Monday, December 14, 2009

End of 2009 Party

Wanted to have a little party this Friday during lunch to celebrate the end of the calendar year. I'm asking for a $4 contribution from each student. This will allow me to buy pizza, drinks and dessert. I would need this as soon as possible, though, so I can know if we'll have enough to cover it. Thanks!

Monday, November 30, 2009

December Book Orders

I sent home three book order forms today. Lots of good choices if you're looking for Christmas gifts! (For the kids, not me...although...just kidding!)

I've set it up for online ordering again. I sent home a letter with instructions this afternoon. Or you can use the "Scholastic Book Clubs" link in the "Links" box on the right side of the blog. (You might have to scroll down to find it).

If you want the books to be a surprise, let me know. You can order online and I'll get the books to you when they come in without letting your child know.

If you have any other questions, let me know. Money and orders are due Wednesday, December 9.

Camp Questions

I haven't had any questions regarding camp yet. Please remember the fundraiser and the cost ($130). Dates for the camp are February 8-10, 2010. We'll set up dates for money to be turned in after the Christmas break.

If you have any further questions, be sure to let me know.

Monday, November 23, 2009

News, Notes, and Reflections

To start, I just want to thank everyone once again for their hard work during Exhibitions. This includes students AND parents. These "little" presentations take a lot of time and preparation. Without the support of families, they wouldn't be possible. And I really believe I saw 16 of the best. Not just the best in the school, but as a group, these kids did the best of any class I've worked with since we opened. Well done, and keep it up!

I think the thing that impressed me most was the quality of the Interest Projects. I learned a lot from the presentations, and so did the audience. I always try to push kids to go beyond "puppies" or "dolphins" (not that I have anything against those animals) but seeing them learn and listening to them talk about Vincent Van Gogh or the origin of money how an earthquake occurs or chicken eggs or the Sony Corporation is much more satisfying.

This is a great group of kids and I am proud of all of them.

Just some other notes:
*No School Wednesday-Friday. Have a Happy Thanksgiving and I'll see you Monday, Nov. 30.
*Book-in-a-Bag and Slice of Life stories both resume this week. Both due Monday. POW will resume next week.
*I congratulated Ileana and Claire for their involvement in the Yearbook. I should have congratulated Ileana and TROI. Sorry, Troi. :)

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Yearbooks For Sale!

For the first time ever, our school is creating a yearbook. A team of students, including our own Claire and Ileana, along with Mrs. Tiggs is working on this project. It will include photos of all students and teachers as well as candid shots from throughout the year.

Buy yours today for only $11. Money is due on the 16th of December. Don't miss out on this great way to remember the final year of elementary school!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Exhibition Update

We're not even halfway through Exhibition Week, but already I'm blown away by the students' presentations. I am not only immensely proud of those who've presented so far, but I'm also excited to see what the next 10 students will bring to the table.

And speaking of excited, I'm already looking forward to the second and third Exhibitions, which are sure to amaze. The next one, in March, will involve quite a bit more work, but work of the meaningful and in-depth kind.

Poetry will definitely be included, as will some more in-depth work with reading, focusing on non-fiction. And, of course, technology will play a prominent role.

I'll wait to share more until after this round of Exhibitions is over. I just wanted to offer up a teaser and thank everyone for their hard work (once again) this time around. Great job!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Remember Me?

Hello, I am your child's teacher. Sorry I haven't blogged in awhile. I am going to fix that starting...NOW. Things have been busy. I guess that's my excuse. In all honesty, though, we've been working hard to get ready for Exhibitions as well as get all the rest of our work done.

It's hard to believe it's almost Exhibition week. Stay tuned for more updates. I'll do a better job from now on!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Out From Under

I know all the faithful readers have been wondering what happened to their regular Room 302 blog updates. It seems I've found myself behind in every area. Coming home today with your child will be a huge pile of papers that I finally got around to grading last night. Sorry about that. I guess I got caught up in other things and the paperwork started piling up. Luckily, I'm climbing out from under that pile and am ready to finish the week and eager to start a new one on Monday.

I've been keeping pretty close track on everything we've been doing these first 6 weeks. I was looking back the other day and I realized..."Wow! We've been busy!" Here's just a short rundown of what we've accomplished...we have:
  • read and discussed 24 poems together
  • written five different kinds of poems
  • completed a class podcast
  • created 2 class picture books
  • read and discussed 12 fabulous picture books
  • completed the first 5 chapters of our American History text and (almost) a project
  • completed nearly 2 units of our math curriculum
  • written four Slice of Life Stories
  • solved four Problems of the Week
  • launched a collaborative, all-village writing project
  • started an international online book club
  • successfully launched our Reading Workshop, complete with Guided Reading
  • started our spelling program (a.k.a. "Buddy Study" or "Word Study")
I'm sure I've left something out...but that seems pretty impressive to me. No wonder I'm behind in paperwork! Be sure to take a moment this long weekend to thank your child for their hard work this year so far. I know you're proud of them. I am, too.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Room 302 Goes Global

I am excited to announce a new project that our class will be participating Online Book Club.

Certainly you are wondering, "What's an Online Book Club?" Well, the answer is pretty simple. It's just like a regular book club, where people meet to discuss a common book. EXCEPT, in this case all of our meetings will take place online.

I'll be reading a book aloud to our class during the next month: The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket. Several other classes will be doing the same thing. A couple of them are from our school; a couple from our Mark Murray campus; three classes in West Columbia, South Carolina; and one class in Bangkok, Thailand!

Then, students will visit a specially designed website where they can post their thoughts, respond to questions, and make comments about this common book. I'm not completely sure on all the details, but we'll try to come up with some sort of final project and maybe even add some video conferencing between classes, if possible.

Hopefully, after we complete this book, we'll continue reading others. Not only will this be fun, but it should be yet another way to help students develop reading skills and (just as importantly) a love of reading and discussing books.

I'll keep you posted as we go along. If you'd like to see the webpage and follow our progress, here it is:

Update for the Week

Just a few pieces of news to pass along...

