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Newsletter, 4/10

Our Microscopes and Cells unit was a great success. Using microscopes we borrowed from the Montshire museum, students were able to look at prepared slides of insects and plants, as well as slides they prepared of their own cheek cells, onion cells, and other plant tissues. We also learned how to extract DNA from strawberries! A highlight of this unit was our trip to the Dartmouth Life Sciences Building, where we toured the rooftop greenhouse and were guided in the use of more sophisticated microscopes than the ones we used in the classroom. During our visit, students learned about cell reproduction as well as fluorescence microscopy, and were able to practice building composite photographs using the cameras and laptops connected to the microscopes.

Our work in Math has shifted from adding and subtracting fractions to multiplying and dividing them. We are using materials from a new program, Bridges, to help us with this new phase in our learning. For many students, multiplying and dividing fractions can be easier than adding and subtracting them, but keeping track of when to use which operation can be tricky. Fifth graders also need to adjust their existing ideas that multiplication should result in a product larger than the factors that were multiplied, and division should produce a smaller quotient than the dividend or divisor.I have been impressed with how quickly most students have been able to make these conceptual leaps! We started this new unit by learning about multiplying whole numbers by fractions and have recently switched to multiplying fractions by fractions. We are building our understanding of these concepts through games as well as physical models and drawings.

In Writing for Understanding, students recently completed a project in which they “translated” the Declaration of Independence into fifth-grade-friendly language. Students worked in pairs and small groups to translate short portions of this document. The class then created a film of themselves reading these portions out loud. They did a wonderful job bringing this important document to life! More recently, students have been reading historical novels set in the Revolutionary period to help get a sense of what life was like for regular people back then, as well as build their understanding of the perspectives of various groups of people during this time. They have been keeping track of their learning in a “Historical Fiction Journal.” They will incorporate some of this learning, along with upcoming nonfiction research, into essays they will write after the April break.

Conferences are coming up this week, and I am looking forward to meeting with you to discuss your child’s progress in 5th grade. Students are welcome to join us for some or all of these meetings; their level of participation is up to you. See you soon!

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March Update

March is “marching by” as we continue our learning in fifth grade:

In science we kicked off our Microscopy unit with a visit from Amy and Tom from the Montshire Museum on Tuesday. They brought fifteen microscopes to our classrooms, introduced microscope care and use, and provided a collection of slides for our exploration. We were all very excited to see how interesting various insect parts are! We will be looking closely at our own cheek cells, plant parts, onion cells and other objects of interest next week. Students will make scientific drawings and log their observations. Next Friday we will go on a field trip to the Life Sciences Center at Dartmouth College to learn in a microscopy lab and explore the rooftop greenhouse. Your child will be bringing home a permission slip today.

In Writing For Understanding class, students have worked with partners or small groups to create a slideshow about their “Prelude to the Revolution” event. These partner/small group slideshows were consolidated into a whole class project. We are looking forward to presenting and having students learn from each other as each small group or partnership walks us through their slides. Next week we will work on a Declaration of Independence translation project and then move into reading groups to read and discuss various historical fiction novels based in this time frame.

Our focus in math for the past weeks has been on adding and subtracting fractions, including those with unlike denominators. As they learn and practice this skill, students are also developing their conceptual understanding through visual models, including number lines and rectangle models. If you want to check on your own child’s understanding, you might ask him or her to show you what 1/2 + 1/3 looks like, for example, or 2/3 – 3/5. As we approach the end of this unit, the goal is for all students to be able to show their thinking on these kinds of problems using numbers, pictures, and words. We have recently shifted to using a “menu” during class to help students organize their time. Each Monday, students get a list of activities that should be completed at some point during the week. If they finish these requirements before Friday, they can choose from a list of optional activities including challenge problems and games. Most students seem to be enjoying this structure, and our time has felt lively with a variety of math work going on around the room. We’ll move on to learning about multiplying fractions soon!
Extra: Class snack items needed. With the change of season, busy extra-curricular activities and additional in-school opportunities (the musical, Maker Lab, Mud Season Madness), students have been especially appreciative of afternoon snacks. If you would like to donate any non-perishable items to our class snack shelf, please send snacks in with your child or drop them off any time you are in the building. Animal crackers, goldfish, popcorn for our air popper, dried fruit or cheese sticks are a few ideas. Thank you.
Have a nice weekend!

