Sunday, March 29, 2015

News of the Week: 30 March - 3 April 2015


I hope your child enjoyed a restful spring break week, and is ready to come back to school tomorrow energized and ready to learn. I spent the break at the beach in Cote d'Ivoire, and even if I did work on a reading unit and a science unit, I did it in the comfort of a beach chaise facing the sea!

My desk for the week at La Maison de la Lagune (Grand Bassam, Cote d'Ivoire)!

Hard to believe, but there are just 10 weeks of the school year remaining. We have a lot to accomplish in that short time so that the Grade 4 students are fully prepared for 5th Grade, and so that the Grade 5 students are ready for Middle School. I will definitely appreciate your assistance in making sure your child is fully engaged in learning during these last 10 weeks:

  • Check his/her Read to Succeed summary each evening. Does it clearly summarize the reading they did, including only main ideas rather than details?
  • Have your child read to you as part of his/her Read to Succeed homework. Is your child reading smoothly, with expression, using different voices for the characters (if reading a fiction book), and following the punctuation? After reading, can your child verbally explain what he/she just read?
  • Review your child's math homework, and ask your child to explain one or two of the problems. Does it appear he/she fully understands the math concepts being used? Ask him/her to explain one of the math story problems, and the process he/she used to solve it. Can he/she take you through all of the steps?
  • Keep tabs on your child's writing notebook. What ideas does he/she have for the current writing project (realistic fiction)? 
  • Once we begin a new science unit next week, ask your child to describe what he/she learned in science that day, or what he/she learned by doing an experiment.


AISB will be closed Monday 6 April for the Easter Monday holiday in Mali.

In the week before Spring Break we completed our new reading unit based on the novel The Wish Giver by Bill Brittain. As a way to better understand the theme of the novel, we analyzed artist Paul Klee's painting "Fish Magic" to understand how he used symbols, color, and balance to create a sense of magic.

We also analyzed Kit Wright's poem The Magic Box to understand that something considered "magical" doesn't have to be supernatural--that sunsets and a baby's smile are magical too. Both the painting and the poem required students to make inferences, which is the target skill for this unit.

Students seemed pleased with how the author of the novel wrapped things up. They saw how the plot really did follow many of the characteristics of a traditional wish story. Students completed a story test that included questions on the story itself, the reading skill, and vocabulary words.

The last vocabulary words introduced that week were:

flustered (nervous & anxious)
gingerly (very cautiously)
weary (tired)
frivolous (silly)
capsize (overturn in water)
epilogue(short section at end of a book)
plight (unlucky condition)
blunt (thoughtlessly honest)

The vocabulary cards were large versions of the "wish cards" in the novel.

Students also completed a culminating activity to demonstrate their knowledge of the book's theme and reading skill, employ their creativity, display their understanding of art, and practice their poetry skills. For this project they first created their own version of The Magic Box poem, writing about the things they consider "magical," both real and supernatural.

Next I challenged them to create an artwork in the style of Paul Klee's "Magic Fish," but one that represented their Magic Box poem. It didn't have to be a direct visual translation of their poem (though it could be), and since they have had much exposure to abstract art they could use this style as well.

The technique we used was "crayon resist." In this process, students first use crayon to create a design on a sheet of paper. Then they cover the page with a wash of watercolor. The waxy crayon resists the water-based paint, and the overall effect is quite interesting. I'll showcase their poems and art in next week's blog post. 

This coming week we begin a new unit based on the award-winning author Jerry Spinelli's novel "Loser." This poignant book tells the story of a boy who marches to the beat of his own drummer, who sees the good in everyone and everything, and who is relentlessly harassed because he is "different." It follows him from kindergarten through middle school, detailing how family, friends, classmates, and teachers help/hinder him.

During this unit we will focus on determining the theme in a text, and on determining how a character responds to challenges.  I think the students will learn much from this amazing story.

I will also introduce the theatre technique of improvisation, where students will act out both vocabulary words and scenes from the novel without a script or rehearsal.

  • Ask your child to explain how the novel ended (The store owner, Stewmeat, used his wish to reverse the wishes of the three kids). Did the three kids learn lessons? (yes; Polly learned not to be so blunt with people; Rowena learned that love will come in time; Adam learned that what you have can be better than what you wish for).
  • Ask your child to discuss Paul Klee's painting "Fish Magic." How is this painting considered "magic?" (e.g. It is all underwater, yet their things from the sea, land, and space in it; he uses balance and color to create an almost musical rhythm, etc.)
  • Ask your child to discuss the poem "The Magic Box." (e.g. The author shows that both real and unreal things can be magical). How does your child's Magic Box poem compare to the one created by Kit Wright?
  • Ask your child to explain the vocabulary words above. How were they used in the novel? Can they use each of these in a sentence? What are some synonyms and antonyms for each word?
  • Check to see that your child is doing the “Read to Succeed” homework each school night: reading 20 minutes or more from a book of their choosing, then writing a 3 to 5 sentence summary about what they read. Read what he/she wrote and make sure it actually summarizes the pages read rather than giving a detailed retelling of the story, or just telling one thing that happened rather than the sum total of what happened.
  • Have your child read aloud to you to practice his/her fluency (reading accurately, smoothly, quickly, and with expression). 


