Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Hard Work!

Wow! I was really impressed by how hard the students worked today. You could almost hear the brains growing in room 19.

We started off the day with a lot of writing. Keeping a journal is part of the drama class activity, and since our class is close to the end of the day on Tuesday we’ll be doing it Wednesday morning. I introduced the routine to the students, and while they were writing these I held individual conferences with each student to discuss the “My Favorite Things” composition. This kind of one-on-one attention is hard to do with a class of 32, but it is so important to helping them grow as writers.

Just before recess, we went over our spelling, reading, and math homework from the day before. After recess, we went to the Tech Center where Ms. Richard introduced the students to the computers and to the routines of coming to the Tech Center. Because of the H1N1 flu, she is asking students to bring in disinfectant baby wipes to clean the keyboards each week. Students are volunteering to bring these in, so be prepared for your child asking to buy a bunch of baby wipes for school. The students also worked on the Mavis Beacon typing program.

After lunch we measured the growth in our plants again.



We discussed the “Making Connections” strategy. This involves connecting something in the text to a personal experience. It is one of the easiest and most fun of the reading strategies. The students then practiced with, using their post-it notes, with this week’s Open Court Reading story, “Sarah, Plain and Tall.”

We were already running a little late at this point, and then we had an unexpected fire drill which devoured about 20 minutes. So we were forced to postpone the Science activity until tomorrow afternoon. I gave the students about 40 minutes to get a head start on their homework. They liked that, and I didn’t mind the peace and quiet, either.  

Homework:  Do the “Sarah, Plain and Tall” questions. (2) Do Developing Thinking skills. Students will need to review pages 80-88 in the purple Science Resources book for this. (3) Do the “Environments” crossword puzzle. Be sure to use the number of letter and the word bank to help with this. (4) Do “Subtraction,” Envision Math, pages 40-41. Again, since the students may already be reasonably strong with this skill only the odd problems are mandatory.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


We returned pretty refreshed from our three day weekend. A number of our students observed the Yom Kippur holy day, while others used the extra day to play with friends or go to someplace fun like Knott’s Berry Farm.

It was a quiet and productive day. We changed seats today so people could have an opportunity to work with some new people. We’ll do that every three weeks or so. We worked on our thinking maps, today doing the tree map. Students wrote a paragraph about their favorite people, places, or things. Those who finished this early had an opportunity to start on some of the language arts homework. We did math after recess, and our lesson today was adding with regrouping. It was old hat for the students, and they seem to have this skill well-mastered.

The only real new thing today was we had our first theater arts class. Our teacher for drama this year is Suzanne Nichols. As most of you know, John Pratt, who taught theater here for the last couple years, is now a full-time staff member at Third Street. Ms. Nichols had been a teacher at Normandie Avenue School. She gave our students a very structured and detailed introduction to the ideas of the “tools of an actor” and led them through some great pantomime exercises. They had a good time and learned a lot. We’ll been writing about this experience in a journal tomorrow morning.

Homework:  (1) Do the spelling jumble. (2) Do the Open Court Reading pages – word knowledge, vocabulary, and “The History You are Making”. (3) Do “Adding Whole Numbers,” Envision Math, pages 37-39. Students are encouraged to do the whole math assignment, but only the odd problems are required.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Cool and Quiet

A very quiet productive day. We did a few fun things, including a lesson on contour drawing, but mostly it was a day devoted to catching quiet learning. It was so hot again that everybody was grateful to be inside where the rackety air conditioner at least kept us cool.

Even I thought homework was a bit heavy last night, so I made a particular effort to lighten the load tonight.

Homework:  (1) Study for the spelling and reading tests. Just review – nothing to write here. (2) Finish the “Toto” study questions. The students had plenty of time to start on these during class time and most finished or almost finished them. (3) Do “Estimation,” Envision Math pages 32-33.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Going Mental

What a scorcher! Let’s hope we do not get too many days like this. The heat was oppressive for the students and the teacher alike. It was not a bad day, but by the end of the day the students were very restless and the teacher was too.

But going mental does not refer to anybody’s mental state. Rather, it refers to our math for today. It may be a hard assignment tonight. As we worked on it, it proved to be more complicated than I thought. Next year, I may approach this lesson a little differently.

The idea is to see if the students can do some adding and subtracting in their heads without paper and pencil. There are a number of techniques the book shows, but a couple of these frankly even confused me, at least when I tried to apply them.

So, do whatever works and try to do as much of it as possible without pencil and paper.

