Technology is an amazing thing (when it works). I have previously written about the importance of technology and computers in the classroom. Using them to teach our students 21st century skills and to prepare for success them with life skills. Who could have predicted just how important our technology has become and how vital it is to our everyday lives for both work and social interaction. Especially now with the current global situation!
These past two weeks have been hectic to say the least. A whirlwind of changes and challenges that we were not expecting. We all expected to return from Spring Break refreshed and ready to jump back into our regular school routine of morning meetings, math, writing, specials and seeing our friends everyday! Yet, what we encountered was a new reality; a quick transition to remote learning in order to ensure the safety of students, faculty, and families due to the arrival of COVID-19 in our lives. Humans are nothing if not adaptable and how quickly our students have adapted to their new norm is amazing.
PNA has a very clear mission statement as well as our STRIVE values. They contain big, powerful words such as courage, resilience, integrity, responsible, vision, excellence. These challenging times have shown; not just how our students live up to and embody those words and values, but also the wider PNA community. It is incredible the way the entire school community pulled together to create a sense of structure and stability for our students, families played a huge part in that and should be commended. School might look a little different right now but learning is still taking place and our connections with our students are as strong and as important as ever.
Perhaps the students were the most prepared out of all of us when the world turned upside down. They have been honing their skills as responsible, resilient, independent thinkers over the course of 4th grade. With this shift, I have noticed a clear jump in maturity as students realize the seriousness of the situation but don't loose their humor, personality or sense of self. They have shouldered the extra responsibility and the challenge of being out of the classroom away from the teachers eyes, but are still being expected to participate in lessons and complete assignments. All the while showing a clear understanding of the importance of their education and determination that it must go on. This is where we see the importance of our school's mission and how it relates to everyday life, long after the school day has ended.
I am proud of them. They should be proud of themselves.
We are in a unique time in history that students will remember for the rest of their lives. Make it a positive one.
The last couple of weeks before a well deserved rest over spring break have been busy to say the least. The holiday breaks allow a natural end point to current units of study. 4th grade has been working hard to finish our work on Christopher Columbus. This unit culminated in the mock trial of Columbus and his accomplices as well as the finishing of our historical writing and newspapers on Columbus and his voyages.
History as they say is written by the victor. As such it does not always tell the whole story or show the whole picture of what truly happened. Columbus is one such figure. He is often credited with the discovery of America and even has his own day, celebrating him and his many accomplishments. Whilst it is true that without his bravery and courage to explore the world would probably look very different than it does today. However, was he the hero that he is often made out to be? Or is there a darker side to his story? That is what 4th grade set out to discover during this unit of study.
During our studies we did indeed discover there are always 2 (or more) sides to every story. One story, that is perhaps not as well know as Columbus's is that of the Tainos. The native people of the land Columbus 'discovered'. As he was not even the first person to sail from Europe and 'discover' land that would later be named The Americas. The treatment of the Tainos by Columbus and his brother led to the eventual investigation and imprisonment of Columbus, and thus our trial.
'The People vs. Columbus, et al.
At PNA we strive to encourage students growth in independent thinking and to develop open mindsets. This trial allowed students to 'get inside' the possible mindset of these people and to try and determione why they acted the way they did. Students along with their parents were split into different groups. Each representing a faction at the trial. Columbus himself, Columbus's crew, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella and lastly the Tainos themselves. Each faction was charged with crimes and was given time to develop defensive arguments. The factions then had to present their arguments to the parents and the class, determining who was most guilty party. Students not only got to learn about a darker but true side of history, they also got to engage in higher order thinking and discussions.
Another unit of study that 4th grade needed to finish was our science work on natural Earth processes and our focus on Earthquakes. Living in Anchorage means living in an area that is prone to seismic activity. One of our driving questions in this topic was 'How can we as engineers, develop earthquake resistant buildings?' As engineers, we researched, designed and eventually made models of buildings. These buildings had to fit certain criteria, such as number of floors. They also had to use one or two methods to make the building earthquake resistant. After learning about the different types of fault lines, how earthquakes are caused and the different waves of energy released in an earthquake, our student engineers decided on 2 methods to resist earthquakes. The tuned mass damper and base isolation. They then attempted to build their structure using these methods. Our structures would be tested on a shake-table to simulate an earthquake.
4th grade were asked to present their research and buildings as part of the Science Party. Instead of the more traditional science fair. PNA held its second science party. Experts and professionals from the community were invited to PNA to demonstrate their expertise in their field. Having these experts in, showing off their knowledge and giving demonstrations, really engages the students in the topic and shows the real life applications for what they study in class. We are not just learning for its own sake. What we learn and do has wide ranging implications that will take PNA students into a successful life after school.
We read all day, everyday without even realizing that we are doing it. We read emails, letters, texts, newspapers, books, sometimes you even read while watching TV. Reading when mastered becomes second nature and it is easy to forget the hardships and struggles we had to overcome to get there.
