Weekly Updates
Weekly updates of what's happening in our fourth grade classroom!  Check back often, or click "Blog Feeds" under "Content Alert Subscription" to receive email alerts whenever a new update is posted.

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We're back from Spring Break!  This week was a combination of getting back into the routine of things after being away 2 weeks, while also starting to prepare for state testing, which will start April 28. Math Students reviewed equivalent fractions and adding mixed numbers, and learned how to subtract mixed numbers.  Adding and subtracting fractions is a skill that needs to be practiced a lot to master, so this week students had more math problems than "usual" for math homework.  Everyone is still working at it, and we'll continue next week. English Language Arts One of the subjects tested in state testing is English Language Arts.  To get students accustomed to writing on a computer (rather than the usual paper and pencil), we went into the computer lab and practiced writing an opinion paragraph.  It's a little different, composing sentences from your head and typing them out, but everyone put in a lot of concentrated effort.  Great job!  We'll keep practicing next week too, before testing starts on April 28. Science We've completed "Life Science" and have moved onto Earth Science.  For fourth grade, this means studying the sun, Earth, and the moon.  Students reviewed some vocabulary this week, and will study these topics further in the coming weeks. Social Studies We're on our last "leg" of our Early Michigan History unit!  This week, students learned how Michigan became a state. "Spring Break Souvenirs" It's a tradition now!  Whenever we have a vacation, part of our Morning Meetings when we come back is that everyone brings in a "souvenir" from their vacation.  Students sign up for days to do this, and take turns sharing what they brought in with the class.  We started "Spring Break Souvenirs" this week, and we'll continue next week. Art We headed down to the art room and broke out the paint!  Ms. Zakem, who formally studied art and LOVES painting, showed students a bit of "color theory" (mixing colors on a paint palette to get different colors and shades) before turning students loose.  It was a relaxed and pleasant atmosphere, and students were really experimenting with colors as they painted...whatever they desired!  It was wonderful to see such variation of subjects in their paintings.  Many plan to continue what they started, so we'll be painting next week in art, too!
Posted by szakem  On Apr 17, 2015 at 10:38 PM
If March is coming in like a lion, let's hope it goes out like a lamb! Math We continued our study of improper fractions and mixed numbers.  Students took "guided notes" as they learn the concepts together as a class.  With the help of Ai Sensei's puppy "kyara" (character) and Ms. Zakem's (stick figure) Harry Potter, students learned how improper fractions and mixed numbers "transform" into each other. :) Science We began our chapter on animal adaptations.  Students are currently grappling with the question "How do adaptations help animals survive?" and based on their habitats, what adaptations are needed to live there. Social Studies We continued our study of Early Michigan History.  Students took on the roles of the Native Americans, French, British, and finally Americans.  By reenacting the interactions among these groups, the students came to understand not just that there was conflict, but also why there was conflict.  Likewise, students juxtaposed Michigan history with Japanese history, again finding similarities that "foreigners" came to interact and have an influence on the land. March Shamrocks In honor of Saint Patrick's Day being in March, the Lightning Thieves are working toward earning "shamrocks."  When they do something well, such as everyone being ready for class in time, they can earn a "leaf" of a shamrock.  But they have to get three leaves to get points! (because a complete shamrock has three leaves).  These shamrock points are added to the Lightning Thieves Points--our next goal being 400 points!
