Friday, January 30, 2009

Finding the Force

Update: Thanks to Paul Smith for the video posting tip. We've updated the video stream so there are no possible unsavoury (we used the British spelling for Paul!) links.

It was a nice day, as usual. We started with our spelling test. Those look pretty good: they should be on the Gradebook by this weekend. We then went to the library where Mrs. Koneff started sharing this year’s candidates for the California Young Reader medal. Students will listen to all three of the books, and they will vote on their choice at the end of next month. Students are continuing to work on their I-Search papers on their disease or medical career, and many checked out or renewed books on this topic.

Returning to the classroom we began a narrative writing assignment. I challenged the students to create a sequel to “The Bridge Dancers” which imagined what life would be like a few years in the future for Callie and Maisie. They were allowed to add other characters and change the setting, but they had to be sure that they had a problem and a solution in the story, as well as using dialogue. We will be sharing these in small groups on Monday and then writing final drafts. I look forward to seeing what they have written. I am sure it will be quite creative.

After recess – irritatingly shortened because our clock is now five minutes off – we corrected and discussed the math homework. I collected the other assignments. We had some time to finish the run-through of Gold Dust or Bust that we started Wednesday.

After lunch we started our Science Friday activities. Our investigations this week continued to focus on magnets and magnetism. First, were asked to hang a magnet from a string and to find the direction in which these pointed. They took this seriously, as you can see from the picture below.


The students quickly figured out that they had made a simple compass. So I passed out compasses to them and had them discover how magnets could affect the workings of a compass. Watch this short video and listen to them explore this.

The students were then given white cardboard boxes. They taped magnets to the inside of the box and then practiced using a variety of detectors, including iron filings, to discover where in the box the magnets were located. Groups traded boxes and determined where the magnets were in each box without opening the box. It was noisy but pretty fun. In the picture below, you can see a washer sticking to the box on the right bottom where the magnet is hidden in the box.


After we finished our explorations, we discussed our finding and read a short chapter in the FOSS Science book. There are some fun activities in the book which students can do at home to explore these concepts further.

We finished the day with a brief discussion of factor trees, and students had an opportunity to start early on some homework.

Homework: Do “Find Prime Factors,” Math, pages 302-303 and “Find a Pattern,” page 305.

Some students will still need more work on the rough draft of their “Bridge Dancers” sequel story.

Thursday, January 29, 2009


“It was the best of times; it was the worst of time” famously began Dickens’s Tale of Two Cities. For us in room 19, it was the quietest of days, and it was the noisiest of days. Both were good.

We did a number of quiet things today. We read our independent reading books. We checked and discussed homework. We did some review sheets about homophones which are often confused like its and it’s. We corrected yesterday’s math test. And we took another history tests.

But the afternoon was gloriously chaotic. We started our art unit on form today. And we started creating forms using clay. Oh, did they have fun here!


And some of the creations were, well, quite creative! Students were only told that they needed to create a form which would be interesting from all angles and would have at least one hole which went all the way through the object. They came up with a surprising variety of ways to meet this challenge.




The cleanup took forever, of course, but it was still worth it.

Homework:  Again, pretty light. I know you’re disappointed in me. (1) Do spelling sentences. (2) Do “Prime and Composite Numbers,” Math, pages 298-301.

Some students are still finishing the frequently confused words worksheets. Those will be correct and discussed tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

That’s Easy

Wednesdays are easy days for the teacher, and fun days for the students. Today certainly followed this pattern.

We began, as usual, with Independent Reading. We went on to check, correct, and discuss our homework. We then went over to the auditorium for the California Dance Institute class. This is turning out to be a great program, and I am happy that our principal managed to get the district to pay for it despite the budget crisis. The students not only had a great time but had a good workout.

After recess we went to the Tech Center. Ms. Richards worked with the students on keyboarding skills They used the ever-wonderful Mr. Anker Tests. They will be starting with the Mavis Beacon program next week.

After lunch we corrected a bit more homework, and we practice Gold Dust. We went out to PE. We took the chapter 15 math test. Some of the students – many of them, in fact – will be finishing this tomorrow because we had a fire drill in the middle of the test. Sigh.

Homework:  Awfully light tonight. (1) Do the spelling wordsearch. (2) Do the Chapter Review, page 225 in the California book, numbers 1-14 only.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Tuesday Tidbit

We just had a faculty meeting and a union update after that about the budget situation. It was so depressing. Sigh. I think I will just do my job and not think about it.

