Sunday, August 24, 2014

News of the Week: 25 - 29 August 2014


I hope to see you this Thursday evening, 28 August at AISB’s annual Back to School night. You will have the opportunity to meet all of the educators who teach your children. Please note that this event is for parents only

Here is the schedule:

7:00 - 7:30 PM
Middle School presentation (Ms. Leavitt’s room)
High School Presentation (MPR)

7:30 - 8:30 PM
Visit middle and high school teachers in their classrooms

7:00 - 7:40 PM
Kindergarten presentation (Ms. O’Brien’s room)
Grade 3 presentation (Mrs. Aafke’s room)

7:45 - 8:30 PM
Grade 1/2 presentation (Ms. Navin’s room)
Grade 4/5 presentation (Mr. Fessler’s room)

7:00 - 8:30 PM
Visit specialist teachers in the main lobby area
Ms. Tikva - ESOL
Mr. Kelsey - Technology Coordinator
Mrs. Andersen - Art & PE
Ms. Shultz - PE
Ms. Christina - Music
Ms. Jenise - Drama
Mr. Souleymane - Library
Monsieur. Barry, Madame Isabelle. Madame Fabre - French


Last week the Grade 4 and 5 students developed a set of class beliefs, tenets to guide them as they make their way through the school year. First we brainstormed behaviors that prevent learning from happening. Here is their list:

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Next the students developed a list of beliefs (rather than “rules”)--phrased in the positive--that addressed each of the problems that prevented learning from happening. Here is their list:

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Finally, students tried to simplify this list by combining beliefs that were the same, and by reducing the belief to as few words as possible. At the end of this process they had seven beliefs that covered all of the bases. These were divided among our four teams, and the teams were challenged to create a poster with each belief. The poster had to include the words as well as a graphic image (in the form of a black and white photograph) that supported the words. I was so impressed with the images they selected to photograph!

The photos were printed out on a black and white printer, and students hand-colored them (with colored pencils) in the style of pop artist Andy Warhol. We studied Warhol’s art throughout the week to understand his art and messages, so students knew exactly what to do for their belief posters.

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The original photo of our hands.

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 The black and white version, ready for coloring.

The text was projected onto the wall where students traced the letters onto their posters, then colored them in. Here they are, hard at work:

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I think you’ll really enjoy their finished products. Ms. Jacoby decided to color copy the posters and place them around the school!

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I hope that during the year students put these beliefs into practice so that learning is always the focus.


At AISB we advocate for students taking responsibility for their learning and for their behavior. As part of this, we teach them a conflict management technique called “Kelso’s Choices.” It first teaches students to determine the difference between minor problems they can handle on their own, and serious problems that require an adult’s help. If they identify their conflict as a minor problem, students have nine options to choose from to resolve it. They are asked to try two of the options, and if neither solves the conflict they can go to an adult. Here are the nine options:
  • walk away
  • ignore it
  • ask them to stop
  • go to another game
  • apologize
  • make a deal
  • talk it out
  • wait and cool off
  • share and take turns
Here is Ms. Jacoby leading a session on Kelso’s Choices last week, complete with a game show activity:

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We hope that these techniques not only help students to become peacemakers at school, but that they develop peacemaking skills that will benefit them later in life as well. If there is anything this world needs today it is peacemakers!


I am a strong advocate of cooperative learning, an educational approach in which teams of students of different levels of ability use a variety of learning activities to improve their understanding of a subject. Each member of a team is responsible not only for learning what is taught but also for helping teammates learn, thus creating an atmosphere of achievement

Extensive research on cooperative learning has shown that students who engage in cooperative learning:
  • learn significantly more, remember it longer, and develop better critical-thinking skills than their counterparts in traditional lecture classes.
  • enjoy learning more than traditional lecture classes, so they are more likely to attend school, complete assignments, and do their best work.
  • develop the skills necessary to work on projects too difficult and complex for any one person to do in a reasonable amount of time, which is a skill they will need for their future
  • develop and use critical thinking skills
  • develop more positive relations among students of different backgrounds

This week we engaged in a few activities to help students build camaraderie with their own teammates. In this theatre-based activity, each team first discussed something enjoyable they did over the summer. Then the team represented these summer activities by performing a “tableau vivant” or frozen picture. Before they performed I gave them the basic rules of tableau (choose a focal point and concentrate, maintain silence, don’t move, use face and body, interact with your team members). Here are a few…can you guess what they were showing? (solutions at the end)

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(Solutions: visiting the Statue of Liberty, surfing, bowling, visiting a volcano in Bali, visiting Disney, getting hypnotized)

In another team building activity teams had 10 minutes to construct the tallest tower possible out of an assortment of materials I provided. And…they couldn’t speak to each other. There were lots of hand symbols and grunting, but they each made tall towers. The winner was over 90 centimeters.

