Parent Newsletter

October Curriculum Update

History

We are finishing our studies of the first history unit, The Land and People Before Columbus. Students have read several chapters, taken notes from their reading, and written summaries. Students have also read five trickster tales from various Native American tribes across North America, and answered questions about them. I have also assigned two chapters as extra credit. I provided each student with a checklist of all the chapters and the assignments they were supposed to complete. I have set this Friday, October 8, 2010 as the deadline to turn in those checklists, notes, and summaries; students have already turned in their answers to the trickster tales.

Our next unit of study will be the Age of Exploration, as various European explorers set out and "discover" the Americas.

We have also begun our study of the 50 U.S. states & their capitals. The first quiz will be this Friday on the first set of 11 states and capitals.

Language Arts

We have finished Theme One, Nature's Fury, in Language Arts. We have read three stories and studied many grammar concepts and spelling patterns.

Students have finished drafting the first of their four major writing assignments, the narrative. Students will be typing these up in the computer lab, so that they have clean copies to work from as they begin the revision process.

Students have also started the prewriting (outlining) process for the second major writing assignment, the persuasive essay or letter.

Mathematics

We have finished the first two units of study in Everyday Mathematics. Students have taken a handful of math quizzes so far this year. We have already begun the third unit on geometry.

Students have also been working on weekly challenge problems, problem solving activities that usually require more time than just one night's homework. Students have one week to complete these assignments; they are turned in on Fridays. As we finish a unit of study in Everyday Mathematics, I use the Open Response problem that is part of that curriculum. If we are in the midst of a unit, I'll use one of the other math resources I have to give the students more practice with their mathematical reasoning/problem solving skills.

We have also finished the first phase of using the Problem Solver curriculum. I have now taught students ten different problem solving strategies. Now, I will give them some problems from that program, but they will have to decide what strategy to use to solve those problems. The strategy they choose is not important in and of itself. It is important that students show their work so that I understand how they solved the problem.

Science

We have finished the first investigation in Living Systems on the various systems that animals have to transport materials throughout their bodies. We studied the circulatory, respiratory, digestive, and excretory systems. Students recently took a test, called an I Check, on this first investigation.

We have begun investigation two, studying the structures that plants use to transport water, food, and nutrients from roots, through stems, and out to the leaves. Students were assigned groups and each group designed an experiment to conduct with celery and water. We achieved good results from well-designed experiments. I also did an experiment with celery, water, and red food coloring.

Students are also reading in their science textbooks to follow up the hands-on investigations we are doing in the classroom. We have also now watched three videos, again as a supplement to the experiments and reading.

Students have also had one test preparation homework assignment reviewing fourth grade science concepts.

(Posted on School Loop 10/5/10 - archived 10/26/10)


Homework Policy Changes

I am tracking homework and other assignments in School Loop. If a student writes his or her name and student number on the homework, completes it, and turns it in on time, then they get credit. In School Loop, homework assignments are generally given a value of one point.

I have also been using some codes to track how well students are handling their homework responsibilities. I have used "L" for late, and "I" for incomplete.

Both late and incomplete homeworks were initially given a point value of zero. I have changed this, and both are now worth 50%. I wanted to encourage students to complete homework and turn it in late, rather than not turn it in at all. And I wanted to encourage students for effort, even if they didn't complete the assignment. These changes have already gone into effect, and you may note changes in your child's percentages since the Interim Progress Report.

I have also altered the grading scale. The School Loop default used letter grades, which I do not use. I have changed it to match the district's report card scale, which uses Outstanding, Satisfactory, and Unsatisfactory. I have set Outstanding for homework as the top ten percent, that is, 91-100%. I have set Satisfactory as the next ten percent, that is, 81-90%. Unsatisfactory is set at 80% and below.

If you have any questions or concerns about these changes, please feel free to contact me via Loop Mail or my district email address. I welcome your input and feedback.

(Posted on School Loop 9/29/10 - archived 10/26/10)


Homework Policy Clarifications

Making Up Homework When Absent

Students are expected to make up homework for any days they are absent from school. There is no way to make up for a whole day of missed school, so completing the assigned homework is the next best thing.

If a student is only absent one day, when they return to school they will still find the previous day's homework posted on the homework whiteboard in the classroom. I always leave the previous day's homework posted as a reminder to students what homework they are to turn in that morning. It is never erased before 8:30 a.m., which gives students ample time to record the homework in their planner.

If a student is absent more than one day, then they should follow the procedure above for the most recent day. After that, they may ask another student in the class to see their planner, or they may ask to see my planner. I record the homework every day in my planner as well.

I try to place handouts in students' mailboxes when I note that they are absent, but sometimes I forget. If a student notices that they are missing something when they return to school from an absence, they just need to ask me, and I will get them the handout they need.

Students have the same number of days they were absent to turn in homework without penalty. If a student is absent one day, then they have one day after they return to school to complete and turn in any missed homework for full credit. If they were absent two days, then they have two days, and so on. After that, I will make the homework as late and the student will only get half credit.

In some cases, we are going to review a homework assignment in class the day a student returns from an absence; in that case, I expect the student to follow along and note answers on their homework page, and then I excuse them from that homework assignment. If we have not yet reviewed a homework assignment, then the student should still complete the assignment.

Homework Posted on School Loop

The purpose of School Loop (or any other teacher website that posts homework and other assignments) is to provide information to parents and guardians that will help students be responsible. Students are expected to record homework and other assignments in their planners. School Loop is designed to be a back up system, or a way for parents to monitor how well their child is handling their homework responsibilities. School Loop is not to take the place of a student's responsibilities.

I want to reiterate that it is each student's responsibility to record his or her homework in their planner on a daily basis. They need to leave the classroom with all handouts and necessary papers in their homework folder or their binder. They also need to take home with them any textbooks that are needed to successfully complete the homework.

(I have described these as clarifications to my homework policy. These items have long been the way I have handled homework. I am just now putting them in writing to clarify for parents how I handle make up homework for absences and my perspective on the purpose of School Loop.)

(Posted on School Loop 9/29/10 - archived 10/26/10)


Interim Progress Report

In today's Wednesday envelope, I am sending home an Interim Progress Report for your child. I have asked each student to assess themselves on the nine Social Development and Work Habits on the report card: 1) Consistently shows effort; 2) Respects self and others; 3) Listens attentively; 4) Meaningfully participates in classroom activities and discussions; 5) Follows directions; 6) Completes tasks and assignments; 7) Completes and returns homework; 8) Demonstrates organizational skills; and 9) Works independently. I have then graded them where they are now.

I encourage you to have a discussion with your child about this Interim Progress Report. It's important to establish good work habits early in the school year. Many students have done this already, and you will see this on the Interim Progress Report. Many other students are still working towards consistently performing well. Talk with your child about how he or she is doing, and how they graded themselves in comparison with how I graded them. Many students have underestimated how well they are doing. On the other hand, many students graded themselves higher than I did in some categories. You will see that I have noted these areas with a check next to the student's self assessment. These are areas that I will be watching more carefully so that I can determine if your child is actually performing at that level in that area. Encourage your child so that they can show improvement in any problem areas before the first report card.

(Posted on School Loop 9/22/10 - archived 10/26/10)


September Books and October Book Orders

Parents, please either 1) write a check payable to "Scholastic Book Clubs" or 2) send the exact amount of cash in an envelope. I will not accept book orders from students when I have to make change for them.

I will place the next order after school on Friday, September 24, 2010. Please have your child return any order forms before then.

Currently, Scholastic is experiencing difficulties with its website. I will enable online parent ordering as soon as I can.

I added several books to the classroom library, which your children are free to borrow and read: Oil Spill Disaster in the Gulf; The Amazing Fact and Puzzle Book; It's Elementary: How Chemistry Rocks Our World; The Kind of Friends We Used to Be; Dexter the Tough; Return of the Homework Machine; I Survived the Shark Attacks of 1916; The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg; Chasing Lincoln's Killer; Beezus and Ramona; Mudshark; The Last Olympian; Movie for Dogs; Bad Pets: True Tales of Misbehaving Animals; Griff Carver, Hallway Patrol; Dog Gone; and Spaceheadz.

(Posted on School Loop 9/17/10 - archived 10/26/10)


Homework Policy

Homework Grading (for students)

Most homework assignments are graded on a credit/no credit basis. Credit is assigned if you: (1) complete the assignment, (2) turn it in on time, and (3) have marked the assignment with your full name, first and last, and your student number. If those three criteria are not met, then no credit is marked in the grade book.

