Thursday, February 26, 2009

Performance Anxiety?

Today we started on the writing section of the Open Court test. Though the students have become a little bored over the years with these assessments, and have been known to do less than their best work on them, this one is a little bit more important than the others. This writing assignment is designated as a “Performance Assessment” and the score is posted on their report cards. Worse still for them, an unsatisfactory score generates an automatic “Would you like your child to have the opportunity to attend summer school?” letter. No ten year old child wants his or her parents to have to be tempted like that.

Fortunately, the writing prompt is not that difficult – if the students follow directions. Students are supposed to be writing a school newspaper article about how some disease was treated with folk medicine and how it is treated today. I had to explain to the students that they did not really have to know anything about the disease or its treatment, but simply had to be able to say something which sounded vaguely plausible. (Yes, I am teaching them to BS. Aren’t you glad in this economy that they are gaining the job skills they will need later on?) I helped the students create a graphic organizer that would help them write the rough draft. The students planned their compositions, and then wrote rough drafts. We even took some time to share some of these completed rough drafts and to compare them to the criteria set in the writing prompt. They were pretty good! Tomorrow we will do the final draft of this project as well as doing the fluency tests.

After lunch we read and discussed a chapter in the social studies about the state’s first constitutional convention at Colton Hall in Monterey in 1849. This is particularly interesting to study now when many voices across the political spectrum are calling for a new constitutional convention to overhaul California state government after the 8 month budget debacle. We had to talk quite a bit about slavery here, and how the admission of California to the Union disrupted the fragile balance which had been established by the Missouri Compromise. We also had a good discussion of the historic decision in the California Constitution to give married women the same legal rights as single women and abolishing the common law principle of femme couvert. Our girls are sure glad they are living today!

The day ended on a less happy note in the auditorium. The school scheduled an assembly on “Financially Responsible Students.” Somebody in the office did not think things through and all the third, fourth, and fifth grade students were told to come – far more than the auditorium could handle. The presenter seemed pleasant, but the logistics of making this kind of presentation to so many children at the same time guaranteed that few would listen.

Homework: (1) Do the “Thirty-First State” study sheet. (2) Do “Decimals Greater than One,” Math pages 362-363. (3) Do “Equivalent Decimals,” Math, pages 364-365.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


First of all, a big thank you to the students who volunteered their time before school to scrub up the area outside room 19. It is looking much cleaner now, and much less like the site of a tempera paint factory explosion.

We started the day in auditorium with auditions for Gold Dust or Bust. There are a lot of talented students and I know that I will have a couple disappointed people, particularly for the comic Becky/Bobby role. Everybody was good, but a couple people were great. I'll announce the two casts tomorrow. We stayed in the auditorium for the California Dance Institute program. They are starting to prepare the students for a performance next month, so the standards are getting more stringent. Every step needs to be accurate and perfectly timed to the beat. And our students are rising to the challenge!

After recess, we went to the Tech Center. There we worked a little more of the Mavis Beacon typing program to begin, and then the students make a picture of their special place, the one they wrote about a couple weeks ago. We are in the process of typing these up and making a little book here.

After lunch we corrected our math homework, and we took another section of the Open Court test. We briefly discussed decimals and how they relate to fractions. We went out to PE, and did some of the usual activities. We came back and took the chapter 18 math test.

Homework: Another disappointing day for you homework fiends. I promise to have more another day. (1) Do "Fractions, Decimals" Math, pages 358-361.

Also, tomorrow we will be decorating our masks. I will have some materials here like yarn and pipe cleaners available, but anything they can bring in from home will be great!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Spatters of Learning

A pleasant day for me. Maybe a bit of a laundry day for one or two moms. But more on that later....