  • Unit 1 Math tests will come home today. Please go over them together. Overall, I thought we did well.
  • Homework Alerts will be sent home today, as well. Every student will get one. Please sign and return.
  • Milestone 1 is due Thursday. This is simply a list of 6 books and/or websites that could be used for gathering information for the interest project. Students who turn their list in Thursday morning will get to participate in "Fun Friday." Fun Friday is an afternoon of fun activities that serves as a reward for finishing the milestone.
  • Scholastic book orders went home yesterday. They are due back Thursday, October 15. After school today, I'll be setting up online ordering, which is an easy, secure option. Use the link in the sidebar of the blog to learn how to order online.
  • MEAP testing begins next week. More info on this to come.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Poems Experiment Follow-Up

Our experiment with "found poetry" went incredibly well. The students showed they have keen eyes for vivid, poetic language, even when it's hidden in unexpected places.

Just a reminder--the assignment was to find one or two sentences from a magazine or newspaper or book and rewrite it into a poem. They had to use the exact words in the exact order. I thought everyone did a terrific job. I find it fun to watch them experiment with words and lines.

Choosing four to share was, again, difficult, so I will try to feature a few different poets than I did last time...

Found Poem #18 from National Geographic
Arranged by Joshua Jewell

Take me fishing,
so we can
be together
just you
and me.

Take me fishing,
and we'll call
it a date.

Take me fishing,
and we'll have
the boat all to

Take me fishing
and make
me feel



Found Poem #III from National Geographic
Arranged by Alexander Moore

Today I visited an official
"Sculpture Studio"
where I found
Saddam Hussein

riding a horse straight
out of Arabian Nights.


Omarion from The Book of Chris Brown
Arranged by Troi Sparks

Our boy Omarion
May be a superstar
But he does not mind
Sharing the stage with
Superstars. As you know
He just toure and did the
Face off CD. We can't wait
To see whatcha do next, Big O!


The Real Story from National Geographic
Arranged by Noah Ward

Discovery of a
rare diamond in the Democratic
Republic of the Congo sparked
level intrigue.
Then the stone
only to resurface
in New York City.
Tracking the gem revealed
the world of diamonds--
a labyrinth
linking multi-million dollar
mines, bloody
wars, and timeless beauty

Count Day and More

  • Count Day is tomorrow! Please be in school and on time. Thanks so much!!!
  • Milestone 1 is due October 8. For this milestone, students must turn in a list of 6 resources that they plan to use for their interest project. I have a form that I'll send home this week, but if it's just a list of websites and/or books written on a sheet of paper, that's fine, too.
  • Book in a Bag turn-in rate isn't what I'd like it to be yet. All of the students have books. Please make sure that they are reading every night, filling out the form, and returning the form to school every Monday.
  • Speaking of less than 100 percent return rate...Slice of Life stories are due every Monday, too. Please don't forget.
  • We took a unit test in math today. Look for the graded paper to come home by the end of the week.
  • Thanks to all who took the time out of their days for Learning Team Meetings. I felt like they were a great success and that we've got some terrific, individualized learning plans in place. If you haven't met with me yet, please give a call or send an email ASAP.
  • Remember if you haven't checked out our first podcast yet, give it a listen HERE.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Guided Reading

Guided Reading groups will start tomorrow. What's a guided reading group? It's a small group of 3-5 students with similar reading abilities. These groups meet with me 3 or more times per week to be guided through a book that's at their "Instructional Level."

Books at their instructional level are books that are just a little too hard for them to comprehend on their own. During our group meetings, I help them prior to reading by providing background information, defining and pronouncing words and names, etc. Then, after reading a short selection, we discuss what we read. That's when I ask comprehension questions to check for understanding.

This is just a summary of what goes on during guided reading. Teachers at UPA have spent MANY valuable hours being trained to teach reading workshop. The framework/program we use is very highly regarded and widely used in districts across the country.

Guided reading is one of my favorite parts of the day. I've never been the reading workshop teacher for any of my students, so I'm definitely looking forward to it. I think it will become one of their favorite parts of the day, too.

Be sure to let me know if you have any questions about Reading Workshop or any of our other academic programs. And speaking of reading, don't forget Book-in-a-Bag worksheets are due this and every Monday!!!

First Podcast of the Year

Sometimes I even impress myself...we've gotten a lot accomplished in just 3 short weeks. One of those things is the production of our first class podcast.

If you're not familiar with podcasts, let me fill you in--they are audio files that can be listened to through your internet browser OR downloaded and played on an MP3 player or iPod. Last year, we were able to put together about 15 of them.

This first podcast episode comes from a class book we made called "The Important Book." Each student created a page for the book. We recorded each child reading their page.

Here's how to listen:
1). Click the title of this post (First Podcast of the Year)
2). Click the LISTEN button or, to save the file, click the DOWNLOAD button.

Are you already a podcast expert? Then be sure to subscribe to our podcast via iTunes. Just search "Radio Free UPrep" in the iTunes store. (Yes, we're so famous, we're on iTunes!)

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Found Poems: A Poetry Experiment

In class today, we examined “found poems,” poems that are created from sentences that you find, sentences that other people write and that the writer turns into a poem.

Here are two sentences we found in a magazine:

“It’s easy to get lost in this summer scene. With a wooden bench surrounded by blooms an a birdbath, in the distance you could spend hours in this picturesque garden.”

Here’s how we turned it into a poem:

Found Poem #1

Words from Birds & Blooms

Arranged by Room 302

It’s easy

to get lost

in this summer scene

with a wooden bench

surrounded by blooms

and a birdbath. In the distance

you could spend hours in this picturesque


Write TWO found poems. You can find material anywhere. Your job is to arrange it into a poem. Think about things like line breaks, stanzas, sounds, and other poetry “moves.”

Make sure you put “Words from _____” and “Arranged by ____” at the top of your poem so we know where you got your words and who you are!

