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.