May 5

Crickets, isopods, snails and fish, oh my! Room 11 has turned into quite the little habitat for small critters. Working in pairs, students have created their own terrariums (containing grass, alfalfa and mustard) and aquariums (containing elodea, algae and duckweed). They have observed, charted, measured, watered, and nurtured their creations for the last 10 days and have enjoyed watching the progress in these little ecosystems. Sadly, we have had no luck with growing mustard, but everything else is growing and thriving.

Late last week, students added snails and mosquito fish to their aquariums; today, they added crickets and isopods (pill bugs) to their terrariums. I have thoroughly enjoyed watching the care the students have taken with this project. With each new addition to their ecosystems, students have been given material to read that provides necessary background information. They have just consumed and absorbed every piece of information they can…a true testimony to how motivation and purpose influence comprehension! Our next step is to place the terrariums on top of the aquariums (using a connector piece) to create self-sustaining ecocolumns.

I am loving this unit…it is so rewarding to see students be so mature and so invested in taking care of their ecosystems! We also thank you so much for helping us collect all these 2-liter bottles, as I’m pretty sure this experience is a big highlight of fifth grade for your children!

When I can pull students away from science, we are preparing for our next book club on social issues. We have begun discussing how struggles characters face are often faced by many others in society. When this happens, we call this a social issue. We are reading a wonderful book called The Liberation of Gabriel King, which is set in the 1970s and deals with issues of race, bullying and poverty. In their book clubs, students will be discussing the struggles of different characters, how characters and the larger society respond, how power plays into the struggles and who holds the power, etc. Due to the nature of the unit, there is a potential for some serious and mature conversation that could arise. Discussions will be student driven and may carry over at home.  Common themes within 5th grade literature are: friendship, poverty, divorce, bullying, disabilities, death, growing up, racism, and fitting in. Students will be working in groups of three or four throughout the book club. Your child may read one of the following books: Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor, Loser by Jerry Spinelli, Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech, Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper, and Night Journeys by Avi.

Finally, we will also be beginning a new unit this week on writing memoirs. Students will mine through their writer’s notebook to identify themes, topics or ideas that are important to them. They will write a memoir to examine these ideas and look for some deeper meaning. To get ready for this, students have returned to writing entries in their notebooks.


Our Public Service Announcements

To conclude our unit on the Dust Bowl, students examined other man-made environmental disasters. As we learned lessons from over-farming the land and have tried to prevent another Dust Bowl from happening, we wanted students to learn the role humans have played in other disasters or near-disasters. Preparing a public service announcement encourages students to think about the role they can play in preserving their environment.


Whale Hunting, by Bryce, Kelsey and Max


River Sewage, by Chloe, Keo and Mia


Global Warming, by Ruhina and Nicoleta

April 13

Dear Families,

With the Poetry Cafe fast approaching, we have become a classroom of poets! We are reading, writing, and listening to many forms of poetry. I have really challenged students to consider word choice and how it influences the meaning and tone of the poems they read, and in turn to be thoughtful and choosy about the words they use. As with everything they have done this year, this wonderful class of students has embraced this learning and has produced this wonderful work. They are becoming quite good at recognizing that many poems are metaphors and not to be taken literally, a revelation that makes poetry that much more interesting for them.

Students are producing an anthology of at least 8 poems. From the poems in their anthology, they will select three to perform at the Poetry Cafe. I know many of you have been involved with helping your children memorize the stanzas they have performed the past couple of weeks, for which I thank you! I will send details about the Cafe in an e-mail to you.

We are wrapping up our study of the Dust Bowl by considering other preventable environmental disasters. The idea is for students to learn from the Dust Bowl experience that we need to consider the impact of our actions. Students picked from a list of topics and are currently conducting research. They will produce a public service announcement (PSA) that we will hopefully publish to their blogs when we are done.

Finally, thank you thank you thank you for sending in two-liter bottles. We know you have been inundated with requests. We really do appreciate your support for this new unit!

Have a great week!

March 17

Happy St. Patick’s Day!

How wonderful that little bit of warm weather was this past weekend. We got out for an extra recess yesterday afternoon to enjoy the nice weather while we could. Students will spend the next three afternoons PARCC testing, so we didn’t want to miss the chance to run around and enjoy!

We are beginning a new science unit in April where students will build ecocolumns. In these ecocolumns, students will construct terrariums with plants and aquariums with fish. We will also add other live creatures to them, like crickets. However, this means that each fifth grade class is in need of a minimum of 35 2-liter bottles, or a total of 140 bottles for the grade. They do need to be clear plastic, however, as the green bottles will kill the plants. We are accepting any and all donations! Please rinse them and send them with the cap. Every bottle helps. Thank you!!!

This week students are beginning a new phase of learning about the Dust Bowl. Students have studied how different groups of people adapted to the conditions of the Dust Bowl. Now, they will take the perspective of one of those groups and decide whether they would have stayed in the Dust Bowl region or left for California. The four perspectives are: a farmer in “The Last Man Standing” Club, a family with a sick child, a farmer with crops not doing well, and a farmer with crops that are doing well. Students will reread the text through their new lens and seek evidence to support whether they would want to stay or go. They will create a presentation supporting their decision.

