Language Arts

“Writing is the most powerful tool available to human beings for examining, reflecting on, and finding meaning in their own history and experience.” This week, the 8th graders have truly embraced the writing process in the narrative they’re drafting about a personal hero in their lives. It’s rewarding to see them struggle as writers and overcome obstacles; to take ownership of their craft; and to demonstrate the confidence and tenacity that will help them be successful in high school.

On this particular essay, I take a bit of a backseat–they are the experts on this subject, and they decide the best way to present their ideas and emotions. It’s a different relationship for us than the traditional teacher/student model, but from my experience with this project, this autonomy is the key to powerful, authentic writing.

*Source: “Why Writing Matters”  at


I must say, our students have thoroughly impressed me with their creative and innovative designs for their Rube Goldberg machines! While their designs are still mostly in the planning stages, it’s amazing to see the ideas they come up with as they work together to brainstorm ways to complete their chosen task. I’m looking forward to seeing their ideas come to life over the course of the next week! We are tentatively planning on holding a presentation day for students to show off their hard work and creativity sometime between February 2nd and 7th, depending on when the majority of the class will be done. I’ll be sending out an official invitation through Canvas with a set date sometime in the next week. I’d love to see as many parents there as possible!


Our 8th grade classes are wrapping up the unit on civil rights. This is always a great unit with many connections to current times. Students are currently creating a video (outside of class) presenting historical facts and student opinion on important characters from the era. The video, along with their essay/script and investigative materials are due this Wednesday, February 1. We have had discussions and time to share ideas and I have offered my time to listen to anyone who needs help.

Last Wednesday the students participated in a one-class debate on “Who should African-American college students follow? Martin Luther King, Jr. or Malcolm X. The method is brief note-taking, meeting with like-minded students for the defense of King or X, presenting their side, meeting again to prepare to rebut, then a time for rebuttal. Since time allowed, they also had a “lightning round” to go back and forth. The students recognized how this helped them understand both sides, especially if they randomly had to defend the person opposite of their personal belief. I feel this was a success and plan to do more in the future as time and subjects allow. This was one of the ideas I brought back from the Columbia Social Studies Institute I attended – thank you again Mrs. Martin and board members.

Our upcoming unit is on the Cold War. During this unit the project will be student created websites – more fun to come.

It was great to see more parents at our conference time. If you would like to meet with me and Amanda please choose a slot at – here’s a link for quick access. // If you need a different time, please email either of us and we can choose a mutual time.


I can’t believe we are already at the end of the first semester. We have just finished our current units and are beginning to review for the semester final. As the students are preparing for their semester final exam I thought it might be helpful to provide you with a brief tutorial on how to check your student’s grades on Canvas. Below is a link to a video tutorial explaining how you can check all of your child’s grades on one page, and why there is “no grade” in math. So grab some popcorn, something to drink, sit back and enjoy the video. 🙂 Checking grades in Canvas:


Students are busy creating IB presentations on a specific Decade of Music. Working in small groups, they researched the most popular musical groups and soloists of decades between the 1950’s and the 2000’s. They will present information about their artists’ awards, musical influences, top hits, number of records/CD’s made as well as show video clips of the artists. After the IB presentations, we will delve into a study of the Grammy Awards.


Students are currently in the middle of our Comparative Reproduction unit and are becoming experts on classifying organisms from their distinguishing characteristics. After learning about the characteristics of life and the ways scientists have grouped organisms, we started a journey through the 6 kingdoms. So far, students have studied Archaebacteria, Eubacteria, Protists, and Fungi. During our study of fungi, we took a closer look at a few well-known members of the kingdom during two hands-on activities. First was a mushroom dissection, where students observed the anatomy of different mushrooms and studied how mushrooms reproduce using spores. We then looked at yeast cells reproducing under a microscope. We will continue into our last two kingdoms, Plantae and Animalia, where students will complete a few more dissections and a research project on an organism of their choosing. This unit provides ample opportunities to see science in action and connect the knowledge they gain to a concrete example they can hold in their hands. Our final dissection will happen in mid-February, and a few extra sets of hands and eyes during this activity would be wonderful. If you’d like to volunteer please send me an email and I’ll give you more details!

Language Arts

Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “One’s philosophy is not best expressed in words; it is expressed in the choices one makes…and the choices we make are ultimately our responsibility.” The concept of choice has been the cornerstone of our study of the WWI-era novel Private Peaceful, from Michael Morpurgo’s choices as an author to how each character’s choices shape the plot of the book. In the summative take-home exam, we shift gears and put the emphasis on the students’ choices. In the exam, they become “the author” and create chapter titles for the book, as well as examine one character through the lens of choice.

