Before I say anything, I feel I should explain I am writing this quick post on my phone. Also, this post is going to be short because we are out and about and I don’t have much time. I will probably go back later and edit, putting in links and such.
As you may know, I finally read the book Wonder to my class. I love this story! I was so thrilled when I got to read it on my own and was excited to share it with my students. They loved the story, too, which was the first book I read to my class entirely on our lovely carpet.
We finished Wonder today. I admit, I got a little choked up at the end, but I made it through. It is a wonderfully sweet tale of empathy, friendship, patience, tolerance, courage, and love. If you haven’t read it yet, I strongly encourage you to do so!
Several of my students shared the same thoughts when we finished:
This has been th best book ever!
I am definitely going to read this book to my class next year, but they are going to hear it starting on the first day instead of the end of the year!
As the end of the year approaches, we seem to have lots of assemblies. There are celebrations of students’ accomplishments, previews of the fifth grade musical, visits from the Public Health Department and the local police and fire departments about safety, visits from the public library, and special presentations showcasing some of the musical ensembles we have in our school.
Today was a double assembly day, featuring the last two mentioned above. The Urbana Free Library had originally scheduled to come yesterday morning, but they had to reschedule so they came today. The children’s librarians shared a skit of sorts about the library’s summer reading program, highlighted some of the new books they have, and generally tried to get the students pumped up about reading over the summer.
Then after lunch, we had the fifth grade band and strings concert. It was great listening to the students who were in my class last year, listening to them as they made music, and then realising that more than half of the students in band or strings came from my room last year. I don’t know that I can claim any credit for it, but I am thrilled to see so many of my former students pursuing music!
The strings performed first. They shared a small set of songs, and I was able to take a recording of one of them:
Following the strings, the fifth grade band performed a small set of songs, one of which I was also able to record:
The concert was wonderful! I am looking forward to years of listening to students practicing in the small spare rooms in our building, particularly when they are just down the hall from me. One of the great joys of teaching fourth grade is that I get to see my students again the next year as they grow as fifth graders and prepare for middle school. The fifth grade musical will be shared with the school sometime next week. From what I have heard, it will be absolutely fantastic!
This week was Teacher Appreciation Week. At my school, the PTA provided a delicious breakfast on Monday morning and a delightful lunch today. In between, we were given small gifts, such as a candle with a quote about teachers lighting the path for children, a nifty “tingler” that looks like a wire whisk that you use to massage your head, and nice notes in our mailboxes.
My students also brought in gifts for me, some from them and others from their parents. I was given chocolate, more chocolate, soda, bacon duct tape, bacon cheddar pretzels, several handmade cards, and a brony t-shirt. (I recently mentioned to a student that I was a brony–a male fan of the children’s television series My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic–and I have bombarded with ecstatic questions about the show ever since.)
Of course, Teacher Appreciation Week isn’t just about getting presents from parents and students. It is also about expressing appreciation for my own teachers. I have had many teachers in my life, and I have a great deal of appreciation for all of them, but there are a few in particular that I would like to thank here:
The top of the list is my own fourth grade teacher, Kathy McNamara. She is the reason I decided to become a teacher. She believed in exploratory, experiential learning before they were common practices. She encouraged her students to pursue their own interests and let us share them with our classmates. She also had us do a lot of peer teaching, which is how I learned that I was really good at teaching others! She is still teaching at the same school 20 years later, still inspiring students and serving as a mentor to me, even from afar.
Next up is my Sunday School teacher of many different years, Sandy Quinn. She was kind of kooky and she and her husband were convinced that my family spent our Sunday dinners planning ways to confuse them in the coming days, but she loved us and we knew it and loved her for it. My faith, which is not something I mention at school very often, grew under her guidance from the time I was five years old until I graduated from high school. (She taught us off and on for a total of seven years or so.)
