Monday, February 27, 2012

Learning About Syria

If you follow the news, you know that there are huge problems in the country of Syria.

Since we're studying current events this semester and completing a project for our Gateway Exhibitions, Syria is a place I'd like students to learn more about. Specifically, though, I'd like to help them build a sense of global empathy, a feeling that it's important to care about what goes on in other countries.

So, as you know, we had a guest in our classroom via Skype last Tuesday and it went great. Steve Goldberg, a terrific educator from North Carolina, was kind enough to spend his morning discussing Syria with us. 

The students learned a great deal about the unrest there, including the fact that Syria's president is ordering attacks on his own people. Lots of good questions were asked and the students made some very insightful comments.

We're going to continue to explore this story as it develops. We'll also be working with Mr. Goldberg again next week to start creating an online guide for other students so that they can learn about Syria, too. Here are some pictures from Tuesday:

Stay tuned for more updates!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Over the long weekend

Today I am giving students about a half an hour for researching their 10 Places for the 10 Places Project. This will be the last class time I've giving for research. The rest of the research will have to be done at home. This would be a good thing to work on over the long weekend.

All students have notetaking sheets to do this work on. I'll be telling them to take them home to finish today. Please send them back to school on Monday.

How much information do they need about each place? A lot! They'll be writing paragraphs about each one that are 10 sentences long. The more info they have, the better. We'll be writing these paragraphs in school starting Monday. But if any of them want to get a head start, they can type them on Google Docs for easy copying and pasting.

Also, sorry about not sending home a form for Driving Questions yesterday. Totally forgot. It will come home tonight. Thanks.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Current Events and a Special Guest

We've been exploring current events more often lately. We're gearing up for another Gateway Exhibition project, the brilliantly titled "Current Events Project." I think it needs a better name.

Regardless, we've been watching a few episodes of CNN Student News, a daily internet broadcast of news designed for students. We've also read an article about a country named Uzbekistan, which recently "cancelled" Valentine's Day.

My goal is for students to learn more about the world in which they live, and to get them asking good questions. I want them to be thinkers and learners, not just readers and writers. Current events are a great way to help build these skills.

Today we'll be discussing a country that's in a state of unrest, to say the least, Syria. A reporter for the New York Times died there recently and it's got me wondering what the students think of journalists who risk their lives to cover stories. I bet they've never heard of Syria, so it should be an interesting discussion. I want to let you know in advance that we will be talking about the violent uprisings and the brutal government in Syria. Nothing graphic, though, so don't worry. But we will be discussing it. It's going to lead to discussions of violence in the African countries of Sudan and South Sudan as well. I just wanted to let you know.

Helping me out with this will be my friend Steve Goldberg. Steve lives in North Carolina and he's opening a middle school there in 2013. He's got some great ideas about teaching kids using current events and I've been learning a lot from him. Steve's going to be Skyping into our class tomorrow (Tuesday) to help us understand more about Syria and Sudan. It should be pretty awesome. I'll keep you posted.

Look for more details soon about our Current Events Project.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Interest Projects

Students WILL have to complete an interest project this semester and I'll be blogging about it regularly. However, I do want to encourage students to do two things:

  • Make this their best interest project yet! It's their last one of elementary school, and it should be the best one they've ever put together.
  • Push themselves to explore a deep and meaningful topic. Something scientific or related to geography or history, maybe. Something that will involve some good non-fiction reading and research. For a driving question, ask something they're really curious about, something that they have no clue what the answer is, but that they're really interested in figuring out.
I would like to have all students' driving questions chosen by Tuesday. I will send a form home tomorrow for you to sign.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Weekend Work

This weekend...

--A math quiz is coming home. We took this today. Please sign it and return it to school on Monday. Also, have them redo ANY problems they got wrong.

--A writing quiz is coming home. We took this today. They had to correct 10 errors in a paragraph. Any student who got less than 8 correct HAS to do another paragraph this weekend.

--Driving questions are due Tuesday!

--Tuesday will be our last day to take notes in school for the 10 Places project. They can work on finishing their notes at home this weekend. See the blog post from earlier this month for information. can be used for math practice. I've put some new assignments there. See yesterday's blog post for instructions.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Interest Project Update

Before their Gateway Exhibition, students must complete their final elementary school interest project! I'd love for this one to be their best one ever.

As always, this is something that students are completely in charge of and that should be completed at home. There will be NO time in technology class to work on presentations this time.

The first step is a driving question...what will they be learning about?

I'd like all driving questions ready to report to me by Tuesday, February 21. Please push your child to

  1. think of something they are VERY interested in
  2. think of something they will learn a lot from
If you have any questions, let me know. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Math Practice

By now, you've seen your child's score on their January Math Test. There's a lot of work yet to be done, obviously. BUT...we are up to the task.

Here are some great ways to get some extra math practice at home:

This page has a ton of links to some great interactive online games. The best ones for what we're working on can be found by scrolling down to the sections titled "Fractions Games" or "Fractions, Decimals, and Percents Games." Almost of the games will help, though. Want an extra challenge? Try the Algebra section.

