Thursday, September 29, 2005

It's too Darn Hot!

Thursdays are my piano lesson days, so I usually rush right home. So it’s the briefest of posts today. It’s almost too hot to read, anyhow.

It may seem like there's a lot of homework below, but the students had ample time to start on all of these things in class. With the ferocious temperatures, we skipped as much of the outdoors stuff today as we could.

Homework: (1) Study spelling. Test is tomorrow over all 30 words. (2) Complete the two paragraphs comparing Leah and Chrissy's tree houses. Use the Thinking Map we created together in class. The first paragraph should discuss the similarities; the second should note the differences. (3) Do the Tree House study sheet. Be sure to answer the questions in complete sentences. (4) Do Review/Test page 70 and Cumulative Review, page 71. (5) Students should have completed pages 1-4 in the Cursive book.    

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Mens sana in corpore sano

That famous Latin phrase means “A healthy mind in a healthy body.” We worked on this a little today as we began our first health lesson. We had a remarkably productive time.

I admit that I never have taught health much before because we never had any materials for it – other than some absurdly inadequate stuff about drug education – and I always just decided that PE was close enough to health education.

But this year the state provided us with new, and, at least at first glance, comprehensive health textbooks so I decided I would be a better health teacher. With that in mind, we pulled out the books for and started to read.

At first the students could not have been less interested. The body language was abundantly clear about that. But I decided to keep going anyhow, and, all of a sudden, the discussion exploded. They began to share all kinds of great ideas about what made for healthy minds and bodies. It was particularly fascinating when they began to discuss healthy relationships. One student made a point that being “too nice” could be unhealthy. Another student strongly disagreed, and we had a good conversation about when “nice” became “too nice” and it was annoying or worse.

Homework has been heavy the last couple days. Mea culpa. It should be lighter tonight. Remember to review the difference between an expression and a number sentence. See page 68 in the textbook.

Homework: (1) Study spelling. (2) Do "Estimate or Exact Answer, " Math, page 67. (3) Do "Expressions and Number Sentences," Math, page 69. (4) Cursive book, page 3.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Having a good time at PE!
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Hands-On Equations

It may seem like the math students are getting lately is a little schizophrenic. On one hand, they have the most traditional kind of addition and subtraction practice, and, on the other, they have some weird assignments which asks them to figure out numbers by wildly guessing.

The choice of topics and approaches here is dictated by the District. Teachers are now given an “instructional guide” – it used to be called, more accurately, a “pacing plan” – and told what topics should be taught in what order. To make sure we follow it, students are given tests every quarter on the topics that are mandated in the instructional guide. Teachers are given some suggestions as to the assignments, but we really have a fair amount of latitude here.

Now, I’d change a few of the details of this plan, and I’m not always the biggest fan of the quarterly tests, but I think there’s a lot of good thinking behind it. That’s more than I can say for some other not-to-be-named district curriculum innovations.

Kids need to know the techniques – what mathematics teachers call “algorithms – for solving arithmetic problems. And the need some practice at this to get good at it. I do not think I was insistent enough about this at the start of this unit, and I think that much of the blame for the low scores can be laid, alas, at my feet. That’s why I’m giving them the worksheets now and demanding to see the work, not just the answers.

But more important than this, students need to learn to start thinking like mathematicians. And mathematicians play around with numbers and get fascinated by patterns. They learn patience as they approach problems in different ways.

To help the children think like mathematicians, but still have fun, we have a program called “Hands-on Equations.” This program is widely used not only in LAUSD, but throughout the country. It allows students to learn to understand the basic concepts of algebras – variables and equations – using a bunch of little plastic game piece and number cubes. There are 30 basic lessons. Really, lessons 11 and above only make sense to middle school students. But the earlier lessons, particularly 1 through 7, work well with children as young as third grade.

We did lesson 1 today. I think that a few of the students really got the idea. More will get it when we do the second lesson, probably towards the end of next month. I’ll showcase a bit of the program at the Back-to-School Breakfast.

