Thursday, March 29, 2012

“I believe it is the nature of people to be heroes, given the chance.” James A. Autry

Dear families,

Here is a part of what your fifth or sixth grade child will receive in school tomorrow; I have included it here for your perusal. It looks daunting, perhaps, but it really isn't. The first three items are (or should be) turned in already, and students are finishing up the "Accomplishments" section in class tomorrow. Much of the rest is just a matter of using their creativity and skill to make a PowerPoint masterpiece. I will help them with their bibliographies in class next week.


There are several components of this project, which students will need to have completed. (They should keep track of them as they go along!) They are:

  • An introductory survey titled “What Makes a Hero?”
  • A 4-page packet that includes an parent interview page titled, "Do Adults Have Heroes?"(Do you remember your child interviewing you about heroes in your own life?)
  • A brief biography of their hero (at least three resources)
  • A brief summary of his/her accomplishments
  • A quote that somehow demonstrates the values and beliefs of their person of choice
  • A collection of photographs/illustrations, with captions, to include in their final project. (These will be scattered throughout your PowerPoint.)
  • A description of how his/her accomplishments changed his/her (own) life.
  • An explanation of how the world has changed or can be changed because of him/her
  • A table of contents
  • A bibliography (save all web addresses as you go along!)
  • Options to include: Videos, Podcasts, Poetry, Music, News Broadcasts, Stop-Motion Animation, Movie-Maker, Audacity, Links, Interesting Facts
Things students should ask themselves:
  1. What are the hero qualities your person of choice possesses, and
  2. How can you link these hero qualities to examples of what your person has done?
  3. How will you create a folder on your computer to store all of your research data and images?
  4. How can you craft the most effective introduction to your hero so that you immediately “grab” the audience’s attention?
  5. How will you organize your information?
  6. How will you craft a PowerPoint presentation that is well-constructed, visually appealing and “fits” your hero?
Students will be assessed on the above listed items, as well as on Style, Mechanics, and Presentation (They will present their information orally to their classmates.)
Next week promises to be an interesting one in Social Studies; more on that later.

Have a pleasant evening, everyone.


Friday, March 23, 2012

"Indoors or out, no one relaxes in March, that month of wind and taxes, the wind will presently disappear, the taxes last us all the year."

Hello Families--

No, your eyes have not deceived you. It's not Thanksgiving, though with the recurrence of cooler weather, a little comfort food seems in order. We're moving on from Colonial Jamestown to take a brief interactive tour of Plimouth Colony where we'll learn some things about the Pilgrims I'll bet we didn't know before! Below are sites we'll explore in grades 5 & 6. I encourage you to check them out; they're pretty interesting! (Some of this work will be independent, and everything will be due on Friday, March 30.)


(I will provide a worksheet to accompany the following two activities)


Go to this site and answer the following questions...

  • Who were the Pilgrims?
  • In what year did they begin to come to America?
  • According to early Plymouth records, what were the names of the first four ships to sail to America?
  • Pilgrims weren't called "Pilgrims" until the 1800s. What were the passengers from the first four ships called back in the 1620s?


Continuing the worksheet above, answer questions by reading this interesting, fun article in Muse Magazine, Vol. 5, Issue 9, November 2001, from the publishers of Cricket and Smithsonian Magazine. You can find it by clicking on:

The True Story of the First Thanksgiving.


You Are The Historian--Investigating the First Thanksgiving

Excellent Interactive Site that we'll visit together! (There is an activity to complete at the end, which each student will print off and share.)


Want to check out some really cool stuff?

Check out what it was like living on Plimouth Plantation by going on a Plimouth Plantation Virtual Field Trip and, if you want to "see" what it looked like back in the day, check out these 360 Degree Tours.

For Fun (and extra credit!):

Write a short conversation between two Pilgrims by visiting this site. Talk Like a Pilgrim

Make It At Home --two colonial games to make and try!

