Wednesday, October 31, 2007

A Quiet Day

Halloween is one of the least productive days of the year in many schools, but our principal at Third Street has always actively discouraged celebrations here, and that's a policy that works pretty well for me. I really do not enjoy children on the verge of insulin shock acting as loud and silly as possible. So I decided to leave the dressing up and the celebration for home and street, and to focus on learning instead.

And learn we did! They are continuing to really apply their reading strategies in their independent reading. We made a new concept / question board for the new Dreams to Jobs unit. We worked on Writer's Workshop stories. We reviewed some of our previous work in History, and started on the last study sheets for the Native Californians unit. Test coming up soon!

After lunch, we had worked on a multiplication review sheet, and did some Science review. We're a little behind where I'd like to be in Science, so next week we'll be working hard to catch up. We went out to PE. Many students went to orchestra at this time. And we gave them a little time to get all the odds and ends done at the end of the day so they could have a free evening.

Home Studies: Just in case not everything was finished during class for tomorroow they need to have (1) the Multiplying Money worksheet, (2) page A 62 in the Science book, and (3) the three History papers.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007


We had our first field trip of the year today, and overall it went quite well. A big thanks to Faith's father for walking with us, as well as several parents from room 18 who helped.

The children has the opportunity this year not only to observe artworks, but also to use a sketch pad as a way to focus their attention on specific elements of the art such a line, light, color, or shape. Each group looked at different artworks, but I believe we all had an opportunity to look at David Hockney's famous Mulholland Drive shown above. I was impressed at the insightfulness of some of my students comments as we walked through the gallery.

The weather was pleasant, and we came back just as the bell was about to right.

Home Studies: Finish any work not done for Monday's homework.

Monday, October 29, 2007

First Field Trip Coming Up!

Sorry for being so silent for the last week or so. I was too sick to be an effective teacher, yet not really sick enough to justify being at home. I went through the motions, and we did learn some good things. We also learned the teacher is grumpy on cold medication. Anyhow, I feel better now, and I thank the many of you who offered your sympathy.

We corrected our Open Court Tests today -- well, the multiple-choice parts of it -- and the students did better than I expected they would. The vocabulary section is always the worst because the directions are confusing and while the students know the meaning of the word in the problems, many of the answer words are new to them. But most still did OK.

We read about the Mojave Indians and now they survived in the desert by developing agriculture. We continued work on a rhythmic-speech / body-percussion composition in Music. We discussed how it is possible to add and subtract fractions with unlike denominators through the magic of finding a common denominator.

Home Studies: (1) Do the two pages introducing the Dreams to Jobs unit in Open Court. We probably will not get around to correcting this until Wednesday, however. (2) Finish the two pages about the Central Valley and Foothill Indians. This we will discuss tomorrow. (3) Begin the new packet in math. This will be due by next Monday.

For tomorrow's field trip, please be sure that your child has a lunch in a paper or plastic bag rather than a lunch box. We want to have to carry back as little as possible from the museum. Also, since we'll be walking, wear layered and light clothing and very comfortable shoes. We can still use a chaperone or two, so contact me if you're interested.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Another Short One

Again, between my cold (or flu) and the smoke made it a tough day for me, though we did get a lot done. I'm going home early, so here's just the homework.

Home Studies: (1) Spelling Review Wordsearch. (2) Complete and Incomplete Sentences -- on the backside of the worksheet. (3) Vocabulary Review. (4) Decimals and Fractions. (5) Equivalent Fractions.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Short Post

I'm sick and not sure how I made it through the day. But I did and we actually learned some stuff. More about that later.

Home Studies: (1) Spelling Scramble. (2) Common Proper Nouns. (3) Crossword puzzle. (4) Decimals and Fractions worksheet. (5) Adding Fractions worksheet. Be sure to reduce on this one.

Also, a few students need to finish the "The Coast" review sheet in History.

The language arts worksheets are getting the students ready for the dreaded first Open Court Assessment.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Cockles and Mussels

In Dublin's Fair City

Undoubtedly, Music with Mr. Lawton had to be the high point of the day. The students had an opportunity to learn about beat, rhythm, and melody through a couple really fun activities. First, he had them sing the old Irish song "Cockles and Mussels", explaining to them that people in open air markets used to chant the products they were selling. "Tomaaaatoooess! Fresh, juicy tomaaatoooes!" would be something they might have heard years ago. (In fact, I remember hearing some of this in Ireland only about 15 years ago though it had become unusual even then.) The song in is 6/8 time, so the students got to experience triple meter by tossing large empty cardboard boxes on the first and fourth beats. Once they had that skill down, he had them improvise chanting whatever they were selling like "Tech Decks! Cheap Teck Decks!" instead of "Cockles and Mussels". They had a blast.