Some homework assignments, such as spelling, are graded. Your spelling homework makes up the majority of your spelling grade. I correct some grammar homework assignments to give you feedback on how well you did that assignment. I will tell you if that assignment will be recorded in the grade book; most are not.

The Purpose of Homework (for parents)

The purpose of most homework assignments is for students to practice what they are learning. Some homework assignments are preparation for the next day’s lesson, such as reading in their history textbook.

How Much Time?

The district’s policy as stated in the Parent/Guardian and Student Handbook is 30 minutes per night for fifth grade. A general rule of thumb that many teachers follow is 10 minutes per grade level, so fifty minutes a night for fifth grade students. Students in my class should be doing at least 30 minutes of homework every night, Monday through Friday. They should not be doing much more than 50 to 60 minutes of homework in a night.

Some students will finish a homework assignment in a matter of just a few minutes. If a student completes their assigned homework in fifteen minutes, for example, then they should spend the remainder of their homework time studying. What do I mean by studying? They could read or re-read the story we're working on or a chapter in their history textbook. They could review a graded test to identify what their individual strengths and weaknesses are; then they can study the material with which they might be having difficulty. They could review a corrected assignment, such as a grammar worksheet, so that they can prepare for an upcoming test. Fifth grade students need to move beyond just completing the homework that their teacher has assigned them and actually begin to study the material that they are learning.

On the other hand, if your child is spending more than an hour of dedicated time on homework, then you should contact me and let me know what’s happening. By dedicated time, I mean actual time spent working on the assignment or studying. Do not consider time where the child is arguing/complaining about the homework, shuffling papers, going to the bathroom, eating a snack, talking on the phone, or otherwise procrastinating and wasting time. Completing homework should not become an overwhelming task that actually interferes with learning or which disrupts family time.

I frequently recommend that students work for about 20 to 25 minutes, take a short break of about five minutes, and then work for another 20 to 25 minutes. A short break could be going to the bathroom, getting a drink of water, stretching, or walking around for a bit.

How Often?

Expect that your child will have some homework every school day, Monday through Friday. Some days there will be more and some days there will be less, but expect homework every night. On rare occasions, such as all day field trips, there may not be homework. Check your child's planner and/or the homework log on School Loop if you want to verify whether or not there is homework and what was assigned.

Expect reading and mathematics homework four or five times a week. Spelling homework is typically assigned at the beginning of the week. Grammar homework will be assigned two or three times a week. History homework will often be three days a week, and science homework is usually assigned once or twice a week.

When?

Students should not do homework immediately after school. They should have at least some time to play, have a snack, etc. before they begin their homework. Also, students should not do their homework too close to their bedtime. Find a time that works for you and your child, perhaps before dinner or just after. Set aside a consistent time that is recognized by you, your child, and siblings as homework time. During that designated time homework is the priority.

Where?

If students are doing homework at home, please provide them with a quiet place where they can complete their homework without interruptions. A table or desk where they can spread out their books and worksheets is sufficient. Minimize or remove distractions like a television or telephone. Try to keep younger siblings occupied in another room. Make sure students have easy access to any supplies, like pencils, paper, erasers, etc. to complete their homework so they can stay focused on the task at hand.

Student Responsibilities

To successfully complete homework, students must pay attention during in-class instruction. They should write down any notes or examples that I write on the board. They should ask questions if they are unsure about the information or skill being taught, or if they are unsure about the directions for the homework assignment. They are always free to ask clarification questions to check their understanding with me.

They must write down the homework assignment in their planner and put any worksheets they need into their binder or homework folder. At the end of the day, they should put their homework folder and any other materials they may need, such as a textbook or notebook, to complete their homework into their backpack.

Then students should independently complete the homework assignment, put the finished work back into their homework folder, and put all school materials, i.e., textbooks, notebooks, planner, in their backpack to return to school.

At school, students need to follow the directions on the board as to whether they turn the homework in or leave it on their desk for me to check for completion.

Parent Responsibilities

Parents should help their children by providing a consistent time and place for them to complete their homework with all the necessary materials they might need. Parents should also do their best to provide a quiet and non-distracting environment in which to do homework.

Parents should facilitate their children doing their homework. Parents should not do their child’s homework for them, nor should they teach their children. Parents, of course, are a child’s first teacher, and I’m not saying you should never teach your child something, but I am saying that your child is responsible for his or her homework. They should have been attentive in class during instructional time. If they cannot complete the homework, it may be due to a problem of inattention rather than misunderstanding. If you help them complete the homework when they were being inattentive, then the problem of their inattention is not being properly addressed. Students will not fail due to incomplete homework. I am constantly looking at homework to assess how they are doing. If you help them too much, then I am not getting an accurate picture of what they can and cannot do.

If your child is doing homework at an after-school program or while you're at work, you can still help to facilitate their good homework habits. Ask to see their completed homework and ask to see their planner. Your child should be able to show you the actual completed assignment as well as show you that he or she wrote down the homework assignment in his or her planner. I know you may be very tired at the end of the day, but please do not just ask them if they did their homework and accept an answer from them; they're likely to say "yes" even if they haven't finished their homework. Always ask to see their completed homework and make sure they put it back in their homework folder so that they can turn it in on time.

Please do not write notes to me asking me to excuse your child from a homework assignment. If they forgot their homework folder at school, then they will be unable to complete the assignment. They need to learn to be responsible for their own work, and to accept the consequences when they are not responsible. I will not excuse your child from a homework assignment just because you wrote me a note. On the other hand, a genuine family emergency is another matter altogether. Use your best judgment, but support your child in being responsible, and please support me in disciplining your child when he or she does not complete a homework assignment.

Should you get a note from me informing you that your child is not turning in homework, please have a discussion with them about the problem. Is it inattention in class? Is it a problem with responsibility or organization? Did they complete the homework, but forget to turn it in on time? Did they not get credit because they didn’t put their name and student number on the homework?

How do I facilitate my child doing his or her homework?

Be present. You might sit at the table with them as they are doing their homework. This might be a time for you to read quietly while they’re working. If they need your help, they can ask for it and you can quickly assist them and then go back to your reading.

Ask them questions. Ask them if took any notes while I was teaching. If they answer no, the problem may be that. If they took notes, ask them to show them to you, and guide them to use the notes and examples they copied down from the board to help them with the homework. Ask them if I wrote any notes on the board. Can they remember what I wrote? Ask them if they asked any questions during the lesson or the review of the homework assignment.

(Posted on School Loop 9/14/10 - archived 10/26/10)


Student Responsibilities

Please read the Student and Parent Responsibilities in your child's planner. These are excerpted from the district's Student and Parent/Guardian Handbook. I encourage you to have a discussion with your child about these responsibilities and assist them in carrying out these responsibilities.

(Posted on School Loop 9/14/10 - archived 10/26/10)


Introduction to Fifth Grade Everyday Mathematics

Welcome to Fifth Grade Everyday Mathematics. This curriculum was developed by the University of Chicago School Mathematics Project to offer students a broad background in mathematics.

The features of the program described below are to help familiarize you with the structure and expectations of Everyday Mathematics.

A problem-solving approach based on everyday situations. Students learn basic math skills in a context that is meaningful by making connections between their own knowledge and experience and mathematics concepts.

Frequent practice of basic skills. Students practice basic skills in a variety of engaging ways. In addition to completing daily review exercises covering a variety of topics and working with multiplication and division fact families in different formats, students play games that are specifically designed to develop basic skills.

An instructional approach that revisits concepts regularly. Lessons are designed to take advantage of previously learned concepts and skills and to build on them throughout the year.

A curriculum that explores mathematical content beyond basic arithmetic. Mathematics standards around the world indicate that basic arithmetic skills are only the beginning of the mathematical knowledge students will need as they develop critical-thinking skills. In addition to basic arithmetic, Everyday Mathematics develops concepts and skills in the following topics - number and numeration; operations and computation; data and chance; geometry; measurement and reference frames; and patterns, functions, and algebra.

Everyday Mathematics provides you with ample opportunities to monitor your child's progress and to participate in your child's mathematical experiences. Throughout the year, you will receive Family Letters to keep you informed of the mathematical content your child is studying in each unit. Each letter includes a vocabulary list, suggested Do-Anytime Activities for you and your child, and an answer guide to selected Study Link (homework) activities.

