Saturday, April 25, 2015

News of the Week: 27 - 30 April

AISB is closed on Friday 1 May for Labor Day.

A big thanks to all who attended our last-minute Genius Hour presentation. Six students did a commendable job of presenting their research on a topic they selected themselves:

Nil: What is the meaning of life?
Jesse: Are dragons real?
Maimouna: What were Gianni Versace's influences?
Bijan: The first creatures that walked the earth
Seyni: Rubies
Soraya: The history of chewing gum
Gladd: The history of fashion design

Their final products included PowerPoints (some with video clips), a comic book, and clay models. 

We are just a few chapters away from completing our reading unit based on the novel Loser by Jerry Spinelli.

To support the focus skills of determining theme and determining how a character responds to challenges, we also analyzed the songs My Way by Frank Sinatra and Hero by Mariah Carey. Students made many connections between the theme of the songs and the theme of the novel. They also felt that both songs were about dealing with challenges in a positive way--exactly the way our main character does in the novel.

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. This process requires students to not only understand the definition of the new vocabulary word, but to be able to incorporate it into an improvisational skit with a partner. I know within seconds if a student doesn't understand the word. That allows me to say "Freeze," then clarify the word meaning, possibly give an example of how they could show it, and say "Action." At that point the student tries again and is always successful the second time around. By having students participate actively in understanding a word, they tend to internalize it and remember it.

The new vocabulary words introduced this past week were:

deliberate (on person)
grimace (twisted expression showing pain or disgust)
boisterous (rowdy)
frolic (move cheerfully & excitedly)

Here are some photos showing the "planned" improvisation technique in which students reenact a part of a chapter from the novel. Each performance gets better, especially after students incorporate feedback from their peers. In Friday's performance one team even incorporated music (Pomp and Circumstance, that familiar graduation tune) and in two minutes created graduation caps out of paper. Their dialogue and blocking was so effective that the audience (the other students) said they were a bit choked up and emotional!

Planning the Performances
The planning includes determining which scenes to include, where actors will stand and how they will move, 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.

The Performance
In this scene from the book, Zinkoff, the main character, graduates from Grade 5 and reflects on his elementary school experience. He decides he loved everything, even the not-so-good times.

One cast neglected to refer to the novel when planning, and unfortunately it showed in their performance. They forgot many important details, and it lacked an emotional quality. The second cast combed through the scene in the book and made wise decisions on what was most important to show. They even added dialogue to clarify important themes.

Their hard work paid off with a fantastic performance. The audience (the other cast of students) called it "terrific," and remarked how they felt the emotion in the scene--even more than when they read the book. I think everyone learned a valuable lesson about the importance of preparation!

Here are scenes from the well-prepared cast:

The Feedback Session
This is a critical part of the process, when the audience offers helpful critiques. This requires students to critically think about the story and if it was portrayed accurately in the performance. This process helps students deepen their comprehension and analysis of the novel, something that would be difficult to do by just simply reading the book.

In this photo, the cast (at left) listens to feedback from the audience. Students learn how to offer helpful feedback--such as beginning with a compliment, and following with a helpful tip on the performance could be improved.

  • Ask your child to explain how Frank Sinatra's song My Way relates to the novel we are reading. (The song's theme is about a person reflecting on his life, a guy who is proud for being his own person. This reflects the main character in Loser, who also does things his own way.)
  • Ask your child to explain how Mariah Carey's song Hero relates to the novel we are reading. (The song's theme is about personal empowerment--understanding that each of us has a hero inside and we are all capable of doing great things. Again, this connects to the main character in the novel who reaches inside himself to find the best in people and situations.)
    • 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 the vocabulary words deliberate, grimace, boisterous, and frolic. 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 with the graduation scene and why? What was the most challenging part of doing this planned improvisation? How did it help him/her understand the novel?
    • Ask your child to explain the vocabulary words above. How would they use these words in every day life?
    • 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? If they are reading a non-fiction book, ask what facts they have learned. Did any of the facts surprise them?
    • 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). I'm currently administering the Developmental Reading Assessment that requires reading aloud to me, 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 drew angles of various sizes using a protractor, then engaged in some problem solving centering on finding the measurements of angles. They also took a quiz on the geometry concepts covered so far, and everyone in the class was successful!

    In the coming week students explore triangles and quadrilaterals. Here is a link to a video that introduces quadrilaterals:

    Last week, Grade 5 students worked with three dimensional geometric figures, building them from two-dimensional versions (called "nets") and exploring their attributes (e.g. congruent sides/angles, parallel sides, etc.).

    In the coming week students explore how to determine the volume of 3D figures Here is a link to a video introducing how to find the volume:


    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 week we began a new writing unit on literary essays, a type of writing which tells about a theme (big idea) in a book or story. Students will first choose a short story to focus on. Then they will determine the big idea of the text, offer examples from the book/story that illustrate this big idea, and determine if the book/story teaches a lesson. All of this will be incorporated into an essay that may also include personal connections to the big idea.

