Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Cruising through January

Not much to comment on today, just moving along as per my update from Tuesday. I did some specific listening assessment work, in the form of a read-aloud that I had the students answer questions about. Our poetry unit is ticking along, and we got some more work in on our nutrition/exercise unit in health. On that note, I requested the full nutritional information for our school's cafeteria, and it got sent along to me by their regional representative. We will be analyzing these (sometimes surprising) data tables into our health lessons. I can also make copies for any parents who are curious!

We also did a really fun math activity today, reminiscent of an activity I saw demonstrated when I was a student at MUN. Dr. Mary Cameron, a very accomplished prof in their department of Education, gave us lots of time to research and demonstrate different contemporary math-teaching techniques, many of which were very hands-on and fun.

Today, the class split up into groups and made shapes on the floor with masking tape. I assigned a shape to make, such as "A figure with 3 sides and 2 axes of symmetry", or "A figure with 2 equivalent sides and 2 parallel sides". Many of these goals were attainable in a variety of ways, and showed good insight into how students view 2-Dimensional shapes and what they were able to share. They got points based on group involvement, speed of completion and tidiness.

We also downloaded a free LEGO online design program, which the students are really enjoying. It incorporates a wide array of specific and general curriculum outcomes, from spatial reasoning and visualizing to concepts about process, sequence and design.

A few reminders for parents:

  • Sweatathon pledges are coming in, so thanks very much. They can be sent in at any time until the day of the event.
  • Book reports are due next Tuesday.
  • I put off editing our diorama video until we could work on it together in the next week or so. Final copies will be ready soon after.
Have a great night, and talk to you soon.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Update #2 for 2sday.

I thought I'd take this post just to give an update on where we're at in terms of our current curriculum outcomes. Believe it or not, I am already starting to think about marks for the second series of report cards that will be coming out for spring!

In math, we are well into our work on 2-dimensional figures. The main focus in Grade 4 is on symmetry, so we did a fun activity today that had students make a big chart to outline the properties of 2-D figures. We compared numbers of points, sides and axes of symmetry, and tried to think of some rules we could go by. In the afternoon, we made drawings that used the play on words "En Forme" to have students represent different ways of "Staying in Shape" using a variety of shapes. Then, they switched scrapbooks and catalogued all the shapes they could see and what they were used for.

In Science, we will be moving into experimenting with light in earnest. We have spent the last week or so building up vocabulary and doing some pre-evaluation exercises to get us ready for this big step, and I think we are ready. The school has lots of great materials at our grade-level that will allow us to demonstrate the properties and uses of light, many of which they will be able to recreate at home.

We are moving on to "Why People Explore" in Social Studies. The curriculum has us doing many comparisons and analyses of different explorers and situations, in an effort to develop better research and comprehension skills. It is a challenging curriculum to teach, but the class seems to have bought into it. They are also taking full advantage of a variety of atlases, maps and other resource books available in class and in the library. Lately, their interest has also manifested itself in the form of Geography Wars, a student-directed geography quiz/research game.

In Religion, we are moving along in the textbook. The current focus in on friendship, values and morals. We are reading stories from the text, researching wherever possible, and having many good discussions. I often take a chance in Religion class to structure discussions in a way that forces us to practice the idioms, structures and vocabulary that we are focusing on most. We will move into study of the variety of events and customs surrounding Easter and other rites of spring.

As mentioned, book reports are coming along well. We will be starting group novel studies soon in French, and in English Language Arts we continue to study and enjoy poetry as a class. Many students have demonstrated an increased interest and aptitude in music recently, so I also plan to start incorporating more music listening, making and critiquing into our Language Arts and Art classes.

The music teaching staff at BCE does a great job of exposing students to a variety of styles and genres of music, so I would love to take advantage of it. I played some songs on the computer during seatwork today, ranging from Chopin and Saint-Saens to Prokofiev and Tchaikovsky. The class was very quick to react to the music, and quite willing to share their thoughts and emotions.

I'm rambling, so I will cut it off now. If you have any questions, don't hesitate to be in touch.

