Saturday, April 4, 2015

News of the Week: 6 - 10 April 2015


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


(By Liz Evans, From Huffington Post, 8-29-2014)

1. What was the best thing that happened at school today? (What was the worst thing that happened at school today?)

2. Tell me something that made you laugh today.

3. If you could choose, who would you like to sit by in class? (Who would you NOT want to sit by in class? Why?)

4. Where is the coolest place at the school?

5. Tell me a weird word that you heard today. (Or something weird that someone said.)

6. If I called your teacher tonight, what would she tell me about you?

7. How did you help somebody today?

8. How did somebody help you today?

9. Tell me one thing that you learned today.

10. When were you the happiest today?

11. When were you bored today?

12. If an alien spaceship came to your class and beamed someone up, who would you want them to take?

13. Who would you like to play with at recess that you've never played with before?

14. Tell me something good that happened today.

15. What word did your teacher say most today?

16. What do you think you should do/learn more of at school?

17. What do you think you should do/learn less of at school?

18. Who in your class do you think you could be nicer to?

19. Where do you play the most at recess?

20. Who is the funniest person in your class? Why is he/she so funny?

21. What was your favorite part of lunch?

22. If you got to be the teacher tomorrow, what would you do?

23. Is there anyone in your class who needs a time-out?

24. If you could switch seats with anyone in the class, who would you trade with? Why?

25. Tell me about three different times you used your pencil today at school.


This past week we began a new unit based on 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 focus on determining the theme in a text, and on determining how a character responds to challenges.  Figuring out the theme takes time, requiring the reader to think about the title, recurring patterns or symbols in the story, what the main character wants and what stands in the way, and what is said "between the lines."

As a way of enriching the literacy experience this time, I introduced the theatre technique of improvisation. This is where students act out both vocabulary words and scenes from the novel without a script or rehearsal. Improvisation (also known as "improv") is an excellent technique that is not only fun, but builds critical thinking skills, supports reading comprehension, and ensures collaboration among peers.

Nearly every day, after we read a chapter or two, students will use improv to demonstrate their understanding of the story. We will use a specialized form of improv called "Planned Improvisation." This term seems odd in that improv is supposed to be spontaneous, so let me explain. 

In a Planned Improvisation, students are assigned a scene from the story--a scene we've already read and discussed. They reread the scene and visualize the action. Next they determine the main sequence of events in that scene. These are the important parts of the scene that they will act out. They don't plan the dialogue or rehearse these events/scenes, but simply choose the parts from the story they will perform. Because this is improv, they can slightly change events and characters, or even add events and characters IF the changes still support the story.

They write this sequence of events on a paper that they post near the stage. This way they can refer to it as they perform, just in case they forget the sequence. They also add any key words on that poster--words they want to make sure to mention in their performance.

Next they assign roles, create the "set" where they will perform, gather any props they need, and roughly block out the placement of characters in the scene.

They do not rehearse the scene, nor do they plan any dialogue. This is where the improv part takes over!

Finally they perform. After the performance, the audience and the actors themselves provide constructive feedback. Then the actors perform the scene again, this time taking into consideration the feedback.

As you can imagine, students must fully comprehend the story, understanding the plot and the characters, in order to perform and critique this improv performance. It requires them to think critically and to go beyond what the author did in the story. And it certainly requires them to work closely with their peers, because improv relies on your reaction to what the other actors say and do. It's collaboration at its finest! Here is their very first practice with this technique, using a scene from our last book, The Wish Giver:

I must admit that I was really impressed with their efforts at Planned Improv on Friday, using a scene from our current novel. On their own they planned and performed a scene from "Loser" and had to include every student in the class:

The planning session that they orchestrated on their own! 

 The action begins: A group of students grab the main characters giraffe hat (with a meter stick standing in as the hat) and tease him.

 The teasing continues.

A group of bullies approaching the main character (this was a change they made from what was in the story which only had one bully).

We also used improv to practice our new vocabulary words. In this case we used a game called "Next." One team is assigned a vocabulary word we just learned the previous day. One team member stands on stage. Another approaches and begins a spontaneous scene that relates to the vocabulary word. The first student on stage must play along with the scene, adding further dialogue and action that relates to the vocabulary word. 

After a short time I call out "Next." The first student exits the stage and the second student remains. Then another team member enters and begins another impromptu scene relating to the vocabulary word. This routine continues until all members of the team have been on stage. Here are some photos of this in action:

This is a very effective technique as students use the new word in many different ways, and actively engage in demonstrating the meaning. It becomes very clear when a student doesn't understand the definition, at which time I freeze the action, offer clarification and suggestions, and let them restart.

