Hi Parents –
I have received a lot of emails and questions about snow days and missing work. Truthfully, even though I think just cracking open a book for a half hour and writing a paragraph response to what you read before or after a long morning of sledding or snowball fighting is fine, there are lots of you out there stressed about testing and readiness. The testing will happen whether we get snow or not, so stressing about it is wasted energy. To be honest, there have been a few days that I wished that I had skyped or prerecorded a lesson to send out to homes, but as we all know, elementary school students are not all given laptops until 6th grade, nor do I think the expectation of snow packs of work for middle schoolers is always fair or should be mandatory, given the obvious upheaval of routines that occur when the weather is bad. That being said, I wanted to offer some suggestions when just reading a book and writing a response just doesn’t cut it. You know your child best, of course, but when we get back from snow delays and there is very little progress being shown in homework, journals, reading logs and even toward long term projects, the focus MUST shift more to something being accomplished at home, and I have some suggestions and links to share.
First of all, we have always sent home rubrics and expectations for long term projects, like science articles and book reports. Obviously, those due dates will not change regardless of the weather issues we face, so any work that can be done toward the completion of those projects will go a long way toward making sure we stay on schedule. Science articles are due the week of March 23rd (the day varies by student) and the book reports are due April 2nd for all in the class.
Second, all students received a daily writing journal calendar and I have told students that those are expected whether we are at school or not. They can be postdated and predated so the one or two paragraph prompts (sometimes even less) can be done in just a few minutes a day. Even though this year is the first year that 5th grade students are taking Henrico assessments vs. state SOLs in writing, this is a KEY skill that is prevalent in middle school and can ultimately steer students in different paths based on their writing and language skill set. I have attached copies of February and March writing calendars for you to discuss with your students. There is no need for these prompts to be written in the journals if they are not home, they can easily write them on paper and attach them into the journals at a later time if needed.
Third, daily math homework is sent home in packets, and these packets can fill in for a good 20 minute work session at home if students wish to work ahead. I have been asked about if calculators are off limits for homework, and since calculators are allowed on the SOLs for certain portions, I do suggest that students use them to check their work once completed for computation questions, and to be allowed to use them for longer word problems, multistep problems and problems related to graphing, algebra, fractions and even decimal work. Again, if you cannot see work on the page, then the calculator is probably not being used for the correct reasons. If you CAN see work, then the calculator is fine.
With the advent of better and better educational websites that are good assistants in learning it can be a good idea to visit some of the better math and science web sites for 30 minutes a day, especially on snow days, weekends and vacation days if possible. The largest and most concerning development we see lately is the student struggles with TEI’s or technology enhanced items. These are the question on SOLs and benchmarks that are not straight multiple choice questions, and in truth, pose larger challenges for most students who must endure the rigors of longer and more articulate (needlessly wordy) test questions, even in math. For training on these questions, the best site to visit is the Virginia Department of Education’s SOL site at http://www.doe.virginia.gov/testing/sol/standards_docs/mathematics/index.shtml
You can also download and print full released tests for your students to practice. ANY test taken at home and turned in to me for snow day or weekend/vacation credit will receive a full homework grade for that day in addition to the regular expectation of the math packet.
Some other websites that are not only educational but fun for students are www.sumdog.com, www.xtramath.org, and www.khanacademy.org. Khan academy allows student to go anywhere that they wish to study math, even more advanced levels. If they wish to connect to me as their “coach” they need to
- Sign up at khanacademy.org (or log in with their existing accounts)
- Visit org/coaches
- There, in the “Add a coach” field, enter the class code MWW45A
The other websites allow practice of foundational skills and the ability for students to play games together. We also have introduced http://www.mathplayground.com/ as another place to learn the Singapore style math block modeling to math problems that are more wordy and complex. For fraction problems specifically, click on http://www.mathplayground.com/tb_fractions/thinking_blocks_fractions.html and follow the links for the models in this group. The home page offers great games in all levels of foundational skills and practice for ratios, integers, percentages and graphing and modeling for more assured students looking for a push. Again, a half hour a day, even on a non-snow day, will go a long way toward assuring readiness for the more rigorous SOL tests to come this Spring.
Science sites like Jefferson Labs student zone – (http://education.jlab.org/indexpages/index.html)http://education.jlab.org/indexpages/index.html) and the science reference desk http://www.refdesk.com/science.html and Seymour Simon’s glossary of terms http://www.seymoursimon.com/index.php/science_dictionary/ are great resources for vocabulary and virtual lessons regarding matter and atoms (where we were expected to be by now had the snows not come) and light and sound, which will round out our instruction for the school year. The bulk of the issue for those tests is usually the retention of 4th grade and earlier concepts, like plant parts and earth/moon and sun relationships (moon phases, seasons, etc.) After all is said and done, just taking a quiz at http://education.jlab.org/solquiz/ and sending me the results, pass or fail, show a student’s commitment to success for the SOLS and beyond. Any grade will be credited an A grade in homework, and be put toward their overall average regardless of result.
So these are just a few suggestions for when the weather makes a dent in the school day. And with the potential for even more weather concerns in the next few weeks (yes, even in March we can get snow), having these resources available to you may go a long way into helping your child maintain routines and stay on track for what is shaping up to be a challenging but exciting Spring in 5th grade. At this point, I think even weekends and vacation downtime to get on these sites, even for 20 minutes, and explore with your child may go a long way to ensuring better results at testing time. As always, you can email me or send a note if you have any questions. Thank you for being a partner in your child’s schooling and education, and for continuing to set high expectations for the future.