Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Tale Tales and Real Feats

A nicely productive day. We began with Independent Reading, and then went on to check, correct, and discuss our homework. I read the tall tale "Josh McBroom and the Big Wind" to the students from the OCR anthology, and they followed along and used their post-it notes to practice predicting, connecting, questioning, and visualizing.

After recess we watched the final installment of The Transcontinental Railroad documentary, and we read a selection called "The Ten-Mile Day" which provided more information about that day in April, 1869 when the Chinese workers for the Central Pacific Railroad laid down 10 miles of track in one day, a feat which still has not been duplicated. After lunch we checked our math tests, and I gave the students time to start on homework. The work below seems longer than it really is. There is not all that much to do on a couple of the pages -- other than read and learn, of course!

Homework: (1) Do the study questions on "Big Wind." (2) Do the "Tall Tales" and "Author's Purpose" worksheets. (3) Do the "Railroad," "Time Zones," and "Oranges" worksheets. (4) Do the chapter reviews on pages 448-449. (5) Do the Algebra sheet.

Thursday, March 26, 2009


The best moments in education come when you manage to make connections between different subject areas and teach different subjects in the same lesson. We did quite a bit of that today in room 19.

Our big activity today was again focusing on challenging environments. Deciding why is potentially dangerous about an environment, determining what resources may be available there, and figuring  out how to take advantage of those resource is the heart of all the stories in the “Surviving” unit of Open Court. Today’s scheduled art lesson had more to do with landscapes. The two ideas seemed perfectly matched for each other.

First the students selected an environment. They drew it in pencil, went over the lines in sharpie, and then used watercolors to paint it. Most were quite good, and some were absolutely outstanding.



After finishing their watercolors, the students wrote about their environments. They were asked to imagine what it would be like to be in that environment. What would they see? hear? smell? feel? They also wrote about the challenges a person might face in that environment and what they could do to survive. Most of the students are finishing the compositions as part of their homework tonight. I’m expecting that these will be as wonderful as their pictures.

We also watched the third installment of the Transcontinental Railroad documentary. The students are starting to get engrossed right now by the race between the Central Pacific and the Union Pacific, and they are outraged by the injustices that those two companies and the settlers they brought inflicted on the Plains Indians and the environment.

Homework:  (1) Finish the composition discussed above. (2) Do “Draw a Diagram,” Math, page 433. (3) Do the Review/Test and Cumulative Review, Math, pages 434-435.

Remember that we have performances tomorrow at 1:30 pm and at 6:30 pm. Students will have dinner provided for them courtesy of the Carlson family. Be sure to have white shirts for everybody, shorts for the girls, and blue jeans for the boys. As always, thanks to Joan Stewart Smith for serving as costumer par excellence!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Happy New Year

A bit of historical trivia here. Until 1752, in England and the United States, the new year began on March 25th. In 1752 England officially switched from the Julian to the Gregorian calendars and with it changed the start of the year. This makes dealing with early American documents confusing.  For example, the day after March 24, 1701 was March 25, 1702. Aren’t you happy we simplified that? But, in a nod to those days of yore, I’ll wish everybody a happy new year.

No fireworks or funny hats, but we had a great day, as usual, in room 19. After our Independent Reading, we checked and corrected our language arts homework. We watched the second part of the documentary on the transcontinental railroad. We went to Tech Center where the students were really engaged with the Mavis Beacon Typing program. After lunch we watched a video of the second cast doing Gold Dust. We went out to PE and played an energetic game of kickball. We corrected our math homework, briefly talked about grams and kilograms, and then I gave them some time to start on today’s assignments. Since the last couple days have been a bit heavy on homework, tonight is light.

Homework:  (1) Do the multiplication practice sheet. (2) Do “Mass,” Math, pages 430-431.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Pleasantly Productive

It was a busy productive day. We began, as usual, with independent reading. We went on to reviewing a bit of the stories we had done in the Surviving unit so far by creating double bubble maps to compare and contrast two of the characters. Here are a couple which compare Karana and Burr.

Students also did short compositions where they imagined going on a trek in a hostile climate – jungle, desert, or mountain wilderness – and had to tell what they would pack in their backpacks to help them survive. I have not had a chance to look at these yet, but I am sure they will be fun.