We began with Independent Reading. We check, corrected, and discussed the crossword puzzle. We took the first part of the Open Court Test and the results were pretty good. We'll be taking this over the next few days. (Many of you may be aware that UTLA has called for a boycott of these "periodic assessments." On our grade level we decided to give all the assessment and correct them, but not to report them to the district. There's some educational benefit to these tests, though probably not enough to justify their costs.) We also did the second chapter of By the Great Horn Spoon!

We watched the second installment of the PBS American Experience The Gold Rush. Again, the study questions really helped focus the students' learning. After lunch, we corrected our math homework and discussed it a bit. The students will have a test over fractions tomorrow, and I'm cautiously optimistic.

We ended the day by painting our masks. We did this outside, and right now the patio by room 19 looks like we had a paintball competition. It will all wash away with the next rain, or whenever I get ambitious enough to find the hose. A couple students decided that a Jackson Pollock treatment was what their masks needed. At least one managed to spatter himself as much as his mask. It was a good picture I missed. I hear it was an irate mom I missed, too....

Homework: A big disappointment for you homework fans out there, but it's just a simple math worksheet tonight. We are skipping spelling this week because of the OCR testing.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Mystery Boards

Friday was not a horrible day, but it was a frustrating one. Somehow there were enough interruptions that we never seemed to accomplish most of what I intended to do. Today allowed us to catch up. And most of that catch up was in Science.

On Friday the students made “Mystery Boards.” These are pieces of cardboard with four fasteners in them. Students connected some of the fasteners with wires and then taped the mystery boards shut. I gave the groups diagrams so that each group would have different circuitry.

Today the students tested them out. They made a simple circuit with a light or a motor, a battery, and some wires. They left an open spot in the circuit, and they tried to figure out which combinations of fasteners on the mystery board would close the circuit and light the bulb or turn the motor. In this way, of course, they were figuring out what the wiring of the board was without actually opening up the board and checking it. They had a lot of fun as each group checked the boards of all the other groups.


We also started exploring the difference between series and parallel circuits today. The students were challenged to make two light bulbs light. They discovered that they could do this easily, but that the light was very dim. I explained that this is typical of series circuits. We discussed what could make the bulbs brighter. The students immediately decided that another D-cell would help. So they made a second circuit adding a little more battery juice. They created schematic diagrams to help them compare these. We have some young electrical engineers in training!

The rest of the day was also great. We practiced Gold Dust or Bust. We went out to PE. And we started watching a really great PBS film on the gold rush. I prepared a series of multiple-choice questions for the students to answer as they watched the video. This is time consuming for me (well, the first time I do it), but it really helps the students to focus on a film as a learning tool instead of mere entertainment.

Homework:  (1) Do vocabulary crossword. This is review for the upcoming Open Court unit test. (2) Do the review questions, Science, page 28. Please copy the questions as well as answering in complete sentences. (3) Do the chapter reviews, Math, pages 354-355.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Horn Spoons and Masks

There were lots of regular and ordinary things about today. But there were two new and fun things.

First, we started on a new literature book for history. As you remember, we read Island of the Blue Dolphins before. Now we're reading By the Great Horn Spoon! This is a rollicking tale of a young boy and his English butler in the California gold fields. It's a good picture of the era with lots of quite accurate details. But it's also a really fun story. I love reading the first couple chapter aloud because the captain bellows incessantly. And, since I'm trying to model reading with expression for the students, I get to be really loud! And a little obnoxious, too. I think they liked it as much as I did.

Thursdays being Art Day, we started on a new project. This one will take a couple days of work. Again, we are focusing on the idea of form. So this week we're exploring form in masks. We looked a couple fine examples of masks and discussed the concepts of "proportion" and "distortion." We started with the papier-mâché base today. We did the fast and easy technique here mixing glue with water instead of the more traditional flour and water. In the interests of a clean classroom, the students worked out of doors. Thankfully, it was a wonderful warm and sunny day.



Next week we will paint the masks and add lots of details.