Posted by szakem  On Mar 10, 2015 at 9:37 PM
Wow, February flew by!  So did this week for that matter! Science On Tuesday, we had our "Science Expo!"  Students had been preparing for this for a few weeks (and then some, because of so many snow days!)  The Science Expo was when students had a chance to not only showcase the Interactive Posters they had made in teams, it was also a chance to "show what you know" as they presented their poster to wandering classmates.  Rather than a formal presentation, students demonstrated how their posters worked and information about the animals included, while "visiting" students took notes.  This setup actually mimics how a real science conference works (Ms. Zakem's sister is a scientist in Boston, so we have some first hand knowledge about the science world. :) ) Ms. Zakem was impressed at the teamwork that went into creating the posters, and how knowledgeable students had become of their environment and the living things that interact in it.  As a bonus, the 3rd grade also stopped by our Science Expo, and students had fun showing their neighboring classmates what they had been working on. Math We started our chapter on fractions!  Students are learning about improper fractions and how to switch between improper fraction and mixed numbers.  To introduce the concept in a visual (and hands-on) way, Ms. Zakem brought in her "vintage Legos" from her childhood, and the students had a grand time building "Lego fractions," then writing them in improper and mixed number form.  Ms. Zakem is happy to report that all students were very careful with her "vintage Legos" so no Legos were lost during this activity. :) Art Students showed such creativity making pictures and designs with shape blocks, we can't wait to see what they will create in "fraction art!"  This project may take a few sessions of art class, but the best art is created over time. :)  We started by cutting circles into different sized fraction pieces and labeling them.  Students then tried to see if they could find equivalent fractions with their various pieces (this is a concept we will be be covering later in math class, too.)  Next week students will begin to use their various fraction pieces to create pictures and designs.
Posted by szakem  On Mar 04, 2015 at 12:12 AM
Wow, what with no school on Monday and snow (cold?) days on Thursday and Friday...we had a super short week!  So I'm going to "tack on" those two days of school we had onto our last week in this update. Please note: Weekly Updates cover activities in both English and Japanese subjects.  Ai Sensei and I both plan and teach lessons for math, science, and socials studies cohesively.  So over a span of a week, both English and Japanese lessons have covered the concepts and done various activities.  Thus, "Weekly Updates" are a sort of "best of" moments of the week, in which it's hard to specify whether it was a Japanese taught class or an English taught class.  We hope you enjoy these "best of" moments in the fourth grade class! :) Math After learning about diagonals, students practiced "proving" what type of quadrilateral it was using diagonals--or rather colored "sticks" to lie across shapes they built using shape blocks.  We also were wrapping up our chapter on quadrilaterals.  To review, students made "quadrilateral cards" in class.  Then...we played "Taboo!"  Taboo is a game in which you cannot say the name of the object you are trying to describe (in this case, the name of the quadrilaterals.)  Students seemed to have a good time reviewing with this card game--and we were pleased with how much students showed they know about quadrilaterals in order to guess (and win!) each others' cards! Science Students have been working diligently in their Science Teams to put together an "interactive" poster to explain and show all the interactions among living things in their assigned environment.  We were impressed with the creativity that students put into their posters--which for some have branched into including 3D models of their environment!  Our "Science Expo" is next week--when students will mimic scientists at a conference, explaining their posters to wandering students in a "mini talk," rather than a formal presentation in front of the whole class.  We can't wait to see the finished posters at our Science Expo! Social Studies Our new unit is "Early Michigan History," yet students are also getting a chance to compare and contrast Michigan with...Early Japanese History!  Students looked at a relatively similar time period in Japan as what they were studying in Michigan Studies.  They found similarities between how Native American tribes lived and how people in ancient Japan lived. Valentine's Day Party and Game Time On Friday, February 13, the fourth grade combined their Valentine's Day celebration with their earned Game Time.  This time students were able to bring in hand held video games, provided they had a signed permission slip.  Students spent an enjoyable (and rather quiet!) afternoon after recess either a) playing games or b) watching others play games.  Students seemed quite content either way. :)  Toward the end of the day, students passed out valentines and goodies.  Everyone went home with a goodie bag stuffed with Valentines from classmates...and a heap of candy to boot!