(Posted on School Loop 9/14/10 - archived 10/26/10)


Back-to-School Night

Thank you to all the parents who attended Back-to-School Night. The support you provide to your child is greatly appreciated. Your attendance at Back-to-School Night sends a strong message to your children about the importance of their education. As your child's teacher, I want to thank you for your time.

(Posted on School Loop 9/2/10 - archived 10/26/10)


Grading

Assignment Grading:

Most assignments, including tests, are graded on a point basis. This numeric score is recorded in the grade book. Those numeric scores are then turned into percentages for the purpose of grades on the report card.

4 – Exceeds the standard (91-100%)
3 – Meets the standard (78-90%)
2 – Approaching the standard (67-77%)
1 – Needs more time/practice to develop (0-66%)

  • I do not assign letter grades, i.e., A, B, C, D, and F.
  • Your child is not graded on a curve. How well they do depends on how well they demonstrated their learning against the standards, and not on how anyone else in the class did on the same assignment.

Homework Grading:

Most homework assignments are graded on a credit/no credit basis. If the student (1) completes the assignment, (2) turns it in on time, and (3) has properly marked it with his/her full first name and last initial (or name), and student number, then credit is assigned. Otherwise, no credit is marked in the grade book.

Some homework assignments, such as spelling, are graded. Spelling homework and class work make up the majority of the spelling grade. I correct some grammar homework assignments to give students feedback on how well they did that assignment. I will tell students if that assignment will be recorded in the grade book; most are not.

Major Writing Assignments:

Major writing assignments, i.e., narrative, response to literature (book report), research paper, and persuasive essay, are graded with a number rubric. This number rubric is aligned with the scale above: 4 – Exceeds the standard, 3 – Meets the standard, 2 – Approaching the standard, and 1 – Needs more time/practice to develop. Students will receive a number score on the rubric for each of the standards that go with that writing assignment. When the writing is assigned, students will be given a rubric so that the criteria on which they will be graded are clear.

Social Development and Work Habits:

Students will also be graded on certain habits that lead to success in school. For these areas students will be graded using O for Outstanding, S for Satisfactory, and U for Unsatisfactory: Consistently shows effort, Respects self and others, Listens attentively, Meaningfully participates in classroom activities and discussions, Follows directions, Completes tasks and assignments, Completes and returns homework, Demonstrates organizational skills, and Works independently.

Performance Levels for Content Standards:

4 – Exceeds the standard: Student applies standard in ways that are in-depth and beyond what was taught.

3 – Meets the standard: Student consistently demonstrates mastery of the standard.

2 – Approaching the standard: Student shows some understanding of the standard and is attempting to consistently meet the standard.

1 – Needs more time/practice to develop: Student needs more practice in understanding the standard.

(Posted on School Loop 9/2/10 - archived 10/26/10)


Living Systems Parent Letter

Our class is beginning a new science unit using the FOSS Living Systems Module. We will be investigating transport systems in multicellular organisms that provide each cell with food, water, gas exchange, and waste removal. Students will learn about the structures, functions, and interactions of the circulatory, respiratory, digestive, and excretory systems in humans. They will learn about the vascular system in plants (xylem and phloem), and they will compare that system for moving water, minerals, and sugar to the transport system in humans. They will also be introduced to the chemical process of photosynthesis and how sugar is broken down in cells during cellular respiration.

Students will be designing and conducting controlled experiments to investigate some of these systems (water movement in plants and use of sugar by yeast cells). I may be asking you to send small samples of breakfast cereals to school for use in an experiment dealing with metabolism of sugar by yeast.

And we will be discussing food in terms of its nutrients - fats, carbohydrates, proteins, and water. You might find as a result of our study that your family's dinner conversation will actually focus on the meal.

Watch for the home/school connection sheets I will be sending home with your child. These suggest ways for the whole family to investigate interesting aspects of our life science study. In addition, you and your child can visit the FOSS website (www.fossweb.com/CA), where there are instructional activities, interactive simulations, and resources related to the Living Systems Module.

If you have any questions or comments, or have family or cultural traditions involving food that you would like to share with the class, please send me an email or write a note and have your child give it to me. We are looking forward to many weeks of exciting investigations.

(Posted on School Loop 9/2/10 - archived 10/26/10)


10 Things Your Child's Teacher Needs to Know

I found this list online somewhere and have found it helpful in communicating with parents. If you're reading this list online or in an e-mail, please e-mail me your responses or write them out and have your child bring them to me at school. Thank you.

1. What is your child's favorite subjects?

2. Does your child have any difficult subjects? If so, what are they?

3. Does your child have any allergies?

4. Does your child have any medical conditions? (Yes, asthma counts.)

5. What extracurricular activities does your child participate in? (Do they play sports? Are they involved in boy or girl scouts? Do they study music outside of school?)

6. Some religions have practices that may impact school. Please let me know if your religious beliefs might cause your child to miss school. Are there any other practices that I should be aware of, for example, that might affect what clothes they wear or foods they can't eat?

7. Are there any family issues that you'd like me to be aware of? Please let me know of any changes in your family that may be affecting your child, such as a new baby, a separation or divorce, moving to a new house, or a death in the family, including pets.

8. Does your child have any sensitive areas? Are they self-conscious about their weight or appearance? Are they particularly shy? Is there anything that they worry about a great deal or are afraid of?

9. Tell me about your child's hobbies and interests outside of school. How do they like to spend their free time? (Do they collect anything? Do they play chess? Do they raise money for the SPCA?)

10. Tell me about your child's temperament. Do they get cranky at a certain time of day? Is there some activity that particularly frustrates them? And what do you do to adjust to their temperament? Please share any ideas with me that you have found that work with your child.

11. In a million words or less, tell me anything else about your child that you think I should know. We
won't be able to talk individually about your child at Back-to-School Night. And some things shouldn't wait until the first parent-teacher conference. Please share with me now.

(Posted on School Loop 9/2/10 - archived 10/26/10)


Parts of Speech

We have begun the school year in Language Arts with a grammar unit of study on the eight parts of speech. This will help students with their reading and writing.

Problem Solving - Four-Step Method

We have begun our year in mathematics studying problem solving steps and strategies.

From The Problem Solver curriculum we have the following four-step method: 1) Find Out, 2) Choose a Strategy, 3) Solve It, and 4) Look Back.

From Math Steps we have the following four-step method: 1) Understand, 2) Decide, 3) Solve, and 4) Look Back.

In Everyday Mathematics, we found the following four-step method: 1) Understand the Problem, 2) Plan what to do, 3) Carry out the plan, and 4) Look back.

(Posted on School Loop 8/17/10 - archived 10/26/10)


Back-to-School Night

Please plan on attending Back-to-School Night on Wednesday, September 1, 2010. Back-to-School Night begins at 6:00 p.m. in the school auditorium and will be finished at 7:30 p.m.

(Posted on School Loop 8/15/10 - archived 10/26/10)


History - Unit One

We will begin our study of History with our first unit: The Land and People Before Columbus, in which we'll study the people who lived in North America before the arrival of Europeans in The Age of Exploration.

(Posted on School Loop 8/14/10 - archived 10/26/10)

April Newsletter

Upcoming Events

Puberty Training in April: The Week of April 12th is Puberty week. Jen Devine from Planned Parenthood will be visiting the 5th grade classes each day of that week to deliver highly anticipated puberty information to our maturing 5th graders. Please let me know if you have any questions or concerns. Also, please write a note if you do not want to have your child participate in these sessions.

STAR testing is scheduled for April 21st to May 12th. We will begin testing on Wednesday, April 21st. Go to the Test Preparation page for some articles on things you can do to help your child with preparing for tests.

I am sending home in the Wednesday envelope a copy of my Learning Notes newsletter which includes "Ways to Help Your Child with Test-Taking."

Parent-Teacher Conferences

Thank you, again, for another excellent series of conferences. Except for a couple of make-ups, I have met with all parents, and we had positive, productive meetings. I appreciate the time you took to meet with me and all the little things you do on a regular basis to support your child and his or her education.

Fitness Test

We are in the last week of the fitness test for this year. We will be done by the end of the week. If necessary, I'll administer any make-up tests on Monday of next week, and then we're all done. Of course, we'll continue to emphasize fitness during Physical Education lessons for the remainder of the school year.

