Friday, December 16, 2011

Getting Down to Business

This time of year always seems to be a frenzy of activities from the Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales day in November all the way through New Years celebrations.  Everywhere I go I see signs and flyers advertising a sale with the "perfect gift" for "that special someone."  This time of year also means a busy and somewhat chaotic environment in our fourth grade classroom.  The month of December has been dedicated to a business unit for fourth graders.  The project is an aggregate of various content area pieces including the writing of a formal persuasive business letter, creating a marketing plan, developing a budget, and collaborating with business partners.  There is plenty of study that precedes the creation of a business plan; some lessons include reading and discussion about teamwork, entrepreneurship, economics, marketing, financial decision-making, and persuasive writing.

All of this work is direct preparation for selling products in stores during three days of sales in the "4th Grade Mall."  This project has been going on in our school for many years and children look forward to the opportunity to be an entrepreneur.  It's also a great way to keep students engaged, motivated, and working together in the weeks and days leading up to a long winter break.  Check out the commercials some students made to advertise their business.

Business owners in all fourth grade classes get a chance to see how well they designed and marketed their products when first, second and third grade students shop at their stores.  For three days our classroom (and the entire fourth grade pod) is transformed in one shopping mecca.  It's a great experience for producers and consumers.  Some kids even find just the right knick-knacks to give their loved ones!  

Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Reformation of Research

It was just about six weeks ago that the entire fourth grade in my school embarked on their first major research project of the school year.  The entire learning structure was designed to offer specific learning opportunities for children throughout the project.  Planning and preparation was time consuming at the start, there was constant guidance and remediated instruction occurring during the weeks of research and investigation, and there needed to be a final evaluation measure for end products.  But at least three constants maintained throughout the project: learning outcomes (goals); connected learning, inside and outside the school building; student responsibility for demonstration of learning.  And yes, I am talking about fourth graders.

The project was not a solo creation by any stretch of the imagination.  The fourth grade team worked together with support staff, administration, parents, resource teachers and students to develop a learning project that would capture interest and offer opportunities to learn in an individualized manner.  Was it abstract at the onset? A little, yes.  Did we have discussions and challenge ideas?  At times, yes.  Were there failures and discoveries? Of course, shouldn't all learning experiences have those?  It was a new kind of teaching and learning for some of the people involved but eventually it made sense and we were there to support each other and help one another through.  In the end, we all had the same goals in mind.

There were quite a few tools students used to develop and deliver a final project.  Here are some of the more valuable ones.  Google Docs - Drafting, revising, sharing, peer-editing, commenting, all made possible through Google Apps for education.  I also used Google Forms to create a basic survey for students to offer feedback about the project.  After all, some of the best ideas for student projects often come from students!  EasyBib - A simple, free-to-use citation tool that enabled 9 and 10 year old children to create bibliographies that could pass even the toughest teacher's reference standards.  Wordle - Basic "word-cloud" generator that allowed students to analyze their writing in a different way and offered a pretty nifty looking visual for their final projects.  Glogster for Education - this web-based multimedia poster platform was the perfect presentation tool.  Kids were able to organized linked or uploaded videos, pictures, sound files, and text in a way they wanted.  When it came time to share what they had learned, Glogster was all they needed.  (Okay, you're right, some of the kids still wanted to use notecards because public speaking is still nerve-wracking, even for some adults!)

The level of student ownership for learning is unlike any other activity we've done this year.  One of the most powerful motivators was the idea that one part of the project, their glogs, could be published to a global audience.  Students worked hard to create a product that they thought could be proud of.  See some examples for yourself!  Please rate them!  Kids will love the feedback and Glogster points!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Fourth Grade Research

Today we officially launched into the first fourth grade research project of the year.  This project focuses on landforms.  Students will choose a landform, any landform in the world, and investigate it like a geographer.  They will ask their own questions and seek to find answers.  They will learn about the geography, climate, and culture that surrounds their landform.  They will discover knowledge and demonstrate their understanding in ways that make sense to them.  This is an exciting opportunity to put the responsibility of learning in the hands of the learners, with teachers and parents there to guide and help them along the way. 