Posted by szakem  On Feb 23, 2015 at 12:25 AM
A short week this week, what with 2 snow days!  Still, we had a lot going on the remaining 3 days of school. :) Math Students continued to work on quadrilaterals, recognizing their features, and distinguishing the differences between them.  Building (pun intended) off of last week's picture making with the shape blocks, we upped the challenge: use the shape blocks to create either a parallelogram or a rhombus. (This is harder than it looks!)  Students then had to prove to their partners what shape it was, showing it had parallel lines and opposite (or all) sides of the same lengths.  Students rose to the challenge, building some magnificently creative parallelograms and rhombuses--and then proving what they had built to score points!  There was a lot of thinking and learning going on, with some students going into the thousands with point value. :) Writing Workshop Students are working on their personal narratives, and are in the process of drafting them now.  They are using their "road maps" (sequence chains, which organize how the writing will go) to do this.  What with the snow days, we'll continue drafting next week, too. Social Studies We started our new unit: Early History of Michigan!  We began by going wayyyyyyyyyy back in back in time, learning about the Native American tribes that once lived where Michigan is today.  We explored how they lived and what kind of people they were by studying artifacts left behind. Science We began our group projects!  Each group was assigned a different environment, and researched what kind of living things are found there.  The homework was to do research on two animals to find out what they eat, if they have predators, and what their habitats are.  Students showed good teamwork during class, distributing the work load among "researchers" and "secretaries." :)
Posted by szakem  On Feb 09, 2015 at 4:24 PM
It's hard to believe it's the end of January already!  Happily this week was a little warmer, and students could go outside for recess a few days. :) Reading Workshop Students are continuing to study character traits, and we are learning some new vocabulary (for vocabulary traits) as we go; we read "Ruby Bridges" and talked about the words "malicious," "considerate," and "determined."  Students are continuing to find evidence in small reading groups, but soon they will be doing this work independently! Writing Workshop Ms. Zakem talked a lot about how much thinking there is for writers before they begin to write a draft.  This week, students took their "spider web" of ideas and organized them into a "road map," which sequences those ideas.  Now some students are beginning to draft using those "road maps."  There is a lot of thoughtful work going on in writing right now! Math We have moved beyond simply parallel and perpendicular lines and now are looking at shapes that specifically have them.  Students have learned the names of shapes from Kindergarten, but fourth grade works on classifying (sorting) them by feature (such as how many parallel lines.)  On Friday, students used their creativity to make designs, first with tangrams and later with shape blocks.  Students noted the shapes in their designs and recorded their features after. Social Studies We wrapped up our Michigan Economy unit with a project: students were given an economic challenge, and in groups came up with a plan to "take it on!"  First students worked on the actual idea: where it would be in Michigan, what resources they would need, etc.  Then they drew a poster and presented their plan to the class.  Ms. Zakem and Ai Sensei were pleased with the enthusiasm and creativity shown, and how teamwork was used among the groups.  Best of all, students realized how their plans could help Michigan, such as providing jobs for people.  Well done, Lightning Thieves!  Who knows, maybe one day those plans will become reality. :) New Years Games The fourth grade rearranged its morning schedule to take part in some special activities this week.  In place of morning meeting, the fourth grade went down to first grade to play Karuta, and later in the week to teach New Years games to the preschool.  There are specific traditional games played at New Years in Japan, and the fourth grade was given the task of teaching the little kids how to play.  Not only was this activity cultural, it also aligned with fourth grade learning standards.  In both Kokugo and English language arts, the fourth grade has been working on organizing their thinking (such as in writing) and presenting it clearly to others.  Alongside doing oral presentations to their own classmates (such as in Kokugo and social studies), teaching Japanese New Years games to little kids was an assessment for fourth grade students, to see if they could give directions in a way that others could follow.  However as an added bonus...the younger kids were ecstatic to "play" with the older ones, and more than one fourth grader asked, "Can we stay longer?" Kindergarten Helpers This week, the fourth grade had a special opportunity to help Kindergarten during music this week.  at 1:45 (recess for fourth grade, but music class for Kindergarten), the fourth grade joined Kindergarten in the music room for 15 minutes (the rest of recess) to help them learn how to sing "The Star Spangled Banner."  Both Ai Sensei and Ms. Zakem noted how the fourth graders really looked after the little kids during this time.  They showed a real sense of responsibility and became great "Onee-chan" and "Onii-chan" (big sisters and big brothers) for the Kindergarten.  And the Kindergarteners were thrilled to have fourth grade buddies! We're looking forward to what February will bring! :)