No list of my teachers is complete without the mention of three men who taught me in high school: Jim Tallman, my band director who taught me to love music, have fun, and be proud of my geekiness; Gerald Madsen, my freshman English teacher who taught me to stand up for my ideas, to laugh often, and to walk around the classroom with a meterstick; and Dwight Hershberger, the man who taught me to use power tools and to operate a follow spot light. He also taught me how to build stage sets, how to measure twice and cut once, and the fact that Norm Abrams of The New Yankee Workshop was a better builder than the more famous Bob Vila of This Old House.
I had some fabulous instructors in college, like Michele Crockett, Mary Muller, Susan Noffke, Janice Sherbert, and Sharon Tettegah (all College of Education coursework instructors); Karen Gschwend and Yvette Long (my student teaching advisors); and Mats Selen, my Physics Made Easy or Elementary Education instructor and Daniel Kim, my East Asian Languages and Cultures instructor who made us watch Shall We Dansu?, which is a far superior film to Richard Gere’s Shall We Dance?
Finally, I need to thank all of the teachers (and our principal!) I work with at my school! They have mentored me as I have navigated my first two years of full-time teaching, have taught me and allowed me to teach them, and have become my friends and my peers.
Thank you, teachers, past and present, for all you have done. I love each and every one of you and can never thank you enough for your patience, guidance, and teaching!
As we get closer and closer to the last day of school, I am finding that it is not always easy to motivate my students to keep working hard every single day. Most of them want to get work done, but when it is 80 degrees out, it is really hard to focus. I’ve found this is true even in the morning when it is still cool outside. I have to be honest: I’d rather be outside, too, but there are more important things to do.
My students have been working on mastering the fundamental concepts associated with fractions for the past few weeks. One of these concepts involves adding and subtracting fractions with like denominators. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, we have been repeating this mantra nearly every day:
When adding or subtracting fractions with like denominators, the denominator DOES NOT CHANGE!
I was talking to a retired teacher today who frequently subs in our building and I mentioned that I still had several students who were adding or subtracting the denominators, despite our oft-repeated mantra. She suggested an interesting way for motivating students to solve the problems the right way: give them a test ad tell them that if they change the denominators, they will get a homework sheet full of practice problems and then take another test the next. If necessary, repeat this process every day until the very last day of school. (This is, incidentally, a strategy that one of the first grade teachers has started using with her students.)
I had already planned on testing the students on this critical skill today, so before they started, I wrote the mantra on the board and then told them my plan. I then passed out the assessment and watched as the students got started!
It worked! Everyone followed the rule of adding or subtracting the numerators and leaving the denominators as they are. I was very pleased and now I am more hopeful that we will be able to wrap up fractions this week and get started with decimals next week!
My class is used to having student teachers in our classroom: college students from either the University of Illinois or Eastern Illinois University who are working through the teacher certification process. We have had an interesting mix of student teachers this year, but today my class got to experience something completely different: students as teachers.
The Title I teacher who works with my students for reading also pulls a small group a few times each week for math enrichment. They have been working on a variety of activities with her, all meant to supplement what we are doing in the classroom. She has also enlisted the help of the Teacher Collaborator from the Center for Education in Small Urban Communities who has worked with my class several times this year. Most recently, he had the students explore line graphs that represent movement and showed them some neat computer software that will generate the graphs using motion sensors. They decided it would be a lot of fun to share this with the entire fourth grade. So after a few weeks of planning and preparing, the students in the math enrichment group were ready to take on the role of teacher for about an hour.
They did a fantastic job! Everyone in the class was engaged and participating. They were having meaningful discussions about how to represent data on a graph and what would the movement look like that accompanies a certain graph. They discussed the idea of speed being represented as a distance over time, which means that it is impossible to attain any speed without also have duration.
It was a wonderful activity and we’ve already begun making plans for how we can expand this next year: teach the unit to the entire class and have them make graphs on the first day and then compare them to the graphs they make on the last day; integrate the concepts into the Next Generation Science Standards on waves and how waves can be used to represent motion and energy; using the graphs to make line plots of data with fractional increments. There is a lot we can do and I am excited to continue the collaboration next year!