Reading

We have gone back to read the three stories in Theme Three that connect with the American Revolution, where we are now in History. I will not be giving reading tests for these three stories. In addition, students are reading a number of other short books:

  • George Washington's Breakfast by Jean Fritz
  • Samuel's Choice by Richard Berleth
  • Phoebe the Spy by Judith Berry Griffin
  • Daughter of Liberty by Robert Quackenbush
  • Where Was Patrick Henry on the 29th of May? by Jean Fritz
  • Can't You Make Them Behave, King George? by Jean Fritz
  • What's the Big Idea, Ben Franklin? by Jean Fritz

I have also set out four optional books, for students to read if they wish:

  • Guns for General Washington by Seymour Reit
  • Ben and Me by Robert Lawson
  • Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes
  • Freedom's Fire by J.P. Trent

Writing

We have started discussing the final major writing project, the research paper. Students have already been given the assignment sheet for this paper and I have shared a list of topics they may research. I have not yet set a due date. Students will be working on their research and writing in the computer lab, the library, in the classroom, and at home. I normally assign a period of three to four weeks for this paper, but I do not want it to interfere with STAR testing. When I do assign a due date, I will post it on the website and have students write it in their planners.

(posted Wednesday, April 7, 2010)

March Newsletter

Upcoming Events

Mr. Drum and I have had to cancel our planned Solar System day due to lack of parent volunteers. Mr. Drum and I are planning a Solar System day to collaborate on science. I need three parents to help me on Thursday, March 18. We have four activities planned: Solar System in Your Pocket, Worlds in Comparison, and From Fire to Ice: Modeling Comet Orbits and Meteor Showers, for which we need parent help. I'll be running the Mars Opposition Dance activity. If you can help, please e-mail me or send a note with your child.

Parent-Teacher Conferences are coming up again soon. Please mark your requested meeting times on the letter I sent home and have your child return it to me soon.

Spring Break is scheduled for March 29th to April 2nd.

STAR testing is scheduled for April 21st to May 12th. I will be following up with another newsletter just about the STAR test the first week of April.

Mathematics

We are now more than halfway through the math curriculum, having completed units five and six. We are now halfway through unit seven, working on exponents and integers (positive and negative numbers). We are a little behind schedule on math, so I'll be devoting more instructional time to it to get us caught up - and better prepared for the STAR test. However, don't worry, we did also complete projects on multiplication, the distributive property, and division. The Everyday Mathematics curriculum does not assign all of the content just into the various units. So, if you just look at which unit we're in, it seems we're farther behind than we really are.

I did discuss in the last newsletter that students would have another opportunity to master concepts and that you'd see a grade for that this quarter. I was speaking particularly of prime factorization and area. We have not yet gotten back to those concepts, though the additional work we're doing on exponents in the current unit will help. I am planning to have students work on those projects in the time after STAR testing before we go on with our regular day. We always give the STAR tests in the morning, blocking out the entire time until morning recess at 10:00. Most students do not need all the time we allot for the testing, so I'm going to utilize that time to have students work on concepts that they have not yet mastered.

We have also begun working on some practice contests for the Math League, which I am glad to say many students have shown an interest in participating in that challenge activity.

Reading

We skipped the stories for Theme Three because they connect with the American Revolution, so we're going to read them when we get there in History, which will be soon. We did read three stories in Theme Four.

Mr. Drum purchased a class set of Blood on the River, a historical novel set during the founding of Jamestown. On his recommendation, and the positive comments I heard from his students, we are currently reading that chapter book together.

Writing

Students are also working on the third major writing assignment, the persuasive essay, which is due this Friday. Next, we'll tackle the research paper on the American Revolution.

Grammar and Spelling

While we skipped the stories in Theme Three, we did complete the grammar and spelling lessons for that theme, because they do follow a sequence throughout the curriculum. We are now working on grammar and spelling concepts in Theme Four.

Science

Mr. Drum has now completed the Life Science unit with the students, and they have begun working on the last major science unit, Water Planet. This is the Earth Science unit in FOSS that deals with the water cycle, weather, and the solar system.

History

We moved quickly through book two of a History of US, which dealt primarily with the founding of the thirteen colonies, as well as some conflicts between the settlers and the Native Americans.

I recently distributed book three, which we carry us through the next three units of study: the causes of the American Revolution, the Revolution itself, and then the Constitution. Of course, the stories in Theme Three and our work on research papers will tie together History and English/Language Arts quite nicely.

Health and P.E.

We are glad to welcome Ms. Mason as our new P.E. teacher. Mr. Drum and I have already discussed with Ms. Mason what we have taught the students already this year, and we are working with her on the fitness testing, which we soon begin administering.

We had an excellent field trip to Cootie Shots, a stage play dealing with bullying, intolerance, and discrimination, which ties in well with the health concepts Mr. Drum and I are teaching in the classroom.

The Arts

Students also had several weeks of Kung Fu, in addition to their full P.E. time, and we are now working with Mrs. Sibbet on writing poems, as part of the California Poets in the Schools program.

We have also had two of four scheduled assemblies from the San Francisco Symphony's Adventures in Music program.

Please keep in mind that these important programs, that reinforce the message about being a well-rounded individual, do take away time from the core curriculum. I only say this so that you understand that while we might be behind in math, for example, your children have spent quality time with other instructors and performers who have brought things to them that I cannot. I fully support these programs and see their benefit for your children. I merely remind you that they are a factor in how instructional time is spent.

Field Trips and such

Please be mindful of the comments you make. I am disheartened when I listen to students and parents complain about how few field trips there are in fifth grade. In general, I would appreciate it if there were more positive comments and fewer negative ones. Also, this is fifth grade. We have to maximize every minute of instructional time. We don't take field trips in fifth grade just for fun. They must have an educational goal that aligns with the standards for fifth-grade students. And the reality is that a field trip that enhances the learning in one area does take time away from many others, which must be made up. I'm not saying that I don't like field trips. Our recent field trip to see Cootie Shots was an excellent field trip, and presented health concepts to the students in a way that I could not have in the classroom; that is what field trips are for. It is particularly disheartening when I have to listen to complaints on one hand, and then don't get any support on the other. Only one parent came with our class on our last field trip.

STAR Testing

Which leads me to a few comments about the STAR test. One, I hope you noticed that I started some test preparation homework and discussions some time ago. Two, I explained to students that the STAR test is administered about 80% of the way through the school year, and I reinforced the message that no one expects them to have learned everything by that point. Please encourage your children and support them as they prepare for and take the STAR test this year. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to have a positive attitude. Focus your comments on what your child can do, rather than commenting on what they cannot do or what they have not yet learned. Focus their self-talk and self-thoughts on what they can do. The reality of the situation is that we do not give the test at the end of the year. I'm asking you, as parents, to support me and your children in this way. Keep your focus, and theirs, on what they can do, on how much they have learned - and they will do well. Thank you.

(posted Wednesday, March 10, 2010 - updated 3/11/10)

Letter from UESF (United Educators of San Francisco)

Dear SFUSD Parent,

The San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) is facing a $113 million budget deficit over the next
two school years. The budget crisis is not the fault of the SFUSD. Lawmakers in Sacramento have failed
our students by cutting over $17 billion from our schools since 2008.

Parents, students, and teachers must stand together and defend our children and their classrooms from any
further cuts. This means bringing more revenues to support our schools, and making sure that any
necessary cuts here in San Francisco are made as far as away from the students as possible. Please join us
in our campaign to defend our classrooms by doing the following:

Tell the Governor and the state legislators that our schools need more, not less…

California already ranks near the bottom for spending on schools, and now the Governor wants billions
more in cuts. Simply put, there is nothing more to cut that won’t directly hurt our students. Stand with us
and call for more revenue from the state by demanding common sense tax and budget reform – close
corporate tax loopholes, rescind tax-cuts for corporations and the wealthy, institute an oil severance tax,
and end the undemocratic rules that require 2/3 of the legislature to pass a budget and raise revenues. This
is money that will go to lower class sizes, restore lost programs, rehire teachers and paraprofessionals,
close the achievement gap, and maintain vital public services.

Tell SFUSD to make cuts as far away from the classroom as possible…

We call on the Board of Education and the Superintendent to do everything they can to make cuts as far
away from our students and the classroom as possible. The classroom and the front-line educators must
come first. Before any class sizes are raised, teachers and paraprofessionals are laid off, and vital
programs eliminated, the SFUSD should demonstrate in detail that there are no other choices, no
consultants, no ‘favorite programs’.

Tell SFUSD to make all decisions with complete honesty and transparency…

We also call on the SFUSD to be completely transparent with this process. The more upfront and honest
the district is with teachers and parents, the more we can trust that every effort has been made to prioritize
the classroom. The SFUSD is a public agency that is responsible to the voters, parents, and the educators
who work every day for our students. We deserve nothing less than a full and honest accounting of the
budget.

