Friday, October 29, 2010

Snacks, sweets and sugar

The problem: I have just sent home a pack of yelling, quivering Halloween-crazed 9-year-olds.

The culprit:

Having never experienced Halloween at Beachy Cove Elementary before, you can imagine how unprepared I was for the spectacle I saw. Costumes, dancing, bake sales, cake walks, you name it! Huge credit to the many parents and teachers involved, it came together really well.

We managed to get a few things done in the lulls, such as playing games to practice our verb conjugation and picking the Student of the Week. I sent home a couple of sheets for them to start looking at, mostly vocabulary from their other subjects and how to conjugate their latest verb, "Etre". This is a very common verb, since it means "to be" (Etre or not etre, that is the question?)

As with last week, these words will not be evaluated in a dictée. However, I expect students to be familiar with them by the end of the week through looking at them at home and doing activities in class. The verb forms are more important, hence the sheet I sent home with a fill-in-the-blanks activity. This should be completed some time over the next week. If you need help, please consult recent posts that have links to verb conjugation sites.

I haven't sent home any specific homework for the weekend, but we had a "Number Talk" the other day in which we speculated about how much candy they would get. We figured out about how many houses, how much they would get at each, how long it would take, etc. I have asked the class to keep rough track of how many houses they go to, how long the spend overall, and how much candy they get at each place. This will lead into an addition/multiplication activity on Monday.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Hitting the Silver Screen

Today was a candy-soaked, creative extravaganza! It was our first time having a full class in almost 3 weeks, which allows us to move forward much more quickly. We spent most of the day on Social Studies, French and Health working on larger projects than are possible in a 1/2 hour class.

First thing in the morning, we got a quick rundown of one student's recent trip down south. I took this opportunity to have the class review what we had done in her absence, which was a great way to do a quick check on how much they were remembering! As usual, they remembered things with a far greater degree of lucidity than myself. I also took the time to review multiplication strategies, as outlined on a handout I sent home. We also took a look at some math review sheets I have sent home to work on over the next week or so.

In Social Studies, we focused entirely on mapping skills; there are many elements of the curriculum that can be taught through mapping, and we hit most of them today! They drew up their own guide of what symbols were on the map, and discussed at length what the significance of each was. The next part, which really challenged their processing skills, was to create 3 questions of increasing difficulty for the rest of the class to answer.

For example, the first might be "Where is the hospital", the second could be "How far is it from the hospital to the next town", and the third would ask a more challenging question such as "Why is the hospital located in a central location". I would encourage you to have your child do this at home as well, as a means of exploring deeper meaning in a text or image. Then, the class responded to a variety of questions about the maps (again, of increasing complexity). Overall a very constructive activity, and one that will come in handy for our Drama in Education program.

In French, the class reviewed this week's vocabulary words and verb tenses. I have also been quizzing on these during down time such as line-ups, recess and "I'm done my work" time. Then, we did some work with "Rubber Sentences". This involves taking a sentence like "My grandfather is reading", and using a variety of descriptive, evocative words to jazz it up.

By the time we were done with it, there was a general consensus that sentences are much more interesting this way. All this French-language work is now being kept in a blue DuoTang, that your child should keep in their plastic bag for use at home and school.

Perhaps the most engaging activity of the day was during Health class. The students and I read some excerpts from the text, then discussed what makes a real friend and occasions when it is good to have friends around. This was a great exercise, and led into them creating (in groups) a short skit that demonstrated one of these attributes/situations. I will leave you with the videos I took of this activity, with 2 more to come later. Also, two of our students have pieces of art mounted in the gallery in the main lobby!

The first video details why it is good to have friends around to protect yourself.

This next video features 3 more students, and focuses on the benefits of friendship with regards to bullying.

The last clip for today features a good lesson on why it is nice to have friends when you are sick. The remainder will be posted tomorrow!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Healthy Commotion!!!!!

Today was a rambunctious, exciting day in our class! We explored new concepts in Math, Social Studies and French, and on top of that we decorated a pumpkin and had an afternoon of fun physical activity. There was a busy slate today, with school-scheduled physical activity exercises, Student of the Week activities, Choir and Halloween preparations.

Math focused on subtraction today, and I used student-teaching again to help the students get the idea that numbers can be "borrowed" from other columns (tens, hundreds, thousands) to help create manageable facts. The class was very quick to take up this idea, which I was very happy about. More challenging than the task of actual subtraction is the process of deciding when subtraction is necessary. At home, it is worth asking plenty of questions when a chance to apply addition or subtraction arises. I think that it is through these specific, relevant experiences that students learn the most about math.

I did not send home Reading Journals today; I kept them in the interest of reading them for content and progress. I am currently compiling a portfolio for each student that will house written, drawn, recorded and visual representations of what they have completed so far this year. Rather than keeping them until it is time for the dreaded Report Cards (cue thunder and lightening), I plan to have them look through these portfolios starting next week and respond to them. This is something that is suggested in Beachy Cove's current School Development Program, and is an approach that will benefit students greatly.

Some notes for the rest of the week:

  • Multiplication study guides will be sent home tomorrow; I decided to hold off for today because we had already spent so much time on math (no matter how much fun we had!)
  • Our Drama in Education program will continue tomorrow, with some important new missions from Captain LeBlanc that they will be expected to complete at home!
  • We will complete an activity to apply our weekly vocabulary and verb learning tomorrow.
  • Cakes and Grab Bags are due by tomorrow for Friday's Halloween Shenanigans
  • I have let the class know, after some issues at play time, that toys must be shared and open to all, or they will be sent home. The class has been very accepting of this instruction.
  • Students are now speaking mostly French during lunch and recess, and nearly 100% during class.
  • Any student can bring $1.00 to buy a grab bag over the next couple of days.
  • Some students have already gone through my entire (~100 book) class French library. I will start letting these students take out books from the main school library more frequently.
Have a great night, and I will post more information on our ongoing assessment and math procedures tomorrow!