One of the standards for fourth graders this year is to understand global weather systems and the water cycle. This is one of my favourite subjects to teach all year because it is just so interesting and exciting! We will be reading books and watching videos, but we are also going to be conducting actual experiments, which is something that we don’t get to do as much of when learning about our other standards. Most of the other science standards are taught through research and inquiry.
Last year, I had my students conduct an experiment to model the water cycle by placing a clear plastic cup with some dyed water inside a sealed plastic bag and hanging them from the windows. As the sun hit the window and the light was converted into heat energy, the water in the cups began to evaporate and then condense on the side of the bag before precipitating to the bottom. The students were to predict what would happen to the dyed water and record their predictions in their science notebooks. Then we made observations to see what was happening so that we could explain the water cycle better.
I have decided to have my students conduct this experiment again this year. Instead of using gallon-sized bags, though, we are using quart-sized bags. And instead of filling the cups half-way, I used my graduated cylinder to measure out 25 mL. We put the arrays together this morning and now they are all hanging from the windows in the classroom. So far, none of them have fallen off, so I am keeping my fingers crossed that the tape will hold this time! (We had a problem with the bags falling down frequently last year.)
We don’t have very many half-days of school these days. When I was younger, it seemed like it happened on a regular basis. As a district, we have monthly staff inservice meetings that go all day for the elementary grades, but the middle school has half-days. But at the grade schools? We just don’t do them that often.
Today, though, was a half-day. The students arrived at 8:10, classes started at 8:15, and then they were dismissed at 12:45, which was an hour after lunch for the primary grades and fifteen minutes after lunch for the intermediate grades. Despite having a much shorter day, we had a very busy day!
We started the day reviewing our week’s spelling/vocabulary words (all with suffixes -ful, -ness, and/or -less. Then we had our weekly spelling test. As soon as the spelling test was done, it was time for our monthly Coyote College assembly. The “Duct Tape Divas” shared a video about the upcoming students-vs-teachers kickball game at the end of the month, and the second grade classes did a fantastic dance that they learned with our music/dance/drama teacher.
Following the assembly, the students took a math test on equivalent fractions and comparing fractions. We have been working on these skills for a couple of weeks now, and I am glad that the class as a whole is making progress. After the test, we watched a science video about weather and climate, and then I read a few sections of Wonder until lunch. Unfortunately, we had to leave off at one of the saddest parts of the entire story, which is when the Pullmans’ dog, Daisy, dies.I felt really bad stopping at that point, but it was time for lunch.
The day ended with the students gathering their mail, cleaning up the room, and getting their things. At least, the day ended for the students. I, along with the other staff in the building, had an afternoon of inservice training on the Charlotte Danielson Framework for Teaching. I’ve been learning about the Danielson Framework for about a year now, but it was nice to sit down with my colleagues and discuss the domains and share ideas about what they look like in practice.
It was a wonderful day with quite a bit of work done by both students and teachers! Have a wonderful weekend!
We have officially started our final science unit of the year! There will not be any independent research projects to go along with this unit, though, as the time to do them is simply gone. With just three full weeks of school remaining, plus the half-day tomorrow and the one-hour on the 28th, time is just flying by! For our final science unit, we are going to be conducting experiments, watching videos, and reading informational texts. We will also be going outside to make observations.
Our final science unit is on global weather, climate, and the water cycle. To kick things off, I asked the students to tell me some of the things they already know about weather and the water cycle. Some of the things that were shared included:
- Clouds are formed by water vapor condensing in the air
- Rain occurs when clouds get too heavy
- The weather can be unpredictable
- It is possible to predict some weather
- Severe weather can cause injury and death
- Different times of the year have different weather patterns
Then I asked the class to think about questions they have about weather and the water cycle. At first, the questions were all fairly simple:
- How often does lightning strike each year?
- How much annual rainfall do we have in Illinois?
- How many tornados do we have each year?
I prompted the students to use higher-order thinking, but assured them that these were good questions, but I wanted them to think of great questions. After that, some of the questions were deeper:
- Why does weather occur?
