Not-So-Simple Machines

We have been studying Simple Machines in our 4th grade class. Students became experts in one machine, and then taught the rest of their classmates all about the information they learned. Now that we are all in-the-know, we are applying our knowledge to compound machines.  There are no machines more fun than those inspired by Rube Goldberg.   We just started watching a few videos in class today, and the kids asked that I post them on our blog so they can watch them at home.

I’ll be adding more as we share in them in class.  Enjoy!!

National Geographic commercial - 1 minute. We watched this several times to find simple machines.

National Geographic commercial – 1 minute. We watched this several times to find simple machines.


A series of simple machines made entirely of LEGOs.  SO cool!!

A series of simple machines made entirely of LEGOs. SO cool!!

Mr. Porto's students and their Rube Goldberg machines from 2014.

Mr. Porto’s students and their Rube Goldberg machines from 2014.




Effort Affects Everything

Tomorrow morning both my @FourthGraders and my 16 year old son will take the state Common Core assessment.  Like the swallows to Capistrano, these tests come around faithfully each spring.  Though the swallows are welcomed with fiestas and cheering crowds, our requisite tests are not met with the same level of joy and wonder.


Though, there are things we wonder about….  There are many “sides” to the standardized testing conversation. A quick search on Google allows readers to experience the opinions of those who are anti-test, and those who are pro-test…   ;)     There are plenty of opinions inside and outside the world of education to fill in gaps in between.  I have never written about my personal opinion regarding these tests.  First of all, our classroom blog is no place for controversy, and secondly I could not choose a side.


Today? I finally choose a side.  I choose Effort.  I support Best Effort in all areas of the curriculum. I support Best Effort inside and outside the classroom. I support Best Effort 180 days a year as a teacher and I strive for Best Effort 365 days a year as a human being (though laundry piles and dusty shelves are a testament to my falling short sometimes ha ha!).


This afternoon, I chatted on the rug with my students to go over the logistics for testing tomorrow and to clear up any last-minute concerns. They were thrilled to hear there would be no homework this week. Whoop!! They asked if they should go to bed early.  They spoke of what snacks they would bring to fuel their pre-test brains.  They asked (again) about how long it would be.  They asked (again) about what to do if they have technical glitches.  They asked (again) whether we were taking the Math or ELA test tomorrow.


Then it happened – they shared what they have heard about The Test.  This year, “The Question” was asked quite respectfully  (most years, it is asked by a student in a way that isn’t so kind). When the student said “I was told the test only measures teachers and whether they do a good job. Is that true?”, there was a small sea of bobbing heads.  They have heard the same thing. Oftentimes, students are told the test is not testing them, it is testing their teacher.  Though I understand the rationale to reassure young students, hearing the question always makes me sad.


To answer the question, I was honest and true to my own feelings.  The test gives us a small picture of how we are all doing.  It might show whether or not our curriculum meets the standards. It might show whether or not my methods are improving each year. It might show students their performance over time.  It leaves out many vital, important facets of teaching and learning.  It is by no means a bottom-line measurement of who we are as teachers, as students or as parents. It is a blurry snapshot at best.


But I reminded them only ONE thing matters to me every year.  Only one thing matters to me every day.  Only one thing will make a difference in their lives as they move forward.


Effort Affects Everything.


Whether I am working with students on the first day of school, the 40th day of school, the day before a vacation, the day of a test, or the final day I spend with them before I hug them goodbye, I share the same message:  Effort Affects EVERYTHING. They hear me say it when I am praising them. They hear me say it when I am encouraging them.  They hear me say it when I am testing them. They even hear me say it when I am reprimanding them. Though they are still learning to do so, I expect my students to try their best each and every day.  I expect the same of myself. I know my inner middle-aged Pollyanna is speaking for me when I say it doesn’t matter what we are doing – we should always try our best.  Students in my classroom hear this, read this, see this, and know it to be true; it is the foundation of our classroom culture.


