Thursday, October 31, 2013

Halloween Homework

 Halloween Homework

Tonight or tomorrow, before you begin eating your hard-earned candy, your assignment is to count and classify all your goodies for some fun math work that we will do on Friday and Monday.  You may classify your goodies in any way (brand name, flavor, size, etc) and record the quantity of each using the empty data table on the other side.  (Just fill out the first two fields of information:  “Type of Candy” and “Quantity”

In class, we will work on inputting data into a NCES website called Create-a-Graph in order to find the data for the remaining fields and present the information in a bar graph or pie graph format. (  You are welcome to try it out at home if you dare! J  

Keep checking our website to see pictures from our big presentation day!  We are so proud of all the hard work from each student in our room.  There is not a single student who did not show tremendous growth! J

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Please Come to see our Biography Presentations!

It is hard to believe the big day is approaching tomorrow!  It was so satisfying to see everyone working so hard on their reports and presentation boards.  Everyone has come so far as a writer, reader, and researcher, that I cannot wait to see the fruits of their labors in the morning. 

Some Final Announcements:
Most students have finished their reports and most of their boards.  Some have printed up their photos at school and will assemble at home, while others made their photos at home and assembled the board at school.  Students were allowed to bring home scrapbook paper, poster board and other materials to finish their presentations.  Some may need help typing their final copy, while others may need some help with their costume.

Students may arrive as early as 8:00am in room 102 without incurring a daycare charge.  We have colored hairspray and facepaint available for use to help students with their costumes.  Parents are invited to drop in any time between 10am and 11am.  Students will have their presentation boards set up and will be prepared to present informally and answer any questions.  They are not required to memorize anything.  

Thanks again for your support and I hope to see everyone tomorrow!

Friday, October 18, 2013

BDA Homework Guidelines

Dear Parents,
Some children may bring the Buckle Down Aims (BDA)  books home for homework to either catch up or work ahead.  I wanted to make sure that every parent realizes the purpose for the BDA books and how they can support their children at home for school success.  

First of all, the BDA books are designed for test preparation that is aligned to mastery of the state standards.  I always provide lessons prior to having students work in their BDA books, unless the material has been previously mastered.  If your child is unable to complete any portions of the BDA, I encourage them to skip those problems so that a followup lesson can be given in the classroom.   I may also give more simplified work to help build important pre-skills before moving on to the next portion of the BDA.

Please remember that I do not expect parents to spend time teaching these lessons at home.  You can support your child best by helping them find an appropriate time to begin and end their homework and supervising the time that they are working. You can have conversations about their work and encourage them to find solutions to their problems by asking directed questions.  

Also, please know that you do not need to check your child's work!  It is better if I can see every child's mistakes when we check our work together so that I know how to provide appropriate support in future lessons.  If the work is done perfectly, I may mistakenly think that the concept is mastered, when it is not.  

If you need to provide any additional information about your child's progress or concerns, feel free to write a note in the homework log, or email me.

How Smart can we Get?

Yesterday, I enjoyed watching a Nova Science Gem that my son found about how every person's brain is developed.  It also looked at Albert Einstein's Brain and how the connections he formed from experiences helped him to learn what he discovered.  And if you didn't know already, learning to juggle, or play music, or other new experiences really help build your brain!

Click here to watch online

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Finding Reliable Online Resources

By fourth grade, most students feel pretty comfortable using the internet to find answers to questions, what they may not realize is that not everything found on the internet is completely reliable.  This week, students will learn how to use the internet to find scholarly resources.  This means resources that are considered reliable enough to use for publication.  When we first had a talk about using the internet, students insisted that Wikipedia was the best place to go.  While even adults use Wikipedia for fast answers (myself included), using it to support facts being presented is not considered a valid source for published research because anyone with a computer can go in and change the information presented without fully backing up their facts.

One of the first search engines that can be used to find scholarly research is Google Scholar.  click here Using Scholar, you will have access to many scholarly journal articles and online books.  The downside of using Google Scholar is that not all the articles are available for free, and you may only have access to the abstract (the short summary or thesis of the article presented)

The better news is, that with a library card, your child has access to multiple academic search engines and databases containing the full article.  If you want to try it out at home, simply go to your library's website and look up online resources.  Click here for Mesa Libraryclick here for Phoenix library.  With a library card, it becomes a ticket that opens the door to many resources. Here you will find online encyclopedias, collections of magazine and newspaper sources, and even a biography database!  I like to use Academic Search Premier to find a variety of sources on the topic.  This has been a good search engine to use when my children have had to research obscure topics, such as the history of clothing among native Peruvian peoples.  Many universities and community colleges also have even more extensive collections available.  If you were ever a student at a particular institute of higher learning, you may have access to that collection online.

The students will be able to use the computers in the classroom for a limited amount of time (and will have access to articles found via Rio Salado College) , however if they can use the computers at home, it will be to their benefit.  They may need some assistance setting up an online library account.  Try to resist the urge to type in the search criteria for them, rather, let them be in the driver's seat and you can offer suggestions as needed.  