The research project covers multiple content areas and includes valuable enrichment opportunities for students of all abilities.  Some children will showcase previously known "academic" skill while others may uncover talent they never knew they had.  And although the "structure" of the project is designed for all learners, the variety of formal and informal assesments will be many.  Students will practice and develop better reading and writing skills when they takes notes from a variety of books and develop word maps.  They will enhance their ability to analyze text and information when visiting sites on the Internet as they search for reliable sources.  They will be asked to think critically when they must explain how a landform formed and evolved to the state we see it in today.  The project will be time consuming and challening, but it will be an incredible learning experience for many. 

One of the aspects of the project I am most anxious to work with children on is the final presentation.  With so many wonderful creation options and powerful web tools, students are going to have a variety of ways to share with their peers what they've learned.  From something as simple as a powerpoint or a more robust creation tool like Glogster to a scripted dramatic reading or play, everyone will be able to present their learning in a way they choose.  It's going to be a 6 week long adventure of learning so check back around Thanksgiving to see final projects! 

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Walk to School Week

Next week the Mann School community is rallying its members to participate in active transportation for Walk to School Week.  The whole week children are encouraged (and rewarded) for walking or rolling to school, in anything powered by human energy.  This is an awesome week for practicing and teaching the importance of living an active, healthy and earth-conscious lifestyle!  Classrooms will be tallying totals of how kids get to school and graphing results.  To help support the week's activities, encourage your children to wear colored shirts for each day.  Click here for the full handout. Here's the list:

Monday, Oct. 3 – Wear Red for Transportation Safety
Tuesday, Oct. 4 – Wear Blue for Water Conservation
Wednesday, Oct. 5 – Wear Green for Reducing Waste in Landfills
Thursday, Oct. 6– Wear Yellow for Conserving Electricity – Turn it Off!
Friday, Oct. 7 – Wear your Favorite Sports Team Colors – Stay Active!

One fun activity for each class during the week will be on-bike training.  Our P.E. teacher will be leading on-bike safety lessons with children during gym class.  We ask that your child bring their bike to school on the day they have physicial education.  (Our class needs their bikes on Friday, October 7.)  And have no fear about the bike lessons because Mrs. Garcia is a certified on-bike instructor! 

As a final event for the week, there will be a mini Walk-a-thon.  We are trying to get as many school community members to join in walking laps around our park.  The goal is to walk as many laps as possible and break our record from last year!  There will be teachers, parents and, of course, kids!!  Everyone can help to make this week a success getting involved!  A huge THANK YOU to the Mann PTO for organizing all the events and activities! Hope to see you out there! 

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Purpose of Edmodo

Last week I wrote an overview of web tools I am using with students because I wanted to give readers a list of things I'm trying with students using laptop computers on a regular basis in a fourth grade classroom.  The whole process is a learning curve for me as a classroom teacher because I am trying to balance and integrate different parts of curriculum, organize multiple content areas, and adjust to a spectrum of student abilities.  (Prior knowledge, previous experiences, academic ability, and tech skill, to name a few).  But in this post I really want to focus on one tool that is helping mess everything together: Edmodo.

As a teacher, this social learning network is a convenient way for me to share important information, notes, links, and other online media directly with students.  It offers another form of communication from teacher to students but also students to students.  It's a great discussion platform for topics we cover in class; both for ideas we don't get to spend enough time discussing and ones we want to explore more deeply.  Edmodo is set up to allow students a unique way to participate in discussions, one that focuses on their voice and words.  It allows them to read other children's thoughts and enrich their own ideas or understandings about an issue in a way that doesn't always happen in a traditional classroom discussion. 

Another benefit of Edmodo is that it helps children practice grammar (and typing) skills and focus on their audience.  When a child posts on a discussion, they learn quickly that their audience is reading and analyzing their comments without physically looking at them; as opposed to the traditional face-to-face classroom exchanges.  In some cases, students are more receptive to written text than verbal cues because they are focused on words and thought, not face and person.   

For now, I am expecting students to learn how to use Edmodo as a discussion tool for exchanging ideas(with an additional emphasis on typing, writing, and grammar practice). It is also a great platform to teach children how to use web tools, appropriate internet use, and communicate effectively.  As the school year evolves, so will our use of this social learning network.  If you are still wondering about social media in the classroom, read thisChildren are going to learn about social media somewhere, why not in school?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Students Use Web Tools!