Due date: Monday, September 28

Monday, September 21, 2009

This Is Just To Say

Last weekend's poetry writing assignment was a huge success. I asked students to write a poem modeled after William Carlos Williams's "This Is Just To Say." Williams was a unique and fascinating poet. He turned observations of everyday life into works of art. If you didn't get a chance to read the original poem, you can see it by clicking here.

I wanted to share a couple of the students' poems. Every one of them did a terrific job, but here are four that stood out:

"This Is Just To Say"
By Alexander

I have eaten
your breakfast
that was on
your bed

and which you
were probably
to eat

Forgive me
it was delicious
so delicious
and not yours.


"This Is Just To Say"
By Justin

I have eaten
the cookies
that were on
the refrigerator

I knew that
I should have
them for my lunch

I was hungry
and too lazy
to make cereal
for my breakfast


"This Is Just To Say"
By Angela

I have taken
your last candy bar
that was
in your store

And which
you were probably
to sell

Forgive me
it was good
so inexpensive
so free


"This Is Just To Say"
By Ileana

I have gone
to the
amusement park that
was in the mall

and which you
were probably
to go to

Forgive me
you would have enjoyed it
so fun
and so exciting


I could go on and on. These were awesome! I look forward to reading more poems soon. Keep an eye out for announcements about future poetry assignments.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Back to School Night and more

Just a couple of quick announcements/reminders...
  • Back to School night is tomorrow (Wednesday) from 5:00-7:00. Come see our new room and get acquainted with the fifth grade curriculum. We'll also be holding a discussion about Exhibitions & Learning Plans.
  • Book-in-a-Bag started this week. Every student has a book, a bag, and a reading log. These things need to travel back and forth every day. We'll be using those books every day during reading workshop.
  • Scholastic Book Club orders are due tomorrow. Remember, you can order online using the link in the sidebar of this blog!
  • Learning Team Meetings will be held next week. I'll start making appointments tomorrow night at Back to School Night.
  • There is no school next Friday, September 25.

Friday, September 11, 2009

A Day of Remembrance

I know that my students are too young to remember 9/11/01. And soon I'll be teaching students that weren't even alive on that day. But I've still always thought that it's important to talk about it whenever the anniversary comes around.

In the past I've read some really good picture books, The Man Who Walked Between the Towers and Fireboat. These kicked off some really good discussions. But this year I decided to share a poem with them. It's called "Alabanza: In Praise of Local 100" and it is dedicated to the 43 employees working at the Windows on the World restaurant on that fateful day.

In the last two stanzas, it gets a little complex. We focused on the details in the first two stanzas, and on the change between stanzas two and three, when the poet stops talking about the people and starts talking about the attacks.

Sometimes it's good to read complicated material. I think (and hope) this was a worthwhile activity.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Free Books for the Classroom!

The first Scholastic Book Club order forms were sent home on Tuesday. Money and forms are due to me on Wednesday, the 16th (which is also Back to School night!).

BUT...did you know that the classroom is guaranteed to get free books for our library each time a book order is placed online? Yes, it's true. Ordering online is easy and convenient.

Think you want to give it a try? Click the "Scholastic Book Clubs" link in the sidebar (on the right side of the page). There you'll find the instructions for placing an order. If you have trouble or have questions, please send me an email.

There are some really good (and affordable) books in this month's catalog, including the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, Lawn Boy by award winning author Gary Paulsen, No Talking by the popular Andrew Clements, and the hit series The 39 Clues. We'll be doing A LOT of reading this year...stock up now!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

A Poetry Revolution

As many of you know, I spent five weeks in Chicago this summer at DePaul University. I participated in a conference called "Say Something Wonderful: Teaching the Pleasures of Poetry." Poetry was not something I knew much about prior to this summer. But I learned a lot and am trying to implement as much as I can. I'm not exactly sure how this is going to happen, but we're off to a good start.

Yesterday, we read a silly poem by Dennis Lee called "Alligator Pie." The kids liked this one a lot. We spent a few minutes discussing it and then I asked students to write their own version. They've done well with this, although a number of them have yet to turn them in.

Today, we read one of my favorite poems, "Dreams," by one of my favorite poets, Langston Hughes. If you aren't familiar with it, here it is:

By Langston Hughes

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.

After reading it, I asked some questions such as:
  • How many stanzas does this poem have?
  • What are the metaphors?
  • What parts are repeated? Does the repeated part change in any way?
  • What words don't you know?
  • Do any words have more than one possible meaning?
The students responded to this activity very enthusiastically. Some even noticed things about the poem that I hadn't noticed before!

My goal is to use poems regularly to teach analytic thinking, grammar, vocabulary, and other important comprehension skills. As we come across great poems, I'll pass them along through the blog so the discussion can continue at home.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Special Guest on the First Day

If you've been paying attention to the news lately, you might have heard about President Obama's speech to America's schoolchildren today. I'll spare you a rant about how silly I think all the "controversy" surrounding the speech is and just say that I thought it was wonderful timing, today being the first day of school and all.

I broadcast the speech live and I was proud to be part of a historic event. I hope the students took something from his powerful, important message.

In case you're interested in hearing the speech, here it is:

Stay tuned to the blog for more info about the start of the school year. I'll be posting more very soon.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Switching Over

I've been working on combining the class website and the class blog. I think having two different sites is a bit cumbersome. It takes a lot of time to maintain both for me, and it takes too much time for parents and students to switch between the two.

So, I'm using this blog as the main classroom site this year. I've added some things to the sidebar that I think you'll find useful, such as links about homework and links about Everyday Math. And of course, you can access the class wiki, which is mainly for student use, through the link in the sidebar, too.

As always, I'll continue to add things as we go along. And I'll let you know of the changes as I make them.

If you haven't subscribed to the blog yet or if you have a second email address (or third) where you'd like blog updates to be delivered, use the form on the side.

Happy reading!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Can't Wait to See the Room?

