Friday, October 30, 2009

‘Twas the Day before Halloween

One of the funniest descriptions I ever heard for teaching elementary school was “trying to keep 30 corks under water at the same time.” It usually does not feel like that in room 19, but by the afternoon of the day before Halloween, well, it seemed pretty accurate.

Despite this, we had a fairly productive and even pretty fun day. We started out with the spelling test. This was pretty good; the results are already on the gradebook. We went to the library. This was our second library visit for the week because Mrs. Koneff gave us a spot on Monday to make up for missing last Friday.

We work on some of our theater skills today. We did a few exercises to work on concentration such as “The Conductor” and “Statues”. Then we turned our attention to doing “Machine.” This is the theater game where students create an imaginary machine and become its parts. We were fortunate that the first grade classes were on a field trip which allowed us to use both room 5 as well as our room for practice here. Students were placed in groups of four, and they did reasonably to very well in their first efforts at “Machine”.


After recess, we corrected our math homework and I gave the students a chance to get an early start on their history homework. After lunch, we pulled out the unpitched percussion and once again worked on rhythmic activities. We did a few different things here. As a whole class we worked on Call and Response. We took this one step further and did a bit with Question and Answer. This is not quite the same thing as call and response because the “answer” is always somewhat different from the question rather than an exact echo. Finally, students picked a famous song or rhyme and they worked on it in their groups.


After a few minutes of this, we had to guess what the song or rhyme was. The students were remarkably good both at performing and guessing.


By this time, Halloween fever was starting. We went out to PE, but their hearts clearly were not in the usual activities. And we came back to the room after that and I tried to teach a bit of math. Fortunately, it was all review because the thoughts in their heads were more costumes than quotients.

Homework: (1) Do “The King’s Fountain” study questions. (2) Do the “Subject-Verb Agreement” worksheet. (3) Do the history review questions on page 115 of the California book. Students need only do questions 1-18. (4) Do “Multiplying,” Envision Math, pages 101-102.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

A Special Place

Today we concentrated on our writing.

We had a special visitor today from the fifth grade. Miss Limb, our fifth grade KDLP teacher, is working on her administrative credential. As part of her coursework, she has to videotape some classes and write about them. She asked me if I would be willing to help her out. I said “Yes”, of course. I offered the students a special incentive if they helped make it a perfect video for her, and they came through magnificently.

We concentrated on descriptive writing. I asked the students to each think of their favorite place, their special place. I played part of  Tobias Pickers’s “Old and Lost Rivers” while they let pictures of that special place and memories of it drift through their brains. We shared some of these with our partners.  I shared fantastic picture book called All the Places to Love by Patricia McLaughlin. We talked about the book and the characters and the special places for those characters. I then shared a composition I had written about my special place, my grandmother’s house in the Berkshire Mountains.

The students were then challenged to write their own compositions about their own special places. They did Thinking Maps before writing, and they finished rough drafts before recess. After recess, they worked again with a partner to revise and edit the composition, and then they worked on final drafts and a picture to go with that draft. A number of students will be completing this as part of their homework tonight, while others are completely done here. These will be typed and scanned and posted as part of their first ThinkQuest project.

Thursdays is our usual art day, and today we talked about both shape and rhythm in art. Students are always surprise to hear the word rhythm in relationship to art, but they quickly grasp the concept of creating unity by repeating shapes. This is a great example of this using a series of similar shapes.


The assignment in the art book asked them to particularly focus on creating flowing rhythm by using wavy lines and organic shapes. This was a particularly great example of that. 


I promised the students as little homework as possible today in thanks for their cooperation with Miss Limb’s project, and so we spent the last 30 minutes or so doing the math. So it should be a pretty free night tonight. Enjoy!

Homework:  (1) Study the spelling words. (2) Do “Using an Expanded Algorithm” and “Mixed Problem Solving”, Envision Math, pages  96-99.

Some students will be putting finishing touches on their final drafts and the pictures as well.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Beating our own Drums

Sorry for forgetting to post yesterday. I was installing Windows 7 on my laptop, and I was so engrossed in figuring it out that I just forgot about other stuff.