There is a seemingly endless number of web-based tools for just about anything you can think of in education and beyong... creation, sharing, collaborating, developing and communicating, just to name a few.  The daunting fact of this reality is that the number of web tools is growing and not everyone knows exactly where to start.  Finding just the right tool can be a challenge, regardless of the desired outcome.

But one of the wonderful things about web tools is that when you find the right one, it can make a project or task increasingly engaging and a final product incredibly valuable.  This year I am using a foundation of five web-based tools in my fourth grade classroom, with others to be utilized as needed throughout the year.  The big five for my students so far this year are Edmodo, ConnectED, Xtra Math, Custom Typing and Google DocsEach of these domains offer very specific tools for assignments and skill development for nine and ten year olds.  They also offer great opportunities for children to acquire technology skills and develop their Internet awareness. 

The power of each tool can be calculated according to student outcomes and progress.  For example, Xtra Math can be great practice or mindless repetition, depending on how the student approaches it.  On the one hand, a child might be very engaged and love competing against a timer to practice basic math fact knowledge, which is ideal.  On the other hand, a student might not be motivated to do repetitive fact practice, even though they don't know all their basic facts.  In which case, there are plenty of other ways to learn and practice math facts. The final outcome of any approach, however, is the end result of student effort and ability

As my class and school continue to learn the power of these tools, we will undoubtedly find others that will help us with assignments, projects and assessments throughout the year.  An awesome aspect of many of these tools and portals is the variety of ways students learn to use and manage them.  Most importantly, the tools have a very specific purpose in the learning process for students.  And it is important to make the children aware of that fact. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

New Family Potluck

Mann School PTO invites all families to: New Family Night
Thursday, September 15th - 6:30 pm Mann School Cafeteria
Please join us for pizza and an opportunity to meet the principal, members of the PTO board and some Mann “veteran” families! Bring the whole family, your questions & if your last name begins with:
A-L: Please bring an appetizer
M-Z: Please bring a dessert
Please contact Kyla Lombardo at 708.763.9339 or to R.S.V.P. on or before September 14th. Volunteers needed too!  

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Establishing Routines

One of the most important aspects of the beginning of the school year is establishing and learning routines; for our classroom, school and learning habits.  The first three days were great for introducing most of the classroom expectations and routines which, like most things, get better with practice.  From our classroom morning routine that prepares students for the school day to our end of the day routine that prepares students for their workload and parent communication, students are being taught and reminded of necessary routines to help foster community and student success. 

Throughout this first full week of school, all students (and teachers for that matter) in our classroom will be learning and practicing classroom expectations and responsibilities.  At times the learning curve can seem pretty steep.  Be rest assured that the guidelines and expectations are designed with student learning outcomes in mind.  The better we adapt to the design and structure of our new learning environment, the more we will all be able to focus on the real point of our school system: learning and having fun! 

Be sure to attend the Fourth Grade Curriculum Night this Thursday, September 1 at 6pm in the auditorium to get more information about the new school year!  You will also have an opportunity to sign up for parent/teacher conferences and our exciting Mystery Speaker program! I hope to see you there!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

First Day of School

Welcome back to another school year full of opportunity, relationship, challenge, failure and success!  Yes, that's right, failure is just as predicatable as success; in some cases even more predictable and in many cases more valuable.  Learning to handle the results of failure and success will serve children well in all they do.  I hope you are ready to help your children flourish and flounder with the inevitable success and failure they must endure during the new school year. 

There are few things that excite me more than a classroom of children full of emotion.  The first day of school is unique in that way because students have so many different feelings; anxious to see their friends again, nervous about new situations, excited for new experiences, and scared of the unkown.. just to name a few.  But there is also something unique about a classroom of children gathering together at the start of a new school year that really intrigues me.  Maybe it's the fresh start to build a community, an opportunity to mold character, or the anticipation of inspiring a child toward a new interest or hobby.  Whatever it is, there are very few days on the calendar like the first day of school and I am lucky to have been a part of one for the last 23 years.   