Excited about coming in next week? Not able to make it but you're dying to check out the new digs? Here are some photos of a nearly finished classroom:

And just to clarify my last post regarding supplies...the list that went home at the end of last year for general classroom requests (mentioned in the comments of the last post)...just go by that one. I don't need anything additional. Use that list as your guide. Thanks.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Two Weeks and Counting

Inevitably, you are all turning your attention to the upcoming school year. I've been back at work for a week now, getting the room ready, planning lessons, attending meetings, and more. The biggest development so far is that I've moved classrooms. We'll be in Room 302 this year, Mrs. Hatt's old room in the northeast corner of the building. It was a lot of work to move but well worth it. The small space of room 31o, after four years, had grown a bit confining. The new room is huge in comparison! And though I've given up my beloved downtown view, I now get to look out on the Fisher building, which is pretty cool.

The worst part about moving out is leaving Ms. Barnes (now Mrs. Tiggs) behind. She and I were a fabulous team for four years. Our class will be paired with a new group this year, taught by Mrs. Susan Wagner.

Those aren't the only changes students will have to get used to, however! Fifth grade is filled with higher expectations and more work. We'll be hitting the ground running, with all homework assignments (Slice of Life, Problem of the Week, Everyday Math) starting up right away. (Book in a Bag will begin Week 2).

In addition, we have a new, exciting science curriculum with more hands-on activities. Reading and writing poetry will play a more prominent role in our Langauge Arts program. Exhibitions will involve more projects, especially their third presentation in June. More details on all of these things will follow. Check for notes home just about every day for the first week.

I mailed an invitation, but in case you haven't gotten it yet, I'd like to invite you and your child to stop in and say "hello" and see the new room. I'll be available September 1 from 9 to 12 and again from 1 to 3. Stop by anytime during those hours.

A common back to school question is: "What do I need to buy?" The answer, like last year, is not much. I would ask that students buy one notebook for Slice of Life writing. Other than that, I'll give them everything they need. I'll send a note home requesting some classroom donations (kleenex, sanitizer, etc.) during the first week.

I hope the summer has been enjoyable. I'm looking forward to the start of the year, your child's last year of elementary school!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Last Post for Awhile

Hopefully you've received everything that was sent home last week. I'm here at school attending a few final meetings and getting the room cleaned up. Wanted to share a few last things with you before I call it a year...

  • The Summer Learning Page on the class wiki is up and running. Students can begin using it as soon as they'd like.
  • Here is a link to some good book recommendations:
Summer Reading List
  • And if you'd like to see how famous my students are, check out this link from 826 Michigan, which details the project they completed last week!
Have a safe and happy summer. I'll be sending a note to you somewhere around the middle of August with info about the 09-10 school year.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

826 Michigan

The end of the year tends to be so busy that sometimes I forget to publicize events from the classroom. Wanted to let you know about the big project that was launched Tuesday in conjunction with a non-profit writing center in Ann Arbor, 826 Michigan. 

826 is an organization dedicated to providing free writing instruction to kids ages 6-18. They have offices in many cities across the country. Last year, 826 volunteers came to my classroom to help my students write mysteries. This led to some of the best writing I'd ever seen produced by students in an elementary school. Two of their stories were even published by 826 Michigan in their "Best Of 826" anthology!

This time around, they've turned the classroom into a product development office. Students will be "working" for an as-yet unnamed department store, designing new products and writing about them in a way that would make people want to buy them.

Tuesday, they brainstormed ideas. Today, they'll be building models and making detailed sketches. Next week, they'll start their writing and the last week of school, we'll have a publication party where we unveil our work!

Sounds pretty awesome, I know. The folks from 826 are some of my favorite people in the entire world. They've helped me, and the rest of our 4th/5th grade staff, become better teachers of writing. If you'd like to learn more about their Ann Arbor center, click here: or if you'd like to learn more about their national organization as well as their centers around the country, try this one: .

And stay tuned for more updates from our product development team!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Detroit's Finest

What an exciting day we had today. We were scheduled to be visited by the Special Response Team of the Detroit Police Department (a.k.a. the SWAT team). Well, at 9:30 I got a call saying that the team was dealing with a "barricaded gunman" and wouldn't be able to come. Our hearts sank.

You see, the SWAT team was visiting because of the hard work of Lemuel Spratt. Lemuel wrote a letter this winter to the Detroit police chief explaining why he thought being on the SWAT team was a great job to have. Apparently, the chief liked it enough to forward it to someone on the team, and that person liked it enough to promise to visit our school. Lemuel and all of us had been looking forward to this for a long time. As you can see, we had good reason to be disappointed.

BUT about 45 minutes later, the phone rang again. The gunman had been apprehended and the team was on its way! Hooray! They visited with 5 officers as well as their armored vehicle and their "tank." Officer Brown and his crew taught us all about what the SWAT team does and even let students inside the vehicles. In all, they stayed for over 2 hours and every student in the school got to meet them. 

Writing letters can make a difference...what a powerful lesson. Thanks, Lemuel. Great work!

Third Trimester Exhibition Organizer

Students are using this to keep track of their work. We've been making progress in class, especially with the writing portion. Need something to work on at home? Focus on the INTEREST PROJECT.

Third Trimester Exhibition Organizer

Monday, May 11, 2009

Third Trimester Exhibitions

Here is the checklist for the upcoming Exhibition:

3rd Trimester Exhibition Checklist 0809 Grade4
I sent one home with students last week. Today I sent home sign up sheets for Exhibition times. I'll assign those on a first come, first served basis. Please choose at least three times in case there are any conflicts. Thanks!

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Slice of Life Challenge

I am excited to announce a little "contest" for the month of May...The Slice of Life Challenge!

Students will be required to write one Slice of Life story EVERY DAY from May 1-June 1. All stories must be written in Slice of Life notebooks. All stories must be at least one page.

Now that we've been writing these stories for about 3 months, students should completely understand what is expected. The biggest challenge might be writer's block. (I can almost hear them now..."I'm not sure what to write about.") BUT please remember and remind your child...Slice of Life stories can be about ANY small moment. We live through many, many small moments every day, whether it's standing in line at the bank, eating a sandwich, or looking out the window. And students can write about current small moments OR small moments from their past.