A nice, productive day – like usual. We started off the morning discussing complex sentences. The students needed a bit of help at first, but the quickly got the idea of identifying dependent and independent clauses in sentences and writing complex sentences of their own. We checked, corrected, and discussed the homework. We were a little short on time to start a substantive lesson at this point, so I gave them so time to get started on their reading and spelling homework.

We went to Tech Center after recess. The grand plan here was to spend time working on their homepages in ThingQuest, but there were so many connection problems that half the class ended up working on typing instead. Ms. Richard is working with the District here to see what we can do about internet connectivity in the computer lab.

After lunch we read most of a chapter of Island of the Blue Dolphins. We worked with rhythm instruments to start developing a composition for unpitched percussion based on the patterns we discovered in “Pease Porridge”. You can see the students having some fun with this below.


After music we went out to PE. We came back from the yard, and started the math work for the day.

Homework:  Students had substantial time to start on the spelling and the study sheet during class. (1) Do sentences for each of the spelling words. (2) Do the study sheet for “The Girl who Loved the Wind”. (3) Do the “Complex Sentences” worksheet. (4) Do the “Dialogue” worksheet. (5) Read the section on smoking in the Health book, and then answer questions 1-4 on page D21. (6)  Do “Using Estimation,” Envision Math, pages 94-95.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Small Group Work

Well, room 19 was hit by something today. I don't know if it was H1N1 or not, but we had 9 students out of 32 out sick. I missed the students who were gone, but only 23 students has its charms, too.

Despite the near-plague situation, we had a pretty fine day. We again had library on Monday this week because Mrs. Koneff went to a conference last Friday and she was able to give us a make-up slot. We corrected the reading test test and the math test. The latter is already one the gradebook, and the results were quite helpful to the students' averages. We went out the PE. It was a pretty usual Monday.

This is Red Ribbon Week, so we will be talking a lot about drug use and abuse this week. We started by discussing the legal stuff today. We read a chapter in the health book about prescription and over-the-counter drugs. The students started making a poster about proper use of legal drugs, and they will be working on this for the next day or two.

Homework: (1) Write spelling words in syllables. (2) Do "Word Knowledge" and "Vocabulary from Context". (3) Do "Multiply" pages 90-91 of Envision Math.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Back in the Saddle

Well, yesterday was pretty brutal, and I am glad I went home and went to bed and, well, stayed near the facility. Today the teacher was feeling a little weak and more than a little grumpy, but we still had a productive day.

We started out by reviewing the elements of plot and by discussing how stories have a predictable form: exposition, rising action, climax, and falling action. I admitted that “The King’s Fountain” is a bit lame as a story, but that it was great for identifying this pattern. Sure enough, the students had little difficulty in figuring out the problem – the king plans to build a fountain which will deprive the city of all its water – and the two major characters. They identified the steps in the rising action where the problem is not solved. They were quick to point out the climax where the poor man stands up to the king and saves the city. Identifying the falling action was a bit harder, but the denouement is always the dullest part of any story.

We then took these insights and created a Flow Map. You can see what a great job some students did on this.

After recess we checked and corrected our math homework. We also read about the Mojave Indians and how the native peoples of the California desert used agriculture to meet their needs.

After recess, we read a chapter – well, most of a chapter – of Island of the Blue Dolphins. The students practiced and presented their body percussion pieces.


Thursdays are our normal art day. We are starting our second unit – Shape. Today I talked briefly about geometric versus organic shapes. We’re practicing the organic shapes first. The students were asked to create an underwater scene. They had to sketch this out in pencil and then use oil pastel and water color to complete the scene. Many students will be finishing this tomorrow, but some of those that have been finished already are fantastic!


Homework: (1) Do the second group of spelling words in sentences. The words are fraction, location, notion, nutrition, objection, population, production, recollection, and subtraction. (2) Do “Test Prep,” Envision Math, pages 84-85. Since there are only fourteen multiple choice problems here, I am not supplying any special paper. (3) Do the “Multiplication Practice” worksheet. (4) Do the “Desert” study sheet and the other skill sheets that go with this. These are “Activities in the Central Valley and the Mountains,” “How to Use Tables,” and “Trade Among Native Californians.”

