Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Division Monster

A really quick post as I have to get things ready for the next two days. I'll be at Wilton Place School for some tedious math workshop - mandated for all fourth grade teachers - and the students will, of course, have a substitute.

Today we started the standard algorithm, or procedure, for long division. This is one of those moments when children can start crying hopelessly during homework. Division is not that hard, as all of us who have mastered it know, but the students are sure that they can somehow skip steps instead of learning to do those steps quickly. So, division is the only real homework tonight, but it should be more than enough.

Home Studies: "Division Procedures," Math, pages 247 to 249.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Tuesday, Short and Sweet

Another uneventful but very pleasant day. We did Reader's Workshop, as usual, to start the day, and I am pleased with how aware our students are of the different reading strategies, and how they use a wide-range of strategies to enhance their reading of the books they choose for themselves. We reviewed the Word Knowledge and Vocabulary from Context assignments they did for homework. Particularly with the the Vocabulary, I prod them to see what clues in the sentence help reveals the meaning of the word. Admittedly, my occasional incompetence typing does not help here. They were stumped by the sentence about the groom carrying his "bridge" across the threshold. My bad, as they say....

We reviewed the basic assignment for paragraphs one, two, and three of the "I Search" paper. I then assigned the students to groups where they had an opportunity to read their papers aloud and get some feedback from their peers. Teachers call these "read around groups", or "RAGs" for short. Sometimes they work really well. Today it seemed a bit perfunctory. Anyhow, students will be working on second drafts as part of their homework.

After recess we finished watching Ramona. For such a sentimental old movie, its amazing how it affects the kids. I heard one girls say, "I started to cry at the end." Maybe I'll start a new generation of TCM or AMC watchers. I hope so!

After lunch, I introduced them to another division strategy, repeated subtraction. Like drawing pictures, this is another really slow and annoying way to solve a division problem but it shows that students truly understand what division is, and not just how to manipulate numbers through an algorithm.

Home Studies: (1) Do the second draft of the beginning of the "I Search" paper as discussed above and in yesterday's blog entry. (2) Do page 245 in the math book. Problems 1 -10 must be done using the repeated substraction strategy. (3) Complete and organize the booklet for unit two of History, "Newcomers to California."

Monday, January 28, 2008

I Search

Here are of the Double Bubble Maps that students worked on last week.

Today was quite pleasant, apart from having the office call rainy day schedule for part of our recess. We spent most of the morning reviewing our Open Court packets to date, and students are now aware of what papers they may need to locate or do over. For those who have lost papers, I will be providing them with some extra copies. After recess we watched a little more of Ramona. It is a corny movie, but effective. Students are definitely enjoying it, and learning a lot about the mission period.

Today we are starting on our first "I Search" paper. The I Search paper is an alternative to the traditional research paper. There are a few key differences. First, the I Search paper is personal. Unlike the research paper, it is written in the first person. Secondly, the I Search paper describes the process of learning about the subject more than attempting to cover the topic. In an I Search paper, students write things like, "I found a book in the library that was about Flemings life. In that book, I read that...."

For today, the students need to pick a topic related to medicine. It could be a famous scientist or a particular disease. They will then write three paragraphs about it.
  1. In the first paragraph, they will tell what topic they picked, and most important of all, why they picked that topic.
  2. In the second paragraph, they will write down what they already know about this topic.
  3. In the third paragraph, they will write down some things that they wish to learn about the topic.
Again, all of these will be written in the first person. Each paragraph will be at least five sentences, and students need to skip lines. We will be working on these tomorrow in Writer's Workshop, and talking some more tomorrow about where they will go from here with the paper.

Home Studies: (1) Do the Word Study & Vocabulary. (2) Do the first three paragraphs of the I Search paper as described above. (3) Do "Divide with Remainders," Math, page 243, 2-38. Be sure to make a model when the directions call for it.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Day that Wasn't

Well, the power was went out at 2:30 in the morning, and our parents understood the problem and took their children home. By 9:30 almost everybody was gone; by 11:30 everyone was gone. Now, the power did come on again around 10:00, and for a while I wondered if we should just have "stuck it out." But it went out again a little after 1:00 and it was a dark and cold afternoon. The District tells us that there will be a generator ready tomorrow morning - it is being delivered this afternoon - just in case the DWP has not restored power, and it will be kept at school throughout the day as a backup. So tomorrow should be normal.