Join teachers, paras, students, and parents in the SFUSD to Defend The Classroom!

We must all stand together at our schools sites, in our city, and throughout our state to Defend The
Classroom from any future cuts! Talk to your student’s teacher to see how you can get involved at your
school. Go to www.uesf.org/defend for steps you can take today, including writing to the Board of
Education and our state legislators. You can also email gro.fseu|fseu-ksa#gro.fseu|fseu-ksa to share your ideas. Together
we can do it!

(posted 3/12/10)

January Newsletter (The Report Card Issue)

As a group, the fifth-grade students this year are doing well. Many of you will see the progress your child is making clearly reflected in their report card grades. This newsletter is just some general comments I want to make about where we are, and to remind you about things I've said before about report cards.

First, many students did not do well in two particular math standards: "Understands and computes area for a variety of figures" and "Multiplies and divides decimals." If your child did not do well in either of these areas, there is no need for concern. Our work and study of these concepts is preliminary. I fully expect students will naturally improve and you'll see higher grades on future report cards. The timing of this report card just shows how learning is a process, and that students don't always master new skills and concepts quickly; nor are we done with those standards, by any means.

Two, many students did better on fluency. Quite a few students moved from a 2 to a 3, and some even moved from a 3 to a 4. If your child held steady at a 3, that's good. Don't forget that the expectations for fluency gradually increase throughout the school year. They were expected to read more words per minute in the second quarter than they were in the first.

Three, do look to see how your child is doing in reading. A mixture of 2s and 3s is still okay, but you should start to see a shift so that there are more 3s than 2s. This is an area that I do monitor closely, and I do expect students to show improvement. If your child does not show noticeable improvement by the third report card, then we may need to have a frank discussion about your child's academic progress. Reading is so fundamental a skill that its importance cannot be overlooked. Again, my expectations have increased slightly from the first report card because I am factoring in what I have taught this year, which is far more substantial at this point in the school year than it was at the time of the first report card.

Four, don't be overly concerned if in a particular standard, such as estimation (Number Sense 1.1) if it looks like your child's progress has gone down. Some students did get a 4 for that standard on the first report card, and now have a 3. That does not mean that their estimation skills have gone down. It's more a matter that what we expect has increased. Many students, for example, did very well with estimating whole numbers, but did not do so well with estimating decimals, which would account for a 4 on the first report card and a 3 on the second.

Five, remember that what we want by the end of the school year is for as many students as possible to get as many proficient grades as possible, that is, a 3 on the report card, on as many standards as possible. I say this because some students feel stressed to get a 4. What students learn is more important than the grade they get. I also say this for the students who are still getting 2s, so that they don't give up on themselves. Learning is a process, and some students need more time than others to reach mastery.

Six, some students do need to show more effort. For example, many students are essentially done with the math standard on prime factors. Many students successfully completed the prime factors project, and have met that standard already for this school year. If your child has a 3 or a 4, then they're done. If your child has a 1 or a 2, then they will have an opportunity in the future to earn a proficient grade.

Many standards are so basic, such as reading and estimation, that you will see grades for those skills on each report card. Other standards are taught and assessed, and then we move on to something new. I will give students an opportunity to master those skills and concepts, such as prime factors, but it is something that now will require more effort on their part.

Seven, there are some concepts that will not be retaught and for which students will not have an opportunity to improve their grades. For example, we are completely done with the first history unit on Native Americans. What your child has at this point is his or her grade for that particular standard. They always have the opportunity to improve and get better grades in history, but not for units of study that we have completed. This is also true of many science concepts. The grades your child has for physical sciences are probably final. Mr. Drum has now moved on to life sciences. If your child did not do well in physics, then they should refocus their efforts and do the best they can in biology. Of course, Mr. Drum and I will review these science concepts before the standardized testing, but do not anticipate more grades for those completed units of study.

As always, if you have any questions or concerns, feel free to contact me.

(posted Thursday, January 28, 2010)

November/December Newsletter

General

First, I have to thank all of you for such successful Parent-Teacher Conferences. I am pleased to announce that I had 100% participation and that the conferences went really well. A positive tone towards learning has clearly been established this year, and I want to thank you parents for all the support that you provide to your child and to me.

Second, I want to apologize for the lateness of this newsletter. I won’t make excuses. I should have gotten out a newsletter in November and also one in December. I hope the thoroughness of my newsletters will make up for their tardiness.

Third, I want to welcome our new student, Marisa, who joined our class a few weeks ago. And also say good-bye to Allison; she and her family are moving back to Nevada.

Everyday Mathematics

We have now finished Units Two, Three, and Four.

In Unit Two, Estimation and Computation, we studied adding, subtracting, and multiplying whole numbers and decimals. I am not always satisfied with the thoroughness of the written assessments that come with the Everyday Mathematics curriculum. Accordingly, I have also given the students three follow-up quizzes on adding decimals, subtracting decimals, and multiplying decimals. I needed more evidence than the written assessment provided me. The students have already received back the corrected written assessment. I am still grading the quizzes, and students will receive those in early January.

In Unit Three, Geometry Explorations, we studied measuring angles, using protractors, and the properties of polygons. One of the most important concepts we studied is that the sum of all triangles add up to 180 degrees, and that the sum of all quadrilaterals, or quadrangles, add up to 360 degrees. I also had the students work with the geometry concept of area, which is a great way to practice multiplication, which we will continue to do throughout the year, as we study multiplying with whole numbers, decimals, and fractions.

Most recently, students took the written assessment for Unit 4, Division. We reviewed the standard algorithm for division that students learned in fourth grade, and I also taught students the Partial-Quotients Algorithm. We also explored interpreting the remainder, that is, in word problems, what do you do when you divide and you get a remainder? Do you round your answer up, ignore the remainder, or change it into a fraction or decimal? Later in the year, we’ll explore in more detail how to divide with decimals.

We have now begun our studies of Unit 5, Fractions, Decimals, and Percents. This unit pulls together many of the concepts we’ve worked with earlier this year, from divisibility rules and estimation to factors and division.

Problem Solving/Mathematical Reasoning

Following (1) Make a Picture or Diagram, and (2) Find/Use a Pattern, students have now completed the assignment for the third strategy I taught them: Make an Organized List.

I am also using some of the Open Response problems to assess mathematical reasoning. In fact, just this Tuesday, students turned in the Open Response problem that came with the written assessment for Unit 4.

And most recently, I have introduced Sudoku puzzles, which I am assigning as extra credit, but they fit perfectly here, as problem solving and logical thinking. We often think of mathematics as computation, but, in many ways, it is the language of logic.

Language Arts

Writing

Students are currently working on Phase 2 of the second major writing assignment, the book report (response to literature). First, as Phase 1, we read From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg as a class. As students were reading, they had a particular part of the book report that they were to take notes on, either: Character, Plot, Theme, or Author’s Style and Technique. The students then were to submit to me three paragraphs, an introduction, their body paragraph based on one of the four topics just mentioned, and a conclusion. I then selected two of each of the six topic paragraphs and put together two sample book reports. Every student got a copy of these model book reports and we discussed them thoroughly in class.

Then for Phase 2, I selected some twenty titles that students could choose from for their individual book report. I introduced each book, either reading from the blurb on the back or reading a short excerpt. Many of the titles, like Frankweiler, were award-winning books, often winning the Newbery award or being selected as a Newbery Honor book. They also ranged in reading ability, genre, and subjects. Students could then peruse the many titles and decide which book they wanted to read. I had final say on book selections to make sure that students choose appropriate books, neither too easy nor too difficult for them. I am pleased to say that nearly every student chose a book appropriate for him or herself the first time around.

Students have until Friday, January 8, 2010 to complete their book report. By that time, they will have had three full weeks to read their book. They are supposed to be taking notes on Character, Plot, Theme, and Author’s Style and Technique as they read. Then they have a week to write their 500 to 700 word book report. I expect that many students will write book reports longer than that. Our model book reports were in the 900 to 1000 word range.

I am also pleased to say that many students have shown interest in reading other books after they finish the book report. Until now, those books were off limits. Once the book reports are done, students will be able to borrow and read those books for pleasure. There are many excellent ones among them, including some of my personal favorites, including Maniac Magee, Out of the Dust, and The Phantom Tollbooth.

Students have continued their Friday Writes, and I expect students to write two full pages over Winter Break. They may write on any topic that pleases them. We all celebrate in different ways this holiday season, and I just want students to write about their experiences over the two weeks of Winter Break.