February Update

Enjoy your winter break!!

It has been a busy February in fifth grade so far:

The Science Fair this week was a great success. In the weeks leading up to the big event, students thought of scientific questions they could answer through experiments, and then committed to taking on one question and experiment to share at the fair. It was a wonderful culmination to our units on chemistry and heat; students applied what they had learned to their own experiments, and were proud to share their work with the school community on Tuesday. We’ll switch gears and learn about microscopes and cells after the break.

Our “workshop”-style math class has been working well for the last couple of weeks. Students have been moving through a variety of tasks at their own pace, sometimes independently, and sometimes in partnerships or small groups. Our work has been focused on fractions, with students working through ideas having to do with visual models, equivalent fractions, and adding and subtracting fractions with like and unlike denominators. Some students are also working through a collection of challenge problems in between their other assignments. When we get back from the break, we’ll expand the workshop model to include some games and projects in a menu of options from which students can choose throughout the week. Some activities on the list will be requirements, others will be optional, and students will have some choice about when and how they complete their work during the week.

Writing For Understanding: Classes have recently discussed The Boston Massacre and analyzed various depictions of the event. We have also read from multiple sources about the battles of Lexington and Concord and are comparing our research to Longfellow’s poem, Paul Revere’s Ride. When we return from February break students will work with partners to research specific events and important people that impacted the road to the Revolutionary War. Partners will design a slide for their topic and we will compile class slide shows to share our findings. Upon completion of this Prelude to the Revolution project, students will select a book from this era and we will hold small group book studies. Students will read and reflect on various texts and then choose a format to share with the whole class. We are continuing with our class read aloud, Chains, and will conclude this unit with an opinion piece.

Extras:      We had a fun Valentines Day class celebration, and also spent some time with our Buddy Class weaving paper heart baskets. It’s always nice to watch the older and younger students interact; helping each other and learning more about others’ interests.

                  Our class bunnies, Ollie and Ari, have settled in well. The students are really enjoying their company and have been great about taking on the responsibility of caring for them. Our Lagomorph* friends have been a positive, fun addition to our class. Thank you to Liam and his family for hosting “house guests” over vacation.
*they are not in the rodent family…

January News

January has gone by quickly! Please read to learn about how we’ve been spending our time in fifth grade and what we will be doing next:

In Writing For Understanding class, students have finished their Colonial Times letters. Students wrote from the perspective of a Colonial Times tradesperson to a friend or family member back home in Europe. They explained how things were going for them in the New World and whether or not they felt that they were in the right trade. They then “weathered” the letters with tea and posted them below their trade signs. This was a lot of fun, and students are still referring to each other by their Colonial names. Feel free to take a stroll through the hall outside our classroom to read their work.

We are now walking through the events that led up to the American Revolution; prelude to the revolution. We have been doing a lot of close reading, highlighting evidence in texts to support our answers and then summarizing. We are also making visual aides and graphs to demonstrate our understandings, and will be working with partners and small groups to research major historical events and people (such as certain battles, acts and influential people) in more depth. Small groups will design slides for their topics and we will put together class slideshows. We are currently reading Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson for read aloud. This is a powerful historical fiction novel with multiple perspectives on this time period. Towards the end of this unit students will choose a perspective that they have been exposed to in the novel, independently research this further and write an opinion piece. I will keep you posted on the progression of this unit and we would love to host another Writers’ Breakfast to celebrate student work in early April.

In Math, our focus has been on deepening our understanding of fractions: what they mean, what they look like, and when they matter. In the last few weeks, students worked with story problems involving improper fractions and mixed numbers, and then moved on to learning about decimal equivalents for the most common fractions we see in the classroom. They “discovered” these equivalents using visual models, shading in hundredths grids in various fractional pieces to determine how many tenths, hundredths, and sometimes thousandths, corresponded to each unit fraction (1/2, 1/3, 1/4, etc.) Throughout this unit, we have also played a variety of math games to help review and practice the fraction equivalents and comparisons we’ve been studying.

