Is This Blog Even Needed?

Despite all our reliance on technology and its increasing importance for nearly every subject and occupation, the classroom blog doesn’t seem to be a real necessity, at least for elementary students.

I do consider my online planbook of supreme importance, however, and keep it updated regularly. It has everything a student would need to keep up on the classwork if they are absent, except on days when we do tests, labs, or videos.

You can visit and bookmark the planbook with the following link:

I am not likely to keep this blog up to date but the planbook will be kept extremely current. I do not have a paper planbook or gradebook. The one you see is the exact one I see.

Getting Settled In

The students are getting accustomed to the routine and directing their time and energy to understanding new concepts and mastering familiar ones.

Our regular routine in math is a lesson (or two!) a day for an entire chapter. Math chapters can last anywhere from 2-3 weeks. At the end of the chapter, they get an entire class period to work on a study guide that is incredibly similar to the test they will take the following day. They complete this guide with a partner, and get it checked by me every 10 problems. They are rewarded candy now and will receive mini-economy money once that begins at the start of the second nine weeks. It is always nice to see them so eager to prepare for a test! However, they need to put in good studying time at home – and I recommend at least 30 minutes of studying. For math tests, this means actually working out problems from the book for 30 consecutive minutes.

Our regular routine in science is one lesson per week. Science follows a much more dependable schedule.
On Monday, we preview the Latin/Greek root words, make our index cards for them, and quickly preview the chapter with discussion, skimming, or a BrainPOP video.
On Tuesday, we usually work together as a whole class on the material.
On Wednesday, they are given an entire class period to work with a partner and finish up the lesson in the book.
On Thursday, they almost always do a lab (labs are sometimes excluded for shortened weeks, NWEA testing, or to make room for computer lab time for projects) in their lab groups. The lab is a hands-on activity directly related to the central standard for the lesson.
On Friday, we take our Latin quiz and lesson quiz. These will be on QuizStar.

At the end of an entire unit or chapter in science, we have a review day just like in math, where they prepare a study guide with a partner. These tests are almost always on paper, and they are mostly short answer and essay. If a student studies the study guide, they will do well. If they do not put in the needed work, they will do poorly.

And as a last note, the students all still seem to be very happy with our SMART Board, and all of them are eager to come up and write on it. Thank you SMART Board for helping me make math a little more engaging and exciting!

Back to School

Here we are again, back at the beginning. Another school year is upon us and I hope everyone is excited as I am to get back to school. I have been working all summer on curriculum and graduate classes to make my teaching even more effective. Last year was a phenomenal success, as everyone involved put in an incredible amount of hard work to achieve our lofty goals. Lesson from last year: hard work pays off. It takes teamwork from the students, the teacher, and the parents, determination to see the job through to the end, and confidence that we can all meet and exceed expectations. I expect nothing less this year.

Student performance on tests will be even more important this year. All teachers in the state will be judged on how well their students do on tests that are taken for a few hours out of the entire year (that is not a typo). It is a fact we must all adjust to; this is the new normal. At CAE, students and teachers will be judged on performance on ISTEP, NWEA, and vocabulary tests. We will spend our time and energy mastering the standards on the tests so we can achieve success.

However, we will still have time to pursue in-depth research and projects. We did many projects last year and still did very well on all the tests. The gifted student can master many of the standards much quicker, and this leaves time to do project-based learning on topics that the students choose or select. We will find a healthy and effective balance between the two.

Home Stretch

If you stand still and look closely, through the spring fog and morning mist, you can see the end ahead of us. Like Frodo and Sam, the trip has been strenuous, rewarding, and memorable.

A year’s worth of hard work, determination, and focus has got us this far, and it really is amazing the amount of material we covered. From an entirely new set of science books, to the incorporation of Google Docs as a central component of our classroom, we have utilized the time and the materials given to us in the most effective and efficient way possible.

We finished our science and math books in both 5th and 6th grade with well over a month of school to go, while completing 2-3 significant research projects per nine weeks, getting 5 out of the 6 school-wide winners and alternates from the Science Fair, and absolutely crushing our AR goals. We had 100% of our students both make their points goal and get over 80% comprehension. We have taken already bright and talented students and made exceptional gains in NWEA and STAR testing, and now only have the second part of ISTEP to excel at.

When you are given a lot of talent or special skills, you could sit back and coast through life knowing that your exceptional abilities will allow you to work less or be lazy and just get by. Or, you could recognize that your abilities are both rare and special, and make a concerted effort to work even harder than other less fortunate individuals, and become someone truly special, with the skills and the will to make a significant and beneficial impact on the world.

You are the doctors, lawyers, engineers, architects, executives, nurses, computer programmers, and more. You are the people who will take leadership roles in society and have the greatest impact on the lives of others. The world depends on people like you.

No pressure. ;)


ISTEP will begin on March 5th – so it is less than 2 weeks away. This portion of the ISTEP is the written component. Math and science questions will need short answer and essay responses to questions that will require critical thinking and analysis. The multiple choice portion of ISTEP is in April.

We will be using the entire week before ISTEP as preparation. 5th grade will focus exclusively on math, as they are not tested on science in 5th grade. 6th grade will work on both science and math.

We will work on problem-solving and writing prompts in math, and Mr. Cross and I have developed a science packet covering all of the tested standards with writing prompts for each one. These questions are from old ISTEPs, so this should be a great preparatory tool.

Science Fair Peer Review

I had planned on having each student present their project in front of the class, but time limitations in both classes will prevent this from happening. But, after watching the students work together today and reevaluating the situation, I am confident that that the best course of action will be small groups. Sometimes, serendipity trumps careful planning, and you just have to be flexible.

Students will be presenting their projects in groups of 5, with each student filling out the Peer Review form for the other four members of the group. After everyone has presented their project, then all of the projects will be set up around the room. A blank Peer Review form will be set out in front of each project, and the students will have about 30 minutes to view and comment on all the projects that were not in their original group.

This should be a great experience for the students for so many reasons. Every project will be improved after this session. Students will get to experience watching other students present, to see both good things to emulate and bad things to avoid. Getting feedback from someone other than me is always a bonus. I hope that this whole experience can really bring home the value of constructive criticism.

Science Fair Checklist

Science Fair will be an enormous part of the third nine weeks science grade, and rightly so. It is more work than even our biggest nine weeks projects, and often requires the purchase of materials that our Google Presentations do not require. In order to ensure success of all students, we reviewed the checklist and rubric during class. We went through it piece by piece on the document camera and I answered all of their questions. The rubric is similar to the ones we use for our nine weeks projects, with some additions of specific parts of the science fair project. This will not be new or intimidating whatsoever. First up is the checklist. I will post the rubric in a separate post.

Science Fair Student Checklist – Revised