Friday, March 18, 2011

What a week!!  Between Science Fair and Fraction Burgers, Dinosaur Paragraphs and St. Patrick's Day - we have had one, busy week! I have heard that many of you had an eventful St. Patrick's Day!  I've never heard so many interesting stories about leprechauns rummaging through backpacks, leaving gold coins, and stealing homework!!  Don't be fooled by my married name - I am Bridget Donahue, a true Irish lass at heart, and I believe every one of those stories!!  :)   

Science Fair
What a huge success!! For those of you who were able to attend the Science Fair on Thursday, I am sure you agree that the students did a phenomenal job! The posters and presentations were excellent – many with great pictures and props! As I listened to students explain their experiments to other classmates, parents and friends, it was obvious that a lot was learned during this process. In case you were unable to attend, pictures will soon be made available on the website!

St. Patrick's Day Fun
As a little treat, we had two special readers come and visit us on Thursday!  Two of my students from last year - Emily and Delaney - came and read St. Patrick's Day-themed books to students in Room 13!  (I was very impressed with their reading skills - they must have had an excellent teacher...) Here are a few pictures:

Math Fact Quizzes
As mentioned last week, math fact quizzes have not been going well. The most recent quizzes have been difficult – focusing on subtracting 6, 7, 8 and 9. These facts are not automatic for students yet, and will only become so with more practice and repetition. For this reason, I have given each student a (large) packet of subtraction fact worksheets.  As stated on the cover letter, these are for students to practice at home - they are NOT for homework. If your child completes a few pages and would like to bring them in for me to see, I would be happy to reward this extra effort with stickers, etc. but they do not have to come back to me.  I really appreciate any extra time you can dedicate to math fact practice at home - and so will your child!!

Supplies Needed
You are already so generous with your time and effort that I hate to ask for anything else...but we are completely out of tissues, erasers, and extra snacks! If you have any extras around the house - we would definitely appreciate them!!

Boston Marathon/Kenyan Visitors
As you all know, the Boston Marathon is just around the corner (both literally and figuratively)! We are extremely fortunate here at Elmwood, in that the Kenyan marathon runners come and visit us the week before the marathon!! In preparation for their visit, we will be learning about and studying Kenya (location, culture, etc.) and also doing different projects/activities that reinforce this knowledge. Keep your eyes and ears open during the next few weeks for more information!!

Our Week in Review:

This week, our theme in reading was Saving Planet Earth. We talked A LOT about all the ways that people - and kids, especially - can help keep Earth clean and healthy! The story in our reading anthology this week was a nonfiction Time for Kids article titled, "A Way to Help Planet Earth."

Over the past few months, we have been discussing and identifying some of the characteristics found in nonfiction writing.  This week provided the perfect opportunity to review some of these text features!  Your child should know that nonfiction writing usually:
             * provides true/factual information
             * has real pictures (photographs)
             * has captions
             * has titles and/or headings within the text
             * has additional features such as charts, graphs, tables, inserts, maps, and sidebars

As seasoned readers, we may take our understanding of this kind of writing for granted, but this is something that needs to be pointed out to students.  Encourage students to identify and acknowledge these text features when they read nonfiction writing! 
(PS - Questions about nonfiction text features are often found on the MCAS!)

Our schedule was a little "out of whack" this week with the Science Fair and all of the other exciting things going on, so students were only asked to complete two reading centers.  There were more "choices" for them to work on if these finished these centers, however, and many were able to start and/or complete additional centers.

The must-do centers included:

Writing Center:  Each student was given the name of a classmate and asked to write several statements describing this person without using his/her name.  These descriptions will be posted in the classroom for other children to read and guess!  (Potraits drawn by the students will be placed underneath so guesses can be confirmed!) 

Comprehension Questions:  After reading in a small group, students should complete the accompanying comprehension questions - answering in complete sentences, of course!

