October 13, 2010

Polygon Patterns

Some of the beautiful Polygon Patterns we have been creating this past week...

September 28, 2010

Our First Novel Study!

Today we began our first novel study. A "novel study" is an in depth, project based approach to learning, practicing and mastering the reading comprehension skills fourth graders need. Novel study topics are usually integrated into the curriculum and will often match up with what we are doing in science and social studies. Students read a certain genre of novel, matched up to our class topic, at their own appropriate reading level. Although reading different novels, all students follow the same criteria sheet handed out in class. The criteria sheet contains all the skills we are working on as a class during the novel study. These are also the skills the student will be expected to showcase in the final copy of his/her novel study. A novel study is a long term project. Everything mentioned on the criteria sheet will have separate due dates. Everything will first be completed as a rough draft, revised by teacher and student and then taken on to a final copy. I will always post due dates as they come up on our Daily Planner.

Our first Novel Study is a compliment to our study of United States Regions, and is appropriately titled, "Mapping Our Way". This novel study will focus on the main elements of fiction: character, setting, plot and theme. Students had the option of choosing their own novels, approved by the teacher, for this novel study. If a student did not choose, I chose for them. Students have each completed a reading plan for their own novel. Reading plans are located on the first page of their Daily Planner in the calendar section. The reading plan has been signed and approved by me and also needs to be signed by parents as well. Students were also given the first part of their project today: a graphic organizer for taking notes on character traits. Students will track their main character's actions, quotes, feelings and motives as evidence of the character traits they will eventually label them with. We will gradually add more note taking as the week goes on. Stay tuned for due dates.

Here is a link to the criteria sheet students received today.
Mapping Our Way criteria sheet

Ask to see your student's reading plan and note taking organizer. Any questions...please email. The students are so excited for their first big novel study!

September 8, 2010

The School Year Has Begun!

We have such a great class this year! I have really enjoyed meeting and beginning to get to know all my new students. We are already hard at work on our first projects. The two big projects we have started are the "Cereal Box" project and the "Vegetation ABC's" project. The "Cereal Box" project is a writing project where students design a cereal box based on their life. Please make sure to take a look at your student's criteria sheet for this project to see what it entails. Each component of the project will have a separate due date. The "Vegetation ABC's" project is an integrated science, writing, and reading project where students choose a plant to research. They will create an informational page, including an illustration, on their plant. We will combine these pages to create a class book.

Students have all received a day planner. At the end of the school day we record what we have done that day and what we have for homework in our day planners. This is for students to learn to manage and keep track of their own work. If you follow the link to "Daily Planner" under "Important Links" on this blog, you will see what we wrote in our day planners that day. This is a great place for you to check and see what your student has for homework.

Please feel free to become a "Follower" of our class blog. Click on the "Follower" button on the right hand side of the blog under the "Live Feed" and it will guide you through becoming a "Follower".

August 23, 2010


Greetings to all new students and parents! If you haven't already done so, please check out the links to the Welcome Packet paperwork.

Welcome Letter 2010

Parent Homework

Supply List

August 3, 2010

Lesson Plan Inspired by The Oregon Garden in Silverton, Oregon

Vegetation ABC’s

Objective: Each student will create an informative page (guidelines to follow) for a classroom ABC book on plants.

Standards addressed:

Reading: Read and locate information in specialized materials and a variety of informational texts. Use structural features to strengthen comprehension.

Writing: Focus on a central idea, excluding loosely related, extraneous, and repetitious information (main ideas).

Science: Observe physical characteristics of organisms.

Materials: Kingore's "Alphaboxes" (enlarged), access to computer lap or laptops, research organizer, class set of plant page criteria


1. Students will choose a plant to research. The plant will begin with their assigned letter of the alphabet. Enlarged copy of Kingore’s “Alphaboxes” to be posted in the classroom throughout this project. We will meet as a class to fill in students’ choices of plants as the anticipatory set to the research portion of the assignment. As a class, we will work together to fill in any letters of the alphabet not assigned to students. These will serve as the examples/models throughout the project.

2. Students will access research using Grolier Encyclopedia online. Students will read and locate information while using a research graphic organizer to note take. Before students begin their individual research, we will do research as a class on one of the examples we chose during the class discussion. Teacher will go through graphic organizer with students to model note taking as we research one or more examples together.

3. Teacher and students will use plant page criteria to go over completed research organizers, checking for completeness and revising where necessary.

3. Students will use revised research organizer to create and design their plant’s page. Again, before students begin their individual projects, we will use one of our researched plants to do an example together. While completing the example, we will discuss visual aesthetics, layout, and formatting. Students will first complete a rough draft before receiving teacher approval to move on to final copy.

4. Students will present their completed pages to the class. Completed pages will be bound into one class book for the classroom library.

Plant Page Criteria


Scientific name




Physical description


July 19, 2010

My Personal Interests...