"Check back in a couple of hours" (A poetic tribute)

I had planned a blog post for this date,
But became a sad victim of fate.
Our staff meeting got longer,
And my hunger pains stronger,
So today, my blog post will be late.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A busy day on Planet Francais.

Day 6 often seems to be a bit of a lost cause in our class, since we have music and gym back-to-back before recess and book exchange at 10:45. This makes it kind of hard to get in a flow, but does have the side benefit of making the students quite focused right after recess. For that reason, I decided to do an activity in the computer lab today. We used the Montreal Biodome website for the exercise, since it is very interactive and covers many of the technology, science and social studies requirements of the grade 4 curriculum.

I made a point to take them through the whole process, discussing what the significance of clickin on an icon is, why there are different windows open, and how a computer responds to input (ie. don't mash the keys when Internet Explorer inevitably locks up). We also had a great discussion about the usefulness and dangers of search engines. As we get into more and more information gathering, this will become an increasingly critical point. I would encourage you to follow these same procedures at home, since the students are very curious to know "why" and "how" about everything; this opportunity might not last forever!

I was quite happy with the results of the verb conjugation exercise in general; I sent their new Blue DuoTangs back home to review vocabulary and use the conjugation guide for their homework. Also written in their agendas are a few reminders about activities coming up this week and the due date of their Book Reports.

This afternoon we spent the bulk of our time carrying out a graphic interpretation exercise. This exercise had them take pictures out of a newspaper, then jot down their first impressions. We were looking for information, overall impressions, emotions and colour to name a few. They collected data from the whole class about their pictures, then got to present what they had heard as well as what they thought the real meaning/importance of the picture was. They drew the conclusion that everybody sees value, information and artistic merit in a different way and to varying degrees.

I will send home a new set of Math Review sheets tomorrow, since I aim to have another math test by the end of next week (or early the following week). This will be the same format, and is designed to diagnose needs for review and explanation more than as an evaluation tool. As with the last set of review questions, I would ask you to have the students finish them over time and let me know if there are any issues. This approach, rather than over-coaching for the "right" answer, proved to work well last time and seems to have formed a solid basis of understanding.

I'm going to re-post a couple links today, because we used them in class. The first is the Biodome website; the students are all familiar with it now, and would probably love to show you some of the cool videos, information and games they found in the "Virtual Tour" section.

The second link is the multiplication game site that I put up last week; we played them again today and they were a huge hit.

Have a great Tuesday!

Monday, October 25, 2010

October 25th: Post 3 of 3

There was a very interesting series of articles in The Globe and Mail throughout the past week. Some are still available online, and are worth a read. They concern the challenges faced by male students in the primary/elementary system, and make a variety of suggestions regarding what the possible solutions might be. This is a topic that has interested me for some time, both in my studies and in my current efforts to provide an environment and experience that will allow the boys and girls in the class to succeed.

Researchers are reaching the consensus that paying close attention to learning styles is crucial to enabling success in students of many different backgrounds, genders and interests. Research also suggests that encouragement of students' interest in any topic is very important. If your child is interested in LEGO, work with it! I have noticed a particular interest in geography for example.

I have had great discussions with students (male and female) about a wide variety of topics this year. Some are interested in weaponry, others in wrestling, swimming, monotremes or weather. I try to make a point of engaging them when they show interest in these things, if for no other reason than to show my own interest in learning and inquiry. If there is something in particular that your child is interested in, or a special way they like to express themselves at home, please suggest that they bring it to school so we can involve it in the class.

If you are looking for any more interesting information, I would suggest that you pick up the most recent issue of Scientific American Mind. This month's issue focuses on behaviour, and has a number of interesting articles about child development.

October 25th: Post 2 of 3

"In mathematics, you don't understand things. You just get used to them." -- Johann von Neumann

Truer words were never spoken. At least at the preliminary stages, math learning requires a number of leaps of faith before true understanding can develop. This week we are exploring mental math as an extension of our previous estimating, adding and subtraction lessons. The hope is that we will become more comfortable with the processes that will enable higher-level learning later in the year. 

These activities are abstract at best, but grounded in very important theories. These used to be taught by memory and rule (much like multiplication facts), but my preference is to build a thorough understanding of "why" through varied types of instruction. So far we have tried student-teaching, group problem solving, visualization and a variety of more conventional techniques. I think the results have been generally positive, and should get better as I introduce a few more ideas. Here are a couple of these upcoming features:
  • Students (in role as explorers) will have to calculate/estimate volumes, distances, money and sizes in order to carry out their trip. This will mesh nicely with mapping outcomes.
  • Students will run/own a mock business/organization. They will be able to choose between owning a soccer team and owning a small business. There will be small daily variables that will affect their success and the choices they will have to make. By seeing the concrete results of their calculations and subsequent decisions, I hope the students will buy into the processes and techniques they are learning.
A last note on math: I am carrying out multiplication activities as a class several times a week to build comfort levels and gauge ability and interest. I would encourage you to check back through the last week or so of blog posts (and on the sidebar) to find some activities that will help keep multiplication practice fun at home. Tomorrow, I will send home some sheets to help with multiplication "Fact Practice" at home.

I will leave you with another quote: 

"Mathematics consists in proving the most obvious thing in the least obvious way." -- George Polya

October 25th: Post 1 of 3

And we're back on the go after a long haul! As I had warned/told the class last week, French Immersion is in full effect. Monopoly Money is now in play during Recess and Lunch as well, and I will be increasingly stingy with my output of money. This worked well today, but I expect there to be some growing pains.