Posted by szakem  On Jan 31, 2015 at 6:35 PM
My apologies for not updating about last week.  In fact, for many subjects in our classroom, this week is a continuation of last week's work, so I'll cover them together in this post! :) Reading Workshop Last week we started a unit on character traits.  Students are learning to "find evidence" in text by noticing what a character says (verbal) or does (action).  We practiced doing this as a class reading the book "The Recess Queen," which the students thoroughly enjoyed.  Students are getting really good at finding evidence in the text to back up their thinking!  We are also doing this work in small reading groups. Writing Workshop Last week, students received "Writer's Notebooks," introduced as "a place where you can collect thoughts and ideas for writing."  We talked about how writers can get ideas and inspiration for writing where ever they go, so they carry notebooks with them.  Then we went "out into the world" (well...the library!) to try this out.  The students really liked taking their notebooks and writing elsewhere besides the classroom.  And all students were very focused on their writing, and came "back" to the classroom brimming with writing ideas. :) We also started a specific writing project: writing personal narratives.  In other words, students are writing about a strong memory they have.  Last week we brainstormed "important memories" in our Writer's Notebooks (Ms. Zakem did, too!)  This week, we picked a topic and worked on making a "spider" web of ideas about it.  We're currently in the process of organizing those ideas into a "road map" to organize our writing. Math Last week and this week, students practiced not only identifying perpendicular and parallel lines, but also how to draw them using "set squares" (triangles found in a protractor set).  This week, we had a "Math Skill Check."  This was individually given, so that teachers could assess the actual drawing of lines with set squares, not just the resulting lines.  This skill is important, because next student will be drawing not just lines but entire shapes using perpendicular and parallel lines. Social Studies We have been studying about Michigan's economy, and the many parts to it.  Students learned about imports and exports (such as between Michigan and Japan!)  They also learned the many goods that Michigan makes and grows...and how tourism also helps the economy!   This week, students learned one way that Michigan is meeting economic challenges (using wind turbines to generate "clean green" energy), and have been assigned to teams to take on an "economic challenge" themselves by coming up with a plan!  Already there were some innovative ideas blooming this afternoon!  Students have next week to work with their groups, and then will present their plan to the class on Friday.  We can't wait to see what students will think up! The weather was a little "warmer" this week, and we even had a couple outdoor recesses!  Students who had snow pants and boots could play in the snow, which was great--but coooooold--fun.  Ah, Michigan winter. :)
Posted by szakem  On Jan 24, 2015 at 12:45 AM
Happy New Year to all!! We are back from a wonderful winter break--and dived straight into the heart of a full-blown MICHIGAN WINTER, complete with snow falling and school canceled on Thursday January 8 because of the below freezing temperatures!  Brrrr.... A note of apology: I realized I didn't update about the week before we went on winter break, so first I will cover that! December 15-19 "Martina" Reader's Theater Performance, Singing, and Cast Party Thank you to all the families that came to see us perform on Thursday December 18!!  The turnout of so many families made the students feel really special, and I know they were proud to stand up there when it was "showtime." They worked really hard in English class with Ms. Zakem on saying their lines with expression, and it was so great to see that hard work pay off!  They also worked hard to learn a new song in music class with Ai Sensei.  We hope that you enjoyed the performance--and the celebratory "cast party" after!  Your generous donations of food and drinks made it feel like a true celebration of a job well done. :) Soap Making and Pajama Party Thank you once again to the moms who volunteered to come in and teach the kids soap making!  What a fun--and useful!--craft!  After craft time, the kids all changed into their pajamas, rolled out their blankets and sleeping bags, and spent a cozy and relaxing afternoon watching a movie together.  We had popcorn and hot chocolate with marshmallows while we watched, too.  Thank you to the families that provided us with stuff for our pajama party--it was a fun and delicious time! :) January 5-9 Walking Club Niji-Iro has started a special activity during the winter months: Walking Club!  Whenever it's too cold to go outside and there is indoor recess, all students have the opportunity to go to Walking Club: they walk a loop around the school in the hallways, picking up a ticket from a bucket every time they complete a loop.  Students can then record their number of tickets (loops) for that day.  Eventually a certain amount of times around the school equals a mile, and students are encouraged to see how many miles they can walk!  