing something to prepare for their presentation every night. At school, we'll be filling out the organizer and getting ready in some fashion every day.

I will post more updates throughout the week. Stay tuned!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

What's Up This Week

The last week of October will be a busy one. As you can see from the Exhibitions countdown clock, time is short. Before you know it, Exhibitions will be here. Checklists will go home this week and next week you'll sign up for an Exhibition time. It's amazing how fast time flies, isn't it?
In math this week, we'll continue working on multiplication facts, but we'll add in some work with measurement, some story problems, and some work with what we call open sentences, which is really a pre-algebra concept. Here's an example of a very simple open sentence: ___ + 3 = 8 If you can fill in the blank, then you can do an open sentence!

We're on pace to have a Unit 3 test next Wednesday, the 5th of November. We'll have another quiz on Friday, too.

Writing Workshop will be busy this week, too. Students should have a final draft of their personal narratives by Friday. Hopefully, the kids will finish and will be able to type and publish their stories.

In science, we'll continue our exploration of matter. They have been enjoying the science activities so far. It's been fun.

We won't do costumes Friday, but we will have our first Birthday Club party! Thanks to those parents who sent in their ONE-TIME $4 fee. Friday is also a free-dress for $1 day.

Also this week, we'll really get into our "UPREP Goes Green Project." For those of you who weren't aware, I am part of a group of 5 teachers that received a grant of technology products from Hewlett-Packard. We got the grant for designing a project where the students start up a recycling program at the school. This week, students will complete the first phase, which involves creating a presentation on the computer. Next week, they'll present these to other classes in the school so that other students are educated and then the recycling program will begin. It's an awesome reward for our school--only 101 schools earned this honor. I'll update you more as we get more done with this.

Until then, if you have any questions or concerns, be sure to send an email or leave a comment!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Recommending a Movie I Haven't Seen

I try not to recommend movies I haven't seen yet, but I just have a good feeling about this one. It's called City of Ember. You can learn more about it here.

It came out a couple weeks ago, so it might not be around for much longer. But if it stays through the weekend, it might be a good one to check out. (Hopefully it will show up at the discount theater at the Universal Mall, too). Here are some current showtimes.

The movie is based on a book by Jeanne DuPrau. I really loved it. It's set in the distant future. The city of Ember is the last remaining city on Earth. But there's a problem...the lights are going out. Lina Mayfleet, a young girl, is the main character and the city's only hope.

Fox Walden is the studio that produced the film. They were behind movies like The Chronicles of Narnia and Bridge to Terebithia.

If you do end up seeing it, let me know. I don't get a chance to see many movies in the theater, but I like to know good ones to rent when they come out on DVD!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Two Weeks to Go!

With just two short weeks left until Election Day, it's a great time to talk about how America elects its Presidents. It's quite a complicated process and one that many citizens know very little about.

I found this video that tries to give a simple explanation. It's called "Electing a US President in Plain English" and it's courtesy of . Take a look, and share it with your child, friends, and family. It's quite informative and with this year's election being the most important and historic one, perhaps, in our lifetime, I think it's helpful to understand the process. And it's a great chance to explain how this all works to our children, the voters of the future!


Monday, October 20, 2008

Academic Goal Packets

I'm going to make a change regarding a very important due date. Academic Goal Packets were due tomorrow, October 21. They are now due Monday, October 28.

I have been meeting with several students today and it seems a lot of them haven't even started on these. Remember, we decided on these topics at learning team meetings. These packets are designed to help them get better at things they are currently struggling with.

Here's the thing...the packets are designed to be worked on with an adult. I don't expect the kids to do them on their own. Please help them with them. Guide them through. Each one has pretty clear step-by-step directions. I really think this extra work can help them a great deal.

I'll also be meeting with them to work on these topics. But I'd like them working on their packets first, so that we haven't something to meet about.

All of your help on these is appreciated. I really think this can be a great way of meeting some of the children's individual needs. But, they might need a push in the right direction.


Thursday, October 16, 2008

What Exactly Are They Doing All Day?

Ever wonder what your child's teacher is doing on those "Professional Development" (a.k.a. PD)days? Well I'm here to spill the beans and let you in on all the secrets of these days off. Days that are loved by students but maybe not so much by parents who have to reorganize schedules, find child care, etc.

Okay, maybe I've built this up a little too much. In truth, there aren't many secrets. Sure, most of the teachers "dress down" but the truth is, these days are all business.

Take September's PD day, for example. Together, the fourth and fifth grade teachers were able to plan the entire year's writing curriculum, making sure that not only will it be engaging and exciting, but also ensuring that it's aligned with the state's standards. This is a lot more work than it sounds like. But without that day off, we'd never have gotten it done. Most of us would have felt like we were flying by the seat of our pants when it came to our very important writing lessons. Luckily, though, we're now all on the same page and we have a vision of what we want to accomplish. And we've planned how we're going to accomplish it. Pretty impressive, I know.

