Sunday, April 24, 2011

Happy Easter

Hope everybody had a great day today! I will be posting an update tomorrow with some useful info and links, but having spent the day painting I will now proceed to watch hockey and eat chocolate.

Have a great vacation, and if you have any questions or comments please let me know.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Some bloggy math

I've been crunching numbers while watching the 'Nucks/'Hawks game, thought you may be interested. Since I started the blog last fall...
  • I have posted 166 times (with 9 unpublished drafts). This breaks down to:
    • 57,608 total words
    • 244 total pages in MS Word
    • An average of 347 words per post

  • The blog has been viewed a total of 10,928 times. This breaks down to:
    • A previous monthly high of 2037 "hits" in March, 2011
    • A current total of 2782 hits in the last 30 days

  • The #1 post in terms of total views is "Tomorrow's Forecast: Sunny with a chance of wildlife", with a total of 366 pageviews.

  • The top 6 countries, ranked by # of pageviews, are:
    • Canada
    • USA
    • United Kingdom
    • Slovenia (???)
    • India
    • Australia

  • The top Internet browsers used to access the blog are:
    • Internet Explorer: 57%
    • Safari: 19% (trending upward quickly)
    • Firefox: 14%
    • Other: 10%

  • The top Operating Systems used to access the blog are:
    • Windows: 76%
    • Mac: 17%
    • iPad/iPhone: 4% (that didn't take long...)
    • Other: 3%

  • The top referring sites (sites that people get directed here by) are:

Interesting stuff! I hope you've all been enjoying it as much as I have. Thanks to all the parents, students, teachers and other educators that have given such constructive feedback and support over the last months.

The last gasp before Easter

Mr. Bunny! I had no idea....
Hey gang! Today was another busy day in class, trying to get things prepped in the leadup to Easter vacation. Just a few notes, with another post tomorrow when time permits more detail.

Tomorrow we have Music, Gym and ArtsSmarts. Also included in the mix is an Art activity that we will be doing as part of a Student Council competition, and some work on Personal Projects. Needless to say, the time leading up to Easter will not be Status Quo as far as schoolwork is concerned. I think we all remember these times from our schooling! Thanks though, to parents who have volunteered to help with ArtsSmarts tomorrow. I developed the pics tonight and they look great!

We had a chance today to start some work on the finer points of writing (in French of course). My approach has been to introduce process writing in more meticulous detail, then start taking a closer look at elements like grammar, word selection, voice, genre, plot and action. If you are looking for more information on process writing and specific conventions, please search old posts for helpful links or look at the curriculum links on the right sidebar.

Today, we carried out a tiered activity to start our brainstorming. First, each student had a chance to pick a broad topic (action, verbs, adjectives, characters, nouns) and brainstorm for a few minutes. Then we shared some ideas, and students solicited suggestions to elaborate on their work. The next step was to pair up, and do some more focused brainstorming on some key points like the use of descriptive words, key verbs and means of creating action.

The result was a number of great lists based on these broad concepts. I collected these, and will use them to guide individual lessons with the end goal of creating a folder for each student that has these ideas sorted out. This should help when writing, by giving relevant information on focused parts of their writing.

Portugal Cove, 1908. Picture courtesy McCord Museum. For more interesting Portugal Cove pictures, search "Portugal Cove" on Flickr.

Finally, students worked on their ArtsSmarts project in the form of a journalling exercise. In the same spirit as the interview they conducted at home, students reflected on their impressions of life in Portugal Cove-St. Philip's. They talked about their favourite things, possible improvements, future goals and other key points. I think that parents will be very interested to see these finished projects; they will be a very interesting artifact to keep around. Students were excited to think, that, in 20 years their work will be seen as a real history of Portugal Cove-St. Philip's in our day.

Drop me a line or leave a comment if you have any questions.

Monday, April 18, 2011

46 to go... unbelievable!

I was making up my plans for the rest of the year over the weekend, and was shocked to find out that there are only 46 days of school left in Grade 4. I was a bit taken aback, for two reasons. First, it seems like the beginning of school was just a few months ago. Second, I'm not entirely sure how everything is going to get finished! After some hyperventiation and a chat with another Grade 4 teacher, I was satisfied that I was going to be able to take care of business and get things to where they need to be in plenty of time. That being said, things are advancing quickly for sure.

