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!
[NOTE: This entry has been cross-posted on the official million minutes blog.]
193 days ago, we, as the Wiley Elementary School community, set a lofty reading goal for the academic year: 1,000,000 minutes!
193 days ago, people said we were crazy. That it couldn’t be done. That it simple wouldn’t happen, because the goal was too lofty, too challenging.
193 days ago, we thumbed our noses at the naysayers and said, “You know what? You’re wrong. We can do it and we will do it!”
193 days ago, we decided that when we reached this goal, we would celebrate by doing something crazy: shaving Mr. Valencic’s head.
193 days ago, Mr. Valencic made a commitment to not cut his hair until we reached the goal. There were days when he started wavering, but he held strong. Of course, by the start of last week, I’d started pulling it back in a ponytail because there was nothing else I could do with it.
193 days ago, we started reading and logging our minutes. Today, 193 days after we started, we not only met our goal, we exceeded it!
One million, two hundred forty-seven thousand, two hundred seventy-seven!
That is equivalent to 20,787.95 hours. 866.165 days. 123.738 weeks. 28.4578 months. 2.37148 years.
That’s a lot of reading!
And so today, we celebrated. We read as an entire school for fifteen minutes and then gathered in the gym for the Big Event. After some joking around, the teacher shaving my head got down to work. An hour later, the deed was done.
Mr. Valencic is as bald as can be! (Well, okay, there’s some very, very tiny stubble remaining, but he is going to try to keep it bald for the rest of the year.)
Thanks to everyone who helped out! Parents, teachers, members of the community, and especially the students! Now that we’ve met our goal, I’m not going to track our minutes, but I hope that everyone will continue to read every day! And tell me about what you’re reading! I plan on sharing some “reading stories” over the next seven weeks we have left of school!
I have a confession to make: I’ve only read two books by Judy Blume: Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing,which I read for the first time when I read it to my class last year and the second time when I read it to my class this year, and Then Again, Maybe I Won’t, which I read when I was probably 12 or 13 years old. (I remember my dad being really upset with me about reading the book because it has some scenes he didn’t think were appropriate. Not surprisingly, many adults have reacted to Judy Blume’s books in the exact same way for just about the exact same reasons. However, I enjoyed the book and may go back and read it again soon.)
As a result of my lack of Judy Blume-ization (even though I own a large portion of them at home and at school), I never knew until last week that she is the person who first introduced the concept of DEAR (Drop Everything and Read) in her book Ramona Quimby, Age 8. DEAR has become a national movement of sorts, with teachers all over having their students use it as their cue for independent reading. While I’ve found the acronym a little silly, it is definitely better than SSR (officially “Silent, Sustained Reading” but my friends and brothers said it actually meant “Sit down, Shut up, and Read”).
My students read independently every day, but as I mentioned yesterday, our room often feels cramped and many students have a hard time focusing on reading because they are getting bumped by neighbours, distracted by slight noises, or fall to the temptation to talk to their friends, thinking I won’t notice. (Note to my students who may be reading: I always know when you are talking; most of the time I hope you’ll stop before I have to say something about it.) We went outside to read yesterday, and it seemed the class really enjoyed it.
So I decided to try it again this afternoon. As we went outside, I told the students to spread out and read. As I called it out, I suddenly realised that I have a perfect acronym for this that goes right along with what I want them to do: SOAR! Spread Out And Read. I like it better than DEAR.
As long as the weather permits, we are going to SOAR outside every day for the rest of the year. And when the weather isn’t complying, we’ll SOAR inside. We have six bean bag chairs, a huge carpet, and lots of floor space. I am hoping to get a couple more bean bag chairs, too, and maybe some other fun reading chairs for the room. But, honestly, I am hoping to SOAR outside as much as possible!
My classroom is small and dark. Even though we have a large bank of windows along one wall, the trees outside block the direct sunlight and allow only limited amounts of light to filter through, except in the early morning when the sun is still low enough to beam beneath the trees.
With twenty-six students, the room feels really cramped nearly every day, but we tend to deal with it because we don’t have any other option.
We went outside for recess this afternoon, and it was ridiculously nice outside. The temperature was in the upper-50s (Fahrenheit, of course), the sun was shining brightly, and there was a pleasant breeze. After an overly-long winter that has still left small patches of snow on the ground, it was nice to finally be able to go outside and enjoy the Spring weather!
While talking to one of the third grade teachers, we were thinking of reasons to stay outside longer, and not just as an extended recess. He decided to try to have the students explore fractions by grouping and regrouping while outside. I decided to do something I’ve never done before in my professional career, but I remember doing a few times while in college:
I decided we were going to do our independent reading outside.
I asked several of the students what they thought of the idea, and they were all very enthusiastic. So I had my class line up, then we went in, got our books, and came back out. It took a few minutes for everyone to get settled, but once they did, all of my students were actively reading, sharing, and discussing. I made sure all of the conversations were related to reading, and was glad to see everyone doing just that!
Some of my students decided to read with a partner:
A few got together in a group of three:
One student decided to read on his own:
We were only outside to read for about fifteen minutes, but I think we are going to try it more often. The students really seemed to enjoy reading while outside, getting fresh air, natural light, and plenty of space! And if there is just one thing I want my class to learn to enjoy this year, it is reading!
Today was the second day of our eight-week Writers’ Workshop. We introduced the concept of Writers’ Workshop yesterday and discussed the stages of writing. Today we started actually writing.
Rather than having the students tackle a large writing assignment, such as an expository essay or a personal narrative, I decided to get my students starting with one of the fundamental components of writing: paragraphs. (We could have gone back even further to words and sentences, but we are in the fourth quarter of fourth grade, so I decided paragraphs would be a good starting point.)
We started the afternoon workshop with a brief discussion about what constitutes a paragraph. We discussed the reasons for writing a paragraph, such as describing and explaining. Then the students read a paragraph about King Tut and we discussed the three main parts of a paragraph: the topic sentence, the body, and the closing sentence.
One of the most important aspects of Writers’ Workshop, though, isn’t talking about writing; it is actually writing. So I gave the students the bulk of our time to start writing paragraphs on their own. The goal of the writing today was to write a paragraph to describe a character from a story, which is one of our fourth grade English/Language Arts standards. We started with pre-writing, with students making words webs to identify some of the chief traits of a character. Then they worked on their rough drafts. We will work on proofreading, editing, and revising tomorrow and focus on publishing by Thursday. The students were all on task and focused throughout the afternoon, for which I was immensely grateful. It was a great afternoon for writing!