Home Studies:  Obviously, not today.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Today we had our most productive session yet in Tech Center. Mrs. Skaggs had been telling me for a couple years about how much she liked, a web community for students developed by the folks up north at Oracle. It allows students to create and publish work, collaborate with others on projects, and to send messages to other students. But, since access is limited to schools and everything is under the supervision of their classroom teachers, it insulates them from the dangers of unfettered access to the Internet. We will be using this more in class, and parents will be sent some forms to approve student participation. I think this will be a great opportunity for our students to develop both their technical and language arts skills.

Home Studies: (1) Do the study questions for "Bridge Dancers." Remember to answer in complete sentences. (2) Do "Multiply Greater Numbers," Math, pages 226-227. Please show all work. (3) Do the "Life in Mexican California" study sheet.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008


This week we will be watching Ramona, the 1936 version of the classic novel by Helen Hunt Jackson. The film is hardly Citizen Kane: Don Ameche is wooden and Loretta Young is not much better. But with all its flaws it gives a nice visual sense of what it was like to live on a California rancho. It is hard to students today to imagine what it was like to live in a wide-open California, with no freeways or shopping malls or suburban sprawl. There was still a little of that California left when the film was shot, and just seeing these landscapes is well worth the 84 minutes of the film.

There were a number of silent versions of Ramona and probably the best of them was the 1928 version starring Delores del Rio. The pictures in the YouTube video are of her, not of Loretta Young. The song was written for her to sing during promotions for the movie. It became a huge hit. It makes me a little melancholy when I hear it. One of my sisters was born with dark black hair, and my father called her his "Ramona" when she was a baby. I can still remember him singing this song to her when rocking her to sleep. We lost my dad to lung cancer in 1999.

Home Studies: (1) Do the Open Court packet. (2) Do "Multiply," Math, pages 221-223. Copy problems and show all work.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Drawing Feelings

On Thursday we discussed gestures and how body language can convey emotion in a picture. The students worked in pairs. While one person demonstrated emotion through body language, the other person made a quick sketch. They then traded roles. After they had both sketched some different positions, they colored them in using crayon. We used tempura paint to create a neutral b;ck background. Students are still completing these assignments.

Today was pretty quiet day. Students went to the library. They had a quiz over the "Sewed Up His Heart" story and took a chapter test in math. We read a bit in the Science book about progression -- how ecosystems change over time in response to fire or the creation of new land by volcanic activity or the recession of a glacier. We read a short story in the Storyworks magazine and checked our homework. We went out to PE.

Home Studies: (1) Do "What Did You Think," Storyworks, page 21. Copy and complete. (2) Do the grammar worksheets on subject and object pronouns. Put all answers on a separate paper. Do not copy the sentences. (3) Find a newspaper or magazine photograph or clipping which relates to medicine. These will be placed on the Concept / Question Board. (4) Do the questions on page A 135 in Science. Copy the questions as well as answering in complete sentences. (5) Do the four math worksheets.

Science Text, Science Test

As you can see from the pictures above, we had a Science test today. There is way too much content in the Science text for students to be expected to remember each word or detail, so we concentrate on getting the over all idea as we read and discuss or do hands-on activities. The tests are designed to be review activities and to help the students develop their reading skills with complex non-fiction texts. That's why all the tests are "open book."

They do, however, take a while to grade, wonderful as they are....