We are moving along quickly in our Fractions unit, since there is a lot of crossover with the previous unit on grouping and multiplication/division. The class is enjoying fractions, particularly because it is a topic that lends itself well to visual and tactile examples. I think we will get an opportunity to do some fun activities later that incorporate food - Pizza anyone? That being said, it is still worthwhile to keep looking over things at home. There are a number of links on the sidebar (to your right) that have fractions quiz/study/practice pages, all of which will provide your child with valuable practice on which to build their projects and in-class work.

Another interesting things we have coming up is an International literacy test. We were randomly selected by the Council of Ministers of Education (Canada) to participate in the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS). This is a test given every 5 years around the world, meant to measure trends in reading, as well as school policy on reading and literacy. I have decided that the class will write the test on May 4th, in the week after we return from Easter Break.

This test is not an evaluation, and will not count toward student grades. It will be confidential and goes directly to an international evaluation committee, with no results available that would reflect school/student/school board achievement. Even though it will take some class time to administer, I think that participating in research that will increase our understanding of literacy trends worldwide is incredibly valuable. This is information that I use frequently, and helps us make better decisions about how to increase literacy and refine students' reading, writing, speaking and viewingn skills.

I will be sending home a pamphlet that explains more, as well as a survey to be completed by parents. Again, this will be confidential. If you have any questions, you can let me know.

In other news....
  • I have rescheduled the health test that was originally meant to be written tomorrow. It will go ahead Thursday instead, and students have already brought home a study guide to help them review. This will be a short, fact-based test on legal and illicit drugs. There are a few opinion-based questions (to be supported with fact) that I have already given them to study.
  • I am very happy with the progress students are making in their personal projects. I will be giving another block of time to work on them tomorrow, and I am still helping many students make final revisions on their written work. Some students have made it clear that they want to work on them a bit over Easter, which I encourage. I will be available by email over the break, so please contact me with any questions.
  • For the parents of children who are going on vacations during instructional time: Please double-check that I have exact dates, so I can assign relevant tasks to be done while/before they are absent.
  • I will be assigning some light reading over Easter, with the expectation of them doing some reflection as they read daily. If this will be a logistical problem, please let me know.
  • ArtsSmarts projects (interviews/memory maps/pictures) are due TOMORROW! Also, I am looking for a few parent volunteers to help us out on Wednesday afternoon. If you are interested or available, please let me know. Sorry for the short notice, but I was only informed of this today.
Talk to you soon, and please don't hesitate to contact me with any questions.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

What a day!

I checked in at school after I finished up my session at 4:00, just to see how things had gone today. Looks like the science test went really well, and I'm glad to see that students are already racking up points in our NHL Playoff Pool!

My session today was intended to get teachers' ideas for the ongoing development of the Grade 4 English Language Arts curriculum. It was a great opportunity to look into some of our curriculum outcomes in greater detail, and to get the input and ideas of some very dedicated teachers with a great deal more experience than I.

I will post more over the next couple of days, including some more links and hints for the upcoming weeks. If you have any questions or concerns about our ongoing/upcoming tasks, please let me know.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Getting everything together

Today was very busy, as the class carried out its ArtsSmarts activity, and had gym and music to boot. This made it challenging to get much else done, but we succeeded in moving ahead in Math and our Personal Projects, as well as putting the final touches on the "Hockey Pool" activity and finishing up our studying for the science test.

Students will start recording their players' point totals tomorrow, using their French exercise books. They will have a chance to do this in the morning (in place of Saviez-vous que for the time being), but I am sure many will be interested in finding out before they get to school. To that end, here are some links to a few sites that will help students find these stats:

The science test is tomorrow, and most students seem well-prepared. I will stress again that ALL MATERIAL ON THE TEST is taken directly from students' study guides. For that reason, there will be no need to ask for help or clarification during the test. Good Luck!

I'm off to prepare for the next couple of days, but if you have any questions about anything (ArtsSmarts interviews, Personal Projects, etc.) please let me know via email.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A late post

Hi gang! After a few busy days, here's a quick update of where we're at. I will have a more complete update tomorrow as time warrants, since tonight has been dedicated to preparing the class for my absence later in the week.

  • Personal Projects will not be due until after Easter. This will allow students to keep "puttering" over the Easter vacation, and I don't want to rush some very promising projects to their conclusion before necessary.
  • We had our hockey draft today! There was a great deal of excitement, and evidence of much preparation. I filled out the teams to 8 players each rather than the 10 I had suggested before, just to avoid thinning out talent too much, and to leave some players for pickup later on.
  • Thanks to parents who have been sending in their childrens' personal projects for review and elaboration in class. I love to see their project, and I think they benefit from a maximum amount of feedback.
  • We will be carrying out our ArtsSmarts project tomorrow; thanks to all who sent in cameras. The take-home part of the ArtsSmarts project went home today, but is not due until next Tuesday.
In tomorrow's post, I will link to sites necessary for monitoring players' scoring in our hockey pool, and wrap up my preview of upcoming material, concepts and resources. Off to watch the English-language debate while I plan for the home stretch up to Easter vacation! If you are interested (especially if your child is interested), the debate is on CBC TV, CBC Radio 1, and also CBC's Facebook page. 

