Friday, February 19, 2010

February 19 "Never do a wrong thing to make a friend or to keep one."

Dear Parents,

Today Mr. Wright and I had a talk with the fifth and sixth graders about internet use and safety, and I thought I'd pass some of that information on to you.

Much of what we're doing in our classes these days has a technology component, which is an integral aspect of learning in any 21st Century classroom, but with this increased access comes the potential for harm. In addition to the wealth of useful and educational information available to children, much content exists that is most certainly not appropriate for them.

Children are susceptible to a variety of dangers when using computers without supervision, including pornography, hate group or racist websites, promotional websites (advertising or promoting tobacco, alcohol, etc), graphic violence, as well as other information that children are ill equipped to handle. We all know the added danger of exploitation or enticement of children by internet predators. By its very nature, online interaction facilitates deception about the predator's identity, age, and intentions.
(This information taken, in part, from

That being said, we assured the students (and reminded them, too) that the school filters are excellent, and that those sites that have the potential for harm are not accessable here. In fact, it is easy to detect who, when, and where someone might be trying (in vain) to access inappropriate information. (I will tell you that some of our students admitted to knowing how to erase the history on their computers at home so that their internet use is kept secret. This is definitely a red flag....)

I'm always looking for information to share with all of you, and found a quick and simple way to help you to make your children's internet experience safe, educational, and fun. Check out
tips for parents or, for those of you who, like me, have a million questions, check out parent information. These wonderful kids are the responsibility of us all, and I assure you that I will continue to monitor and educate as we explore the internet's great potential.

Have a safe and enjoyable winter break. I'll be in touch soon.

PS: This short video was shown in a course I recently took, and I thought you might be intrigued. It sure does provide food for thought...

Thursday, February 18, 2010

February 18 "There is a bit of insanity in dancing that does everybody a great deal of good." ~ Edwin Denby

“Vivid and reassuring… and sometimes extraordinarily brilliant.” —The Guardian
"Under the impetus of young Brazilian choreographer Bruno Beltrau, the nine hip-hop dancers of Grupo de Rua take the stage by storm. Like a powerful but fragile commando unit, the dancers overturn conventional codes, creating a remarkable fusion of hip-hop and contemporary dance. Accompanied by the sounds of the city, music, and rhythm, they dazzle with lightning-speed moves and high voltage energy as well as tender duets. In the process, the normal restrictions of the stage disintegrate and the audience becomes participants in a thrilling interaction. Winner of international championships and critical praise, Beltrau’s rigorous choreography dissects and jettisons hip-hop clich├ęs creating a bold new direction for hip-hop."
This video captures much of what we saw today. (Of note is the "running backwards" and the high energy interactions...Whew!) Based on the review above (taken from the Flynn website) it sounded amazing, and much like one we really enjoyed last year in which the dancers conveyed to the kids that making positive choices and being healthy was cool. I think today's event met with mixed reviews... Lots of the dance was done without music, and a little "urban" for us. Still, on the positive side, it was athletic, energetic, and a cultural opportunity for everyone.

Don't forget the party tomorrow afternoon. Most Explorer Notebooks are in now, as are science projects for Alison. Boy, do we need a vacation!

Take care-

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

February 17 "Every job is a self portrait of the person who does it. Autograph your work with excellence."

Shot of Snake Mountain from across Dead Creek
December 25, 2007

With only two days left before vacation, everyone is hard at work completing their Explorer Notebooks. What I thought would be a relaxing, creative end to our Explorers unit has turned into a high energy book-making extravaganza. Whew! I've appreciated the attention many have given to improving the quality of their work before final assessment.

Don't forget that tomorrow we'll be leaving school at 10:30 for the Flynn, so everyone will need a bag lunch. Please remember to include drinks in plastic screw-top bottles only. On Friday afternoon, we'll kick back and celebrate the culmination of lots of hard work.

When we return on March 1st, please look for a conference letter and schedule for March 12. I'd appreciate it if you could fill it out at your earliest convenience, since conference slots will fill up quickly, and will be determined on a first-come, first-served basis. I'd also appreciate it if you could sign and return the form even if you don't wish a for a conference at this time. Alison and I will not be conferencing together this go 'round; she will speak with fifth grade parents and I will be with all of you. (Time constraints simply made thirty-three conferences unmanageable.)