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Finally, students created Warhol-style portraits to help explain their personality to their team. The colors they chose represented certain character traits, and they had very detailed explanations justifying these color choices!

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And a few of the finished products (and by the way, just like Warhol left some of his black and white without color for a reason, so did some of the students):

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On Friday we started our first novel, Be a Perfect Person in Just Three Days by Stephen Manes. I like to begin with this particular novel because it shows children—especially those who strive to be perfectionists—that perfection is in the eye of the beholder, and that if everyone was perfect it would be a boring world. It really is our imperfections that make us unique and interesting!

We started off by analyzing the heartbreaking song “Perfect” by the group Simple Plan. Students interpreted the song’s message, saying that the singer just can’t be the kind of “perfect” that his dad wants him to be. I explained the truth behind the story, that the singer and his brother (also in the band) were discouraged from being musicians by their father. And even though they are successful, they still don’t live up to their father’s expectation of a “perfect” life.

I was very impressed the way the students discussed specific lines in the song and specific elements of the music such as tempo. They understood that the lyrics and the music together create the song’s message.

This idea of “perfection” will be a central theme in the novel as well.

Perfect song

We also discussed genres (types) of literature, and how we will read many genres this year. Here is a rough outline of the literature we will use this year (always subject to change, of course):
Rdg page 1
Rdg p 2
As you will note in the chart, our current skill focus is being able to read a text to understand its literal and inferential meanings. Students at this age are fairly solid when it comes to the literal meaning of a passage. But determining the inferential meaning (e.g. reading “ between the lines”) is a much more complex task that takes much practice. This is why besides reading text, students practice this skill by interpreting lyrics, paintings, drama, dance pieces, poetry, etc.

Students began their “Read to Succeed” homework this past week, reading each school night for at least 20 minutes and writing a 3 to 5 sentence summary. Most are doing a great job already with this task. I explained that this task is based in research as scientists determined that children who read for a minimum of 20 minutes 5 times a week showed increased academic gains.

In the coming week we will read most of the novel (it is short, with six chapters). Students will learn 12 new vocabulary words, flowing a routine I’ll use all year:

1. Looking at a sentence with the vocabulary word removed to determine what it might be
It is absolutely _____________ that you water new plants if you want them to live.

2. Looking at the word used in a sentence from the book, and using sentence clues to determine the meaning.
You can be trusted to follow orders. This is essential if you wish to become perfect.

3. Writing the word in a chart in their reading notebook in this format:
Vocab chart
(note: a 7-Up Sentence contains 7 or more words and is highly descriptive).

4. In subsequent days students/teams create a tableau vivant (frozen picture) for each word.

The vocabulary words for this novel are:

brilliant (as in a light)
shattered (as in the feeling one might have)

  • Ask your child to discuss the song “Perfect" that we analyzed in class. How did the songwriter get his message across? (e.g. he included loud and fast parts in the song to represent anger, and slow parts to represent sadness; he used phrases like “I’m never going to be good enough for you” and “you used to be my hero,” etc.)
  • Ask your child to explain the “realistic fiction” genre (e.g. a made-up story that could happen in real life)
  • Please make sure your child has an appropriate place to read at home (well lit, free of distractions such as TV/noise/siblings, etc.), and that he/she is completing this important assignment each evening.
  • Read his/her summary and make sure it summarizes the pages read rather than giving a detailed retelling of the story.


I administered a math pretest on Friday. While it won’t be graded, it will help me determine what each student knows in math at this point, and which areas I’ll need to really focus on. This week we begin our regular math lessons for each grade. 

Grade 4 students will explore place value up to 100,000, will read and write multiple digit numbers, will compare and order multiple digit numbers, and will complete a small quiz at the end of the week to check their understanding.

Grade 5 students will explore place value up to 100,000,000,  will read and write multiple digit numbers, will compare and order multiple digit numbers, and will complete a small quiz at the end of the week to check their understanding.

Students will have a short math homework assignment on most—but not all—days. For example, on days when they take a quiz, there is usually no homework assigned that evening. This year each student is issued a math book they can write directly in, so all of heir class work and homework is located in that book.

As I mentioned last week, it is crucial that students know their basic math facts: addition, subtraction, and multiplication facts for 0 to 12. If not, they will struggle with the math assignments this year. 

  • Make sure your child has memorized the basic math facts (up to the 12s) for addition, subtraction, and multiplication. For example, they should immediately know that 12 + 6 = 18, 9 - 6 = 3, 8 x 6 = 48, etc. Your child can practice by making flash cards or use online math fact games such as cannot stress this enough: If your child does not memorize the basic math facts up to the 12s, he/she will have much difficulty completing the Grade 4 and 5 math assignments this year.
  • To prepare students for the place value lessons this week, have them practice with this fun, online game “Place Value Mystery Numbers.:


On Friday we started our yearlong study of figurative language, beginning with similes. Students each chose a simile and next week will use it to create a poster.

