Friday, September 28, 2007

Science Experiment

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The day began with an assembly about the gift wrap drive, and I've learned to dread these little pep rallies. For some reason, any change in the schedule, even a small one, can make the students agitated all day. Add to that some guy who promises them that they can ride in a Hummer limousine and the concentration becomes nearly impossible.

So it was, at best, an OK day. But we did have one high point, as you can see above, and that was our science experiment. We did this jointly with room 18 as we had most of the stuff needed and even more to spare. They supplied us with some boba drink tops, a neat substitution for the nearly-impossible-to-find funnels. Here's how the experiment went. Students had to put a piece of elodea (that's the aquarium plant I'm holding in the pictures above) under the boba top with a test tube sticking out of it. This odd arrangement was mostly covered by water in a plastic shoe box. Some of these will spend the weekend out in the sunshine, while others will be in the closet in the dark. What will happen? We'll see!

Home Studies: Do the final study sheet on the first chapter of the Science questions. Do the subtraction worksheet.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

CELDT out!

Today we finished the main part of the CELDT (California English Language Development Test) and I'm glad it's over! Mrs. Cha took all the fourth graders who are English Learners to administer this test on Tuesday and today. She had seven of my students and I had nine of her students. It was hard to get things really accomplished with so many people absent and a group of other students in the room, too.

But we do have somethings to boast about. The students have finally completed the eight "About Me" compositions we did to help them learn about Thinking Maps, and several have already bound them into our first books. They were quite proud of themselves, and when the other students saw the finished product they were suddenly incredibly motivated to finish their own!

We took a math test that we will grade tomorrow. We also prepared for doing a science experiment tomorrow. We continued listening to The Witches. We read an amusing play version of The Emperor's New Clothes and we read an account of the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. Students have a little homework related to this tonight.

Home Studies: (1) Continue independent reading and writing in logs. (2) Do "Sentence Chef," Storyworks, page 15. (3) Do the two Open Court worksheet pages. These are numbered 29-31 on the very bottom in small print. (4) Finally, do the Subtraction Practice worksheet.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


It's an odd thing about school. Sometimes it just seems to make students less smart than they ordinarily are.

This happens a lot during reading. Students who can otherwise make intelligent comments and observations will often just be lost when a teacher asks a questions which is not "on the page." They start to look a little confused and agitated even when the question begins "Why do you think..." I suppose this is because so often in school we are focused on reading carefully and correctly that we forget that the purpose of reading is to promote thinking. So students get into the habit of plodding from word to work, reading the words fairly smoothly, but often not bothering to think what they mean.

We've been working on this problem. We've tackled a couple big thinking skills in reading already - predicting and making connections. We continued on this today by looking at a specific reading skill, the ability to make inferences. I began my lesson by explaining to the students that they were already expert at making inferences, and they proved this to me when I gave them a few facts about an imaginary situation. For example, I told them that they could not see the TV screen but that they heard someone say "doughnuts" and another person say, "Excellent!" They knew immediately that The Simpsons had to be the show on TV. I explained that they had used what they already knew (in this case, Homer's and Mr. Burns' favorite expressions) in order to make this inference.

We then tried to practice the skill on our Open Court story. We had visitors from the Local District looking at our implementation of the reading program, so we used the workbook as our tool today to do this. I will not say that the students were thrilled by the work we did, but they did seem to clearly master the skill. We will continue to work on the skill, though in the future we will be more likely to use post-it notes, reading logs, and graphic organizers to help us here.

The rest of the day was pretty routine. We finished up reading the first chapter of the science book, and most of them finished the chapter 2 math assignments and checked them. A number of students went off to orchestra orientation while the rest of the students went to PE.

Home Studies: (1) Reading, 15 to 30 minutes plus entry in reading log. (2) Open Court Reading worksheets -- Sarah study questions, the crossword puzzles, and the Crazy sentences. (3) Finish the math packet, if not already done.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Not much Today

Not feeling well today, so just a quick note.

Home Studies: (1) Independent Reading, including the reading journal. (2) Continue work on the chapter 2 math assignment sheet. This is due Thursday, but it would be great if it could be done and checked earlier.