With the first day over, and the journey of a new year underway, I look forward to the success and failure I will experience with my students, but most of all the opportunity to learn and grow with a group of children in a way only a teacher can.  Thank you parents!! 

Monday, August 22, 2011

Social Media and a New School Year

In an ever-changing and rapidly evolving world, digital learning and social media tools like Facebook, Twitter, Skype and the like have declared their place in human existence.  As teachers, we have an obligation to teach students about these kinds of digital tools and guide them with effective, practical and purposeful instruction for their use.  Some of you may be familiar with some education specific online learning tools and social networks such as Edmodo and Kidblog, but there is continually growing list of online tools that are incredibly useful for student projects, assessment, and learning.  

As we all embark on another school year, I ask you to think about social media in your life and in the lives of our children.  Ask yourself and children some questions about what you know and how these platforms have influenced your life and the world around you.  I also ask you to start the conversation, if you haven't already, with your family and friends about the utility of these digital media tools in the education of our children.  If you are still hesitant about social media, read this recent article from the Post-Ops in the Washington Post.  There are two sides to any story but we all must realize that today's youth are finding ways to use these tools.  It is our obligation as parents and educators to help them use these platforms safely as global citizens of an interconnected world.  

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Already August

Aloha Readers!  It's been awhile since my last post and that is mostly because I've had a summer full of travel and adventure.  With August already here and the school year only three weeks away, I thought I should check in a give an update.  I hope all of you have had ample opportunity to get outdoors this summer for adventure, exploration and physical activity.  Summer is a great time to plays sports, travel, hang out with family and friends, and just relax!  The picture below is one I took while visiting my friend in Alaska.  For more of my travel photos from the summer (and past summers) click on my slideshow in the upper right hand corner of my blog.  There is still some time get out of your house and enjoy the summer sun!

(An overlook of Cook Inlet from atop Penguin Peak, just outside Girdwood, Alaska.)

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Motorcycles and Philanthropy

This week our class was surprised by yet another Mystery Speaker. This week's speaker combined a passion for Harley Davidson with a desire to help others in a unique combination of hobby and philanthropy. The speaker, and his small motorcycle crew, shared special memories from their lives as motorcycle riders and talked about the importance of responsibility and safety that comes with owning a "bike". Then, one of the riders shared the connection they all had to Toys For Tots.  All of the riders participate in an annual motorcycle ride that collects tons of toys for Chicagoland children that aren't fortunate enough to get toys as gifts during the holiday season. 

A big thanks to this week's Mystery Speaker for taking the time to visit our school and share some experiences and information about his life.  We have only one Mystery Speaker left for this school year! 

Friday, May 13, 2011

One Room Schoolhouse

Recently, our class took a trip to The Grove in Glenview, Illinois.  The bus ride was like traveling through time because when students exited the bus, they were whisked back to Illinois life in 1862.  The morning was spent in a one room school house learning the way prairie children did; reciting their ABCs, writing with quills and being disciplined by the schoolmarm.  The afternoon was spend learning the tools and trade of building a prairie home and managing chores on the homestead.  It was a fantastic trip full of learning experiences and Illinois History.  Click the links below to read some student reflections from the day and watch the video clip from the one room schoolhouse.   

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Final Month

As we continue to get taunted by the sunshine and warm weather days, the countdown to summer continues.  With the turn of a new month, some student projects come to an end and others begin.  Poetry packets were a great success and children were all given an opportunity to share one of their favorites with the class during our mini "poetry-slam."  Children were also able to celebrate the completion of another final project when the announcement was made about our Global Virtual Classroom website.  Click here to see the announcement or click the "GVC" tab at the top of the blog to find out more.  It was definitely a great learning experience!

Another great learning experience came from our most recent Mystery Speaker.  He spoke about his career as an engineer and the process of building a structure.  He used good analogies about things familiar to fourth graders to connect planning, designing and construction of a modern building; like one of his most recent projects at Argonne National Laboratory.  Check out a time-lapse video of the work siteAfter the presentation students were prompted to write about the planning process of something they have done in their life.  It was surprising to me how many of them wrote about projects they had to develop for school, such as student businesses and performances.  A big Thank You to our Mystery Speaker for taking time out of his work schedule to share experiences and knowledge with our fourth graders! 