We did some review today of the “Bridge Dancers” story. Besides talking about the setting, characters, and plot structure, students made some Thinking Maps. They focused on the two characters of Callie and Maisie and made a Double Bubble map to compare them. Here is one cute example:


After recess we practiced the play. We also discussed the Mexican-American war. Students read a chapter about this from the history text. Tonight they will have a chance to reread and review this as the do their study questions.

After lunch, we did more with the Hands-on Equations program. I think I have talked about this before, but it is a really wonderful way for the students to visualize the manipulation of algebra problems. We did several problems together. I wrote an equation on the board and the students set it up using the pawn pieces and the number blocks.


We then discussed what to do step by step to simplify and solve the problems. They moved the pieces on the their placemats, and I showed them how these changes would be written mathematically. Once they felt comfortable doing a few problems with me, I allowed the students to work through the rest of a worksheet at their own pace while I walked around to help. They were also collaborating with each other as we did this. They had a good time!


 Homework:  (1) Do the spelling scramble. Be sure to refer to the words on Monday’s list for the answers. (2) Do “Fact from Opinion” and “Stories Behind the Headlines” handout. Also do “Mexican-American War” study sheet. Students will need their California textbook for these assignments. (3) Do “Factors,” Math pages 294-295, and also “Factor Numbers” page 297 in the same book.

A few students also need to finish the Double Bubble map.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Again, Happy New Year!

A heartfelt Happy New Year to those of you who celebrate the Asian Lunar New Year’s Holiday. The students from our neighboring Korean Dual Language Program classroom looked spiffy in their traditional Hanbok attire. I wish I had planned ahead a little more and had planned a little something for us for this holiday. Somehow it always just sneaks up on me….

Nevertheless, it was a pleasant and productive day, as usual, in room 19. We started off today with Independent Work Time. We had not been doing our Reading Logs recently because we had not had an opportunity to check out books from the library since early December. But now that we are back on our regular schedule there, we will be reading and responding just about every day again. This is such an important activity to improve their reading skills. I also really missed reading their journals each week.

We started a new story in the Mystery to Medicine unit. This one is called “The Bridge Dancers.” It’s not my favorite story – it seems little contrived to me – but it is in the anthology to emphasize that there are medical practices which rely on herbs and other natural ingredients instead of modern chemicals to heal. We read through the story and discussed it as we read. Students have some follow us work here tonight.

After recess we became a little artistic. We took our study guides and other papers from the second unit of California history and bound these into booklets. The students made covers for these books and some were pretty nice.



We also made some pictures to go along with the essays they wrote about President Obama’s inaugural. Again, there was some really nice work here. These will be for a bulletin board. I may have some students touch up some promising work tomorrow. Here are a few nice ones:




All this took a little longer than I expected, and we ended up using some of our time after lunch to complete these. We went out to PE around 1:00 pm, and we did softball again after completing our exercises. Coming back to the classroom, we checked, corrected, and discussed the math work for this weekend. Students will have a test over chapter 15, but we will not take this until Wednesday afternoon.

Homework:  (1) Do the Using Reading Strategies worksheet. Be sure to not only paste in the post-it notes, but also note the specific areas in the text which prompted the prediction, connection, or question. (2) Make a tree map to sort the spelling words. (3) Do the study questions on the “Bridge Dancers” questions. (4) Do “Review Test,” Math, page 290 and “Cumulative Review,” Math, page 291.

Friday, January 23, 2009

May The Force

Once again we had our Science Friday. It really is a lot easier to do Science once a week in a two to three hours block instead of trying to take out and put away all that stuff several times a week. And there’s a nice flow to the day, too. I wonder why it took my so long to figure this out.

We concentrated today on the magnetic fields and magnetic force. We did a couple of explorations with stuff here. First, the students had the opportunity to simply experiment with magnets in different ways. There’s something about magnets which is, well, just magnetic!


We then concentrated on seeing how a magnetic force could travel through iron. Students figured out how many objects could be daisy-chained from a magnet, and how adding and subtracting magnets changed the total amount of magnetic force available.


After each exploration, we took time to discuss what we saw, add to our Science Concepts chart, and record some of our results and observation in our Science notebook.

That took us up to about lunch time. We were inside for lunch because of the rain (cheering students, groaning teacher). Then after lunch we used balances to explore how much weight was needed to break magnetic fields apart. This was fun!


Students inserted small poker chips (the program called them “spacers” so we did not suggest gambling to the young ones) in between the magnets to see how the non-metallic objects would weaken the magnetic attraction. They put their results on a T-chart and then graphed them. One student looked at me and said, “You’re trying to sneak  in some math here!” Ah, the devious teacher mind….

Along with all this wonderful Science, we also started a research project, checked our homework, went to the library, and took a spelling test. We were also scheduled to have a fire drill, thanks to the rain that was cancelled!