If you still need guidance with these stories, check out this page from our class website. I also came across another great example that might help, too.

I'm going to try to participate in the challenge, too, by writing 30 Slice of Life stories. Maybe you should, as well! I'm looking forward to the results of this Challenge. Enjoy!


Just a couple of quick notes...

  • MAP testing started this week. Students took Language Usage on Tuesday and Reading today. We'll finish with Math tomorrow. Students who were absent or who need to retake any tests will do so on May 15.
  • MEAP results came home with students today. The state Department of Education does a much better job communicating the meaning of these results than they used to. Take a look, and if you have any questions, let me know.
  • Mystery stories were due today. We didn't have time to get everyone's printed, but we should be able to tomorrow. The stories are terrific. Students are required to present these stories at their third trimester Exhibitions.
  • Speaking of Exhibitions, checklists for these presentations will go home next week.
  • PLEASE don't forget Book-in-a-Bag worksheets and Slice of Life stories are due Monday. I was a little disappointed by the fact that only a handful of each were turned in on time this week.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

10 Things I Love

With many students done with their mysteries, we're getting a head start on our May writing/technology project. This project is called "10 Things" and it will be worked on in class and posted to the class wiki page.

The inspiration for this project comes from a blog post I read on one of my favorite blogs, The Miss Rumphius Effect

For this project, students will make a list of 10 things that they really love. Then they'll write about why they love them. Seems simple, right? Well all 10 things have to start with the same letter! AND they don't get to pick the letter. I do! 

Here's a little slideshow that I showed to students that reveals their letters:

My goals for this project include writing clear, focused, detailed paragraphs; importing photos into wiki pages; using hyperlinks; and using online photos responsibly by citing sources correctly.

This should be lots of fun. It will be worked on at school during the month of May and it WILL be required to be presented at the third trimester exhibition. Stay tuned for more updates and be sure to contact me with any questions that you have.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Mysterious Behavior

Some mysterious behavior was exhibited while students typed their mysteries in class (yes, we're already typing...WAY ahead of schedule! How awesome is that?).

What behavior am I speaking of? Complete silence. And complete focus. Yep. Unbelievable, I know. All I did was give them a computer and turn on some jazz music (why didn't I think of this earlier?). Take a look...

I'm talking absolute silence. (Except for Ileana asking NoahW, "Whose side are you on?" when he started humming along with the jazz music. Hilarious.) 

Please monitor this situation closely at home this weekend. If you notice any other peculiar or mysterious behaviors (such as cleaning their rooms on their own, being kind to siblings, etc.), you just might have to contact your family doctor.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Milestone Two

Milestone Two is due shortly (on April 30). If you recall, the second milestone is the one with the notes. Students should be gathering notes on their driving question. The more the merrier. I'm thinking that the list should have about 20-30 facts on it.

This being the last exhibition of the year, students should aim for it to be their best. Exhibition Week starts June 1, which is only 6 weeks away. 

Look for a checklist for this Exhibition to come home in early May. Sign-up sheets should follow a week or so after that.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Amazing Race

Never content to have just ONE project going on, I've started a social studies project this week that we'll work on for the next few weeks. It's called "The Amazing Race."

The project is modeled after the television show of the same name. (A show I highly recommend, by the way, for people of all ages--Sundays, CBS, 8:00).

In this project, students work in teams to design a "race" across the country. Their job is to write 10 clues that would lead a team from place to place. They'll be using research, technology, and social studies skills to do this.

You can view all the details at The Amazing Race Project homepage.

I'll keep you updated as we go along. It should be fun!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Strange Mysteries

Wayyy behind in my blog postings...sorry....A great way to get back into the swing of blogging is by telling you about the writing project for the month of April: MYSTERIES!

Every fourth and fifth grade student will write a mystery story this month. We'll be looking at the characteristics of mysteries first, and then read a few, before we start drafting this week. Rough drafts should be completed during Spring Break. And final drafts are due April 30.

I think the kids are excited about returning to fiction writing. Hopefully they told you how we kicked off the project last Wednesday...we started by reading the first two-thirds of a mystery story, "The Case of the Missing Billy," together. After discussing it, the entire third floor took part in several crime lab activities. Our goal was to get them thinking and acting like detectives, to help them write better stories. They dusted for fingerprints, examined mysterious powders and fibers, analyzed footprints and teeth impressions, and even interviewed the suspects.

That's right. A brave and dedicated group of teachers (not me) got into full costume and played the role of suspects from the story. It was quite a hoot! Take a look:

From left to right you see: Karen the hairdresser with bad hair, Mr. Grumpy the grumpy landlord, Suzie the frazzled victim, and Mrs. Squalor the bunny-hating gardener.

The kids had a great time. Hopefully they're excited about writing yet another great story. Be sure to ask them about it regularly, and also to help them with their rough drafts during Spring Break!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Scholastic Book Clubs

Well, after some "heated" conversations with my friends at Scholatic Book Clubs, I finally got our order from last month processed and students received their books today. Sorry for the delay. I'll spare you the details, but I will say that I'm sticking with them and sending home new flyers today. (Keep reading for details about ordering online!)
It's not too early to start thinking about summer reading. There are some really good books available at affordable prices that would make great books for reading during the summer months. Here are a few that stood out to me (unless I mention it, they can be found in the Arrow form):
Dear Dumb Diary, It's Not My Fault I Know Everything by Jim Benton
Kids love these books for their sarcasm and hilarious descriptions of every day life. They're easy to relate to AND there's a whole series of them!

Allie Finkle's Rules for Girls: The New Girl by Meg CabotThis author really knows how to write in a language that "speaks" to kids. This series hasn't caught on yet with the 4th/5th grade girls here, but it needs to!

Julian Rodriguez Episode One: Trash Crisis on Earth by Alexander StadlerIf your child likes the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, and they probably do, then he or she will like this new graphic novel. A quick and fun read.