Homework: It seems heavier than it really is. Many of these assignments are pretty short. (1) Do Maps and Atlas worksheet. (2) Do the Adjectives worksheet. (3) Do the “Good, Better, Best” worksheet and the Theme Connections on the back. (4) Do the summary and strategies paper for Great Horn Spoon, chapter one. (5) Do the “Good Times, Bad Times” study guide for today’s history chapter. (6) Do “Adding and Subtracting Mixed Numbers,” Math, pages 344-346, 2-34, even only. (7) Review the spelling words for the spelling test tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Start Spreading the News

Our California Dance Institute class was really fun today. In addition to our usual teachers, we had a couple guest teachers. One of them was Arthur who works with the National Dance Institute in New York. He brought a fun "Noo Yawk" flavor to activities today. He was really impressed by the concentration and skill that he saw in our room 19 students. Their teacher was bursting with pride. Start spreading the news....

In the Tech Center, we were the first class to work on the new Mavis Beacon Typing Program. This is way slicker than it used to be, and the students had a lot of fun working on it. Students resist the idea of the home keys and touch typing, but once they actually figure out how much faster it helps them write they get really excited.

We did all the usual stuff, of course. We corrected homework. We practiced Gold Dust or Bust. We went out to PE. We did a math activity and talked about subtracting fractions.

On a sadder note, we bid farewell today to Big Silver Fish. He had been a fixture in room 19 for almost three years now, and that is a nice long life for a fish. He had a quiet, private burial in the flower garden. Reqiescat in Pace.

Homework: (1) Do the spelling wordsearch. (2) Do the study guide and the story map for "Shadow of a Bull." (3) Do "Subtract Fractions," Math, page 343. (4) Do the fraction worksheet.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Bullfighters and Orchestras

Welcome back! It was a rainy weekend, but so nice to have an extra day off. Well, it was for the teacher and the children. For the parents, well, maybe it was different.

We started off today with Independent Reading. We went on to our new Open Court Reading story this week. This is called "Shadow of a Bull". It tells the story of Manolo Olivar, the son of a famous Spanish bullfighter. Everybody in his small town expects him to be a bullfighter like his late father, but he years to be a doctor. It's from an old Newbery Award winner. 

The fabulous student musicians from the Colburn School came by for a concert. They did a number of marvelous selections including two pieces by Mozart, an excerpt from Mendelsohns's Midsummer Night's Dream, and  Sheherazade by Rimsky-Korsakov. 

After lunch, we corrected our math test. We also began correcting some of our history work. We did not quite finish that, so we'll do more of than tomorrow. 

Homework:  (1) Finish the "Reading Strategies" paper. (2) Do the Spelling Jumble. (3) Do "Add Fractions," Math, pages 338-341. 

Friday, February 13, 2009

Be My … Switch?

It was another great Science Friday in room 19. And it did not rain during recess or lunch. My life is perfect.

We started the day in the library. Mrs. Koneff skipped reading our California Young Reader Medal because she is recovering from a cold that was even worse than the one I had (really still have, but it’s getting better). We went back to the classroom and took our spelling test. We corrected our homework assignments and they turned in their “Place to Love” papers. We will be typing these up with TuxPaint illustrations starting on Tuesday.

After recess we started on our Science Friday activities. I first put the students into groups of three or four and gave them a bag of materials. From the materials, I had them take out a small electric motor and a D-cell battery. I challenged them to make the motor run. That was easy. They all did that right away. So I made it a little tougher. I had them pull out a switch out of the bag and connect it to the motor. This required them to add another wire to the circuit. It took a little longer, but most of the groups figured it out. We paused for a bit here and talked about open and closed circuits. Then I really challenged them. I asked them to connect the switch and the battery to the motor and to an electric light. This required them to add two more wires to the circuit. They also learned to strip the insulation off the ends of the wires, too. (By the end of the year these children might actually be useful around the house.) While this was the hardest to do, the groups were so excited when they figure it out as you can see in the video below.