          This week we learned how to "read inside a story." This means not just a basic reading of a text, but reading and thinking about what the author has said. We practiced with the very short story Spaghetti by Cynthia Rylant:

          by Cynthia Rylant

          It was evening and people sat outside, talking quietly among themselves. On the stoop of a

          tall building of crumbling bricks and rotting wood sat a boy. His name was Gabriel and he
          wished for some company.

          Gabriel was thinking about things. He remembered being the only boy in class with the right

          answer that day, and he remembered the butter sandwich he had had for lunch. Gabriel was
          thinking that he would like to live outside all the time. He imagined himself carrying a pack of
          food and a few tools and a heavy cloth to erect a hasty tent. Gabriel saw himself sleeping
          among coyotes. But next he saw himself sleeping beneath the glittering lights of a movie
          theater, near the bus stop.

          Gabriel was a boy who thought about things so seriously, so fully, that on this evening he

          nearly missed hearing the cry from the street. The cry was so weak and faraway in his mind
          that, for him, it could have been the slow lifting of a stubborn window. It could have been the
          creak of an old man’s legs. It could have been the wind.

          But it was not the wind, and it came to Gabriel slowly that he did, indeed, hear something, and

          that it did, indeed, sound like a cry from the street.

          Gabriel picked himself up from the stoop and began to walk carefully along the edge of the

          street, peering into the gloom and the dusk. The cry came again and Gabriel’s ears tingled and
          he walked faster.

          He stared into the street, up and down it, knowing something was there. The street was so

          gray that he could not see . . . But not only the street was gray.
          There, sitting on skinny stick-legs, wobbling to and fro, was a tiny gray kitten. No cars had
          passed to frighten it, and so it just sat in the street and cried its windy, creaky cry and waited.

          Gabriel was amazed. He had never imagined he would be lucky enough one day to find a
          kitten. He walked into the street and lifted the kitten into his hands.

          Gabriel sat on the sidewalk with the kitten next to his cheek and thought. The kitten smelled
          of pasta noodles, and he wondered if it belonged to a friendly Italian man somewhere in the
          city. Gabriel called the kitten Spaghetti.

          Gabriel and Spaghetti returned to the stoop. It occurred to Gabriel to walk the
          neighborhood and look for the Italian man, but the purring was so loud, so near his ear, that he
          could not think as seriously, as fully, as before.

          Gabriel no longer wanted to live outside. He knew he had a room and a bed of his own in
          the tall building. So he stood up, with Spaghetti under his chin, and went inside to show his
          kitten where they would live together.

          I showed students that after reading the first paragraph, we can stop and think about what we just read. For example, why is Gabriel sitting alone? Does he purposely choose to sit alone because he is shy? Or do the neighbors not include him in their conversations? Why is he on a stoop of a crumbling building? Is he poor? Does he live there? Does he have a family?

          This kind of deeper thinking into the story helps us create a better picture of the main character, and helps us make sense of what happens later in the story. When students "read inside the story" they ask themselves questions, create their own visuals of how it all looks, try to make sense of things, add to the author's descriptions, etc. Not only does this make them better readers, but it will make them better thinkers and writers as well.

          In the coming week students will choose a short story from a packet i provided, and will begin to read inside the story. This will become the basis of their literary essay.

          As I mentioned last week, 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 parts of speech, specifically nouns. We looked at subject nouns and predicate nouns, as well as singular and plural, and masculine/feminine/neuter/indefinite nouns. I was pleased to see students remembering much of the grammar we learned this year when they took the MAP language test last Thursday!

          Fiction Stories
          I'll be featuring here some of the fiction stories written by our Grade 4/5 students. Here is the story written by Soraya:

          Fervently With The Gorillas
          by Soraya Keita

          My name is Alice Duran Duran. My parents gave me this name thirteen years ago. To my most terrible misfortune they also gave me an amazing voice. Since I was a little child, I had to sing at the end of every Christmas and dinner party. My parents were complete fans of the star they thought I would become. Without any discussion, my mom bought me only sequined t-shirts and silk pink dresses. I’m tired to have a mom who doesn’t want to understand that the only garments I want to wear are a pair of jeans and a shirt. After school and the two inevitable hours of singing lessons at home, what I love best is to be allowed down time in my garden: to observe the butterfly and dragonfly, and to nurse the bird injured by the sliding glass doors.

          Last year, I had found a sweet little kitty with a gash on his leg, and I bandaged him up. When I asked my mom if I could keep him at home, she categorically refused. This day I had furiously told my mom that I would never be a singer but a veterinarian. My mom’s face turned red and she shrieked, “Poor girl, you don’t know how lucky you are with the voice you’ve got!” But what mom doesn’t know and it is my secret, is that I kept the cat in my room and that sometimes at night I climbed in the oak tree of my garden to listen to the sound of nature.

