March 2015

Final Fractions Block- Third and Fourth Grade

In February the third and fourth graders dove into three weeks of whirlwind fractions in our final Math block of the year. I made a huge push to fit in some major fraction concepts into the short time period knowing that our Math Practice periods each morning for the rest of the semester will provide ample time to further hone their skills.

We began with a day of fraction review, to ease back into the swing of things. I pointed out to the students that their instinct has been to complain about math, but they might be surprised by how much they’ve already learned this year! To keep morale up during math blocks, I use gentle reminders of how capable they are to take on difficult concepts, and that I only give them what I know they can handle. As they tackle a challenging task, stick it out through the frustration, and finally gain mastery, these students are gaining the capacity to work hard. Repeated, consistent practice at working hard will benefit them for the rest of their lives.

Fraction Review

Fraction Review

In our review, we quickly worked from the basic picture and notation work in fraction identification, to more complex word problems that are designed to help them transition to addition and subtraction of fractional numbers. This culminated in designing their own ‘dream gardens,’ with labeling the fractions for each crop or flower on a garden map. Though their gardens quickly became more like exotic zoos, it kept them excited. All of our activities remain focused on gaining comfort in visualizing the whole, being broken into smaller and smaller parts.

Garden Fractions

Garden Fractions

Next, I introduced Equivalent Fractions. I explained that fractions like to behave similarly to the trickster, Loki, from our Norse Myths. They wear disguises to try to confuse us, but with the right tricks, we can reveal what they really are underneath! We learned how to work from a fraction in its simplest form up through its many other names. For example, 1/2 can be 2/4,3/6,4/8, etc. By learning how to write fractions in many ways, the students found it easy to work backwards and simplify fractions the next day.

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Equivalent Fractions/Fractions in “Disguise”

Armed with this understanding, they were ready to begin adding and subtracting fractions with matching denominators. They were thrilled by the simplicity of the adding and subtracting, noticing that “it’s really just like first and second grade math!” The only added step, is remembering to simplify their final answers down to the simplest form. At this point, all students were able to do this confidently, probably 85% of the time. We continued to practice this skill in all of our examples.

Adding and Subtracting Fractions with Like Denominators

Adding and Subtracting Fractions with Like Denominators

We supplemented addition and subtraction with making jumps up and down a number line. This helps me gauge their ‘big picture’ understanding and number sense when it comes to fractional numbers. It is important for the students to grasp how endless fractions are hidden in between whole numbers, and that we can count by them as easily as counting by 2’s and 4’s.

On Friday, before a Valentine Party, my class spent time checking their work from previous days and getting individualized help from me on simplifying fractions. When finished, we dove into some complicated form drawings. Emma practiced a metamorphosis form, that was quite a challenge, and the 4th graders began an intricate Celtic knot. Similar to our math work, I asked them to try something that they found impossible at first. Then, with practice and guidance, their forms became consistent, balanced and lovely. I saw a class that could work hard, and quietly for a long stretch of time, while also supporting and complimenting each other. It provided a fitting and heartwarming mood for Valentine’s Day.

A three-day weekend followed the Valentine party, and we started our week back up with a thrilling celebration on Tuesday in German class for Karneval or Fasching. Needless to say, it was a little hard to come back to math after all of that excitement! To their credit, however, the third and fourth graders managed to take on some challenging fraction work and fit a lot into our short week.

We began by learning “Butterfly Fractions” on Tuesday morning. This was a fun method of setting up their fraction addition and subtraction problems to help lead them through a new complicated process. Now that we are beginning to add and subtract fractions with unlike denominators, they need to keep their work neat and clear to understand each step of the problem. The butterfly structure led them through cross multiplication and solving for the least common denominators. It was delightful to see how the drawing element kept them engaged and led to beautiful main lesson book pages from students who normally struggle with neatness.

Adding Fractions with Unlike Denominators

Adding Fractions with Unlike Denominators

We continued practicing this on Wednesday with time for all to complete their problems and work through questions with me. As I work with individual students, I am constantly assessing their mood and looking for signs as to what might be affecting their learning. Often, it has to do with their confidence level, and ability to stay calm when faced with uncertainty about a new skill. Especially in the fourth grade, children feel strong waves of emotions in rapid succession. I am sure all of you are seeing this at home. I strive in the classroom to keep us all in the feeling world of stories, imagination and vivacious curiosity, and out of the depths of personal, and fleeting emotion. This can be a challenge as they feel their self-confidence threatened during moments of math struggles, and are tempted to quickly compare themselves to others. Luckily, they love to laugh as much as whine, and our whole day can be saved by a good joke.

