Wednesday, February 24, 2010


Today was a really splendid little day. It was pleasant and productive – everything you could want a day of fourth grade to be.

We started out with some vocabulary work during Independent Work Time. I had the students use dictionaries here today to work on this critical skill. I then presented the students with a rubric to help them evaluate the rough drafts of their writing. This is an approach to teaching writing through the “Six Traits” began in the Pacific Northwest and is spreading through the country. Several student volunteered to read their stories to the class and then their peers explained which score, a 1, a 3, or a 5, they would give them based on the rubric. This made the feedback surprisingly concrete and the students were quite fair to each other. I then paired the students up and each person listened to his or her partner’s story and offered a score and a critique based on the rubric. We concluded our morning by starting on our latest Open Court story, “The New Doctor.” We’ll finish this tomorrow.

Like we usually do on Wednesdays, we went to Tech Center. The students had written stories on Monday about their clay figures, and they typed them up on Microsoft Word. Ms. Richard ably helped them to understand some aspect of that program like the Page Setup dialogue box and the Formatting Palette.

After lunch we changed seats. The students had been asking for this for a while, and it always gives me an excuse to make them clean out their desks! We then continued with the PBS Gold Rush film. Although written more for adults than children, the film provides a wonderful mix of primary source materials such as photographs and dramatic reenactments (such as Sam Brannan walking down the streets of San Francisco crying, “Gold! Gold from the American River!”) which allows the students to really connect to the period.

We practiced more Charlie Brown. We will be having auditions here next week, and will be starting to work extremely intensively after this. I will have a parent meeting next week to line up helpers for this fun project.

We finished up with Math. We started on subtracting fractions with unlike denominators. The students are starting to really get the hang of this.

Homework:  (1) Revise the story. Students do not need to rewrite their rough drafts but should mark them up extensively with insertions and deletions. They can creatively cut and paste with scissors and tape to rearrange elements or add entire sections. This will be collected tomorrow. (2) Do “Subtracting Fractions with Unlike Denominators,” envision Math, pages 258-259.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Going Native

We had a day where more than minds were growing in room 19. Today we planted our California Native Plant Demonstration Garden.

A couple weeks ago, our existing sword ferns and canna lilies were transplanted to new homes. Yesterday, after school, several volunteers helped amend the soil by adding wonderfully smelling organic matter. They had a good time with this!


Today, under the leadership of the ever-amazing Alysoun Higgins, the students worked in groups of four to plant the new plants.


They dug holes and planted the plants carefully.


They created watering berms around the new plants to help them hold in the extra moisture they will need until they are fully established.



Our native plant garden will help the students to understand the marvelous natural flora of our state. Native plants support native wildlife; they consume far less water; they have minimal need for chemical fertilizers or pesticides.

It is our hope that this garden will become an inspiration to the rest of the school, and this will be the beginning of remaking the Third Street School grounds into a predominately-native landscape.

A big, big thank you to Alysoun Higgins and Laura Salwet for planning the garden and selecting the plants. A huge thank you to our wonderful Third Street PTA which funded this learning experience.

Homework: (1) Review the spelling words. (2) Do “Adding and Subtracting Fractions with Like Denominators,” envision Math, pages 253-255.

Students will also be working on the rough draft of a story. This is not due until Monday, so I will provide more details and explanation on Friday’s blog post.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Very, Very Calm and Quiet (and that’s OK)

We had a very quiet day today. We had both a history and a math test. The results of the history test will be emailed to you some time today; the math test will be graded and recorded tomorrow. We also went to Tech Center where the students did work on both their PowerPoint business plans and worked on their typing skills.

Homework:  (1) Do spelling words 11-20. Like yesterday, find both a definition and write an original sentence.  (2)  Do “Bridge Dancers” Word Knowledge and Vocabulary. (3)  Do the medical terms crossword puzzle. The wordsearch on the opposite side is optional. (4) Do “Equivalent Fraction” and “Lowest Form” worksheets.

