Saturday, March 1, 2014

What's Up This Week: 3-7 March 2014


This week we were pleased to welcome Binyam to our class. Binyam is a Grade 5 student who comes to us from Ethiopia, and just moved to Bamako as his father was transferred here for his work with an NGO. Binyam wasted no time getting to know his classmates and was playing in a football match within ten minutes of his arrival on his first day! We look forward to getting to know him better and learning all about Ethiopia. 

IMG 3004
Binyam (right) and Abe listen to Mell practice for his appearance at the Author Reading.

Thank you to all of the parents who attended last Wednesday's Author Reading, where 11 of our students read aloud their thesis-based essays. Also in the audience were Ms. Jacoby, as well Ms. Wilson and her 9th grade English students. One of the 9th grade students remarked, "I never knew I could learn so much from elementary students!"

First, the students who volunteered to read aloud practiced with a partner. Partners offered feedback on fluency and even offered some last-minute revision advice:

IMG 3000

IMG 3001

IMG 3002

IMG 3003

IMG 3004

IMG 3005

IMG 3006

IMG 3007

IMG 3008

Then it was time for the big event:

IMG 3009

IMG 3012

IMG 3011

IMG 3013

IMG 3016

IMG 3017

IMG 3021

IMG 3023

IMG 3024

IMG 3026

IMG 3029

IMG 3032

IMG 3037


Last Monday I organized students into new cooperative learning teams, something I do about every 5 to 6 weeks. Each time I try to place students at a different table than where they have sat before, and with different people as well. Doing this allows students a chance to work with everyone by year's end. Cooperative learning is a philosophy I wholeheartedly embrace as students are encouraged to collaborate with others to ensure their own individual success and to ensure the success of their teammates.

Knowing how to work on a team is a crucial life skill that requires lots of practice starting at an early age--it's the number one skill that Fortune 500 companies look for in new employees! This time students named themselves after an ocean since that's our topic of study in science at the moment. So we have the Pacific Predators, Aquatic Atlantics, Indian Icebergs, and Arctic Auks.

IMG 2704

Last week we begin a new reading unit based on the book Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Newbery Medal winning author Louis Sachar. First students analyzed a "Fractured Fairy Tale" version of Pinocchio from the1960s Rocky & Bullwinkle Show, determining the message of the story amidst the crazy humor.

Next they learned about "close reading," a skill that enables them to determine exactly what the text is saying--either outright or subtly. After reading the first five chapters of the book, students applied the following techniques to each chapter to enable "close reading" to happen:
  • paraphrase the chapter
  • identify any important words
  • explain what the author wants you to understand
  • describe how the author played with language to add meaning
By using this process, students uncover deeper meanings they may have been overlooked during a quick read. It ensures that they not only comprehend the text, but understand how the author skillfully uses language to convey meaning. Of course this careful study of language also assists them as they write their own fiction stories during writing class.

Throughout the week they analyzed another "Fractured Fairy Tale," and learned new vocabulary words by using context clues, sketching definitions, and performing tableaus (frozen poses) that depicted the new words.

IMG 3039
The Pacific Predator team shows us "triumphantly."

IMG 3041
The Aquatic Atlantic team performs "flabbergasted."

IMG 3043
The Arctic Auks show us "flight" (as in flight of stairs).

IMG 3045
The Indian Icebergs act out "hurtle."

How you can help with reading at home: 
  • Ask your child to describe his/her role/responsibility in our shadow puppet performance. 
  • Check your child's "Read to Succeed" each night/morning. For this daily assignment students read a book of their choosing for at least 20 minutes, then write a short summary of what they read. Their summary should clearly describe the main events in the part of their book they read without including too many unimportant details.
  • Ask your child to read to you for a few minutes so you can check his/her fluency, expression, pauses, etc.

Grade 4: Last week Grade 4 students completed a problem solving activity that required them to divide numbers to determine "what's the best buy" between several products, and another activity requiring them to solve challenging multiple step problems requiring division. They also explored how to find the "mean" of a group of numbers, a concept they quickly mastered.