Keeping this delicate balance in mind, the stories throughout this block came from daily reading of “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.” Though a few students have already read this one, I found it still served our need for release and some thrilling magic after difficult math work. I appreciated the patience of the children who had read it already, as they did a pretty good job in keeping it a surprise for the rest of us!

To infuse the new content with some fun, I decided to introduce how to fix ‘Improper Fractions’ on Thursday as monsters that must be slain! Each student got to illustrate their own monsters in their Main Lesson Book, some scary, many very cute. When I introduce imaginative names for fraction concepts, they are paired with the proper vocabulary as well. I want to ensure that they know the terms without being too bogged down by them, and ultimately have a strong ‘number sense’ for what it all means in terms of fractional and whole numbers.

Improper Fractions

Improper Fractions

Friday morning was a day of reviewing the week’s new concepts. They got to choose review problems from color coded columns to challenge themselves to try a bit of each category, while getting to do more in the areas they like best. This provided me with useful insight into who is most comfortable with what topics. We ended the week with a beautiful painting of “The Prairie Waiting For Rain.” I told them to imagine a grey-blue sky, over a golden prairie, as the first storm of spring rolls in. We referred to our compass on our classroom walls and discussed which way we might be facing, and from which cardinal direction a storm would move in.

Wet-on-wet Watercolor

Wet-on-wet Watercolor

In the third week we wrapped up our final math block. The two new fraction skills for this week were multiplying and dividing fractions. After the difficult adding and subtracting from last week, these skills proved much simpler to understand. I revealed that division is simply multiplication with just one easy adjustment, and the students picked it up quickly.

Multiplying Fractions

Multiplying Fractions

Dividing Fractions

Dividing Fractions

The children are strengthening their understanding of the many ways fractions can be written and manipulated, which will provide a strong foundation for all of their fraction work in the future. We will use the remainder of the year to continue to practice and build confidence in all kinds of fraction problems. It provides a chance to mix the newer skills with the old, and allow for plenty of review. This practice will occur both in the morning 15 minutes of math warm-up, as well as during our extra time after lunch. I will incorporate a variety of math games and activities to help us review all we’ve learned this year.

Fables in February – First and Second Grade

For three weeks in February, first and second graders’ language arts block was based in fables. We transitioned from stories of saints and animals in our Form Drawing block to stories of animals – continuing with the same theme, but now in a new way. Each time I present a fable, I begin with telling briefly about the characteristics and behaviors of the animals we are to hear about. We spend 5 to 10 minutes learning about the animals, and then I tell the fable. Here is some of the feedback I get from the children:

“That was really short.”

“That was really mean of the raven. I don’t think that’s nice.”

“I didn’t like that story.”

and the inevitable…

“Is that story true?”

Fables are a completely different kind of story than fairy tales or saint stories. They are much shorter and without many details. They are awakening to the children and dissatisfying. They call on more of the intellect than the imagination, and this is right where the 2nd grader sits – at a junction between being more aware and analytical and being dreamy and filled with imagination. An 8 year old can be filled with opinions. They love vanilla ice cream and hate strawberry ice cream. They play with opposites and behave this way too. Some days they are saintly, and other days they act like animals! Fables speak to this dichotomy. The stories show our virtues and failings personified in the animal kingdom. They tell of very naughty behaviors and already our young children respond with, “That’s not nice! I don’t like that” after hearing that the Raven let his two oldest children fall into the ocean. However his youngest child was carried safely across the open seas after telling the truth. The children hold a feeling or image within themselves after hearing a fable, and the truth lives in them, so that it develops into a morality or code of behavior. It helps to soften their strong opinions and guide their inner development.

Before we dove into talking about animals, we spent the first two days of this block talking about humans and our qualities. This is a precursor to the Human and Animal Blocks that the 4th graders are experiencing this year. Specifically we are talking about what our hands and feet can do. Run, walk, clap, snap, wave, write, draw, paint, tiptoe, etc. We drew a beautiful picture of a human being and wrote some of these doing words (verbs) around the person. The next day we visited the kitchen in the church, looked out at the garden, talked about Peace Park and then our classroom with the same question in mind. What do our hands do in each of these places? We drew a picture of each place and wrote some of these words. On Thursday, we began talking about what animals do with their legs and we brought in the characters from our fables – lions, mice, foxes and storks. I asked, “What can these animals do better than humans?” The class came up with words like hunt, scurry, sniff, rip, fish, etc. We drew these four animals and wrote some of these doing words around them.

What do our hands and feet do?