The students will also be taking home their History tests to be signed and returned.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


Welcome back! I hope everyone had a wonderful three day weekend and has been enjoying this fabulous weather. What a change from that dreary – if necessary – rain!

Today being Mardi Gras, I asked the students to journal about what they would do if they could to be wild and crazy, without, of course, violating any laws. Some of the responses were quite amusing! We then went on to correct and discuss our homework.

We had a musical day. First, we went to Mr. Lawton. He had the students working on a really nifty version of the ballad “Streets of Laredo” as a way to introduce the concept of ostinato, a repeated rhythmic pattern. He then went on to have discuss the idea of writing pentatonic melodies. The students will be doing this with the lines they used on the music staff paper and in their art last week.

We had only a short recess, alas. But after recess we went to the auditorium where we had the pleasure of listening to the students from the Colburn School of Music. Probably the highlight of this concert was the performance of Pablo de Sarasate’s Carmen Fantasy by this amazingly talented 13 year old violinist.



The orchestra also performed excerpts from Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony and Mozart’s overture to La Nozze di Figaro. We also had a fun little piece for tuba and orchestra, though the students had trouble with the low notes of the tuba because they sounded like, well, you know what. Fourth grade has always been thus….

We finished the day doing “recess buddies” with our kindergarten friends. That sort of made up, I hope, for the minimal recess.

Homework:  (1) Spelling this week features common medical terms. Students need to know both how to spell the word and what it means. Find and copy the definition of the word from a dictionary. Please include the name of the dictionary used. Write an original sentence for each word. For tonight, do spelling words 1-10 only.  (2) Do the “Author's Purpose” and “Drawing Conclusions” worksheets. These are quite easy.  (3) Do “Problem Solving, “ envision Math pages 243-244, and “Test Prep,” pages 246-247.  Review fractions generally. There will be a test on chapter 9 tomorrow. (4) Do the “Equivalent Fractions” and “Fractions in Lowest Form” worksheets.

Friday, February 12, 2010


OKAY! We started out this morning on a really fine note by learning that so far … we’re number one in the coin drive! We were on our way to the library when he heard this, and everybody became so loud and excited Ms. Caruso had to come out and scold us! Sorry, room 17! We need to keep up the good work, however. Keep those coins and bills coming in. Remember, it all goes for a great cause.

We had lots of special things today. Even the ordinary things, like library, we did at slightly different times which made them seem a little special. The California Dance Institute (CDI) is really making our Fridays special. The students are really enjoying this program a lot!

Our CDI teachers and Sam, the accompanist, are forcing the students to really listen to rhythm and to understand meter and to use their bodies to both develop these concepts and show their mastery. That is what I see going on as a teacher; the students are only aware that they are having a fantastic time. A big, big thank you to our parents who helped us raise the money to make this happen.

We also did Physical Education at a slightly different time – 11:00 am. This was because Angel, the campus aide hired by Friends of Third, was there to help us with PE. Angel was really impressed by our system of rotating students through a variety of different physical education activities, and was really happy to a member of a the dynamic team that includes Mr. Pratt and Ms. Caruso. This meant we had a second lunch today. That too, was a little different and … special.

We watched the last part of Ramona. The story finally grabbed the students at the end. There were gasps when Allesandro was shot by the evil American settler, and sighs when Felipe rode up at the end to save Ramona and her baby. Our course, the real reason for watching the movie – it’s depiction of life on a California rancho in the mid-nineteenth century – worked even on the less sentimental members of the class.

We finished the day by working on comparing fractions. The students worked with partners using fraction tiles on this. While they were doing this independently, I had each Science group come up to add new organisms to their aquariums. They all got to add a snail as shown below.


We also added Duckweed and tiny crustaceans known as Gemarus. 


Students had about an hour to start on their homework assignments at the end of the day, and many are not that long. 

