Saturday, April 18, 2015

News of the Week: 20 - 24 April 2015


On Tuesday Grade 4 and 5 students take the 45-minute Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) Math test. On Thursday, they take the 45-minute MAP Language Usage test. 

As explained in the previous blog post, these are computer-based assessments that adapt to your child's appropriate level of learning. MAP scores are one of the many pieces of data we use to monitor your child's academic growth and to provide teachers with ways to support student achievement. Scores will be available at the parent-student-teacher conferences in May.

As always, please make sure your child gets a good night's sleep each night this week, and eats a healthy breakfast every morning.

MAP Reading Test
Last Thursday Grade 4 and 5 students completed the MSP Reading test, and I was so pleased that they took their time to do their best. Nearly 90% of the students made gains since the September test, and nearly 80% scored higher than the mean score for their grade level.


Last week we continued with our reading unit based around the novel "Loser" by Jerry Spinelli, focusing on the skill of determining the theme in a text, as well as the skill of determining how a character responds to challenges. 

To support these skills we analyzed the song Mean by Taylor Swift, looking closely at the lyrics and the music video to see how the theme connected with the theme of our novel.

Here is Swift's music video of Mean:

As described in previous posts, we are also using the theatre technique of improvisation, a method where students perform spontaneously without rehearsal. We are using improv in two ways, to teach vocabulary and to explore the novel's theme and characters more deeply. Here are photos of their vocabulary improvs:

And here is a video showing the "Next" game that uses improv to demonstrate the word stampede:

The new vocabulary words introduced this past week were:

bribe (dishonestly persuade someone)
condemned (sentenced to punishment/death)
independent (able to do things on your own)
stampede (panicked rush)
hapless (unlucky)
gusto (energetic excitement)
negotiation (discussion to reach an agreement)

Here are some photos showing the "planned" improvisation technique in which students reenact a part of a chapter from the novel. The planning includes determining which scenes to show, where actors will stand, what props they will use, and who plays which role. The dialogue is not written down or rehearsed...this is the improvisational part of the technique.

Here they are planning for the performance. I split the class into two separate casts, and each of them plan and perform the same part from the book. It's interesting to see the different approaches each cast uses:

And here is a link to a short video of one of the planned improv performances. In this scene Zinkoff, the main character (played by Nil) is on the losing side of a football match, but is happy anyway. His teammate tells him he should not be happy, so Zinkoff mimics his teammate's angry outburst--even pulling the pacifier from his baby sister's mouth and throwing it onto the field:

  • Ask your child to explain how Taylor Swift's song Mean relates to the novel we are reading. (The song's theme is about mean people who try to bring other people down--people who are different than they are, and how those mean people will be miserable their whole life; in the novel, our main character deals with a group of mean people who keep calling him a loser just because he is a unique individual.)
    • Ask your child to discuss the "theme" of the novel Loser so far. (e.g. don't demean people who are different than you and instead celebrate their uniqueness; don't let others get you down; live life with joy, etc.)
    • Ask your child to describe the "Next" game that we use for vocabulary. Can he/she explain one of the scenes performed this week? How does this game help your child remember the vocabulary words?
    • Ask your child to describe the planned improvisations performed last week. Which cast did a better job and why? What's the most challenging part of doing a planned improvisation? How does it help you understand the book?
    • Ask your child to explain the vocabulary words above. How were they used in the novel? How did the teams act out these words in their improvs?
    • Ask your child what book they are reading for their Read to Succeed homework. If he/she is reading a fiction book, ask questions about the story...who is the main character? What does this main character want? What's standing in the way of that character getting what he/she wants? What are your favorite parts so far?
    • 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). He/she will soon be taking the Developmental Reading Assessment that requires reading aloud to the teacher, and I then score the fluency I observed. Practicing with your child now could really prepare them for this assessment and will help make them a better reader overall.


    Last week Grade 4 students continued their new geometry unit, classifying and measuring angles. I was completely impressed with their ease at using a protractor to measure angles!

