Monday, December 31, 2012

Winter Candy Scenes

Due to so many students with allergies, we have a new policy at our school that parents can no longer send in food treats. I was concerned about what this would mean for our annual Winter Candy Scene project. I have done this project for the past 5 years, ever since I moved up to 4th grade from 2nd grade, where we had a gingerbread house tradition, and it is always a special memory for my students. As I thought more about it, I realized that the project is about constructing the scenes, not about consuming them. After getting a solemn promise from all students, (raise your right hand and repeat after me...), that no one would actually eat any of the candy until they got home and checked with their family, we were able to proceed. Check out our slide show of all the fun!

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Saturday, November 3, 2012

We Voted!

We have been learning about the 3 Branches of Government and what each branch does. We have also done some reading in our Scholastic News about some differences between the two candidates for president, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.
Last week, Ms. Stanbro set up a mock election in the library through the Studies Weekly Every Kid Votes program. Computer voting "booths" were set up with privacy folders.
Once students voted, they got to have their pictures taken with the "candidates".
Check out our slide show!
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Augusta Trip!

Our main social studies topic all year is Maine. Normally, learning about Maine's government is a spring topic, which culminates with a trip to Augusta, our capital, to tour the state house and have a mock debate. While in Augusta, we also visit the Maine State Museum, which houses exhibits related to Maine industries, history, animals, and way of life.

This year, however, we switched it up a bit by going in October. We did this for a couple of reasons. First, since it's an election year, we wanted students to understand more about government and what the different branches do. The state government has executive, legislative, and judicial branches just like the national government, and there is a lot of overlap in the roles of each branch.

The second reason we wanted to go in the fall is because of Jane Eberle.

Jane is a state representative from South Portland. For many years she has graciously come in to talk with our students before their trip and teach them about the job of a legislator and the process of how laws are made. When we get to Augusta, she is our tour guide through the state house, facilitating a mock public hearing and debate on a topic of our choice. Because of term limits, Jane cannot run for representative again. By going to Augusta now, we got to have one last trip with her. She was amazing, as always! Thank-you Jane!

Thank-you also, to all the chaperones who so generously took the time to join us for the trip. It was a busy and tiring day, as evidenced by some drowsy dads on the ride home!

Here is a slideshow of our day. Enjoy!
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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The First Month of School

Here's a peek at some of the things we've been doing during the first month of school...enjoy!

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Monday, October 8, 2012

News From 4th Grade

I thought I would update you on some happenings in 4th grade. In reading, we have been talking a lot about being metacognitive, that is, thinking about our thinking. As we read, it is important not just to read the words, but to actively engage with the text. We have been practicing active comprehension strategies such as asking questions, making connections, predicting what might happen next, and inferring the meaning of unknown words by using context clues.

Students have been using their literacy notebooks to notice and capture their thinking as we read the book, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, by Kate DiCamillo. This is the story of a shallow, self-centered china rabbit, who only thinks of himself. When he gets separated from Abilene, the girl who loves him, he embarks on a journey of self-discovery about what really matters in life.

I have been so impressed with the depth of thinking going on. Students have been enjoying sharing their theories about what will happen to Edward, and how he is changing with every new situation he finds himself in. What I hope students come away with is the realization of how much more enjoyable books are when we think deeply about them and can share that thinking with someone else. Students continue to be focused readers during read-to-self time.

During writing time, students have been working on the fall writing prompt, or the final copies of their "Me in a Bag" stories. I have learned so much about everyone by what they shared about their Me-Bag, and also what they wrote in their writing prompt. The topic was to write about a "star" in your life. There are some incredibly sweet and heartfelt stories about moms, dads, grandparents, sisters, friends, and more. I really enjoyed reading them!

We are halfway through the NECAP tests. After weeks of prep and review, it's time to show what you know! Students have been taking these assessments very seriously and giving them their best effort. It will be a relief to finish them this week and get back to our regular curriculum. Speaking of assessments, there are lots of other assessments that happen at the beginning of the year, such as reading fluency checks, Priority Words, Developmental Spelling Assessment, (DSA), writing prompt, multiplication timed tests, and the October Math Check-In. I will be sharing all of this information with you and your child at the upcoming goal-setting conferences happening this week and next.