Time to close; I'll be in touch soon.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

February 16 "The February sunshine steeps your boughs and tints the buds and swells the leaves within." William Cullen Bryant

Winter break--what a perfect way to end a topic that could most certainly go on forever... We, too, have been on a journey as we've learned about the [often infamous] people who made their mark during the Age of Discovery. It has been my intent to go beyond passive memorization of facts and engage the students in learning that is insightful and transferable. When students learn to interact critically with the content, question the facts, search for broader implications, and connect new information with prior knowledge and experiences, they develop a genuine understanding of the concepts and skills.

Anyway, the culminating activity for this unit, the "Explorers Notebook", is due before vacation. We'll begin a new unit upon their return in March!

Remember, there is no Grammar, Spelling, or Vocabulary packets this week since we'll be gone to the Flynn on Thursday and Friday is, well, the day before vacation... Language Arts is also being taken up by the associated writing activities for the notebook. It's been quite a busy place around here!

Reminder: We're planning to have a "Friendship Party" on Friday afternoon. It'll be a great way to kick back and celebrate the completion of a lot of hard work, too.

I sure do appreciate all your support. Have a great evening!

Friday, February 12, 2010

February 12 "Love is just a word until someone comes along and gives it meaning." -Author Unknown

"Friendship is a special kind of love."
“For a girl, she’s remarkably perceptive.”

Happy Valentine's Day, everyone!


Thursday, February 11, 2010

February 11, "In the coldest February, as in every other month in every other year, the best thing to hold on to in this world is each other."

"At the Dead Creek viewing area on New Year's Eve, 2007, two Short-eared Owls put on a show. The birds were observed coursing low over the fields, uttering their nasal bark-like calls as they foraged. Dead Creek is Vermont's most reliable area to find this medium-sized, pale brownish owl of open country, and winter is the best time to seek out the species." (VT Center for Ecostudies, 1/27/07 notes--
I want to thank Pam and Randy for coming in today. Their presentation for "Four Winds" this month was about animal tracks--SO cool!

In Social Studies today, the fifth grade finished up our study of explorers with a comparison of Cortes and Pizarro , and of Coronado and De Soto. Lots of stories of Conquistadors and gold fever. Next week we'll create our final products and be done, done, done.

Language Arts followed the theme as I introduced "Explorer Poems" (to the fifth grade only, since we had "Four Winds"). Basically these are biography poems, or gist poems, each of which tell the main events of an explorer's life. The class went into research mode, gathering information and trying to figure out how to tell their explorer's story in poetic prose. It was fun! (We'll finish these tomorrow.)

In 6th grade, We completed Day 4 of GVS today, and I urged them to complete Day 5 of Vocabulary (since that's the only one that HAS a Day 5...) Tomorrow is the Spelling test, of course.

We're continuing testing in Reading--we're doing QRIs instead of a DRAs. The basic difference--QRI is not contingent on written responses, which is where many kids seemed to be falling down--we wanted to test their READING/COMPREHENSION levels, not their ability to compose constructed responses. That's ANOTHER test...

Well, once again I apologize that this is late. I just can't get to it any earlier on Thursdays (class night). Those of you who are also enrolled in coursework know exactly what I mean...

I'll be in touch again tomorrow. Until then, good night, everybody--


Tuesday, February 9, 2010

February 9 "There seems to be so much more winter than we need this year." - Kathleen Norris

"Winter, a lingering season, is a time to gather golden moments,
embark upon a sentimental journey, and enjoy every idle hour."
- John Boswell
Great Addison shot, huh?? What a beautiful place to live and work!