Reading

We have now finished the stories in Theme Two, Give It All You’ve Got. We will not read the stories in Theme Three next because they are on the American Revolution. We will read those stories when we get to that topic in History. In the meantime, we will skip ahead to Theme Four, Person to Person.

Spelling

We will soon finish the spelling lessons in Theme Two, and then move on to the spelling lessons in Theme Three. While we won’t read the stories in our anthology in order, we will follow the sequence for spelling words, because that’s how the curriculum is designed.

I have also continued with the different spelling groups, differentiating the curriculum to meet students at their level of need.

Grammar

We are also nearly done with the grammar lessons in Theme Two. In early January, I will test the students on all the Language Arts ideas in Theme Two, focusing on spelling and grammar.

I encourage you to ask your child to bring home their Language Arts notebook so that you can see the materials I am providing to help teach these grammar concepts. While the Practice Book pages that I frequently assign for homework are excellent practice of those grammar skills and concepts, they do not do an adequate job of helping the students learn those skills and concepts. If you look at these handouts that students have glued into their Language Arts notebooks, I hope you will see, again, the differentiation that I have built into my teaching. I frequently extend the concepts beyond what students are expected to demonstrate on their Practice Book pages.

Also, in these materials that I am providing, I am striving for clarity and thoroughness. Grammar, in particular, is something that needs to be taught explicitly. For example, for a recent lesson on direct objects, I included information about indirect objects. While it is good to define something and give examples of it so that students can learn what it is, it is often helpful to show what it is not, so that between comparing and contrasting students really know what a concept means and how to apply it.

Science

Mr. Drum has finished teaching Separating Mixtures and Fizz Quiz, both parts of the Mixtures and Solutions science curriculum. The last unit, Fizz Quiz, looked at chemical reactions. I know the students have also been studying the periodic table of elements and the properties of metals.

Just a reminder, I have added Mr. Drum’s class website as a Quick Link on my home page. From there, you can go to the science information that he has on his site. His online study guides are another helpful tool that students can use to review and study science concepts and to prepare for science tests.

I have continued to work with the students on science concepts using the old science textbook. A couple of weeks ago, we used them to look at the periodic table of elements and metals. This is also another way to teach students reading, as well.

Of course, our field trip to the Academy of Sciences included a visit to the planetarium, which ties in nicely with the fifth grade science standards on the solar system.

History

The students have completed their first unit of study, The Land and People Before Columbus, focusing on the various Native American groups and how they lived in North America before the arrival of the European explorers.

We have since moved into The Age of Exploration unit. For this unit of study, which comprises many chapters in The History of US, Mr. Drum and I assigned chapters for the students to summarize. I then took all the submitted summaries, typed them up, and shared them with the students. We have used these as the basis of our homework reading and discussion in class. We have done minimal note-taking for this unit because the students generally did a very good job on their summaries. In class discussions, I have reinforced important ideas that students summarized and filled in gaps where they occurred.

As we work our way through the end of the first volume of A History of US, we will also begin dipping into unit 3, Conflict and Cooperation, which focuses on the conflict between European nations and Native American groups for control of North America, and also cooperation between those varied groups. This unit of study is a little bit different, beginning as it does with the explorers, extending into the colonial period, including the conflicts before the American Revolution, and even afterwards, with events such as the Trail of Tears.

Over the Winter Break, students should begin work on the series of questions that I gave them about an explorer of their choice and The Age of Exploration, in general.

Students have also been assigned another eleven states and capitals to study. They have a blank map of several western states so that they can study the states’ locations. The other part of the test will require them to write the state’s capital when given the name of the state. This test will occur in early January. Students should also be memorizing these states and capitals over Winter Break.

Physical Education

P.E. has been going very well. I have now introduced nearly all the parts of the fitness test that will occur later this year. Many students have already demonstrated that they can pass the flexibility test, and we are already up to jogging half a mile. We have also practiced push-ups and curl-ups. On Wednesdays, we typically start our sessions by doing yoga with Ms. Kohn’s class. On rainy days, we have indoor P.E., where I take the time to teach students about health and fitness. I have already assigned students some P.E. homework on flexibility, and we have started on the topics of strength and muscular endurance as well. I have also given the students information on the fitness test, so that now they know what they have to do to pass the fitness test, which we will probably begin administering in late February or early March.

Attendance

I need to say two things about attendance. First, when your child is absent, please call the school. If you do not call, someone from the school will be calling you. It is your responsibility to notify us when your child is absent. If you do not call or answer our call, then you should write a note and have your child give it to me when he or she returns to school. You may also send me an e-mail for that purpose. I have many unexcused absences for students in my class. Remember that attendance at school for your child is mandatory. And we are a public school, which means that our funding is linked to our attendance. Essentially, we do not receive funds for your child for days that he or she is absent.

Second, please make sure that your child arrives to school on time. I have far too many students who arrive tardy on a regular basis. This is very disruptive to our schedule. Frankly, we have struggled all year long with a consistent morning routine, because it is frequently disrupted by students arriving late. I am spending far too much time on administrative tasks, such as attendance and lunch count, because of students arriving late. Our school day starts at 7:50 a.m. Please make sure your child is at school at that time.

Communication

Please notify me in advance if you are going to pull your child from school, as many of you have done for doctor’s appointments and tours of middle schools. Too frequently lately, I’ve had students tell me in the morning that they’re going to tour a middle school that day and it’s the first I’ve heard of it. As a common courtesy, please let me know in advance.

That said, let me remind you about when I check e-mail. I check e-mail each day at the end of the school day, when I am updating the homework log on the website. I do not check e-mail when I arrive at school in the morning, nor do I check it throughout the day. I am a public school teacher. I have no office; I have no privacy. I cannot and will not check e-mail while students are in the class. And when I have breaks throughout the day, at morning and lunch recess, I am taking a break as the students do, to get a drink of water (or coffee) and use the bathroom. I am also frequently preparing materials for my next lesson. I am not on the computer checking my e-mail.

So, if you send me an e-mail in the evening telling me that your child has a doctor’s appointment the next day, I’m not going to see that e-mail until after that school day is over. If you cannot send an e-mail to me in a timely manner, then write a note and have your child give it me when they arrive at school that day. Again, it is your responsibility to notify me when your child will not be attending school; please do not make your children responsible for that. Send me an e-mail far enough in advance or write me a note and have your child deliver it to me. Thank you.

(posted Friday, December 18, 2009)

October Newsletter

Everyday Mathematics

We have finished our studies of unit one. The students took the unit one test on Friday, September 25, 2009. I graded the test and sent it home with students on Friday, October 2, 2009. You will notice that I attached a half-page grading slip to your child’s test because the tests from Everyday Mathematics are not always easy to decipher in terms of which problems correlate with which standards.

The first two standards are for Part A of the test, which is used for grading purposes on the report card. All students are required to complete Part A. Remember that a 3 is proficient and represents a passing grade. Some students did get a 1 or a 2 on these standards. Keep in mind that the number grading system reflects what students are supposed to be able to do by the end of fifth grade. Do not worry unless you see a pattern of 1 and 2s that indicate your child is routinely not working at grade level. Students will have an opportunity to work towards mastery of both of these standards again.

There are also two standards under Part B. Part B is optional for students; they are not required to take that part of the test. Some students completed all of Part B, while others only completed part of it. If I have not circled a number grade in Part B that only means your child did not attempt those problems.

In Part B, if your child got a 1 or a 2 there is no need for concern. I do not use those grades on the report card. The items on Part B are ones that the students are still learning; they are not expected to have mastered that learning yet. However, some students did get a 3 or a 4 in Part B. I do count those grades on the report card. I hope the reasoning for this is clear. Essentially, I want to reward students who are doing better than expected, but I will not penalize students who have not yet mastered skills that I have not expected them to master. To do so would be to send a wrong message to students about the learning process.

The Everyday Mathematics assessments are divided like this into Part A and Part B. Part A is considered summative; that is, it is designed to measure student learning and is considered for grading purposes. Part B is considered formative; that is, it is designed to provide feedback to the teacher (and student) on how well the students are learning new concepts, but is not designed for grading purposes.

Math Problem Solving

We have now completed two problem solving strategies: Make a Picture or Diagram and Find/Use a Pattern.