Last week, our class joined the majority of other classes in our building in starting our day with the "Get Ready to Learn" program. This 15-minute routine of movement and stretches helps everyone feel focused, calm, and ready for the day. If your child is not at school by 9:00, they may miss out and have to wait in the office until GRTL is done, as there can be no interruptions. Thank-you for your cooperation with this!

We will be starting our study of Maine soon, with a look at how government is organized. Normally this is a spring topic, but with the presidential election next month, we thought it would make sense to study it now so that students will have a bit more understanding of what is going on. Consequently, we will be visiting Augusta at the end of this month rather than in April. We will tour the state house with the fabulous Jane Eberle, who is in her last term as state representative, due to term limits, (another reason to go this fall). We will also get to visit the Maine State Museum, which is such an interesting place! We will be needing chaperones for this trip, so look for more information to come home in red totes.

Looking forward to seeing you and your child at conferences!

Cathy McGaffin

Monday, September 10, 2012

Remembering The Twin Towers

September 11, 2001 was a very sad day for our country. Terrorists hijacked airplanes and flew them into the Twin Towers of The World Trade Center in New York City, among other places. The towers fell down and many people died that day.

In honor and remembrance of the Twin Towers, our class is watching this video, based on the picture book, The Man Who Walked Between the Towers, by Mordicai Gerstein, which won the 2004 Caldecott Medal for best picture book. It is the story of a young French street performer, Philippe Petit, who was so inspired by the beauty of the towers that he just had to walk between them.

In case students think this is just fiction, we will also watch this brief video, with actual photographs of Phillipe Petit on that day in 1974.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

We Are "O-fish-ally" Fourth Graders!

These cute little tags were tied to bags of Goldfish crackers, welcoming my class on the first day of school.

It has been a busy first week of 4th grade! I am so enjoying getting to know my students. Every day we have begun with a Morning Meeting. This is a time to greet each other in a friendly way, and do a fun activity to get to know one another. In fact, getting to know each other has been the main theme of this first week. We will be spending 176 days's so important that everyone feel safe and comfortable in our classroom.

Here are some of the activities we did during the first week:
  • Scavenger Hunt, which helped students learn how our room is organized. 
  • Time Capsule, with our current favorites listed, along with our height, hand and foot tracings, cursive sample, first timed test, and predictions for World Series, Super Bowl, and Stanley Cup
Learning How to Measure Height Accurately!

  • The M & M Game, which helped us get to know each other better as we answered questions according to what color M &  M we drew.
  • Compass Buddies: Students chose North, South, East, and West Buddies. Now, whenever I need them to work with a partner, I can say, "Work with your south, (or north, east, or west), buddy." We practiced working with our buddies to solve some math problems.

  • "If there were 5 cats, 3 dogs, and 4 birds in the yard, how many legs would that be?"

  • Top 10 Things About Me Writing: We have done the rough drafts. Look for the completed writing at Open House on Sept. 26.

  • In math, we have begun the year with a unit on data and probability. We began by predicting and then collecting data on how many raising were in a mini snack box.


    We made a line plot and found the range, mode, and outliers.

    Next, we started looking at how tall 4th graders were, giving our measurement skills a workout. Students worked with a partner to make a line plot of the data.

    This week, we will be comparing this data with the heights of first graders and looking at the median and mean of the data, in addition to the range, mode, and outlier.

    Students also took their first multiplication timed tests. The expectation is that they can do 100 facts in 5 minutes by the end of the year. Please help your child practice at home. It is the single most important way you can support his/her progress in math. So much of what we do depends on being fluent with facts up to 12 x 12!

    In reading we have been building our stamina for Read-to-Self. I am amazed with how focused everyone is during Read-to-Self Time! You can see from our stamina graph that we are already up to over 20 minutes of focused reading. Research shows that the single most important factor in reading achievement, is the amount of time spent reading. to that end, your child will be coming home with a reading log this week along with their homework. The expectation is for a minimum of 100 minutes of at-home reading each week. Reading logs are due on Fridays.

    We have also talked about how important it is to choose a "Just-Right" book. Here are the charts that we used.

    And finally, we are a class of Bucket Fillers! I read two books about bucket-filling, and we discussed the kinds of things that fill our buckets, and the kinds of things that dip into them.

    Every day, students have the opportunity to write a bucket note to a classmate. This is a much looked-forward to time at the end of the day. Ask your child to tell you more about bucket-filling!

    This is a wonderful group of students and we are off to a fabulous start in our year together!