Last week Grade 4 students explored metric capacity and mass, then tackled some metric conversions (e.g. centimeters to meters, grams to kilos, etc.). They were also introduced to the method os determining the perimeter of a shape or area (add all sides).

In the coming week they will look at determining area (L x W), take the Chapter 13 test, then begin a new chapter on geometry.

Use this link to view a "Math Rocks" video reviewing perimeter and area:

Last week, Grade 5 students looked at metric length, including converting between different metric units (mm, cm, m, km), then moved on to exploring metric mass (g, kg).

In the coming week they convert metric units of mass and of capacity, take the Chapter Test, and begin a new chapter on geometry.

Use this link to find a good explanation of converting metric units of mass:


Have your child try some of these online games to practice the math skills we learned before break:
  • Grade 4  - Zoo Designer (perimeter and area)
  • Grade 4 - Moonshot (converting metric measurements)

    • Grade 5: Artie Ounces Soda Jerk (converting metric units)
    • Grade 5 - Horrendous Soup (converting metric units of measurement):

        For help with basic math facts:
        • Check your child’s math homework each night, which is found in the My Math book.


        In the week before Spring Break we continued work on our realistic fiction stories. By now students have determined the internal and external traits of their main character. One of the authors we read said that in order to write a great fiction story, you have to understand your characters so well you can say how much change is in their pocket!

        Students should also have determined what their character really WANTS, and what exactly is standing in the way of getting it. In a good story, there should several things that stand in the way.

        They should also have created a "story map," or an outline of their plot with important scenes noted. They were to write one scene so far; next week they will write additional scenes.

        In the coming week we will focus on how to SHOW what is happening in your fiction story rather than TELLING us what's happening. Look at the difference:

        Jack was very sad because he missed his best friend Ty who moved away. 

        Jack sprawled on his bed, staring at the ceiling, barely able to move. He had been this way for hours. It was just too hard to think about being alone and bored for the rest of the summer. He stared at the pictures taped to his wall: He and Ty on the Thunder Mountain Roller Coaster, he and Ty camping by Crystal Lake, he and Ty on stage at school getting Honor Roll certificates. Why did Ty's dad have to get another job so far away?

        As you can see, by showing the action the reader creates a mind movie and figures out things without being told exactly what happened. This will be our focus in the coming week. Students who are avid readers often do very well at this skill since they have so much exposure to authors showing the action.

        • Ask to review your child's "story mountain." Does the plot seem interesting and original? Does the character clearly want something that he/she is having a difficult time getting?

        Last week we completed our social studies unit  "Civilization 2.0" in which student teams developed their own new civilization. By now they selected a place to begin their new civilization from four locations provided, explored the natural resources and geographic features of their chosen location, used this information to develop an economy for their civilization, chose what type of government they want in place, and finally what type of culture they hope to foster. Here are teams creating their civilization's flag and national anthem:

        They began their culminating project with teams creating storyboards for an iMovie that introduces us to their civilization.

        • Ask your child about the government. the team chose for the new civilization. What were the reasons they chose this type of system?
        • Ask about the culture they envision for their civilization. How did they represent this culture in the flag and national anthem of their civilization?


        In the coming week we begin a new science unit on light and sound. This will include many hands-on experiments and activities so that students discover the concepts about light and sound on their own, through observation and questioning. This unit will also include analyzing some music videos, which of course are perfect examples for looking at the effects of light and sound!


        On the Thursday morning before Spring Break, French students kicked off Francophonie Day with an action-packed assembly featuring song and dance. It was an energetic and engaging way to celebrate the countries around the world that use the French language.


        Those of us in Mali were able to see the eclipse that occurred on 20 March. We only had a partial eclipse view--you'd have to be in the Faroe Islands to see a full eclipse. Because you can't look directly at this phenomena, we used two cards, one with a pinhole that allowed the shape of the sun to be projected onto the other card. This way we could see (sort of) the moon's shadow as it passed in front of the sun.

        There are 3 more eclipses in 2015 (on 4 April, 13 September, and 28 September). In Africa, only the 28 September eclipse will be visible.


        Wed 1 April: Q3 report cards sent home
        Thu 2 April: Elementary assembly featuring Ms. Jacoby, 7:35 - 7:55am
        Mon 6 April: No School, Easter holiday
        Thu 16 April: Elementary assembly featuring Grade 3, 7:35 - 7:55am
        Thu 23 April: AISB Board meeting (all are invited) 6:30 PM
        Thu 30 April: Elementary assembly featuring PreK 3/4, 7:35 - 7:55am

        Fri 1 May: No school: Labor Day holiday
        Mon 4 May: Q4 Progress Reports sent home for selected students
        Thu 7 May: AISB Board meeting (all are invited) 6:30 PM
        Thu 14 May: AISB General Meeting
        Thu 14 May: Elementary assembly featuring PreK 2, 7:35 - 7:55am
        Fri 8 May: Parent-Teacher-Student conferences
        Mon 25 May: No school: Africa Day
        Thu 28 May: Elementary assembly featuring Beg. French, 7:35 - 7:55am

        Thu 4 June: High School graduation ceremony
        Fri 5 June: Last day of school 

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