Then they worked with chopsticks and boomwhackers to learn the difference between beat and rhythm as well as starting to get the idea of tonic (I) and dominant (V) in a scale. This was a little hard a times for them, but they after a few practice sessions they started to get pretty good at it.

Home Studies: (1) Simplest form worksheet. (2) Multiplication worksheet - on the back of the fraction sheet.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


Some of our geometrical robots we made Tuesday.

Back in the Groove

A nice day. Everything when smoothly, and it felt good to be "back in the groove" after the weird day yesterday. We really did nothing particularly special -- read, checked homework, corrected a math test, and did PE. But I had a good time, and I think the students did too.

Homework: (1) Equivalent Fractions WS. (2) Open Court reading packet -- crossword puzzle, study questions, and reflection on theme.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Back to School?

First of all, let me say what a pleasure it was to meet so many of you again (and a couple of you for the first time) at this morning's Back-to-School Breakfast event. It was pretty informal in room 19, but we did give people a chance to sign up for December conferences. If you did not get a chance to stop by and sign up, please feel free to come by the room and put your name down for the best time available. Alternatively, email me and let me know what day and time (for example, Monday or Wednesday first thing in the morning) works best for you.

As far as the rest of the day went, well, it was OK. I imagine most parents probably think that these short days for teachers are something we enjoy. I mean, start school late, end early - what could be better? In reality any minor changes to the schedule leave children restless and make concentrated work difficult. I've learned that this "Back to School" day is right up there with the day before Thanksgiving in teaching difficulty. So I did what we usually do on those days, and kept things pretty simple and structured. So, it was all fine, but I was glad when the final bell rang and so I suspect were the kids.

We did our Independent Reading, and a little follow-up on the "Two Tickets" story. After recess we did a cute art project (pictures to follow tomorrow) and took the math test in the afternoon. A good day, but they were all watching the clock for that final bell and so was I. Tomorrow, we will have, in the immortal words of President Harding, "A Return to Normalcy."

Home Studies: (1) Do the Work Study and Vocabulary and Drawing Conclusions sheets for reading. (2) Do the Science questions. This section starts on page A46.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Starting to Put Things Together

We're coming up to the midpoint in the first grading period, and interim progress reports will be issued soon for students who are in danger of getting less the proficient grades in any of the main academic areas. You'll read more about that soon. It also means we are coming to the end of the first theme in Open Court.

I've had two major goals here. First, I wanted to introduce the students in a very structured way to the major reading strategies. I worked hard on this so that we can ultimately reduce the amount of time spent on OCR, and devote at least two days of the week to literature circles. The second goal was to give them a sense of fiction and nonfiction as distinct genres, and particularly to understand the predictable structure of most stories. I am less sure that many of them really understand this, so it's probably a goal which we will pursue in some form for most of the year.

We are working on a fantasy story now to help get a sense of this structure. This is the major homework students have for this weekend. They need to plan a story with some element of conflict which gets resolved during the course of the story, and to develop and describe characters who will do this in a particular setting or settings. We are incorporating Thinking Maps into this process - a bubble map for setting, a tree map for the characters, and a flow map for the plot - and writing a rough draft.

I'll let you know how the first drafts look on Monday or Tuesday. We'll probably have to do extensive revisions in the second drafts, but I hope that by the time they are finished with this they will not only get the idea of story structure and fantasy as a genre, but will have a nice little illustrated book as well.

Home Studies: (1) Do the prewriting and rough draft of the story as described above. (2) Finish the math packet if possible.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Some of our Magic Carpets

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Reading Strategically

I'm excited about reading this year in room 19. I have done more than ever in teaching children explicitly how to use reading strategies and I am really impressed at how well they are applying them. Today we read the story "The Girl who Loved the Wind" in the Open Court anthology, and the students were allowed to pick any strategy to use as they read. They showed a particular fondness for "Asking Questions" -- and darn good questions they were! -- but they also make predictions and did "Making Connections" quite well too! I am confident that when we begin our literature circles later this month they will be quite adept at using the strategies on some really high quality books.