    Thursday, June 14, 2012

    Time to Say Good-bye...

    We have had a great year together, full of learning and memories, but now it's time for my class to leave 4th grade. Have a wonderful summer, everyone!
    Try not to be too wild and crazy over vacation...

    ...uh-oh, too late...

    Good luck in 5th grade! I will miss you!

    Sunday, May 6, 2012

    Trout Release!

    Check out the slide show of our trout release!

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    Wednesday, May 2, 2012

    Multicultural Day

    Would you believe that right here at Skillin School in South Portland, Maine, we have over 30 countries represented? This means that either the students themselves were born in other countries, or one or both parents were. We learned a bit more about some of these countries recently, thanks to Mrs. Holland, our ELL teacher.

    We had guest speakers from other countries ranging from elementary school students,  middle school students, college students, and parents. We learned about other countries' geography, customs, and culture. Gatthuk Pan, a USM student from South Sudan told us about coming to the U.S. thirteen years ago from a refugee camp.

    Angely, from Mrs. Clark's class, along with her brother Luis, from Mrs. Blaisdell's class, demonstrate a traditional Peruvian dance while their little sister looks on.

    At the end, the whole school went into the gym for a flag parade. Just in our classroom alone, we have 13 countries represented! They are Bulgaria, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Haiti, Sudan, Egypt, Croatia, Cambodia, Uganda, The Bahamas, Peru,
    The Phillipines, and The U.S.A.

    As they say at Disney World, "It's a Small World After All!"

    Sunday, April 29, 2012

    Augusta Slide Show

    As promised, here is the slideshow from our Augusta trip. We had a great day day, thanks to all the wonderful parents who were able to help out! Enjoy!

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    Monday, April 23, 2012

    Testing the Waters

    Since January, we have been raising brook trout. They arrived in the eyed egg stage, hatched into alevin with their yolk sacs, and are now turning into fry, which is when they must be released, because they need to find their own food.

    We are excited because this year, we will be releasing our fry right in South Portland, in the aptly-named Trout Brook. Before we do that, however, we need to make sure that Trout Brook is a suitable environment for our trout.

    Later this week, we will visit Trout Brook to do some water quality testing. We will test temperature, dissolved oxygen, ph level, and turbidity. We will also look to see what macroinvertebrates are living there, as they can tell us a lot about the quality of the water. Watch this video to learn more!

    Visit this site to explore more  water topics! Project WET Activity Pages

    Sunday, April 22, 2012


    The Augusta Trip is this Friday,

    April 27th.

    Please be at school at 8:00.

    The bus will leave at 8:15.

    The whole Skillin 4th grade will be going to our state capital, Augusta, this coming Friday. We have a tight schedule and in order to fit everything in, we must leave at 8:15, so please be here at 8:00. If you normally ride the bus in the morning, you will need to get a ride to school. We will be back in time for regular dismissal.

    This coming week we will be learning about government. Jane Eberle, one of South Portland's state representatives, is coming to Skillin on Wednesday afternoon to talk to the 4th grades about her job and how state government runs. On Friday, she will meet us in Augusta to give us a tour of the State House and take us through the process of how laws are made, including guiding us through a mock debate. We will have lunch at the museum, followed by a 30-minute guided museum program, and time to explore in small groups. Look for a slide show of our trip next week!

    Saturday, April 14, 2012

    4th Grade Biography Wax Museum

    Travel back in time with us... All sixty-two 4th graders at Skillin created a living timeline through their Biography Wax Museum project. For the past month or so, each student has been researching the life of a famous person who has made a positive contribution to the world. They each read a chapter book about their person, along with two other sources of information. Students wrote a five-paragraph essay, drew a portrait, created a timeline, and wrote a poem. For the actual wax museum, students took the main parts of their report and wrote a 1-2 minute speech that they delivered whenever someone pressed the button on their poster. We presented the wax museum in the afternoon for the whole school, and again at night for families. Check out our slideshow! Students lined up in the order of when their person was born, so you may see multiples of the same person because someone in one of the other classes may have studied that person too.

    If you enjoy our slideshow, we'd love to hear comments from you!

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    Wednesday, April 4, 2012

    Water Poster Contest

    Many students in our class chose to enter a contest sponsored by The Maine Stormwater Association about why clean water is important. Check out the fabulous entries! Good luck everyone!