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Sick, Ick!

The teacher went home sick today. We won't give too many unpleasant details here, but I think it was food poisoning. The big thing was writing a rough draft of a longer story. This had to have some kind of problem and solution, setting and characters, and some dialogue. It is three pages, but only on the front side and skipping lines. So it's really not that long at all, is it?

Homework: Unfinished work as indicated by the substitute.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Essaying the Essay

Most of us who grew up a few years ago remember one of the rites of passage in high school as learning to write a five paragraph essay. Well, school has become tougher and students are more or less expected to be able to do this in fourth grade now! But the great surprise, to me at least, is that with a little help they can do it .

We used our experience of going to the Stunt Ranch to help us learn this skill. We started out with the body of the essay. This makes sense after you’ve written a few of these, but to the students the idea that they would be writing paragraph 1 after they had already written paragraphs 2 and 3 seemed just plain wrong!

The students did a pretty good job with the introductory paragraph. I explained to them the difference between and topic and a thesis sentence, and they nodded as if it sort of made sense to them. I am sure we will talk about this many, many times again in the coming months. The concluding paragraph seemed a little easier and more straightforward to them.

Other than that, we put together folders for tomorrow morning, read a chapter of Island of the Blue Dolphins, and went to the library. I allowed the students to start on the homework as soon as they finished the final paragraph, and most of these young scholars had much of their homework done by the time they left the room.

Again, please try to make the Back to School Breakfast and stop by our classroom tomorrow. There will be a very, very short presentation and an opportunity to talk about your child’s progress.

Homework:  (1) Do pages 76-77 in the math book. The handout has the wrong page numbers here, but we talked about this in class. (2) Do the “The Coast” study sheet. Students will need their history books here.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Stunt Ranch Trip

Today was our field trip to the UCLA Stunt Ranch in the Santa Monica Mountains. It went smashingly well – except for terrible traffic – and our students learned a lot about Southern California environments and the Chumash people.

After a fairly long bus ride to Calabasas, the Cold Creek docents met us at the side of the road. We were divided into five groups with about 10 or so to a group. Right away the guides began alerting the students to the animals and plants around them. Here one of the guides is explaining to the students how to spot a wood rat nest.


As we hike the mile or so to the Stunt Ranch preserve, the students learned about the five major environments of Southern California. They saw and learned first about the chaparral. They next learned about the coastal sage plant community. The guides took special pains to point out the yuccas here because the Chumash used them for making rope and clothing. Here the guide is showing a yucca plant which recently finished flowering.


Along the way, the students saw animal tracks, which they found fascinating, and animal scat, which they found disgusting. The guides stressed the interrelationship of everything in the ecosystem. Here the guides is explaining how the FBI – that’s “Fungus, Bacteria, and Insects” in naturalist talk – enrich the soul by breaking down dead plant material.


One of the environments they saw along the way was the riparian plant community. The guides talked about willows and how the Chumash used them for housing. But the plant in this community that the students found most interesting was poison oak. The guides told them how to spot poison oak and what to do if they accidentally touched some.


After about 45 minutes of walking, we finally arrived at the Stunt Ranch property. This has that name not because of any connection to movie production but because that was the name of the family who first established a homestead in this part of what is now Calabasas. This property, now owned by UCLA, serves as a center for the study and interpretation of Chumash culture. The students rotated through several different centers where they learned about the Chumash and how they live. At one of the centers, shown below, the learned how to grind acorns and make them into mush.


At another station, the students made simple sand paintings using Chumash symbols.


There were other stations where the students learned Chumash games and played Chumash musical instruments. There was a small shed there where there were stuffed – as in taxidermy, not FAO Schwartz – animals from the local mountains such as bobcat. You can imagine how much the students liked that!

We ate lunch and hiked back. Our guides were so chatty that we were about 20 minutes late when we got to the bus. Traffic was also just horrendous on the Ventura Freeway, so we did not get back until about 2:50!

Homework:  Students lucked out because the bus was so late! Have a great weekend!