Airplane procedure pieces were exchanged today so that peers could critique them. It was fun to watch the kids communicate with each other about their work in such a creative way. For some, the directions were easy to follow; for others, the process was more involved. To the students' credit, though, some of the models were pretty complex and the steps to recreate them were understandably difficult. Patty (Vincent) and I eavesdropped on a number of those conversations and were truly impressed by the level of support--and constructive criticism--these kids provided to one another. I must say, however, that it would have been a lot more fun, and would have culminated in an enjoyable activity, if it hadn't been for the fact that many students still weren't done. This was most disappointing, particularly in light of the extensions and additional support that was provided. Please help me to impress upon your children the need to complete assignments and/or projects in a timely manner. Grades are certainly affected, but the greater harm comes from not holding themselves accountable --a critical skill as they move toward more independence in Middle School. It's time to move on.

We began Grammar a day late, so we only did page one today. We completed Day two, however, in Spelling and Vocabulary. We'll get back on track in Grammar tomorrow.

In Social Studies, everyone should be completing their explorer timelines. Grade 6 timelines are due tomorrow; Grade 5 will be collected on Thursday. Today in Grade 5 we did a short activity about the explorer, Ponce de Leon. You know, that "Fountain of Youth" thing was't completely bogus. Some mineral-rich springs fed into the ocean, which, when the tide was low, produced fresh-water pools that were said to have "curative powers"... I don't know, though; the strong sulfur smell would be a huge deterrent to me... Anyway, the assignment for this little stroll down explorer lane is to complete a recruitment brochure (you know, "Ponce de leon Wants YOU!). It wouldn't be a bad idea to leave out the part about the hostile natives, however...
F.Y.I.: Teachers are assessing student reading levels during Literacy time each afternoon this week. This and other assessments will be reviewed as we prepare for our first Transition meeting with Middle School personnel next Monday. This meeting marks the first of many discussions we'll have as we prepare for their eventual assimilation into VUMS. (Don't worry, your part is coming up...)

Tomorrow at 12:30 we'll have a 15 minute whole-school D.E.A.R. (Drop Everything And Read) time. Why don't you join us, wherever you may be? What a great way to celebrate reading.

In lieu of a traditional "Valentine's Day" party, next Friday, February 19, we'll have a "Friendship Party" in the afternoon. It seems that it would be the most opportune/least disruptive time. Thursday we'll be gone most of the day on our Flynn outing, and we really SHOULD finish up some activities and projects before vacation mode makes it impossible to do so... I'm sure you know what I mean.
I hope you're all staying warm and comfortable as winter wears on... Before you know it, the earth will warm, the sap will stir, and birds will wend their way home.

Talk to you later...

Saturday, February 6, 2010

February 6 "If you can give your son or daughter only one gift, let it be enthusiasm." by Bruce Barton

Marilyn James, Essex Junction, VT 05452

At last a ferry in West Addison! If you should happen to see a good looking guy ushering you on and off, that's my husband, Matt. He started working at the West Addison crossing yesterday, February 5th. He'll be easy to spot--a great smile and a distinctive hat... (You won't see him on this video, but you can see him briefly on the center "related video" featured at the end. He was one of the guys working on the Charlotte Ferry until Wednesday--)

As for school stuff--
Friday was the day to finish our paper airplane procedure piece. We'll complete a creative "peer edit" on Tuesday (I won't be in school on Monday...). Please remind your son or daughter to do all the finishing touches on their writing and prototype by then. (Please, please, please don't help with the writing. In needs to be their own, warts and all...) Did they show you the rubric? Basically, the plane has to be made from one 8 1/2" X 11" piece of unlined [computer] paper. It must be able to fly... It cannot have any staples, tape, stickers, or other add-ons. It must be creatively colored (use bright colors to enhance the design!) and have an appropriate name neatly written somewhere on the plane. Part of the grade will be based on whether or not another child can successfully follow the directions and build the plane (this is part of the "peer edit" I mentioned before). If not, directions can be tweaked as needed before submitting.

We'll resume GVS next week, although no one will get Grammar packets until Tuesday when I return.

Monday's Social Studies will be to work on completing the accordion Timelines. I have given the substitute all the necessary information.

Enjoy your weekend; and if you should happen to take a trip on the ferry, say hi to my husband for me. His name is Matt.