This ties nicely into our writing unit on research-based arguments. Students this week finished writing an essay on a topic of their choice. I have been so impressed with how confidently students tackled this task! Learning to balance evidence with analysis is very tricky; the work we are doing now is laying the groundwork for many years of analysis to come. 🙂

Our reading work has shifted to immersing ourselves in poetry. Our Poetry Cafe is now scheduled for Thursday, April 23rd from 6:00-7:15 PM. To begin preparing, we are reading as many poems as we can to determine what we like about poetry as well as to learn the many different kinds. We will soon turn our attention to writing poetry as well. 

As you can see, we have managed to keep quite busy academically despite the PARCC tests. We are not doing vocab or spelling this week, but otherwise students have had a full plate. Testing is a rigorous and exhausting activity, so I anticipate students will become weary as the week goes on. Please make sure they keep eating well, getting a good night’s sleep, and bringing their chargers with them. Thank you for your support as we go through this pilot year of PARCC!

Enjoy your week!


February 23, 2015

As usual, we have been very busy digging into lots of new units. After designing some fabulous knee braces as part of our science unit on the Engineering Design Process, we have turned our attention back to social studies and a unit on the Dust Bowl. Our goal is to learn the causes of this disaster and how people adapted to the new conditions. Students will also learn how we try to prevent this from happening again. To start the unit, students used atlases to study the geography and terrain of the Great Plains and compared it to the Midwest to develop a better understanding. We are currently watching  a PBS video that has wonderful footage and first-hand accounts from people who lived during dust storms. We will soon turn our attention to a trade book to further investigate this interesting period of history.

We also began fantasy book clubs last week. We are doing lots of work to study the elements of fantasy and even watched some movie trailers from fantasy movies to help out. In their book clubs, students are taking responsibility to plan their reading calendar, lead discussion, and work together in respectful and productive ways. To this end, each club even wrote their own constitution to set out their club expectations. Nightly, students should be looking for what we call our “Notice and Note Signposts,” identifying them with post-its, noting any elements of fantasy in their reading notebooks, and writing a 1-sentence summary in their logs. They have a couple of different references identifying the signposts, so please feel free to ask your child to explain them to you.

In writing, we have finished lit essays and moved on to research-based argument writing. There are many similarities between the two types of writing. Both require an organized structure of claims and evidence. In addition, students need to pull specific evidence to support their ideas. We are all researching the same topic at the moment–allowing chocolate milk in school cafeterias–and by the end of the week will have a well-developed essay supporting one side of the issue or the other.


January 22, 2015

After sending home so many e-mails in December regarding Wax Museum work, I am back to posting class updates on the blog. Despite a cold start to the New Year, we are running at full speed here digging into lots of new work.

Our reading and writing work has centered around writing literary essays. We have been reading many fiction picture books and short stories that convey a deeper meaning. Students have been using a strategy called close reading (we might think of it as annotating) to highlight key passages and note why that passage is important to them. We collect these ideas and then form a thesis or big idea about the book. I am amazed at how easily this class is able to identify the important meaning in these books!

Then, students write these thoughts in an essay format. The format is structured like opinion writing, in that students state their position then support with evidence. Students seem very comfortable with this process so far and are able to write a fairly structured essay. I am teaching students to use transitions to effectively convey meaning and have taught students how we use different transitions for different purposes. We will continue to work on developing these big ideas and refining our writing for the next couple of weeks.

We started science again in January with a unit focused on biomedical engineering. Students are learning how engineers collect data on how the body works so they can design braces, shoes, etc. to help people with injuries. We first collected data on the height of the arches in our feet to discuss designing running shoes. This week we have been studying how our knees move using a goniometer. We will use injured knee models to design effective knee braces. This is a great unit and the kids get very excited about the real-world applications of their learning.

In grammar, we continue to work through parts of speech. I will keep working with kids on identifying prepositions and prepositional phrases while we review pronouns and antecedents and possessive/plural nouns. We will soon be moving into verbs. Also look for the expectations for correctness of grammar in daily work to increase. I want to see students really applying what they are learning!

Finally, we reevaluated our students’ spelling development recently to determine how students are growing. We have made adjustments to meet the changing needs of our students. As a result, some students may find they are with a new group. We look forward to working in these new groups!

October 27, 2014

What a beautiful weekend we had! I hope families were able to get out and enjoy this great weather.

We had our first writing celebration last Thursday. Students worked hard on one narrative draft, taking it through all the steps of the writing process. Thursday, students had the opportunity to read many of their classmates’ narratives and celebrate what they did well. Students also reflected on their writing by looking back at a piece of on-demand writing they did early in the school year. Many students were pleased to see how much they had grown, especially in the area of focusing their essay on the heart of the story and speeding up through less important parts.

We are now shifting our focus to informational writing and non-fiction reading. This week, students will explore features of non-fiction texts and determine which features they like and why. We will be reading a variety of non-fiction materials and focusing on identifying the main idea and supporting details of what we read. At the same time, students will begin thinking about topics they know a lot about and begin planning to write about it using these features. All of this also lays some important groundwork for what we will do when we begin working on the Wax Museum.

Speaking of, we will be digging into our trade book on the Industrial Revolution. Again, we will focus on main idea/detail, and also students will be responding to questions about the text. Last week we watched a video on the topic to introduce key ideas to students and to help them visualize how life was so different pre-industrialization.

Important Upcoming Dates:

  • Halloween Party and Parade is Friday, October 31st
  • “Book Blurbers” are due Friday, October 31st (book club book)
  • “Breakfast with Books” (Al Capone Does My Shirts) is Thursday, November 6th at 7:45 am
  • 7th Annual Veteran’s Day Breakfast on Tuesday, November 11th from 8:30-9:30