Home Studies: (1) Do the "Authors Purpose" worksheet. (2) Do a multi-flow map of "Sewed Up his Heart". (3) Do the Growth of the Ranchos and Rancho San Miguel worksheets. (4) "Solve a Simpler Problem," Math, page 215 and "Chapter Review" and "Cumulative Review," Math, pages 216-217.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

New Year's Resolution

A bit of a belated New Year's resolution -- I will be better not only about getting grades on the gradebook but emailing results to parents as they happen. I am adding a new category to the gradebook too: homework. While I am ambivalent about how much to stress homework I am a little troubled by the sense that a few of our students have that they are not quite accountable. So while homework contributes does not directly affect the grade is most cases, consistent problems in doing homework usually indicate problems. So please keep this in mind. One day now or then with incomplete homework is not a problem. Not having the homework completed every day means a lack of seriousness in studies.

Home Studies: (1) Do the Open Court packet including the crossword puzzle, the wordsearch, and the Drawing Conclusions worksheet. (2) Do the Adding Fractions and Multiplication worksheet. (3) Do the History review sheet and map exercise.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Slow and Steady

I am feeling somewhat better today, and our time seemed to go relatively quickly instead of dragging on and on. Nothing particularly special today -- more work on the "Sewed up His Heart" story, reading and writing workshop time, checking homework. All the routine stuff. But, as I've said, more than anything else it is on these routine days that students really make gains in their skills. If we did not have the special days with art and music and field trips and science experiments, school would be so boring nobody could stand it. But at the same time, those special events only take their meaning from the more routine day, like today.

Home Studies: (1) Do OCR study questions and spelling sort. Be sure to answer the comprehension questions incomplete sentences. (2) Do Sentence Chef, Storyworks, p 14. Copy the paragraph on to the white paper as well as doing it in the booklet. (3) Complete the Chapter Review in Science, page A 127. (4) Do "Estimate Products" in Math, pages 210-211, and "Model Multiplication," on page 213. Copy problems 1-5 and show all work on page 213: the rest can be answers only.

Monday, January 14, 2008


It was a productive day in room 19, even if the teacher is still feeling under the weather. After our Independent Reading, we read and discussed "Sewed Up His Heart" in the Open Court textbook. This is a hard selection - students were really fumbling over some of the medical terminology - but worthwhile. It is the story of Daniel Hale Williams, the African-American surgeon who performed the first heart operation in the world. It seems particularly appropriate to read it on the eve of Martin Luther King's birthday.

We did a little grammar and cursive review from our Storyworks magazine after we finished our first reading of the story, in part because students were a bit restless after the long selection. We also read the adaptation of "Horton Hears a Who" in the same issue.

After lunch, we talked about the Mexican War of Independence, and connected it to the American and French Revolutions. We discussed how after the fall of Spanish power in the New World, the mission system collapsed in California with both good and bad results, particularly for our native peoples. We went out to PE where we are starting soccer skills. We came back to class, corrected our math test - results are on the gradebook - and got our homework.

Home Studies: Do Word Knowledge and Vocabulary for "Sewed Up His Heart." (2) Do the Chapter Review, in Science page A 126 only. Do NOT do page 127. (3) Do "Patterns with Multiples," Math, pages 206-207 and "Multiply by 10", pages 208-209.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Who Am I?

The teacher could barely talk today, but we still had a great learning experience. After our usual Reader's Workshop time, the students reviewed plurals and posessives. They then went back over the Open Court selection and picked a major figure from medical history. They wrote a little riddle about that person and then made an illustration. You can see a couple of these "Who Am I?" posted above.

We corrected our homework and discussed the math. There will be tests tomorrow in Open Court, Math, and probably history. After lunch, we read about the different types of water ecosystems -- freshwater, saltwater, and brackish -- and the characteristics of each. We played kickball with room 17 to break up the afternoon. We ended the day with an independent work period so that students could go home with as little homework as possible.

Home Studies: (1) Do the review questions on page A 121 in Science. Students should copy these questions as well as answering in complete sentences. (2) Complete pages 11-14 in the current Open Court packet. This includes a worksheet on apostrophes and some spelling and theme connections. (3) Do the Chapter Review, page 202, in Math. Students should copy the questions and show all work in number 4-23. (4) Do the Cumulative Review on page 203 of Math.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Great Moments in Medicine

It's that time of year when we all seem to get sick more frequently, and today I woke up feeling a bit of a cold. Or maybe it's the flu. I can never get those two straight. Anyhow, I was not feeling bad enough to stay home, but not up to speed, either.