Homework:  (1) Do spelling sentences for words 11-20. (2) Do the Toto crossword puzzle. Be sure to use the word bank and to use the number of letters to help find the answer. (3) Do the “Tropical Rain Forest” study sheet. (4) Do Mental Math, Envision Math, pages 29-31.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Pictures in Your Brain

Today we worked on another very important reading skill – visualizing. Researchers tell us that one key difference between good readers and bad readers is the ability to form mental pictures of the words as they read. Good reads paint pictures in their brains; they make mental movies of the stories. Poor readers, even if they can read the words accurately and reasonably quickly, simply do not do this. However, the skill of visualizing can be both taught and practice. We did exactly that today.

We read a story called “Toto” today in the Open Court Reader. It’s a terrific story and just filled with great descriptive writing. I had the students copy words and phrases which seemed particularly evocative as I read the story. They put these words on post-it notes. At the end of the story, they transferred these to a piece of colored bond paper.


The students then put their textbooks away. Just using the post-it notes and their memories of the story, the students created a scene.  They used oil pastel for color to give a nice, deep tone. You can see how different their perceptions and artistic visions are, yet each one is a valid response to the words in the story.




Of course, we did a few other things, too. We read a chapter from the social studies text as well as correcting the history homework. We went out to PE today because tomorrow is supposed to be so insanely hot that we will be stuck in our room. (Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays are our regular PE days.) And, of course, we did math.

Homework:  Do spelling sentences  for words 1-10 only. Only use 1 word per sentences. (2) Do the Weather and Climate study sheets. (3) Do “Rounding,” Envision Math, pp 26-27.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Not a Moaning Monday

It was another happy and productive day in room 19.

We worked on vocabulary strategies in the morning. Before they arrive in kindergarten, children learn thousands of words simply intelligently guessing at them. Unfortunately, as they grow older, students learn to be afraid of making mistakes. So they start to simply skip the unfamiliar words instead of trying to figure them out. A few, of course, try to compulsively look up the words or ask an adult, but they soon find out that this is just too frustrating. So we try to help them relearn the skill of using the other words in a sentence along with their prior knowledge to make a good guess at the meaning of the word.

We talked about the easiest of the Thinking Maps, today, the Flow Map. This helps structure sequencing of events. The students were asked to imagine what their “perfect day” would be like and to write about it. They were allowed to be anywhere in the world and have as much money as they needed, but had to be realistic about what could actually be seen or done in 24 hours. I’m looking forward to reading the rough drafts!

In the afternoon we did more music. One of the techniques I use with the students involves elements of the Dalcroze Eurhythmics approach. In Eurhythmics, the students learn to use their bodies in order to express important musical concepts and skills. Today they imagined that their hands formed pendulums and they swung back and forth to the underlying beat of a simple tune played on a piano. This was fun as you can see.


We went out to PE in the afternoon and then did our usual math.  Mrs. Mark had a funeral to attend, so I watched her 23 students in addition to my 32. 55! Whew! As I remarked to my mother later in the day, it was like teaching Catholic school in the 1950’s.  But everything went fine.

Homework:  (1) Write the spelling words in alphabetical order on a separate sheet of paper. (2) Do the “Bodies of Water” study sheet. (3) Do “Rounding,” Envision Math, pages 24-25. Also do the activity on the back of the answer sheet.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Testing 1, 2, 3

Well, today wasn't quite as much fun as yesterday. But that did not make it any less important.

We had our reading and spelling tests today, and we took a test in math. Both of these will be on the gradebook soon. If you have not yet received your gradebook code, well, it's coming soon. It takes me a while to input all the information I received Tuesday.  Particularly because not all the adult handwriting is as good as it once was.... The test results were generally pretty good, though some students need to study the spelling list more regularly.

Homework:  The students had a chance to start on the work after they turned in their math tests, so many completed it all in class. (1) Do the "Deserts" study sheet. Be sure to use pages 80-84 in the Science book to help with this. (2) Do the two math computation worksheets.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Fun and … Learning

We had a pretty good time today! And yet, we still learned a lot of stuff….

We started quietly enough with some more cursive review. We did the usual introductory stuff, taking a little more time than usual to discuss Today in History because today is Citizenship Day, marking the adoption of the federal Constitution by all thirteen original states. We talked a bit about cause and effect, the reading skill highlighted for the first Open Court story, and we created a quick Multi-Flow Map to review the story. We also used pantomime to review our vocabulary.

We then moved on to art. Our lesson this week was on gesture drawing. We discussed a couple examples of this, and talked about the techniques artists use for gesture drawing. The students then split into small, self-selected group. In each group, one person posed while the other quickly sketched.


After they had sketched each others in a variety of different poses, they used crayon to color in the figures. They then went over this with a watercolor wash.