The 39 Clues series (Spring Gift Books) by various authorsThe third of this series was just released and you can get all three books this month through the book order. I am really into this series about a brother and sister trying to solve a puzzle that could make them rich beyond their wildest dreams. Looking for books to interest reluctant readers? These would be perfect. Looking for books to donate to the classroom??? These would be perfect. :)

So, I'll follow those four recommendations with a note about ordering online with a credit card. I tried this earlier in the year and didn't get much interest, but I thought I'd try it again. Here's what to do...

Go to

Class user name: curran

password: curran

Remember, ordering online with a credit card is completely secure. AND it actually can help us earn more free books for the classroom library than we usually do. Orders are due April 3, 2009.

Happy Reading!

Writing on Reading

I've been giving a lot of thought to reading and writing lately. One thing on my mind has been the struggle to drive the book-in-a-bag program. B.I.B. has been a lot LESS successful than I envisioned and I'm trying to figure out how to make it better. From a teacher's perspective, it seems like a perfect assignment. However, after about 3 months, the number of students not completing their weekly worksheet is troubling. And I think the entire fourth grade teaching team is asking, "Is this really worth it?"

How could this program be improved? I feel the worksheet is quite simple, the books of high quality, and the time and effort requirements are not overwhelming. How am I missing the mark? Is it because I started it mid-year? That's the only thing I can think of.

If you have any thoughts on the matter, I encourage you to email me or (even better as it would create a type of "conversation" among us) leave a comment by clicking on the "comments" link at the end of this post. Just know that when you do that, your comment can be viewed by anyone! I look forward to hearing from you.

Monday, March 23, 2009

A Look Ahead

It seems my blogging needs to get more frequent. Not sure what it is that's kept me from updating, but I am going to write much more often as we push forward to the end of the year.

Wanted to give you a sneak preview of the next writing project we'll be doing. It's one that I had tremendous success with last year and am eagerly anticipating.

Starting April 1, we'll be writing mysteries! We'll start by reading several mysteries to become familiar with the genre. We'll talk about special characteristics that only mysteries seem to have: clues, detectives, crimes, red herrings, etc. And then, students will be asked to write their own mystery stories. 

It should be a lot of fun and allow them to be extremely creative. Not only that, but so many students have improved with their writing this year. This project will give them a chance to "show off" their awesome writing skills.

I am really looking forward to this. Things will kick off next week with a special village meeting which will involve 128 kids trying to solve the same mystery and may or may not involve teachers dressing up in costumes. You can be sure that I'll be sharing pictures of this in the near future!!!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

A Good Reason to Write

Wow, I have fallen WAY behind in my blogging. I came across this terrific poster on the web today and decided that it HAD to be shared. (It helps, of course, that it fits my wry sense of humor.) Well, I realized that a blog post would be the perfect way to do this.
One thing that I found myself repeating over and over in learning team meetings was "read more!" I know this is easier said than done, but it is working. I can tell. Students and families that are dedicated to the Book-in-a-Bag program are making huge improvements.
Lots of schools make a big deal out of Reading Month... and we've certainly acknowledged it. But EVERY month is Reading Month around here. Always has been. Always will be. And that's just one of the reasons why I think this is such a great school!

Friday, February 6, 2009

February Update

I've fallen a bit behind in my blog posts of late. There's been a lot going on. Be sure to check the note that I'm sending home today. It should fill you in on just about everything.

As always, especially with Exhibitions right around the corner, please contact me with any questions or concerns that you have.

I'm looking forward to meeting with you all again during second trimester Learning Team Meetings.

(Yet Another) New Wrinkle

People say to me, "Mr. Curran, why do you keep trying new things in the middle of the year?"

Well, I guess it's because I really feel like I need to be flexible and able to change, on the fly if need be. I try to pay very close attention to how things are going, and respond when needed.

So when I needed to communicate more effectively, I started a blog. When I noticed we weren't practicing problem solving skills enough, I added the POW. When I noticed students weren't reading every night at home, I added Book-in-a-Bag. When I realized the students needed more practice writing personal stories, I started Slice of Life stories.

It makes perfect sense. I'll never be the kind of teacher that does things exactly the same, year in and year out. If I find an idea that will benefit my students or I find a way to improve my teaching, I'm adding it in, whether it's September or January or May.

Hopefully this makes sense. It leads to me introducing the concept of Student Portfolios. A portfolio is a great way to assess students' progress. It's more than just a collection of their work, stuffed in a folder, though. Everything that goes in the portfolio is carefully selected by both me and the students.

In the end, what we'll have is a great picture of the students' performance and growth over the course of a year (and over two years by the end of fifth grade). It will allow me to make more helpful suggestions in our Learning Team Meetings and more insightful comments on students' narrative reports.

What it means to you, though, is that you'll see a little less returned home to you. I'll be saving it here at school, instead. Especially bigger assignments, such as Problems of the Week, writing projects, tests and quizzes, etc. But don't worry, I'll still keep you informed of progress and scores. I'll just be keeping the finished products in the portfolio.

This is pretty much an experiment. It's something I've always wanted to try and now I'm finally doing it. We'll see how it turns out.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Facts Becoming An Issue

As we move into fractions this week, it's becoming increasingly clear that the students do not have a mastery of multiplication facts.

It's critical that they have their facts (at least from 1s to 10s) memorized. I'm certain that ALL of them need some extra practice at home.

We try our best to practice at school, but time is limited and lots of them need more time on this than we have.

The best thing to do is focus on small groups of facts at a time. Don't try to practice them all at once. For example, this week, make sure they know their ones and twos, then next week try the fives and tens, and so on. Trying to learn them all at once will do nothing more than slow you down. The ones they struggle with most seem to be the 6s and above.

How should you do this? It doesn't have to be anything formal. Practice in the car. Or make some flash cards and incorporate it into your nightly routine. By the end of fourth grade, all students need to have them memorized.

I found a fun website that has lots of different multiplication games. You can CLICK HERE to find it. I'm sure it can provide some good practice for them, too. They have four pages of multiplication games! Let me know what you think.

Thanks again, for all your support. I wouldn't ask you to focus on this if I didn't think it was really important.