I am one of those people whose interests shift fairly quickly. I am always on to the next best thing. There are however, a few things that I love so much, I have never lost interest in them (yet). In random order they are: Portland, music, cooking/homekeeping, reading, and traveling.

I have lived in Portland, Oregon for almost 12 years. I am convinced it is the best city in the world. I live downtown in the Pearl District in one of the large apartment buildings and I love to go out on the balcony and look down on the city. Every building is different and unique. The skyline looks beautiful whether glowing in the morning sun or twinkling under the stars (or shifting in and out of a rainy mist as it so often happens to be). I love to walk through the city (rain or shine) and visit the coffeehouses, shops, museums, bakeries, farmer’s markets, and restaurants.

My favorite farmer’s market

Best website for finding restaurants and happy hours

When I was in college and before I decided to become a teacher, I was a musician. I have played classical flute and piano since I was seven and went to school specifically to study music. I attended Portland State University and was part of the music program there. I studied for four years and have a degree in classical music. Music has always been a part of my life. When I decided to become a teacher, I was happy to discover how many ways music can be incorporated into the classroom. I love to sing, dance and listen to music with my students.

My favorite band (not classical!)

My favorite website for creating your own music list (for free!)

Many people think cooking and homekeeping is boring. Not me! I love to cook and/or bake. I like the feeling that I created something wonderful for people to enjoy. I love to try new recipes and challenge myself with something difficult. I also love homekeeping. Not necessarily scrubbing the bathroom but I do like the satisfaction of cleaning, repairing and decorating our home. I love to rearrange the furniture in new ways, find beautiful pictures to frame, fold clean, soft laundry into neat and tidy piles and vacuum in nice straight lines. Being a busy woman, I also like cooking and homekeeping to be quick, efficient and organized. That is why Martha Stewart is my hero! She is an independent, successful woman who isn’t above doing her own ironing.

Martha Stewart

Martha's Crafts for Kids

Another interest I have that some people find boring is reading. Every teacher, the world over, says reading is one of his/her hobbies. I don’t like to be stereotypical but it is true for me! I started reading when I was three years old and I haven’t stopped since. I read newspapers, magazines, adult fiction, adult non-fiction, children’s novels, children’s non-fiction, cookbooks, audio books, etc. I read to get information, to escape or for just plain enjoyment.

My favorite bookstore downtown

Saying that traveling is one of my interests in misleading in some ways. I like to travel but the range of places I have been to is not varied. My family is British and many of them live over in the U.K. I know the U.K. better than I know the United States. I visit every summer. I also lived and taught there for a year after college. I have been many, many places there and I never get tired of it. Each summer I continue to explore the little island that has so many amazing things to offer. Although I always make time to visit my favorite place to say hi to my favorite fictional characters.

My favorite place in the U.K.

July 13, 2010

Raising Salmon

Last spring I invited my husband to my classroom. He loves kids and he was a (mostly) willing volunteer. He came in and the first thing the kids showed him was our frogs. We had been raising frogs from teeny tiny tadpoles since early in the school year. Our class had grown quite proud of our little babies and all visitors had to be introduced. My husband loves the outdoors, is very environmentally conscious and loves to see these things in action in the classroom. He thought it was absolutely fantastic that we had done this project.

Over the summer, my husband asked what our class would be raising next year. I should explain that frogs were a HUGE feat for me. I had not given a thought to raising anything else and had been content to revel in my success of the previous year. But here he was, so excited about helping me create environmentally conscious, outdoors loving, scientifically minded students. How could I let him down? He was right, we should raise something else. After some intense internet research, I had the answer....SALMON! Salmon seemed so perfect in so many ways. The curriculum we could tie in! Native Americans, Oregon, life cycles, ecosystems, pollution, nutrition, and on and on.

Well, raising salmon was one of the most DIFFICULT things I have yet to do in the classroom. First step was contacting the liaison for the Fish and Wildlife Department. The program had started with about 10 schools. It had grown to over 100. The man who started the program was still with it...and he was the only man. He was incredibly overworked and could barely keep up with the demand. On-site support was not going to be an option. The biologist visits the website described would not be occurring. If we decided to continue, he would get us the eggs but we would be completely on our own after that.

Next step was the tank preparation. The tank had to be hooked up to a refrigerator to circulate the water in order to maintain ideal temps. This involved some very careful drilling plus the sacrifice of a parent's garage beer fridge. The water had to be filtered for appropriate levels of ammonia. The tank had to be wholly covered in styrofoam to maintain the correct temperature and also to keep out light. A net basket had to be created to gently hold the eggs as well as gravel spread along the bottom.

Once the tank was ready, we were set to go pick up the eggs. This consisted of a hour long drive out to a small, unlikely looking barn where our cranky, overworked fish liaison was dispersing salmon eggs. The eggs had to be brought immediately to the prepared tank, kept moist, and not exposed to air. Of course, I sent my husband to go get them.
The students and I anxiously awaited his return with our new creatures. At last, right before the end of the day, my husband arrived, delightfully holding a container full of 500 salmon eggs. Together with the students, we gently lowered our delicate eggs into our perfectly controlled salmon ecosystem.