Try this recipe for Fresh Ginger Cake inspired by A Journey to the New World: The Diary of Remember Patience Whipple, Mayflower, 1620

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

A hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he is braver five minutes longer.--Ralph Waldo Emerson


Dear parents,

Some people say that kids these days lack heroes. Is that true? If they do have them, who are they, and what makes them heroes?

The term "hero" can be traced back to ancient Greece and was a term used to describe mortals who had done something so extraordinary as to make them legendary. (Remember Hercules?) Today, heroes symbolize human excellence; they inspire us to be our best selves. We need heroes.

In the weeks ahead, grades 5 and 6 are going to explore the topic of heroes as we embark on a different kind of research paper. Today some of us completed an introductory survey titled, "What Makes a Hero?" as a way of framing our thinking about the many heroes/courageous people who have shaped history. Students will choose one of these people to showcase in a powerpoint that will include the following:

a biography

a quote that somehow demonstrates the values and beliefs of the person of choice

a summary of his/her accomplishments

a photo album

a page describing how his/her accomplishments changed this person's life, and

how the world has changed or can be changed because of him/her

a bibliography

Options: Videos, Podcasts, Poetry, Music, News Broadcasts, Stop-Motion Animation, Movie-maker clipInteresting Facts

I want everyone to peruse the following sites (and others they may find useful) and be thoughtful in choosing a hero or courageous person with whom they can "connect." (After all, they're going to be spending a considerable amount of time together in the days to come...)

Please help your child sift through the sites below as they conduct their search:

For later:

Citation Machine--for online help making bibliographies (click on MLA style)

We'll be talking about this a lot more in the days ahead.

Have a good evening, everyone.


Sunday, March 18, 2012

I want to REFRESH my mind, DELETE all my problems, UNDO all my mistakes, and SAVE those amazing moments. --Unknown

Hello families--

We're all smiling because everyone's got a clean slate as we embark on the final trimester of our 2011-2012 school year! Hang on tight: I guarantee this trimester will literally fly by!

Conferences are behind us (Thank you, parents who were able to stop by!), and there is much to accomplish in the weeks and months ahead. Most notable: fifth and sixth grade parents will be able to access grades in PowerSchool now, which means that those students characteristically late in completing class/homework will seriously need to rethink work habits. I know I have been reiterating the need for parents to check planners to be sure their children are staying current their assignments, and this is why. You may soon see zeros where grades would otherwise be. (One zero can seriously impact a grade average, and multiple zeros will be catastrophic!) Please, please help your children by talking with them about their work and by initializing their planners.

In the week ahead:

  • LANGUAGE ARTS: Grade 5 will complete the first draft of their persuasive writing pieces tonight and their final draft by the middle of this week. Sixth grade students should have them turned in by now. They need to finish their Responses to Literature (RTL). I gave them extra time to finish reading their books for the first half of March, but we need to move on, now. I will not accept them after Wednesday. I will assess the RTLs by the end of this week, and record them into PowerSchool soon after. Next, we're on to our Research Report topic, which I believe everyone will find interesting and fun to complete. More on that topic (be sure to check here for necessary links!) in the days ahead.
  • SPELLING AND GRAMMAR: Grade 6 will complete Unit 19, as well as a packet of independent Language Arts and Literacy worksheets. More and more, students should become accustomed to finding opportunities in school and out to complete these activities. They can expect them each week until the end of May. (Although I may hand out assignments on a day-to-day basis instead of creating a larger weekly packet. Those always seem daunting!)
  • SOCIAL STUDIES: Grade 6 will complete The Sealed Box Activity (only) in Section 3: The Shores of Virginia on Monday. Click here for the website to accompany this activity. (We'll do The Original Settlers Activity on Wednesday.)
  • SOCIAL STUDIES: Grade 5 will complete the Navigator's Log Activity in Section 2: Across the Atlantic on Tuesday. Click here for the website to accompany this activity.
  • SOCIAL STUDIES: Grade 6 will complete the Original Settlers Activity in Section 3: The Shores Of Virginia on Wednesday. Click here for the website to accompany this activity.
  • SOCIAL STUDIES: Grade 5 will complete the Original Settlers Activity in Section 3: The Shores Of Virginia on Thursday. Click here for the website to accompany this activity..
To date, I have received only 8 responses to my (bright yellow) Request for Volunteers letter. (Thank you to those who sent them back to me!) The end of the school year is extremely hectic for everyone, I realize, but it will take all of us pitching in to create a memorable end-of-year experience for our kids. I will be in touch with those who have expressed an interest in certain areas, and we'll go from there. Also, based on the feedback I received, it looks like we'll each be purchasing our own yearbooks this year.To be honest, this will save a lot of time and effort! I'll get back to you with projected costs.