Wednesday, February 3, 2010

February 3 "Why, what's the matter, that you have such a February face, so full of frost, of storm and cloudiness?" - William Shakespeare

Announced by all the trumpets of the sky,
Arrives the snow, and, driving o'er the fields,
Seems nowhere to alight: the withered air
Hides hills and woods, the river, and the heaven,
And veils the farm-house at the garden's end.
The sled and traveler stopped, the courier's feet
Delayed, all friends shut out, and housemates sit
Around the radiant fireplace, enclosed
In a tumultuous privacy of storm."
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
It's already Wednesday--where does the time go?? I guess when you're engaged in your learning, class time seems to fly by. Our procedure pieces are coming along well; many students have already typed and illustrated them. The current step, peer editing, is particularly fun for this project, because a peer must actually build the plane using the directions. If any steps are unclear/confusing, it is blatantly obvious, making feedback both authentic and useful. Students can work together on corrections.

As you probably know by now, I have suspended GVS in 6th grade this week as groups of students work with me to revisit problematic areas. I commend their desire to repair their grades. Grade 5 is working on punctuation, with a quiz to follow by the end of this week.

Social Studies continues to consist of quick in-class assignments, which are both fun and informative. I'm pleased to report that work quality is generally very good, and there are very few late assignments! Just so you know, I rethought today's activity in 6th grade, so I postponed it until I could tweak it. We'll do it on our "free" day--Friday. The focus--the Northwest routes of Cabot, Cartier, and Verrazano.

I hope you're enjoying your evening. I'll check in tomorrow.

Monday, February 1, 2010

February 1 "Rabbit, Rabbit....."

Where DO they come up with these things??

Ok, so among those ridiculous, 'don't know where THAT came from' habits that I seem to have acquired in my lifetime, I admit to saying "rabbit, rabbit" on the first day of each month. In order to achieve optimum effectiveness, it's supposed to be the first conscious vocalization upon waking -- though I must say that that logic escapes me. Truth be told, if I don't get to it until after coffee, I'm good; I figure it's just as unlucky to attempt coherence that early in the morning....

Where does the saying "rabbit, rabbit" come from, you ask? It's a common superstition with lots of variations, and it's been around for many hundreds of years. (It probably started off as some medieval practical joke...) Suffice it to say that following the protocol will ensure good luck for the duration of the month. (That and getting out of bed right foot first.)

Maybe it's because rabbits are supposed to be "lucky". That makes sense--we think a rabbit's foot is pretty lucky. (Although it isn't exactly lucky for the rabbit... Just goes to show you that one's perception is one's reality.) Maybe it has something to do with jumping into the future with joy and enthusiasm. I don't know about you, but, not being a morning person, I don't DO joy and enthusiasm until around 10:00...
Today was a day to reflect upon how we're doing this marking period. We suspended GSV this week so that we can revisit and clarify some repeated errors/misconceptions about Grammar and Vocabulary (in concentrated groups). If your child is among those who will work with me, s/he may bring home a packet or two to work on, since I agreed to regrade resubmitted papers. (ARGHHHHH! More paperwork!) The checklist in front of the room has really limited the number of outstanding assignments--which is great.

In Social Studies, we finished a discussion about Columbus, which included filling in a graphic organizer. Most of them got it done already. Today's discussion was about Vasco Nunez De Balboa and Ferdinand Magellan--a couple of good news/bad news explorer tales... Anyway, each student has to create two postcards (one "from" each explorer), telling a friend, relative, or kingly person something amazing from their adventures. These are due on Wednesday, when next we meet. Grade 5 will do this assignment tomorrow, due on Thursday.

As for the paper airplanes.... You know, it's not easy to find just the right words to describe a process. Even though it's wild and crazy as everyone figures out the paper airplane prototype that best suits their needs, the procedural writing is pretty particular and needs to be tested by a peer (and assessed with a rubric, which they have). Everyone should have created their prototype by now so that the writing can be done in earnest. If your child doesn't have one yet, please help him/her, OK? A reminder about the writing--it's being done HERE so that no one is tempted to reproduce the amazing words of another--so easy to do. The process is an important one, and takes practice.

Have a good evening, everyone-

P.S.--Check out yet another interesting paper airplane video: