Thursday, June 12, 2014

6/12/ 14

As the end of the year approaches, I find myself thinking about the growth of my students past and present.  Students become mine because they need help with something that is difficult for them.  When I think about the math they can now do, the books they can now read, or the activities they can now join, I am excited by their successes.  The greatest achievements come, however, in the developing strength of character the each of my charges demonstrates.  They learn to persevere through tough challenges and that work is hard but that hard work pays off eventually.  They live the old adage "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again" and, like The Little Engine that Could they have learned to "think they can".  All of these life lessons will make them good employees, good employers, good neighbors, good family members, good people.  As I celebrate the  achievements of those for whom school is easy, my heart belongs to those who toil.

My students and I are looking forward to many of the same things: sun, sand, and time with family and friends.  I hope everyone has a wonderful vacation!

Elizabeth Clarke

Friday, May 30, 2014

CCS Social Studies - May - June 2014

CCS Social Studies - May - June 2014

8th Grade social studies students have been focusing on the 4-I's: industrialism, immigration, inventions, and imperialism.  Each "I" influences the others throughout the late 1800s and early 1900s.  Students debate whether figures like Rockefeller, Carnegie, Vanderbilt, and Morgan are captains of industry or robber barons.  How does the wealth inequality of the Gilded Age compare with the wealth inequality of today?  Is the video in this link ( ) propaganda?  What does the data indicate?

Extra credit opportunities for 8th grade students include: 1) researching and presenting on one of the presidents from the Gilded Age (Grant, Hayes, Garfield, Arthur, Cleveland, Harrison, McKinley), 2) Create chapter questions for the book Children of the West, or for the book, Immigrant Kids, 3) Complete the World War I internet search packet.

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In 6th and 7th grade social studies (both blue and gold groups), students have recently completed their unit on the conclusion Middle Ages, and are learning about the rebirth after some dark times!  The Renaissance
unit focuses on the big ideas that the arts, philosophy, science, and literature flourish during this time.  It was also a time when people were looking back at what was lost (neo-classical).  These new humanist ways of thinking resulted in challenges to the established religion of the Catholic Church in the time period we call the Reformation.  Could the Reformation have happened without the Renaissance?

Extra credit opportunities for 6/7th grade students include: 1) teach chess to someone outside of middle school, 2) create a modern or local chess set, 3) write an extension of your "pilgrim's" tale, 4) illuminate a medieval letter, 5) create additional Renaissance revolutionaries trading cards, 6) add captions to the medieval comic strip.  

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Updates from the Math Room

6th Grade

The 6th graders have spent the last several weeks focusing on geometry. We're currently focusing on three dimensional figures. This has allowed for a lot of hands on learning, which is always fun! The other day, as an introduction to surface area, we cut apart empty cardboard boxes to make nets. By looking at the nets, students are able to see each part that makes up the total surface area. We'll be finishing up the year with our last unit on statistics! 

7th Grade

The 7th graders have also been focusing on geometry. We just finished our unit on angle relationships and triangles. We had fun playing with "anglegs" to discover the rules for side lengths of triangles. We're now moving on to two-dimensional geometry. The students will be doing some fun activities with circles where they will discover the formula for circumference and area on their own! They will also be working with one of their favorite values - pi! 


The Pre-Algebra class just wrapped on their unit on statistics. We learned about measures of center and measures of variability. We also learned about biased vs. unbiased sampling methods and which methods are most appropriate. We just started our probability unit. Probability always leads to fun activities involving dice and coins, which they have already experienced! 

8th Grade

The 8th graders just finished up our unit on the Pythagorean Theorem. Students were able to find the missing side of a right triangle or determined if three sides made a right triangle. It was a quick, but fun, unit that the students really enjoyed. We are now starting our congruence and similarity unit where students will study transformations and their affects on shapes. It is always fun to create patterns and designs using transformations! 


The algebra students are in the middle of their unit on quadratic equations. We are currently focused on factoring trinomials to solve quadratic equations. This had been challenging, but they're getting the hang of it with lots of practice! As we get close to the end of the year, they will start to prepare for their final exam at the beginning of June! 

Sunday, May 4, 2014

News from the Science Classroom!

6th and 7th grades!

Having done an excellent job on their science experiments for the science fair, students are now taking on the study of basic chemistry.  They have been studying characteristic properties of substances.  They learned how to measure mass with triple beam balances, and to measure volume by water displacement, or by measuring length, width and height.  They used these skills to help them calculate the density of many different metals, woods, and plastics.  Then they were able to identify "mystery substances" using the density.

We have also been talking about other properties, such as boiling point and freezing point (and trying to imagine how hot it is when metals "freeze" into solids, and how cold it is when oxygen "boils")  We explored the idea of solubility, and how some substances dissolve easily, and others don't.

We posed the question, "How do we use characteristic properties to separate substances?"  Students were challenged to use their knowledge of properties, to separate a mixture of sand, salt and sawdust.  We worked on connecting the names of the properties (density, solubility, and boiling point) to the differences that made it possible to separate them.

Lately, we have been learning about atoms and elements.  Students are thinking about just how small an atom is, and trying to make sense of the fact that they are too small to see, but we have evidence that shows us their properties.  We are distinguishing between elements (made of one kind of atom) and compounds (made of more than one kind... chemically bonded together)

Our study of the periodic table is aimed at helping students know how to use it as a reference tool (not memorize it)  We have been exploring what all the symbols and numbers mean.  We wondered, together, why it is such a strange shape, with some elements sticking out at the top.  Students were given data on each element, and asked to organize it themselves, based on as many different pieces of evidence as they could. They discovered that it's organized by atomic number and atomic mass AND by what the elements combine with and whether they are metals, non-metals or metaloids.

This past week was particularly fun for students (and me too).  We have been looking at the differences between chemical changes and physical changes, and thinking about how chemical changes make new substances.  We saw pure sodium metal react violently with water (it catches fire and explodes), and talked about how sodium, combined with a poisonous green gas (chlorine) makes plain old table salt!  We also burned paper, saw chemicals combine to produce color changes, saw other chemical combinations produce gasses, and 7th graders even saw chemicals produce heat or cold.  Our objective is to see the difference between a physical change and a chemical change, and to understand that after a chemical change, there are new and completely different substances.

Upcoming is another "figure it out yourself" lab (known as student "inquiry" in educational circles)  involving several chemical reactions.  Students will see four chemicals mixed, and evidence of several chemical reactions.  Their job is to figure out which combinations of substances cause which reactions.

Soon we will turn our attention to weather, including how we measure pressure, humidity, temperature and wind, as well as how and why air moves, how clouds form, how we know when and where storms occur, and other weather-related learning.  I am excited to look at data from our new electronic weather station, right at the school!

8th Grade!!

Throughout the year, 8th graders have been working on honing their informational writing skills.  Scientists do experiments, but they also need to communicate clearly about them, and synthesize information they read about science topics.  Clarifying one's ideas, enough to write clearly about them, is an important skill.  The 8th graders wrote about the physics of roller coasters in the fall, they wrote about why planets orbit the sun, and why there are eclipses in the winter, and now in the spring, they are writing about a genetic disorder.

We have worked on a concise, clear, get-to-the-point writing style, that is different from story writing, and different from argument writing.  We have worked on shortening our sentences, but using several short sentences in a row to get across a complex point.  We have worked on coming right out and saying what needs to be said, with specific detail, but without too many extra words, and without introductory phrases that don't say much.  Some students began the year with run-on sentences that included up to seven commas.  They are learning to break apart complex sentences, and achieve a clean, crisp, concise style.  Others started with such "concise" writing, that they left out most of the important detail that needed to be described.  They are writing less vaguely now, with more specific terms, and fewer missed details.

I am so pleased with their efforts!  The difference in their writing from the beginning of the year to now, is truly inspiring.  They get many comments on their papers from me, and often feel somewhat overwhelmed. However, the improvements in the quality of their informational writing on the whole should make each of them very proud.

Our genetic disorder essay is currently in its third revision.  Still to come, is the writing of a narrative story about a patient (fictional but realistic) who has the genetic disorder they wrote about.  I will be looking for connections to their research, but also a sensitive, dramatic and realistic portrayal of the real life issues that face patients and families with these genetic disorders.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Happenings in the Spanish Room

Despite the cold weather, eighth graders ushered in la primavera with Cascarones. Cascarones are confetti-fillled hollowed-out eggs that you crush on top of somebody's head.  This tradition, already popular in Mexico, is expanding to other Latin American countries.  Cascarones often appear during Carnival celebrations, Easter, Halloween, Cinco de Mayo, and even during weddings.  Having an egg cracked on your head is said to bring good luck.  Whether or not this is true is open to question.  However, I can tell you that it did create a colorful trail of confetti leading from the ball field to the classroom.