Students worked on making a picture or diagram on Problem Solving 1 and 2. Problem Solving 1 was the group of problems I asked students to complete on their own as best they could. Then we shared ideas on solving those problems, so that every student had the correct answer and a strategy for solving it when we were done. I then assigned Problem Solving 2 for students to work on independently. They had one week to solve those problems.

In addition to solving the problems, I provided another page titled Problem Solving/Mathematical Reasoning. Students were to select one of the problems they solved and write about how they solved it. This page provided a number of questions and prompts to help students demonstrate their mathematical reasoning.

The students were a little confused on how I graded this assignment, so I made revisions to the Problem Solving/Mathematical Reasoning page. I rewrote it so that it is more in align with the standards-based report card that Mr. Drum and I will be using this year, and I added a grading rubric at the end that more clearly shows how well the student did on the assignment. I went back and made a half-page grading slip for Problem Solving 2 that showed the students how well they did on the Mathematical Reasoning standards for those problems.

The students had the revised Problem Solving/Mathematical Reasoning page for Problem Solving 4. We followed the same procedure with this one as we did with the first, where Problem Solving 3 was our practice/teaching problems, and Problem Solving 4 was independent student practice using that strategy. Students just turned in Problem Solving 4 on Tuesday, October 06, 2009.

Language Arts

Writing

We are nearing the end of our first major writing assignment, the narrative. We spent about a week introducing the assignment. Then I gave students three pages to help them with their prewriting. I conferenced with all students, where they showed me their prewriting and I gave them approval to begin drafting. As they were doing their first drafts, I prepared a revision checklist to help them revise their stories, to make them better. They were to get someone else to read their story before they showed it to me. I know many parents as well as fellow classmates read stories and gave helpful feedback. Some students showed me their first drafts, while others showed me their second drafts. Then I prepared a proofreading checklist to help students fix any mistakes in grammar, punctuation, capitalization, spelling, etc. The final draft is due this Friday, October 9, 2009, which has been four full weeks since they received the prewriting pages. Students must turn in their final draft as well as all other drafts; I need these to grade them on their revision process, which is one of the writing standards on the report card.

Students have also begun their Friday Writes. Each Friday they get a handout to glue into their Writing notebook. This handout includes a dozen writing prompts that I expect students to use to respond to in their Writing notebooks. There are four each of quotations, questions, titles, and sentence starters. I expect students to write a full page using one or more of the prompts I provide. If students do not complete this writing in class, then I expect them to complete it over the weekend. I will be checking the Writing notebooks of at least ten students every week to monitor their progress.

Reading

Because we have been focusing on writing, we are just now finishing our work on the first story, Earthquake Terror, in our anthology. The test will be this Friday, October 9, 2009. We will be reading one more story in the first theme, Nature’s Fury.

Spelling

We have already completed all the spelling lessons in Theme One, so this week we are taking a break and focusing on other language arts skills, notably grammar.

I assessed students the first week of school on their spelling abilities, and I have put students into four different groups to meet them at their level of need. One group is continuing to work with the spelling words that come with our language arts program, and are expected to continue to complete two pages from the Practice Book as homework each week for spelling.

Three of the groups are expected to complete one page from the Practice Book and the Word Study page that I provide them. This is part of the differentiation that I offer in the language arts curriculum. Students are not excused from the district-adopted spelling materials, but instead are expected to complete less work in that area, supplemented with my Word Study worksheets.

Grammar

Early in the year, before we began using the grammar lessons in the Practice Book, I taught a series of mini-lessons on each of the eight parts of speech. You will find notes on these in your child’s Language Arts notebook. You will also find a number of handouts that I give the students to help me teach the various grammar lessons. The Practice Book provides good worksheets for the students to practice grammar skills, but does not always provide good enough material for them to actually learn the grammar. So, I have prepared these handouts, which you will find glued into your child’s Language Arts notebook. I encourage you to ask your child to see this notebook and to see the grammar skills that they are learning.

Science

Mr. Drum has begun the first FOSS unit on Mixtures and Solutions. Students have already taken one test on Separating Mixtures and are about to take their second test on Reaching Saturation. Soon they will be moving on to look at chemical reactions in Fizz Quiz.

Mr. Drum has asked me to point out his website at http://mrdrumsclass.wikidot.com/ and the online study guides he has prepared at http://mrdrumsclass.wikidot.com/science-study-guides. Mr. Drum gives each student a hard copy of this study guide (without the answers) to glue into their Science notebooks.

I have worked a little bit in the old science books with the students. I use them because they supplement what Mr. Drum is teaching students with the district-adopted science curriculum, FOSS. I also use the old textbooks because they help me teach students about reading nonfiction, an important group of reading standards in fifth grade.

History

I have begun working with all the fifth-grade students on the first unit of study, The Land and People Before Columbus, focusing on the various Native American groups and how they lived in North America before the arrival of the European explorers.

Students are expected to read the chapters in The History of US as I assign them for homework. These homework assignments are preparation for the discussion/note-taking that will occur in class.

Students also have assignments that I give them with questions related to the chapters they are reading. The notes they are taking in class frequently help them answer these questions.

As part of our first unit, students are also reading Native American trickster tales that I have given them to read, and answering some basic questions about those tales.

We have also begun the last history standard, where students are expected to know the fifty state capitals and the locations of all the states. Last week, students took their first states and capitals quiz. I have planned five quizzes throughout the year, with about ten states and capitals on each quiz. At the end of the year, I will also give the students summative tests, one on the fifty capitals and one on the locations of the fifty states.

Last week, during Banned Book Week, I also set aside some time to talk about the first amendment and freedom of speech.

Physical Education

Students have P.E. twice a week, on Mondays and Wednesdays. Please make sure they wear appropriate clothing and shoes on those days. We have already begun working on preparing students for the fitness test they will take later this year. I have already done a quick assessment of flexibility and we have begun building up their endurance for the Mile Walk/Run.

If you want to see more information now about the fitness test, you can go to the Physical Education page on my class website. I will be sending home a newsletter with all this information as we get closer to the testing period in February and March.

We have also worked on different kinds of movement, walking, running, jumping, hopping, etc. while moving through an enclosed space, working on both physical activity and safety. We also spent two or three sessions on four square. The teachers on yard duty had noted a number of problems with four square at recess time. Since many of us spent some time reviewing the rules and skills for four square we have had many fewer problems during recess around playing four square.

Music

Ms. Mosley teaches music on Fridays. Please make sure your child brings his or her instrument on that day. We have also begun choir with her, in which all fifth-grade students participate.

Poetry

I have taught two poetry lessons to the students so far this year. The lessons are going well and students are writing good poems. After we finish our third poem, I want to have students type up one of their three poems to display on a bulletin board in the hallway across from our classroom. I am also considering posting some poems on the classroom website.

Testing

I will only be giving math and reading tests on Fridays. Mr. Drum and I only see each other’s students on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. Any science or history tests will take place on one of those three days. At a parent’s request, I have begun posting testing dates on the class website. I will also be announcing these in class and reminding students to write them down in their planners.

Homework

I hope you have seen a variety of homework. Spelling is typically at the beginning of the week, followed by a couple of grammar lessons each week. I have also assigned a couple of synonym homework assignments, which are from materials outside of our language arts curriculum, but which students need practice with to meet the standards. These too are differentiated, challenging students with vocabulary words more difficult than those they are currently studying for spelling. I am also assigning cursive handwriting because I have heard that this is a common expectation for students in middle school.

I hope your child has been giving you the family letters that come with Everyday Mathematics. These are Study Links that introduce the upcoming unit and will also help you and your child with vocabulary and some answers to Study Links, which I primarily assign as homework. I have also assigned some Math Journal pages for homework as well.

I have been assigning about two chapters per week for history homework, and I’ve noticed that Mr. Drum has one or two homework assignments per week for science.

I have also started giving the students some test preparation homework. I don't wait until we get close to the STAR test for this. It's something we'll work on a little bit every week. You'll see test prep homework for mathematics, language arts, and science.

Generally, students are doing well with the amount of homework, along with budgeting their time to work on project assignments, like problem solving, history assignments, trickster tales, the narrative, etc.

Parent-Teacher Conferences/Communication

The first parent-teacher conferences are coming up later this month. Look in next week’s Wednesday envelope for my form to request an appointment time for that week. I look forward to meeting with each of you and discussing your child’s progress so far this year.

As always, please contact me if you have any questions or concerns. If you think that I have not adequately addressed your question or concern, then feel free to go speak to Mrs. Brown. As a courtesy to me, please let me know that you are dissatisfied with our conversation and notify me of your intent to speak to Mrs. Brown.