In conjunction with this effort, I am starting to push vocabulary, verbs and other language elements to a greater degree. This also coincides with the completion of the class's first stories, book reports and text interpretations. I sent home a Halloween vocabulary list today, as well as guidelines for the -er, -re and -ir verbs that we have studied so far. They also completed a sheet that helps reinforce these concepts today.

I am not going to use spelling tests to evaluate and teach this information; they will complete and participate in conversations, writing exercises and listening activities to reinforce the concepts in an effort to support the authentic language learning we are already carrying out in class. Here is a great blog post that gives a lot of good ideas on why spelling tests might be past their prime.

Overwhelmed yet?  

On a lighter, more practical note, here are a few links toward sites that will help your child with Halloween vocabulary and the verbs forms we are learning. This first site has a huge amount of information! I have highlighted the -er conjugation page, but the sidebar had a huge amount of other links.

This page has a refreshable French-Language wordsearch.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

I've still got that "New Graduate" smell.

I attended MUN Convocation on Friday, for what was a very sincere, entertaining ceremony. It was attended by Chancellor Rick Hillier, Premier Williams, the new president of MUN and many doting parents and friends. A great time was had by all, and I can't wait to go frame-shopping for my crisp new diploma.

This week we will be continuing with our Drama in Education program, as we embark on the voyage to Newfoundland. These stages will incorporate mapping skills and math concepts to a large degree, as well as listening to and analyzing some traditional sea shanties and recitations in English Language Arts. The class will have a few assignments to do some research at home throughout the week, a task they seem to be enjoying. 

Book Reports will be presented on November 1st now, instead of the 28th. The flurry of activity and divided attention around Hallowe'en required this move, and it also gives students one last weekend to work on the project. The work I have seen so far is excellent.

A few housekeeping notes:
  • The two most recent Students of The Week will publish their own blog posts tomorrow
  • Grade 4 students have been designated as cake and grab-bag makers for the Hallowe'en Fair. A note to this effect was sent home, but if you have any more questions please let me know.
I will post a few links tomorrow, sorry for the lapse in posting over this weekend.  Happy Hallowe'en!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Short and Sweet!

Today was our final day for observing the students' habitats, which turned out to be a great success. We work in a lot of different elements, culminating in beautiful annotated drawings of what they had created. All of the fish and plants made it through the night, and our foray outside yielded a wide array of slugs, snails, carpenter beetles and earthworms. I'm very happy with the project in general.

I conducted a comprehension activity in class yesterday, in which students read an article about scientists exploring giant redwood trees to find out how tall they grow (and why). The students then answered a variety of questions about what they had read, ranging from simple facts to their interpretations of what happened. The focus was on analyzing Informational Texts, an important outcome as we move into more exercises that will require higher levels of understanding to succeed. The results were quite positive, and showed me a few areas we can focus on.

To that end, I have asked each student to briefly look at an Informational Text tonight at home. This could be ea newspaper, recipe book, calendar, Wii manual, etc. They will be expected to note 3 key points, which could be facts, structures (such as a caption or title) or other features that make them interesting. I would like this to be written in their "Journal de Lecture", on the page after tonight's reading log.

In math we have moved on to 4-digit addition. We did some more student-teaching today, as well as some role playing. The response to this approach has been great, and the result seems to be quicker uptake of information and a more profound understanding of what we are talking about. Tomorrow they will answer some questions, and I will start sending home problem solving activities next week.

I consulted with students on their Book Reports today, and they also worked in peer groups to give each other suggestions. They can now go ahead and start working on their project, if they have not already done so. The date of their presentations will be October 28th.

On that note I must go, but please contact me if you have any questions. I will not be in class (or on this blog) tomorrow, as I am attending MUN Convocation and spending time with my family in the evening. I will make my next post on Saturday, so have a great weekend. There will be two "Student of the Week" posts hitting the site on Monday.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Some notes on math awareness

Over the weekend, I was reminded how great card games are for teaching, reinforcing and exploring math concepts from the most basic to the most abstract and advanced. Games like Cribbage are very good for this, as are any other than involve manipulating values. Also, many games can be adapted to apply these ideas. Cards can also be used very explicitly, in ways such as the one described in this video. The narrator is a bit intense, but the idea is very solid and could be a lot of fun.

It is also worth checking out the sites on the right sidebar of this page, and if you search "math" in the box on the top of the page you will come up with past links I have posted.

Something Fishy at Beachy Cove Elementary

Today was a landmark day in many ways; Picture Day, insertion of animals and plants into the students' pop-bottle habitats, paper-free Math class and some fantastic student-teaching to name a few. If I come out of this year with only one lasting image, it will be two of the lads in my class grooming one another like chimpanzees before we went to get our pictures taken. We have a very conscientious class, and one that is more and more confident and willing each day. 

First, students presented their findings from last night's home research. They gave brief lessons on what tools are needed for boat building, navigation techniques, ideal uses for sealskin, weaponry of the late 16 century and many other topics relevant to our Social Studies exploration program. I was happy to see their interest, particularly when it came to the presentations of others. They will receive a letter with further instructions from Leonard LeBlanc tomorrow. In the meantime, here is a link that provides lots of good information about this era for future questions students might bring home.

In math we explored some new addition concepts through student-teaching. They explored the concepts as a group, and shared their ideas on why they would be useful and under what circumstances. I think everyone was pleasantly surprised to see how much they were able to teach one another in a limited time. There will be another new math lesson tomorrow, but it will focus on addition principles that they are already quite familiar with.

Also tomorrow, I will be reviewing students' progress with their book reports and they will have a chance to discuss their ideas in groups. This peer consulting will be new to them in many ways, but just an extension of work we have already been doing together. I mentioned to the class again today that they are always welcome to present unfinished projects to me (or a classmate) so they can refine their ideas and improve the project.