Homework:  (1) Study spelling. (2) Do crossword puzzle.  (3) Addition and subtraction worksheet. (4) Page 2 of cursive book.    

Monday, September 26, 2005

The Theater's the Thing

Today we did our first theater arts lesson. Theater is a very powerful tool in the language arts classroom, and the teachers in the district's arts program have given us some simple but powerful lessons to develop the skills the students will need in this area.

After doing our usual blending and dictation practice, and, after a quick review of the Priscilla story, students quietly found their "space bubble" in the room. A space bubble is what we call an area of personal space big enough for safe movement. We discussed the the fact that actors really only have three tools to create their art: their bodies, their voices, and, above all, their imaginations. We set out to explore these dimensions.

We began with making statues. Students were asked to "shake into" statues which showed different emotions such as happiness, anger, or depression. This used the tools of the body and the imagination. We then explored the voice as a tool by using gibberish, another classic theater game. The children used gibberish to tell about their weekends. This combined the voice and the imagination.

Finally, we put all three elements together by creating machines in groups of three to five. Machine, like gibberish, is a classic theater game which requires the students to observe what the others are doing and to figure out a way to cooperate. Each group performed for the class, and students were asked to guess what they thought each machine might might be. I wish my batteries hadn't died in my digital camera: the machines were often quite clever!

Homework: (1) Study spelling words. (2) Finish the Priscilla study sheet. Be sure to give complete sentence answers. (3) Do page 1 in the cursive book. This will be checked on Friday. (4) Do the addition and subtraction worksheet. Be sure to show all work. Students had a chance to start this in class. (5) Do the "Getting Ready for Algebra" sheet on the back of the addition and subtraction paper.

This may seem like a lot of work tonight, but as I said on Friday, we have to review and continue at the same time. And students also had a fair amount of time to get started on these papers earlier.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Math Test

On Thursday the students took their first math test of the year. Although one student made a perfect score, most were pretty disappointing. Here were the typical mistakes:
  • Many students did not consistently regroup when they added. Generally I do not think they did not understand what to do, but they were trying to do the problems in their heads without using scratch paper. We will need to spend time discussing when mental math is appropriate, and when it is a bad idea.

  • Estimation is still pretty shaky for many students. Some just ignore the direction to estimate altogether and find the exact answer. Others get a little puzzled about what to do when the number is somewhere around 5. We will continue to work on this.

  • A consistent issue was with those problems which require pre-Algebraic thinking. Here would be a typical example. “Jack has 35 pencils and pens. He has 5 more pencils than pens. How many pencils does he have? How many pens?” This word problem is based on the algebraic equation x + (x + 5) = 35. Students will later learn to subtract the 5 from both sides of the equation and then to figure out 2x = 30 and then x=15. Based on that, they can figure out that Jack has 15 pens and 20 pencils. However, students are not quite ready for that yet, and we also want to foster at this time a certain playfulness with numbers. So we encourage them to use a “guess and check” strategy and to try substituting different numbers and see what works. We want them to get away from finding the answer instantly because, however satisfying that may be, it isn’t what mathematics is really about. There will be some more problems like this in the future.

  • Related to kind of problem above are the “sum and difference” problem. Again, here’s a typical example. “Two numbers have a sum of 25. They have a difference of 5. What are the two numbers?” Again, this is really algebra: x + y = 25 and x – y = 5. The goal again is to have students play around with different number combinations until they find ones that work. Again, more problems like this will appear as homework.
While it might be tempting to just stop the sequence of math instruction and ONLY reteach some of these concepts, this is not really possible. Instead, we will need to continue to move ahead in math while going back to catch up with the missing concepts.

This means that some students will be having heavier than usual homework in math, at least for a while. But once we have had some more practice on these kinds of problems, I will retest students who need it. We will then either drop the first test or average the two tests together while weighting the second one more.

Homework: Students were given 10 math problems to do on Friday afternoon. They had to copy the problems out and do all the work. Most finished in class, but a few took them home to finish.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Being Out is NOT Much Fun!