Additional centers included:
Games Center: With a partner, students played the "Good Luck?" game by correctly identifying past tense verbs.

Listening Center:  After listening to this week's story with a partner, students then write a paragraph telling how they can help the Earth.

Phonics Center:  Students use magnetic letters to make and break new words, all following this week's spelling pattern.  They then "stamp" each of their spelling words. 

This week's spelling words all contained the sound "ugh."  95% of words with this sound are spelled using "oo" - but, as we discussed, there are always a few exceptions! 

Some words that DO follow this rule are:
     foot, shook, cookies, looking

A few important words that do NOT follow this rule are:
      could, should, would

This idea will get a little trickier next week when students discover that both OO and OU make OTHER sounds as well!!

Students worked REALLY hard this week to complete their fabulous dinosaur research paragraphs - and I am SO incredibly impressed with how these turned out!! The children worked really hard to incorporate many of the sophisticated writing techniques/tools that I have been talking about over the past few weeks, including an interesting hook/lead sentence, figurative language (similes and metaphors), descriptive language (interesting adjectives), and creative closings!  These paragraphs, along with their pasta dinosaurs and beautiful illustrations, are posted in the hallway for everyone to enjoy.  I hope you have a chance to take a look!!

We started our fractions unit this week! Fractions can be a tricky concept, but once students understand the concept of ONE WHOLE - the idea that fractions are simply PARTS or PIECES of a whole, makes more sense!

To make fractions more concrete, students used foam “Fraction Burgers” to create burgers this week! They quickly realized that each part of the burger was represented by different fractions. For example, the bun was 1 whole. The burger was divided into 2 pieces (halves). In addition, the onions were in thirds, the cheese in fourths, the relish in fifths, the tomato in sixths, the lettuce in eighths, the mustard in tenths, and the special sauce in twelfths. The children had a great time playing with these fractions and recording their observations.

At this point, students should really understand the basic, underlying concept of fractions. Specifically, they should know that:

         * a WHOLE is equal to 1 (one entire thing)

         * a fraction is a piece or part of a whole thing
                therefore, a fraction of something is more than 0 (nothing) but less than 1
                (it’s not a “whole” thing)

          * a “whole” thing needs to be divided into EQUAL parts
                 fractions are all equal parts

          * a written fraction has two parts:

                 numerator     --    the number of parts that you are talking about/shaded parts
                denominator    --   the total number of parts

Can your child explain all of this to you??

I encourage you to acknowledge and identify fractions whenever possible in your daily life. Real-world applications will help your child solidify these concepts!  You will be amazed at all the places that you will find fractions!!

It’s back to Social Studies in Room 13. Now that we have wrapped up Fossils, we are revisiting Maps and Globes (Part 2). In this unit we will be learning more about the world in which we live. Specifically, students will learn to identify their street, town, state, country, continent, and planet - and understand the relationship between them all. Students will also learn about the 7 continents (and their important landforms) and the 4 major oceans.

This week, the unit was simply introduced, along with the concept of a boundary. Ask your child what a boundary is. They should tell you that it is a real or imaginary line that separates two places. Can s/he give examples?

This week, our Mystery Reader was Cassie's grandmother, Mrs. Hurley!  Mrs. Hurley read students two fabulous stories:  You Are What You Eat and Other Mealtime Hazards, by Serge Block and How Full is Your Bucket? for Kids by Tom Rath and Mary Reckmeyer.  The children greatly enjoyed both of these stories - and had much to comment on! :)  Luckily for us, Mrs. Hurley donated both of these books, along with 2 others (Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin and Abe's Honest Words: The Life of Abraham Lincoln by Doreen Rappaport) to our classroom library, so students can read and enjoy them all year!  Thank you so much, Mrs. Hurley!!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Happy Friday!  The children didn't have school today, but teachers did!  We spent the day learning about a new reading assessment that will (hopefully) help us better assess students' reading and identify areas of strengths/weaknesses. This will aide us in planning more specialized and specific reading instruction. 