I maintain, with the agreement of the class, that if they ask enough questions and follow the guidelines I give they will be assured of top marks on their projects. The class will also present their stories tomorrow; thanks for the help and encouragement with these at home. Getting the first piece of "Process" writing under their belts is never easy, but it provides a great reference for all of us. Here is a link that gives some good hints on helping your child with future Process Writing projects.

I brought goldfish and a variety of small plant sprouts into class today, and we populated their habitats with a variety of life forms. There was a great discussion of what effect these organisms would have on the habitat, far exceeding what I was expecting or requiring for this point in the unit. Their mastery of the vocabulary requirements are coming along well, so I am not going to send home word lists to study yet. I may send home a project over the weekend that would have them use a variety of words in a paragraph, but I don't think rote learning is necessary right now.

In Health, we have shifted the conversation from personal emotional well-being to getting along in groups. We discussed disagreements today, specifically what makes some more serious than others and different things we may disagree on. I would encourage you to discuss this at home as well, especially in the context of putting things in perspective and understanding what motivates people.

Someone mentioned bullying during our disussion, so I took the opportunity to mention that October 20th is a day that has been designated to show solidarity with young people that have been victims of bullying centred on their lifestyles. This issue has really hit the mainstream lately, on any number of talk shows, internet videos and TV News programs. I didn't belabour the specifics of the point, but they were quick to relate it to the day they wear pink to show their stand against bullying in general. We talked about this in the context of our class, and discussed how we can use these ideas in our family, community, class and friend interactions. Below is a link to the original news story that triggered the "Pink Shirt" movement.

These types of discussions, beyond being interesting to the students and constructive in terms of curriculum goals, provide some of the most concentrated French language-learning opportunities. In general, I have noticed that people become more adventurous with a second language if they are absorbed in the content of a conversation. This is becoming the case more and more in class, which I think bodes well for their language acquisition.

Thanks for the gifts of books from the Book Fair, they will be well-read I'm sure. Also, I will be out of the classroom on Friday but will leave all information with my replacement.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Back from the Wilderness

Well, between my conference in Moncton and yesterday's PD closeout, it has been 5 days since I was in classroom. The time spent away was very productive, and it sounds as though there was a lot of good work and play done while I was gone. It was back to the grind today, with a lot of new ideas in my head and things on the roster.

We began our Drama in Education program today in earnest. It centers around casting the class as unemployed farmers from France in 1595. I play the role of a ship captain (M. Leonard Leblanc) who has asked them to accompany me to Newfoundland. They will have a vast array of jobs to do in order to prepare for, make decisions about, and execute the voyage successfully. The outcomes we are addressing range from a variety of Social Studies "Exploration" outcomes to many others from Science (habitats), Math (calculation, mapping, graphing), Art (graphic rendering, maps) and of course French.

The class had a great time with it today, despite some struggles and frustration when it came to making decisions and agreeing on final ideas. However, observing them as they deal with information and explore new ideas is an invaluable source of authentic evaluation and gives a great idea of how interested, involved and informed they are. Many of our more reclusive classmates blossomed greatly in these conditions, while others took initiative and used their skills to the group's great advantage. For tonight, I have given each student a question that I would like them to answer in brief (or long) form on a piece of paper and bring in tomorrow.

We did review in math, and played some hands-on multiplication games. I plan to use these throughout the year, as a way of getting "the facts" into their heads. If there were a surgical means to do so, I certainly would; however, I understand this is both illegal and impossible. I am quite pleased with their skills however, and also their willingness to help others. To that end, I am starting to have them rely more and more on their classmates to help them check work and find solutions; this allows me time to focus on problem areas, and allows those who have finished their work to "re-teach". This is widely regarded as a very constructive way of cementing ideas and concepts.

Also in math, we spend 1/2 an hour rearranging the desks in class. I incorporated a number of pattern, estimation, multiplication and problem solving techniques, as we tried to discover the best way to fit the desks into the classroom. As with the Social Studies program, they are embracing chances to discuss and problem-solve more and more.

We will be doing our last habitat observation tomorrow in Science, complete with things that crawl, squirm and swim. I expect this will be quite exciting, and will do my best to make sure that "Picture Day" clothing does not get soiled. I will also veto any requests to pose with insects, fish or any non-arthropod invertebrates they may come across.

I consulted with students briefly about book reports, and it seems like they are coming along well. Students will have plenty of time tomorrow to think of ideas, expand on their written summaries and make final decisions on how they will execute their presentations. I know the presentations are well underway in many cases, which is great to hear. Final presentations will be on the 1st and 2nd of November. Below, please find a link to a fun site where they can practice putting together the "ingredients" for a tasty book report.

Other general notes:
  • The artwork outside the classroom door has been refreshed; you can now view a variety of intriguing, artistic and often ferocious Food Chains outside our door.
  • Picture Day is tomorrow, unless there is a further backlog in the Grade 2 population. On that note, please ask your child to explain to you where the word "backlog" comes from.
  • Tonight is Parent Night at the Book Fair. Also, there was a delay on our first book order because my account was still being set up. It should be here before too long.
  • Our Monopoly Money Auction was a success again; thanks to parents who sent in Dollar Store items to auction.
  • Students will be presenting the Final Copies of their stories on Thursday, in our first readers' theatre.
Hope you all had a good long weekend, and talk to you tomorrow. If you have any questions about anything, please let me know (or come and say hi at the Book Fair tonight). Here is a link to some good activities to help students with multiplication facts. I would recommend reviewing them frequently, and push your child to use patterns, multiplication and memorization to help make multiplication more and more automatic. (I particularly enjoy the pumpkin game)

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Enough of this, I'm leaving!

