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.