What do our hands and feet do?

What do animals do better than humans?

What do animals do better than humans?

 

On Friday, Eva came in for me and the class painted complementary colors yellow and purple. It sounded like all had a great time outdoors in the warmer weather.

During Reading Time this week, I introduced the first of our consonant blends to the 1st graders – which was great review for 2nd grade. We learned the th, sh, ph, wh, ch sounds and played a game to try to make words.

In circle, we began acting out the fable of the Boy who cried Wolf. The children love it! And we continue to work on the Winter Wind song on our flutes.

In the second week of this block, we had five complete days in the classroom and my – did we progress this week. I saw the fruits of months of work. We are at a point in the year where everyone is deep into our routines and procedures and can easily work quietly and work hard. Handwriting is improving. The children’s capacity to work hard and work long is increasing, as well as their capacity to take care of themselves, wait patiently for my help, and remain quiet. Skills are coming around too! It’s an exciting time for teachers in the classroom!

On Monday, we reviewed the animals that we had talked about the previous week and remembered the actions words that answered our question, “What can these animals do better than humans?”  We took these nouns and verbs and made simple sentences such as: Lions rip. Storks fly. Foxes hunt. First graders copied these sentences from the board. Then the second graders came up with their own sentences and wrote them. This was our first big step into writing. Until now, second graders have only written in conjunction with me and then copied these sentences from the board. Now they made the leap to writing on their own. They sounded out the words and wrote them on scrap paper. Then I edited their writing and they wrote a final copy in their main lesson books. We used this opportunity to introduce grammar – naming words (nouns) and doing words (verbs) and talked about how sentences need both of these kinds of words.

Simple sentences with noun and verb recognition

Simple sentences with noun and verb recognition

Next we went back to think about humans again, and specifically their work in a garden. We had talked about this the week before, so we revisited but this time we explored rhyming couplets. We put a bunch of rhyming words on the board associated with the garden and then, as a class, we came up with many rhyming sentences. Then, delightfully, we put these together to write a class poem about the garden. The children then copied the poem into their main lesson books and were able to create beautiful borders around their words. They loved the choice involved here, for everyone was allowed to create their own border within my parameters.

Gardening Poem

Gardening Poem

The poem took us two days to complete main lesson book work and then we began to talk about animals again, but using rhyming words. So again we filled the chalkboard with animal rhyming words – which of itself is great for early readers to see and hear – and we began to write simple rhyming phrases such as, “The mouse scurries to his house.” Second graders got another chance to come up with their own rhyming animal sentences and write them, while the first graders copied from the board. Second grade also underlined their naming words with green and their doing words with red.

On Friday we continued our discussion with animals but focused on the sounds that animals make – this is a new dimension of doing words. We drew a beautiful forest together with animals hiding behind rocks and trees. Then we wrote sentences such as, “Chickadees cheep. Bunnies squeak.” Again, second graders got to write a few sentences on their own, sounding out the words and writing on scrap paper. After I checked them, they wrote final drafts in their main lesson books.

Forest animals drawing

Forest animals drawing

Fables told so far included, “The Lion and the Mouse,” “The Fox and the Stork,” “The Raven and His Young,” “The Horse and the Overloaded Donkey,” “The Tortoise and the Geese,” “The Fox and the Crow,” and “The Cat and the Rat.”

In reading time, our early readers are sounding out simple words using sh, ch, wh, ph, th. Our more advanced readers continue to read “The Secret Door” together.

We painted on Wednesday complementary colors of prussian blue and vermillion. These hung on our bulletin board for a few weeks.

Our third week of Fables began by reviewing our previous work and revisiting our forest animals drawing. We then began talking about barnyard animals and the noises they make, so together we drew a barnyard scene into main lesson books. The rest of main lesson was the Fasching party – where the children got to experience many fun German games and traditions.

Fasching - Fat Tuesday

Fasching – Fat Tuesday

On Wednesday we wrote sentences from the barnyard scene such as, “The horse whinneys.” We composed many sentences together, which the first graders copied into their main lesson books and then second graders got to write some sentences on their own. The entire class is needing less direction from me, and are better able to do their work on their own. This is just what I want to see.