This week they complete a division problem solving activity that combines math and science concepts, take a short quiz to check their understanding of concepts from the past week, and then tackle the Chapter 7 test on division.

Grade 5: Last week Grade 5 students learned another technique for problem solving requiring them to make organizers lists. For example:

Four students--Alice, Bret, Cara, and David--each shake hands once with the other students. How many handshakes occurred? Students then made an organized list of the combinations (Alice/Bret, Alice/Cara, Alice/David, Bret/Cara, Bret/David, Cara/David = 6 handshakes total).

Grade 5 students also applied the properties of multiplication (e.g. distributive property, identity property) to the multiplication of fractions and mixed numbers.

This week they begin dividing fractions and mixed numbers.

How you can help with math at home: 

  • Please have your child practice division with these online videos/games: 

Soccer Division with Remainders:

  • Have your child practice fractions with these online games: 

Last week we begin a new writing unit centering on fiction writing. Students started by reviewing old story ideas they had developed earlier in the school year for their personal narratives and essays, and learned how to turn these ideas into fiction stories. They also learned to be keen observers of their environment, looking for things that sparked a story idea.

Once they settled on an idea, they discovered how to create believable characters for their fiction story. This required them to identify the internal and external traits of their main character. They realized that the traits they created had to connect with the story they will write, and that the traits needed to be balanced so that the character wasn't all bad or all good. Next they identified what their character really wanted, and what was standing in the way of that.

Finally they were asked to envision the first scene of their story--to create a mind movie of that action, picturing all of the details of their character's words, thoughts, and actions. Their challenge was to make sure this scene introduced us to their character and what he/she wanted, not by TELLING us about these things but by SHOWING us. For example, rather than telling us: "Evan was a stingy boy who only thought of himself," a writer could SHOW us: "Evan clutched the bag of candy tightly, hiding it in his hands so the other kids couldn't see it. He intended to eat every last chocolate himself." This technique creates a much more interesting story in which the reader gets to use clues to figure things out, rather than being told everything.


With this movie still in their head, I asked them to record it on paper and again reminding them to SHOW us and not TELL us everything. I asked students to complete this written scene over the weekend if they didn't finish in class.


This week students learn how to create a "story mountain" (plot) that connects their first scene with six or seven other scenes they will write. Since we studied plot development extensively during our last reading unit (Pinocchio), students have a solid foundation in this and should be able to expand their capabilities in crafting creative plots! 

Since students will again be typing these stories on the computer, please encourage your child to use one of the online keyboarding programs to practice this very important skill (link below). 


How you can help with writing at home:  
  • Ask your child about the fiction story he/she is writing. How did he/she come up with this idea?
  • Ask your child to read the first scene he/she just wrote, and offer your feedback. Do you get a sense of what the main character is like? Can you tell what this character wants and what is standing in the way of that? Did your child show rather than tell what happens?
  • Encourage your child to practice with one of the keyboarding activities at:
  • If your child read at the Author Reading, ask him/her to reflect on the experience. Was he/she nervous? Did he/she use good expression and volume? What was the best thing about this experience? Will they do it again?


While we have completed our social studies unit on the Age of Exploration, we are continuing to "sail" our team ships across the huge piece of grid paper in the class. Each day student teams move their ship based on the team points they received that day for displaying appropriate academic and social behavior. There is still much land and gold to be discovered, so we will continue to explore until everything is discovered! (Note to any students reading this…2 teams discovered gold yesterday!)

I also gave students the opportunity to add to their explorer journals on the Friendica website. After carefully reading all the posts, I discovered that many students did not include enough facts from class presentations or from their research, resulting in lower grades.  I gave them through the weekend to complete any revisions/additions to their online journal, and I will adjust their grades accordingly.

How you can help with social studies at home: 
  • Review your child's explorer journal on the Friendica site. They can log on at home: and sign in with their email address and password. Did they include enough explorer facts? Did they include historically appropriate illustrations?
  • Ask them to describe their team's success at discovering land on the big blue sheet of paper in class. What has been their strategy? Is this strategy similar to what the early explorer's did?