After recess we checked, corrected, and discuss homework. After lunch, we looked at a video of cast one doing the play. We’ll look at cast two tomorrow.

Homework:  (1) Do the study guide for “Nachito.” (2) Do the “Organizing for Plot” worksheet. (3) Do the “Transcontinental Railroad” and the railroad schedule paper. (4) Do the equivalent fractions and adding fractions worksheet. (5) Do “Capacity,” Math, pages 429-429.

Monday, March 23, 2009

After the Gold Rush



The Gold Rush, as Luzena Wilson said in our play, “just sort of petered out” but our production of Gold Dust or Bust was a rousing success! We are going to be reprising our performance next Friday for parents at the Concert in the Park event. Please be here for that show to support your child and our school’s arts program.

Today was pleasant, but it had a “back to reality” feel. We started a new Open Court story called “Nachito’s Teachings” about a boy who survives in the Arizona desert after a plane crash by following the wisdom of the Apache foreman of his ranch. Students were attentive as we read it, but not enthralled. I couldn’t blame them.

We also started a new American Experience film, this one on the Transcontinental Railroad. It’s a good film, but it’s a little slow at first. It’s amazing how current some of the issues are as the politicians fretted over paying for the railroad and the Civil War at the same time. (Words like “infrastructure investment” were not yet current, but that was the issue then, too.)

Homework:  Also back to normal here. Students did have two full 30 minute blocks to get a start on these assignments, so it really should not be that bad. (1) Do the questions and reflections on the story found on page 361 of the Open Court anthology book. (2) Do the “Using Reading Strategies” paper – this is the one with the post-it notes. (3) Do the “Linking East and West” study sheet. We read this chapter in the History book last week. (4) Do the multiplication practice sheet. (5) Do “Change Linear Units,” Math, pages 426-427.

Big, big thanks to Paul Smith for taking video and still photographs Friday, to Helen Kang and  Maite Andonegui for helping with logistics, and a huge thank you to our fabulous costumer Joan Stewart Smith without whose advice and assistance our production could not have happened.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Performing and Practicing

Today was the big California Dance Institute demonstration/show. It was pretty good. I'll be processing and posting some video of this soon for the benefit of those who could not make it. Our students did quite well, demonstrating some of the best focus and sharpest movements yet. I was quite proud of them. The first show was probably the best: the students were a bit tired by the second show and the parents were a more appreciative audience than the third grade classes. But both shows were pretty solid.

The afternoon was devoted to a dress rehearsal of our show on Friday. There is always a certain note of panic about the first dress rehearsal, and the students were definitely tired from the morning workout and not doing their very best work. Still, we have another rehearsal tomorrow and I feel pretty optimistic that it will all come together wonderfully by the end of the week.

Homework: We never got back to the room in time for me to post it and pass it out! So our homework fiends will be sobbing into their pillows tonight in disappointment, but there's nothing to be done about it.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Get Those Bugs Out, CDI

One of the techniques that the California Dance Institute uses is to have the students associate certain words with particular elements of choreography. For example, sticking one hand high into the air is called a “Star” and the thrusting the other hand high is called a “Moon”.  There’s a fun group of steps where the students tap themselves on the shoulders as they jump in a full circle. This sort of vaguely looks like swatting flies, so the words associated with this are “Get those bugs out, CDI!”

Well, most of this morning was devoted to getting the metaphorical bugs out of the CDI show. The students went to the auditorium twice to practice entrances, exits, and the trickier parts of their routines. They made a lot of progress, though to be honest I have to admit that the KDLP class is better. “Beat room 18!” should be a slogan for tomorrow.

The rest of the day was routine. We checked Math homework. We finished reading and discussing the “Arctic Explorer:  The Story of Matthew Henson” selection. And, of course, the best part of the day for the students, they got their homework. And homework fiends that they are, I know they’ll be happy tonight. They had a little over 30 minutes to get a good running start on this work.

Homework:  (1) Do the “Reading Strategies” sheet. (2) Do the study guide for the “Arctic Explorer” story. There are a lot of questions here, but the pages numbers make it easy to review the selection. (3) Do the “Adventure Stories” sheet. This is a pretty easy one. (4) Do the “Review/Test,” Math, page 418 and the “Cumulative Review" on page 419.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Practice making Perfect

After days of practice, it was a relief today to be out of the auditorium and back in the classroom. Sometimes you need a break. Tomorrow afternoon we’ll be practicing again, but for today we contentedly let Mr. Mason and the orchestra use the auditorium.