Back on the Blog

After a bit of a lapse due to some factors that I won't go into now (ahem, stupid computer, ahem..), I am happy to be back on the blog. The end of last week was a whirlwind of activity, as we really start to hit our stride post-Christmas. I don't know if it is the snowfall or what, but the class seems quite invigorated and has been doing some really good work lately.

In particular, I am happy to see progress on recurring projects like book reports and math tests. I had worried that familiarity would breed contempt, but it seems as though it has actually made most students more comfortable in their work and more willing to ask questions and push the envelope in terms of the content and execution of their work. I also see this during their seatwork, where their comfort with the routine is allowing them to get more completed, more quickly.

My prep period is drawing to a close, but I will have a longer post at the end of the day with some links we have been using in class. I apologize for my absence, and please contact me if you have any questions or concerns.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A logical progression

Today was another important day in the continual evolution of our class, something that is becoming more and more common. I fully handed over the reins to students on a number of occasions, in situations where it was clear that their level of interest and comprehension could drive the lesson forward. This is proving to be a key way to involve more introverted class members, and encourages constructive interactions between all students.

Our (daily, it seems) Geography Wars game was again directed by students, who researched and located facts in the Atlas and wrote out corresponding questions. This is a very encouraging sign, as I no longer need to actively solicit such involvement most of the time. I think we are beginning to see the widespread intrinsic motivation and desire to be involved that we have been working toward. It is a testament to the effort and drive of students, as well as the dedication of families at home.

In French, I am starting to move more and more into technical details and writing/comprehension activities. I think that students' comfort levels are increasing rapidly, which allows them to further analyze and criticize written text. This, in turn, improves their writing skills and knowledge. Today we focused on elements of grammar and style, using a text about "Bodies in Motion". It was a very challenging piece of reading, but we took the time to painstakingly dissect it to get as much meaning as possible out of it.

I sometimes worry that this process takes the fun out of reading, but I think I have spent enough of the year encouraging reading for enjoyment alone. I will still do so, but I think that students are in a great position to take their reading skills to the next level. This is an integral part of the English and French Language Arts program in Grade 4, and can be a lot of fun if students are ready and willing.

This afternoon, we went to the computer lab and did some work that involved critiquing websites based on a variety of criteria. Particularly in a time when childrens' access to online content is expanding at a staggering rate, I think that it is increasingly important to give them the tools to make decisions based on the quality, integrity and content of websites. The sheet they filled out asked questions about content, style, prejudice, authorship, relevance and other topics. I would encourage parents to have similar discussions at home. I think that it is important to make our discussions about technology as comprehensive as possible; the internet is not 100% hazardous, nor is it 100% benign and utilitarian. It seems to be somewhere in between, and being able to judge for oneself is an important skill nowadays!

Have a great night, and don't miss Republic of Doyle @ 9:30 NT.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Late Update

Sorry for the late update, but I had quite the busy day! In class, we had a fast-paced day that hit on topics from Graphing and Data Management to Poetry and Geography. I feel like today was a real watershed day for student motivation and achievement - not bad for a Tuesday!

Two students taught today's math class. Wow. The only element of this math unit that had not been covered yet was the lesson about Carroll Diagrams. I knew that a few students had already finished these sheets in the review I sent home last week, so I solicited their help to teach the lesson today. They did a great job, from explaining the concept to leading discussion and answering questions. As if I wasn't feeling intimidated enough, they did it all in French! Well done boys.

We talked about ballads in English Language Arts, which captured the attention of the class more than any other style we have discussed so far. I read "Casey At the Bat", one of my favourites of this style. I am broaching the topic of poetry style in a way that allows students to read poetry of a certain genre, then define it themselves. It seems as though this increases their level of comfort with a variety of styles, particularly when it comes to creation.

I have already mentioned Geography Wars, the game that we play to improve Atlas-using skills and general knowledge. Well, the class has taken it to the next level as usual. Students are now creating their own questions, which lets them lead the activity and find novel information that they think their classmates will enjoy. I think this is a great development.