          This morning at school, my teacher gave me an envelope for my parents. It was a letter from Washington. Behind it was a logo with a bird and a music note, and it was written “Accredited Music School of Washington - since 1970.’’ I didn’t have to open it. I knew immediately that it was a form to fill out, for an entrance test at the school. I decided to hide it in my backpack. But I had forgotten that our school headmaster Mrs. Riconal had already emailed a copy to my parents. When I arrived at home at 5:00 PM, my parents were waiting for me in the garden, over-excited and shouting and dancing, “You have been pre-selected!”

          “I can’t bear you!”  I holler out at the same time throwing away my backpack and rushed upstair and banged my bedroom’s door. I opened my computer and hit the keys to spell out “ways to lose your voice” and I found a lot of answers like: Scream into a pillow, drink acidic beverages, sleep with your mouth open, put cold packs around your neck, eat or drink cold foods, cough hard, cough rapidly… I was flabbergasted that there were so many answers to my research. Who wanted to lose his or her voice except me in the world!?

          I tried to do the pillow method because it looked like the easiest, but after thirty seconds of screaming in my pillow my anger crisis died down and I felt soft in the head. Those advices were better to help you calm down then help you lose your voice! I decided I would spend time in my friend the oak tree at night to relax.

          One week later, my parents and I were in the car going to Washington for the big contest. I was heartsick, and my parents were still hysterical. Were they really my mom and dad? I thought truthfully. We arrived on time, and I must admit that the auditorium was phenomenal. I went to the changing room to prepare myself. I notice a little boy with a red t-shirt who seemed to be disinterested. 

          One hour later the contest started. I was the seventh of twenty girls. I had time. I took a look outside by the window where there was an old majestic oak tree, and I wanted to seek refuge in the tree’s arms. Suddenly, I jumped off my chair. The little boy with the red t-shirt was perched at the summit of the oak tree and looked like he was in big troubles. I rushed outside through the window and shrieked to the boy, “Keep cool, I’m coming to help you.” Oaks don’t have secrets with me so I climbed up without effort, and rushed with fluidity. My breath was gentle. The boy was confident and was waiting for me.

          As we’re coming down from the tree, I suddenly got a flash of lucidity: If I could climb to the top of an oak tree to save a life, I could climb up the stage to say to the audience that I wanted to be a veterinarian.

          And this is what I did. Now I’m forty years old. I’m working fervently with gorillas. Silk pink clothes are finished for me, now it’s camouflage. My parents are really content for me and for my job, and so am I. My name is Alice Duran Duran and I’m following my dreams.

          • Ask your child about the short story "Spaghetti." How did they "read inside the story?"
          • Read the story together, and take turns offering deeper thoughts and comments after reading sections of the story.
          • Read Soraya's story together. Ask your child how she makes the reader feel emotion in this story. How does she keep the reader interested? What are the challenges the main character faces, and how does she handle those?


            Last week we continued our exploration of sound. Students discovered that sound is caused by vibrations, something they saw firsthand in a lab that used tuning forks, salt, and water:

            Students also learned how human speech is also caused by vibrations:

            We also explored sound that reflects, also called an echo. We began an experiment to test which materials reflect the best, but discovered that this experiment will only work in a silent room.

            We also explored the human ear to see how we use the vibrations to hear:

            Next week we finish this light and sound by looking at pitch and volume, and finally by participating in a sound lab with a variety of activities that demonstrate the properties of sound.

            • Ask your child to explain the experiment with tuning forks. How did this show that sound causes vibrations? (e.g. the sound waves of the tuning form caused the salt and also the water to vibrate) 
            • How does a human make sound? (When you push air up from your lungs, it moves through your voice box, and causes your vocal cords to vibrate. These vibrations make sound.)
            • How do our ears capture the vibrations? (vibrations enter the outer ear, they travel down the ear canal and contact the ear drum, this makes small bones in the inner ear begin to vibrate, and they send signals to the brain that tell us what we hear)


            We will complete our sound and light unit in the coming week, and will be starting the final science unit of the year, Human Growth and Development.

            This important unit focuses on the physical, emotional, and cognitive changes that occur in children as they grow. It includes instruction about the different stages of physical growth and development, information about reproduction, strategies for interpersonal skills, and guidelines for healthy behavior. Boys and girls will be separated and instructed by gender for several of these lessons, with a female teacher instructing the girls' group.

            COMING SOON

            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
            Tue 5 May: Tentative date for Kangaba trip to celebrate our service learning project (details soon)
            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: Very special whole school assembly (details to follow!)

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

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