Effort Affects Everything.


I told my fourth grade students I expect them to treat tomorrow like every other day of the school year. I expect them to try their best. To read carefully. To employ strategies. To write thoughtfully. To be genuine, hard workers because THAT is what I expect of them every day.   Adults know there is pride in a hard day’s work; my young students are discovering it for themselves.

My Kendyl, learning to windsurf when she was 12.


As always, thank you for your support inside and outside the classroom.

Dream Big,

MyLiveSignature Suzy


The Gift of Reading

If you told me to sit down and take 20 minutes to read silently right now, I would hug you. Taking time to dive into a book (or a magazine, or a newspaper, or a cereal box) is something I’ve always enjoyed.  But as my life has moved along, finding time to do so is tricky! The time I find to sit down and “just read” happens less and less.  My students are lucky!  Every day they are given what I call  the Gift of Reading, as we spend at least 20 minutes every day reading silently to ourselves.


Teachers spend the beginning of the year trying to get their students immersed in books. We teach them how to find books, recommend books, enjoy different genres and how to build their reading stamina. Around the middle of the year we find many students reading from the same batch of books passed around from one reader to another.  Every year the series or the genre is different, but the same phenomenon occurs.  In 3rd grade, our weekly Book Talks changed the reading dynamic each year; introducing students to new reading options.  By the end of the year, 3rd grade students were absorbed in all sorts of books, and Silent Reading time was enjoyed by everyone.


Now that I’m in 4th grade,  I need something to shake us up.  Most of my students are hooked on about 3 series in the classroom, and the same 20 books are being passed around each day.  So, we are on a New Book Adventure.  Every day, I am reading the first chapter of a new book to my class.  The following day, that book goes into a special bin where students can grab and read it.  I’ll be keeping track of the books we share on our New Book Adventure page.   I’d love YOUR help!! What I would like to see is some Guest Readers come in and share the first chapter of their favorite books from 4th grade.  So, whether you are a parent, grandparent, school volunteer or a colleague, I hope you will accept this invitation. Hopefully with daily inspiration, my 4th graders will explore new adventures in the books they read.


Won’t you join us?

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fourth graders Letter of the week

weekly letter march 16

fourth graders video of the week


Making the change from fractions to decimals....

Making the change from fractions to decimals….


Sagamore Bridge, Cape Cod Canal @SimplySuzy 2015


Searching for PARCCing Spaces

Round about this time of year, I usually write my newsletter about the upcoming MCAS test. I share how we prepare in class and what families can do to support students as we roll along.  The last 9 years have afforded me the luxury of knowing the MCAS test inside and out so we can easily find balance within the classroom between test prep and other requirements we must fulfill outside of testing.


closerThis year, we are all venturing into new territory when it comes to standardized testing.  Many students nationwide will be taking the newly-developed PARCC tests in place of the MCAS.  As teachers, we have been learning more and more about the format of the tests, and you might remember I spent some time this past fall giving feedback to those who design the test.  This year, I have the added layer of being a new 4th grade teacher. The curriculum and work expectations are new to me, so at times I feel like a fish out of water. Sometimes it is a challenge to parse out the differences between what is New To Me and what is New To Everyone.

There are a few elements I feel we are working through as we prepare 303 students for this year’s testing while preserving other essential human elements in the classroom. I thought I’d share them with families if they are still unfamiliar with the new PARCC tests.

1.  The test is on a computer (for us, Chromebooks).  For most of my students, this is a big YAHOO!  For others, it is not as exciting as some might predict.  Keyboarding familiarity is important, as are some basic computer skills my students are honing.  We have two sessions in the computer lab each week, as well as several hours per week on the Chromebooks. Every minute students spend on devices is a step in the right direction, as we are making sure we have time to practice basic file-management-type-skills.  Student skills are on the rise, and anxieties are being met with reassurance and 1:1 assistance when necessary.