- Why does lightning strike?
- Will cloud formation ever stop, or is it an ongoing process that will go forever?
- How does the water cycle work?
There were other questions, as well, and after we listed all of them, I had the students write them down on a piece of paper that they will keep in their science folders. As we go through this unit, I hope we will be able to get to all of these questions. More importantly, though, I hope that my students will think of more questions as we get started.
After all, questioning is at the very heart of science. It is when we start to question not just what and how many but why and how that inquiry occurs and learning takes place!
From the beginning of the year, my class has been very fortunate to have a team of tutors from the America Reads/America Counts program helping my class. These tutors are all students at the University of Illinois and give up a few hours of their time each week to work with different classes in the building. We had several changes with the individual in charge of coordinating the tutors at the beginning, so things were a little disorganized, but once we got someone in place, things began to go very smoothly.
Throughout the year, these tutors have worked with different students in a variety of settings: helping students with make-up tests, listening as students read aloud, working with small groups for support or enrichment, administering a read program under the guidance of one of our Title I reading teachers, and assisting in the classroom at the end of the day. They have always been cheerful and excited to work with my students, for which I have been immensely grateful.
Alas, all good things must come to an end, and with the school year down to just a few weeks, we had to bid farewell to our team of tutors today. They have Final Exams at the University next week and will be studying and preparing over the next few days. We have a half-day on Friday, so the tutors who have helped on Friday afternoon are already done.
While I doubt any of them will ever see this, I just wanted to give a huge thank you for all of their hard work! They have truly helped my students grow and have been a wonderful part of our fourth grade family!
One of the science units of study we have this year in fourth grade covers the basic principles of force and motion. We have been reading in our science textbook and watching video presentations to learn about these principles, but I wanted to give my students the opportunity to conduct experiments to demonstrate some of these principles.
One of the most amazing resources we have in our community is the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts on the University of Illinois campus. My students were able to go to a few performances at the Krannert Center last year, but we haven’t had as many opportunities to go to the Krannert Center this year, but we’ve been fortunate to have guests from the Center come to Wiley.
A few weeks before we started ISAT testing, I was chatting with the engagement director from Krannert and mentioned that the fourth grade was interested in a part-day field trip to Krannert to maybe see a show or something. He brought it up with me a few times over the past couple of months, but we never planned anything out specifically. (more…)
My students are working on their last major arithmetic unit for the year: fractions and decimals. We started last week with identifying fractions and being able to represent them using visual models. We also explored simplifying fractions and find equivalent fractions, which has led us to also explore finding greatest common factors and least common multiples.
We continued today with adding and subtracting fractions with like denominators. To start, though, we reviewed what we had worked on last week. I gave the students several fractions that they had to rewrite in simplest form, then I gave them pairs of numbers to find the GCF and the LCM.
I actually introduced adding and subtracting fractions with like denominators by talking about eating pizza at our Wiley Family Movie Night last Friday. I told the students about the pizzas we had that had eight slices each. I explained that I had eaten four slices of pizza and a student had eaten three slices. So how many slices did we eat all together? (Seven, obviously.) Then I said, “Okay, if I ate 4/8 of a pizza and the student at 3/8 of a pizza, how much did we eat altogether? (7/8.) The students quickly recognized that adding and subtracting fractions results in a change in the numerator, but not the denominator. We repeated the mantra we learned last week:
When adding or subtracting fractions with like denominators, the denominator DOES NOT CHANGE.
We wrapped up the lesson with several independent practice problems. I let the students work on their own or with partners, and everyone finished in just a few minutes. Then I had them work on word problems that involved evaluating fractions that come from different-sized wholes. (For example, which is bigger, 1/2 of an extra large pizza or 1/2 of a small pizza?) This was also quickly picked up by the students.
During lunch, I was grading some of the quick quizzes we did last week and one of our fifth grade teachers saw it. She expressed gratitude that we are working on fractions, factors, and multiples, because these are all critical priority standards the students need to master in order to be prepared for fifth grade! It was a great day for math instruction! We will continue our exploration of throughout the week and then work on decimals next week.