I feel that this particular IB focus is so relevant for our middle schoolers today. When I look back on my own middle school experience in rural East Texas, before the dawn of cell phones or social media, I know without a doubt that today’s students face much more difficult choices than I did. It is my hope that through our study of one fictional character’s decision to do the right thing, even under the most painful of circumstances, our students will consider their own choices and be empowered to work for positive change in their lives.


Our 7th grade classes are fully involved with two projects in class. First, we are continuing to research background info to create a meaningful essay on World War I. In particular, making a connection of new technologies of the era such as airplanes and tanks, and presenting facts and opinion on the impact on the war. Students are learning and using a source and note card system. Along with the essay students will be creating a visual to present expressing their chosen research topic. They can paint a picture, build a model (not a purchased model), or make a poster or diorama. These are due next Friday, February 3. Second, students are working on trench warfare skits. The skits are designed for students to have some physical fun while presenting certain historical facts about the defining factor of the war – trench warfare.


I can’t believe we are already at the end of the first semester. We have just finished our current units and are beginning to review for the semester final. As the students are preparing for their semester final exam I thought it might be helpful to provide you with a brief tutorial on how to check your student’s grades on Canvas. Below is a link to a video tutorial explaining how you can check all of your child’s grades on one page, and why there is “no grade” in math. So grab some popcorn, something to drink, sit back and enjoy the video. 🙂  Checking grades in Canvas:

Language Arts & Humanities

Since returning from the winter break, students have been keeping individual vocabulary lists. During our independent reading time each day, students select one word that they don’t know, think is challenging, or think sounds interesting. Then they add the word to their Google Slides vocabulary notebook with the sentence that included the word, a picture, and a definition. Each week I choose words from their lists for all of us to learn. Students get so excited when their word is chosen. Each day we review the words by playing a game, such as “Word Sneak.” Taken from The Tonight Show, this game challenges students to use vocabulary words in a casual conversation. Students creatively twist the conversation to include their word and everyone wins!

This week students also chose a news article from Newsela and wrote a summary of the information. Newsela provides texts at five reading levels. It was really interesting to see students gravitate toward certain topics and get to learn something for their own interest. We will continue learning about informational text structures and author’s purpose in the following lessons.

Math & Science

I am so proud of the 6th grade class. Students are mastering the concepts of how to solve for a variable. Ask your child to teach you a problem from their assignment. This is a great learning/teaching tool for them to fully grasp the concepts we are covering in class. Also, remember to check out the Noetic Learning website if you or your child would like to subscribe to their challenge math problems.

We just completed our earthquakes and engineering project. This was a wonderful project in so many ways. Students were able to individually design a bridge using certain materials and keep to a budget. Students then worked in a group to design and create a bridge they could all agree upon. It was awesome to see their creative thinking, problem solving and teamwork skills. Hopefully, your child has been talking to you about the bridge project and how their bridge turned out. If you would like to see a collection of the bridges they are on display next to the PK classroom.

It has been very comforting and productive to finally move back into a normal full-time routine after several weeks of interruptions from mother nature! This week we are finishing up our Social Studies Unit on the Maya, Aztec and Inca civilizations. Children have zoomed in on a specific civilization and self-selected a way to show what they know about that culture. Mediums for the kids to demonstrate their understanding include posters, travel brochures, skits, songs, Kahoots and Google slide shows. Ask your child what they are working on! We have been super impressed with the kids’ creativity and motivation to show what they know in unique and entertaining ways!  This is a great reminder that students are more successful when they have a choice in how they are demonstrating their knowledge. This type of diversity in assessment also philosophically supports our soon-to-be middle schoolers upcoming transition to the IB program.

The 4th grade class has delved into a wide variety of novels for book clubs this month. The chosen books include: Tuck Everlasting, Bridge to Terabithia, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, My Side of the Mountain and Runaway Ralph. After reading, each group discusses their book club role. Roles consist of visualizer, questioner, connector, word watcher, making inferences, predictor, summarizer, investigator and quote master. All groups engage in collaborative conversations and follow proper book group etiquette. We also continually check for understanding by asking, “Who did I just read about?”,  “What just happened?  
In Core Knowledge the class is enthralled by the study of the Qin, Han, Tang, Song and Ming Dynasties. We have been amazed by how ruthless many of the emperors of Ancient China were. In addition, we have been impressed by the inventions, art and culture of the Ancient Chinese. Next week, we will observe the Chinese New Year by engaging in many traditional activities such as cleaning, the Dragon Dance, Red Envelopes, and New Year couplets. This year is the Year of the Rooster.