Alternatives to PowerPoint

One things kids love to do for their Interest Projects is to make a PowerPoint presentation. I completely understand why. They are really fun to make.

But there's one problem...not everyone owns the Microsoft PowerPoint software. And it's not very affordable. The Microsoft Office suite, which contains PowerPoint, can run hundreds of dollars!

But if you don't own the software, and your child wants to make a PowerPoint for their exhibition, there are free alternatives. Most are very easy to use. Take a look...

280 Slides--This is a very easy site to use. It doesn't have a ton of different fonts or different backgrounds, but it gets the job done. You can even add images very easily. You'll have to register for this site, but it's free. Once you create your presentation, you can save it on their server so that you can access it from any computer, or you can download it to your own computer. I've used this with kids before and they loved it.

Zoho--You can sign into this site using a Google or Yahoo mail account. Then you can access their presentation creator, which they call "Zoho Show." They also have a word processor, Zoho Writer, a spreadsheet maker, Zoho Sheet, and many other applications. Zoho has more bells and whistles than 280 Slides. And like 280 Slides, you can save your work on their servers and access it anywhere.

Bookr--If you're looking for something really simple, for example if you want to show images and just a little text, Bookr is for you. It allows you to add images from Flickr's website. Just type in a keyword (called a "tag") and it gives you a ton to choose from.

Google Docs--I've talked about this site before. I love it because you can access it from anywhere. You do need a Google account (which comes in handy on a lot of websites) or you can use our classroom account (username: curran310). Google Docs has a presentation option--just click "New" and then select PRESENTATION from the drop-down menu. Just don't forget to hit "save & close" when you're done. We used this to make our presentation about trash and recycling. It's very kid-friendly.

Open Office--This is the only link here that requires you to download anything. You have to download the program and install it on your computer. It's worth it, though, because this program is a perfect substitute for Microsoft Office. And it's completely free. It even allows you to save your work in Microsoft Format so that it can be opened on any computer that's running Microsoft Office! I run Open Office on our Mac computers at school and I love it. Their website has a full load of instalation instructions as well as a help feature that should answer any questions you have about it.

Let me know how these things turn out, if you end up trying them. And be sure to let me know if you have any questions.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Exhibition Documents Available Online

Here is the exhibition checklist:
2nd Trimester Exhibition Checklist

Tomorrow, I'll be distributing this Graphic Organizer. It should help them stay organized. It gives them a place to keep all their notes in one place. Then, they can transfer these notes to index cards for their presentations. We used something like this last trimester. We'll be working to fill it in during the next week or so in school...

2nd Trimester Exhibition Organizer

Of course, let me know if you have any Exhibition related questions. As you see from the new countdown timer, the clock is ticking!

*Note: To download (save) either of these documents, click on the title of the document (it's in blue and underlined). To print, open the drop-down menu next to the word "iPaper."

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Slice of Life Story Number 2

I'm going to write one every week, too! Keep reading to check out my second Slice of Life story. Remember, students' stories are due every Monday!

We had all been waiting weeks for this. I can't really put into words how excited we were. I'm not sure if it was the fact that everything was brand new (chairs, books, desks, EVERYTHING!) or the fact that we had spent the last three weeks actually watching the building being built. (We could see it from the window of the room we were working in..."Look a dump truck!" "Look it's full of dirt!" "Look, they're dumping the dirt!" "Look, they're dumping some more!" And so on.) It was all very exciting.

And no the day was finally here: Move-In Day. I had a TON of stuff. And my room was on the third floor. And did I mention that the elevator wasn't working yet? My dad was there to help me unload. Trip after trip. Up and down the stairs. Again and again. My legs hurt. My back hurt. But I didn't care.

We must have rearranged the room ten times. Moving tables, computers, desks, and chairs trying to get it just right. The final set-up was a lot different than it is now. But I was pleased. I looked around and took it all in. UPA Elementary would be open in two days and I was ready.

I sat down for the first time that day, filled with a sense of accomplishment and pride.

"Perfect," I said, leaning back in my chair, a smile on my face. "Perfect."

Mid-Year Review

Friday marked the approximate half-way point of the school year. Is this possible? It got me to thinking about all we have accomplished since September. The students have...
  • Completed personal narrative, personal essay, Tall Tale, and (almost) persuasive essay writing projects.
  • Finished six units of our Everyday Math program.
  • Successfully integrated technology into our curriculum--students created powerpoint presentations, edited their own personal wiki pages, and designed podcasts.
  • Helped to start a school-wide paper recycling program that has been ridiculously successful.
  • Completed first trimester Exhibitions and pushed forward on their second.
  • Witnessed the swearing in of the first African American president.
  • and much, much more!
A simple list, of course, can't capture the amount of academic and emotional growth that I've witnessed. It's been a pleasure to be a part of all of this. Every day I leave school impressed with what the students are doing and becoming.

What might stand out most to me is their increasing enthusiasm for learning. They have become much more dedicated to their work. And they all seem to love coming to school. I couldn't be happier about this.

The next five months will hold great things, too. We continue to press forward in all subjects, with a keen eye focused on the upcoming Exhibitions. Exhibition Week begins February 23. Checklists went home Friday, so it's time to get started. Be sure to ask questions if you have them. Of course, I'll be posting more on this topic as we go along. So stay glued to the blog! And get ready for a terrific second half.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Quick Update

Number of Slice of Life assignments turned in Tuesday: 5
Number of Book in a Bag record sheets turned in Tuesday: 5

These assignments are part of our weekly routine and will be due again Monday, January 26. B.I.B. record sheets didn't go home until Wednesday this week, so the first two sections can be left blank. If you need info about Slice of Writing, see the class website or the blog post below this one.

Also, several students from the third floor helped me create a podcast to honor the new president. You can listen to it using the podcast tool on this page or on the class homepage. Let me know what you think!

There will be a math quiz Friday (no POW this week). There will be a math unit test Tuesday, the 27th.

Final drafts of persuasive letters are due Monday, February 2.