As with other reading units, students record the words in their notebooks, add a definition, synonyms, antonyms, a sentence using the word, and a sketch. Students also create a small poster of this information that we post on the reading bulletin board (this time the poster is in the shape of a hand forming the "loser" symbol, which is the name of our novel).

The new vocabulary words introduced this past week were:

audible (able to be heard)
instinct (natural reaction to something)
unpredictable (impossible to foretell)
spectacle (showy performance)
etiquette (normal rules of politeness)
outburst (explosion of feeling)

To support the theme of the novel, we will also analyze a number of songs with similar themes. This week we analyzed "Beautiful" by Christina Aguilera (2002) and "Make Your Own Kind of Music" by Cass Elliot (1969). Students responded strongly to the messages of both songs.

Watch a video performance by Cass Elliot here:

  • Ask your child to explain the plot of the novel "Loser" so far. (A boy named Donald Zinkoff begins first grade and is happy about everything--nothing really makes him sad, including bullies. He has supportive parents and a supportive teacher).
  • Ask your child the songs we analyzed in class, Beautiful and Make Your Own Kind of Music. What were the messages of these songs? (e.g. Being different should be celebrated, be proud of who you are, etc.)
  • Ask your child to discuss the meaning of the "theme" in a story. (It is the universal message or lesson of the story)
  • 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. Are they reading a book that challenges them a bit? Are they read a variety of genres, including fiction, non-fiction, historical fiction, etc.? Encourage them to branch out and try different genres, and try to refrain from imposing your own particular likes/dislikes in terms of genres. You may not enjoy reading fantasy books about dragons and wizards, but this may be a genre that really captures your child's interest and turns them into a reader for life!
  • 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 determined a shape's perimeter (length + width + length + width) and area (length x width), took the Chapter 13 test, then began a new chapter on geometry. They began with identifying points, lines, lines segments, and rays.

In the coming week students work with parallel and perpendicular lines, take a quiz to check their understanding of geometry so far, and explore different types of angles.

Most students stumbled a bit on the test that covered area and perimeter. I retaught the concepts and discovered that students were not carefully reading instructions to the questions (e.g. They would find the area of a shape when the question actually asked them to find the perimeter.) It would benefit students to review the perimeter and area concepts in the video below:

Last week, Grade 5 students converted metric units of mass and of capacity, took the chapter test, on metric measurements, and began a new chapter on geometry. They first focused on measuring the sides and angles of triangles, and honed their skills of using a protractor.

Next week students classify triangles, take a quiz to check their understanding so far, and measure the sides and angles of quadrilaterals (four-sided shapes).

Use this link to find an introduction to classifying triangles:


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 - Triangle Splat (Types of triangles)

    • Grade 5: Triangle Sort (identifying triangle types)
    • Grade 5 - Alien Angles (guessing 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 students continued working on their realistic fiction stories. I've checked and approved their story maps, and they are now writing each scene of their story. Besides focusing on showing what is happening in the story (rather than just telling what's happening) we talked about the "heart" of our story, or what we are really trying to say. Students were challenged to make sure that every scene in their story relates to the "heart" of their plot, or the main message.

        Their assignment for the long weekend is to FINISH drafting their scenes because next week we begin to type them.

        For grammar this week we explored types of sentences: simple, compound, and complex.

        • Make sure your child completes his/her fiction story draft by Tuesday morning.
        • Read the draft and offer your feedback. Some things to look for as you read the draft:
        - 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?"

        The culminating project for our last novel, The Wish Giver, involved students writing a magic box poem and creating an illustration in the style of Paul Klee. The style of the art is called "crayon resist" in which students first draw with crayon, then cover it with a wash of watercolor paint.


        Last week we began a new science unit on light and sound. We started the unit by analyzing the song "Lights" by Journey, trying to determine why a songwriter would write a song about lights. Students decided that the lights in the song--natural light from the sunrise reflecting on the bay as well as 1978 the artificial lights of the city going off--were magical to the songwriter, something he never wanted to forget and something that made him move. We used this to introduce the different types of lights, the properties of light, and the importance of light.

        Next we explored the properties of light, including the way light travels, reflects, is absorbed, and bends in water. Students explored these properties again in the 1998 song and music video "Ray of Light" by Madonna. We also went outside with a prism and with light refracting glasses to see the colors of sunlight.

        Finally, on Friday students conducted an experiment to determine the path that a ray of light takes. 


        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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