Last year, I permitted some of my students to use some time on Friday afternoon to write a blog post for me. This was met with a lukewarm response, so it didn’t happen as often as I would have liked. As a result, I haven’t had any students write a blog post this year. However, our building has recently received some much-needed technology updates, including a new laptop computer for me that has replaced the enormous and bulky eMac that I have had for the past two years. The laptop allows for greater mobility in the room and more diversity in what I can do with my computer.
One of the things I realised is that I can write blog posts at school before I head home, because the computer is able to keep up with the online writing process. (My old computer had a major lag whenever I was typing.) As the students got ready for our weekly Read, Write, Think! time, I asked if anyone was interested in writing a post. I had four students respond, so I brought my laptop to the back table and let them write. Below is what they produced, without any edits from me:
Today in class we did our spelling test with our 15 complicated spelling words the students picked out the spelling words.In the class today we also did more fraction’s in math and we took a fraction math quiz.The students had their picture day at 9:00 today.I also let my students type my blog post.For writing we continued our writing project on whether our school lunch is healthy or not.We are having read, write, and think celebration for finishing the week with all of our work (we do this every friday .)
I think I am going to keep this up for the last five weeks of school we have remaining. I will try to get different students to write each week so everyone can have a chance to participate.
Have a wonderful weekend!
A few weeks ago, an Internet colleagued posed this question on Twitter: Do you, as a teacher, read with your students?
What he meant wasn’t if we read to our students, nor was it whether they read to us. Instead, he was asking, “When your students are reading, are you reading also, or are you using the time to do “other” things?”
I’ve been thinking about this question a lot lately. I admit that, most of the time, I am doing “other” things while my students are reading: working with a student one-on-one, grading papers, meeting with a reading group, organising materials, or answering student questions. All of these are important tasks that are hard to find time to do well, but they are, except for working one-on-one or with a group, probably things that can be done during my plan time or before/after school. What I would like to while my students are reading is to also read. I want to be able to model independent reading and to be a part of a classroom of readers. My goal is to have a time each day during which every person in the room, teachers and students, are engaged in reading. Then we will talk together about what we have read, sharing our favourite parts, encouraging others to read what we are reading, and talk about our future reading plans.
That’s the goal, at least.
Today we took a small step in that direction. After P.E. on Thursdays, we have about 25 minutes before it is time for the students to go to their fine arts class. I have chosen to use this time as an independent reading time. All of the students SOAR (Spread Out And Read) in the classroom while I have light instrumental music (usually the soundtrack of Doctor Who, in case you were wondering) playing. Usually I am doing “other” things during this reading, but today I actually took out my book and read with my students.
It was wonderful. As I surveyed the room, I saw all of my students reading books that they have selected. The levels, genres, and themes were as diverse as my group of twenty-six students. In fact, I don’t think anyone was reading the same book! But all were reading. And the best part? All were reading. I didn’t have to get up and redirect students, I didn’t have to call out any students for distracting others or getting off task. And I got to read my book (Uglies by Scott Westerfield, which I am alternating with Greg Michie’s Holler If You Hear Me). I hope to read with my students more as the year approaches its end. And maybe next year I will be able to set this as something we do early on.
We started our last major arithmetic unit for the year this week: fractions and decimals. We actually started yesterday, with a lesson on fraction chains, such as 1/4 + 1/4 + 1/4 = 3/4. The idea of this lesson was for the students to recognise that the denominator in a fraction does not change as we add the numerators. To emphasise this, I wrote the following on the board and then had the entire class to say it aloud together:
When adding or subtracting fractions with like denominators, the denominator DOES NOT CHANGE.
