Friday, January 29, 2010

Middle School Meeting

There is an informational meeting scheduled at University Prep Middle School for next week, Friday, February 3 at 6:00.

I would HIGHLY recommend that you attend. They are making several important and huge changes there that I think are very exciting. This is a meeting you do not want to miss.

And of course, as I've already stated, you should be sure to set up a time to tour the middle school, too.

Let me know if you have any questions. THANKS!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

New Homework Deadlines

As I mentioned earlier this week, I'm temporarily suspending the Slice of Life writing assignment. Instead, students will be required to complete their Reading Letter over the weekend. Prior to now, these letters were written every week or so. Students write about the books they are currently reading. From now on, these letters will be due every Monday.

Please look over these letters each week. Each letter should have 3 paragraphs, with each paragraph having at least 5 sentences. (Although if you want to "encourage" your child to write more paragraphs or sentences, I would definitely support that). The letter is supposed to be about their thinking, so it's NOT supposed to be a retelling of their story. They should write about what's on their mind while they read.

Please note: Book-in-a-Bag logs are still due Mondays, but students do NOT have to do the back of the sheet anymore.

Another change will be with the Problem of the Week. The POW will now be due every MONDAY, as well. This week's problem of the week will be sent home Thursday. There WILL be a write-up portion of the POW every week from now on.

Here's a video I made in class yesterday that will help with part of the POW this week. I made it using our new SMARTBoard!

I may or may not be throwing other things into the homework mix from week to week, as well.

I will say, though, that the third trimester Exhibition, also known as the "Gateway Exhibition," is almost completely project based and will require more work than they've ever had to do in my class. :)

Of course, since it's Exhibition season once again, there's ALWAYS work to be done. Students should be working on their Interest Project regularly. AND gathering info for their Virtual Field Trip. Need more than that? Have them log on to the Online Book Club and post a poem or two.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

More on the Virtual Field Trip

I am really trying to push students to work on this project independently at home because there just isn't much class time left to get it done before Exhibition week. I'm crossing my fingers that we won't have to put it off until third trimester.

Here are a couple of links that also might help with research:
I haven't used the first one much, but I really like a lot. Just do a search for your location and they have tons of info. Especially helpful are the "See" and "Do" sections for each city or country. Lots of links to click on there and lots of info for note-taking.

Also, I created a sample project. My virtual field trip is to India. It can be found here. I tried to include a lot of images. The more images the project has, the better.

Finally, I have created a checklist for this project. MOST of the work will be done at school, especially the set up of the wiki pages, but more motivated students (and parents) can use this checklist for a head start. Let me know if you have any questions.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

College Project Underway

This month in writing workshop, we have started our biannual college project. This is a long term project that begins with students writing letters to three colleges requesting information (and perhaps some trinkets and souvenirs) from each school.

Students will use this information to decide which school they like best. Then they'll create a poster about that school and write an essay about what makes that school great. These posters and essays will be displayed at our "Third Floor College Fair" later in the spring. The college fair is lots of fun because all students get to show off their posters and we have judges evaluating and lots and lots of prizes donated by colleges from around the country.

Our goal is to give students a little taste of what college is all about. We want to get them familiar with the vocabulary, the options, and all the great things about college and college life. They are at University Prep Academy after all. This is a project that will benefit all of them.

In early April we'll be bringing the concept to life with a field trip to the University of Michigan, where we'll be touring the campus, eating in the dormitory, talking to students and much more.

I'll be keeping you posted as we go along. All the letters will be in the mail by the end of the week, and students should begin hearing back from them very soon. Ask them how this project is going; it tends to be one of students' favorites, especially once they start getting mail!

New Podcasts on the Way

This week, we're working on our Social Studies project for the second trimester. Students are working in two-person teams to write, record, and produce a podcast about one of the five chapters we've studied in the past five weeks.

The teams were given eight choices, ranging from radio documentaries to imaginary quiz shows to a "walking tour" of Colonial Williamsburg.

Students must finish them this week in class. We'll be working on them each day. They will each present their podcast at their next exhibition, which will take place the first week of March.

Not sure what I'm talking about with all this social studies podcast mumbo jumbo? Check out the GCast player in the sidebar of the blog. Click "POSTS" to see a list of the ones we've made. There are quite a few from our work with Michigan history back in fourth grade.

Middle School: Part Two

In an effort to continue the discussion, I'd like to open it up to parents and families...please let me know what questions you might have about middle school. These could be questions about any of the schools you might be thinking about or about middle school in general.

After five years in the district, I feel like I can provide most of the answers. If you ask something I'm not sure about, I'll find out from someone that knows. I also have teaching experience at the middle school level--I taught 7th grade for four years before moving to UPA. If you're looking for help, I feel like I'm a qualified resource.

Please either leave a comment on the blog or shoot me an email. I'll post the questions and answers on the blog, and I won't use your name if you don't want me to.