Students are also doing incredibly well with their independent reading. This was the first year that I made the students write daily entries about their reading, and it has been a great boon to comprehension and accountability. Everybody is reading and showing evidence of comprehension, too. I have not yet been responding as much as I would like with suggestions for other books, but that will follow in time. Independent reading, according to education researchers, is the single best predictor of academic success, and it looks like our students in this fourth grade class are well on their way to finishing high school and entering college!

We went to the auditorium to work with Mr. Lawton today in music. They had a lot of fun with the boomwhackers, but I unfortunately forgot to bring the camera along. We'll have some pictures soon of them playing with these tuned plastic tubes. Mr. Lawton, like me, as some background in the Orff-Schulwerk method of music education and I am really excited by all the great things he is starting to do with the children this year.

Home Studies: (1) Finish the multiplication worksheet. This was a little unplanned review, but the students were quite restless after lunch, and they needed some very structured work to help them focus. Most are almost done with this. (2) Do as much as possible with the math packet. They have a couple more days on it, but if they can finish and correct it before the test day I have more opportunity to work on misconceptions.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


The back pain is getting a little better each day, but I'm taking it pretty easy in the classroom. The students are being helpful, and if there's a little less work than usual, well, they're hiding their disappointment well.

Today we worked on "frontloading" our next story. This is one of the new buzz words in education, and it just means doing some activity which helps get children ready for the next group of lessons. In our case, we are getting ready for "The Girl Who Loved the Wind," a story by Jane Yolen based on a variety of Persian tales. Since a magic carpet is featured in the story, we wrote fantasies about what we would do if we had a magic carpet. It was quite surprising how different the many stories were.

The students also began to make their own magic carpet. Most needed to take these home to finish, but we'll take some pictures and have them on the blog tomorrow. They look like they'll be great, too.

Other than that, a normal Wednesday. Some students had orchestra, and we went to PE.

Home Studies: (1) Finish the Magic Carpet story and picture. (2) Do the social studies worksheet.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Suffering and Celebration

Today was more notable for what I did than for what the children did. I somehow pulled some muscle in my back, and from recess on spent the day in near excruciating pain. Even this evening Vicodin doesn't seem to be doing much to ease my suffering. I sure hope tomorrow is better. I'm heading off for bed and the heating pad. I hope that this isn't what happens after you turn 50...

Home Studies: A photocopier breakdown at school eased the students' homework suffering and they had only two short papers to complete. I had to leave a little early to go downtown to deal with a financial matter, so they even had a half hour to get it finished before they left.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Mr. Lawton teaches the class the Mexican work chant, "Bate, Bate, Chocolate."

Students begin the process of writing their own lyrics to a traditional tune.
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Bate, Bate, Chocolate!

We did a couple particularly interesting things today. First, we revisited the "Mae Jemison: Space Scientist" story by making multi-flow maps of Ms. Jemison's life. The multi-flow map helps the students explore the concept of cause and effect. They had to think about what events allowed Mae to become the first African-American woman in space, and then what subsequent events happened because of this. This was hard for some of them. They wanted to pick anything from her life and make it a cause, instead of thinking what in particular motivated her to become an astronaut. Quite a number of students will need to finish this one as part of their homework tonight, but many used their time wisely and completed the assignment.

After recess we went to the auditorium and had music instruction with Mr. Richard Lawton. Most of the students knew Mr. Lawton from last year, and he was able to build on some of the skills he developed with them in third grade. They had a lot of fun developing their sense of rhythmic speech on an old Mexican chant, "Bate, bate, chocolate." They worked with him to write a 4 line song lyric: again, many will need to finish it at home, though this will not be due until Tuesday.

After recess we reviewed the science test and read a little more from the science book. They will have some follow-up on this tomorrow. We also discussed three strategies for finding an equivalent fraction: drawing a picture, using fraction cubes, and the standard algorithm (multiply or divide numerator and denominator by the same number). Although the last way is by far the fastest, the students need to know all three because the other two, particularly the drawing, actually demonstrates mastery of the concept.

Home Studies: (1) Complete the Open Court reading packet by tomorrow. (2) If necessary, finish the Jemison flow map by tomorrow. (3) Continue work on the math packet. Students should be finished with the second of third assignment here.

Since we have been giving time in the morning for reading and journals, this is not part of the homework tonight.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Dull but Good

Today was sort of boring. But it was still productive.

The big thing we did today was take the first History test. It was harder than expected for a lot of students. They were allowed to use their notes, of course, but I even gave the permission to use their books if needed for this particular test. The test took all the time from recess to PE for most of the students, and a couple still need to do some more on it.