Milestone 2 is due tomorrow! Exhibition checklists will come home tomorrow as well. Appointment sign-up sheets will be distributed the first week of February.

Questions or concerns? Let me know.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Slice of Life Writing

Hopefully you saw the note that went home Thursday about the new writing homework. Hopefully you checked out the Slice of Life examples at the class website. I thought I'd write a Slice of Life story, too, just to give you an even better idea...

The house wasn't just cold. It was absolutely freezing. I started the morning routine as usual, although I did make the coffee first, knowing that I'd need it soon to help me warm up.

I was looking forward to a quiet day at work. We were scheduled for a day of meetings--all the students had the day off. My own children, however, had a regular day of school, so I set to work waking them up and getting them ready.

My wife was driving all three kids with her this particular morning, so I helped get them all up, get them dressed, get them breakfast, get their coats, mittens, and hats on, and pack their back packs. Finally, it was time to head into the frigid outdoors.

My ride arrived as they were loading into the van. (I was kind enough to start it earlier, so it would be warm). A friend from work was taking me to work because the cold had been making it difficult to get my car started. I said good-bye to my shivering family and headed off to work.

"If we didn't have these meetings today, our school would have been canceled for sure," my ride stated as we drove off.

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"Didn't you watch TV this morning? Every school around is closed because of the cold."

"Oh no." I knew immediately that I had done all that work for nothing. I had forced my family into the cold and gotten them up before sunrise for nothing.

With one phone call I checked on their school. And then I made the call to someone who was sure to be unhappy.

"Hello?" my wife answered...


So there's an example of a Slice of Life story. Notice that it's about an everyday event, nothing special. These stories can be about something recent or something from the past. It did have a problem, but a Slice of Life story doesn't have to have one. It wasn't very long either. Just a little story about a little "slice of life."

These should be recorded in a separate notebook that your child can dedicate to this weekly assignment. OR they can post them on their page on the class wiki. They should know how to do this, although if they've forgotten there are instructions on the class website. These are due Tuesday.

If you want to challenge your child, push them to write more than one story per week. If you want to challenge yourself, try writing one and sharing it with them (or all of could post it as a comment at the bottom of this entry!).

Also, please remember you're invited for Inauguration Day festivities Tuesday. Please come and visit/help/spend this special day with your child.

And, milestone 2 is due next Friday. This consists of notes for your child's interest project. If you need something to shoot for, I'd say try to get 15-20 facts written down by your child in their own words (printed from the Internet doesn't count, sorry).

Have a great weekend. Stay warm.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Curran-pedia Update

Prior to winter break, progress was slow on the Curran-pedia project. Now that we're back to school, though, I'd like to hit the ground running and really get some entries added to the Curran-pedia pages on the Class Wiki.

This is a great activity for kids to work on from home (or from any computer with web access).

I've posted instructions here on the class website. It's pretty straight-forward, but it's worthwhile and enjoyable.

I'm looking forward to the finished product. If students take advantage of the class time available for this and work on this from home, it should turn out to be pretty awesome.

Oh, and just an additional note...they will be required to show some of their Curran-pedia entries at their second trimester Exhibition!!!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Tall Tales Requests

First, if your child is able to type their Tall Tale at home, it would help us out a lot if you could help them do so.

We're going to try to get some of the typing done at school using Google Docs. By using this website, they can work on their document from any computer. They should know how to access it, but just in case they forgot, their are instructions on the class website.

Second, if your child already typed theirs, can you please email it to me as an attachment?

Thanks so much. I really want to get these published into a class book of some sort and both of these things will help to make that happen.


My resolution for 2008 was a good one...improve my teaching of writing. As far as resolutions go, I think I did a pretty good job. I worked really hard to make writing projects more interesting for kids, to make my conferences with kids more relevant and helpful, and to seek help/ideas more often from colleagues and outside resources. The end result of this work? Well, I'm not sure how to explain it, but much of the way my Writing Workshop is organized and the writing projects we've done are the product of the work I did to meet my resolution.

I'm dedicated to continuing to work on last year's resolution. I have lots more ideas about writing, and there's always more improvements to make. But we all know how most resolutions end up...many fall flat (don't ask how often I've gone jogging in 2009!). So I'd have to say that last year's was a total success.

So, what's this year's teaching resolution? I've thought a lot about this, and I know I'm seven days late, but I think it's going to be: Make my teaching more individualized. I'm going to work harder to have every student working on individual academic goals. I want my teaching to better reflect the diverse needs of my students.

How am I going to do this? Not quite sure yet. But it starts with the resolutions the kids wrote for themselves in class on Monday. Don't know what your child's resolution was? Ask them. I'm going to try to hold them accountable. We'll be following up on them regularly and working toward making them happen. This could be a very successful learning experience, not only when it comes to their academic resolutions, but also in terms of learning how to set goals, making plans, and carrying out their plans. I'd call all of those things important life skills, for sure.

So I'll be blogging a lot about this (and the many, many other things going on in 2009) in the coming weeks.

By the way, what's your resolution? If you'd like to share, click the link below that says how many comments this post has. (example: 0 comments) Let us all know what you're working on in 2009, at home, at work, with your kids, etc. The comments feature is a great feature of blogs as it allows for interaction of the writers and readers.

Happy New Year (again)!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Happy New Year!

Well, it was back to work today. The kids did a very good job of picking up where they left off, getting right back into the swing of things quite easily.

This month holds some exciting and important events for us. We will be...

...publishing our tall tales and starting a persuasive letter writing project.
...taking the Winter MAP test.
...moving from multiplication to division.
...taking part in a school-wide Inauguration Day celebration.
...continuing our successful homework routines (POW and Book-in-a-Bag) and adding a new one.
...turning in Milestone number 2 for our second trimester Interest Projects.
...and much, much more.

Details on many of these things will come to you in the coming weeks. The new year always fills me with a bit of excitement, and this year is no exception. I can't wait to see the places this class is going to go, and I appreciate the huge role you play in that. Keep in touch and check for a note coming home tomorrow.