Welcome to scenic Moncton
...for a couple of days. I will be spending the next couple of days at the Canadian Association of Immersion Teachers' National Congress, along with Mme. Natalie. I can't wait to bring back a ton of new things to implement in our classroom.

My replacement is a fantastic teacher, with a lots of experience teaching French at a Grade 4 level. The prize auction will still happen Friday, as will Book Fair viewing and purchase over the next couple of days. I did not get a chance to explain the new math exercise (abstract take-home questions mentioned in my last blog entry), so I have decided to leave it until next Tuesday. Also, in my panic to make the class look respectable for my replacement, I forgot to send home Reading Journals.

That being said, I will not be blogging as regularly in the next couple of days, if at all. Please continue to check Agendas each night and talk to your child about what they are doing in class.

Have a good week!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

When I grow up, I want to be an astro-doctor-paleo-ballerina-farm-actor-dancing-zookeeper

The week has exploded into being as usual, with plenty of action and lots of new projects and ideas. Our Student of the Week gave a fantastic opening presentation, and the class had some very good questions for her. I am very happy with the effort students are putting into the role, as well as the satisfaction they are getting and the respect their classmates are showing in return. Our new classroom representative also had his first Student Council meeting, and our lovely Guidance Councillor came in to talk about her role in the school.

As part of her activity, she asked each student what they wanted to be when they grew up. We had the usual wonderful array, from sports stars and LEGO technicians to doctors, farmers and flight attendents. Then, she proceeded to go back through the last 4 years and recite what each student had chosen as a career back then. The class was delighted, and it sprung a great discussion about why we feel different ways depending on who we are around, what we are doing and what we are learning.

In math we began to work on Addition and Subtraction of large numbers. We are starting off with estimation, for which I will have several mini-projects and assignments they can work on at home. I will send the first one home tomorrow. These little projects will focus on the idea of using their math skills to confront very LARGE questions. For example, how many piano keys are there in Newfoundland? Well, the first question would be how many people they know own a piano, how many live in the province, how many keys on a piano, etc. until they find an approximate guess. As you can imagine, the focus is not on getting an exact answer, but using process to apply what they know in the real world.

We used our pop-bottle habitats to explore ideas about food chains and decomposition in science class. The class created their own food chains in their notebooks, using words (in French, of course) such as herbivore, carnivore, omnivore, decompose, connected, energy, oxygen and carbon dioxide. Tomorrow we will focus more on adaptations and niches. There was also a heated discussion about what place on earth is farthest from us, so I asked the parties involved to try to find that out tonight.

Each student also clarified more details on their book report today, namely choosing a book and a format for their presentation. Diorama was a runaway favourite, as were Comic Strip and Poster. Their next assignment (some have already finished) is to work on a one-page synopsis. They will have time to do this in class, but I encourage them to work on it at home as well. This piece of writing should summarize the story, as well as talking about how it made them feel, what the characters' motivations were, and what/how they are going to represent those things in their project.

Most students have finished at least a first draft of their stories in class, and many have completed a second copy. After giving a bit more time to review and finish drafting tomorrow, they will be assigned a final copy to finish at home. I will provide each student with sheets to write this good copy on, and will also give the option of typing it if they would like. The most important thing at this point is that they pay attention to capital letter, punctuation and paragraph form. We have discussed these at length, and will continue to do so.

We will be watching the Saving Species disc of Planet Earth tomorrow afternoon as a class treat. This episode is better known as "The one with the polar bears!!!!" in many Grade 4 circles. Should be fun, with a few snacks to go along. It also lends itself well to incorporating a lot of the ideas we are exploring in math, science and social studies. On another note, the class will be going to view the Book Fair on Thursday and then can purchase on Friday afternoon if they wish. Our class book order should be here before too long as well.

Below are a few links for help with our current unit in Math; pleas not that we Please note that we will not be rounding decimal places. We will begin moving along a bit faster now that everyone has their feet under them. As always, don't hesitate to contact me if you have any questions.

For this next site, I would focus on sections B.8 and B.9 right now. I will also add this site to the blog's sidebar for future reference as Grade 4 Math Practice.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!

I've been taking the opportunity this weekend to add some new features to the blog. I have added a playlist of the songs we are enjoying in class, and a new survey to decide what movie we will be watching on Wednesday. I have also linked to a blog that one of my MUN classmates is maintaining, available in the sidebar with the rest of my useful links.

I have also shuffled around the class's upcoming order of events, to allow for my absence later this week. I am at a conference on Thursday and Friday, and there is a closeout on Monday the 18th. For that reason, we will be studying our pop-bottle habitats with just plants (no critters) for the week, and our class will remain "pet-less" as well. There are a number of other outcomes we can focus on this week, especially with respect to food chains and general French science vocabulary.

A few reminders for tomorrow:
  • Students should bring in a book that they want to use for their Book Report
  • Students should bring back their math tests, signed or initialed by a parent/guardian
  • Book Fair starts this week
On a last note, I am developing a strategy to bring in members of the community to provide instruction on a variety of different topics. These could include skills like origami, cooking, poetry and others. I will provide more information as we move along, and would welcome any suggestions or ideas you may have. 

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Watching cartoons and eating bacon...

Before I get started, I want to make it known that I am uncomfortable having cartoons from my childhood marketed as "Retro". That being said, I had some time last night and this morning to do some review and planning, so I have a few more thoughts and updates on the class.

Now that we are settling into a more comfortable routine and I have a good grasp on where each of them is "at", I think it will give us more freedom to try new things and really sink our teeth into the curriculum. I continue to be impressed by their enthusiasm, and I will never get tired of how endlessly interested they are in EVERYTHING. Any time I start feeling bored by something, I think about how much joy and incredulity I see in the kids when they learn something new.