Still, quite a lot of play practice did go on thanks to my fantastic co-director, Ms. Rosen, and the expertise assistance of Mr. Pratt. Both these talented, hardworking professionals took small groups of actors and worked with them intensely on blocking and line reading. I am sooo indebted to them.

Just the usual stuff otherwise. We started a new story in Open Court. We watched a little more of Ramona. We corrected and discussed homework. We read a chapter of By the Great Horn Spoon! We played softball at PE.

Homework:  We’re making tracks through the math book, trying to finish as much as possible before testing. There are three short chapters tonight. (1) Do “Capacity,” Math, page 413. (2) Do “Weight,” Math, page 415. (3) Do “Compare Strategies,” Math, page 417. (4) Do the reading strategy sheet for chapter 6 of By the Great Horn Spoon!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Not an Unlucky Day

Great rehearsal today! Things are looking good for next Friday. I am tentatively planning on two shows on March 20th: one at 9:30 and the other at 11:00.

We also corrected homework and a math test, saw the second installment of Ramona, and learned about the stagecoach, the Pony Express, and the telegraph. A very productive day. Who said that Friday the 13th was unlucky?

Homework: (1) Do the "New Links to the East" study sheet. (2) Do the Morse Code worksheet (this one's kind of fun). (3) Read chapter 5 of By the Great Horn Spoon! and complete the usual reading strategies paper. This should be pretty familiar by now. (4) Do "Change Units," Math, pages 410-411.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Concerning a Play, a Movie, some Art, and a Dead PC

Sorry for missing a couple of entries. Big Silver Fish died a couple weeks ago, and big silver PC died a couple days ago. I'd like to blame it on Windows, but the darn thing makes grinding clunking sounds. Another Pentium 4 shuffles off this earth. I guess I'll have to replace it. Sigh.

We've been really busy with our play the last few days, and it will consume a good bit of our time tomorrow, too. But it's starting to come together well.

We started another movie today. We're watching Ramona, the 1936 version of the classic novel by Helen Hunt Jackson. Despite truly awful performances by Loretta Young and Don Ameche, the story has remarkable power. The students always hate this movie at first, but really come to love it by the end. It gives a really good sense of what California was like in the 1870's, and it's amazing how much of that pastoral landscape was still around when they filmed it 70 years ago. The San Fernando Valley with sheep instead of malls and freeways. A lost world....

We also did a little bit with perspective drawing. We talked about foreground, middle ground, and background. The students then created their own imaginary landscapes with these elements. A few of them were absolutely great! I'll scan some of these and post them when I can get a chance. I keep forgetting how much I depended on big silver PC.

Big, big, thank you to Joan Stewart who came in today to match students to skirts and other stuff out of the costume box. Her expertise is much, much appreciated.

Homework: (1) Do "Choose the Appropriate Unit," Math, page 405, numbers 2-21 and 25-29. (2) Do "Measure Fractional Parts," Math, pages 407-409, numbers 2-23 and 29-37.

Monday, March 09, 2009



No, it wasn’t that bad a day. In fact, it was a very nice day. “Surviving” is just the next theme in Open Court Reading. And so we will bid adieu to Mystery to Medicine, and as of tomorrow, start a new Concept-Question board. So I put up this picture of the one we just completed just for those of you who have not had a chance to be in the classroom lately.

We did a lot of the usual things today. We did our Independent Reading. We went over Friday’s homework. We started the contributions for the next Concept-Question board. We reviewed the first story. I said “reviewed” here because we already read this selection from Island of the Blue Dolphins when we read the entire novel. So students worked in partners to re-read it and to find some connections and questions.

We partially corrected the History test from Thursday. (I will have to grade the essay and short answer parts myself). We practiced the songs from Gold Dust or Bust. The students are starting to sound pretty good here! We went out to PE.

Many students spent a lot of time in the auditorium today for Orchestra. They even had a concert for the kindergartners in the afternoon. So, the remaining students had a chance to get a head start on the homework, and many may already be done.