Be sure to come to the Back to School Breakfast Activity on Tuesday, October 20th. Among other things we will be signing up for conferences in December.

Thursday, October 15, 2009


We spent a lot of today working on the final drafts of our Thinking Map stories. Several students finished and bound them together as books, and the finished books will be part of our update at the School Breakfast on Tuesday. Even though we have already had our own Back-to-School Evening, please try to attend this event. You will get a more complete update on how your child is doing and you will be able to sign up for December conferences.

The big event today was the Shake Drill in the afternoon. This was a statewide simulation. It went pretty smoothly at Third Street though some of the students complained about how sunny and hot it was. Of course, they were not entirely happy about the rain yesterday. Some people are hard to please....

Tomorrow is our field trip. Warm weather is now predicted, so please pack a hat and some water for your child. We will be doing some walking through the chaparral, so long pants are probably better than short. Please make sure that the lunch is packed in a paper or plastic bag that can be easily carried. 

Homework:  Students lucked out today. My printer ran out of toner and I had no easy way to print out the math or other assignments. So, I told them if they were good I would not get too creative about networking my computer to another printer today. And, no surprise, they were great! Enjoy the evening.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Rainy Days get Me Down

Frankly, I don’t know how teachers do it in Seattle or Portland or one of those other rainy places. By the end of the day – a pretty productive one – I felt as charming as an old Rottweiler.

But, as I indicated, we did a lot. We discussed and practiced inflectional verb endings. We checked, corrected, and discussed homework. We finished reading “Two Tickets to Freedom.” We started a new composition based on the Bridge Map. The Bridge Map helps students to understand analogies, and our analogy was “______ takes care of me the way I take care of ______.”

We were very disappointed that Ms. Richard was unexpectedly absent and Tech Center was cancelled. We used the time to continue working on final drafts of our compositions. After lunch, we read another chapter of Island of the Blue Dolphins and the last few students did their “Marco Polo” body percussion routines. We did an art project where the students used contour lines to create portraits. I was amazed at how much better these portraits were than the ones we did on the first day. Our students have made strides as young artists!





Homework:  Light tonight because I had to leave early and I had to cancel homework club. (1) Study spelling. (2) Do the “Two Tickets” study questions. (3) Do “Division” Math pages 74-75.   

Also, for those who have no yet turned in the permission slip and the five dollars for Friday’s field trip, it is imperative that I get that as soon as possible.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Some Rain Must Fall

Into each life some rain must fall. As a teacher, of course, I would prefer this only occur between 2:30 pm and 8:00 am….

Despite rainy day schedule, it all went quite well today in room 19. We went over homework and we started on a new Open Court Reading story. We read a chapter from the Social Studies text on the migration of the first Native Californians over the Bering Sea land bridge. This helped us get ready for Friday’s field trip. We watched part of a cute movie during lunch time. We did a pretty easy lesson in Math about the basic concepts of division.

They had lots and lots of time to get started on the homework. There should be few complaints tonight.

Homework:  (1) Write the spelling words in syllables. (2) Do the Two Tickets vocabulary crossword. (3) Do the history study sheet. (4) Do “Division,” Envision Math, pages 70-73.

Monday, October 12, 2009

It is Written

Today was mostly about getting caught up on our compositions. We have been working our way through the Thinking Maps and doing compositions for each one.

Today I gave them a assignment to write about “My Goal in Life” and gave them a sample. They worked with the Multi-Flow Map here: 

Thinking Map006

While they wrote the rough drafts on this one – I made them  write two full paragraphs on this topic – I held individual writing conferences to go over some of the earlier rough drafts. The students worked hard on the final drafts from the previous compositions as soon as they finished with this new rough draft. I look forward to reading them over the next day or two.

Of course, we did other things, too. We checked homework from Friday and we did math. We went out to PE and we read Island of the Blue Dolphins. And we had a little time to get started on homework before going home.

Homework:  (1) Do the spelling jumble. Note that all the words this week have the –tion suffix. (2) Do “Amazon Rain Forest” study sheet. Students need to take home the purple Science Resources book. (3) Do “Word Knowledge” and “Vocabulary from Context” for the next Open Court Reading Story. Note that students will need a dictionary for one part of this. (4) Do “Look for a Pattern,” Envision Math pages 68-69. (5) Do the Multiplication Practice worksheet.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Still Life (with Children)

It was another great day in room 19.