Eighth graders will be starting their final unit of study next week.  The focus of this unit will be on leisure time activities in Spanish-speaking countries.  Discussions about Hispanic art and music will be an integral part of this unit.  During the week of June 2-6, eighth grade Spanish students will take a final exam.  This is the same test that is given to all level I students in the region, including those at the high school.  It covers the material studied this year and is a requirement for any student entering Spanish II.

Sixth and seventh grade Spanish students are working on an interdisciplinary project combining technology skills and Spanish.  Mrs. Nelson introduced the students to the project via a catchy "Billy, la Bufanda" video on YouTube (see the blog entry below).  Students are preparing the animation under the guidance of Mrs. Nelson and will work on the Spanish narration during our class time.

Seventh graders will start their final unit of the year - FOOD!  We'll talk about the traditions surrounding food in various countries and compare the eating habits and diet of various Spanish-speaking countries to our own.  There will be some opportunities to sample different dishes created in and out of class.  Seventh graders are also required to take a final exam.  This test is actually the mid-term exam that is given to level I Spanish students at HVRHS in January.  Review will take place during the week of June 2-6;  the exam will be administered the following week.

On the Tuesday before vacation sixth graders traveled to Kent.  There they participated in a Zumba workshop.  Under the tutelage of Wanessa, a vivacious instructor who hails from Brazil, the students learned multiple Latin American dances.  We also learned a bit about the history of the salsa, cumbia and merengue.
The favorite dance among the students appeared to be the Capoeira, an interesting blend of Brazilian martial arts, music and dance.  A special shout out to Juan, Haley, Luke, Lucas and Arieh who boldly stepped forward to lead the class in the dance.  Wanessa was quite impressed, and so was I!  A special treat for me was listening to Juan as he conversed so beautifully in Portuguese with Wanessa!

I'd like to take advantage of this forum to recognize Roxy (grade 8) who has been very generous with her time.  Not only does she help in the Spanish room with the first grade during her Flex time, but she also assists me with a Pre-K Spanish class that meets after school.  Roxy's patient, thoughtful manner coupled with her knowledge of young children and Spanish, have made her a valuable asset in the Spanish room.  Muchas gracias Roxy!

Billy, La Bufanda

Friday, April 25, 2014

Spring Updates for English

6th Grade:
6th grade recently finished reading Bud, Not Buddy and related non-fiction articles about The Great Depression. They wrote collaborative persuasive letters in small groups to convince the social worker that after a long and difficult journey, Bud had finally found a good home and should stay in Grand Calloway Station. We also watched Walt Disney's musical "Newsies" and compared the life of the orphan Jack Kelley to Bud's life. Although the time periods were different, the students found many similarities in the rise of the unions and increase in strikes, the treatment of children in the orphanages, the level of poverty in the cities, and unfair working conditions for children. They saw how determined both main characters were to find "a family". 
Coming up:
6th graders will be learning the expectations and procedures for literature circles in preparation for our Obstacle unit. During this unit, there will be several small groups reading different books centered around the theme of obstacles and resilience. Some of the titles are Daniel's Story, Milkweed, Fever 1793, A Corner of the Universe, and Freak the Mighty. 

7th Grade:
7th graders worked on their argument writing skills while reading the The Giver. The Dystopian setting of the book made for great discussion and writing. Students considered whether or not a community should have pets, books, love, pain, color, music and more. They wrote 2 collaborative essays in small groups focusing on a variety of these topics. They incorporated information from the text, their own lives, and non-fiction articles into their essays. 
Coming up:
We will be continuing with our study of Dystopian literature but adding more of a Science Fiction element as well. Students will read and discuss books in literature circles. Students will create their own schedule of readings and assign jobs as a group. Students work individually on the reading and jobs in order to be ready for the scheduled discussion days. The jobs include: Discussion Director, Vocabulary Enricher, Connection Creator and Passage Master. 

8th Grade: 
8th graders have just finished their reading of "A Raisin in the Sun". They took turns taking parts as we read the play aloud in class. We stopped to discuss events, write responses, learn vocabulary words, and see clips from 2 different versions of the film. They will begin a formal essay on the play this week where they will once again practice in- text citations. 
Coming up: 
8th graders will be starting The Outsiders as their final independent reading book of the year. They will be blogging about the book in small groups outside of class. We will come together for a whole class discussion, assessment,  and opportunity to view the film in early June. In the meantime, they will be working in student lead literature circles on books centered around the theme of Human Nature. Some titles include: Lord of the Flies, The Chocolate War, The Wave, and Animal Farm. 

On a personal note, my son, Jackson,  turned 1 at the end of February and started a couple days per week at the Cornwall Child Center. He brings us much joy at home and many fun stories to share with the students.