What's Happening in Our Classroom?

  • The Penguin Post
    Fall Issue

    In This Issue

    Welcome to the first issue of our class newsletter! In each issue, you’ll find articles covering each subject area – and more!

    The Book Nook

    Well, we have been doing lots of reading in our first month, and we’ve explored numerous reading strategies! We’ve talked about how to choose “just right” books (again, those books that fall somewhere between too easy and too challenging) and how to use the “5 finger rule” to select just-right books.  We’ve reviewed fiction and non-fiction books and how we determine a book’s genre.  We’ve considered how we problem-solve words we don’t know and brainstormed strategies to check understanding as we read.  And we’ll be discussing how readers think about their reading and consider various reading strategies, such as summarizing, predicting, and making connections to our lives. Phew!

    This year, we’re learning good reading strategies through weekly lessons and assignments in Google Classroom that focus on story elements and story structure.  Each week, I share a presentation with students on a given topic (e.g., solving unknown words, identifying story plots, etc.) that they can watch again on Google Classroom.  Students then have the week to respond to the prompt, which they can do at school or at home.  And the best part… You, Parents, can monitor their progress!  And, if your child is absent during the presentation (usually on Mondays), he/she can watch it on his/her own and still complete the assignment by logging into Google Classroom via Clever using their Gmail!

    We’re also in the process of launching our multicultural-themed guided reading groups, during which students work together with me in small groups to tackle more “just right” texts.   Guided reading texts include Navajo Long Walk by Nancy M. Armstrong, How Tia Lola Came to Visit/Stay by Julia Alvarez, In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson by Bette Bao Lord, and Weedflower by Cynthia Kadohata.  Later, some groups will read Journey to Jo'Burg by Beverley Naidoo and Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr.  Ask your child which book he or she is reading!

    Please also continue to encourage your son or daughter to read at home – this is an excellent accompaniment to our work in the classroom.  Remember, our goal is two hours of reading at home each week; I recommend a combination of listening to you or another adult read, reading aloud, and reading independently.  Students can complete their monthly reading logs, signed by you and them, to let me know how much they’re reading at home and earn a little bonus!

    The Pen Is Mightier…

    In writing, we have been actively engaged with writing stories about our lives, which we call Personal Narratives, or Small Moments.  We launched our first unit of writing by studying mentor texts.  We then generated story ideas by webbing meaningful people, places and things; thinking about first, last and important times in our lives; and considering moments associated with strong feelings.  We talked about how to find a good seed idea in our writing journals and how to use timelines and story arcs to plan our stories.  We also discussed how to write a quick draft by writing “fast and long, without stopping.”  Our writing mantra was “I’ll just do the best I can and keep going,” with the emphasis of getting our ideas down on paper and worrying about revisions and edits later.

    We also discussed “seed vs. watermelon” stories and how to build our story in a step-by-step way.  We considered how to tell a story by maintaining our point of view and embellishing with details that make sense.  We’re also thinking about the author’s message and how to make our message clear by sharing internal thoughts and feelings in our stories.  And we’re exploring strong titles, leads, and endings.  We’ll finish our unit with some revising and editing in preparation for our author’s celebration.

    We are utilizing a writing curriculum based on materials for grades 3-5 written by Lucy Calkins, an established author of writing instruction.  I believe that this will provide a wonderful lift to the Calkins K-2 curriculum that the students followed in previous years.

    As we finish up our Personal Narrative unit, we’ll be moving into an exciting research writing unit on states, led by Miss Lee, that correlates with our study of regions of the United States in social studies this year.  Since the students usually love working on computers and researching, I’m sure they’ll be enthusiastic researchers!

    Please support your child’s writing by encouraging him or her to add regular entries to his or her writer’s notebook at home.  This is a nightly recommendation if students have completed the writing assignment in class.  Remember that the intent of the notebook is to foster a love of learning and to generate ideas for our writing pieces in class.  Writing entries shouldn’t feel laborious!  Finally, feel free to ask your child if you can peruse the notebook – it’s a great way to learn more about what creative thoughts fill his or her mind! 

    May I Have a Word with You?