This week we began our new science unit: Oceans of Adventure which shows how the oceans are the life support system for the planet, how their very existence is threatened, and what we can all do to save them. I set the stage by playing a recording of the song "Under the Sea" from the Disney movie The Little Mermaid, asking students to determine the message of the song. They discovered that it sings the praises of undersea life, especially the diversity of creatures. This was a good introduction to the importance of oceans.

Next I used a short video clip and a PowerPoint presentation to give a big picture of the oceans--why they are important to our existence and how they are in grave danger. I introduced the assignment for their final project, in which student pairs create an iMovie narrated by a sea creature who will convince the viewer to save the seas.


After that we learned about each of the five oceans, including location, size, depth, and interesting facts (did you know the Southern Ocean was officially labeled as an ocean in 2000?). 



Finally we read the book "Magic School Bus on the Ocean Floor" in which Ms. Frizzle drives the school bus--with her class on board--deep into the sea where they experience flora, fauna, and more.


Next week students explore the water of the ocean including its salinity and temperatures (there is an experiment for both), the layers of the ocean, and movement of the ocean (currents, tides, waves). Throughout the unit I'll introduce famous poetry by the likes of Longfellow, Lewis Carroll, and D.H. Lawrence that connects with ocean topics we are studying. I'll also use ocean-themed paintings and songs to enhance the learning experience. 



Just one more reminder to check with your child/children to see if they are in need of school supplies, especially pencils, glue sticks, loose leaf notebook paper, and notebooks. All of these are available at the school store (open before school begins and at lunch) as well at local grocery stores such as La Fourmi.

This would also be a good time to check to see if he/she has a hat to wear at recess and PE, and a water bottle to drink from throughout the day. A reusable water bottle is much kinder to the environment than plastic, throwaway bottles--the last thing Mali needs is more garbage!


At last week's elementary assembly, the Grade 4 and 5 students performed a country line dance they learned in Mrs. Anderson's music class. They even looked the part with some of the students donning cowboy hats, western shirts, and boots. They impressed the audience with their fancy footwork!

IMG 2995

IMG 2998


MARCH 2014
Tuesday 4 March - Elementary math assembly presented by each class, 7:30 - 7:45 AM
Friday 7 March Quarter 3 after school activities end
Tuesday 11 March - Elementary assembly presented by K-1 class, 7:30 - 7:45 AM
Tuesday 18 March - Elementary assembly presented by Advanced French students, 7:30 - 7:45 AM
Thursday 20 March AISB Board meeting (all are invited), 6:30 - 7:30 PM
Friday 21 March - End of Quarter 3
24 - 30 March - No schoolSpring Break 

APRIL 2014
Tuesday 1 April Elementary assembly presented by Grade 4-5 class, 7:30 - 7:45 AM
Friday 4 April Quarter 3 report cards go home
Tuesday 8 April - Elementary assembly presented by Standard French students, 7:30 - 7:45 AM
Friday 11 April - Teacher-Parent-Student conferences
Tuesday 15 April Elementary assembly presented by Grade 2-3 class, 7:30 - 7:45 AM
Tuesday 22 April Elementary assembly presented by ESOL class, 7:30 - 7:45 AM
Tuesday 29 April Elementary art assembly presented by all classes, 7:30 - 7:45 AM

MAY 2014
Thursday-Friday 1-2 May - No school, Labor Day holiday
Tuesday 6 May Elementary assembly presented by Music class, 7:30 - 7:45 AM
Wednesday 7 May Progress reports go home (for select students)
Tuesday 13 May Elementary assembly presented by K-1 class, 7:30 - 7:45 AM
Thursday 15 May AISB AnnualGeneral Meeting, 7:30 - 7:45 AM
Mon - Fri 19-23 May AISB Teacher Appreciation Week

No comments:

Post a Comment