Students need to have a solid understanding of the meaning of fractions and equivalents in place before we can move on to adding and subtracting fractions with unlike denominators. Last week, students completed a mid-unit check-in assessment to help Ms. Harrington get a better sense of where their strengths and challenges lie. She’ll be using what she learned from this assessment to help target specific instruction where different students need it most. As a result, our math class may look more like a “workshop” for the foreseeable future, with different groups of students working on different tasks around the room.

In Science, we’ve been learning all about heat energy. Working in groups, students have performed a number of experiments designed to help them learn about conduction in different solids (metal, wood, and plastic), conduction by different states of matter (solid and liquid), the relationship between mass and heat energy, and making predictions about what happens when two water samples of different temperatures are combined. In each experiment, students gathered data and graphed and analyzed their results.

This week, we’ll start getting ready for the Science Fair. Each student, working individually or in partners, will choose their own testable question and design an experiment to help answer it. These questions can come from our recent unit on heat, or our fall unit on mixtures, solutions, and chemical reactions. If all goes well, they’ll conduct these experiments later this week or early next, and have plenty of time to create posters to share what they discovered before the Science Fair on February 13th.

Also, we have a fun and helpful activity planned with our buddy class! We will work together in a collaborative, healthy competition to raise food for the Thetford Food Shelf. Please see the link below for more information:

Happy Holidays

Wishing you all a wonderful holiday! We had a nice wrap up before break at school. Here are some highlights from the last few weeks, and some insight into what we will be doing upon our return:

We have spent much of our math time in 5th grade focused on the base-10 place value system, but in the last few weeks we have transitioned to thinking about fractions. We started by building fractions with paper strips, and discussing the meaning of the numerator and the denominator. We then applied this understanding to an extended word problem in which students needed to estimate the size of illustrated fractions, and multiply those fractions by different wholes. Students moved flexibly between visual models, story problems, and numerical representations, which is exactly what they need to be able to do when working with fractions (or any other mathematical idea).  Much of our work so far has been a review of concepts and skills students encountered in 4th grade, and this will lay a solid foundation for the work we will do with adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing fractions when we get back from the break. Fractions, and all the concepts that go with them, are one of the “big ideas” of 5th grade mathematics; students will be learning a lot in the months to come!

We have wrapped up our first big science unit on Mixtures, Solutions, and Chemical Reactions. In these last weeks, students learned to compare the concentration of different solutions, and conducted several experiments to help them learn about chemical reactions. They learned to identify some common signs of chemical reactions, as well as the concept that chemical reactions result in the formation of a new material. We will start a new unit on Heat Energy when we get back from the break. In February, students will have an opportunity to explore some of the ideas from both units in more depth through their own experiments for the Science Fair.

Our learning about Colonial America has included mapping activities, brief research on the 13 Colonies, and we are currently choosing trades to research. Students are making signs to represent their selected trade and after break they will write perspective letters as a tradesperson to their family back in their country of origin.

We have reassessed our word study program and will be taking a break from spelling quizzes to incorporate daily paragraph editing into our weekly routine. Every day students will edit a paragraph and we will correct it together as a warm up to writing time. At the end of the week students will be given a dictation from previous work to write as an assessment. The goal is that as students become more familiar with and adept at this, we will see these skills transfer to their own independent writing.

Our class is looking forward to Mr. Schmidt returning to TES with the parts to our stand that TA students made. We will assemble them together in our classroom and move Hoover to his new area! Thanks again to Chris Schmidt and his students for taking on this project with us. It has been an engaging learning experience!

Also, a belated thank you to all who brought food for our Writers’ Breakfast. Your  interest in student work and feedback were great contributions!

We had a nice time yesterday with our buddy class making ornaments out of pinecones. Today we celebrated the holiday season by sharing Secret Santa gifts. Students were very thoughtful and appreciative. It was a lovely way to end 2017 together.

Enjoy the break and we’ll see you in 2018!