A "Mystery Speaker" guides students through the process of constructing a building from scratch.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

April Showers

It certainly has been a month full of rain... and sleet, and drizzle, and hail... and, yes, some snow.  But one great thing about learning is that it is not dependent upon the weather.  Actually, extreme weather conditions allow for some very unique, and often timely, learning opportunities.  It does however hamper our outdoor recess time, which is a necessity during these spring days!

The classroom has been swirling with poetry this month.  As April is National Poetry Month, all fourth graders have been working on creating an individual poetry booklet.  Each booklet will have eight unique, original poems and two poems from professional poets.  Students have been sharing poems with each other aloud in class and in written form on Edmodo.  If you would like to see a collection of class poems, ask your child to log into Edmodo and share some with you.  The cumulative assessment for the poetry unit will be a published poetry booklet due at the end of the month.  

In conjunction with our poetry unit, we just finished reading Love That Dog by Sharon Creech.  It was a short novel told from the perspective of a student learning and growing as a young poet.  Much of the discussion spurred from the book was focused on interpreting poems and reactions of students to the development of the main character as a poet.  Check out the neat little book trailer here. 

Our most recent shake-up to the traditional walls of school learning was a trip to Argonne National LaboratoryThis was a fantastic field trip full of opportunities for children to not only see first hand demonstrations of applications for liquid nitrogen, such as superconductivityStudents were able to construct the colors of the visible spectrum through the testing of items in a photospectrometer.  Below you will see a clip of students pedaling on an energy bicycle designed.  The bike was an opportunity for students to experience the amount of energy required to illuminate different kinds of light bulbs and a hair dryer. The kids  had excellent behavior and enjoyed the trip tremendously! 

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

GVC - The Final Product

After a week of rest and relaxation our first day back was chalk full of energy and conversations about all the great things students did with time away from school.  It was great to see many of them staying "connected" through Edmodo.  With families traveling and others keeping busy, or just taking it easy in Oak Park, everyone had an opportunity to communicate with each other via our online learning community.  Most of the conversations were about entertainment things like movies and TV shows while others were offering detailed comments about unique experiences.  It is really amazing how quickly fourth graders can learn to harness an online tool for keeping in touch.

Staying in the "connected" world, our Global Virtual Classroom project and contest has come to an end.  If you thought fourth graders communicating together online was impressive, have a look at the website they created with students from Shumway Elementary School in Chandler, Arizona.  The theme for our research and web design was Numbers.  Students from both classrooms investigated the world around them to learn about the overwhelming presence and significance of numbers.  Both groups of students worked very hard and should be commended for their efforts.  Please visit our webpage to see the final product.  A big THANK YOU to our partners in Arizona for their collaboration!  

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Froebel Block Workshop

Yesterday we had an art educator from the Frank Lloyd Wright Home & Studio visit our classroom to lead students through a workshop using Froebel BlocksThis hands-on workshop was a precursor to the Frank Lloyd Wright walking field trip we are taking next week.  Here is a video of one of the students working through some of the designs. 


With ISAT make-ups taking place this week, our classroom is slowly moving back into a student work zone.  With Ecosystems reports finished up, we now moved student work efforts toward presentations of videos, podcasts, Powerpoints, and brochures.  Presentations are still expected to be done completely by students and we are hoping to have many of them finished this week.  Our Global Virtual Classroom project is quickly winding down as well.  We will have a finished website up by the time spring break rolls around.  

Thanks for reading and hopefully you are keeping up with your child on Edmodo!  If you haven't checked in with them lately, have them log in for you.  There's lots of good web-content being passed around!

Thursday, February 24, 2011


Many of you are well aware that next week our students will be taking the Illinois Standards Achievement Test.  A test better known as the ISAT.  In the weeks leading up to these state-mandated tests, I've learned quite a few different strategies for "teaching to the test."  Rest assured, our class has been learning to think all year long, which should favor them on a series of multiple choice tests.  We have been reviewing concepts, terms, and question sets they might see on the test, as well as strategies for answering questions.  Review and exposure to test constraints and terms should only help prepare students for next week.  Regardless of personal opinions on standardized testing, we have to do it.  So I have been preparing kids the best way I can; teaching them to think.