We had our French money auction today, as I'm sure most parents are aware of by now. The kids are really making the connection between speaking French and progressing in the class, not to mention the correlation between speaking French and obtaining some high-quality prizes. Gel stickers and Pez Dispensers, anybody?

Tonight I sent home an activity that has students report on their food choices, as a precursor to tomorrow's lesson about food groups. Speaking of homework, I am glad to hear that some parents and students downloaded the iPod Apps that I linked to, and have been exploring them. If possible, I will begin using these in class next week.

Have a great week, please contact me if you have any questions.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Monday Funday

We had a great time today, finishing up The Chicken Doesn't Skate and getting all remaining math review taken care of. We also got into the heart of our health unit on Nutrition and Healthy Living, which coincides with Beachy Cove's Sweatathon fundraiser. We had a great time looking at wrappers from our recess and lunch foods, and took plenty of time to ask questions, compare ingredients and figure out how to read the darn things!

One point I tried to make was that not all foods are perfect, and even thought they were amazed to see how much fat, sodium and/or sugar was in foods they enjoy, this doesn't mean they shouldn't enjoy these foods from time to time. The focus of my teaching this unit is to emphasize the importance of understanding the principles and definitions involved in nutrition. By understanding these elements, students will be better equipped to make their own decisions.

I sent home a sheet that outlines the structure of the Sweatathon fundraiser, with a pledge sheet on the other side. As usual, we took a precious few minutes to discuss the why of what we were doing the activity. I think that activities like this get taken for granted, so it was nice to hear students' input on the value of fundraising as well as the value of raising awareness for important issues. It seems as though fundraising or working for a particular cause is a big part of many students' lives.

Here are a few notes for the upcoming week, followed by a links the students enjoy.

  • Students' 200+ word summaries for their Book Reports are due on Wednesday. These summaries, as usual, should include some information about how they plan to present.
  • Our math test (graphing, pictograms, Venn diagrams etc.) is scheduled for Friday.
  • Our "French Money" auction takes place tomorrow.
  • Students will begin working on some quick take-home poetry assignments
Students loved this link today; it allows them to compare a variety of fast foods using different criteria.

As I mentioned previously, it is important to look at these in context. In particular, we looked at % Daily Intake values. This Health Canada site gives lots of good information about Recommended Daily Intake and more.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Lions and foxes and pikas, Oh My!

Just a quick note; I'll post more later on tonight. We had a good day again today, ranging from a Planet Earth movie viewing to work with graphs that students brought in from media sources they found at home. Book exchanges, gym, poetry... all essential ingredients in a healthy breakfast!

Students and parents, enjoy the day tomorrow. I have a PD day, but will try to post to update you during the day at some point.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Live Poets Society strikes back.

Today marked the beginning of our foray into poetry, at least formally. The class has already shown a great affinity for poetry and song of many types, so they were excited to launch into a focused lesson on the subject. We are going through the types of poems outlined on the site I linked to last Saturday; Today we looked at Acrostic, Alphabetic and Autobiographical styles.

Students wrote down the criteria for defining each type, then we each did an example. It was a bit of a riotous afternoon, but we had lots of fun and got lots of good work accomplished. I look forward to seeing their final products when we finish the unit in a few weeks.

As mentioned in a blog post last week (the exact date escapes me now), several students in the class have developed an interest in screenwriting and movie-making. They got together over the weekend to create a script, block scenes and shoot a stop-motion movie. We watched it today, to much acclaim from the rest of the class. It involved Star Wars, a squid, Lego, needles, a nurse and some serious destruction, but I won't spoil the ending just in case it gets picked up at this year's Sundance Festival.

The rest of the day was dedicated to making an exhaustive chart that compared what we know about light to other matter and forces such as electricity, water, living organisms and minerals. This was another great way to get some ideas going and clarify a few things. I plan on conducting an experiment each day throughout the unit on light, since experiments involving things that lack mass or force are usually easier to clean up than other varieties...