2. This isn’t your grandmother’s multiple choice. 303 students are learning the multiple-choice questions on the PARCC test are not always asking for one answer; sometimes they are asking for more than one. Sometimes the test asks us to choose an answer for #5, and then #6 asks us to choose the best reason to support that answer.  We keep reminding students to choose the best option, even though there might be other plausible ones. Truth be told, even as adults we are sometimes hard-pressed to figure out the right answer. These questions are tough and make us really think.  I’m very proud to listen to your children talk about these questions and their reasons for choosing particular answers.

3. What are we thinking? The PARCC folks want to know what students think after they are exposed to two or three selections on the same topic. They want to see how kids compare, contrast and convey their understanding.  We have been doing this since the fall, and I am thoroughly impressed with how students are now diving back into the reading to find supporting evidence when constructing answers.  One of the biggest challenges my students are facing is the fact that they have to include so many facets in their written answers.   With consistent feedback, modeling and encouragement, I am seeing huge growth in my students’ ability to express opinions using evidence from their selections.  A tall order for 10 year-olds!

4. Tick Tick Tick Tick….  This year, students may feel the pinch of a timed test. The MCAS had very little in the way of deadlines, but students mostly finished within 90 minutes or so.  The PARCC will stop (after a similar amount of time), which I find students are unaccustomed to.  We are trying to pay closer attention to the classroom clock throughout the day so students are more aware of how time passes.  They actually crack me up, in that most students aren’t tuned-in to the passage of time in general.

5. Basic Skills Remix:  In math, students are required to apply basic skills they have acquired over the past several years. Addition, subtraction, multiplication and division skills will be pushed to the limits as students decide how to apply them in challenging problems.  I have told my students many times they already possess skills necessary to succeed. They only need to commit those skills to their problem solving to make it all come together.

6. Families can STILL help!  If you are the lucky family member of a 4th grader, you can still provide valuable support!  Make sure students are getting adequate sleep, eating healthy and staying active. Remind them every single day that Effort Affects Everything, and that everything we do in school is important.

My teaching emphasis hasn’t changed much over the past 10 years.  Though each spring my young students are faced with challenging assessments, I let them know they are so much more than a number on a paper.  We work hard to do our best on tests, but in the end it is the rest of our interactive, reflective learning that dictates the success of our school year.

Case in point:  Tomorrow morning we are walking the half-mile to Lawrence School to help 8th graders build their sleds for the upcoming Iditarod.  We will head back to Mullen-Hall and soon thereafter will practice our performance for our All-School meeting entitled “Be PROUD, Be YOU!”.  As always, we will blog, Tweet, sing, dance, laugh, write, read and problem-solve the week away.

We will personify Balance as we continue to navigate 4th grade together.  As always, thank you for your support as we work together as a team!

Dream Big,

MyLiveSignature - My Signatures



fourth graders video of the week

Our Science Fair Welcome video - created using DoInk, KomaKoma and iMovie

Our Science Fair Welcome video – created using DoInk, KomaKoma and iMovie



fourth graders Letter of the week

weekly letter march 9

Student Solutions

It’s official. In preparation for middle school, we have made the transition from weekly homework packets to nightly homework.   Having nightly homework has already proven to be a challenge for my @FourthGraders, so I thought I’d give them some suggestions on how students can be more proactive when it comes to taking responsibility for their learning.


I started coming up with some fabulous suggestions.


Then? I stopped and rethought the whole idea.  Why would I just hand them my wonderful list, when they could brainstorm their own?


So, today’s writing lesson started off with a Carousel of Advice.  Students were separated into four groups, and every 7 minutes they circulated to a new station where they faced the following questions:

homework questions

Created using FableVision’s Stationery Studio

By the end of our lesson, we had four posters filled with suggestions for the characters (above) to improve their homework situation.  Here are some of the suggestions Room 303 students came up with together:

Students who leave their homework at school could:

  • Go back to school and pick it up.
  • Do extra work that night instead and bring it in to show the teacher with a promise to finish the homework soon.
  • Write an e-mail to the teacher to explain the situation and to ask for the assignment.
  • Phone a friend and have them either photograph or scan the assignment and send a digital copy.
  • Check the class website to see if the assignment has been posted or uploaded there.