No single test score should define any one student, and it's simply impossible to get to know a child by looking at their answers on a multiple choice test.  Do ISATs give an indication of retained knowledge of skills and concepts?  Sure.  Do ISATs tell us how well our students can collaborate, create, analyze and problem solve (some of the more common 21st century skills)?  Not exactly.  How can you best prepare your child for standardized testing?  Encourage and support them to do their best and help them understand how important it is to be able to work with others and think for themselves.  Of course a healthy dinner, good night sleep, and well-balanced breakfast will help fuel their brains to be at their best.  So be sure to do that too.

If you feel the need to "study" for the ISATs, head over to Illinois State Board of Education's website and have a look at some of the sample tests.  You can even try a convenient interactive test.  When the first ISAT comes next Monday, I think most of my students will be thinking more about the lack of homework for the week than the significance of a standardized test score.  Children are more than just a test score.  But you already knew that. 

What are your thoughts about standardized testing?  Please feel free to share them below.  This is a conversation we, as educational stakeholders, should be able to have. 

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

February Update

It's warm, then cold, snowy then rainy, blizzard and then a heat wave.  The inconsistent weather always has students wondering whether we will be inside or out for recess almost every day.  Fortunately for our academic side of things, the schedule is more consistent than the weather.  Please make sure your children are going to school dressed for the weather, just like you send them to school with all their school supplies and a healthy lunch and snack.  Please keep in mind if you are sending snacks or treats for the entire class that you ensure they are gluten-free and nut-free (cannot be processed in factory with nuts).  For a list of gluten-free snacks, click here.  Thank you for considering the dietary needs of our students.

Hatchet by Gary Paulsen has taken over our reading curriculum and inspired all kinds of comprehension opportunities, including the formation of new literature circles.  These discussion groups are student-centered and designed to help students practice asking questions, making inferences and connections, increasing vocabulary skills, and visualization abilities.  Each student has a responsibility to prepare for discussion groups and participate in conversations about readings.  In addition to discussion groups our class is continuing to work on writing chapter summaries, making predictions, and answering short chapter quizzes.  

Research, research, research.  Science research on ecosystems is now growing from outlines to rough drafts.  As students begin writing rough drafts, they are asked to focus on creating a topic sentence for each of the five paragraphs and adding supporting details to compose complete paragraphs.  The idea surrounding a complete paragraph includes at least five quality sentences that use correct grammar and focus on the main idea.  Following rough drafts, students will engage in peer-editing before composing final drafts next week.  They will be working on oral presentations, supported by some technology infused visual aid, in March.  

Our Global Virtual Classroom project continues as students are now combining research with graphics in preparation for web page development.  Students have uncovered much information about NUMBERS in our world and are creating graphics and organizers to represent what they have discovered.  In the weeks ahead, our class will be collaborating with our virtual classmates in Arizona to develop a final web site devoted to our them.  Students will be using Kompozer, a free web-design application, to create the website.  They have been using programs like Pixie, Kidspiration, Microsoft Word, and some free Web 2.0 tools to compile their research and develop their graphics.  The due date for our final website is the end of March.  For more information, explore the GVC tab at the top of the blog.

Thanks for reading and keep checking back.  The blog is being continually updated with resources and information from our fourth grade school experiences. 

Wednesday, February 2, 2011


Another Mystery Speaker stopped by this week to talk with us about the importance of math and science when designing new products and ideas.  He also shared with us about the role of software in creating designs.  After a few videos to show the assembling process of jet planes and other aerospace designs, students were asked to create and explain a design of their own.  It was interesting to see and hear all the great ideas fourth graders have! 

Design is an important aspect of any successful product or invention.  This was a great opportunity for children to see a direct connection of the math, science, and thinking skills they learn and practice in school.  Kids are naturally creative and inventive, they just need an opportunity to explore their thinking and channel their thoughts in a way that helps them create.  Thanks to Mr. Chapman for coming by to share his experience and knowledge with our class. 