One effort I would like to make beginning this week is to have the students take greater responsibility for their own organization. This ranges from making sure they "punch in" in the morning, to having them monitor their own progress academically. I have enough material now to put together a basic portfolio for each child, which I want to have them use as a tool to assess their own progress, needs and strengths. In this portfolio, I will have a weekly self-evaluation sheet that will ask them to rate things like how organized they thought they were, how much they enjoyed the activities, and what they think they could have done to improve these factors.

My main goal here is to move from the class-wide discussions we have been carrying out to a more introspective, intrinsic motivation model. Sharing and discussion will still be important, but I think that they are also very capable thinkers and would benefit from having to do so more often. At home, this can be reinforced by having them organize their own household tasks where possible, giving choices rather than yes/no decisions, and asking a lot of questions. I can see that this must already happen a lot of the time, as they are usually very well-prepared and aware of their own abilities and roles.

I also think that the model we are using for book reports can be expanded to accommodate learning in other disciplines as well. If you consult with the list of options I sent home for book reports, you will see models like "Create an Advertising Campaign", "Letter to the Author" or "Invent a Board Game". My intent is to allow students to push their understanding of what they are reading and viewing as far as they are comfortable with.

Beachy Cove Elementary is very supportive of teachers' use of Differentiated Instruction and other inclusionary teaching models, and I think this is a great way to use these concepts. I really think that if we can help the class embrace the idea that understanding can be represented and communicated in many ways, we are well on the way to building the higher-level skills that will serve them well in their future learning, work and social lives. I really think that directing their energy into self-improvement and increased self-confidence is more positive than creating a competitive, "whose project is better" model. I have noticed the latter happening more and more, especially when we are playing class games or carrying out "demand writing" activities in class, and would like to avoid that attitude as much as possible.

In saying that, I think that it is still important not to break the model entirely. Evaluation still has to happen, and all students have to feel comfortable that their efforts will be appreciated and relevant to the expected outcomes. For that reason I am creating a rubric for Tuesday that will encompass multi-disciplinary activities like book reports, learning centres and especially our upcoming Drama in Education program in Social Studies. As always, if you have any questions about what is happening in class (or why), don't hesitate to contact me. The class is also getting more and more comfortable with the idea that they should feel free to ask for explanation whenever they aren't sure, and that knowing why they are doing something is very important.

Having taken our time with the first unit in Math, I want to really jump into some fun problem solving now. We are moving into Addition/Subtraction next, then into Patterns. I have modelled these lessons to include as many other subject areas as possible, in an effort to make it more relatable. The class will also be maintaining a problem-solving journal starting in the next few weeks, which will ask them to use their new and existing skills and interests to solve a variety of problems. This addresses a particular need in our School Development strategy, as well as being a fun way to break down pervasive Math phobias.

I've gone on a bit long, but I wanted to share what I was thinking for the upcoming little while. I welcome any comments you may have, since not everything is written in stone. Have a great Thanksgiving weekend, and congratulations again to the class on their great Math Test success and on filling up the container of Good Behaviour tokens.

Movie Wednesday, anyone? (See survey on the top right corner of the blog)

Friday, October 8, 2010

Smoothe grooves...

I have been playing a lot of French and French-Canadian pop/rock/hip-hop music for the class, in an effort to expose them to the different language and culture in a pleasant, passive way. Zebda is a popular choice, so I thought I would post one of their songs, "Je crois que ca ne va pas etre possible". Zebda was a phenomenon; a multi-racial, very popular band from France in the 1990's. Their lyrics are understandable, their messages positive, and their hooks and beats are very relatable to current tastes among the Grade 4-5 demographic. At least, I hope so. Hope you enjoy!

Gobble Gobble

I've decided to keep tonight's post brief, as I will be doing a large post tomorrow with information for the upcoming weeks. There are still a few things I need to sort out tonight after having spoken to the class, so I will let you know all about that tomorrow. For now:
  1. Book Report guidelines have been sent home. We discussed these at length in class, and everyone seems interested. I've asked them to have a book with them on Tuesday that they want to review.
  2. I didn't sent home reading journals over the long weekend, but obviously I still want them to be reading throughout their break.
  3. The students have a surprise coming on Wednesday as a result of having filled up their container of tokens for good behaviour.
  4. The next Monopoly Money auction will be next Friday.
  5. Thanks to parents who have contributed books to the classroom library and small prizes to the pool of auction items. Any and all such contributions are much appreciated by the students and I.
  6. I will start assigning weekly word lists and verbs beginning next Friday. Since next week is short and I will be at a conference next Thursday and Friday, I decided this was the best course of action. I have been focusing on vocabulary and verb acquisition in class instead.
  7. Our next math unit is 3 and 4-digit addition and subtraction
  8. The class terrarium should be up and running before long!
  9. We elected a class representative for the Student Council today. Congratulations to all the candidates who ran.
Please check back tomorrow afternoon, since I will be uploading a more detailed post tomorrow morning. Have a great long weekend!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

A scene of Math hysteria.

Sory, another bad pun. My post today will be brief, since most of our activity today was focused on the Math quiz. I'm happy to say everybody did really well, with the majority of errors related to rushing, misreading or small lapses in memory. There were a possible 32 points, of which nobody got less than 24. This fraction is written on the bottom corner of the back page, and an official "Grade" is written on the front in pink marker. I graded them on the same 1-5 scale you will see on their report cards.

We also went over the whole test (while eating cake, just to soften the blow), to make sure that the class all understood how I was marking it and what I was looking for. All in all everybody seemed happy with the result, as was I.