Enjoy this wonderful, warm weather! My goodness, it's supposed to get up to 80 degrees on Wednesday.


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The letter I have written today is longer than usual because I lacked the time to make it shorter. ~ Blaise Pascal

In looking over my blogs from the last few days, I have come to the conclusion that I need to uncomplicate things a bit. I write too much. Also, I think I could make my assignments and links easier to spot. Let's see how I do today:

  • Tomorrow we'll all be attending a play at the high school; please get those permission slips in, LB,CD,BK, SK,SR, and JD. We'll leave here about 8:40 and be back on or before 10:30.
  • Eric Bird will be here in the afternoon for Digital Wish. Grades 5 and 6 come together in this classroom to learn a wide variety of new ways to use technology. (I understand some parents have been creating stop-motion animation with their kids. I think that's awesome!)
  • In Social Studies, Grade 6 completed Section Two, Across the Atlantic. In 1607, 105 men and boys made the four-month voyage from Blackwell, England to Virginia to establish a new colony in America. "The Virginia Company" provided three ships (none of which was ever meant to carry passengers) for their expedition. They were the Susan Constant, the Godspeed, and the Discovery. In the last lesson, we learned what it must have been like to prepare for and complete a four month voyage across the Atlantic and we used an interactive link to help us identify all the parts of a ship. Today we clicked on the link, Charting a Course, and, with the help of an interactive map, we filled out a pretty complex Navigators Log. Ask your child to show you the site.
  • In Language Arts, Grade 6 completed their Persuasive Writing portfolio piece. I decided to give them a reprieve from completing the Response to Literature (because so many kids hadn't finished reading their books. . .) We will hit the floor running on Monday, the 19th. I want these done (final draft) by the middle of next week.
  • No Reading assignment other than to read for 20 minutes at least!
  • I only had Grade 5 for Writing today. We began thinking about our own persuasive pieces by co-constructing one in class. Using this website, we'll start work on our Persuasive Writing portfolio pieces on Monday. I hope they think a bit about a topic between now and then.
For tomorrow, March 15th (the Ides of March!), both classes will begin their third Write Source Assessments, which are given at the beginning of each new marking period. (The fourth and final one will come in June; you'll have all the data from the 2011-2012 school year in the June report card.)

Good grief, I'm STILL writing a lot. I do hope that it's easier to navigate to the appropriate sites and assignments, though.

Take care, everyone--

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do. - Leonardo Da Vinci

Dear Parents--

Every two weeks, 6th grade students are responsible for reading a book in preparation for a project or writing activity of some sort, which is completed on the 15th and 30th or thereabouts. The exceptions have been in December and February because of breaks in the school schedule. (That doesn't mean that students should stop reading, however. They are required to have read at least 25 books by the end of the year. . .) Since students were given essentially a month to read the latest book, they should be in good shape for this week's (important) writing assignment. They will be writing a comprehensive
Response to Literature -- a portfolio piece that will go with them to Middle School. Sadly, when I announced it yesterday (and gave them an extended period to get started), very few people had read or finished their book. I must say, I was disappointed. Please remind your child of the importance of reading at least 20 minutes each night. I will hold them accountable for this assignment, since it is something they should have planned for. Be aware that grades will be affected by work that is turned in late.