    We are just getting our word study curriculum underway.  Students are working to develop a list of “Words to Learn” based on their own individual spelling challenges.  They will continue to build on this list as they encounter words that they don’t know or can’t spell in their reading and writing.  Then, each week throughout the year, students will learn words from this list, as well as words containing patterns that they are still working to master, through a process that entails building the words with magnetic letters; repeatedly saying and writing them; doing “buddy tests” during which partners take turns testing each other; making connections with other words that look and sound like those that we are learning; finding synonyms and antonyms of their words, and taking a final test.  The goal behind this process, part of the district’s literacy program, is to help students formulate good spelling strategies that will not only help them learn to spell these words but also become better spellers overall!  With that said, to avoid being too “wordy,” I’ll move on…

    Sum News

    We’re off and rolling with Everyday Math!

    Our first unit of the year covered place value; estimation; addition and subtraction of multi-digit numbers; units of length and conversions between units; parallel and perpendicular lines, line segments and rays; angles; and polygons, including perimeter of rectangles.  The students did an amazing job on their final unit 1 math tests overall!  In unit 2, we’ll be focusing on multiplication, including factors; multiples; prime and composite numbers; square products; area of rectangles; multiplicative comparisons (i.e., Juan is twice as tall as his sister Maria); units of time and conversions between units; classifying triangles and quadrangles; and symmetry.  We're also working hard this year to reinforce with students that understanding their thinking, and processes, is as important, more important, really, than just memorization or completion of problems.  

    In addition, we’re spending a great deal of time playing the Everyday Math games and working in the computer-based program Dreambox during our math period.  Our room is astir during math as the children work diligently to complete their work in anticipation of the rewarded math and computer games at the end of the period.  Setting aside this time is not only exciting for them, but it’s also been a great way to differentiate learning at their own levels as the games frequently offer beginning and advanced versions and the computer program moves at their own personal pace!

    Finally, we’re continuing to work to master quick recall of basic math facts.  Please continue to do so at home as well.  Remember that there are math packets available, as well as the website xtramath.com (via Clever), to support basic math practice at home.  And, of course, continue to watch for the optional Math Study Links and Parent Letters to stay connected to what we are doing in the classroom!

    The World Around Us

    Students are delving into our health curricula with Mrs. Wood this year by talking about how to handle strong emotions and conflicts, deal with bullies, and treat others with respect.  As a class, we will continue to talk about these and other school-related issues in our morning meetings throughout the year. In addition, Ms. Wood will be covering the rest of our health curricula, including personal safety, personal wellness, and substance abuse prevention.

    Please note again that these units include lessons on good touch/bad touch, part of our personal safety curriculum, and HIV/AIDS, part of our personal wellness curriculum.  Both of these lessons are mandated by state law and taught through age-appropriate curriculum selected by the District.  As I mentioned at Curriculum Night, we will let you know when these lessons are approaching; just let me know if you’d like to review materials beforehand.

    Mrs. Crook has been covering our science unit on The Big Blue Marble (our Earth). This week, they’re using layers of laundry to think about layers of the earth.  Coming up, students will learn how to write a "10% Summary" by only using the most crucial words in order to sum up the main idea of a paragraph or article. They will become experts by reading about different rock types: sedimentary, igneous, and metamorphic. They will then report back the main idea of their articles to their small groups. They will watch a Bill Nye science video to reinforce their understandings and put it all together before their self-assessment of the rock cycle!

    Project Lead the Way is underway!  Students are currently working on a unit that covers Energy: Collisions.  They have been enjoying exploring energy through activities based on the popular videogame Angry Birds.  You may be following your child’s progress in Seesaw as he/she posts entries to demonstrate his/her learning throughout the unit.  During this unit, students will also cover goals in the energy science units Let It Rip! and Surf’s Up.  Then they will move to Computer Systems: Input/Output.  Mrs. Ziegler is an enthusiastic instructor, and students are very excited when it’s PLTW time!