In the coming week I will also begin our yearlong grammar study. I teach grammar mini lessons in conjunction with the essay writing they do. Each student also receives a grammar workbook in which they will complete two to six pages per week.

Finally, this week I’ll begin the first unit in our Writers Workshop program, introducing students to personal narratives (a true story about something that happened to them). Student brainstorm a list of people who are special to them, think about special moments that are related to these people, and use one of these ideas to create their personal narrative. For example, I’ll tell them about picking raspberries with my grandmother when I was ten, then model how I can turn this into a beautiful story from my past.

There will be writing homework occasionally, but definitely not every evening.

  • Ask your child to define a simile (a comparison of two different things that uses “like” or “as” in the sentence). Can they give an example? (The teacher was as tall as redwood tree.)
  • Ask your child to think about people that are special to him/her. Why are they special? Can they think of a special time they had with this person?


On Monday we begin our first social studies unit, Ancient Egypt. As I explained last week, students take on various roles of citizens of the time (royalty, vizier, stone mason, priestess, etc.). Together they work to solve a crime that actually occurred: the robbery of a pharaoh’s tomb. There are suspects, a case file, video clips, books, and hands-on activities that will give them the details they need to solve the crime. Through this process they are having fun, but they are also learning specific social studies concepts, such as why did certain groups settle near rivers, how were their societies structured, etc.

There will be social studies homework occasionally, but definitely not every evening.

Here is my plan for social studies and science for the year (subject to change!):

  • Ask your child what he/she already knows about ancient Egypt. What do they hope to learn about ancient Egypt?

Ss and sci list


After constantly running short on time in the computer lab last year, we now have an expanded time block every Tuesday in the lab. Last week it gave us enough time for every student to set up a personal blog on the website Each week students will post to their personal blog, explaining what they are doing in each subject, their academic goals for the year, what they most enjoyed, etc. As they become more well-versed at blogging they will also add photos, video, and more. Blogging has many benefits—it helps students practice writing, gives them keyboarding experience, helps them reflect on their learning, requires graphic design skills, etc.

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This week students will send an email invitation to you, giving you permission to access their blog. Please take advantage of this opportunity to see school from your child’s point of view!

We are very happy that the IT Department has provided three computers for our classroom. This gives us a way to research online without leaving the classroom. If your child has an iPad (or other tablet) or a laptop, they are welcome to bring this to school as well.


Here again is the list for Grade 4 and 5. Most of these supplies are available at the school store, and all are available at local supermarkets such as La Fourmi.
  • 5 boxes of #2 pencils, 24 per box (no mechanical pencils please)
  • 2 erasers
  • 2 sharpeners
  • 1 box colored pencils
  • 5 composition books, 100 pg., black speckled cardboard covers preferred (1 each for reading, writing, social studies, science, and an extra)
  • 2 packets white, lined notebook paper
  • 1 box colored markers, thick or thin
  • 2 glue sticks
  • 1 USB flash drive (at least 4 GB)
  • 5 pocket folders
  • 1 small pencil case
  • 1 pack 3x3 Post It notes
  • 1 water color set (8 colors minimum) with brush
  • hat with student’s name written inside (see below)
  • water bottle with students name written on the outside (see below)
  • deodorant (optional, see below)

and this next part bears repeating…..


Students will not be allowed to participate in outdoor activities at recess and PE unless they are wearing a hat, whether it is sunny or cloudy. We created this policy last year as a means to protect your child’s eyes and skins from the very intense sun in Bamako. As one who has had skin cancer removed from my face, I strongly support the wearing of hats when outside! Please provide a hat (or two) for your child and make sure to write his/her name inside of it.

If your child has fairer skin, please also consider providing sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher for him/her to apply. 
Reusable water bottles are also a necessity as we do not have drinking fountains at AISB. Instead there are water coolers located around the school where students may fill their personal water bottles. To be kinder to the environment, a reusable water bottle is best. If each student in our class brought in a throw-away plastic water bottle each day we would add about 3500 plastic bottles to Bamako’s garbage piles in just one school year! I think there is enough plastic waste littering Bamako already! Please make sure to clearly label the water bottle with your child’s name.
Last year a number of our students brought in their own deodorant to use after PE and recess. I very much welcome this practice!


Thu 28 Aug: Back to School Night at AISB, 7:00 - 8:30 PM

Sat 6 Sep: AISB Back to School BBQ
Fri 19 Sep: No school, teacher in-service 
Mon 22 Sep: No school, Independence Day holiday

Fri 3 Oct: No school, teacher in-service
Fri 24 Oct: End of Quarter 1
Mon 27 Oct - Fri 31 Oct: No school, Fall Break

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