Tomorrow, while our students are eating a little too much junk food, sleeping in, and playing video games, we'll be at work bright and early. Data Analysis is on the agenda this time. We'll be looking at test results (particularly MAP test scores) and figuring out how these numbers can help us improve our teaching, especially when it comes to individualizing instruction for each student.

I, being quite the math nerd, love working with data. But I enjoy it even more when I am learning how to use it to improve my lessons and projects. I'm looking forward to it.

So rest assured, we'll be working hard and making strides. Even without our students, it'll be hard work, but it will be valuable.

And this time I'll try to find out some secrets so that my next post about PD is a little more interesting!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Writing Workshop Update

Building on the excitement of Notebook Week, we've started our Personal Narratives. "What's a personal narrative?" you ask? It's a true story about a small moment in your life. Even in 9 short years, the students have literally thousands of small moments to write about. We've tried to pick the ones that are the most entertaining. And now we're writing these stories down.

The goal of this project is to write an entertaining story that's packed with detail and feelings. This can be a tough task, but this group is talented, so I'm not worried about it.

Now you're wondering, "What can we do at home to improve writing skills?" The key is the notebook. If you were generous to buy your child a pocket-sized notebook, encourage them to write in it every day about whatever they want, be it fiction or non-fiction. If they don't have this tiny notebook, anything will do. The key is, the more writing the better.

There's another way to work on writing skills at home...the class wiki. All students have used it in class, but it's a special page that can be accessed from any computer. Each child has a username (their first name) and a password (my last name). Ask them to show you how to log on and edit. If they can't remember, here are some instructions.

On their personal page, the parts they should have completed by the end of the week are: About Me, Words that Describe Me, and A Perfect Day. I'll have some more pages active for students to add to later this week.

The wiki is a fun, useful tool. Kids love working on their pages and they love it when they can access it from home. Encourage them to do so and be sure to have them teach you how they do it!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

New Math Unit and More

We began our new Math unit, Unit Three, today. The topic is multiplication and division and it will include work with word problems (a.k.a. number stories) and some introductory algebra skills. Yes, algebra!

I've updated the Math Central page of the class website with an overview of the Unit. Also, today I sent home the Family Letter for Unit Three. It includes some great explanations of the work we'll be doing, along with an answer key for all the Study Links. Check the class website often; I'll be letting you know when I add some helpful math content. As for now, there are two links to sites that tie in to our math program, Everyday Mathematics. Hopefully they will help you.

Since the main topic is multiplication and division, we'll be spending a lot of time talking about facts. Now is a great time to get into the habit of practicing facts every chance you get. By the end of fourth grade, students should know multiplication and division facts up to 10. Make your own flashcards and help your child to memorize them. Mastery of math facts really helps students when the topics get more challenging (fractions!).

As for some other notes...MEAP testing starts next week. We only test on three days, which is fewer than in the past. BUT, students are taking more tests each day. This rule change was mandated by the State, so it's out of our hands. I'm sure you've heard this before, but please make sure your child gets a good night's sleep, eats a good breakfast, and gets to school on time during MEAP testing. I always hesitate to say this since it's something they should do even when it's not MEAP time (and since you probably are already making those things happen) but it's just one of those things teachers are "programmed" to say this time of year. No matter how you feel about standardized testing, it can't be denied that the tests are tremendously important. Your support, as always, is appreciated.

Thanks again for keeping up with the blog. I hope you're enjoying it. Have a great weekend.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Resources due Friday!

Students received a form today for keeping track of resources they'll be using for their interest projects. A resource can be a book, website, magazine, etc. Anything they might use to get information for their project.

They don't have to bring the resources to school Friday, just the completed form. The reason we do this is to get students thinking about their projects well ahead of their Exhibition date.

The next "Milestone" will be due Friday, October 24. On that day, students should turn in all notes taken from these resources. This can be something as simple as a list of facts on paper or individual facts written on notecards. We'll be talking more about this next week, but I did want to make you aware of it well in advance.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

News and Notes For the Week Ahead

I had a list of things to write about that I made at school Friday. Guess where the list is now? On my desk at school. So I'm sure I'll end up forgetting things but here's an update for now...

In math this week, we're having a Unit Test on Wednesday for Chapter Two. A review will come home on Tuesday. It'll cover Place Value, Addition and Subtraction, data and graphs, and data analysis. On Friday's quiz, the most frequently missed questions were about the maximum, minimum, range, mode, and median. You might want to work on those a little extra. Tomorrow's homework is a bit tricky. We'll be trying partial differences subtraction. It's another way to solve subtraction problems. It's an alternative to borrowing. Try your best. What's most important is that students know how to subtract 3 and 4 digit numbers. We'll start Unit Three on Thursday. One of the main concepts in this new unit is multiplication.

In writing, our notebooks are complete and we'll be starting a unit on personal narratives. Personal narratives are kind of like memoirs, little stories about small moments in time. They're true stories that come from students' lives. We'll continue to stress "beginning, middle, and end" but will add in some new concepts that will improve writing.