For the rest of this week, students will work on their persuasive writing piece in Language Arts. The first draft will be due tomorrow, at which time they can conference with me. The finished piece will be due on Thursday. This is not a long assignment; it just has certain guidelines to follow. Students can use this interactive site to map out an argument for their persuasive essay.

5th graders have Social Studies today. We'll work on the activity I discussed in Friday's blog. (The Journey to Jamestown Adventure Begins
here. The valuable resources found at this interactive site will help them to complete the packet of information I gave them titled,
Your Adventure Begins. . . It's lots of fun, and it teaches them what it was like for early colonists making their way to America. From now on, there will be a number of interactive activities, so it is essential that each child has their computer at school. Could you remind your child, please?

We have new reading groups--tomorrow they will finish planning out their reading schedules, and therafter will be responsible for the reading and activities associated with that schedule.

For today, we veered a little off topic and watched a video sent to me by a close family friend whose son died as a result of a drug overdose. It's an award-winning (short) documentary and it seemed to make an impression--students really heard the message and wanted to talk about it afterward. One thing the film stressed was the fact that parents and teachers can continually tell children not to do drugs--that they're bad--but it's ultimately up to each child to make the right decision, which isn't always easy to do. Kids are naturally curious, and they don't yet have the capability to fully comprehend the ramifications of their actions . . . . This film laid it out for them. Two young people, former addicts, described just what they lost when they chose to do drugs. My friend described his family's loss, too, explaining how it redefined their lives. We owe it to our kids to keep the lines of communication open during these vulnerable years. Ask your child what s/he learned from the film.

Thanks for all you do--

Monday, March 12, 2012

Doing the best at this moment puts you in the best place for the next moment. - Oprah Winfrey

by Mark A. Hicks, illustrator

Hello, families--

Ahh, a short week. With such nice weather, there'll be no complaining from these students; they have an insatiable urge to be outside in this unseasonably warm March air. Have you noticed anything different lately? A cacophony of birdsong greets you as you walk to your car in the morning. It smells different. The sun warms the earth and life stirs. I predict the peepers (my true indicator that spring has arrived) will be early this year.

This (short) week will be no less busy as we move forward in our final trimester. In the weeks ahead, writing prompts, research reports, projects and activities in both Social Studies and Writing (subjects will merge more often now) will provide opportunities for students to "show what they know" in unique and creative ways. Please, please ask your child what's going on in school--check (and initial) their planner for assignments and due dates. Of course, you can look here, too. . .

For this week:

In writing class we're beginning our discussion of Persuasive writing-- which, done well, is nothing short of an art form! If your child is able to convince you that you need to start a sanctuary for wayward llamas, you can thank me. No wait. . . Being able to express your opinions and support those opinions effectively and respectfully is a valuable tool in life. Equally, knowing how to analyze the powers of persuasion helps us to become less susceptible to their negative effects. (Think wise consumers. . .) Although the activities vary between the grades, both classes will eventually be responsible for completing a well-written persuasive piece on the topic of their choice.
  • In 6th grade: We divided the room in half and worked cooperatively to determine the value of country life versus city life. Then we turned the classroom into a giant continuum and took a stand on a number of topics ranging from whether or not school uniforms are a good idea to whether or not those who choose not to wear seat belts should face criminal charges. Very thought-provoking! The assignment for tonight is to take the position of a classroom teacher in persuading students that it is important to have writing standards for class work. Many students (certainly not ours) do not see the importance of taking the time to do what is required of them well. (I have to tell you, I think this assignment is brilliant! They get to articulate what I've been trying to tell them all year!)
  • In 5th grade: We also talked about the value of writing persuasively, and began working cooperatively on short worksheet activities aimed at increasing their ability to write convincingly. We will move into activities like the ones I did with 6th graders shortly.
There was no Social Studies today. I'll fill you in tomorrow on what's happening this week.

Well, that's about it for today; time to go home. . . Good night, everybody-

Friday, March 9, 2012

"Don't limit a child to your own learning, for he was born in another time." ~Rabindranath Tagore

For the next section of your journey to Jamestown, click here. The valuable resources found at this interactive site will help you to complete the packet of information I gave you titled, Your Adventure Begins. Grade 6 will finish this packet today; grade 5 will begin it when next we meet for Social Studies--next Tuesday.