Having a substitute teacher may seems like a day off, but as just about any teacher will tell you it’s a lot more work than being there. You need to write out things for another person that you’d never need to write out for yourself, and make everything simple enough that you think the person could not possibly mess it up.

I would so much rather have been with the children today. One of my many duties at school is being the Art Program chair. I inherited this when Jim Anderson left for his new job as a math coach. So today we had a meeting where we sat there for about six hours to get about 45 minutes of new information.

I’m looking forward to seeing everybody tomorrow again. I feel pretty confident that they probably had a very productive day with Ms. Choo.

Homework:  I gave the substitute a fair bit of leeway in deciding what needed to be done in class and what could go home. Today you’ll need to trust the little one!

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Reading and Thinking

For the most part, third grade is a joy to teach. The children have a little more awareness of the world around them than they did in first and second grades, and many are starting to develop a sense of humor. But there’s a few rude shocks which await them in third grade. We all know about cursive and multiplication. But reading has its surprises, too, particularly for those who thought they had it all down.

Reading at heart is a thinking activity. We use reading as a tool to improve our knowledge of the world and to gain specific needed information. Even when reading fiction, we use what we already know about the real world to help make sense of the fictional world.

But for students entering third grade, reading has been mostly about sounding out words. Students have not really been challenged to use what they already know to understand a text, nor are they accustomed to making inferences from the text or basing critical judgments on the text. It’s been all about getting the word right.

Now we pull the rug out from underneath them and say, “Sure you can say the words. But what do they mean? Explain it in your own language.” And most of them are completely baffled.

That’s a good description of our work in Reading this morning. We discussed drawing conclusions, the way Open Court terms making inferences. And they were positively baffled at the answers I was hoping to get from them because they just were not there on the page where they could be right or wrong.

The good news here is that our third graders are not unusual. This happens to all children this age, even those who are supposed to be “gifted.” Learning to think while reading takes time, and though it seems hard or even weird to them right now it will in time beyond second nature.

I’ll be gone to a district meeting tomorrow. We have a nice substitute lined up who was a teacher in her own classroom for many years. I’m sure the kids will be fabulous and have an excellent day.

Homework:  (1) Study spelling for Friday’s test. (2) Review chapter 3 in the math book as needed. There will be a test tomorrow. (3) Do “Synonyms and Antonyms,” pp. 25-26 in the Reading and Writing Workbook. (4) Subtraction, p. 60 in the Math book, numbers 2-26 only. Do not worry about estimating right now.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Rainy Daze

Well, who would have thought it would be raining of September 20th? I think this is the earliest I ever remember it starting to rain in Southern California.

Today we did our first major art project. You can see some of the examples below. It was tightly connected to what we had been reading in Open Court and to what we will be studying in Mathematics. We are currently reading a story called “Stevie” which tells the story of a young boy who is required to keep help his mother baby sit another child. He resents the boy until he realizes that he was “kind of little a little brother.” At one point the boy remarks, “I let my corn flakes get soggy just thinking about him.” Inspired by this line, we did a still life of soggy corn flakes.

I explained to the students what a still life is. We did preliminary sketches to practice making rectangular prisms and half spheres. The students also practice proper water color technique, particularly learning how to correctly apply the paint and wash the brush. I then had the students do the still life first in pencil. They then went over these lines in marking crayon. The completed by carefully water-coloring the paper. Some of the results were quite excellent. Just a couple of the best are shown below. I was still taking pictures of their work when the batteries in my camera died!

Math, as I predicted, confused some of the students who did in fact find exact answers instead of estimate. Tonight, please help them to carefully read the directions for each problem. We went over them in class, but after a day of rainy day schedule I’m not sure how much actually sank in!

Homework:  (1) Study spelling. (2) Science questions, page A28, numbers 1-7 only. Please copy the sentence. (3) Chapter Review, page 50 and Cumulative Review, page 51 in the math book.