Like I tell the kids, if you have a question about something...ask. Chances are, someone else has the exact same question.

Love That Dog

We're headed into round two of our online book club. Our last effort, my first time trying a collaborative project with classes in different parts of the country, went pretty well. I soon discovered, though, that it's hard for teachers to find time for extra stuff, even if it is worthwhile.

Still, we're starting it up again with a new book, Love That Dog. The wiki we'll be using can be found here: Click the Love That Dog link and you're there!

Students will be writing a collection of poems to go along with the book. There's a place to post them on the wiki. There's also a discussion board for students to use to post comments about the story.

It's a short book, but a fun and touching one. I hope other classes are able to participate. I'll keep you updated on our progress.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Virtual Field Trip

For the second exhibition (1st week of March) students will hopefully be presenting an extra project: A Virtual Field Trip.

Students drew a famous city or country at random and were asked to plan a "trip" to five places there. For example: if they are taking a trip to China, they would choose five places to visit in China and present information and pictures from those five places (Great Wall, Tienemen Square, Yangzte River, etc.)

This project will involve researching facts and information about each place, creating a map of the trip, finding photos and images to enhance their project, and creating a web-page for their trip using the class wiki.

Due to camp and mid-winter break, there aren't a ton of class days left to devote to this, so you may want to have students start working on this at home.

Our first goal is to find at least FIVE facts or pieces of information about the places they are visiting. Students should have recorded the names of these places on their Virtual Field Trip page on the Class Wiki. (click on the student's name and then on Virtual Field Trip).

Where can they get these facts? A pretty easy place for them to start is Wikipedia. A pretty good travel site to use is Lonely Planet. Lonely Planet, for most countries and cities, has a list of the top five places they recommend you visit. How convenient.

Here's a list of the field trip each student signed up for:

  • Justin: San Francisco
  • Ileana: Famous Castles
  • Keily: Hawaii
  • Pierre: Famous Skyscrapers
  • Noah B: Rome
  • Shayna: Greece
  • Tayia: Paris
  • Claire: Great Britain
  • Stasarahmy: Africa
  • Joshua: Russia
  • Alexander: Italy
  • Michael: Australia
  • Troi: Easter Island
  • Kyree: New York City
  • NoahW: Brazil
  • Angela: Japan

Stay tuned to the blog for a sample of what a virtual field trip should look like and a checklist for students. I will have those posted early this week.

Finally, here's a little video that might help you navigate the Lonely Planet website:

Friday, January 22, 2010

Scholastic Book Orders

I've added the TAB catalog to our book order this month. TAB is for higher level (i.e. middle school) level readers. There are a ton of great books in there. I've set up online ordering for this catalog only (I sent home ARROW, too, but for some reason they won't let me do online ordering for that one.). Use the link in the sidebar to get directions on how to order.

This month ONLY: if you order 10 dollars worth of books online (offer not valid on orders sent in to school), you get a FREE book up to $5 in value!!! Not to bad of a deal. I hope you can take advantage.

Let me know if you have questions. Deadline for ordering is January 30!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Trouble with Homework

When I designed the three weekly homework assignments, Book-in-a-Bag, Problem of the Week, and Slice of Life writing, I thought I had successfully created three assignments that would benefit all students. Homework should be meaningful, not just random or pointless busy work. I really feel that these three things will help all of my students...if they are completed.

You see, I seem to be having a really hard time getting the kids to turn them in. Yesterday I collected a total of 5 Slice of Life stories. Five! Out of sixteen! And this isn't the first time. I've been struggling to get S.O.L. stories turned in since I created the assignment a year ago. Same with Book-in-a-Bag. The POW usually has slightly better results, but not by much. And alerting you with Homework Alerts hasn't helped the situation either. I kind of gave that up when I was spending too much time filling out 12 of them each week, only to have half of those come back to me signed.

So, what's a teacher to do? Keep pressing on, assigning work I know many students won't even attempt? Or throw my hands up, give up, and try again next year with a new set of students? I really don't know.

I have some core beliefs as a teacher when it comes to homework. I've already discussed my belief that homework should be relevant and meaningful. I also believe that a fifth grader should be counted on to do their homework, for the most part, on their own. They should be independent enough to remember that it's due, and conscientious enough to care that it gets done well and on time. Finally, when it comes to consequences for homework not getting done, I believe the teacher shouldn't be punished with more work because his students haven't been doing their work (e.g. lunch detention, taking away recess, spending an hour writing homework alerts, etc.).

Like I said, I'm at a loss. At some point in their academic careers, turning in homework is going to be a lot more important than it is here in fifth grade. It WILL be the difference between pass and fail. It WILL be the thing that determines how well they do on tests and exams. But how to teach them that? How to hold them accountable? As parents, even though it might seem to all of us that you shouldn't have to, you just might have to become more involved. Getting on their case more than you already do (and I KNOW you already do) just might be required. It's the best thing I can think of that might help right the ship as they head into middle school.