In 4th grade, we read all across the day. We read morning messages, we read questions in math, we read to learn about our unit of study, we read stories for pleasure and articles for research. We read short stories and chapter books, maps, directions and websites.
We read to learn, to be amazed, to laugh and cry and to gasp in wonder at some new learned fact or unexpected twist in the story. Students work hard to comprehend the texts they read and to stretch themselves as readers.
However, one does not always picture reading as a way to learn new concepts in math. I recently came across these Sir Cumference books by Cindy Neuschwander. If you haven’t read them, you should check them out. They are clever and witty, and teach a variety of geometry topics in a way that is fun and engaging for students.
Reading, allowed me to introduce a complex and tricky math unit and allowed students a platform to access the new learning in an accessible and relatable way.
There are so many benefits to reading and engaging with math stories.
One can never underestimate the importance of reading.
“"Slow down," Radius told himself, "and measure once more." He carefully lined up the medallion and read the numbers. The first angle was 93. "Too big," he said. The next angle was 85. "Too small," he muttered.”
Doing many things for 100 days is no easy task… and school is no different! 100 days of school means 100 days of learning!
The 100th day of school is an exciting time in the classroom! Quite literally, this day signifies the 100th day of class in the school year. The symbolic representation, however, is much greater than that. The 100th day marks a special opportunity to reflect upon and celebrate our progress and academic achievement.
So why celebrate this day? Here are five reasons:
1. It’s a milestone for children (and teachers!): Think about it… for children, especially young children and those in school full days for the first time, reaching the milestone of 100 days of school is a big deal. We talk about all of the learning we have done, and the learning yet to come. We discuss our favorite parts of school so far and what we are looking forward to. We re-visit our hopes and dreams from the beginning of the year, and see if we are on our way to meeting those goals.
2. It’s a way to practice all of the ways to make 100. From younger grades such as kindergarten, focusing on counting by 1s and 10s. Other grades spend time on 2s and 5s. By 4th grade we are multiplying, adding and subtracting 3, 4, 5 and 6 digit numbers, and using multiplicative reasoning. 100 is a good, round number to focus on.
3. It’s a day that incorporates a number of math concepts: Patterns, counting, sorting, measuring You name it, and the concept can be utilized during this day.
4. It’s a way to combine all aspects of curriculum into a focused activity: The 100th day of school is not only about math. We incorporate reading, writing, science, and social studies. It’s a whole curriculum approach to learning.
5. And finally, it’s a lot of fun! During our 100th day celebration, we play games, make pictures, dress up at 100 years of age, glue 100 collections, and more!
Most important though. It is a celebration. A celebration of all that we have done and accomplished and all that we are going to do!
Words Journeys are a differentiated and hands-on approach to our spellings and language studies. Throughout the week, the students engage in different types of games, activities and sorts to learn new word spellings and patterns. To understand and practice the spelling patterns. Then recognize and use them in the correct context. The benefit to this approach is that students are learning patterns instead of memorizing isolated words. So that in the future when they come across an unknown word. They can successfully decode and read the word by understanding its patterns.
On Fridays we have our spelling test on the words we have been practicing all week. Students then peer review each others work. Checking, marking and correcting. The following week students then get a new sort and new words that either follow a similar spelling pattern and build on what has been learnt or words that introduce a new spelling pattern completely.
We often talk about our school mission and having vision courage and integrity. We educate students to have those intrinsic traits as well as being exceptional learners and independent thinkers. One way to develop those traits is to follow the examples set by others. In this case Martin Luther King Jr. By celebrating this as a day 'on' rather than a day 'off' we can learn from his example and what he stood for. By having the integrity to do the right thing, the courage to stand up and speak out in the face of adversity and the vision to see a better future for all Americans. Educating students to have and value these traits in themselves and others and to not be afraid to give voice to what you believe in will only benefit society as students grow up to be leaders of the next generation.
With Brown Bag this week we had the grand opening of the fourth grade store 'New Year Treats'. This was the end result of our project answering the driving question; "How can we design, market and sell a product to create a profit?" This originally stemmed from our persuasive writing unit where we used language to convince others of our point of view and how advertisements and commercials do the same to make you buy their product. With the holiday season and a cold snap occurring the idea of a store selling delicious treats was conceived.
The students really became invested in this project and were impressive in their ability to run the store independently. They completed all the research, pricing, advertising, buying of items as well as actually making and selling the products during lunch and brown bag time. The skills they used and developed are transferable real life skills that will be used throughout their life. Such as; learning how to handle money, (which coincidentally tied in very nicely with the 4th grade math unit of fractions, decimals and percentages). Learning how to stay within a budget and financial literacy. Estimating quantities and measurements. Planning and organizational skills, as well as learning some restraint in not actually eating all your own product before you sell it!
To advertise the store 4th grade made radio and TV commercials. The radio adverts were played across the school during morning announcements with the TV commercials being shown as a small intermission between Brown Bag acts. While it may have been slightly embarrassing to hear and see yourself acting on the big screen or on the announcements it brings a sense of accomplishment as well as being proud of oneself to see your hard work displayed and well received by others.