MAP-Based Games
This collection of games is tied to MAP test score. For each section, there are different score ranges. 5th graders should be somewhere between 200 and 220. That's a great place to start.

Make your own practice worksheets on a number of topics!

I've blogged about this before, and we're going to get back into using it at school. I encourage you to use it at home, too. Here's a little rundown of how it works...

Once they've logged in, they'll see their dashboard:

In the middle, they can scroll through their assignments and click Start Practice to begin them. Once they pass a certain number of assignment, they can go to the Reward Zone to play games.

If they've done all their assignments, they can still access practice problems. Just scroll down on the home page to the PRACTICE section and choose from the topics listed in the menu. Any of them will provide good practice:


Of course, you can always let me know if you have specific questions and concerns. I recommend making math practice a regular thing 2-3 times per week. Or 5!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

New Read Aloud

I like reading a book aloud about 3 days a week after recess. We just finished a fun book called Skeleton Creek by Patrick Carman. The kids enjoyed it. It was spooky, suspenseful, and it had some online videos that went along with it, making it kind of a unique experience. If you're at a bookstore or library, you might want to pick up the next books in the series: Ghost in Machine, Crossroads, and The Raven.

Now, for the first time ever I think, I'm reading a non-fiction book aloud. It's called Witches: The Absolute True Tale of Disaster in Salem. It's about the Salem witch trials in the 1600s in the small Puritan colony in Massachusetts. It's a gripping supernatural story about prejudice and the dangers of making assumptions. I hope the kids enjoy it and learn a lot from it.

This is Going to Be Good

If you were with UPA in fourth grade, you remember our awesome "human wax museum" that we held to celebrate and honor African American History Month.

This year, the entire school is getting in on the act. A Black History Month program will be held February 29th at 5:00 p.m. in the gymnasium. Each grade will be making a short presentation to honor some aspect of African American History.

Our grade is studying the African American experience in Social Studies. We are going to put this information into a series of readings from a wide range of poems and speeches by important Americans ranging from Langston Hughes to Maya Angelou to President Obama.

It will be a powerful performance. And every child will have a part. You'll be impressed and proud!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Gateway Exhibition Work

By now, you've seen the massive list of Gateway Exhibition Requirements. I wanted to let you know what we'll be working on first...the 10 Places Project!

For this project, students will learn about 10 Places in the world that they would like to visit. They will then write paragraphs (10 sentences minimum EACH) about each one and why they would like to visit them.

We are working on the research right now. Students can definitely work on it at home using the links I've provided on the class wiki page. Soon, we'll start writing and typing the paragraphs. They can work on that at home, too! (From this point forward, there's never a night "without homework!")

It's very similar to our 10 Things project from last year. The final product will be similar, too. Students will publish their final work on the class wiki and will include maps, hyperlinks, images, and maybe even videos, too.

Here's a sample page from last year:

And here's a full description:

Friday, February 10, 2012

A New Challenge

Today was a challenging day. My goal this semester is to help my students become more independent. It is obvious that they depend on me for many things. A lot of these things, however, are things I need to stop helping them with. It's time to "cut the cord" in some ways.

As a former middle school teacher, I know that their 6th grade teachers, whereever they go to school, will answer a lot fewer easy questions and tolerate a lot fewer interruptions. I need to get the kids doing things on their own, thinking for themselves, and feeling like they don't need me at every moment of the learning day.

That's where the Gateway Exhibition comes in. By the end of today, all of you will have seen the requirements. It' do I say this...A LOT. I'm not going to be able to hold their hands. That doesn't mean I'm going to abandon and make them do it all by themselves. But it's time to set them loose as independent thinkers and learners.

This is going to be a challenge for some of them. Today we were finishing up letters to colleges. Normally, I would work with each student to help them make sure theirs was formatted correctly. Normally, I'd take any and all questions to make sure they got everything right. Not today. Today I gave them a sample letter and made them figure it out on their own. I didn't allow interruptions. I made them wait to speak with me. It was frustrating for some of them. It's going to continue to be frustrating.

But I believe it's worth it. It's time for these baby birds to leave the nest and fly. I just wanted to give you a heads up when they come home talking about how "mean" I've become. :)

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Coming Home Tonight

Tonight, your child is bringing home a packet that contains...

*REPORT CARDS! These include comments and scores (out of 100) for all subjects.

*MEAP Scores

*MAP Test Scores This shows results from every MAP test they've ever taken! If you have questions about it, see me OR check out this online parent toolkit

*GATEWAY EXHIBITION Requirement--This is a list of all the projects we'll be doing in the second semester, along with short descriptions of each. Students will present 10 of them at their final Exhibition in May. MUCH more on this to come.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Writing and Math Tonight

There's no POW this week...BUT there is homework tonight due tomorrow. In fact there are two assignments. Here they are:

*Write and solve two story problems that are at FIFTH GRADE LEVEL. (Not just addition or subtraction) Please have your child share these with you. We're going to turn them into VIDEO STORY PROBLEMS tomorrow.

*Write TWO in favor and one answer this question: Should students be allowed to go to school completely online?