Welcome Back! Week in the Classroom the First Month 2015


My family life is still…complicated, but I am still working and I feel the need to try to write about what I’m doing in the classroom. I hope that it will prove interesting and intriguing to you too.

I have moved to fifth grade (from sixth). The change is slight in some ways, but big in others. Because this class is generally at a pretty good level academically, the difference there is not big. Emotionally they are, on the whole, less “mature” than the sixth graders. I’ve brought a lot of what I’ve done with sixth graders down to fifth grade, but not everything, and not all at once. As an example I’m having them write notes on the history and science lessons, but I’ve held off have them do the full end of chapter packets with independent work activities (of their choice). I also haven’t had them do end of unit “projects” of their choice (plays, comics, etc.) I will eventually get to that, but I’m taking it slow for all of our sakes. Here’s what we’re doing:


We’re studying American History, and it starts with the folks who were already here. A colleague talked about skipping this part, but if I had to, I’d prefer skipping the part I’m in now, which is the causes leading to the Age of Exploration. Why? When you don’t study the Native American part, then they will not get the point that folks were already here when explorers from Europe “found” the new world. If you skim over it, they won’t know how developed those civilizations are. I do try to teach my kids many of the more current issues about what happened before and as this clash of cultures took place. Even teaching them about the take over of Constantinople by the Ottomans, etc. is pretty complex to convey to the kiddos (they get the disease and displacement aiding European colonization just fine). The edgy part of my curriculum is showing parts of History Channel’s Mankind: The Story of All of Us. It did a good job of conveying some of the pre-cursor events like the fall of Constantinople and the Reconquista to students.


Fifth grade still has all the domains of science, since they are tested on it in this grade in California. We start with Life Science. In short, cells are boring and so is classification of living things, but we’ve moved onto plants, and will be getting to human biology soon. They’ve spent a lot of time in our native plant habitat getting real life tie-ins to what they are reading about. This week’s lesson on photosynthesis was almost KILLED by a textbook diagram showing the chemical equation for photosynthesis. I KID YOU NOT! The kids were seriously freaking out when they saw that. I took a deep breath. After lunch I told them that although chemistry is where math and science meet and does have some nasty equations, they also have fun model-blocks to show stuff. I then drew a model of the molecules using circles in a various colors for each element, and it clicked. Further supplementing this, I’ve used both Magic Schoolbus and Planet Earth videos on plant life.

Language Arts

We’re still not in a “full” adoption of new materials for Common Core, and have this half-assed Core Ready program from Pearson. I’m sure that this program is helping them to keep earning, because it’s basically a teacher’s manual where the only materials included are public domain (which you have to copy). They do helpfully refer teachers to look on the Internet for songs and lyrics to share with students that they base lessons on. Hmm, that’s avoiding copyright infringement or paying publication fees by putting it on the teacher. This leads to a WHOLE lotta copying on my part, which is a drag. It does have mentor texts, which my district has purchased, but none of them are “class sets” as the author want us to provide students with choice at their lexile level. That’s really nice, but, for some reason with this first unit on theme and specifically the theme of growing up, all the mentor texts are by Patricia Polacco. I LOVE Patricia Polacco, she’s a wonderful author. She has great characters, and a lot of diversity, but one person cannot cover it all. I’m supplementing by including stories from our old language arts text, Open Courts, which has some good stories in the units on Cooperation and Competition and Heritage. I do love her work, I just think it was not well used in this case. Some of the kids are, happily using many of the mentor texts (since there were fewer than 10, there were not nearly enough for the class as it was).

Other fun things…

We just started on computers last week, and didn’t get to it this week, so I don’t have a lot to report about that. I’ll probably have more next week. We’ve done four art projects, with two from the Art Docent program (city collages and Braque-like, stamping-like project) and two related to Native American art (Pueblo Pots, Buffalo Hide paintings). I’m not sure if I can make this a regular thing, but I’m hoping to be posting from time to time.

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