Homework:  (1) Do “Checking Quotients,” Math, pages 284-287. (2) Do Problem Solving, Math pages 288-289.

A few students may still be finishing the first draft of the new I-search paper, but most did that during the morning.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Monochromatic Vistas

Students had fun mixing tempera paint colors to create
their monochromatic color palettes.

A classic wintry scene using shades of blue.

Shades of red create an agitated urban scene.

Shades of gray create a foggy, mysterious landscape.
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The Color of Learning

The rain returned today. Teachers, of course, would prefer that it always rained between 2:30 in the afternoon and 7:30 in the morning, but it has been a month or so since we saw drizzle so it was still a welcome visitor.

We had a fantastic day as usual. We finished up our work on the “Sewed Up His Heart” story in the reader. We checked, corrected, and discussed our homework. We discussed and read about the Bear Flag revolt in California and talked about the state flag. After lunch we corrected the math test, discussed two-digit divisors, and had a read through the play again.

Thursdays are art day, and today we discussed monochromatic color use. Students picked a color combination, and they made an imaginary landscape. We used tempera again. It’s messy, but so fun! I think you’ll agree that some of the samples you see above are quite excellent.

Homework: (1) Do "Sewed Up" study questions. Be sure to reread the story carefully and to answer in complete sentences. (2) Study spelling words. There is a spelling sort on the back of the second page of the OCR study questions. This reviews the VC, CVC, and CVCC patterns as well as the spelling. (3) Do the “Bear Flag” study sheet. (4) Do “Division Procedures,” Math, pp 282-283, even numbers only. Show all work!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Listening Carefully

Sorry for no post yesterday, but we have been having Internet connection problems in room 19. I THINK it is solved now, after two visits from the district's network people, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

One of the most important things children need to do in school is to learn to listen carefully. We did a couple really important (and fun) things which helped them to develop this skill. Thanks to the inventiveness of Stewart's mom and dad, we were given a DVD of highlights of yesterday's inauguration. This allowed us to skip all the dull stuff and pointless TV commentary and focus on what happened that was really important. So we watched President Obama's speech today. The students took copious notes as he spoke, and then we discussed what we had seen and created a cluster or web on the board. Tonight the students will take these notes and write a really good, LONG paragraph about the speech.

We then went over to the auditorium to participate in the California Dance Institute program. The students really had a good time again, and they also had a really good workout. Most importantly, however, they were challenged to listen to the directions and to the music and concentrate on what they were doing . Those are the kinds of skills which help students succeed in any academic or personal areas. Few of the students will pursue dance in the future, but all of them will be better students for having taken part in this kind of intense artistic instruction.

After recess we went to the Tech Center. Students worked with Ms. Richards on activities designed to improve their skills in Math. This is the kind of test prep that is not soul-killing drill. We corrected homework after recess and practiced some of the songs from Gold Dust or Bust. We went out to PE with room 17, and when we returned we took the chapter 14 math test.

Homework: (1) Write the paragraph summarizing President Obama's inaugural speech. (2) Do the crossword puzzle about medical terms. (3) Do "Dividing," Math, pages 278-279.

Friday, January 16, 2009


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Science Friday

Once a week, on NPR, late at night, there's a show called Science Friday. Well, we had our own Science Friday today in room 19. And it was pretty fun.

We are starting the Magnetism and Electricity unit of the FOSS program. Students did a variety of hands-on explorations today testing their hypotheses about what materials magnets will adhere to and which seem immune to magnetism. You can see them working in groups above. They were pretty surprised to learn that magnets do not attract to all metals, and they were very surprised when a magnet attached itself to one of the stones in their bag! We discussed iron, magnetic poles, and induced magnetism. We finished by reading a short but informative chapter in the book. It took a lot of time, but students came away with a real understanding of the concepts.

We did a few other things. We had a fund-raising assembly. We took a spelling test. We corrected homework. We practiced the gold rush play. And we went to PE. Considered the hypothesis confirmed: it was a very good day.

Homework: (1) Do the science study questions. (2) Do "Mean," Math pages 270-271.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Tempera Tints

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Great Moments

Another great day. This year is positively going to spoil me for the rest of my teaching career.

We started out today with a number of review activities. We reviewed the use of the apostrophe in contractions and possessive forms. We reviewed the spelling and vocabulary from this week's story. We also went over the study questions carefully as a way to review the story itself. We then went a little creative. Students made some fantastic flow maps illustrating "Great Moments in Medicine" using what they had learned from the stories. We'll have some of these on a bulletin board soon. Remember, you're always welcome to drop by room 19.