5th and 6th grade Writing classes should be done reviewing /rethinking / revising / rewriting their prompts from the two previous Write Source assessments. (. . .and they should be turned in. . .) Going over the rubrics again and discussing how aspects of each child's personal writing could be made stronger should help create much stronger pieces; these will be reassessed and included in the third trimester grades.

I hope families check this blog for information about what's happening in Social Studies and Writing classes.

Remember that report cards will go home next week, and conferences have been scheduled for Friday, March 16th. Alison and I look forward to seeing those of you who expressed an interest in coming in. We want very much to make sure our home connection is a strong one. Early adolescence is a confusing, exigent time for students, and developmentally it is in them to challenge pretty much everything. Good grades or not-so-much, report cards should be considered talking points--opening the door for student reflection and goal-setting, and parent/teacher support planning. It is in this spirit that we will greet you next Friday.

Have a good weekend, everyone--

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Fascinating Jamestown -- Lots to explore in these interactive activities:









Below is yesterday's blog entry. For some reason, I couldn't access this blog on my school computer. Sorry everybody.

Hi families-

After I modeled how to pull information from text and went over several of the links with students helping them put information into their own words, fifth graders worked together on their assignment about Jamestown using the last blog entry. All ten questions listed on the blog were provided to them in hard copy, too. Since we're not going to be here on Thursday, March 8 (We're going to the Flynn, remember?), these worksheets aren't due until next Tuesday, March 13th, at the beginning of class. No later, however, because we'll be moving on to a different topic at that time. Sixth grade should have this work turned in by tomorrow, March 7th at the latest.

As teachers prepare for report cards, there are lots of "loose ends" to wrap up and data to explore. In 6th grade, students were given copies of their two completed Write Source writing prompts and the rubrics used to correct them. Using feedback from those prompts, they have begun revisiting/revising their pieces and will resubmit them by the end of the week. It's surprising how much they've noticed about their writing--I can't wait to read their latest "versions." We also tallied their combined errors from the multiple choice section on a large sheet of chart paper. We're noticing certain problem areas in "Basic Elements of Writing" based on the frequency of incorrect answers. This is good data, and will be helpful in focusing instruction of G.U.M. (grammar, usage, and mechanics).

Sixth grade parents, please be on the lookout for a bright yellow packet of information about "end-of-year" stuff like yearbooks and "Step-Up Night" (and its accompanying slide show presentation). There's a volunteer sign-up sheet that I'd like to have returned by March 16th so that I can start compiling lists and contacting parents. The end of the year will come sooner than you think!

Speaking of "Step-Up Night," I haven't given you a date yet because I honestly don't know; it's based on the actual number of school days in June. It looks more and more likely that we'll get out on the 8th this year, so logically we can assume "Step-Up" will be on Monday the 4th. (Fridays are reserved for the high school.) We'll see if/how that impacts the class trip. (We're still waiting to hear back from those folks.) I'll let you know when I know more.

Friendly reminder: Please, please, please remember to check your child's assignment notebook every night. Some students are beginning to slack off on filling them in because they say no one bothers to look at them at home. It is our single most effective way to keep our students from falling behind. Work is not being turned in on time by some students, which can become increasingly problematic if we don't provide the supports they need. (They are required to fill in assignment books at the end of each day, and I ALWAYS sign them--going over every assignment with every child that comes to me. I won't chase anyone down, however; coming to me is their responsibility. It's our chance to talk about unfinished work, too, and to work out a plan to complete it.) Please ask to see your child's notebook--and initial it--so that I know you know what's going on. It's the single best way to remain in communication about your child's work on a daily basis.

Students also know they are supposed to come see me after they've been absent so that I can provide instruction, materials, and support for completing missed assignments. We're teaching our students to be accountable--not always an easy task. . .

Thanks, everyone, for all you do--