On Thursday, students started meeting with their new Reading teachers. They will report to these teachers from now on for Reading Workshop and Word Study (spelling & vocabulary). If you need to know more about this let me know.

This is the last week of Social Studies for a while. Next week, we'll begin a 6 week science unit. We're finishing up by studying the explorers that first came to Michigan and we'll be learning what impact they made on the area as well as on the tribes that were living here at the time.

This week, I'm finally putting the finishing touches on the Learning Plans. Look for two copies to come home tomorrow or Tuesday. On Friday, I'll be sending home individualized Academic Goal work. That will have a due date of October 17, I think. More on that later this week.

The fantasy football project is going well. I think students are getting the hang of it, and I think they're enjoying it. Ask them how their team is doing!

Like I said, I'm sure there's more to report, so I'll get back to you when I find my list!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Notebook Decoration Day

What a day we had decorating our notebooks. The students did a terrific job and, as you can see below, they had a great time...

Click to play Notebook Decoration Day
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Even I got into the act, decorating my new mini-notebook. (It's pictured on the last slide, but it didn't show up that well).
So, you're asking, "Why did you do all this?" Well, my goal is to get the kids excited about writing. If they feel pride in and a connection to their notebooks, I think that adds to their excitement.
I can't wait to really start getting into this year's writing projects and activities. And I look forward to sharing student work with all of you online as we go. Some students have already written some things on the class wiki. We're definitely off to a good start.

Monday, September 29, 2008

It's Notebook Week!

Today in writing workshop, we began using an important tool, our writing notebooks. I have deemed this week Notebook Week because every day we'll be learning how to add to our notebooks.

The writing notebook is used by all kinds of authors, from amateurs and professionals. It's a place for starting ideas or writing complete stories. It can be used to write down anything, from lists to dreams. Or it can be a place to store found treasures, like words or pictures from magazines. We'll be using them all year for writing workshop.

To help make them more special to students, we'll be decorating them on Wednesday. I am asking students to bring in anything (pretty papers, pictures, photos, stickers, etc) they want to glue on to the cover.

Another thing we talked about today is having a notebook small enough to carry around with you at all times. I showed them one I picked up at KMart for 79 cents this weekend. It's a mini composition book like the ones pictured above, measuring about 3 inches by 4 inches. It fits right in my pocket. I'd love to see them become so interested in and dedicated to the craft of writing that they carry one with them, too. I'm not requiring students to have one but I'm strongly recommending it. Anything that's pocket-sized will do.

So encourage your child's writing by encouraging them to write down all their ideas, stories, thoughts, hopes and dreams. I'm looking forward to the writing journey we'll be taking this year.

A note went home today with some of this info, as well as some other stuff. Be sure to ask your child about it. And be sure to check out the website for information about volunteering in the classroom.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

News from School for Week of 9/29

Hopefully you were all able to confirm your subscription to the class blog. I think this will be a great way to get information to you on a regular basis. I'm not always able to create a memo to send home during the day when things come up, but with the blog, I can update it from anywhere at any time. If you ever have questions about a post, be sure to email me, or just click on the link at the bottom that says how many comments have been made. That will allow you to leave a comment or a question that gets emailed directly to me.

Here are some other notes about the week ahead...

The class website has been updated with a class photo that I took on Wednesday of last week. I think it turned out pretty well. I've been taking quite a few photos, actually. I'm going to be setting up a page on Flickr (my new favorite photo site) so that everyone can see them.

A belated "thank you" goes out to all the parents that donated supplies to the classroom. (Hand sanitizer, tissues, pens, paper, ziploc bags, etc.) Your generosity is appreciated. We could still use boxes of Kleenex, so if you haven't sent in any yet, that would be great. Other things might come up that we need from time to time. I'll beg for those when I think of it!

Birthday Club
Each year, Ms. Barnes's class and mine have a "Birthday Club." Instead of every family sending in treats on individual birthdays (which can get quite expensive and complicated), we collect $4 per student and have a party together every other month. Our first Birthday Club party will be at the end of this month. Please send in the $4 when you can and then Ms. Barnes and I will handle the purchasing of cake and treats, so you don't have to worry about it.

Writing Update
I've set up writing portfolios for each student. They'll keep most of their final drafts at school. This is a great way to track their progress throughout their time in my class. This is why you don't see much writing work coming home. If you ever want to check out your child's portfolio, feel free to stop in and take a look. I'll be providing more information on our upcoming writing projects in the next week.

One thing that I should mention is that the students will be decorating their Writing Notebooks this week. Check the homework schedule and, if possible, allow students to bring in things to decorate their notebook covers with. (Photos, stickers, etc.)

Speaking of homework, the schedule for next week is posted on the website. I think we got a bit off track last week, but the calendar reflects this. If any changes need to be made to it, I'll let you know.

Thanks for reading the class blog!

Thursday, September 11, 2008


Welcome to my blog! Here you will be able to read important information about what's going on in the classroom. I'll also be using it to let you know when we've updated the class website.