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Scientist Visit

Our class was delighted to have a visit from an active scientist today.  The visit is in partnership with the Oak Park Education Foundation's Global Village Program that exposes students to scientists and the kinds of professions they have.  For more information, head over to Mrs. D's 4th Grade Blog!  There are also more research links on her blog, too.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Dramatic Undertaking

I have been encouraging students all year long to tell me when they are interested in something and want to know more-I believe intrinsic motivation to be the most valuable form.  Some students approached me about performing a play published in a Scholastic News issue.  When they assured me there were enough parts for everyone in the class, that they would gather props and create ones they didn't have, I had no choice but to support their ambition.  Two weeks later we are on the verge of a student directed performance called "The Crossing." The play is about the pivotal moment in American history when George Washington decided to forge the Delaware River in a plan to advance in the Revolutionary War.  When the play wraps up at the end of this week, students will be video recording the performance and I will post it on the blog.  Students will also be performing this act for our first grade buddies, as well.  Come back next week to see the play!  

Parent teacher conferences are right around the corner: February 1-5.  You will receive an e-mail with the time and date of your conference.  The schedule will follow the sign-up from the fall conferences.  If you already know the corresponding time in February is not good for you, please e-mail me and we will find one that works.  

Hopefully by now your child has explained to you the two research projects they are currently working on; ecosystems and numbers.  Students have time to research at school but also make an effort to research more information at home.  They should be recording notes on the book or web-source citation pages they received in the media center.  There are also extra copies in the classroom.  When focusing research efforts, I encourage students to ask questions and search for answers.  Researching can be very confusing is there is no direction.  Questions help to focus research.  Good luck! 

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Work Flow

Hello Readers!  We finally got some snow to cover the barren land the rain created over winter break.  Snow on the ground just seems to make January feel more like winter.  Now in the second week of school in the new year we are trying a different approach to completing classroom assignments and responsibilities.  The idea is called Work Flow.  It's simply a different way of presenting weekly tasks and projects.  Students are responsible to complete all of the tasks in the flow by the end of the week.  Items get added and erased as our focus shifts. 

Research is quickly becoming a major component of the education process for all age levels.  In fourth grade we are beginning research for two different subjects and topics.  This will be a delicate balance for students but hopefully the research skills learned will be directly applied to both topics. Numbers research is for our GVC project.  (The purpose of this project is to built a website that gives something back to the global community.  We are focusing on the way numbers connect everyone.) We are investigating the way numbers are presented and utilized for various things in our lives.  Example: One student recently discovered ISBN on the back of books and is now researching the origins, purpose and value of ISBNs on books.  Ecosystems research is for a science project that leads into students creating living ecosystems in the classroom.  For more information on research and age-appropriate research sites for your children, please click the "Research" tab at the top of the blog. 

Winter MAP testing starting in District 97 this week and will continue through January 26.  Our class took the reading test on Monday and will take the Math test on Tuesday, January 24.  Complete students reports and data will be available during parent/teacher conferences in early February.  These test results are great for measuring student progress and developing student centered learning goals. 

Scholastic News is becoming an integral part of our weekly routine.  Not only do issues provide current events for students but activity sheets focus and enriching skills and concepts listed in our nation's Core Common Standards.  Many of these standards are also some of the standards that the annual ISAT assesses.  There are great articles and coverage of many major American and world events.  So if your child comes home one day talking about a controversial topic or referencing popular news events, they probably got it from Scholastic News.  Today's news is tomorrow's history! 

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Happy New Year!

A new year can mean many things for many people.  In the academic world it usually means the second half of the year is here with an opportunity to build on successes or learn from failures of the first half of the school year.  Even though our classroom is full of fourth graders, this holds true for elementary teachers and students too.  I hope your winter break was full of fun family time as well as restful moments of relaxation.  Below is a picture from the ice skating field trip we took prior to winter break.  Happy New Year!

(Thanks to a class parent for the photo!)

Already a few days into the new year, students are back into the swing of things and the learning process has continued.  We will be putting in a significant amount of time and effort into developing a website with our Global Virtual Classmates (GVC).  We will also continue communicating with them in a variety of ways to learn more about students in other parts of the United States and world.  The next project we are hoping to share with them is an interactive post-it type board with pictures and writings about experiences our fourth graders had over winter break.  For this, children were asked to bring in one picture that captures their best winter break experience.  We will be using a web 2.0 tool called Stixy for creation. Check back for more information and a link to the final project.