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Weekend Update continued

I don't have time to finish up what I started yesterday, due to renovation commitments! It's such a sunny day, there is painting that can't wait until next weekend. That being said, I hope to outline our upcoming projects and information in Religion, French, Language Arts and a few other areas in the upcoming days. The work in these subjects will remain consistent until the week after Easter vacation, so is less pressing.

Hope everybody is having a great weekend; I'm off to finish painting, then put together the draft lists for our Playoff Hockey Pool. If you have any questions or concerns, please let me know.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Another Weekend Update

In the interest of keeping ahead of things, I thought I would create a post with some useful links, ideas and information about upcoming and ongoing topics we are working on in class. As with other times I have done this, I will break things down by subject. For parents, this might be a good post to bookmark for future reference.


Our next topic is fractions. This is a logical next step after the grouping activities in our multiplication unit. My approach to this unit will be very hands-on, and will also incorporate a lot of problem-solving techniques. One good resource to help with review and practice can be found on the right sidebar of this blog. It is called "Visual Fractions: Activities and Extra Work" and is a great resource. I have used it when tutoring students in the past, since it provides very concrete examples and activities.
Another useful link that is permanently on the blog sidebar is called "Virtual Math Manipulatives". This site provides digital renderings of many of the tools we will be using in class, including blocks, fraction disks and other manipulative materials. Throughout this chapter, I will be directing students to use this link to help them with homework and review.

This next site is not permanently linked on the blog, but will be very useful for this unit. It has a wide array of review activities that students can use to evaluate their understanding and get ahead of the game if they would like to.


In health, our ongoing discussion of drugs and medication will be tested on Tuesday, April 19th. We have had many good discussions on the topic so far, and I know the class is curious to know more. I think that anything beyond discussion and communication of basic details lies outside the scope of what we can discuss in class, but I would encourage you to talk more about this important topic at home. So far we have discussed the effects of prescription and over-the-counter drugs, as well as substances like caffeine, nicotine and alcohol. We will go on to discuss illegal drugs in some detail next week as well.

That being said, here are a few links that have information about drugs and other similar substances. These sites cater to children and their parents, and provide information in a way that is age-appropriate and accurate.

For students reading the blog, I am happy to see how interested you are in getting the information you need to make good decisions, and I encourage you to keep asking great questions at school and at home.


Our science test is on Thursday, April 14th. It will assess the students' understanding of the important elements of our unit on Light, and will cover material that the students generated during an independent review session earlier in the week. Students will be bringing home their notes and text books on Monday to help study for the test, as well as a comprehensive study guide. We will be doing some light-related experiments in the time leading up to Easter, and starting our next unit after the vacation.

Social Studies

Our next unit in Social Studies opens up to a focus on global landforms, continents and weather. It sticks with the processes we have been learning, as well as our focus on Exploration. Along with the other grade 4 teachers at BCE, I have been developing a unit that focuses on the use of Choice Boards to pick a means of presenting what you are learning/have learned. We have already used Choice Boards in the Personal Projects, but the board we will use in Social Studies is very comprehensive and should provide some challenges as well as helping students express their skills and interests.

For help with this upcoming unit, I would direct students and parents to several useful sites that focus on many facets of Geography. The first is Geography for Kids, a site that I have already linked this year. It has lots of fun things to do, with a particular focus on political geography rather than landforms.

National Geographic Kids is perhaps an obvious choice, but bears mentioning because it is such an exceptional website. It has the basics you would expect from National Geographic (great pictures and content), but really makes an effort to address things kids find interesting in a meaningful way. A lot of sites tend to "dumb it down" for kids content related to math and science, but this site is at once fun, engaging and challenging. When confronted with projects or assignments that ask them to pick a topic or find information, I would highly suggest using this site as a primary resource.

Since a familiarity with the Continents and major Oceans is a necessity for the upcoming unit, I thought I would link the following site. It has some quizzes and activities to build familiarity with the location and names of the continents. The activity is in English, but will help nonetheless.