We read the penultimate (remember, it's one of my favorite words) chapter of Island of the Blue Dolphins. We discussed and corrected history and math homework. We did another read-though of Gold Dust or Bust. By the way, I just talked to Dr. Oh and we have scheduled the performance for Friday, March 20th. More details coming on later....

We spend the rest of the afternoon talking about the color wheel, about complementary colors, and about shades and tints of colors. The students had fun playing around with mixing tempera paints, and then seriously turned their attention to creating works of art. You can see some of the finest examples above. I think these are really excellent. I only wish it weren't so messy. Oh, well.

Homework: (1) Do spelling sentences. Use the crossword puzzle for word lists and definitions, if needed. (2) Do "Using Reading Strategies". (3) Do "Dividing Greater Numbers," Math, page 269. (4) Also do "Interpreting the Remainder," Math, page 271.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

California Dance Institute

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A Pleasant Surprise

As a teacher I have some days where everything is carefully planned and goes according to schedule. I have other days when things are somewhat, well, improvised. Today was supposed to be the first kind of day. I was so well-prepared I was bursting with pride. And then we had a surprise and everything was juggled after that.

But it was a most pleasant surprise. About 9:25 a young woman came in and told me that we were ten minutes late. "For what?" I replied. She told me that she was from the California Dance Institute and that they were starting their residency with the fourth grade classes this week. I was more than surprised. The last any of the fourth grade teachers knew this program had been canceled as part of the current round of budget cuts. But who am I to question such good fortune. So we stopped reading the Open Court story and trotted over to the auditorium.

What a great program this is going to be! The California Dance Institute is part of a nationwide program called the National Dance Institute. You can read more about it on their website. We had two young energetic teachers. Best of all, they had a pianist to work with them. Having a real musician improvising accompaniment is way better for dance instruction than dealing with a boom box and CD's.

The rest of the day was a little out of order, but it was fine. We went to Tech Center where Ms. Richards and Mrs. Koneff battled faulty internet connections to teach the students about the digital library and the on-line card catalog. We skipped PE, but did finish reading "Medicine: Past and Present". We also correct homework, read another chapter of Island of the Blue Dolphins, finished our first read-though of Gold Dust or Bust, and learned about using scale on a map to determine distance.

Homework: (1) Do the spelling crossword. (2) Complete the study questions on story. (3) Do the map distances exercise. (4) Do "Zero," Math, pp 266-267, #13-59, odd only.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Gold Dust or Bust

Ah we're finally getting back into the groove! A very productive day.

We started the Mystery to Medicine unit today. We reviewed what we already know about the subject, and began to focus on some questions to guide our inquiry through the reading selections. We began reading the informational article "Medicine: Past and Present". This one is surprisingly interesting at points, particularly when it is discussing the Black Death. Fourth graders like plagues.

We worked in small groups on our "Winter Break" rough drafts. Students read their compositions alouds and received positive feedback and suggestions from other students. They then started on final drafts.

After lunch we began our first read-through of the Gold Dust or Bust play. This is a musical about the gold rush. I did it with my class two years ago, and this group of students is so good that it seemed like a great opportunity to do it again. You'll hear much more about this in the weeks to come. We also corrected and discussed our math homework.

Homework: (1) Do Spelling jumble. (2) Finish final draft of story about "My Wonderful Winter Break." (3) Do history questions. (4) Do "Divide by 3 Digit," Math, page 263, even numbers only. Show all work including the check step.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Have You Tried?

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Looking Both Ways

Ah, the first day back from Winter Break. It's one of the hardest days of the year. We're not used to getting up so early after being spoiled for three weeks. And for those of us who recently arrived from another time zone, it seems doubly tough. Still we had a good time today, and we're slowly easing in to the normal workload.

January is named for the Roman god who looked backward to the old year and forward to the new one. We did both of those things today. We finished off the final section of the Open Court test for unit two. We started thinking about the new unit, Mystery to Medicine. Students made some advertisements for fictional drugs. You can see a couple of the best ones above. In History we also looked back by reading one of the last chapter in Island of the Blue Dolphins - the saddest one, the one where Rontu dies - and looked forward to the new unit on the American conquest and settlement of California. We again looked backward in Math with some quick division review, and looked forward to the first lesson in chapter 14.

We did some PE today, but the unusual heat made everybody pretty lethargic. We also started on the rough draft of a narrative about "My Fantastic Winter Break." Students have a fiction or non-fiction option here depending on whether or not they did much over the holiday. We'll be revising these over the week and doing final drafts later.

Homework: We're easing back into school. Just work on "Place the First Digit," Math, pages 260-261. Also, finish any unfinished work. For students who did not turn in their I-Search paper today, remember it is due Wednesday at the latest.