We began this morning with some review of elements of main idea and detail and long vowel spelling patterns. I had the students put together their math work for unit two and we collected it for binding and grading. We then checked, corrected, and discussed our homework. They’re doing a fantastic job about finishing these assignments!

After recess, we watched a really hokey (but informative) Science video about pollination. We started to read a lengthy selection from the FOSS Science about about traveling through the Amazon rain forest. And we did a few more of our “Marco Polo” routines before going to lunch.

After lunch, we first read Island of the Blue Dolphins – just a short chapter today. Then we had Art.

In Art, we worked on still life. I prepared some cuttings from our class garden.


The students attempted some blind contour drawings of this to sharpen their powers of observation. They then did the actual still life, first drawing in pencil, then coloring the lines with a Sharpie, and finally adding watercolor. The results were really, really nice as you can see.

Still Life005

Still Life004

Still Life003   As I cleaned up, I gave the students a chance to start on homework.

Homework:  (1) Study the spelling words. The wordsearch is recommended but is completely optional. (2) Do the “Jemison Vocabulary” crossword. The backside of this is optional – I had trouble figuring out a couple of the answers. (3) Do “Multiplication,” Envision Math, pages 62-63 and the Make Your Garden Grow challenge page on the back.  (4) Do the History review pages. This is direct preparation for the test – I took some of the questions almost word for word from the Chapter One Test so they should do quite well on it tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Quiet and Productive

It was a very quiet, productive day in room 19, our hometown….

We finished reading the “Mae Jemison” story today. We went to Tech Center. We read another chapter in Island of the Blue Dolphins. We went out to PE. Nothing very amazing, but the deepest learning often takes place in this routine days.

Homework:  (1) Do the spelling jumble. (2) Make a T-chart of the questions the students wrote from the “Jemison” story. (3) Write a long paragraph – 7 to 8 sentences – summary of “Jemison.” (4) Do “Patterns for Facts,” Envision Math, pages 60-61.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009


This was a pretty routine Tuesday.  We began with working on the Word Knowledge and Vocabulary for our next story, “Mae Jemison: Space Scientist.” Students do not really like spending time talking about prefixes, suffixes, and root words, but they are so important for developing vocabularies I persevere no matter how bored they get. I also based our spelling list on this so we can come back and continue discussing it through the week.

We corrected our math test, and the results will be on the gradebook soon. Many of the scores were good, but a few students were disappointed by the results. We' will be continuing to review the areas I identify as the weakest. We talked about the Brace Map after this. The Brace Map is used to discuss whole and parts. Here is an example of a Brace Map swiped from the ever-helpful Google Images.


The students are suppose to create a paragraph and write a paragraph or two on the topic “My Best Outfit.” I usually find that a lot of boys in particular hate this idea so I let them substitute “My Favorite Meal” as an alternative. They will be finishing this for homework tonight.

After lunch we read the first chapter of Island of the Blue Dolphins. We’ll be reading this as a literature connection to our study of California native peoples. We discussed half, quarter, and eighth notes in Music, and students started to perform their “Marco Polo” body percussion. We’re starting the Multiplication Unit in math, so we briefly reviewed some key vocabulary like factor, product, and array.

Homework:  (1) Write the spelling words in syllables. For example, antibiotics would be an-ti-bi-ot-ics. This is designed to help the students realize that long, complex words are really generally just a sequence of pretty easy syllables. (2) Do the Brace Map and the rough draft as described above. Be sure to skip lines on the rough draft. (3) Do “Meanings of Multiplication,” Envision Math pages 57-59.

Monday, October 05, 2009


Today some of our students took the California English Language Development Test, known by teachers without any affection as “the CELDT.” It’s one of those things which sounded like a good idea when somebody proposed it in Sacramento, but it does not give teachers much useful information and I doubt it really helps the district much, either. Still, as a teacher, you often just need to do what you’re told to do….