To follow up on these activities, students can complete some similar familiarity activities in French.

I will post links about the remaining subject areas tomorrow. Enjoy your weekend!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Great job, everybody

Today we had our Earth Day Assembly, which was well attended by parents and students alike. The class did a great job in their retelling of a traditional Australian folktale that cautions about water use, and sang some beautiful songs. It was a very funny, upbeat presentation that was enjoyed by all!

I haven't assigned much work for the weekend, just keep going on the personal projects and read a few French books. If students are interested, I would suggest they start thinking about what players they would like to pick for our NHL Playoff Draft on Tuesday. As mentioned in an email I sent home on Thursday, I will send home the kids with a full draft list on Monday for them to review. Should be fun!

Have a great weekend, and I'll post again on Sunday with some useful links.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The glory and misery of the Hockey Pool

John and Kyle, this picture's for you...
 As the title alludes, we will be starting a class hockey pool in the next few days. I plan to have the draft on Monday, so will be sending students home with lists to choose players from over the weekend. It will be a neat way to teach media skills and work on some math concepts, and since it's just about all the class talks about it should engage them fairly well. I will send home full details with their "cheat sheets" tomorrow.

I have decided to push back the health test until the 18th at least, since we are not finishing the chapter before the end of next week. Also, the science test will be moved to Thursday, April 14th. We began our review today, in an activity that had students form an "anchor"group to brainstorm topics, then "jigsaw" with other groups throughout the class to fill out their list of terms and concepts. The last step was to return to their anchor group and finally share their ideas with the class. I have found that this helps the students take ownership of the information, and gives me a good idea of what might need elaboration.

Math tests went home today, with a complete answer key attached. This answer key also has hints about what steps they should take next in order to keep improving their understanding and results, which I think will be useful going forward. After the test comes back signed, I will give each student a copy of the answer key to use when studying for future math tests. The idea is to model a good answer more effectively, so that students will be 100% clear of the expectations I have for them. If you have any questions about test results, please let me know. Also, if your child isn't happy with their result I am willing to spend some extra time reteaching and offer a makeup activity next week sometime.

A note also went home today about a dance on Friday night. It is another benefit for the PCSP youth soccer team, and several students expressed interest in attending. All relevant details can be found on the slip in your child's "sac plastique".

In addition to the photography element of our ArtsSmarts project, we will be asking students to interview a senior member of the community and pose several guided questions. This assignment is not due for a while, so I will probably send it home on Monday. However, students may wish to start thinking of who they would like to interview. An accompanying letter with full instructions will be sent home with the project.

Becoming an Expert projects seem to be moving along well. A few more students handed in drafts for me to correct today, as I requested earlier in the week. The correction process is very fruitful for development of good editing, spelling and grammar habits, and has resulted in some great final products so far. I will also reiterate that students are welcome to stay after school if they need help or technology to work on their project. I need advance notice, but this process has been going well so far.

I thought it might also be interesting to list some of the cool things students have made so far, for inspiration and for interest's sake!The list includes:
  • A recipe for Viking apple juice
  • A Mexican "Ball and Cup" toy
  • A model of the CN Tower
  • 2 stop-motion videos
  • PowerPoint presentations about Australia, Building Techniques, Minor Hockey, Vikings and Animation
  • A virtual tour of China
  • A travel brochure
  • Hockey cards
  • Interviews with builders, animators, professional hockey players and their mothers
  • An SPCA-themed Bingo Game
  • A diorama of the D-Day invasion at Normandy
  • WW2-themed poetry
  • Texts about the history of Tokyo and China
This is a partial list, but gives an idea of the breadth of scope of this project. Sharing ideas each class has been a very useful enterprise, so hopefully posting them here will inspire some feedback and encouragement as well.

Have a great sunny day, and please contact me if you have any questions.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Another math test bites the dust! (Part 2)

Just to follow up on what I posted earlier today...

The math test went very well, and this time I offered several bonus questions. They were all on topics that relate to the content the class covered during this chapter, but took things to the next level. Everybody in class attempted them, and everybody managed to get some of them right. As mentioned before, I am going to give more feedback on this test than I have on others; multiplication is a very important concept and will be coming up over and over throughout the rest of the year.

Several of the girls in class are part of a new basketball team that has been organized this year at BCE. They are making huge progress already, and competing very hard against some very experienced teams. To that end, we will be creating some posters this week to support them in their upcoming games against teams from Mount Pearl and St. John's. I will be posting results and progress reports about the team on upcoming blog posts, and hopefully some pics as well.