Students who do not understand their homework could:

  • Ask parents for help.
  • E-mail the teacher to ask clarifying questions.
  • Watch online videos to review the topic.
  • Skype or FaceTime with a classmate who understands the assignment.
  • Write a note next to the problems that were misunderstood, explaining why they might be wrong.

Students who know their schedule will be a problem during the week could:

  • Do homework on the bus or during breakfast or lunch.
  • Create a schedule for that week that will work better for homework.
  • Talk to the teacher to see if he or she has suggestions or ideas.
  • Ask for the homework early to get a head start.
  • Bring homework on errands to do when there is time.

Students who have been out of school absent could:

  • E-mail the teacher during the absence to ask for missing work.
  • Have a classmate bring work home to finish before going back to school.
  • Check the classroom website to see if the teacher has posted any lessons or resources.
  • Try and catch up by bringing home work to do on the weekend.
  • When the absence is over, go right to the teacher and ask for missed work.
  • Ask lots of questions and pay really close attention when it is time to go back to school.

As you can see, Room 303 students have some great ideas to help others who are struggling with homework.  Every response assumes positive intentions and values personal responsibility.  It asks for adults to help solve the problem while the student is still in charge of finding the solution.  I think I speak for many teachers out there when I say we are mostly looking for students to value learning, and put forth best efforts every day. It’s pretty simple when you really think about it.


Effort Affects Everything.  Try your best!

March 2 2015


Converting @FourthGraders

Today was all about converting fractions – Mixed to Improper and back again.  We watched two helpful videos and we also did lots of practice problems.  I told students I would share the videos we watched here on the blog so they can refer back to them later if they wish.


Math Antics has AWESOME videos on all sorts of math topics we are learning. This is today’s selection:


The kids liked the Shmoop video because it was funny. It was a great review to watch after we had gotten the hang of things:

If you find other resources, or have any questions, send them along.

Audience Matters

Over vacation, I did some writing for Intel and posted an article on the power of an audience when it comes to being an author.  My article talked about some of the tools we use in the classroom to get students more excited about writing.

I started blogging as a teacher about 8 years ago, and have really enjoyed how it has allowed me to connect with my students, their families and the greater teaching community.  Through blogging, I have experienced the power of reflection, the importance of revising and the challenge of editing.  The more I write, the more I change what I write.

Though 95% of the comments I receive on my blog are spam, I do enjoy connecting with others when they take the time to say hello.  The questions they ask and the ideas they share make me a better writer and remind me that we are all connected in some way.

Your children are becoming stronger writers already – I have seen tremendous growth since September. I hope you have, too!!  They are more willing to write for longer periods of time, and some of them are starting to truly edit and revise their writing to make it stronger.  I am encouraging them to write on computers and devices more and more to be better prepared for the challenges that lie ahead. They are meeting those challenges head-on.

Perhaps having a broader audience inspires them to compose beyond expectations. Check out the following posts from Room 303 students:

Screen Shot 2015-02-22 at 9.42.19 AM

Screen Shot 2015-02-22 at 9.42.30 AM

Receiving responses from family and friends means a lot to students. Occasionally, we also receive comments from others. This one came from my friend Jerry, who runs, an amazing resource for educators.  Jerry visited my class a few years ago and inspired my students to love writing. I am sure his advice has had a lasting effect on those young writers…

Screen Shot 2015-02-22 at 9.45.15 AM

If you haven’t already, be sure to visit your child’s blog at the link on the right.  Ask questions, make connections and leave comments for them – they will love it!!!