Homework:  (1) Do the “Using Reading Strategies” paper. This is the one where they attach the post-it notes which they used while reading the story. (2) Do the study questions for “Sewed Up his Heart”. (3) Do “Comparing Fractions,” envision Math, pages 241-241. (4) Do the equivalent fractions and multiplication practice worksheets. (5) Do review questions 10-14 on pages 225 of the California book. The students do not need to copy the questions, but should answer them in complete sentences. (6) Do the “Music Terms” sheet for Mr. Lawton.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Lines and Shapes

Sorry for a couple days with no updates on our class or the homework. Earlier this week as I was walking my dogs we were attacked by a neighbor’s dog. My dogs were unscathed, but the stray took a nice bite at my left hand. It has been throbbing for the last couple days and typing has been particularly painful. It also left me feeling rather grouchy. However, the hand looks and feels a bit better now.

We had a productive day, as usual, even if I was not Mr. Charming. Our big project for the day involved the story “Sewed Up His Heart” from the Open Court reader. This is the story of Dr. Daniel Hale Williams, the pioneering African-American surgeon who did the first heart surgery in the world. The title came from a newspaper article written about Dr. Dan, as the selection calls him, and it inspired us to write our own newspaper articles to work on the summarizing strategy.

First, I went over the format and parts of a newspaper and a newspaper story with the students.

They then met in small read-around groups and revised the newspaper-style summaries they had written the night before as part of their homework. The final drafts were to create the front page of the newspaper with the story about Dr. Dan on it. The results were quite varied, and most were extremely good.

 Sewed UP003

Sewed UP002

In the afternoon, we worked on the art and music project for Mr. Lawton. The students here first used the piece of music paper and made a wavy line on it. They then made exactly the same line on a piece of art paper. Once they had that line, they incorporated it into a picture. I was delighted by the variety of ways they did this. Here are only a couple of the many great pieces.



We also did a gallery walk and shared compliments for the fine and creative work.

We skipped math today in the interests of time, and also because I had somehow managed to do the pages out of order. I think I’ve fixed my mistake.

Homework:  Nothing today except to finish any unfinished work.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Digging Out

It was a pretty great day here in room 19. We started off with a journal assignment about where and when you would go if there were such things as time machines. We had some really creative and interesting answers to that question.

After that, the students started work on advertisements for prescription drugs. As you recall, our new unit in Open Court Reading is called “Mystery to Medicine” and it explores the nature of medicine and helps students to think about careers in the health sciences field. So each year I always talk about drug advertisements – it’s sad how familiar students are with this genre – and I invite them to create their own medicine and market it. I’ll show some examples of their work tomorrow, but I promise you there will be some quite creative and sometimes funny stuff.

Today we started work on our new, native-plant garden, thanks to the hard work of Alysoun Higgins. She led a small army of student volunteers who dug up some of the old plants. They had a great time!




We also started watching the 1936 version of Ramona,  the Helen Hunt Jackson story which did so much to romanticize the Spanish and Mexican colonial periods in California history. The plot is pretty corny, but the film gives a remarkably good view of what it was like to live on a rancho in Southern California in that era. We will be watching the movie in 20-25 minute increments during the week, and I have multiple-choice questions for the students to answer as they watch the movie. This keeps them really focused on the story.

ramona1936 After lunch, we did physical education. We started a new color grouping system to integrate the students from the three classes, and it was overall quite successful. After PE, we took a look at equivalent fractions in math.

Homework:  (1) Do the apostrophes worksheet. (2) Do the Word Knowledge and Vocabulary from Context for the “Sewed Up his Heart” story. (3) Do the division worksheet. (4) Do the Factors and Algebra worksheets. (5) Do “Equivalent Fractions,” envision Math pages 231-232.

Some students will also need to finish their prescription drug advertisement.