Also, I hope to have some new videos posted by the end of the week. For the first half of this chapter in health, we talked about medication. The culminating activity had students divide up into groups and present sketches that discussed a variety of topics such as Prescription Drugs, over-the-counter medication and drug safety. It was fun to see the progress from the last videos we created, especially in terms of scripting and presentation.

Have a great evening, and let me know if you have any questions about upcoming activities.

Another math test bites the dust! (Part 1)

We persevered through another math test today, and I am very happy with the overall results so far. I have decided to give more feedback on this test than usual, so I will be taking them home tonight to work on. Each will come back with a list of suggested things to work on, which will range from specific concepts and topics to review to more complicated topics that they can move onto.

I will post more later, but I just wanted to mention a few key points in the meantime.
  • The Earth Day Assembly is this Friday. Grade 4 parents are welcome to attend (you can arrive just before 1pm), and I have asked the class to dress entirely in blue, green or brown
  • I have been stressing to students that they should submit any written work from their Personal Project to me for revision at some point. This will allow me to monitor progress more effectively, diagnose and correct any difficulties students are having, and result in a higher-quality project.
  • I am planning to push the presentation date for Personal Projects to the week after Easter. This will allow a bit more time to polish things, and avoid scheduling it in the pandemonium-filled week before Easter. I will talk more about this with the class tomorrow, and let you know a final decision later.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Quel heure est-il?

Today was just as busy as anticipated, but was very rich in learning experiences. We worked on the presentation for Friday's Earth Day Assembly, and I have to say that it is a very polished, well-executed show they have put together. It deals specifically with the protection of our water supply and careful water use, incorporating a traditional Australian folktale with songs and interesting facts.

I also noticed today that students are spending an inordinate amount of time watching the clock as they get close to recess and lunch. I understand why this is tempting, but there has been a tendency lately for students to miss information or not complete tasks because they are too busy anticipating the end of class. My solution today was to cover up the clock!

Even though it caused some initial anxiety, we got a remarkable amount of work completed. My goal in doing so is to impress the idea that it doesn't matter whether the time is 2:30 or 8:45, because we've always got to be doing our best work and keeping on task.I don't plan to continue with this full-time (sorry for the pun), but I will do it when it comes in handy.

We also had a discussion about using social networks such as Facebook and online gamerooms today, since this is becoming a pervasive element in our class and throughout the school. We talked about the complete absence of privacy online, and how people (especially kids) can be very vulnerable. On the other hand, I also talked about how they are liable for the things they say and do. I think that it is important to communicate to students that the things they do, say and share online will follow them into school the next day, so they have to conduct themselves appropriately at all times. This was well-received, and is a discussion that we will certainly continue as we incorporate more online elements into our class routine.

The math test is tomorrow afternoon, so I have asked students to review their math sheets and have anything they are uncertain of prepared for tomorrow morning's review session. I think students are generally comfortable with the material, but please don't hesitate to bring anything to my attention. Have a great evening (in the snow, unfortunately) and talk to you soon.

Monday, April 4, 2011

The busiest week ever?

Things are really starting to accumulate quickly around here, as we move into the final push before Easter. The class (along with the rest of the Grade Four students) will be presenting an Earth Day assembly this Friday, for which we are still preparing. They also have a math test on Wednesday, and science and health tests next week.

We didn't get much chance to work on Becoming an Expert projects today, so I just did a quick check-in with the students. Most seem to be meeting their time lines, and many are moving on to work on things that they didn't even plan to in their original outlines. Great job, everybody! Tomorrow I will give ample time to keep working on things, and several students are staying after class to work on elements of the project that they can't accomplish at home due to technology/software restrictions, etc. If this is an option that you think would work for your child, please let me know.

Today in health, we moved into the "Drugs" section of our unit on Medication and Drugs. Today we talked about Caffeine and other common substances, but the discussion (inevitably) meandered into the myriad of questions they had about other substances. I make a point of treading lightly around this issue, trying to stick more to the scientific facts and legal information than any moral/ethical aspects at this point. The students obviously have a lot of constructive information from home already, since they seemed fairly well-informed. The main point the text book makes is that whether we are talking about alcohol, caffeine, tobacco or Advil, all substances have some effect on our bodies. I imagine some of your children will want to discuss this further tonight, so just a heads-up!

A few notes went home in Agendas today, so keep an eye out. ArtsSmarts starts up for us next week, and students have been asked to bring some tools for this. There is also information about the Book Fair, and April calendars went home on Friday.  Have a great sunny day, and talk to you soon.