We also did a trial run of our Drama in Education program that will be starting on Monday. It was a great success, and showed very clear and immediate student involvement and understanding. We will be playing the part of early arrivals to Newfoundland (approx. 1650). The class will, over several weeks, be participating in all the planning, activity and industry that would go along with this endeavour.

It will incorporate elements from all areas of the curriculum, from the obvious Science, Social Studies, Art/Culture and Language tie-ins to more obscure Math and Religion links. I'm very excited, and can't wait to get the ball rolling with what I hope will be a very inclusive, personal experience for the diverse group of learners in our class. If anyone is interested in knowing more about this process, I would be happy to talk about it.

Math tests have gone home today, and the framework for Book Reports will be going home tomorrow so the class can get started on what appears to be a much-anticipated activity. Also, just a reminder that the Science habitats are due in tomorrow.

Go Habs Go!

Student of the Week Post: Our trip to Salmonier

Hi I am Alexandria Nichol, I was Student of the Week.

Possibly Spider Marten?
 We went to Salmonier Nature Park. It was really fun. We saw all kinds of animals, like caribous, Newfoundland Martens and a bald eagle. My favorite was the two Newfoundland Martens. We all called one Spider Marten because he would climb on the cage and try to get food. After, we had lunch and then we played tag. We had to go on the bus and the bus ride was really long. When we got back to school, it was time to go.

Well, I guess I have to go too! BYE!!!!!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

A day around the bay

I'm happy to report an eventful, fun and inspiring day at Salmonier Nature Park. We learned a lot, expanded on a number of things we had already been talking about and above all had fun. Luckily the animals were very active, so there were very few that escaped the animal detectives in my class. The interpreter on-site was very helpful, as were the parent volunteers and EXTREMELY PATIENT giftshop staff.

I would encourage you to go through any pictures your child may have taken, and put them in a folder on your computer. Any pictures of animals and habitats will come in handy in the next couple of weeks!

On that note, good luck on final test preparation. The students all seem quite relaxed, as was my intention. There will be NO surprises on the test, and lots of time to complete it.

Talk to you soon.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Tomorrow's forecast: Sunny with a chance of wildlife.

We had another very full, eventful day today in classroom 110. We are currently living in the shadow of some monumental events, namely the math test and the field trip, that overshadowed almost everything else today. I finished responding to math questions, and we had our practice quiz after recess. I am pleased to say that the results were very good, which took a lot of stress of of the students' shoulders. They took these quizzes home with them, to serve as a guideline of any things they might need to review.

We also read ahead in our Science books, in an effort to cover more ground on adaptations, habitats, food chains and other details before the field trip. We put a particular focus on Newfoundland species, both native and invasive. We talked about why the look and act the way they do, and how this might be special adaptations to allow them to thrive in our climate and geographical area. I asked them to think tonight about how many different species they have ever seen in Newfoundland.

We are also moving ahead in Religion. Today the class started learning about Islam, primarily in the context of how it is comparable to other beliefs, practices, organizational structures and values we are familiar with. We are lucky to have a wide variety of faith, geographical and family backgrounds in the class, which affords an opportunity to explore many different points of view. This also tied in to an exercise in Art, which was the examination of totem poles as cultural symbols. We talked at length about the significance and role of symbols in our lives, and the students began to draw their own.

The few science projects I have seen so far look great, and the kids seem to be very proud of them. I will need all of them to be in school by Friday, so we can conduct the next stage of the experiment together. If this is the first you have heard about the project, your child can certainly fill you in. It is part of our Habitats unit, and involves creating a simple environment in a 2L pop bottle.

I decided to wait until Friday to send home instructions for beginning Book Reports, because I think the class is busy enough right now. I will be giving them 8 choices for how they want to present, and would welcome any type of literature as their source material. We will also (finally) be using the recipes the class brought in at the beginning of next week. I plan to start grouping the class more, in an effort to have them become "experts" at certain tasks, then share them with the class.

Here is a link to a virtual tour of the Biodome in Montreal. Madamoiselle Natalie is using it to teach Habitats in her class, and since I haven't had time to do so I thought I would at least make it available to the class. It has a huge variety of amazing interactive features, only several of which we will be able to explore in class. I would encourage you to sit down with your child and explore it if you get a chance, focusing particularly on the adaptations that different animals have in order to survive in their habitat. Also, an added bonus is that it is also available in French! (Make sure you have the volume on!)

Also, here is a link to the Home Page of the Biodome site. Be sure to check out the fact sheets and other links in the bar at the top of the page.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Buddy Readers, 2 Litres, and Fish Feeders

This being another short week, we dove head-first into the issues at hand this morning. First up was our new Etudiante de la Semaine, who did a wonderful job presenting herself and her family to the class. She also brought in some souvenirs and was more than happy to discuss everything with the class. I am constantly impressed at the amount of work students are willing to put into these things at home.

Math review played an important part in our day once again, as I went over problem areas and we had students do examples, write their own questions and share techniques. Students are to bring all math materials back to class tomorrow morning for final review, and they will have a practice quiz that should prepare them for exactly what will be on the test. The main focus of today's efforts was to emphasize the importance of showing how you got an answer. The way math is graded in our current curriculum framework puts a huge emphasis on technique and understanding rather than coming up with a right answer. I would like you to reinforce this at home as well, since making sure your child understands the concept is far more critical than getting them from Point A to Point B.

We had our first buddy reading experience of the year as well, which was a rousing success. It always seems to bring out the best in students, and really warms my heart to see them taking such pride in teaching, helping and comforting their buddies in Kindergarten. I know it is a very valuable experience for the younger readers as well, something that it not lost on our class. We spent a little while discussing how they should help the children undertand, which was a great way to touch on topics of critical literacy, teamwork and accountability.