We returned to our seats and I introduced to them some of the symbols that engineers use when they draw circuits. The students drew schematic diagrams of their circuits while the teacher caught his breath. We then return to our groups. The students then reassembled their circuits, but this time they were told to take out a small bag of test objects. They had worked with these test objects earlier when we were doing magnetism. Now they were told to see which object could complete the circuit if the switch was open. They all predicted that the nail and the other steel or iron pieces would do this, but were a little surprised that the aluminum foil and the copper did, too. These objects had been duds during the magnetism experiments. They were less surprised that the rubber band and the poker chip and the styrofoam did not work. I explained that the objects that worked were conductors, and the objects which did not work were insulators.

We ended our day with a little Valentine’s Day sharing. They gave each other candy and cards. I gave them a test on fractions. Isn’t there anything which says “Be Mine” better than a math test?

Homework: Just finish the history papers if that was not done last night.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Ordinary…and Out of the Ordinary

This was mostly a pretty ordinary Thursday. We did Independent Reading. We read our literature circle books. And we read and critiqued each other’s place I love papers. We corrected and discussed our math homework. We finished reading and discussing a chapter in the history book on the Gold Rush. We also practiced some of the songs for Gold Dust or Bust.

But Thursdays are also art day, and that always has some surprises for the students. And in that way, Thursdays are never completely ordinary. We are working on the concept of form right now, and we tried making sculptures today. Now we are not rich enough in room 19 to give every child a piece of Carrara marble, nor is the teacher foolish enough to give hammers and chisels to nine-year-olds. So we made our sculptures out of soap. And the students had fun with this. You can see how intently they carved their soap.



And they were pretty pleased as the outlines of an animal started to emerge from the bar of soap.


We’re not quite finished with this project yet. We’ll need to do more on either Friday or Tuesday. But I think, as we always do, that I will be able to show you some pretty impressive works of art by the young artists of room 19.

Homework: (1) Do Capitalization and Titles worksheet. (2) Do Following Directions worksheet. (3) Do the chapter reviews, pages 334-335 in Math. (4) Finish the second rough draft of the place to love paper.

Students were also given three pages of study questions for their history packet. This is due on Tuesday. Even I am not villainous enough to give that much homework in one night. At least I am not that villainous yet….. Ha ha ha!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Places to Love

Sorry for no post yesterday. I was feeling quite sick and just went home after the meeting and went to bed.

This was one of those days when I was not sick enough to stay home, but not well enough to really want to be at school. Fortunately, Wednesday is a pretty easy day and our students in room 19 are incredibly cooperative.

Today was Stull, part two. As you may remember from last week, a “Stull” is the biennial teacher evaluation process. Last week we did a reading lesson. This week was a writing lesson. I picked a writing exercise developed by the Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory in Portland, Oregon. I am giving them credit because it was a pretty cool lesson.

I began with some calm and soothing music (Old and Lost Rivers by the American composer Tobias Picker) and I asked the students to imagine a place that was really special for them. They closed their eyes and I told them to imagine what they would see, hear, and even feel or smell at this special place. After a couple minutes of reverie, we listed what some of our special places were on the board. I read a book to the students call All the Places to Love by Patricia MacLachlan. We discussed the story and the places each character loved in this picture book. The students then took more time to imagine all the details of their place, and after a few minutes of silent imagination they shared their ideas with a partner. After this, the students made a thinking map (or two) to help focus their thoughts and they started to write rough drafts about their “place to love.”

The rest of the day was easy for me. The students went to Dance class and then went to recess. In Tech Center they worked on creating before and after pictures in Tux Paint. After lunch, I gave them more time to complete their rough drafts. We went to PE where we did rotations after our usual warmups and laps. Finally, we talked about mixed numbers and improper fractions.

Homework:  (1) Do the study questions over “Susan LaFlesch Picotte”. This is a handout. (2) Do “Mixed Numbers,” Math, pages 330-333.