We continued reading "The Chicken Doesn't Skate" as well, and things are certainly picking up. Like many books by Canadian author Gordon Korman, the book touches many sensitive issues that are relevant to kids entering Elementary school. Bullying, relationships, school and family all play significant parts, as to a variety of different characters that have their own unique strengths, weaknesses and hopes. The book is very funny and poignant, and the good news is that we're only halfway through!

As a note to parents, we set dates for the 200 Words (Book Report) to be finished, as well as a date for the next Math Test. Math review sheets are now in the yellow DuoTangs, and can be finished up to Lesson 6.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Fun with Wordle

The above image is an image that represents the text of this blog using Wordle. Wordle is a function that creates a visual representation of written text. The most frequently used words are represented with the largest font, and vice versa. This is a tool that we will use in class to help students craft their writing, and is a fun thing to do with any typed project! Just go to, and enter the text you wish to have turned into a Wordle.

Oh No! The January Plague has hit!

Well, it seems as though the usual attack of influenza that hits schools this time of year is starting to rear its ugly head. A couple of students spent the day sick in bed, so I wish them all the best in a speedy recovery. Far better to take a day than to infect everybody else!

We have a great new fun activity in class, called "Geography Wars". I have matching French-language atlases in class, which allows the class to split into teams and compete to find information within. A lot of the questions I ask are specific to certain pages, tables, charts or maps in the book. My intention is to present the process and results of research and data collection in a fun way, and it seems to be a resounding success.

Questions range from geographical (What mountain range dominates northern India?) to aviary (What is the official bird of Guatemala?) to culinary (What are the three main ingredients in sushi?). The intent is not to memorize these facts, but to become familiar with the processes involved in finding them. By tapping into a bit of competitive spirit and camaraderie, it has become a much less daunting task.

We will be finishing up our math unit about data management and graphing before too long. Today we looked at Venn diagrams, a personal favourite of mine. These proved challenging, but I believe the class can see their usefulness when it comes to managing and classifying information. Parents, I will be sending home the chapter review sheets in Yellow DuoTangs by tomorrow.

We also started exploring our unit about Light today, in the form of a quick scan through the chapter headings and a discussion about what some possible answers to the questions posed might be. These questions focused on everything from the nature of light to movement, colours and collection for energy production. This was a good way to update our mental vocabulary lists, as well as highlighting (for me) what words need to be worked on a bit more. We wrapped it all up by drawing pictures of all the different ways light is created, harvested, measured and seen around us.

In social studies, I have been using the text book a bit more as a tool to develop students' skills in comparison, synthesis and application of information. Today we compared 2 stories; one about a recent 9-year old immigrant to New Brunswick and the other about the first female African-American pilot. The two stories had some similarities, and many differences as well. We broached the very dicey, heavy topic of racism in the context of understanding the challenges some people face, and how others in a society can make efforts to empathize with them and offer support. Students were a wealth of personal anecdotes and ideas, and did a great job on the activity.

I will remind parents in particular to check out the post from Saturday, since it contains a wide variety of useful sites, links and resources for the upcoming month or so. Students have also been assigned homework tonight, that being to find a graph in some sort of media. I have suggested that if they are having trouble, they can find one on a math site linked in an earlier blog post.

Talk to you tomorrow, and as always let me know if you have any questions.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

A rainy Saturday

Now that we've gotten back into the swing of things, I thought it would be a good idea to post some new useful links. The main focuses of the upcoming month or so will be:
  • Health: Nutrition and Healthy Living - This is a site we are using in class, and one I have linked before. - This is a fun and useful site, for searching nutrition data on almost  any food or browsing things by category. I will be assigning work that uses this site in the next few weeks.