Coins for Cures Update
The children at Elmwood School have really been doing a great job collecting coins for Children’s Hospital!! We are well on our way to reaching our school goal of $5000! As a class, students have been doing an excellent job!  Our classroom goal is to collect $100 by the end of 8 weeks. In just the first week, we collected $32.42 and in the second week, we collected $15.25!! We are well on our way! We have had a lot of fun counting the coins together as a class and adding up our totals – I hope our enthusiasm remains high throughout the next few weeks! Thank you again for ALL of your help and support!

Science Fair
Please encourage your child to work on his/her science fair project over the next few days! (Reinforce good time-management!) It is sometimes difficult to find time during the week, so it might be helpful to set aside some time to work on it this weekend!! Good luck and have fun!

Our Week in Review:

This week, we read Goose’s Story, by Cari Best. This story falls under the genre of realistic fiction (it’s not real, but it could be) and tells about a goose who overcomes a physical disability to lead a normal goose life.

Through this story, we revisited/reinforced several reading skills and strategies this week. Specifically, students worked on asking questions to clarify/monitor comprehension and identifying cause/effect.

Since it was a short week, students didn't follow the normal "center routine" - but they did work to complete center-like activities including:

Grammar Work: Students completed a series of activities addressing some of the grammatical skills we have been working on, including the correct use of helping/linking verbs, the correct use of quotation marks, and the utilization of comparative (-er) and superlative (-est) adjectives (example:  tall, taller, tallest).

Art Center: Students chose 2 words from a list and wrote the comparative and superlative form of each word. They then illustrated each word and wrote two complete sentences using 2 of their words.

Phonics: Students completed 2 activities with r-controlled vowels.  The first used magnetic letters to make words, substitute letters, and make new words.  The second challenged them to create real words using -er, -ir, and -ur.  They then used their dictionary skills to check their work.

This week’s spelling rule focused on the other “Bossy R” vowels. These r-controlled vowels (-er, -ir, -ur) all make the same sound - rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr (as in herd, shirt, and curl). Since they all make the same sound, it made this week’s spelling list hard to work with. With repeated exposure and practice with these words however, they will become easier to recognize and remember!

Over the past few weeks, we have been taking an in-depth look at linking verbs and helping verbs. These verbs are tricky because they aren’t obvious, like ACTION verbs!

This week, we focused more on helping verbs.  Helping verbs are verbs that “help out” action verbs.

               For example:     We have met before.

Have is “helping out” the action verb, met. Have is just one of the many verbs that can act as helping verbs.

Encourage your child to keep an eye out for linking verbs and helping verbs. If possible, ask him/her to identify them in various sentences as they read. Good luck – they can be tricky!

Over the last 2 weeks, we have been taking a closer look at the structure of a paragraph.  Students should now understand that a "Second Grade Paragraph" consists of (at least) 5 sentences:
        1.  Topic Sentence - tells what the WHOLE paragraph is going to be about.
        2.  Detail #1 - supports the main idea.
        3.  Detail #2 - supports the main idea.
        4.  Detail #3 - supports the main idea.
        5.  Conclusion Sentence - wraps up the WHOLE paragraph; restates the topic sentence (does not include any new information or details!!)

In second grade, students' paragraph writing can be very formulaic.  Topic sentences and conclusion sentences tend to be ...  boring! 
       For example:
This paragraph is going to be about my birthday.  (topic sentence)
Now you know about my birthday. (conclusion sentence)

In order to avoid this kind of writing, we spent a lot of time this week talking about great "HOOK" sentences.  "Hook" sentences are interesting, lead sentences that GRAB the reader's attention and make them want to keep reading. We analyzed different authors' writing and a few students have been mimicking some of what they read/saw in their own writing!!  (It's quite good!)