Walking Club has been immensely popular--almost the entire fourth grade class has gone all this week!  The kids come back slightly out of breath but with fistfuls of tickets--they are working hard, in all sense of the phrase! :) Winter Souvenirs This week's Morning Meeting time has been especially fun because it's Winter Souvenir sharing time!  Students take turns bringing in a favorite item from their winter vacation and telling the class about it.  It's so nice to hear what everyone did during their break, not to mention seeing some pretty cool "souvenirs!"  But best of all is how respectfully the students are listening to each other during this time! Kakizome At the beginning of the new year in Japan, people do "kakizome," literally "first calligraphy writing (of the year)."  This is when you write a traditional New Years greeting, usually a proverb or poem.  Ai Sensei led the fourth grade in kakizome on Friday, with both Kokugo and JSL students participating.  The students were very precise as they wrote the kanji 春の光 (haru no hikari, "spring's light") with ink and brush.  Their papers were still drying Friday afternoon, so look forward to students bringing them home sometime next week. :) Mochitsuki On Friday afternoon, the school had our Mochitsuki (New Years rice pounding) event.  Each grade was called down to the gym, first to help pound the rice into mochi (a sticky rice "cake")...and then eat it!  It was sticky, sweet, and completely delicious!  Thank you to the parent volunteers that organized this event--the fourth grade enjoyed it tremendously! Books we are reading This week we read a book called "My Secret Bully," which opened a discussion about when "friends" treat you badly.  We are currently in the middle of reading "Confessions of a Former Bully," which cleverly takes the "bully" character from "My Secret Bully," and makes her the narrator--who then tells the story of how she stopped being a bully!  "Confessions of a Former Bully" also gives some advice about what action to take if someone treats you badly, or if you see someone else being treated badly. (We'll actually get to that "advice" part next week. :) )  Our goal is always to create a positive and safe environment for students. Here's wishing everyone to stay warm!!
Posted by szakem  On Jan 10, 2015 at 10:08 PM
Thank you once again to everyone who made time in their schedules and came to parent-teacher conferences this week! This week...we actually began preparing for next week!  See the family letter (in the document container, under Calendar) for specific details about events next Thursday and Friday, December 18 and 19. Science We began "Round 2" of our seed growing and science report writing!  This time, we planted the seeds in soil, and made predictions about which plant (baby leaf or basil) would grow faster, and if they would grow faster than when they were just "planted" on wet paper towel.  Once again, students are diligently reporting their observations and findings! "Martina" Reader's Theater On Thursday afternoon, December 18, the fourth grade is putting on a "Reader's Theater" production of Martina the Beautiful Cockroach, a Cuban Folktale.  This will be followed by singing, and then a "Cast Party" to celebrate their hard work.  All families are welcome Thursday afternoon, so we hope you can join us! :) This week, students focused on reading their lines smoothly and practiced as a class for timing.  Students are doing a fantastic job, and are super excited about preparing for the upcoming performance!  In art class today, students created masks etc. to wear which will represent their characters.  We're looking forward to the performance already!
Posted by szakem  On Dec 13, 2014 at 1:34 AM
Everyone came back from Thanksgiving Break ready to jump into the new semester! This semester, as a class we are working on two goals in the school Rainbow Code of Conduct.  They are: 1. Respect others. 2. Be responsible. When the class shows respect or responsibility, they earn Lightening Thieves Points.  For example, showing respect could be listening quietly while the teacher is talking, or showing responsibility by returning classroom supplies after using them. We also read "Surfer Chick" out loud, discussed the character's goal, and how it went.  Then each student wrote his/her personal goal and posted it somewhere in the classroom where they often look if they get distracted.  By doing this, it serves as friendly reminder to the student to focus again, so he/she can achieve that goal! As for working on being responsible, Class Jobs have started!  Also, we have started using Student Planners to write down assignments and record clip chart colors.  If students get the page signed by a family member, they can get Rainbow Tickets for that day, depending on the color. Finally, on Friday, we read out loud "Zip Zip Homework."  Along with introducing the fun word onomatopoeia, we also discussed the importance of being organized--and also being honest about doing your homework.  Then we did a binder clean-out: students took out all papers from their binders from last semester.  They took this packet of papers home to decide with their families what would be saved, and what would be thrown out.  Students also got a handout that explained what dividers they should have, and where worksheets should go.  We are all set to head into the second semester, goal-oriented and organized! :)
Posted by szakem  On Dec 07, 2014 at 2:12 AM
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