Monday, September 24, 2007

No Monday Moaning Here

Well, another fine day in room 19. We did a lot of focused work today in a variety of areas. We worked on two final drafts of our Thinking Maps compositions. We have only one more map to do -- the Bridge Map -- and then we will be culminating our project by making our books and probably taking a quiz on the eight maps. In Open Court we did practiced our predicting and making connections strategy using the post-it notes. Our story this week is an excerpt from the book Sarah Plain and Tall by Patricia McLaughlin. This is quite an affecting story of a young woman from Maine who marries a widower with two children living somewhere on the Great Plains during the late 19th century. The students were particularly moved when they learned that the mother had died in childbirth.

We changed seats today just before going to recess. It takes me a couple of weeks to get a good feeling for each child's personality and to know what seat would provide the best opportunity for focus and constructive collaboration. After recess I gave students an opportunity to work on the latest History packet pages. All of them will be doing some -- or a lot -- of work tonight to finish these, but I wanted them to understand what I am looking for in these study guide assignments and how they will be helpful to them on the test. (Of course, the most basic reason for creating the assignments is to sharpen reading and thinking skills, but talking about that is not motivating for the fourth grade mind!)

After lunch we continued work on our Writer's Workshop compositions. A number of these are quite creative, and I look forward to publishing some of them shortly. We had PE where we continued our kickball tournament as well as working on cardiovascular fitness. We concluded with some Math workshop time, and I gave a mini-lesson on rounding with them.

Home Studies: (1) Independent reading and writing summaries in log. (2) Conclude work on the History packets pages for lessons 3 and 4 of chapter 1. (3) Continue work on math pages. These should be finished by Thursday at the latest, but earlier is even better.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Cause and Effect

Again, a really nice day overall.

We began today with a look at our seventh Thinking Map, the Multi-Flow map. This diagram looks a bit like one of those flow charts they use to teach computer programing in Basic. Its purpose is to help students to understand the ideas of cause and effect. Now this is a surprisingly hard idea for the fourth grade mind. Children are accustomed to the idea of sequence -- indeed, in compositions just about every sentence can begin with the word "then" -- but understanding that one thing happens because of, or in response to another action, is not something that they easily grasp. And yet no concept is more important for Science or History or even literature.

Our Multi-Flow Map was about "My Dream." The students were asked to think of what they would ideally like to achieve in their lives. They had some interesting choices. Many wanted to be actresses or sports superstars, of course, but others chose such realistic goals as zookeeper or fashion designers. They were then asked to think of what they would have to do to achieve that goal. Many were pretty accurate about understanding the prerequisites for the field they chose. They did tend to underestimate the price of mansions in Beverly Hills, however.

We reviewed the Toto story, looking this time to "make connections" between the text and their own lives. I'll talk more about that tomorrow. We also corrected the math test. This was a mixed result -- many excellent scores, but also a number of disappointing ones. We'll do some review here, particularly with the students who need it, and take the alternative form of the test in a week or so. We'll give the better of the two scores to the students.

We worked a little more on music today. This was the only rough point of the day. Doing some of the basic preparation activities for singing, exercises things involving breathing and vocal control seemed to bring out a particularly silly side in some of the boys. It was much better when we moved on to working on finding the rhythm in jump rope rhymes. We'll be developing a beginning sense of rhythmic notation from this as well as learning to change these chants into body percussion pieces.

The end of the day was a kind of workshop where students could work on math or the language arts homework. It was peaceful and everybody was working quite intently.

Home Studies: (1) Independent Reading. I will be collecting the first group of journals tomorrow. (2) "Toto" story packet. There are quite a few pages here, and the most important of these are the three pages of questions in the middle of the packet. (3) We started the second math assignment sheet. This will be due September 27.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Review for the Math Test

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Best Yet

What a nice day! The was easily the smoothest, most pleasant day of the year so far. Not that the others were bad, but this was just about perfect!

We keep working diligently through our Thinking Maps, and today we worked on the Brace Map. This is not an easy map for the children to either understand or make, at least at first. The Brace Map works on the skill of understanding the relationship of the whole and its parts. It only applies, however, to things which are tangible, which can actually be put together or taken apart. We talked about this at some length until I felt they had the idea. I then challenged them to create their own. As always, the topic was something about them. Now the assigned topic here in the training manual is "My Best Outfit." I find, however, that most of the boys, and even a few of the girls, hate writing about this. As a bit of a slob myself, it's not an easy topic for me, either. So I gave them the option of writing about "My Favorite Meal" instead, and most of them seemed to enjoy that one.