Students began by looking at a still life of corn flakes and milk.
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Students worked on creating precise geometric shapes such as rectangular prisms and sphere.
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Some students have a particularly strong sense of color.
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Monday, September 19, 2005

Great Day

Today was another great day. We had a fantastically focused morning as we read the story “Stevie” in the Open Court book. I was really impressed by how students applied what they had learned about story structure and problem/solution to making good predictions about what might happen in the story.

For those people, who gave me email addresses, I sent you logon information about the Gradebook. If you haven’t given me an email yet, or if you would like to change it, please send a note to and I’ll take care of that right away.

Tonight’s math deals with the very tricky subject of estimation. You child may need some extra handholding. Be sure to NOT find the exact answers.

Homework:  (1) Study spelling words for the week. (2) Types of Sentences, Reading and Writing Workbook, page 12 only. (3) Compound words, Reading and Writing Workbook, pages 17-18. (4) Estimation, Math, pages 38-39, all problems.

Friday, September 16, 2005

We're using Dr Kaplan's depth and complexity icon cards to help focus the enrichment of our learning.
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Restless Learning

Not every day is absolutely perfect.

We started today with a fire-drill and lunch procedures assembly on the yard, and it was just enough of a bit of weirdness in the day that the students never seemed to quite focus. Everything seemed to take longer than usual. I began to look at the clock and wonder when lunch would finally come….

Still, we have some solid learning to show for our day. About half of the students have completed their first complete Writer’s Workshop compositions. The others should be relatively close to a final draft soon. We took our spelling test, and the scores look excellent. We started to really analyze “Angel Child, Dragon Child” in Reading to understand how stories really worked. We learned important technical terms like “plot” and “character” and “setting” and “climax.” We talked about problem and conflict in a story, and how they are not always exactly the same thing. I challenged the students to find something in the text to back up their assertions about characters – that was really a new concept for them! So, I’m proud of the learning we’ve done.

I will be finishing setting up the Gradebook this weekend, and you should receive your email with logon and password by Monday morning. I think you will find this an invaluable tool.

I also changed the comment option on the blog so make it harder for strange comments to be automatically posted. You can still comment, and I’d love to see more comments, but you’ll need to type in the word you see on the screen, just like you have to do with Ticketmaster. It helps defeat the programs which automatically attach unwanted comments to blogs.

Finally, to all our families whose roots are in Korea, Happy Chu Sok.

Homework: As promised, just some math and the students had a chance to start it in class. (1) Predict & Test, page 45, all questions. (2) Add greater numbers, page 47-48, #2-44 only.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Students enjoy conferencing during Writer's Workshop time.
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Students doing relay races in PE. Here they were hopping instead of running.
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Today we looked at patterns in different ways. In reading, we studied the patterns we saw in our Open Court blending words. We noticed the three ways of making the /k/ sound, and the different types of short vowel word patterns:  CVC, CVCC, VC, and VCC. We also talked about the predictable patterns we find in plots. We discussed how most stories have a problem or a conflict which needs to be solved or resolved. We looked at how the author did this in the story, “Angel Child, Dragon Child.” After we created a flow map of the plot, we then went on to storyboard the story using the different key plot points we had identified. In math, besides sharpening our addition skills, we learned the pattern of numbers in base 8:  1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 10! The children have been counting the school days since the beginning of the year in Base 10, Base 8 and in Roman numerals.

Homework:  (1) Study spelling for tomorrow’s test. (2) Science, page A23, questions 1-4 only. Please copy the question. (2) Math, page 43, all problems. Skip the part about estimation – we will come back to estimation a little later.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Thanks for a Wonderful Event

A big thank you to all the parents who came last night to our Back-to-School event. I think, looking over the sign-in list, that at least 16 of our 21 families were represented. I had a really great time talking with everyone, and I am sure that the good communication we started last night will continue through the year.

If you did not have a chance to get the Internet Gradebook Program sheet to me last night, please get it in as soon as possible. I will be setting up accounts in the next couple days. Check that inbox!

Today was also our first library day, and the students did extremely well showing how well they remembered our library procedures and manners. I was very proud of them.