Here are a few different ways authors/students may "lead off" their writing:
    * with a QUESTION (Have you ever ever felt happy and sad at the same time?  I have...)
    * with a RIDDLE  (What is blue and green and smells salty?  The beach in Aruba!) 
    * with an OPINION (Second grade is the best!... )
    * with an ANNOUNCEMENT  (Calling all soccer players!)
    * with a NOISE or SOUND (Crash!  When I heard that sound, I knew I was in trouble...)
    * with a SIMILE (I am as fast as lightning on my new bike...)

Students have been working hard to implement some of these "tools" in their own writing here at school - encourage them to try at home, too!! 
Earlier in the week, students used some of the data they gathered last week (their arm span information) to solidify their understanding of range, median, and mode.  They used this data to create a frequency chart, a line plot, and a bar graph.  (Fun!)  Students then had the opportunity to put this knowledge to use when taking the Unit 7 Assessment.  (Look for the corrected tests on Monday.  Please sign and return ASAP!)

We wrapped up our Fossils unit with our assessment on Tuesday.  Overall, students did very well and I was quite impressed with all they learned!!  Keep an eye out for their end-of-unit projects... more info to come next week! :)

Whew!!  We had a busy week, considering it was only 4 days!!  I hope you get lots of rest this weekend - we are back at it on Monday! :)

Friday, March 4, 2011

Welcome Back!

Welcome Back!
I hope you all had a wonderful vacation!  From what I've heard from the children, some of you had some exciting experiences - from skiing the slopes of Colorado mountains, to sun-bathing in the Carribbean, to shaking hands with President Obama! Whether you were off traveling the world, or spent the week relaxing at home (like me!), I hope you enjoyed the time with your families!! 

Dr. Seuss Day
Wednesday, March 2, was Dr. Seuss’s birthday! At Elmwood, we celebrated by reading one of my favorite books:  Hooray for Diffendoofer Day!  If you've never read this book, ask your child to tell you a SUMMARY.  Then ask him/her why it's a book for kids AND for adults (especially teachers)! 

Students also had the opportunity to do a few Seuss-inspired activities and games (mazes, wordsearches, etc.)..and they were even given a pattern for a Seussical Doorknob Hanger and a Dr. Seuss bookmark!  I hope they had as much fun on Wednesday as I did! 

Coins for Cures
As many of you already know (through discussions with your child and/or the letter posted on the listserv), Elmwood School is working to raise money for Boston Children’s Hospital. From what I have heard, many of you have visited the hospital yourselves and you know what wonderful care this facility provides to children.

With your permission, students are encouraged to clean the car/couch cushions, do little chores around the house, keep an eye out for loose change at the soccer field…and maybe donate some of that money to help other children. This fundraiser will go on for 8 weeks and each classroom has been asked to set a goal for the total that they think they can collect. The children in Room 13 think that they can collect $100!  I told them I thought that was a little "steep" but they are convinced they can do it!  What do you think?  

Book Orders
I hope you noticed that another "packet" of Scholastic Book Order catalogs went home with children on Tuesday.  I encourage you to look through these catalogs with your child and pick out a book or two - as a special treat!  If you choose to place your order on-line, the code is G2CLN.  Also, if you order on-line, you will noticed that there are a few more catalogs available to choose from! So, if you don't find something you like in the catalog, feel free to browse on-line! :)  The last day for ordering is next Thursday, March 10.  Happy Reading!

Science Fair
Please encourage your child to work on his/her science fair project over the next few weeks. (Reinforce good time-management!) It is sometimes difficult to find time during the week, so it might be helpful to set aside some time to work on it during the weekends. Good luck and have fun!

Our Week in Review:
In reading this week, we began Unit 4 with April Pulley Sayre’s story Splish! Splash! Animal Baths. This is a wonderful story that clearly illustrates and explains how different animals get clean! Students have been thinking and working hard to compare and contrast these animals and their behaviors. Comparing (describing how things are alike) and contrasting (describing how things are different) can be tricky – but doing so helps students focus on important information and helps them make great connections.