I welcome your comments on this issue here on the blog, via email, or by phone. I value your input. Perhaps some sort of reinvention of homework for the last half of the school year needs to take place. Perhaps I need to shake things up. I'm not exactly sure. Things will probably be changing in some way as we enter the second half of the year. No matter what, thanks for your support. I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Praise Song For the Day

January 20, 2010 marks the first anniversary of the President's Inauguration. Can it possibly have been a year? Seems like less to me, although I'm sure it seems like much more to Mr. Obama.

One thing I checked out for the first time since last year was a podcast I recorded with several students. Even if you've heard it before, it's worth another listen. Check it out by clicking here. Then just click on the title of the mp3 file to play it.

This week, for our weekly "Poetry Wednesday" activity, the students and I will be reading Elizabeth Alexander's wonderful poem "Praise Song For the Day." She read the poem during the inauguration ceremony and I really liked it. Upon further re-reading however, I've found it to be even more lyrical, poignant and beautiful. It will provide us with quite a bit to discuss:


Praise Song For the Day
by Elizabeth Alexander

A Poem for Barack Obama’s Presidential Inauguration

Each day we go about our business,
walking past each other, catching each other’s
eyes or not, about to speak or speaking.

All about us is noise. All about us is
noise and bramble, thorn and din, each
one of our ancestors on our tongues.

Someone is stitching up a hem, darning
a hole in a uniform, patching a tire,
repairing the things in need of repair.

Read the rest of the poem here.

Hope you enjoy it as much as I do. The last line, by the way, is my favorite.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

New Flip Video Cameras Now In Use

Recently, a set of 3 Flip video cameras were donated to our classroom. The kids put them into real use for the first time last month when they recorded "Readers Theater" skits following our reading of The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket.

Each group had to choose a scene from the book, write a script, rehearse it, and be ready to record on the assigned day. I thought they did a great job, especially with their memorization and acting skills. They really liked this book a lot and I'm glad we found time to complete this fun little project.

It wouldn't have been possible without help from Mrs. Hawthorne, who came in and served as the camera operator/director. Thank you, Mrs. Hawthorne!

Here they are...enjoy! (You might have to turn up the volume in the player and on your computer. I didn't realize that the cameras don't have that great of a microphone).

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Middle School: Part One of Several

When I met with most of you this fall, in both September and November, I mentioned that I wanted to start discussing middle school options with you in January. Well, amazingly, it is January already, so I suppose it's time for a more formal discussion of this matter.

Of course, for me, talking about middle school is bittersweet. I am not eager to see the students go. They've been a wonderful group and I can't begin to tell you how much I've enjoyed working with all of them (and all of you) for the past year and a half.

However, I would like to lend a helping hand to the decision, if you'd like my input. I believe I can answer any questions that you have and I can find out the answers you need if I don't know them. I believe I know your children quite well when it comes to their learning styles and abilities. I believe I know the UPA system, including the middle and high schools, quite well.

Things aren't like they used to be. I went to Washington Junior High because it was the closest of my city's five middle schools. I didn't have a choice. If there was something my parents didn't like about WJHS, we'd have had to move or pay for a private school in order to switch. At the same time, my parents didn't have to research several different schools, choose one, and then worry about whether they'd made the right choice or not.

I guess having choices in the 21st century can be a good and a bad thing. I'd like to help make it easier, if I can.

My first piece of advice is this: whatever school you are considering for sixth grade, TAKE A TOUR. This is incredibly important. The only way to get a feel for the school is to get into it during the school day. Give them a call, set up a time, and get in to visit as soon as possible. You can learn quite a bit about a school in just 30-60 minutes.

I'll be sending more notes on this matter. And I'm always open to talking about it. Be sure to give me a call or send an email if you have ANY questions at all.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

New Toy in the Classroom and Other Updates

Okay, so maybe "toy" isn't the right word, maybe "instructional tool," would be better...but we did get a new SMARTboard in our classroom this week. If you're not familiar with these, they are interactive whiteboards. It connects to a computer and a projector and basically turns the whiteboard into a touchscreen.

We're still experimenting with it as I figure out how best to use it, but we've already used it in poetry and math classes. The kids (and me) think it's pretty cool. Stay tuned for more updates on how we're putting it to use.

Just an update on this weekend's homework...we're back into most of our routines. POW is due tomorrow (Friday) and Slice of Life and Book in a Bag are due Monday. Also due Monday is a poem we started in class Wednesday called "This Place."

Some dates to remember...

  • January 13: Camp money due
  • January 14: Camp fundraiser pick-up
  • January 15: NO SCHOOL
  • January 18: NO SCHOOL
  • January 21: Milestone 2 due (30 facts about interest project)
  • January 28: Classroom spelling bee (study word guides went home today)
  • February 3: Fifth grade spelling bee, 10:00 in gym
  • February 8-10: Fifth grade camp (all students NOT going, must stay home)