I then had to change my plans when I runner reminded me that I was supposed to send selected students to the auditorium to discuss possibly being in orchestra next year. Almost half of the class qualified for this privilege, so I gave the remaining students the option of correcting math or working on Writer's Workshop. It was pleasant and quiet and productive.

After recess we did a little review for the math test, touching on all the important points. We then read a chapter from the social studies book on bodies of water in California. Dull, but important stuff for understanding the state. We looked at our mealworms again after lunch. Many had died, but a couple had changed into beetles or were in the process of doing so. We also read a short, and frankly pretty trite, story from the Scholastic magazine. We continued with our kickball tournament in PE. After PE, we came in and took the math test. We'll correct it soon and get the results on the gradebook.

Home Studies: (1) Do independent reading. Remember, students should read for at least 15 to 30 minutes daily and write about a half page summary in their journals. (2) Do the short vowel and Characterization worksheets on the Open Court Reading story. (3) Do the questions on the Adaptation chapter we read yesterday in the Science book. I added some page numbers to the questions to make this even easier.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

"Beaks" and "Bugs"

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Toto Landscapes

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Happy Days

Well, we're back online again! Happy days are here again!

Just a wonderful day. We began by doing final drafts of our "My Favorite Things" composition we did yesterday. We've completed five of the eight Thinking Maps, and I think the students are getting the idea of monitoring their own thinking and using these simple graphic devices to focus their thinking.

Then we did something really neat. Yesterday we had noted descriptive language in the "Toto" story by writing the words or phrases on little yellow post-it notes. Today we shared some of the words and we used these to create some wonderful African landscapes. It was hard for a few of the students who are accustomed to relying on the illustrator instead of the author to help them form pictures, but the results were excellent. You can see some above.

After lunch we did another really neat Science activity. We used chopsticks, clothes pins, and spoons to imitate different types of beaks. The students used each one to pick up a variety of different types of foods such as gummy worms, rice, bird seed, etc. They had to figure out which type of "beak" was best adapted for each type of food. They had a great time, particularly eating the peanuts and sunflower seeds afterwards. That led us naturally into a reading of the Science text, and boy were they attentive. Hands-on science is hard work, but it's really worth it.

The rest of the day was devoted to finishing the math packet. I helped students who needed it, and some of the students who were already done also volunteered as tutors. We'll be having a test on this tomorrow after doing some review.

Home Studies: (1) Do independent reading. Remember, students should read for at least 15 to 30 minutes daily and write about a half page summary in their journals. (2) If not already done, finish the math packet. There will be time to do some correcting tomorrow, but no more work on it in class.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Making Mental Movies

I hate to be making the same excuse over and over again, but we continue to have to network connections at much of Third Street, particularly in room 19. It's been a week now. I'm sorry again for a late post, but when I come home in the afternoon Miss Edie just demands a walk, and then there's dinner to make, and before I know it, it's 9:00 pm.

Other than the computer problems, a splendid, if fairly routine, day. I'd like to just focus on one key thing we worked on today. And that is the skill of making mental movies. Now, this is something that kids are do pretty well. In fact, we adults complain all the time that they are "daydreaming" when they should be doing something we deem more productive. Yet somehow they have trouble taking this natural aptitude and applying it to reading. I suppose that our obsession with making sure that they read correctly and quickly has a lot to do with it. But the results of not "daydreaming" while you read are quite bad, almost tragic.

Reading really isn't about how correctly or rapidly you recognize the words. Instead, it's about getting meaning from print. And to do that, readers need to become absorb the ideas, not the words. For fiction, and for a lot of nonfiction too, this means that they need to be able to "see" the setting, the characters, and the events in the story. They need to combine the description that the author provides with stuff from their own life and turn it into a mental movie. Good readers don't read books, the "watch" them. That's why a good reader almost always finds the Hollywood version of a favorite book so disappointing: our brains are capable of the most fabulous special effects, far better than anything Industrial Light and Magic can do, and the actors we cast in out heads are so much more talented than the ones who hold SAG cards.