A great way to organize ideas/information when comparing and contrasting is to use a Venn Diagram. Students have been utilizing this graphic organizer all week – and they are getting pretty good at it!

Encourage your child to compare and contrast things as they come up in your daily life! (Examples: How are basketball and baseball alike/different? How is tonight’s dinner the same/different from last night’s?)

This week, our spelling pattern focused on… “BOSSY R!” Students learned that the letter R is very bossy when it pairs up with vowels. This week, we looked specifically at the vowels A and O.

We noticed that when R follows A, it makes A say “argh” – like a pirate!
       Examples: star, part, market       (We don’t hear the A at all!!)

When R follows O, it makes the O say weird things too…OR!
       Examples: for, thorn, sort

We better watch out for that R!! He doesn’t sound like someone we would want to be friends with!

This week, we took a good look at linking verbs. These verbs are tricky because they aren’t obvious, like ACTION verbs! Linking verbs are verbs that link the subject of a sentence to the predicate.

           For example:  Marsha is cold.

In this sentence, is is the verb. It doesn’t show action, but it links the two parts of the sentence. Is is a form of the verb “to be.”

Other forms of the verb include:
         was (past tense)
         were (past tense)

Although children typically use the correct verb/conjugation when speaking and writing, most don't realize that it is actually a VERB!  We will keep working to reinforce this concept!

We worked hard to collect real data this week and learned how to use this information to create informative graphs! Earlier in the week, students worked in groups to measure their standing jumps and their arm spans. We then used this data to determine the class “median.” In case you have forgotten, the median is the “middle value” in a set of data. In order to find it, you must first sequence the data (smallest to largest) and then find the number in the middle by eliminating the ends. We used this real data to create line plots, tally charts, bar graphs and pie charts! Fun!

Here are a few pictures of students creating and collecting data: (pictures to come!)
  I am still unable to post pictures! :( 

We also had a Math Lab on Thursday this week!  During this time, students had a opportunity to estimate different weights using dictionaries and a bath scale (with Mrs. Chambers),  solve equal-sharing/division problems (with Mrs. Glazier), and practice their double-digit addition skills playing Addition Spin (with me).  Pictures to come!

Earlier this week, we discussed the difference between fact and theory. After this differentiation was made clear, we talked about the different theories that scientists have explaining why the dinosaurs might have become extinct. The three most popular theories are:

a) Asteroid Theory:
This theory states that a large asteroid or comet crashed into Earth and caused a huge amount of dust/dirt to rise into the atmosphere, blocking the sun’s rays. The lack of sun prevented plants from growing, resulting in the eventual deaths of the dinosaurs (from lack of food and clean water).

b) Climate Change Theory:
This theory states that over time, the climate of earth grew colder and colder.  Eventually, the majority of the land and water froze and it was just too cold for dinosaurs and many other animals to survive. 

c) Dinosaur Disease Theory:
This theory claims that dinosaurs died from various diseases that they spread to each other.  Since there were many more land bridges between continents back in the dino days, these theorists think that dinosaurs were able to travel more and come into contact with many different dinosaurs - spreading and contracting diseases easily. 

Later in the week, we talked about dinosaur names and how they came to be! Did you know that most dinosaur names come from Greek and/or Latin words? Students learned that the word “dinosaur” means “terrible lizard” and we then talked about several popular dinosaur names and how/why they might have been chosen. I then read students Bernard Most’s story, A Dinosaur Named After Me. After that, students were inspired to create and name their OWN dinosaur! What did YOUR child come up with?

SCIENCE & (paragraph) WRITING
Did your child tell you that s/he is becoming an expert on one particular dinosaur?  On Thursday, each student chose one dinosaur to research...and we have been working hard to find resources, identify important information, and record facts about these dinosaurs.  In the end, each student will create a wonderful, fact-filled paragraph about his/her dinosaur.  I'm sure they will be a ROARING success!