If their homework is any indicator, I think they got it, which made me very, very, very happy! Today we moved on to the next step of working with fractions: determining the pairs that make a whole. For example 1/5 + 4/5 = 5/5 = 1 or 2/5 + 3/5 = 5/5 =1. The lesson itself went very quickly and I wanted my class to have extra practice figuring out the missing pairs. To do this, I broke out my trusty 12-sided dice. I rolled the numbers to generate a fraction, such as 1/2, 4/9, 11/12, 3/7, etc. I made sure that the numerator was also less than the denominator. After doing a few together as a class, we played Around the World with Fractions.
The game is simple: two students stand up, I roll the dice, give them the fraction, and they compete to be the first one to give the missing pair to make a whole. We were able to go around the room very quickly. One student actually made it all the way “around the world” which is a rare event in my classroom of 26 fourth graders!
It was a very simple game, but the students wanted to play again at the end of the day and then my students who are participating in our extended learning program wanted to play then, too! (We didn’t, though, because we already had other things on the agenda for the 90 minutes we work together after school.) We will continue to use the 12-sided dice to practice fractions, using them to generate equivalent fractions, to add fractions with like denominators, and even to convert improper fractions into mixed numbers. The options are not-quite-but-almost endless!
I have been reading the book Wonder to my class. It is a fantastic story, and my students are really enjoying it. For those who may not know, Wonder is the story of August Pullman, a ten-year-old boy who was born with a severe facial deformity known as mandibulofacial dysostosis. The story focuses on August’s first year in school and how his classmates respond to him. It is written in multiple voices, with each narrator being selected from the children of the story.
Today we were reading the portion that tells the story from August’s older sister’s point of view. Olivia (Via, as she is called at home), is very protective of her brother but she is also trapped in the desire to be known as someone more than “August’s sister.” As we read, there was a section that focused on the genetics of Auggie’s deformities. I was reading aloud, but I realised that many of the students probably didn’t know what the words I was saying even looked like, let alone what they meant. So as I read, I also wrote on the whiteboard and, in the process, found myself introducing very basic genetics to my fourth graders!
We were discussing words like gene, chromosome, dominant traits, recessive traits, and mandibulofacial dysostosis. We also talked about Punnett squares and how genetic traits, such as straight or curly hair, eye colour, attached of unattached earlobes, or whether or not a person can curl his or her tongue, are passed on. And the great thing about it all was that I had everyone engaged in the conversation! I explained that what we were talking about was really high school and even college-level biology, but because it was in the story, I wanted them to have an idea about what these words meant.
I love when we have these impromptu lessons that aren’t specifically a part of our prescribed curriculum! It is one of the things I love most about teaching fourth grade: when I allow students to ask questions, we may go way off topic, but we are learning. Together.
And that’s just awesome.
One of the core math standards that fourth graders are expected to demonstrate mastery of is performing multi-digit arithmetic using the four basic operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division). While we have been working on multi-digit arithmetic all year, we are getting down to the wire and that means it is time to kick the end-of-year assessments into high gear.
I am a very strong believer in the counsel that education guru Harry K. Wong offers: teachers should eagerly beg, borrow, and steal from one another, especially when it comes to assessment materials! Unfortunately, I was not able to find any good assessments that use all four operations.
So I did what any good teacher does: I made my own. I am going to be saving it as a pdf and posting it online
later so that other teachers can find it. In the meantime, if you are interested, shoot me an email and I’ll send you what I made!
My multi-digit arithmetic assessment was simple but complete: five problems for each of the four basic operations, for a total of twenty problems. I gave the students 45 minutes to work, which was plenty of time for the vast majority of the class. (A few still needed more time, and I took advantage of our America Reads/America Counts tutors to let them finish after lunch.
As students turned in their assessments, I began checking the work. I was very happy to see that nearly everyone has mastery of addition and subtraction, most have mastery of multiplication, and many have mastery of division. I was able to group the quizzes in such a way that I can work with my students in targeted small group settings over the next few days. While there is much that needs to be taught to the entire class in order to help them all reach the same standards, differentiation is so key to successful education! I’m glad that I was able to put this simple assessment together. It gave me a great snapshot of my students’ progress so I have a better idea of what I need to teach over the last six full weeks of school!