We will be having our first math test soon on place value. As I said last night, we may start grouping in math soon to make sure that everyone is appropriately challenged. For now, we will be skipping over chapter 2 for now to work on addition and subtraction. Remember, you can start working with your child on multiplication facts at anytime! You don't have to wait until it comes up in homework.

Homework: (1) Study spelling words. (2) Columnar Addition, page 37, all problems. (3) Add Three Digit Numbers, page 41, #1-10 only.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Tonight, tonight

Our meeting tonight will begin at 5:30. You can bring your children. Armando, who works with Ms Hutchinson, will watch them on the yard. I’m looking forward to seeing everyone!

Since most parents will be coming to our meeting tonight at 5:30, I’ll just briefly note the homework.

Homework:  (1) Study spelling words. (2) Do Chapter Review, page 14 and Cumulative Review, page 15 in the math book.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Monday Moaning? Not here!

It was a delight to see everybody back at school for our second week. Our class is starting to settle into their new routine.

We began our day with Reader's Workshop. Students are starting to have conferences with me after they read their books. We then continued on to our Open Court block. We completed our Concept/Question board just in time for a visit by Mrs Oh and the new "literacy coach," both of whom seemed reasonably impressed. We also discussed a little bit about point-of-view. This is a hard concept for students to really grasp. They superficially can scan for words like "I" or "me" or "our" to determine the narrative voice, but they start to get really confused when we add dialogue to the story. We'll be working on this all year. We concluded with some writing time before recess.

After recess, we continued our unit on plants by starting to study photosynthesis. We then took off to the Tech Center where the students began to learn touch typing. After lunch, we did some relay races as part of PE time. This was interrupted, though, by a power failure which caused the fire bell to rang. The students (and staff) were more than a little confused by all this, but room 19 students were calm and cooperative.

We're coming to the end of the first chapter in the math book. Again, though we've stressed the distinction between digits and numbers, the students will not have a really deep understanding of this for a while. We'll keep talking about place value until the very last day of school.

Homework: (1) Study the spelling list. (2) "Understand 10,000," Math book, page 11, all problems. (3) "Logical Reasoning," page 13, numbers 1-7 only.

Friday, September 09, 2005

First Friday

I'll write a little more about the day later, but for now here's the homework.

(1) Finish Science questions, page A 17. Do numbers 1-4 only. Copy question as well as answer. (2) Place value to 10,000, Math book, pp 8-9, numbers 8-54. We started this in class and did 1-7 together.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Place Value

One of the hardest concepts for students is, unfortunately, the one that begins our study of third grade math. And that’s place value.

Now, for adults, place value has become second nature. But for children, they do not at all get the distinction between 4 as a digit and 4 as a number. They look the same, so aren’t they the same?

We will be spending all year working to really get the idea. One way we will be doing this will be by exploring a couple different number systems. One is the Roman numeral system.  There’s nothing like having to figure out what MMDCCXXI is to appreciate the genius of our Hindu-Arabic numerals! The other is base 8, what we call Simpsons math since the characters on the Simpsons only have 4 fingers on a hand. Here children will learn to count 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 10, 11, and so on. I find that alternative basic really make us understand place value.

So, we begin our math each day by counting which day of school it is in each of the three systems.

Homework:  (1) Study spelling words for tomorrow’s quiz. (2) Math, pp 4-5, #1-30.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

One of the portraits students did yesterday after they interviewed each other.
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Day Two

The second day is sort of the first real day of school. We begin to settle down into a routine and the students begin to actually use their books and start learning. I like the second day better than the first usually!

Today we started with silent reading. Most classes call this DEAR. We call is Reader’s Workshop because we’ll do it slightly differently. For today, though, we just practiced picking books and reading. We also started our Writer’s Workshop. Today students brainstormed possible topics and started rough drafts. We also began our Open Court work today, focusing on what we know about our theme of Friendship. We start our phonics component with a view of consonants and short vowel words. Today we practice blending short a phonograms.