Salmon raising commenced. The eggs needed to be checked everyday. If the water was too warm, they would hatch early, too cold and they would never hatch at all. The students, my husband, one dedicated parent volunteer and I fussed over the tank continually. Finally, hatching time came. Little tiny slivers of salmon were appearing. Salmon weren't the only thing emerging from the eggs. An abhorrent foamy, sick smelling meringue-like foam began oozing out of the eggs with the salmon. Not to be alarmed, we were assured, it's just embryonic fluid. The embryonic fluid continued to ooze for days. The students diligently used rulers to scrape the foam off the remaining eggs, top, sides and surrounding floor of the tank. Never complaining, just doing what they needed to do to ensure our salmon were healthy and happy. After a week or so, hatching was over. Apparently my students had a knack for nurturing. Estimated egg loss is over 50% of the 500 eggs given out. We had an almost 80% hatch.

Once hatched, salmon can only remain in the tank for about a week. They are not fed but live off an egg sac attached to their bellies. We observed our strange looking little fish in wonder for the small time we got to keep them. We learned everything about them we could. The students and I had many discussions about what our salmons' journey to the ocean would be like. Would all of them make it? My students knew the answer was no. But some of them would. And the ones that did would make 500 more eggs and a few of those would make it and they would make 500 more eggs and so on. My students came to the conclusion that someday their own children might someday raise salmon that were long distant relatives of the very ones they had raised. It was at this point I realized what an impact the project had had.

Release day dawned, sunny and chilly. We had chosen a release spot up in the Columbia Gorge where the Sandy and Columbia Rivers meet. But first, we had to catch the little guys. How long does it take to catch about 400 salmon and distribute them in jars to anxiously awaiting students? A long, long time...You can guess who I put in charge of that job. Ultimately they were all caught and we were off to the release site. My students stood at the edge of the river, very reluctant to let their charges go. They sang songs to them, chanted poems we had learned about salmon, named each and every one and were eventually persuaded to gently liberate their little babies. My husband was there, of course, watching proudly.
Was it all worth it? Absolutely.

July 7, 2010

The Blogging Experience So Far...

I am taking an online class called "Using Blogs as Effective Classroom Tools" which is what is helping me get my classroom blog up and running. The possibilities for using this blog in the classroom seem endless. As I work on the blog I find myself planning its use into units and activities throughout the school year. I think it will be a great way to introduce myself and the feeling of the classroom to students before they even begin the year and I plan on sending the blog address out with the welcoming letter in late summer.

It's summer and I should be dreading any time spent working in front of the computer indoors thinking about next school year. But I find myself, at six months pregnant, enjoying lounging in an air conditioned house, playing with options and ideas for this blog!

June 30, 2010

Classroom Activity: Sexton Mountain class of 2010 performs "Gotta keep Reading"

Early this spring, my teaching team and I came across a video of Ocoee Middle School in Florida doing a flash mob performance for Dr. Seuss/Read Across America Day. They had taken the words to a well known pop song and changed them to center around reading. The whole school had taken place in the flash mob and it was a hit on Youtube (over half a million views). We loved the idea and decided to use it as part of the end of the year send off for our fifth graders.

We taught our students the words to the song, then the choreography. Some of them took to it right away and had no trouble bursting out into song and dance in front of each other. For other students, it took us awhile to get them to open up and loosen up and perform in front of the other students. They all started to have real fun with it and saw it as a reward on Fridays when we got together to rehearse. Some of the students learned the actual music on their instruments so we also put together a band. We had one of our fabulous instructional assistants help the band with tuning and musicianship.

On the last day of school during the last day assembly for the whole school, the students were ready for their performance. It was a surprise and none of the other students knew the fifth graders were going to perform. The whole school enjoyed their fantastic performance. It was a great kick off to last day activities and a great send off to middle school for our fifth graders.

June 24, 2010

How I will use a blog in my classroom...


These words sum up all my reasons for wanting a classroom blog. I teach fourth and fifth grades and up until now, the only technology related link to the classroom was our class website. This was a great place for posting homework but didn’t allow any interaction between students, parents and teacher. I am hoping this blog will become a more dynamic venue for our classroom community to interact and communicate.

As the teacher, I plan on using our classroom blog to create a permanent record of what is going on in the classroom as well as a permanent record of classroom related materials. This could include everything from daily homework, projects, extended learning activities, celebrations, and helpful links to topics of study. This is for the students to enjoy, comment, and begin their own discussions of, but also a place for parents to feel involved in what is going on in the classroom.

The most important reason to create a blog for our classroom will be the ability to provide students with a meaningful audience and arena to share their thoughts and opinions through writing. Blogging involves a journal like style of writing but there will also be opportunities for students to share formal writing done in class and to accompany the writing with visual aids and enhancements. Students will be able to comment on each others’ work and posts by teacher and parents.