  • Math: Graphing and Data Processing, Multiplication Facts - This site generates graphs and poses questions about them. It is a good review/supplement tool, and will come in handy when we begin our review for this chapter in a week or so. The site can also generate review questions for a variety of other topics. - The Saskatoon School Board maintains this site, which has many strategies for doing mental math. This includes everything from basic addition to multiplication, and would serve as a good reference for helping with homework and improving multiplication skills and techniques.
  • Social Studies: Explorers and Research Methods - This is another site we will be using in class; it is an archive of exploration-themed stories from Canada's history. There is also a link to Newfoundland's Historical Archives in a blog post from September.
  • Science: Light and Optics - We will be carrying out experiments throughout our "Light" unit in Science. If students are interested, there are some fun projects to do at home on this page. They reinforce a lot of the basic concepts we will be learning, as well as the ever-important Scientific Process.
  • French: Literature Study, Process Writing and Book Reports
I have already posted a number of links related to novel study, process writing and book reports in past blog posts, which can be found by entering any of these terms into the Search box at the top of the page. 
  • Language Arts: Poetry, Public Speaking, Voice and Structure - This is a fun poetry site, one that I will be using for some take-home projects. There are tons of light-hearted, fun poems in a variety of styles. Students have already shown great interest in poetry, so I think it will be an easy sell. - Here are a variety of poetry forms that students will become familiar with in the next couple of months. This site would be worth bookmarking for future reference, for students and families.
  • Religion: Seasonal topics, with a focus on how morals and cultural background affect decisions and opinions - Most of the content for our religion curriculum is found in the text, but I will be incorporating some elements of this useful website as well. I think that this site will be particularly useful as we start to move into topics related to decision-making and self-reflection. I have more information on this approach if you are interested.
  • General: Uses for Technology, Healthy Living, World Geography
My first suggestion would be to bookmark and use the interactive map I posted earlier in the week. It has some great functions and will come in handy in a variety of curriculum areas.

                - This link is one I will be using to find educational Apps for iPod Touch, a resource that seems to be readily available to many students. The portability, relevance and interactivity of the device is very well-suited to our classroom environment, and I would encourage you to explore these Apps at home as well (especially the free ones). - A final link, sorry to overwhelm everyone! This one also focuses on nutrition, and can be used either with a membership or not. 

Have a great weekend, talk to you soon.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Welcome to the weekend

Just a quick note for tonight, more tomorrow morning as usual. The class finished up their letters for the Great Canadian Mail Race today, and we also did a great job on a Social Studies project about explorers. The afternoon, as a big "Thank You" for the effort everybody put in this week, we spent a couple hours playing games. We set up a dozen or so stations that had students playing games such as Chess, Scattergories and a variety of problem-solving, electronic and "just-for-fun" games.

The kids kept track of who they played (and what game they played), and prizes will be given out on Monday for the students who played the most games + the most different opponents. The juice and cookies were a big hit, as I'm sure you found out approximately 2 hours later.

I will give some more details tomorrow, but have a great weekend! To all budding screenwriters in my class, best of luck on the sleepover/production meeting/script development session.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

A few more details for the Old Christmas Day

As promised, a few more words on today's activities! I continue to be impressed by the progress the class is making in their oral french-speaking skills. To take advantage of this, I am incorporating grammar, verb and spelling lessons into our usual "Show and Tell" sessions. While the importance of spontaneous written expression cannot be overstated, I subscribe wholeheartedly to current notions that language must come first, in order for written/technical skills to be developed.

I am also happy to see how students have embraced the variety of media I have suggested they use in their book reports. So far, January book reports are taking the form of videos, character sketches, posters, narrations, role-plays and written descriptions.

Tomorrow afternoon I have planned a special fun activity, centered around board games. The class has showed interest in games such as chess, Scrabble, Scattergories, Guess Who and dice, to the extent that I think we could have a lot of fun playing these together in a more organized way. I think it will also be a lot of fun to start discussing strategy, methods and more complicated games in this framework. Oh, and cookies should help ease the whole process....

Thanks to all those that helped students research towns, schools and ideas for our letter-writing project. We will finish final copies tomorrow.

Holy Busy Day, Batman!

I will post a longer update later, but wanted to give a little glimpse of what we were up to today. We wrote first drafts of our letters for the Great Canadian Mail Race, and did some more work on "The Chicken Can't Skate". Book Reports were pitched, graphing reviewed indepth as a class, and in religion we talked about animals.