I am nearly finished grading the Science tests, and an email should be going home soon with the results there. It may take me a few days, though, to get through the History exams.

Home Studies: (1) Finish the Jemison summary, if not turned in already. (2) Finish the final drafts and the cover of the 8 Thinking Map compositions. (3) Continue work on the Math packet if you understand it. We will be discussing this more in class, particularly equivalent fractions, so just postpone work if confused. It will be come clear!

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Learning to represent fractions as parts of a whole and as parts of a set.

Using fraction bars to find equivalent fractions.
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All Things Being Equal

Gosh, what a pleasant day. Everything went so smoothly. We began with our Sustained Silent Reading time. The journals this week are 1000 times better than they were the first week; the students are really getting the idea of both logging their daily reading and summarizing as they go. We'll start pressing soon to add a few other strategies like "Making Connections" and "Predicting", but for now it couldn't be better.

We continued our work on the "Asking Questions" strategy, this time using the OCR text. The students read the story "Mae Jemison: Space Scientist" aloud, and as we were reading the used post-it notes to annotate the text with their questions. We shared some of these as we went along, and then when we were towards the end of our Open Court time, the students took the post-it notes out of their books and put them on a piece of paper together with the quoted section from the text which had provoked the question. For example, on page 80 of the text, Mae just goes to medical school. The author provided no background for this decision and one student wrote, "Just why does she want to go to Medical School?" What a great example of "Questioning the Author"!

We took our Science test after lunch. It may take a few days to get these graded and posted on the website, but we will let you know how they did. Incidentally, if you did not have a chance to read Sandy Bank's column in today Los Angeles Times about receiving email notifications of grades, do read it. I think it's both amusing and relevant.

The last 45 minutes was a little noisy, but it was good noise. We introduced the concept of equivalent fractions today and used fraction bars for the first time. You can see these in the pictures above. New math manipulatives always put children in a more playful than studious mood, but they quickly and quite visually grasped the idea that certain fractions like 6/12, even though they appear large, are really the same as a smaller-looking fraction like 1/2.

Home Studies: (1) Open Court packet -- this should be a fairly fast one. (2) Begin work on Math packet. This will be due no later than October 15, but it would be great if it were finished and corrected well before then.

Since students did reading in the morning, no reading is required as part of the homework.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Sun and shade

This is the elodea which was left in the sun over the weekend. See how much air is now in the top of the test tube.

This elodea spent the wekend in the dark. Note that the test tube is still mostly filled with water, not air.
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A much calmer day. Friday I was just about ready to set my hair - well, what's left of it - on fire by 2:30, but today I was sorry to see everybody go.

We started off today with silent reading. This will be a pattern for most of the students now that the Thinking Maps project is basically finished. I worked with one student to complete the oral part of the CELDT test while the other students not only did their silent reading but completed the reading journal. You'll notice that does not appear as part of the homework tonight, though, of course, they can read some more if they have the time.

We worked on "Asking Questions" as a reading strategy. This is an important, but somewhat hard, skill for students. Fourth grade students are generally pretty passive when they read, and it never occurs to most of them to challenge a character in a story, much less the author. Yet that is just what good readers do all the time. Good readers ask, "Why the heck is the author doing this? Why did she pick this setting? Why give the character that name?" That's just what we tried to help the students do today. They read a bit of the YA classic The Great Gilly Hopkins and as they read the first chapter -- which I had photocopied for them -- they wrote questions which we shared as we went along. The questions, to be sure, could have been tougher. But just asking any questions, just challenging the text in any form, was a new experience for most of the students. We'll practice it some more on the Open Court text tomorrow.

After recess the students had a chance to look at the results of Friday's science experiment. They were surprised to discover how the elodea which had been left in the sun suddenly had so much air in the test tubes compared with the shade control. They were not completely sure why. Most felt that evaporation was the key, but others identified photosynthesis as the likely cause. Which of these two it is was less the point than the idea of making an experiment, and controlling it for only one variable.

The rest of the day was pretty routine. I read a chapter of The Witches; we identified rhythmic patterns in groups of words; we exercised and continued the kickball tournament; and finally we talked about fractions of a whole and fractions of a set.

Home Studies: (1) Complete the Science review, pages A34-35. There will be a test on Science tomorrow. (2) Do the "Natural Resources" study sheet. There will be a social studies test on Wednesday. (3) Do the "Multiplying by One Digit" worksheet. We did not discuss this in class, but it is a third grade skill. If your child has trouble with it, let me know.