After lunch, we started our first Science unit on living things. The six weeks we spend on this prepares us nicely for the next Open Court theme, City Wildlife. We also started our music today. At first, since we are spending time working on steady beat and rhythmic speaking, students don’t quite get that it’s music, but nothing is more fundamental than rhythm.

After lunch, we did relays in PE and discussed odd and even in math. I explained how my two dogs could divide by two and knew the difference between odd and even. They liked the idea of canine math.

Homework:  Students had about 15 minutes to start this in class so there should not be many questions.
  1. Finish the Science questions, page A 9. Most students did finish these in class.

  2. Write 4 statements and 4 questions. The content is unimportant here; I’m looking for correct use of capital and periods and to see if there are subjects and verbs in each sentence.

  3. Do the subtraction facts worksheet. This should be fast if the students really know the facts and aren’t counting on fingers.

  4. Do page 3 in the Math book. Write answers only on lined paper. This deals with odd and even.

  5. Continue studying spelling if needed for Friday’s test.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Students hard at work on Day 1!
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The first day of school

The first day of school is always so hard for everybody, no matter how often you’ve done it. Children are nervous of course, but so are parents and teachers. Somehow it seems so important that the first day be just right.

Well, our first day went quite well, I think. All 21 of us showed up, and almost everybody right on time. Students completed Interest Inventories which will help me to guide them toward books in Independent Reading which will be just right for them. They also did a pre-test of third grade skills from the Open Court series. I took a little longer than I thought it would, but I was impressed by their seriousness.

We took a tour of the campus so they would know where to play during recess. We also practiced our line order and walking in line.

Returning to our classroom, we partnered up and interviewed our partners. We took the information we gained from the interview and wrote rough drafts. I corrected those and the students did final drafts.

After recess, I did our first portrait of the year. We will study this skill more in depth later, but for today we did a rough sketch of the person we interviewed and used crayons or oil pastels to color it.

I stayed with the students during lunch today so that they could get a feel for the lunchtime routine. This year we have three lunches, and it seemed much calmer and quieter than last year with fewer children eating at the same time.

After lunch, I gave the students who still needed to work on final drafts a little more time while the students who were done got a head start on the math homework. We then discuss the basic rules which apply in any classroom, including, of course, ours. Their wording of the rules was slightly different from mine, but the basic values and ideas were the same.

Tomorrow, we’ll start learning our daily schedule and the “how to” of each activity on the schedule.

Homework:  Homework starts our very easy at first. I like to give students a feeling of success and confidence. We can then decided how to make it more challenging for some students. For tonight,

  1. Do the addition facts worksheet.

  2. Study the spelling words – no need to write anything.

  3. Bring in a photograph or a picture if you don’t have a photograph of you and a friend doing something together. This photo will be returned when the friendship unit is over. It is for our Concept/Question board.

Saturday, September 03, 2005


I’d like to welcome all the new students and their parents to third grade and to room 19. I am excited and looking forward to a very productive year together. This blog will be an important part of how I work with families and let them know what is going on in our classroom. It will not only tell you what we have done each day, but will also explain what the homework is.

Our first day of school, as you all know, I’m sure, will be Tuesday, September 6th.  Please arrive on time. Our school day begins currently at 8:05. Please understand that I do not have time on Tuesday morning to discuss your child’s needs and other things in detail. It’s not that I’m not interested, but there is just too much going on for me to really listen.

I have tentatively scheduled a parent meeting for our class only on Tuesday, September 13th, at 5:30 p.m.. Please let me know if it is impossible for you to come at that time. If we have quite a few people for whom this time does not work, we may need to reschedule the meeting.  

The best way to contact me is by email. You can use either my school account or my home account I check both of them frequently so I’m sure to get your message and be able to respond fairly quickly.

Music will be a very important part of our curriculum.
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We have a large classroom library to encourage reading.
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Students will use computers both in the classroom and in the Tech Center.
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Universal concepts and big ideas help children to connect knowledge across disciplines and to connect what they learn in school with their own experiences.
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Patterns will be our big concept for the year.
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