The latter activity spun into a discussion of moral code and moral obligation, a topic that I have wanted to approach for some time. The class was very interested in the idea, particularly as it applies to other issues we have already dealt with in class. The students were quick to consider how their own moral code would apply to situations like habitat loss, friendship and other issues in a variety of subjects.

Talk to you later!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Creamy Orangesicles and much more.

Parents, feel free to ask your child about the title of this post. For the rest of you, just Google "Creamy Orangesicles" for more information. We had a fun-filled day today, taking time to go to the computer lab for a research session and technology study. We also played a board game on the SmartBoard (mind the generation gap!) and exchanged library books. Add in gym and music this morning, and I think the class was pretty happy with our day.

We are well into our new read-aloud book, and working on questions relating to concepts like point-of-view, character, plot and voice. Our next read-aloud will be in French, but I wanted to do one last English book to help polish their skills.

We are participating in an activity known as the Great Canadian Mail Race, which will see us respond to a letter and send out one apiece to random schools across Canada. Students have been tasked with choosing a city/town and a school tonight, as well as picking what language they would like to write in and what content they would like to include. I would encourage you to sit with them and look at a book/map/Google Maps to find a place that interests them.

Then, search the website of the local schoolboard (or once again, Google) to find the name of a school. If they have chosen to write in French, please make sure that the school has Early French Immersion, or is in a francophone province. If internet access or resources are an issue, please don't worry. I will help students fill out any missing information tomorrow morning.

I have also asked students to prepare for their book reports by choosing a book and bringing it to school tomorrow if they have any questions. I want to give as much time as possible to work on the project.

Here is a link to the "Membership" page of the Canadian School Boards Association. On the right-hand side, you can see links to most provincial school boards.

This link will take you to a useful interactive map of Canada. I would suggest bookmarking it for future reference.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Back on the blog!

After a lovely Christmas break, I'm back into full swing in the blogosphere. Today was the class's first day back after the holidays, and while we had the usual first-day sluggishness, we got into the swing of things fairly quickly. It was great to see the students again, and hear what they got up to over their break.

My initial concern was that the class' interest in French would have declined while they were vacationing, but they actually got back into things really quickly. The first order of business was to discuss the holidays, using our familiar verbs and tenses to tell what had happened, what gifts had been acquired etc. The activity was done as either individual journal writing or as an interview. I have been trying to give such options wherever possible, since it seems to help engage the class more completely and keep things interesting.

In the same vein, we carried out a response-writing activity based on a newspaper story about a group of women from Bonavista who have been doing missionary work in Uganda. I am noticing that the class has made great strides in their abilities to analyze text for content, meaning and style. For our next activity we discussed the idea of New Years Resolutions, and made our own related to school and our class in particular. It was a great way for students to set some soft goals, and also gave me some insight into their specific concerns and interests over the upcoming term. I would encourage you to discuss these goals and the idea of reflection and improvement in general.

We also kept working on graphing in math, again in partners. The next step will be to create our own material, using the surveys we sent home in Science and a booklet I made from sports pages in The Telegram. This booklet outlines the scoring totals and biographical information of all Newfoundlanders (past and present) in the NHL, and has been a source of great interest.

Buddy writing, some art activities and the beginning of a new read-aloud book filled out the day, and more! I am excited for this part of the year to get going, so here are some of the highlights coming up, and some areas I would like students to focus on.
  • Our next unit in health will combine fitness and nutrition, and incorporate elements of an ongoing CBC TV/radio/internet focus on youth and adult health/lifestyle.
  • I have been promised that the arrival of our (mine included) Scholastic order is imminent.
  • The next unit in science concerns light, which should give us lots of opportunity to experiment and have fun.
  • Students will be carrying out more self-reflection activities to be included in their portfolios, and will decide on the topic of their personal project in the next couple of weeks.
  • There is no school on January 13th, as noted on the January schedule that was sent home today.
  • Please work on multiplication facts at home with your child. If you would like additional resources to help with this, please let me know ASAP. It is crucial that math facts learning be supported at home in a meaningful (not rote-learning, if possible) way.
If you have any questions or concerns, please let me know.