(posted Wednesday, October 7, 2009)


Back-to-School Night Basics

Make the most of back-to-school night. It's a valuable opportunity to learn important information about your child's classroom experience.

Your child's teacher might be a little nervous about meeting all the parents, even if he's done this 20 times before. Arrive with a friendly smile and introduce yourself. If you know each other already, say hello and refresh his memory as to your name and who your child is. He meets lots of parents throughout the year and may not remember your name, although he may recognize your face.

Six Steps to a Successful Back-to-School Night

1. Find out if you can bring the kids.

Your school's administration may have a no-children policy for back-to-school night, believing that parents should be free to focus on meeting the teacher and listening to his presentation. However, more and more schools recognize that arranging for childcare, getting the kids home and then returning to school is challenging for parents, and have started to offer childcare at the school for the evening. Be sure to find out what your school's policy is and make the necessary arrangements.

Mr. Walker's note: You may bring your child(ren) with you to Back-to-School Night. They must stay with you. Have them bring a book so that they may read quietly during my presentation.

2. Devise a strategy if you need to visit more than one child's classroom.

If you have more than one child at the school, you'll need to strategize. If your older child has already had the teacher that your younger child now has, you might decide that visiting your older child's teacher is the priority for the evening. If both parents are able to attend, you can divide and conquer or take turns in the different classrooms.

3. Bring a pen and paper.

Brenda Lofton, 2006 Louisiana Teacher of the Year and a middle school math and science teacher recommends coming prepared to take notes: "If the teacher says you can contact me and these are my conference hours, you need to write down that information. Also, teachers may give information through a Power Point presentation or maybe something written on the board. So bring something to take notes with."

"I usually go over homework procedures, discipline procedures, the different things that are expected and then give parents time to ask questions," says Lofton.

4. Don't ask specific questions about your child.

Ask any questions that you have about the curriculum, field trips or grades, but refrain from asking questions specific to your child that won't be useful to other parents. It's better to make an appointment for a conference to discuss your concerns one-on-one.

"It happens all the time that someone wants to ask you specifically about their child," says Lofton. "Parents need to know that the teacher would be better prepared to answer their questions and have more time for them if they would set up a conference, instead of trying to do it at 7:30 when it's possible that a teacher might have a young child at home and has been there all day and you may have other parents standing around. So questions are good, but they just need to be ones that address everyone's concerns."

5. Be ready to volunteer.

There will be many opportunities to sign up for volunteer activities, either for school-wide programs or in the classroom. You'll be better prepared if you've already given some thought to your time constraints and how you'd like to contribute to the school community.

Denis Cruz, 2006 California Teacher of the Year, has taught in both elementary and middle school, and has seen many parents quit volunteering when their children reach middle school, often because they're intimidated by the subject matter. "Ask the principal if there's anything you can do to be involved in your child's education," suggests Cruz. "We seem to lose parents by eighth grade, but we still want their participation."

6. Bring a note for the teacher about your child.

If your teacher hasn't already asked for it, now is a good time to give him a letter describing your child's personality, academic history and any areas of concern you may have. He will appreciate receiving the information.

Important Information to Take-Away From Back-to-School Night

1. An overview of your child's school day

Elementary school teachers will share the typical daily and weekly schedule for the class. If you want to volunteer in the classroom, this information is helpful in determining the best time to come. For example, if the teacher asks for parent volunteers to help her work with struggling readers, you need to know when the class is in the classroom reading and not out for music, art, P.E. or lunch.

2. Knowledge of what the classroom looks like

Take a look around the classroom. Is it well-organized? Is it warm and inviting? Is there a lot of clutter? If it's cluttered, is the clutter educational and stimulating to young minds? You can tell quite a bit about the teacher from what you see on the walls and in the bookshelves. You will also have the opportunity to look at the textbooks and any journals, portfolios and artwork the students have created.

3. What it's like to sit in your child's seat

Many teachers ask parents to sit in their child's seat. This gives parents the opportunity to see the classroom from their child's point of view, and it gives teachers the chance to mentally match parents with students.

4. The homework and discipline policies

The homework policy should include information on when homework is due, how it is evaluated and how often, how much is assigned each night and on weekends, and how much it counts towards the final grade.

5. How to contact the teacher

Find out how to contact the teacher and what form of communication she prefers: email, voice mail or notes. Many teachers now use Web sites or weekly classroom newsletters to stay in touch with parents. If the teacher plans to send home a printed newsletter with your child, you'll want to know how often and if you should expect to receive it on a particular day of the week, so you'll know to remind your child.

[excerpted from an article by Marian Wilde of GreatSchools. You can find the entire article at: Back-to-School Night Basics.

(posted Tuesday, September 15, 2009)


10 Things Your Child's Teacher Needs to Know

I found this list online somewhere and have found it helpful in communicating with parents. If you're reading this list online or in an e-mail, please e-mail me your responses or write them out and have your child bring them to me at school. Thank you.

  1. What is your child's favorite subjects?
  2. Does your child have any difficult subjects? If so, what are they?
  3. Does your child have any allergies?
  4. Does your child have any medical conditions? (Yes, asthma counts.)
  5. What extracurricular activities does your child participate in? (Do they play sports? Are they involved in boy or girl scouts? Do they study music outside of school?)
  6. Some religions have practices that may impact school. Please let me know if your religious beliefs might cause your child to miss school. Are there any other practices that I should be aware of, for example, that might affect what clothes they wear or foods they can't eat?
  7. Are there any family issues that you'd like me to be aware of? Please let me know of any changes in your family that may be affecting your child, such as a new baby, a separation or divorce, moving to a new house, or a death in the family, including pets.
  8. Does your child have any sensitive areas? (Are they self-conscious about their weight or appearance? Are they particularly shy? Is there anything that they worry about a great deal or are afraid of?)
  9. Tell me about your child's hobbies and interests outside of school. How do they like to spend their free time? (Do they collect anything? Do they play chess? Do they raise money for the SPCA?)
  10. Tell me about your child's temperament. Please share any ideas with me that you have found that work with your child. (Do they get cranky at a certain time of day? Is there some activity that particularly frustrates them? And what do you do to adjust to their temperament?)
  11. In a million words or less, tell me anything else about your child that you think I should know. We won't be able to talk individually about your child at Back-to-School Night. And some things shouldn't wait until the first parent-teacher conference. Please share with me now.

(posted Friday, September 11, 2009 - revised Tuesday, September 15, 2009)


Student Responsibilities

Please read the Student and Parent Responsibilities in your child's planner. These are excerpted from the district's Student and Parent/Guardian Handbook. I encourage you to have a discussion with your child about these responsibilities and assist them in carrying out these responsibilities. You will also find a version of them on this website on my student responsibilities page.

(posted Friday, August 14, 2009 - revised Wednesday, September 2, 2009)


Introduction to Fifth Grade Everyday Mathematics

Welcome to Fifth Grade Everyday Mathematics. This curriculum was developed by the University of Chicago School Mathematics Project to offer students a broad background in mathematics.

The features of the program described below are to help familiarize you with the structure and expectations of Everyday Mathematics.

A problem-solving approach based on everyday situations. Students learn basic math skills in a context that is meaningful by making connections between their own knowledge and experience and mathematics concepts.

Frequent practice of basic skills. Students practice basic skills in a variety of engaging ways. In addition to completing daily review exercises covering a variety of topics and working with multiplication and division fact families in different formats, students play games that are specifically designed to develop basic skills.

An instructional approach that revisits concepts regularly. Lessons are designed to take advantage of previously learned concepts and skills and to build on them throughout the year.

A curriculum that explores mathematical content beyond basic arithmetic. Mathematics standards around the world indicate that basic arithmetic skills are only the beginning of the mathematical knowledge students will need as they develop critical-thinking skills. In addition to basic arithmetic, Everyday Mathematics develops concepts and skills in the following topics - number and numeration; operations and computation; data and chance; geometry; measurement and reference frames; and patterns, functions, and algebra.

Everyday Mathematics provides you with ample opportunities to monitor your child's progress and to participate in your child's mathematical experiences. Throughout the year, you will receive Family Letters to keep you informed of the mathematical content your child is studying in each unit. Each letter includes a vocabulary list, suggested Do-Anytime Activities for you and your child, and an answer guide to selected Study Link (homework) activities.

(posted Friday, August 14, 2009)


Grading

If you are looking for information on grading, you can check this page which will give you some information.

(posted Friday, August 14, 2009)

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License