Barnyard animals

Barnyard animals

In the second part of main lesson, we reviewed many of the fables I’d told so far. Then we talked about the merits and limitations of animals in comparison to humans, and I introduced the concept of a simile. On the board, I wrote, “She _____ like a __________.” Under the first blank I wrote (action word) and under the second blank I wrote (animal). We wrote many similes. She runs like a deer. He jumps like a frog. She sings like a bird. We talked about how humans can embody almost any animal or act like an animal. They couldn’t quite see this, so I challenged them to name any animal, and I would tell them how humans could act like that animal. This was great fun – and the conversation has continued for many days. For example, a student raised their hand and said, “A worm!” and I’d say, “She wiggles like a worm.” Some of the similes portrayed behavior we weren’t very fond of such as, “He eats like a pig.” Some portrayed meritorious behavior such as, “She dances like a flamingo.” And here is where we got to the heart of our fables block, seeing human virtues and failings personified by the animal kingdom.

These similes were written into main lesson books on Thursday and second graders did a great job of coming up with their own similes and writing them as well.

In the second part of main lesson on Thursday we added words to our Word Wall. These are sight words that the students will need for basic reading. We played a Mind Reader game with these words in order to familiarize ourselves with the words.

On Friday we looked back over all of our work in our Fables Main Lesson book, re-reading all of the sentences we wrote and talking about the lessons from each day. Then we put a beautiful title page into these books.

In the second part of main lesson, we broke up into 4 stations. Each second grader took a station and led a first grader through it. One station went through letters and their sounds and some word flash cards with short vowel sounds, another station went through consonant and vowel blends and simple Bob books, and another station went through vowel sounds and word flash cards with long vowel sounds. I took a station as well and taught a new game, a word game called Boggle. This worked so well that we’re going to do it a lot more! The second graders loved teaching and the first graders remained very engaged and eager. A fun way to practice our growing phonics skills.

This week the children heard the African fable, “The Rat and the Toad.” Then we heard three Jataka Tales: “The Hungry Quail,” “The Brave Lion and the Foolish Rabbit,” and “The Steadfast Parrot.”

“The Brave Lion and the Foolish Rabbit” is a tale of compassion and unnecessary fear. It is a long tale with repeating parts, only new characters that repeat the same action. After hearing short fables, this story seemed very long and all of the children were heartily engaged. In fact, sometimes our class reaches a higher plane, where we are all so engulfed in the story that it’s as if we are all living in the same image. Time stops and magic ensues, and I was right there in the midst of it with them. I encourage you to tell stories to your children at home, even if it’s simple stories of you as a child. The more stories you tell, the easier it becomes, and then all at once you come to a place where you don’t think anymore. The story just emerges and it is beautiful.

Handwork is also demonstrating capacity building these days. Students are finishing projects and moving on to new projects. Clementine, Frances and Iris have learned to crochet and are working on a pencil case. Nick moved onto knitting a flute case after finishing his bunny. Charly finished his potholder and will move onto knitting a bunny. Luna finished her flute case and will move onto crocheting this week. Fourth graders continue to work on needle felting animals, using pipe cleaners inside of their creations. This is proving harder than they expected, but sticking with it is proving rewarding for them. This is a huge lesson in handwork. We, as teachers, make the students continue working on their projects. This is hard. There is often whining involved. However students press on because it is the expectation. Then they finish the project and experience the satisfaction that comes after all of that hard work. It is an important lesson that will stick with them for their entire lives!

Here is a photo of our chalkboard when we drew the forest animal scene.

Forest animals

Forest animals

 

 

Norse Mythology in January- Third and Fourth Grade

In January our classroom was full of back-to-school energy after winter vacation! It was fun to see the girls return with stories of their adventures over break, and enthusiasm for sharing. We began with some journaling. I had them write for 20 minutes about anything they wished to share about their winter vacation. Then I read excerpts from my own journal I wrote in fourth grade. We discussed how helpful it is to get your thoughts on paper, especially when facing big life changes and transitions.

Next, we worked on a couple form drawings to get us back into our class rhythm. The fourth graders started with a Celtic knot and then progressed to creating small Norse characters with knotted bodies for their Table of Contents pages. Emma practiced a mirror form to border her Table of Contents.

Norse Knot Creature

Norse Knot Creature

Norse Knot Creature

Norse Knot Creature

We returned to Norse stories with the tales of Balder-the God of Light, Heimdall- the Watchman, and learned how Njord, Frey and Freya came to live with the other gods in Asgard. Freya is the first goddess to be introduced in greater detail, and she rides in a carriage pulled by grey cats. Needless to say, the girls love her.

Balder, God of Light

Balder, God of Light

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Freya was the basis of our main lesson bookwork at the beginning of Week Two. We completed a drawing and recalled the story before they began their independent writing. I was very pleased with the students’ focus and motivation to improve their writing this week. The fourth graders each wrote 7-10 sentences on their own about Freya, which required some tricky summarizing of multiple days of stories. In addition to their ability to sit down and write on the rough draft day, they each returned the next day with fresh eyes and willingness to identify any weak sentences and areas for revision. We discussed how self-editing will be a useful skill for the rest of their school career, and that even the most accomplished writers find it difficult.