All of this takes a little willingness to pause from reading and to let the pictures form in our heads. It's a skill everybody can learn, though it may seem awkward at first. It's particularly hard to practice this at school where you are sure that everybody else is looking at you, and where the teacher always seems to be perpetually in a "hurry up" mood. We are working on this skill however in our busy classroom. Today as we read the wonderful "Toto" story in the Open Court text -- I think it's the best selection in the book -- the students looked for descriptive words and put them on post-it notes. Tomorrow they will look for some more, and after we share these we will work on creating first a mental picture and then making an actual color picture just from the words. It should be interesting. Keep tuned to see some of the results!

Home Studies: (1) Independent Reading: Students should be reading about 30 minutes each evening and writing a short -- roughly half page -- entry in their reading journals. I will start collecting these Friday. (2) Finish the chapter in the math book, if not already done, by Wednesday at the latest. (3) Finish the History packet. We started this one in class. (4) Do the two fairly short Open Court pages.

Thursday, September 13, 2007


Student explore the needs of mealworms for different
types of food, and the difference sunlight makes on mealworm
behavior. These young scholars are excited about learning!
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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

There's Got to be a Morning After

Sorry again for the late posting, but the network problem I mentioned on Monday still has not yet been solved. The district sent out two young guys today who sported stylish haircuts and expensive laptops, but they did not seem to actually get anything done. Sigh.

After our wonderful meeting last night I confess I decided to sleep in this morning. So I arrived at school in a great mood, with little actually prepared to teach them for the day. But, ah, this is when 20 years of teaching experience comes in handy. I pulled some tried and true lessons out of the hat, and we had a great day.

We continued our study of Thinking Maps with the Flow Map. This is one of the most useful of all the Thinking Maps because it works on sequencing, an all-purpose elementary school thought process. We did two activities with the map. First, we did one of the best parts of the autobiography project, a composition about "My Perfect Day." The idea for this writing assignment is sort of a combination of Queen for a Day and 24. The students have all the money they want or need, but only 1 day, and they have to put together a morning, afternoon, and evening of perfect activities. We shared some of these, and a couple were really quite touching. After that, we revisited the "Mrs. Frisby" story from Open Court. We talked about the four basic phases of plot development - exposition, rising action, climax, and falling action - and traced these through this selection. Students than made a Flow Map of the story, making their own illustrations of each important phases.

After recess, we returned to the room where we read the next section of the social studies book about the four regions of California -- the coast, the Central Valley, the mountains, and the deserts. This is not the most stimulating stuff for the kids - other than learning that we have an active volcano somewhere in the state - but it is important for them to know the geographical context in which the history takes place. We had done some maps of these regions Tuesday, so at least the idea of the regions was a little familiar to them.

Lunch was uninspiring - who decided that ranch dressing is the perfect accompaniment for peanut butter and jelly? - but we had a lot of fun when we came back to the room. We began our study of singing today by teaching the children how to stand and how to breath. This is very important for good vocal production, but they find it pretty strange, if not downright weird. We also worked on finding the beat in some short bits of piano music I have on a CD. Students used their bodies as pendulums to show the duple-meter beats. We continued this discussion of beat, rhythm, and meter by again using the "Marco Polo" jump rope chant, this time by adding the technique of body percussion. Fourth grade students love to slap themselves, stomp their feet, and click their fingers. I also brought in a simplified system of stick figures to indicate divide and undivided beats. This will prepare them to read standard musical notation later on.

PE was much the same as Monday - warmups, laps, and activity rotations. After we returned to the classroom we took some time to work on math, doing more with our base 5, base 12 counting and also to work on a "Problem of the Day," a slightly open-ended math problem which also requires the students to explain how they came to the correct answer. These kinds of narrative explanations help me to decide who is truly advanced in their mathematics instincts.

Home Studies: (1) If your child did not complete either of the Thinking Map assignments those need to be turned in first thing on Friday. (2) Do new packet of follow-up materials for the "Frisby" story. (3) Continue work in the read math folders. We should have the self-correcting materials ready soon.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Hands On

Sorry for the late post, but the network went down almost as soon as the bell rang, and I had to finish this at home.