They had a good, fun, sometimes noisy time doing this. After recess, we did a gallery walk so they could exchange positive compliments on each others’ work using the language of the discipline of art. They also reflected on what their work and the activity in their Arts journal.

After lunch, we did Science. Our lesson today was building a terrarium. We split into teacher-selected groups, and passed out the necessary stuff. Something always goes wrong the first time you do a Science activity, and this time the plastic terrarium bases were stuck together. It seemed to take forever for me to pry them apart, but the students were patient and we managed to get all the stuff distributed. Students made a map of where in the terrarium they wanted to plant each kind of seed. They had barley, peas, corn, radish, and clover.


The day ended with cleaning up and rearranging the desks. We will be monitoring the growth in our terrariums over the next two weeks.

Homework:  (1) Complete the next three pages in the Open Court handout package – cause and effect, the crossword puzzle, and the study questions. (2) Do the Science handout questions. Be sure to use complete sentences. (3) Do “Test Prep,” Math, pp 18-19. Students are supposed to do these twelve multiple choice questions on the back of yesterday’s homework. (4) If time – and I make it clear that if they were going to miss any homework assignment it should be this one – try to spelling word search. 

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A Not-too-hard Day

First of all, let me thank all the parents who were able to come to last night’s meeting. Of our 31 families, we had representatives from 21. I know not everybody is able to get the time away from working to come, and I will send home some information with those students. A big collective thank you – I’ll send proper notes home soon – to the families who have already contributed to what I like to modestly call, “The Campaign for Room 19.” (Thank you to Yale University for the idea.)

The students were thrilled that all my preparation for the meeting had kept me away from the photocopier! I think they considered this a “not to hard” day. Still, we did lots of worthwhile things today, even if homework is quite light. (I told you it would even out!) We continued working on cursive letters and reviewing verbs. We read and discussed “Mrs. Frisby”, the first story in the Open Court reader. We used post-it notes to make our predictions as we read through the story, and then the students made a little T-chart of these before they went to recess.


After recess, we checked our math homework and we started, but did not finish, a chapter on the history textbook about water in California.

After lunch, we worked on the Double Bubble Map which is used for comparing and contrasting. The students started a short composition about “My Friend and Me” and some of them will be finishing this up for homework tonight.

We went out to PE where we did our rotations. I will be ordering the new supplies very shortly and we will be getting started on the EPEC fitness program. We came back from PE and did math.

Homework:  (1) Write sentences for the 20 spelling words. Two words may be combined in one sentence if it makes sense. (2) Do “Make a List,” Envision Math, pages 16-17.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

See You Later

Today, since I will be meeting with parents at 5:00 pm, I will keep the entry really, really short. Here’s what the students need to do tonight. They had time to start on each assignment during class.

Homework:  (1) Do the spelling jumble. (2) Do the environments circle map with the concepts and questions on the back. We did some of this together so no students should say, “I don’t get this.” (3) Do “Zeros,” Envision Math, pages 14-15.

Monday, September 14, 2009

“But it went by so fast!”

Ah, the wonders of the classroom routine. Once we establish the rhythm of our daily schedule, one activity follows another like … clockwork … a well-oiled machine – you can pick the metaphor. Today went just about perfectly, and so the time seemed to fly by. At the end of the day one of the girls remarked, “But it went by so fast!” That’s the way a class should be.

We started with some review of cursive letter formation and proper nouns. We shared our weekend activities. We went over Friday’s language arts homework in some detail. We discuss Bubble Maps and the students started on their second composition, “My Character.”

After recess we quickly corrected the math homework. We talked about latitude and longitude – there will be some homework on this tonight – and we read about the four natural regions of California.

After lunch, we had some music. We’re starting right from the beginning developing ideas of beat and meter. To help the students get the feel for this, I had them stand in a circle. They ran in place for 10 seconds and then felt for their heart beats. One student share his pulse rate, and we slowly clapped along with that. From this pulse, we established a basic common time (4/4) meter. On the down beat, the first beat of the measure, the students jumped to show that they felt the beat. We then passed around a hand drum and they each hit the beat on the downbeat.

They then wrote about this in their arts journals.

We went out to PE and did the usual warm ups and stations. I added a soccer activity today since several students mentioned playing soccer over the weekend. Again, the movement from one activity to another was flawless.

During math time we talked about comparing and ordering whole numbers up to the millions. They had little problem with this concept.

I look forward to seeing all parents tomorrow night at 5:00 pm. This is an important meeting, so please make every effort to be here.

Homework:  (1) Look at the spelling list. Determine which words are 1 syllable, 2 syllables, 3 syllables, and 4 syllable. Make  a small chart of each on a separate paper. (2) Do the “Using Latitude and Longitude” and “California’s Natural Regions” study sheets. (3) Finish “Comparing Whole Numbers,” Envision Math, pages 11-13. We started this in class.