    In social studies, students have been covering foundations of social studies.  We’ve talked about how historians study the past using primary and secondary sources, think about the chronology of events by using timelines, and consider causes and effects of events.  Students have also studied how geographers think about absolute and relative locations, explored physical and human characteristics as well as human-environment interactions, and thought about how and why people and goods move to and from Michigan.  Next, we’ll be exploring economics and then government and citizenship – just in time for election season!

    The fourth-grade health, science and social studies curricula promise to be quite engaging while offering many opportunities to learn!

    Keeping in Touch


    I have touched base with Jocelyn Greene (Grayson’s mom), our room parent, about organizing events in our classroom this year.  Thanks, Jocelyn, for assuming this important role! 

    Remember that, if you are planning to be involved as a volunteer, including as a chaperone on our field trips, please make sure to complete a background check form.  This is a requirement for volunteering, and the office needs several days to clear the forms, so it’s important to plan ahead if you’d like to be involved.  Thanks for attending to this important detail in advance to help us continue to ensure the safety of our students!

    Other Ways to Help

    You may also be wondering about our needs in terms of supplies and materials.  We are always in need of Kleenex(!), hand sanitizer, and gently used soccer balls, Nerf footballs, and rubber balls for the gaga pit, four square and other games.  Thank you!

    Field Trips

    If you haven’t already, please be sure to complete the general field trip permission slip from the school that covers all trips within Washtenaw County.  This will include many of our trips this year, and students cannot attend without a signed permission slip!

    Many of our scheduled field trips have been planned during the latter half of the year, particularly at the end of the year, when students are most eager for a break!  I will keep you abreast of these events as details are finalized and they draw closer.

    Fall Conferences

    Thank you for working with me to schedule your fall conference while being mindful of building security.  In addition to conferences that many of you attended in September, additional conferences have been scheduled for Tuesday, 10/22 and Thursday, 10/24.  Since we will be having conferences, there will be no newsletter in November.  “See” you in December!

    Dates To Remember

    On Fri, October 4, we host DTE for a special presentation on energy conservation.  As part of this wonderfully engaging presentation, DTE provides energy kits for all families of students in fourth grade.  Their only request is that students and their families complete a questionnaire about how they put their kits to use.  Even if you don’t use the materials in the kit, it would be wonderful if you could complete a survey.  DTE generously provides our classroom with a gift card to OfficeMax, with the gift amount based on the number of surveys returned.  This is an easy way for you to support our class without spending a dollar!  Thanks, in advance!

    The afternoon of Weds, October 23, is a professional development day for teachers.  Early release at 1:30 PM on this day!  Mark your calendars!

    As of right now, I’m assuming our Halloween Party will be on the afternoon of Thurs, October 31.  Although we have not yet heard, I’m expecting that the parade will begin at 3:15 on this day, as usual.  Our room parent will be in touch with more details soon. 

    There is no school on Tues, November 5, for Election Day.  Mark your calendars and plan accordingly!

    The Toledo Opera Company will perform Hansel and Gretel for the school in the afternoon on Thurs, November 21.  Thanks to Ms. Noble for organizing this wonderful event!

    Thanksgiving Break is Wed, November 27 – Fri, November 29.  Don’t forget that Wednesday is part of our vacation break; include this day as you plan for your holiday!  Also, if your child will be out additional days around this break, please be sure to let me know so I can prepare him or her in advance!  Thanks!

    The Winter Holiday Break begins at the end of the day on Fri, December 20, with school resuming on Mon, January 6.  Please plan accordingly!  Also, again, if your child will be out additional days around this break, please be sure to let me know so I can prepare him or her in advance!  Thanks!

    Around Ann Arbor

    As many of you may already be aware, Friends of the Ann Arbor Public Library typically holds a book sale every weekend (Saturday and Sunday).  Most of the children’s books are $2.00 (hardcover) or $0.50 (paperback).  There is an abundance of Newbery (awarded for stories) and Caldecott (for illustrations) award-winning books available as well as many other popular selections. You can stay abreast of the sale at http://faadl.org/bookshop/.  This is an excellent way to further build a library for your son or daughter at home, and you can purchase a few extras to contribute to our class library as well!

    Consider This...

    Control is like love. 
    The more you give away,
    the more you get in return. 

    - Jim Fay, Teaching with Love & Logic