What a great day! It start out quietly, but after recess it built to a wonderful bang!

We began by doing final drafts of a couple compositions which students had done with their thinking maps last year. They finished the "All About Me" and "My Character" sections of the Thinking Maps autobiography project. By the end of the month all eight sections of this project should be written and revised and the students will make it into their first book of the year. As we usually do on Mondays, we shared stories about the fun things we did on our weekend. The students generally had more fun than I did! They're lucky to have such great parents and friends.

We then turned our attention to Open Court. Most of the students had brought pictures of somewhat risky activities, and then shared the risks and benefits of the activity with the class. I suppose when they have to do their first cost-benefit analysis in Economics they'll say, "Hmmm. Didn't we do that already in Fourth Grade?" We then went on to discuss and practice Predicting as a reading strategy. Research shows that good readers approach the text in different ways from poor readers, even when both can sound out the words equally well. We will be explicitly discussing and practicing these strategies. Today we discussed the role of making and checking predictions when the children read. We practice this using the first part of a wonderful picture book by Chris van Allsburg called Produtiti! I typed up the first five or six pages and left a column for the students to write their predictions and other comments as we went through the text slowly. They were a little confused at first about what we were doing, but they quickly got the hang of it. They made some pretty good predictions with a story that takes some odd twists.

Then the fun really began! We did our first science experiment today. "Hands on" science, as they like to call it these days, is fun, enriching, and absolutely exhausting at times. It's particularly like that when we're working with bugs! Today's experiment dealt with mealworms. We placed a small cup of bran meal, a cup filled with 20 corn flakes, and a small cup of water. We placed about 6 - 8 giant mealworms in each shoe box. After lunch, we came back to see what the mealworms are doing, and we will check on them again after lunch tomorrow. All of this is to see how organisms need, and meet their need for, food, water, air, and shelter.

We went off to PE where students did warmups, two laps, and rotations among three various sports/fitness stations. After that, we finished off by checking over the math pretest we took on Tuesday. They did surprisingly quite well on it!

Home Studies: Work on the two pages of Science questions and skills in the green Science folder.

I hope as many of you as possible will be able to come to our Back to School Activity tomorrow at 5:00 pm. You can bring small children with you in class, and a fully-credentialed LAUSD teacher will be available to supervise older children on the yard.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Exploring Shapes, Getting Fit

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Great Day

I went to see Boris Godunov last night at the Hollywood Bowl. The soloists from the Kirov Opera were fantastic, and the orchestra sounded great from my friends' box seats. Unfortunately, I didn't get home until after midnight, and I was not looking forward to teaching on only five hours of sleep....

But the kids were super and we had a great day. We began the day correcting yesterday's math work. We went on to discuss the Circle Map, the graphic design used in the Thinking Map program to model describing. I find the Circle Map unnecessarily restrictive, since only adjectives can be used in all but one of the circles. But the students did quite well dealing with this rule, and they went on to write some good paragraphs about their personal characteristics. Monday and Tuesday we will do final drafts of the two compositions done so far, and then on Wednesday continue with the Double Bubble Map (which has nothing to do with chewing gum).

After that, we looked at the first page of the Open Court packet and discussed what "risks" and "consequences" were. It was a good discussion. The students then went on to create entries for our Concept/Question board. If you are not familiar with this feature of the Open Court program, I'll show a picture of it next week on the blog when it is more complete. It is a tool for creating communal knowledge about our theme as we go from selection to selection in the book.

After recess, we did an art project exploring geometric shapes and the color wheel. Students made a number of large, overlapping geometric shapes, and assigned a color to each. In areas where the colors overlapped, new colors were created. They continued this project after lunch. As we have previously done during music time, the students took time to reflect on the project in the Arts journals after they finished. When everybody was done we did a "gallery walk." This is a technique for positive self and peer evaluation. The students walked silently around the room and looked at everybody's work. I then asked who they thought done done a good job and why. It's a very supportive kind of critique which really helps the children grow as artists.