A few students may also need to  finish the “My Character” rough draft.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Real First Day

By the third day of school we start to get into a routine. The novelty of the first day or two is over, and it is time to start the regular sequence of lessons which will define the rest of the year. This is the real start of school.

We began by tying up some loose ends from the previous days. The students did final drafts of two compositions. Several also had to finish the art from the previous day – that was the lesson, you recall, interrupted by the endless fire alarm problems. We did a little more front loading for the Risks and Consequences unit. I gave the students pictures of people involved in a variety of activities from auditioning for American Idol to parachuting. For each, they worked with a partner to determine the potential positive and negative consequences for the activity.

We read a chapter – a rather boring one, but containing essential information – from the California History textbook. This covered stuff like hemisphere and continents and areas of the United States.

After lunch, we did some PE. We are not quite ready to begin the EPEC program yet – I’ll talk more about that on Tuesday – so the students did their exercises and then they rotated between a number of PE activity stations. We corrected Thursdays math homework, and by that time it was time for them to get Friday’s homework and to leave. It felt a bit rushed at the end, and I did not have the time I would normally have to go over the assignments and give them a few minutes to start.

Homework:  (1) Do pages 1-6 from the Open Court Reading handouts. These include a Circle Map, Word Knowledge, Vocabulary from Context, and a worksheet on vocabulary skills. (2) Do “Millions,” Envision Math, pages 8-9. (3) Do the study sheet for “Where is California?”. Note that the page numbers have been provided to make rereading the text easier and more productive.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Second Day

Day two went well – except for the malfunctioning fire alarm during the last hour of the day. That’s probably all the students remember if you ask them, “What did you do in school today?”

But we were busy. We finished up a number of things from yesterday, including the portraits. Many of them came out quite well.




We began our study of Thinking Maps. We did the Circle Map which helps students brainstorm their ideas generally about a topic. The students made up a circle map about themselves and then wrote a paragraph. This is the first step in a project which ultimately results in the students writing a book about themselves and their lives. It’s a cool project.

We also started our discussion of “Risks and Consequences” our first Open Court Reading unit. Teachers begin each unit – or at least they’re supposed to begin each unit – with activities which help the students to think about the theme generally. This is called “frontloading” in school jargon. It is a particularly good thing to do with this unit because students have been trained to think that “risk” just means something you should not do. We had to discuss how many completely worthwhile, if not completely laudable activities, often involve some kind of risk. For example, we discussed the risks that the firefighters in the Station Fire took to help save lives, structures, and reduce the damage to the environment. Several students pointed out that even things like running a business has the risk of failure.

Students picked an activity and they did a kind of cost-benefit analysis of that activity or occupation. Of course, in room 19, we like to slip in a little art here, too. This was a quick “get your brain working” activity, so I did not have them revise endlessly for either neatness or language correctness. I just wanted them to think. Here is a typical example:


We also began our study of California by asking the students to list the things they already know about the history and geography of the Golden State. They will be finishing this for homework. We started our first unit in Health which looked at the idea that health is something much broader than just not being physically ill. We reviewed the thousands place in math and talked about the different forms of numbers like word form and expanded form.

So, all in all a good day. I am still getting used to how fast students will or will not finish class work to pace instruction appropriately. They are still learning classroom procedures. But I can tell that this is going to be a great class and we are going to have a wonderful year.

Homework:  (1) Do the California circle map and paragraphs handout. (2) Do “Thousands” Envision Math, pages 5-7. Use the special answer sheet paper.

Also, finish any class work as needed.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009



It is a great pleasure to welcome all the families to the 2009-2010 school year. I am looking forward to a fantastic year based on good communication and a solid home-school partnership. This blog is part of that ongoing communication. It is intended to be interactive, and your comments are welcomed.

Today was about getting to know each other and the procedures of the classroom. Students filled out interest inventory forms, and they took diagnostic tests in reading and math. They interviewed each other, and wrote one paragraph introduction. They also worked on making portraits. We worked with the teacher and students from room 17 on our Physical Education program procedures. It was a good, solid day of work, and I really enjoyed getting to know the students.

As I indicated in my letter home, we will be having a special parent meeting on Tuesday, September 15th at 5:00 pm. I would like to have at least one parent/guardian from each parent at this meeting. I think it will be very helpful as we plan our year and what we can accomplish working together.

Homework:  The parents have to do all the work tonight! Students are bringing home a variety of forms to be filled out and signed including the emergency card, the acceptable use policy, the library permission slip, and our own class letter. Real homework starts tomorrow.