It took most of the morning. The other students were given some grammar work on main and helping verbs and made an artsy flow map from one of the stories we have read so far in Open Court. I worked individually with students to administer the speaking and listening sections of the test. I bribed the class with the promise of no homework if they could be quiet so we could get it all finished. They came through, and today is a day without any homework. Just don’t get used to it….

We did a couple other things. The most fun of these was a little more work with our isopods and beetles. We constructed little cabanas over one end of the runways to see if the creatures had a preference for light or dark environments. I talked a little about isolating factors in a scientific experiment – we’ll come back to that theme a lot in this year.

We also took a math test, but it’s not corrected yet. We’ll do that tomorrow and get the grades up soon after that.

Homework:  Enjoy the rare free day! And thanks to all the students for being so cooperative that the CELDT is finished and turned in. Yes!!!!

Friday, October 02, 2009

Wet or Dry?

Fridays in school have always seemed like a good time to sum up and to assess, and that tends to be our pattern in room 19. We had our spelling and our reading tests today – scores for both are already posted on the class gradebook – and we are coming to the end of our second topic in math. We spent a time getting ready for the tests by reviewing homework and by doing a little bit of other preparatory activities. The students overall did quite well. I am so proud that their work habits are becoming strong so fast! This will be a great group of young scholars.

We did a couple admittedly more fun things. We went to the library where Mrs. Koneff gave them an introduction to the Dewey Decimal System. This lesson always makes me misty-eyed because Phyllis Lanni, our late librarian, always had such a way of teaching about the “CALL NUMBER.” She said is so loudly and it always made the students laugh and remember it. I think Mrs. Koneff is fabulous, but Mrs. Lanni was such a character and we all miss her so much.

We did more with our bugs today. We experimented with their preferences for wet or dry environments. The students made runways yesterday, as you recall, and today they placed moist and wet soil in each one. They released the isopods and the darkling beetles into each and then they observed which environment they seemed to prefer. It was, as you can see, a pretty engrossing activity. And yes, there is  a little pun in the choice of that word….


Homework:  (1) Do the study questions over “Isopods and Beetles.” Students will need to take home both the study sheet and their purple Science Resources book. (2) Do “Draw a Picture,” pages 44-46, and “Test Prep,” pages 48-49, both in the Envision Math book.

Students had a chance to start on the math while they were waiting for their bugs to decide which environment they liked best, and most made great progress here. So the amount to go home should not be too much this weekend.

Thursday, October 01, 2009


Another fantastic day in room 19. We started in Independent Work Time doing some review of regular and irregular verbs. The students also took their post-it notes from the “Sarah, Plain and Tall” story and created a T-chart from them. These notes indicated the personal connections the students made while reading the story and the specific points in the text which prompted those thoughts and memories.

We did art early in the day to avoid the heat. I split the students into two group. While one group played various recess games, the other group walked around and tried to sketch them playing. The groups then switched and the players became the artists. When the students returned to the room, they took these sketches and turned them into line drawings using markers. Some were quite good!



After lunch, we   practiced our “Marco Polo” body percussion routines. I’ll be putting a couple of them on the blog as video next week. Then, it was bug time! Our second investigation in the FOSS program deals with isopods and darkling beetles. Today, the students started the investigation first by looking at the bugs. This created, as you can imagine, a certain amount of squealing “Ooh, I don’t want to touch it. You touch it.” But they were really interested.


After examining the isopods and the beetles by eye and with a hand lens, the students made runways for these animals. They will be doing a variety of experiments to see how these little animals respond to changes in their environment. Making the runways required the the groups follow a sequential set of directions, but I am pleased to say that all of them succeeded.


Homework:  (1) Do the “Sarah Plain and Tall” crossword and the “Silly Sentences” on the back. (2) Do the “Natural Resources” study sheet. Students will need to bring home their California book for this. (3) Do “Subtracting Across Zeros,” Envision Math, pages 42-43 and the “Transportation Solutions” on the back of the answer sheet. (4) Study for the spelling test. A word search has been provided if this will help, but it is optional. The best help is for someone to quiz students on the words. All the words are in the box at the bottom of the word search.