I gave the students a “KenKen” puzzles as extra credit. This is similar to Sudoku, but involves some arithmetic.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Painted Houses

Into every life some rain must fall, they say. As a teacher, I would prefer this not happen between 8:00 am and 2:30 pm, but sometimes it does. Well, we made the best of it and had a good day in room 19.

We started off, as usual, with Independent Reading. We shared a little about our weekend adventures during our Opening, as well as doing Today in History and the other normal activities. We began reading “The Story of Susan LaFlesche Picotte", the saga of the first female Native American physician. It is actually a bit more interesting than it might sound at first.

After recess we talked about the Gold Rush and read a selection from the textbook related to this. We corrected the Math Quarter 2 test after lunch. These are on the gradebook. We also practiced Gold Dust or Bust. In our last hour, we did some painting of the clay architectural forms students did on Thursday. Many are quite good!




Homework:  Very light tonight. It will be a bit heavier later in the week. (1) Do “Make a Model,” Math pages 328-329. (2) Do the Equivalent Fractions worksheet.

Thursday, February 05, 2009


Our day began today with the administration of the National Assessment of Educational Progress test. This is called the NAEP (pronounced nape) for short. It was pretty boring for the students, but since they sent a couple of people here to administer it, I had a nice time grading papers.

The rest of the day was nice for the students. After recess, they worked in their literature circles. This went just like clockwork today, and it was a pleasure to see how the students are really enjoying the books they picked to read. After lunch, we did another run-through of Gold Dust or Bust. I am happy that the students seem to have more confidence in singing the songs, and some of them know most of the songs by heart already! Also, there are some really nice voices in room 19!

Then things got really fun for the students. Thursdays afternoons are for Art, and we are currently studying the idea of form in art. Last week we did clay sculptures which helped the students to focus on the idea of organic shapes. Today, we looked at geometric shapes, and particularly at the techniques of relief and additive sculpture. As usual, we look at some pictures of some real art objects here as we discussed the techniques the artists used. Then we began on our own project. In this case, our project was to make the exterior of a building using relief and additive sculpture techniques. First, the students had to pound the clay into flat pieces. They enjoyed doing this, I’ll admit, more than I enjoyed hearing it. Just look at the gleeful expressions below!


Once they had made a flat surface, they began to add details which would make it look like a structure. You can see the door and window below, and, the whimsical addition of a little man.


In a day or two – well, probably Monday – we will paint these. Right now you can see they still look a little rough, but with some paint they will be really quite sharp. Stay tuned!


HomeworkSee yesterday’s post for the homework. Remember that the rough draft of the I-Search paper is due on Monday!

Wednesday, February 04, 2009


Wednesdays are, as I have noted before, generally the easy day for the teacher. There's dance, there's Tech Center, and there's PE. Today was a bit of an exception to that rule. It was my Stull.

Now for those of you unfamiliar with the education lingo, a "Stull" is the name given in California public schools to a formal teacher observation and evaluation. It's called a "Stull" because that was the name of the state senator, now long deceased, I'm sure, who sponsored the bill to require regular evaluation of teachers. In LAUSD all permanent teachers receive a formal evaluation every two years. It is just a formality most of the time, but we conscientious teachers always want to make sure that everything looks nice and goes smoothly on day of the Stull visit.

I suppose the students figure all of this out because they are usually pretty cooperative when they see the administrator sitting in the back of the room taking notes. Our students in room 19, of course, went beyond mere cooperative to absolute perfection. We did a guided reading of our latest story in Open Court, "The New Doctor." As usual, we used our post-it notes to help us use our strategies - predicting, connecting, questioning, clarifying, and so on - consciously and effectively. This time we did something a little new and fun, too. I photocopied the story and divided it into parts so we did it as reader's theater. It made the dialogue in the story kind of pop.