But the students were great and we had
a good day. We finished reading the "Medicine: Past and Present" selection in Open Court, and then the students did a couple flow maps to show some of what they learned. We called these "Great Moments in Medicine." Some of the best ones are still in progress, but here are a couple examples:

We went to Tech Center after recess. Mr. Abrams had the students work on autobiographies so they could learn to use the outlining mode in Microsoft Word. After lunch, we corrected homework, went to PE, and then they finished the last portion of the Unit 2 OCR test. We'll grade that tomorrow.

Home Studies
: (1) Open Court reading packet, pages 6-10. This week's quiz will include some of the words with the -el ending as a short spelling section, so study these carefully. (2) "Multiply 4-Digit Numbers," Math, pages 197-199, all problems. (3) "Write an Equation," Math, page 201.

Some students will also need to finish their flow map.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Terrific Tuesday

A couple of our very creative patent medicine advertisements.

There are always new students at the beginning of each January, and we have several in fourth grade this year. We received a new student, Heejin, from Korea today, and Mrs. Cha received two students yesterday. So we started the day moving a couple children and me giving up my extra desk so that room 18 could have another table. It was a little hectic, though hardly chaotic, in room 19 this morning.

Our day has been quite predictable. But, as I've pointed out, predictable and boring are often good things in school. These kinds of unmemorable days are when the most learning takes place. We read and responded in journals. We checked our homework. We began assembling our latest Concept/Question board. We read a little from this week's Open Court selection. We worked on our Writer's Workshop compositions.

We continued to work a little more on the Open Court Unit 2 test. We corrected a couple sections today and did some vocabulary review. We also discussed the importance of estimating answers when solving big multiplication problems like 2,879 time 8, and students decided when exact answers were necessary and when only an estimated answer was required. Not interesting stuff, but the sort of things they will need day to day as adults.

Home Studies: (1) Do the Open Court vocabulary review sheet. Think carefully about the meaning of each word. (2) Do "Estimate Products," Math, pages 188-189, all problems, and "Multiply Three Digit Numbers," Math, pages 193-194, numbers 2-41 only. (3) Do "Connect Main Ideas" and "Apply Skills," Social Studies, pages 162 and 163. Be sure to copy the "Connect" section. No need to copy the questions in "Apply", but answer in complete sentences.

We're Back!

It's hard to get back into the routine after three weeks away, but things went pretty smoothly today. We had a fund-raiser assembly first thing, and nobody seemed to enjoy sitting on wet benches on a cold morning. We scurried back into our warm room as soon as possible, and we started the New Year with cleaning out our desks and changing seats. We shared a little about what we had done fun or interesting over our vacations.

Our new theme in Open Cort is called "Mystery to Medicine." It is supposedly about the development of modern medicine from folk medicine roots, but the selections are so slanted towards the wonders of folk medicine that without a little guidance I think the students end up thinking that the shaman is superior to the surgeon. As teachers, we do the best we can sometimes with the tools we are given.... Anyhow, to introduce the theme we discussed 19th century patent medicine and how these "miracle elixirs" were advertised and sold. I shared some examples of these I found on the Internet, and then the students came up with some advertisements for their own patent medicines. I'll show some examples of these on the blog tomorrow. Many were quite creative!

The rest of the day was pleasantly uneventful. We read and discussed a chapter in the Social Studies book; we did another section of the Open Court test; we corrected a math test left over from last week; and we discussed how easy it is to multiply big numbers like 200 times 3000.

Home Studies: (1) Chapter Review, Social Studies, page 163, numbers 1-15 only. Write definitions only on numbers 1-6. Be sure to answer other questions in complete sentences. (2) Open Court packet, pages 1-5 only. (3) Math, pages 186-187, all problems.