Learning to research properly is a lifelong practical life skill that can be mastered early with the right support and practice on the part of the child.  My middle school and high school students have no problem completing their research mostly on their own, after having had sufficient guided practice in the years previous.  Allowing the time to do that (it may take hours in the beginning) sets the foundation for anxiety-free homework experiences in the subsequent grades.

A gentle reminder:  Students need 3-5 resources for their project, 2 of which must be a print resource and at least one can be a suitable online resource found with an academic search engine or ending with the prefix .edu.  Print resources can also include magazine or newspaper articles that are available online.

Monday, October 14, 2013

6th Grade Math Work

The last month we have been working on ordering fractions, adding and subtraction fractions with unlike denominators and multiplying and dividing fractions.  Students may work on their BDA books at home or give themselves additional problems for practice. Those who are still working on long division and long multiplication, or those working beyond the standards being covered may give themselves practice to do at home.  Everyone should describe the practice in detail note the time spent on their homework log. (IE, long division, or +- Fractions) We want to make sure that each student is doing work to challenge themselves without reaching frustration level.  Please email if you have any questions!
Ms. Liza and Ms. Kathy

Homework Logs

Starting tonight, all students are required to make an accounting of the time spent doing homework on a homework log. This will help us understand which students may need more targeted support in order to achieve mastery in all the state standards.  They must fill out the activity, and time spent on each activity by themselves and get a parent signature.  Please send me an email if you have any questions!

Ms. Liza and Ms. Kathy

5th Grade Advertising Project Homework

This week, the fifth graders had a lesson on bias in persuasive writing.  We talked about using loaded words, exaggeration and euphemisms.  We also talked about tricks that advertisers use, such as the bandwagon effect, peer pressure, loaded words, stereotyping and repetition.

The homework for this week is to choose at least 3 print advertisements that may be an example of one or more of these terms.  They are to cut out or print out these ads and bring them to class. We will discuss and share our findings on Thursday afternoon.

Biography Research Project

This was sent home the last week of September.  If you did not recieve it from your child, please feel free to send me an email.
September 26, 2013
Dear Parents,                                                              

            During the month of October, the upper elementary will be researching important historical figures and will create a living wax museum on the morning of Halloween.  This research project will take place during class time where the students learn how to use print resources such as biographies and autobiographies as well as scholarly internet resources to gather information.  Students will need 3-5 resources, two of which must be books. 
            We are planning to visit the library in small groups next Tuesday or Thursday to gather our resources.  Students must have a valid library card in their name or their parent’s name in order to participate. 

Here is a brief overview of how you can support your student during each step of this research project:
v     Return the attached permission slip for the library trip as soon as possible and make sure your child has a library card that is free from fines or holds.
v     Have discussions with your child about possible research topics and guide them toward narrowing their choice.
v     Have ongoing discussions about your child’s research to help strengthen their understanding and help them begin using their own words for what they have learned.
v     Help provide support in finding scholarly resources on the internet.  (They will have lessons and we will provide further guidance in this, but we don’t have as many computers as we would like, so it is helpful to give your child more time to hunt for appropriate resources at home.)
v     Help with putting together a costume that matches their historical person of interest.  This should be very simple—we do not expect expensive costumes. (We will also provide some time for this in class)
v     Attend our open house on October 31, from 10am-11:15!

It is imperative that each child do the majority of their work with as little outside assistance as possible.  Students will be compiling their research in class, receiving as much guidance as necessary in order to become competent and independent researchers.  More information will be forthcoming throughout each phase of this project.  Thanks in advance for your support!


Ms. Liza and Mr. Joe

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Practical Life

I began my journey as a Montessorian when my 17 year old was a little one in primary.  It was amazing to me, an experienced teacher, to see a classroom of thirty 3-6 year-olds choosing work independently, working with great concentration, and cleaning up their works on their own.  At his school, I was allowed to observe a complete morning work cycle as well as lunch.  It delighted me to see this hyper little son of mine beg his teacher to mop the floor.  It amazed me to see him take such delight in cleaning tables and polishing furniture at school, but puzzled me as to why he did not clean up so readily at home.  So I asked his teacher. My question was answered with a question of her own. "What sort of prepared environment are you creating at home?"

I realized then, that I did not expect my son to do any cleaning at home, nor did I invite him to work alongside me. Soon after, I found ways to incorporate his help with meal preparation, including packing his lunch, as well as basic chores such as emptying the dishwasher or setting the table.  By third grade, he was happy to scrub the toilets, wash and fold his clothes on his own, and follow recipes with little assistance.   Being a Montessori teacher helped me realize how much my children could do when I created an environment where their help was needed and wanted.  It did take more time in the beginning, but I was grateful that I kept stepping back and let my sons do their work, however imperfectly, because I knew he was going to eventually master those tasks and become enabled and empowered to master bigger challenges in the future.