Homework:  (1) Write a short story about surviving a plane crash. This should be one page handwritten, not skipping lines. It can be longer. For those who are eager to practice their typing skills, it can be one page, double-spaced, 12 point font. Stewart said I had to put all those details in. (2) Do the math chapter reviews, pages 394-395.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

To be continued

Children love to write stories which end with “to be continued.” I find them a little maddening. I like things to begin and end. But often a lot of what we do in school just does not fit neatly into one hour or even one day. So, much to my annoyance, often I have to end my day with “to be continued.”

This was just that sort of day. We worked on a lot of activities and projects which may not have started today and certainly did not finish today. For example, we did some work on our play. We concentrated a bit of improving the singing, and I saw a lot of improvement when we practiced certain vocal techniques. But we’ll be working on this for the next two weeks. Intensely! To be continued….

We worked on our literature circle books. I tried a slightly different format for reading and responding to the books. It needs a bit of tweaking, though I think it is promising. And most of the groups did not get as far as they planned with their books today. So, as recess approached, what could we say? To be continued…..

We started on an art project today. We had a good discussion about perspective and six different techniques artists use to create the illusion of depth and distance. We started on the final product here, but we only had time for the rough sketch of the outline. So, to be continued….

Homework:  (1) Do “Add Decimals,” Math, page 385 (2) Do “Subtract Decimals,” Math, page 387. (3) Do Science worksheets.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Testing 1

Today was the writing test. It went smoothly enough, and everybody was here today and arrived on-time. I had to sign a affidavit that I would not divulge the contents of the test even if abducted and tortured, so I will not tell anything else about it. The children did not have to sign this agreement, so parents with questions can ask them.

After recess we watched the third installment of the PBS Gold Rush video. After lunch, we practiced Gold Dust. We went out to PE since that had been cut short by the raindrops yesterday. We returned to the room where we reviewed what we learned in our last Science experiments and read a selection from the textbook.

The students were disappointed not to leave early. The teacher was thrilled to not have a faculty meeting.

Homework:  (1) Do Science study questions, page 35.  (2) Do Chapter Reviews, Math pages 376 – 377.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Of Parallel Circuits and The Cat in the Hat

My grandmother was a great cook, and like so many great cooks she never used recipes. If you asked her how she made something, she invariably talked about a little bit of this and a little bit of that. Today was a little bit of this and a little bit of that.

We finished off the Open Court Reading Test today. Students did the Vocabulary subsection. Usually this has the lowest scores, but the students did amazing well on it. The students who had not finished the writing section last week completed it this morning.

The students listened to the third chapter of By the Great Horn Spoon! and completed their response sheet. They also did Independent Reading, as usual.

After recess, we did our Science investigation. This was fun. The students had been challenged last week to create a simple circuit that would light up two small light bulbs. Most found that they needed two batteries to do this. But today they were told that they had to get the lights to light up brightly with only one battery. It took a little while, but every group figured out a way to do this.


I explained to them that they had created a parallel circuit, and we talked a little about this concept. We ran out of time, so I postponed reading the section of the book about parallel circuits and completing the study guide on this section. The students were heartbroken, as you can imagine, to have a little less work.

After lunch it started to drizzle. I figured that we would probably skip PE, so we corrected our math homework. But then it stopped raining, and Mrs. Caruso and I decided to give them a chance to get some exercise. It all went well for about 15 minutes, but then it started to sprinkle again and we had to come in.

Back in the room, and needing a bit of peace and quiet, I had the students write stories about their masks. This was a very open-ended assignment, and some of the response were amazingly creative, just like the masks themselves. This is another thing which we will finish tomorrow.

Today is “Read Across America,” an annual celebration of the joy of reading. Sponsored by the National Education Association, it is always held on a day close to Dr. Seuss’ birthday. Mrs. Mark and I always combine our classes for a time on this day so that the fourth graders can read to the first graders and so that both grade levels can do wordsearches and other fun little activities.

As you might expect, our students in room 19 took this assignment very seriously, but had a wonderful time with their little buddies in first grade. Here are some snapshots:



Tomorrow is the first day of California Standards Testing for fourth graders. It is the writing part of the test; we will do reading and math in mid-May when all the other grades are also tested.  Please make sure that your child gets to bed nice and early, and gets up in plenty of time to have breakfast and get to school on time.

Homework:  Because students are having an important test tomorrow, homework is cancelled for today.