A little before 9:30 we stopped our reading and went to the auditorium for the California Dance Institute program. These workshops always begin with a warm up which moves the students from their chairs on to the dance floor. I shot a bit of this today:


After this we went to the Tech Center. Ms. Richards worked with the students again on their keyboarding skills. I was busy doing other things, but they were excited and definitely having a good time. Hmm. Having a good time learning an essential skill. Does school get any better than that?

After lunch we went over the math chapter review to prepare the students for the chapter 16 math test. I am really pleased by how many students are now willing to say, "Could you please explain that problem? I don't get it." At the beginning of the year they were too embarrassed to look dumb in front of their friends to ask those kinds of questions. Now they obviously trust the other students in the class not to judge them for asking a question. That is amazing!

We finished off the day with PE and the math test. The homework below is for today and Thursday and it is not due until Friday. I am doing this so that nobody stays up late tonight. Tomorrow is the NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) test and we want the students to be well-rested. But many students would like to do a bit today and a bit tomorrow to have a couple easy days in a row.

Homework: (1) Continue to work on the I-Search paper. The rough draft is due next Monday, February 9. (2) Do spelling sentences using the "Words from Latin" list. There will be a test on these words Friday. (3) Do the three sheets from the Open Court Reading packet: "Commas in a Series", "Making Inferences" and the Medical Terms crossword. These are all pretty easy. (4) Do "Equivalent Fractions," Math, pages 321-323, numbers 2-47 and numbers 51-59. We have not yet discussed this skill, so if students are really confused by this - third grade math only briefly touched on it - hold this one until tomorrow night. We will discuss equivalent fractions tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Literature Circles

Sorry this one did was lost in the drafts folder for a while. I hope it did not inconvenience anybody too much with homework.

Every year teachers are supposed to try something new. I usually do, but there are some things that I always keep thinking, "I'll read more about it and try it next year." I've said that for years about Literature Circles. Well, I figured with the great class I had this year, this was finally the time to jump in. And, metaphorically, the water is great!

Literature Circles, if you are unfamiliar with them, is a way to allow students to read and discuss books in small groups. It's a bit like what adults do in book clubs. Of course, being children, they do need a little help to focus their discussing and keep on task. Yesterday I gave the students the titles of six books and described each one a bit. I asked them to list the books in order of preference. I went through those lists and matched students to books, trying to make the groups roughly as even as possible and to make sure that the books were not too easy or too hard for the individual student. Astonishingly, only one or two students did not get their first or second book choice.

Today the students met in small groups to read and begin discussing their book. You can see one of those groups below:


These students are reading a charming chapter book called The Fish in Room 11. After reading about 15 to 20 pages, the students shared the strategies they had applied while reading. Each student was in charge of recording how all the member of the group had used one strategy.

After recess - and after lunch, too since it ended up taking way more time than I intended - the students painted the sculptures they made on last Thursday. Many of these are really beautiful as you can see below.


Homework: (1) Do the spelling crossword. (2) Do "Read, Write Fractions," Math, pages 316-317. We did not a chance to really discuss this, but this lesson is third grade review anyhow.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Fast Post

Just a  quick post. Today is so wonderful I cannot resist going home and changing into shorts and taking the dogs for a hike!

A very productive and pleasant day, as usual. We did Independent Reading, worked on the Word Study and Vocabulary from Context for the next story in the OCR reader, and we worked in small groups with a rubric to evaluate the rough drafts of our “Bridge Dancers” sequel. We corrected and discussed our math homework from Friday, and we picked our choices for Literature Circles (more on that tomorrow). We practiced the songs from Gold Dust and we played kickball. Finally, we took the Quarter 2 Math Test.

Homework:  (1) Continue to work on the I-Search paper. The rough draft is due next Monday, February 9. (2) Do the final draft of the “Bridge Dancers” sequel. This should be in cursive. (3) Do the spelling jumble. The spelling words this week are long, but not really that hard. (4) Do the chapter reviews in Math, pages 306-307.