We have a busy week ahead – We are creating our Science Fair boards. If you did not purchase a board through me, please send one in with your child. If students are not using time wisely during the day to prepare, I will send them home with extra work to do in order to be ready for Friday.
We are tissue-less in Room 303. I’ve been bringing in boxes, but if you have extras, feel free to send some in, too! Pencil-cap erasers would be welcome, too! Thank you!!

Dream Big,

MyLiveSignature - My Signatures

February 23 Homework

fourth graders Letter of the weekWeekly Letter February 23


A few views from our vacation.

Under Control

It’s funny, as I sit here on my couch on another snowy Sunday, I am trying to figure out how much work to do in preparation for school tomorrow.  Do it all? Do nothing? Time’s a ticking!! Alas, I cannot control the weather, or the forecast (which we all know are two COMPLETELY different things).  I also cannot control whether or not we have school in the morning.

However, I can start planning in my head – for more fractions, for more Science Fair, for more Tuck Everlasting…. It seems that everything we are working on this week is challenging and interesting. Your children are having to work hard all day as we transition from one rigorous lesson to the next.  I know they are feeling how our studies are growing in difficulty.

With our 4th grade Science Fair postponed until February 27th, we thankfully have more time to experiment, observe, report, create posters and present before our new deadline. However, if any parents are available to come in during the afternoons Monday through Thursday THIS week, I would REALLY appreciate it. We are trying to do some pretty exciting science experiments in preparation for our science fair. Having an extra pair of hands in the classroom is essential to make this happen.

Our Mullen-Hall STEAM night is the Wednesday after vacation. I know volunteers will be valued as we work to bring Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics to life for our students and families. Be sure to let Mrs. Horton or Mrs. Stewart know if you can lend a hand.

Well, I’m having a hard time “controlling” my bedtime tonight. I think I’m going to err on the side of a school night and sign off!

Nite nite!

MyLiveSignature - My Signatures

February 9 2015

No Guff Week Room 303

No Guff Week: Room 303 Students



So here I sit watching television; seeing town after town after town cancel school tomorrow. I can see why – I was out driving in it this afternoon. The roads are horrible, covered in snow and ice, and the temperatures are dropping.   Certainly not optimal commuting conditions.

But, I think I speak for many when I say I am ready to go back to school tomorrow after five snow days.

I’ve taken enough photographs:

blizzard2015I’ve watched enough TV:


Screen Shot 2015-02-02 at 7.13.35 PM

I’ve cleaned enough:

(though I have no photographic proof of that)

I have had enough of the Internet:


I have completed enough projects:

crown moulding

I have avoided enough projects:


I have shopped enough:

Say no to the dress

This is not THE dress for Kendyl


I. Have. Had. Enough.

I’m looking to see my favorite fourth graders tomorrow.  In my classroom.  I am ready to get them back to work.  I am ready to bravely take on the science fair.  I am ready to push through all the way to February Vacation.  I am ready.

Are you?

Room 303 class cartoon

Procedurally Speaking

My @FourthGraders are learning the #ScientificMethod, and in many ways, I am learning right alongside them.  One step we are learning more about is how to write clear procedures.  Sound easy? Not so much.

Today we practiced by writing directions for others to follow.  I’ve been a long time follower of Science Stuff by Amy and her site has a resource that I based my lesson on:

Each partnership chose 20 blocks and arranged them in a design they liked. Their next job was to write step-by-step directions on how to re-build their design. Finally, we switched groups around, and partnerships had to follow directions to re-create the original designs. Here are our photos:


procedure 1

procedure 2

Procedure 3

Procedure 4

procedure 5

procedure 6

procedure 7

procedure 8

procedure 9

AFTER we were all done, this was Mrs. Brooks design and directions. Two students worked together to follow the directions and replicate it.


We had a great chat afterwards about how important it is for scientists to write clear procedures so that their experiments can be replicated accurately.

We’re learning more and more!!!