Freya and her daughter, Noss

Freya and her daughter, Noss

 

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To add another necessary skill to their toolbox, we introduced dictionaries this week. The school used some of the materials budget to purchase 5 student dictionaries for my class, and the girls love them! It is yet another example of how their enthusiasm for knowledge and learning catches me off guard and brightens my day. I asked them to first alphabetize their spelling words, then look up the definition to each. Though they did not all finish their lists, they quickly learned strategies to speed up their searches. We will continue to practice using the dictionaries in various ways throughout the semester. Now that the students know how to use them, they are hungry for new words!

On Thursday we painted an image of the rainbow bridge, with Heimdall in the center keeping watch. This required a good sense of spacing to fit in all of the colors of the rainbow across the page, as well as control over the brush while lifting off color to form Heimdall’s body.

Heimdall watching over the Rainbow Bridge

Heimdall watching over the Rainbow Bridge

This week, in addition to writing about Freya, the students drew and composed sentences about Bragi, the God of the Bards. Since the story explained how the beauty of verse was introduced into our world, it began our class exploration of poetry. We started simply, with each student describing herself with words that use the letters in her name. They completed this in their journals on Friday, and we will continue to add to them.

Bragi, God of the Bards

Bragi, God of the Bards

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Our final activity for the second week was a dramatic reenactment of the Valkyries and the Valhalla. This was my special treat to the girls for working hard all week, and they really got into the story! We used props to help us embody the warrior women who pick up fallen heroes from battle, and bring them to feast and fight for eternity as Odin’s heroes in Asgard. It was hilarious, and I’m sure they’d be eager to provide your families with a replay!

In our final week of Language Arts, we tackled the stories of Frigga and her Goddesses, Freya’s Necklace and Idunn’s Magical Apples. With a short week, we limited our writing work to summarizing last week’s reenactment of the Valkyries and the Valhalla. I began with a lesson on paragraph construction. We discussed the key components of well-structured writing, and that a clear structure helps the reader follow your train of thought. I gave plenty of silly and confusing examples of jumbled writing, then we wrote a 5-sentence paragraph together about the Valkyries. With an example before them, the 4th graders were challenged to limit themselves to writing only 5, well-composed sentences about the Valhalla and the life of warriors in Asgard. Emma went straight to copying our group paragraph into beautiful cursive in her main lesson book.

Our drawing of the Valkyries took us multiple days to complete, as it included many women on horseback and a battle scene. It was a challenge, and had us all marveling at the complexity of drawing a horse’s legs!

The Valkyries and Odin flying over a battlefield

The Valkyries and Odin flying over a battlefield

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We fit painting in on Thursday, and reveled in the vibrant colors of pink and purple. The students were directed to place strong Prussian blue and Carmine red on their paper, and then had the freedom to explore the wide range of shades in between purple and pink. We threw out many names for the hues as they were unveiled, and I challenged them to try and achieve a smooth, gradual transition between the colors. Though this was a color experience without a clear form, it was challenging and required good control over the amount of pigment and water used. The girls were pleased with the results, and it was a nice release after our precise and focused work on the drawing. The wide, steady, sweeps of a brush during wet-on-wet watercolor is wonderfully soothing, and smoothes out the self-criticism that creeps in as we take on more challenging art projects.

We are continuing with daily math practice each morning.  Over the three weeks we reawakened our memories of fractions from before break, and practiced putting a range of mixed numbers into increasing or decreasing order. We also kept fractions alive in word problems and math games to help prepare us for our next block.

We continue to rotate between silent reading and our group reading of “Abel’s Island” in the last half hour of each day. I take ten spelling words from the reading each week, for our Thursday quizzes.

In Circle we learned a poem about winter, and sang songs that incorporate more movement and marching. This really woke us up in the morning, even on the sleepiest days! In our King Winter song, we progressed from first marching all together, to maintaining various rhythms of claps and instruments simultaneously. This is a great challenge for students to maintain contrasting rhythms while continuing to sing together as a group. Additionally, I incorporated some coordination games that worked on our dexterity and required crossing our midline, adding to the element of challenge and fun.

Our Winter Song used in rhythmic work:

King Winter is now in the land.

He reigns with cold and freezing hand.

He makes Jack Frost touch nose and toe, and brings us bright and shiny snow.