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.