However the driving question was "How can we design, market and sell a product to create a profit?". The money the store raised has yet to be counted so we are not sure yet if we managed to make a profit. However all profit that is raised will be going towards new playground equipment for the whole school to enjoy!
While teachers and students strive to uphold PNA's mission every day, it is never more evident and on display as during Brown Bag. Each year this event shows how our students really and truly embody the mission of the school. It takes a lot of courage to get up on a stage with a roomful of people watching and do something that only you have envisioned. The integrity shown not only by the performers, but also by the audience each and every day is amazing. With spontaneous clapping to singing out forgotten lyrics to applause after each and every performance, the students really and truly do support each other, from kindergarten all the way to 8th grade.
Some weeks there are no big events, assessments, assemblies or projects to finish. Some weeks we just get our heads down and work. Learning new things and developing our 21st century skills. This week was one such week. The calm before the storm. As next week is MLK Day and Brown Bag.
Perseverance and determination are two words to describe how the students were this week as in our core lessons we have started new learning units. Learning new things is hard to do especially when you have just mastered old skills. For Math, we have finished with fractions, decimals and percentages for the moment and are now learning about numbers and measurements. In reading and writing we are exploring reading history and literacy essays and writing fiction. While in science we are conducting a short unit on plate tectonics.
This week we also made our treats for our New Year Treats shop, which will have its opening in time for Brown Bag. Our commercials and radio advertisements will also be airing and playing next week.
With MLK Day, Brown Bag and the store opening, next week is going to be a busy one!
After a well deserved if not somewhat cold winter break, fourth grade returned to the classroom to start 2020 rested and fresh! Worried that we might be a little sluggish upon returning we dived straight into our new topic of Explorers and 1492. For this topic, we are each taking on a created character that has been hired to sail for either Spain or Portugal to the New World in search of fame and riches. However the journey is long and perilous. The crew is going to be presented a series of dilemmas and challenges that they have to overcome. Only by working together and making best use of their unique skills can our crew ensure they survive the journey. Each day a new challenge awaits and there are consequences to their choices!
Students also got a fresh start in their language arts class, where they worked on daily word journeys to keep expanding vocabulary and spelling. Learning new word patterns and helping getting their reading and writing brains back into shape. Ready for a brand new year of learning!
This last week before the winter break has been a busy one for sure! With several projects and pieces of work to tie up, adverts and commercials to finalize and film, our second parent lunch and also spirit week. The class was certainly kept busy.
The students worked furiously this week trying to get their radio and TV commercials made in time for Fridays parent lunch where they would premiere for the fist time. It was certainly a lot of fun making them and trying to include all the features we have learnt about persuasive writing into a short sequence and creative scene proved to be quite challenging.
For our second parent lunch of the year we took it out of the classroom and to the local Fred Meyers. As part of their current project, as well as making adverts and commercials, each student had to price and cost out how much it would cost to make their products and what ingredients they would need to make their product. Staying within a budget and being able to get the most bang for your buck as it were is a valuable life skill and one that this current projects helps teach. Students were set a limit of $20 and had to be able to buy everything they needed and then figure out what they could reasonable sell their product for in order to make a profit. All profits will be going back to the school to help fund future field trips.
Maybe an unconventional parent lunch but a fun and valuable one nonetheless.
Sadly, we do have to say goodbye to one of our students. He will be sorely missed. Some of these students have been together since kindergarten and have developed deep and meaningful relationships with their peer group. This was clearly shown as students prepared their own personal poems that conveyed their thoughts and feelings to their classmates, the school community and to each other.
Have a wonderful holiday break and Happy New Year!
Our most recent writing unit has been titled "Boxes and Bullets, Personal and Persuasive Essays". 4th grade has really taken to the persuasive part of this unit. Perhaps learning how to use language and word choices to convince others to do your bidding resonates with the strong personalities we have in the class.
We each wrote our own persuasive essay trying to convince others to join our cause. Whether it be; not having to wear a school uniform, playing video games in school or getting paid for good grade. Students had to to create an argument, write a thesis statement for that argument. Then back up their argument with reasons and evidence to support them. Students where challenged with using rhetorical questions, punctuation, opinion transitions to state their reasons as well as convincing language to persuade their peers. As well as a little exaggeration and perhaps a slight bending of the truth to give them an edge. Examples of their persuasive essays are below.
After writing our persuasive essays we moved onto advertisements and commercials. We spent some time studying and critiquing advertisements from different sources, such as magazines, radio and TV. Breaking down the tricks they use to make their products stand out, and analyzing the language they used to convince consumers to buy their products. We collected our findings together in an anchor chart for our future use. This should come in handy as we have come up with our next project idea which should put our newfound knowledge of how to persuade to good use!
Me in a nutshell... Help! Get me out of this giant nutshell!!