    In the coming week students draw angles, then engage in some problem solving that includes angles. Here is a link to a video that introduces those concepts:

    Last week, Grade 5 students measure the sides and angles of quadrilaterals (four-sided shapes). They seem to be quite comfortable with the many vocabulary terms used in geometry.

    In the coming week students work with three dimensional geometric figures. Here is a link to a video explaining the concepts involved in 3D figures:


    Have your child try some of these online games to practice the math skills we learned before break:
    • Grade 4  - Baseball Geometry (triangles)

    • Grade 4 - Triangle Splat (Types of triangles)

    • Grade 4 - Measuring Angles (Using a protractor)

      • Grade 5: Starship (identifying geometric shapes and terms)
      • Grade 5 - Shape Lab (identifying geometric shapes and terms):

      • Grade 5 - Alien Angles (estimating angles):

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


          This past week all but three students completed their realistic fiction story, self scored it using the Six Traits rubric, and scored the paper of another student, also using the same rubric.

          You'll find your child's story on Google Docs--he/she can share the file with you via email so you can read and comment on it. I added the rubric at the end of the story.

          I noticed that some students are still struggling with keyboarding skills. If this is the case for your child, can you please encourage him/her to use an online typing course to practice? Your child will be doing much keyboarding in the ears to come, and learning how to type now will be an asset. There are many online typing resources available, but here is one example:

          For grammar this week we explored idioms, interesting phrases that don't literally mean what they say, and that add a colorful touch to any writing. Students selected a favorite idiom and created a poster for our ever-expanding "Wall of Figurative Language." Here is their work:

          Next week we begin a new writing project, this one focusing on literary essays. A literary essay tells about a theme (big idea) in a book or story students have read. Students will first choose a short story to focus on. Then they will ask themselves: 
          • Does this book teach a lesson? 
          • What big idea is the author trying to get across to his or her readers? 
          • What examples from the book illustrate this big idea? 
          They will incorporate this information into and essay that explains the theme, and provide examples from the story to support their premise. They can also incorporate personal connections to the theme.

          • Read the story your child created and offer your feedback. Does your feedback match the scores your child and a peer gave to the story? Some things to look for as you read the story:
          - Does the sequence of the plot make sense?
          - Does the story flow well from one scene to the next?
          - Is it clear what the main character wants or needs?
          - Are there interesting things that stand in the way of the character getting what they want?
          - As you read the story can you picture the action in your head, as if you're watching a movie?
          - Are there interesting vocabulary words in the story?
          - Does the story have your child's distinctive and unique "voice?"


            Last week we explored more about light and sound. Students took a quiz on the properties of light--you can see their quiz and score in their science notebook.

            Next we analyzed Simon and Garfunkel's song Sound of Silence, determining how sound was important in this song--what it symbolized and if this symbolism made sense compared to what we know about sound.

            Here's a recording of that beautiful song, one of my all time favorites:

            Students also analyzed British artist LS Lowry's painting Piccadilly Circus (1960), pretending to step into the painting and then recording the sounds--both natural and manmade--that they would hear. This exercise helped them to realize the multitude of sounds in our world!

            Next we did an experiment to understand if sound waves travel better in air or through an object. Students used a string and a spoon to test their hypotheses. Here they are at work:

            We also watched a video clip about the "Quietest Places on Earth" which feature a spot in a rainforest in Washington State, as well as an anechoic chamber (a room designed to be absolutely soundproof). We discussed how silence is as important as sound!

            • Ask your child to explain the song Sound of Silence by Simon & Garfunkel. What is the "sound of silence" that the songwriter talks about? (e.g. it could be the fact that nobody is speaking up to say the right things, it could mean that people are saying and doing such silly things that silence would be a better option, etc.)
            • Ask your child about the Piccadilly Circus painting the class analyzed. What sounds would one hear if they went inside this painting?
            • Ask him/her to explain the spoon experiments about how sound waves travel. Did the sound waves travel better in the air or through the string? What was his/her hypothesis? 
            • Would he/she like to sit in an anechoic chamber?

            COMING SOON

            Tue 21 April: Grade 4/5 MAP math test, 7:30 - 8:40
            Thu 23 April: Grade 4/5 MAP language test, 9:10 - 10:20
            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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