Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Our Iditarod

As I mentioned in a previous post, we have been learning about the Iditarod Dog Sled Race, which is starting this weekend in Alaska. In honor of the event, we held our own Iditarod race, with lots of help from Mrs. Murray, Lorry, Laney's mom, and Gunner's Auntie.

The weather wasn't very cooperative, as it was windy, cold, and rainy. But after reading about the conditions the real mushers and dogs go through, we decided a little water wasn't going to stop us! Watch our slide show to see all the fun!
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Thursday, February 21, 2013

How to Tie Your Shoes Super Fast

I saw this video on Pinterest, and thought, "How cool is that?" I hope you think so too. I've been practicing today... I'll get it for awhile and then I forget. I know I just need more practice to get it into my long-term memory. It's like I always say...the expert at anything was once a beginner. I hope some of my students see this and practice too. We can show each other how we did on Monday.

Happy rest of vacation!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Iditarod is Coming!

We have been learning about the Iditarod Race, which will be happening in Alaska beginning on March 2. This race of over 1,000 miles began as a way to commemorate an effort by mushers back in 1925 to save the children of Nome, Alaska. There was an outbreak of a disease called diphtheria. Children were dying because Nome had no serum, or medicine, available to treat it, There was serum available in Anchorage, over 1,000 miles away. The train could only bring it part way, so dog sleds were the only way to go the remaining 674 miles.

The book, The Great Serum Race tells the story of the heroic mushers and their dogs, some of whom you may have heard of, like Balto and Togo. In all, 20 mushers braved the elements and got the medicine to the children of Nome in time to stop the spread of the deadly disease.

Students have also used the Reading A-Z book, The Last Great Race, to learn about the modern Iditarod and what it takes to compete in it. They have been able to highlight their texts to show the various text features and write about how they help them understand nonfiction.

I found an awesome game on the Alaska Kids website called the Serum Run game. it is a simulation game and students have to make many decisions as they race to reach Nome in time to save the sick children. There are options to make the game easier or more difficult. The kids absolutely loved this game, and you could have heard a pin drop as they played it!

After February vacation, we will be having our own Iditarod, as part of Adventure-Based Learning. Mrs. Murray will lead us as we build our sleds, and figure out who will be mushers and who will be the dogs. We will have a course set up right on our playground. Let's hope the snow holds out until Feb. 27th!

Maine Pocket Person Project

Students have been researching famous Mainers for the past month or so and created pocket person projects. I don't remember where the original idea came from...I saw it online years ago, and our 4th grade team has tweaked it over the years. The basic idea is to create a poster person who has 5 pockets. In each pocket is a card with information about a different aspect of that person's life:
  • Pocket 1: What the person is most famous for and how he/she has helped the world
  • Pocket 2: The person's, education, challenges they faced
  • Pocket 3: Adult life...spouse, children, hobbies, interesting facts
  • Pocket 4: How the world remembers this person...honors, awards, things named after him/her. Also, when and how they died, (if they have), or where they are living now
  • Pocket 5: Reason for choosing this person, personal connections, how he/she has inspired you, what you want people to remember about this person.
Denisha with artist Dahlov Ipcar, famous for her animal paintings
Students have taken turns presenting their finished projects while the rest of the class records information in their fact books. We finished our last presentation a couple of days ago, and now students are responsible for passing a matching test of all the people and why they are famous. Here are the rest of this year's projects!

Maha with Percy Spencer, who invented the microwave oven by accident when a chocolate bar in his pocket melted while he was working in a lab.
Jaden with Percival Baxter, a former governor, senator, and representative, who donated thousands of acres to the state to create Baxter State Park, where Mt. Katahdin is located.
Olivea with Leon Leonwood Bean, who invented the Maine Hunting Shoe, aka the Bean boot, and started a very successful business, now famous around the world!
Connor with Joshua Chamberlain, who was a Civil War general and governor. He was awarded The Medal of Honor for his bravery in the Battle of Gettysburg.
Gianna with William King, a businessman and Maine's first governor. He played a major role in getting Maine to separate from Massachusetts in 1820.
Liam with Hannibal Hamlin, a politician who was a representative, senator, governor, and most importantly, vice-president to Abraham Lincoln during his first term.