In science, we have settled on the idea of maintaining a class terrarium. This will have a couple of small amphibians, as well as several small fish. As a link to our science, health and social studies curricula, it will also house a small habitat with plants and soil fauna. We also reviewed the science project they will be completing, which involves creating their own ecosystem in a 2L pop bottle. I have sent home full instructions for this today, and I would encourage you to discuss the project with them. It does not need to be brought to school until Friday, but I would encourage them to get started before then.

I plan on beginning an in-class project in Social Studies that will use techniques often referred to as "Drama in Education". This involves creating a realistic scenario that students must deal with. The one we will be carrying out will cast them as explorers in early Newfoundland. They will be presented with a number of ordeals, dilemmas, problems and possible solutions that they must deal with using what they are learning in class. The idea of approaching it this way is to get them to buy into an idea and be truly immersed in the experience. I will let you know more about this as we begin work on it later in the week.

I have also been informed that we can still use another volunteer for our Field Trip on Wednesday. If anyone is interested, please feel free to contact me. As per new regulations, you would have to provide you own transportation.

Also coming up this week, we will be creating comics in Religion class, and plays in French. I will be asking students to do some brainstorming and research at home over the next few days, since this is something that they generally seem to enjoy. I will also be providing them with a complete overview of their Book Report duties tomorrow. They have already been given some points to ponder, namely what book they would like to report on, but I will provide all remaining details tomorrow. There will be a great deal of choice in terms of what form the report will take, as well as what type of book they will report on.

For example, I would love to help anyone that is interested created a narrated video of a book they like. The technology is quite accessible, and the end result is a lot of fun. Here is an example of one I created last year:

One last note: any students running for Class Representative should be preparing a couple of paragraphs about themselves to present on Thursday. Have a great day, and here is a link about Drama In Education that you may find interesting. It is a bit technical, but pages 2-5 have a lot of interesting information.

Friday, October 1, 2010

After you read this post, keep going! There's more!

We had another whirlwind day today, as a number of projects are nearing completion and just as many are beginning for next week. There were 2 lockdown drills today (for the benefit of both Kindergarten sessions), which resulted in a fruitful discussion about the reasons for having one. I tried my best to waylay any anxiety, while still reinforcing the fact that it is a useful exercise and that it never hurts to be ready just in case.

We had an extended math class to give time to review any questions and concerns, and played a trivia game to help with those more inclined to oral presentation than written. The students also completed activities reinforcing the concepts of number lines and "spelled numbers", which I think helped clarify many nagging issues for the class as a whole.

I also sent home a new math sheet for review. I like it because it uses fairly basic language; this will hopefully prevent any confusion over meaning and allow the class to focus on the math elements. If any more problems arise before Tuesday, feel free to email me so I can advise further. We agreed in class today that the questions should be done for Tuesday to allow for correction and review of any troublesome elements in advance of Thursday's test.

In a day of leaps and bounds, I also presented them with their first formal instruction on verb conjugation. Today's link will provide more information on this. The basic idea is that verbs like monter ("mon-tay", to climb) or danser ("don-say", to dance) need to be altered when used in the present form. If you want to day that you are dancing, then instead of saying "Je danser", you must say "Je danse". The -er suffix is removed, and replaced with an -e. The suffix changes depending on if it is "me", "you", "we", "they", etc. in the following fashion:

je __________e           I
tu __________es         You
il __________e            He
elle _________e          She
nous _________ons     We
vous ________ ez        You (plural or formal)
ils __________ent       They (male)
elles _________ent      They (female)

So, to say "We dance", you would say "Nous dansons".
To say "She dances", you would say "Elle danse".

                        And so on.....

I don't want to burden you with details, but this will be an important concept going forward. These rules (and trust me, many more) are available in textbooks they have at school. If you are interested in buying your child a pocket reference book for verb conjugation, I could point you toward a good, inexpensive one.

As complicated as this seems, they blew through 4 sheets in less than an hour. Oh, to be 9 again!

We also made some advancement on our class pet discussion, and I outlined the next project we will be carrying out in science. They will be asked to create a small habitat in a cut-off 2L bottle or carton at home, then bring it in to class. I decided not to launch the project today, but did suggest that they think about what type of habitat they would like to create. Most already had an idea, but if they want to discuss it that would be great.

A few general housekeeping notes:
  • Thanks to those who have sent in money and permission slips for the Salmonier field trip. If you have not sent it in yet, please do so ASAP
  • We have named a new Student of the Week for October 4th - 8th. This week it was a great success again.
  • The French Money system is going well. I tend to give it out once a day or every few days, which wastes less time and builds anticipation/increases expectations
  • Students will have their first Library Book Exchange on Monday
  • Schedules for October have been sent home; sorry for the elay
  • The math test is scheduled for next Thursday
  • There was a slight delay sending off the book order as they set up my new account, but I hope to see it within the next week or two. In the interim, the book fair will be here for a week or so in October
  • Student Council elections are taking place next week. We have 7 children running to be our Classroom Representative.
Sorry to ramble! Here is the link to French verbs, and another to the homepage for Salmonier Nature Park. QUIA (linked on the right hand side of this page) is also a great resource for French verb games of all kinds.
Conjugating French -er Verbs in the Present Tense:

We will be doing some activities on Monday and Tuesday about the park in anticipation of our trip, but if you get time it would be great for your child to explore the website a bit over the next couple of days.

Salmonier Nature Park:

Have a great weekend!

Student of the Week blog post!

Hi I’m Cameron Rees. I’m the student of the Week because I was helpful, attentive and dependable. Monday I brought my poster, Tuesday I brought monster trucks. Thursday I brought crystals.

I want to talk about a web site called It’s fun and an excellent site. It has fun games that are different games. They are good for everyone!

Well, I had a good time being the student of the week!