We went out to PE. Thankfully, the heat has subsided a little, and our exercise and laps were done fairly easily. After that, the children were able to choose sports/play areas for the remainder of the period. We came back from PE and watched a fun Bill Nye video about insects. Next week we will be doing an experiment with mealworms -- that's what the shoe boxes are for -- and we will be studying the topic of adaption in the textbook. The film helped give us some ideas to think about in preparation for this.

Home Studies: Light tonight -- the teacher has a lot of grading to do and needs a break already! Just bring in a picture from a magazine of something risky. This could be a good risk, like fire fighters entering a burning building, or a bad risk like doing drugs. Try to "think outside the box" here and come up with something original.

Thursday, September 06, 2007


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Getting in the Swing of Things

It takes a while to get back into the swing of things. The first few days of school seem to go so slowly because there isn't a routine yet, that steady flow of activities and expectations that seem to carry the teacher and the students through the days and week. Somehow the time between recess and lunch, which goes so quickly in March seems to last forever in September.

But we are getting our routines established, and the students are adjusting well. Today we began with our first discussion of Thinking Maps. We talked about the Circle Map, and the students did a Circle Map about themselves and the people who have influenced them. They then turned this into the rough drafts of a short, two-paragraph composition. They will do the final draft tomorrow. We will follow the same pattern for all 8 of the Thinking Maps, and when they are done the students will assemble these compositions into their first book.

We finished the "Let Me Introduce" assignment they started yesterday. Students had previously interviewed each other and done a rough draft of a composition. They had also started to do a portrait of their table partner. Today we finished this. We did final drafts, mostly in cursive, and used oil pastels to color these. You can see three of the very best ones above. We have some talented artists here.

The students did their math pretest today, and they corrected their language arts pretests which they took yesterday. Fourth grade students do not like pretests, and I cannot really blame them. It seems a little unsettling to be tested on something you haven't studied yet. But they are useful tools for teachers to help us pinpoint strengths and weaknesses. So far it looks like our students need work in grammar, but do well in spelling and reading comprehension. We haven't checked the math yet, but I suspect fractions and beginning algebra will be the weakest areas there. There's nothing wrong with that: those are true fourth grade math objectives, not weaknesses from inadequately mastered second or third grade work.

They were pretty restless after lunch, so I gave them some routine addition and subtraction practice from the math book to help focus them. A few of them will need to finish this as part of the homework tonight, but most did it fairly quickly. We did some more work in music, focusing on the areas of beat and rhythm. Students practiced finding the beat in a jump rope chant and a short piece of music. They also practiced finding the stressed beat using the first syllable of their name as a kind of downbeat.

Home Studies: Complete page H34 if needed in the math book. Do the first language arts packet -- see black folder. This is preparation for reading the first story in the Open Court book.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007


I would like welcome all students and families to fourth grade in the 1007-2008 school year. I think we are going to have a great time and learn some fantastic stuff this year. I am looking forward to doing some familiar activities and also trying out some new ideas and approaches.

This blog is one of the most important ways I communicate with parents. On the blog I will be giving a description each day of what we have done in class, and I will often reflect on the days events, sharing joys and sometimes frustrations. I will often show some pictures of what the students are doing or examples of some of their art work. I will announce important upcoming events on the blog, and I will end each day's entry by indicating what the students may be doing at home to further their learning. I suppose you could call that "homework" but I am really trying to get away from the traditional model of taking home a bunch of papers and bringing them back the next day. More on that as we go along.

The other critical way I will be communicating with parents in through an electronic report card. I encourage you to send me an email as soon as possible so I can give you access to the online gradebook. Again, I will be explaining more about this as we go along. My email addresses are either or

I am having a special "Back to School" evening for our class on Tuesday, September 11. It will be at 5:00 pm. I would like to take this time to provide you with a more in-depth introduction to the fourth grade curriculum and to discuss policies and procedures with you. I hope all parents can attend.

Home Studies: (1) Sign copy of discipline policy and return it tomorrow. (2) Bring in a photograph of yourself - I mean the student here, not the parent - taken someplace in California, preferably someplace memorable. An example might be in Yosemite National Park or at Sea World in San Diego. The photographs are for a bulletin board and will be returned. (3) Try to find a shoe box and bring it into class by next Monday. We only need one for every four students, but I would rather have too many rather than too few. This is for a science experiment.