Emily with Olympia Snowe, one of Maine's most popular senators. She recently left politics because she was frustrated that the two political parties could not work together.
Gunner with Robert McCloskey, an author and illustrator of such children's books as Make Way for Ducklings,  Blueberries for Sal, and One Morning in Maine.
Nevaya with Amy MacDonald, another children's book author, who wrote books such as Little Beaver and the Echo, Rachel Fister's Blister, and Cousin Ruth's Tooth.
Laney, with Samantha Smith, who wrote a now famous letter to the leader of the Soviet Union when she was only 10 years old, asking why he wanted to have a war. She was invited to visit the Soviet Union and became a symbol of peace. Sadly, she died in a plane crash at the age of 13.
Dominique with Donn Fendler, who survived being lost on Mt. Katahdin for 9 days back in 1939, when he was 12 years old. He later helped to write a book about his experience, called Lost on a Mountain in Maine, which is always our first read-aloud of the year. Donn recently collaborated on a graphic novel about his experience called Lost Trail.
Abby with Patrick Dempsey, an actor on Grey's Anatomy, and the organizer of the Dempsey Challenge, a race that raises money for cancer research.
Michael with Robert Peary, the first person to reach the North Pole. It took him 3 tries, and he lost eight toes to frostbite, but he didn't give up!
Kyle with Joan Benoit Samuelson, who was the first woman to win an Olympic gold medal for the woman's marathon. She also started the Beach to Beacon race, which raises money each year for charity.
Maddie with Margaret Chase Smith, one of Maine's most loved politicians. She was a representative, senator, and the first woman to run for President, back in 1963. Margaret also helped make the rose our national flower.
Deacon with Chester Greenwood, who invented earmuffs when he was only 15 years old. Chester provided many jobs for people in the Farmington area for 60 years.

Dylan with Milton Bradley, who started a game company named after him. His first game was called "The Game of Life".

So many skills go into this project. Students need to:
  • take good notes
  • put facts into their own words
  • determine important information
  • summarize
  • organize information into the correct pocket
  • practice time management in order to meet due dates
  • demonstrate strong oral presentation skills  
  • remember why each person is famous
We will practice matching each person with why they are famous when we get back from February vacation. The test will be on Friday, March 1. Great job on your projects, everyone!



As part of our year-long study of water, we raise trout at our school. We start in January, when the trout are in the eyed-egg stage and we release them in May as fry. Carina from Portland Water District was back this week with another fabulous science lesson, this time all about the trout's anatomy and life cycle.

Now, this poster is colorful and students had their own papers to label as we went along. But how much more fun is it to label the parts when we had our own life-size "trout" right there in the room?
Connor was an eager volunteer and he performed his modeling duties "swimmingly"!

Carina shows the powerful caudal fin, which helps the trout swim upstream at spawning time.

After we talked about each part of the trout's anatomy and how it helped the trout survive, Carina got help from Dominique and Kyle to show the eyed egg and alevin stages.
That prominent black dot is actually the trout's eye! This is the stage our trout are at right now.

Once our eggs hatch, they will be alevin. In this stage, the trout get all their food from their yolk sac, which is good, because they do not yet have fins to swim or a mouth to eat with! The yolk sac is like their own attached lunchbox!

By the time the yolk sac is used up, the trout has developed fins and a mouth. They are then called fry and must begin to find their own food. That is the stage at which we will release them. Between now and then, we have to carefully monitor their water temperature and quality. Trout need very cold, clean water to survive. When it gets closer to the release date, we will go to the release site and test the water there to make sure it is suitable for our trout to survive. Stay tuned to see how it all turns out!



Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Telling Room

This past week we had a most magical morning, (how's that for alliteration?) at The Telling Room in Portland. The Telling Room is a place where kids and young adults can go to write in a supportive and collaborative environment. All 4th grade classes in South Portland will have the opportunity to spend a morning immersed in the writing process. It is a bright and welcoming space, with comfy furniture, small tables, and oriental carpets warming the floors.
I was asked by John, who facilitated the session, to just sit back and be an observer, which for an elementary school teacher is an extremely rare luxury! It was such a treat to listen in on all the conversations about writing and jot down my thoughts as the morning progressed.
There were 5 adults in all, who each worked with 4 students, guiding them through lots of discussion, brainstorming, modeling, and pre-writing about a special person or animal that they loved.

By the time the students got to drafting, there was this incredibly focused hum of productivity in the room. They each wrote a "You Are" poem, modeled after a poem that they heard on an audio recording.

The expressive language used by students in their pieces was beautiful and they were so excited and proud to share their writing. Several have continued to add to their pieces in the days since our trip.

When I asked the students for feedback about our trip they were universally positive.
Below are some comments:
 "It was so easy to write there."
It's usually hard for me to write but today it was easier because it was quiet and there were lots of people helping."
I liked having so much time to write."
 "I wish we could write like that all the time."
"Can we go back there again?"
My sentiments exactly! Thanks John, Hakeem, Eliza, Rory, and Connor for an unforgettable experience!