Friday, February 05, 2010


Despite the rain, we had a most productive day - as usual. After our journal time, we went to the library where Mrs. Koneff discussed the upcoming author's visit by Hanoch Piven. Mr. Piven is known for his art work which uses objects to make pictures of people. Mrs. Koneff showed the students examples of Mr. Piven's work, and then showed them a self-portrait in the same style.


The students will be invited to apply for the opportunity to take part in a workshop with Mr. Piven next month.

After library, we went over to the auditorium for our first CDI session. Our leaders, Rebecca Wink and Liz Jemielita led the students through some warmups and then showed them a film about the origins of National Dance Institute. CDI, the California Dance Institute, is a part of this program.

Having a live musician, instead of using taped music, is a hallmark of the CDI program. Our pianist this year, Sam, is also a quite capable drummer, too. What a treat to have the students work with a professional musician!

CDI is a very high energy dance class. The students generally work in unison groups on the same moves at the same time. This lessens the possibility for embarrassment. As you can see, it's fun!

That was definitely the high point of the day. The rest of the day was far more routine. We checked and discussed homework. We took our spelling test. We studied fractions a little more.

By one thirty, after no recess or lunch, I was pretty tired of hearing their voices, so I passed out homework early and ran a study hall. As a result, many of the students may be finished with more than one of the assignments below.

Homework: (1) Do the Flow Map of "Great Moments in Medicine". Be sure to put events in order and do a good picture of each event in colored pencil. (2) Do the review questions on page 225 of the California history book. Students only need to do numbers 1-9 but they should copy the questions. (3) Do "Fractions and Division," envision Math pages 228-229. (4) Do the "Triple Play" multiplication practice sheet.

Thursday, February 04, 2010


Sorry for a couple of days without entries. As some of you know, the last 48 hours have been pretty tumultuous for me. Things are much calmer now, and I thank you for your many expressions of support.

We had a good day, as usual, today in in room 19. We started, again as usual, with journaling. The students were asked to tell about an embarrassing experience, either real or fictional. The entries were great, but the real-life ones were particularly well-written.

We then had our elections for class representatives. The students seeking office made speeches, and then all the students voted. I am please to announces that our class representatives will be Katie Higgins and Luca Arroyo, and that Caleb Gerber will serve as the alternate. Congratulations!

We finished reading the history of medicine selection in the Open Court book. I tried to supplement the dryness of the reading with a little of the blood and guts background that I know that fourth grade students love. We started on a flow map here, and we will be working some more on that tomorrow.

Yesterday we took the LAUSD Quarter 2 test. I was not happy that this test covered things which the students had not yet had a chance to study, so I had them write their answers also on a sheet of lined paper. We graded that test today, and all the items I deemed unfair became extra-credit. I’ve posted the results to the gradebook, and they were generally quite good. 

After lunch we practiced Charlie Brown a little more. We discussed fractions of a whole and fractions of a set. This is review, and none of the students seemed to have the slightest problem with these concepts. We then went on to Art. Today we were looking at the idea of monochromatic color schemes. We were again using tempera, and again we had some great pictures.




Homework:   (1) Please review the spelling words. (2) Do the “Using Reading Strategies” sheet – this is the one where students paste in their post-it notes. (3) Do the study guide for the Open Court story. There are a lot of questions here, but they are sequential and there are page numbers to guide the re-reading of the story. (4) Do “Regions and Sets,” envision Math pages 225-226. Not that page 227 is NOT assigned. (5) Do the “Factor Fiends” and “Subtraction Masters” worksheet.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Quick Post

Just a quick post today – I’m working hard to get through a backlog of papers.

Homework:  (1) Do the circle map and the concept and question page. Pick one of these concepts or questions and put it on the word card. (2) Do sentences for words 1-10 only. (3) Do the “Mexican-American War” study sheet. (4) Do “Generalizations,” pages 214-215 in the math book, and then do the multiple-choice review on pages 216-217. (5) Do the division worksheet.