Practical life in the Elementary Montessori classroom looks very different than in the primary environment. The foundation for practical life is laid at home and in the Children's House.  While in the 3-6 classroom, children learn practical life skills by working with individual works on the shelf, in the 6-9 or 9-12 classroom, these skills are integrated with all subject areas.  Because of the careful preparation laid in earlier years, children in the elementary are expected to be able to clean up after themselves in the classroom, manage their time and task completion on a daily basis, take care of plants and animals, and when they are ready, plan their own excursions outside the classroom.

Sometimes developing these skills needs extra guidance at home, particularly for those who may not have attended Montessori programs at that young age. Sometimes this means stepping back to let a child gain the practice of doing his work on his own, even if it is not as perfect as it could be.  Sometimes it means giving a needed lesson on a specific task, such as cleaning the bathroom, or using the washing machine.  Maria Montessori did not believe in doing everything for the child, but helping the child to do for themselves.

I usually begin the year in upper or lower elementary by asking children to complete practical life homework because often children do not realize how responsible they can be.  I ask students to pack their own lunches because I have noticed that children who pack their own lunches, not only eat all the food they bring, but they also gain a greater sense of responsibility. (In my own case, my second son, the picky eater, expanded his repertoire as he packed his lunch and planned and prepared meals.) Additionally, I sometimes ask students to get extra sleep for homework, when I notice they complain of fatigue or aches and pains during the work cycle.  Many do not realize what a big difference adequate sleep makes.  

When students tell me that it is their parent's fault that they did not return a permission slip, or slept in late, or didn't eat their lunch, I help them remember what they are capable of doing.  Even as a traditional kindergarten teacher, I was trained by a highly gifted master teacher to never tie shoes, button clothing, read the clock when asked, or spell out words they were trying to write because they were capable of learning ways to do it themselves. Unless there was a special need, they usually learned more quickly with time and opportunity for gaining these adaptive life skills, but even those with special needs are capable with strategic instruction.  Often I could encourage independence by asking them to ask a friend, or reminding them of a strategy that was previously taught.

This year, I have noticed that many members of our learning community lack a a great deal of these practical life skills.  I have seen 4th, 5th, and 6th graders who do not know how to tell time, write or count quantities of money, memorize their address or phone number, or even tie their own shoes.  While these things may seem like little things, in  a classroom of 30, lack of these skills makes a big difference in the amount that is learned and the free time that is available for enrichment.  Many students are quite capable, but would rather ask an adult to spell a word for them, than make the effort to sound it out for themselves, ask a friend, or look in a spelling dictionary.  Some students have told me they would rather take work home because their mom or dad will do a better job for them. Without gaining these valuable adaptive life skills through personal experience, learning is stunted.

Some parents have expected that school to provide all the instruction in these valuable life skills, and while we do cover them in class, the lessons can fall flat when those expectations are not present at home.  Often parents (and this even includes me!) don't realize that their child is being helped too much at home for their developmental level.  I remember being approached by my sons' teachers and being just as guilty of impeding my children's development without even being aware that it was happening.  Maria Montessori spoke of the importance of not doing too much for a child because of the learned helplessness it can create.  She said, “Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed.” 


Here are some tips to help you create greater independence in your child:

  • Create a home environment with expectations of independent work and participation.  This can include daily chores and opportunities to earn and spend money, and practice practical life and grace and courtesy skills on a smaller scale.

  • Give practical life lessons as needed, such as telling time, counting money, understanding how to double a recipe, interest rates, etc.  At the same time, it is important to also ask leading questions to help your child construct their own meaning and learn and practice on their own, rather than just providing all the answers.

  • Talk with your child about their work at school, and your work in the real world.  Help them take responsibility for confronting any challenges they may have with friends, homework, or other situation.  Ask them what they can do to help find a solution.

  • Help children organize for themselves by allowing them to carry their backpack, unpack and organize its contents with a minimal amount of guidance.  While some parents may feel they are doing their child a favor by organizing their backpack or cleaning their child's room, too many students have told me things such as, my mom didn't put my work plan, permission slip, etc, in my backpack and it is lost.  These same students often lose things in the classroom and because they lack practice in organizing.

  • Please remember the importance of natural consequences.  Maria Montessori also knew the importance of learning through the experience of natural consequences.  For example, she wanted most items to be breakable in the classroom so that the children would realize the need to be careful.  If plants were not watered by the children, they would die.  If a child does not complete the minimal required work, they may have to wait to get to do extra enrichment activities in the classroom.  When adults create a world for the child without natural consequences, it does the child no favors for his or her independence. 

  • When children bring work home, please allow them to complete it with the greatest independence possible.  It is a sad experience for a child to bring completed work to school that was done by a parent more interested in perfection than experience.  Imagine the message that is being sent to the child who is not allowed to do it for him or her self!  Self esteem is not built by shielding children from challenges, but by enabling them to conquer them at their own level.

  • When children make mistakes, respond in as neutral a way as possible, without excessive criticism or blame.  Constructive questions mixed with empathy help build problem solving skills.