What Makes our Writing Worth Reading?

We have been hard at work on our writing skills. Students have been learning strategies to hook their readers and keep them glued to their story. We’ve been analyzing what authors do and we notice there are many common features in their writing…

We notice authors use sounds, dialogue, questions, action, thoughts and feelings in their writing.  When they combine these different strategies, the writing becomes more powerful and the reader is engaged.

204 students have spent considerable time writing in ways that make their writing worth reading. Whether it is crafting an opening that “hooks” the reader, or developing characters and details in a way that keep a reader engaged, we are developing our skills in amazing ways!

So, as we put Once Upon a Time and The End behind us, watch and see how our skills and strategies evolve.  Through reflection and revision, we will see vast improvement in grade 3!

I often share my own writing with students – so I thought my Valentine’s story might be a fun one to share with families, too.  Don’t forget to send in valentines this week! Here’s my embarrassing narrative.


“The Secret Admirer”

The sky was a brilliant blue the day my teacher passed out the class list for Valentine’s Day. “Be sure to bring your lists home!” Mrs. Pollak said brightly as she handed us each one.  It was February, 1980, and I was in the sixth grade. I was extremely shy, perfectly well behaved, and a great student.  I loved my teacher, I loved Valentine’s Day, and I was starting to think I was in love with a boy.


All I had to do, was look across the room at him, and my whole face would burn up like a ripe apple.  I would never have the courage to talk to him, or tell him how I felt, because I was just too bashful.  But thankfully Valentine’s Day was right around the corner, and I’d have my chance to give him a hint.


Every year, students at our school designed Valentine’s boxes — beautifully decorated creations, which were then used to collect all of our valentines at school.  My box was extra special this year, with pink stickers and white feathers, and I had used shiny white paper to cover it.  It was beautiful. It was ready.

Next, I set about creating my valentines. Although I had left my list at school, I knew each name by heart and set to work…  I created one for every student in the class, including him.  The valentines were made of shiny white paper, with pink stickers and white feathers.  (Even when I was 12 years old, I had to make sure everything matched!)  Each student’s name was carefully written on the front, and I had signed each one with my name in cursive. They were beautiful. They were ready.


Back to the boy…   I decided that sending him an anonymous card would be my best bet.  He’d get the hint that someone liked him, and hopefully I’d get lucky and he’d notice me.  I wanted to be very careful to create a valentine that was different than all my others.  I used a deep red paper, with hand-cut white hearts and a few candies glued on the front.  Inside – I wrote the following:

Dear Kile – I think you are very sweet and very cute. Love, Your Secret Admirer.



I was especially careful to disguise my handwriting. I did not sign my name.  It was beautiful. It was ready.


The dark gray sky on Valentine’s morning did nothing to dampen my mood.  I was walking on air, and spent a little extra time getting ready.  I chose a special outfit, and had my mom help me with my hair.  I even put on my BonneBell lip gloss and Love’s Baby Soft perfume!  I packed up my box, my Valentines and my secret card, and set off for school.  I could hardly contain my excitement, I was so happy.  I was beautiful.  I was ready.


The time came, late in the afternoon, when Mrs. Pollak finally told us it was time to pass out our Valentines.  I left my box on my desk, and carefully made my way around the room, dropping cards into all the boxes I came to.  I took special care NOT to drop his Regular Valentine into his box at the same time as his Special One. I did not want them side by side. I was certain that no one noticed when I dropped the red valentine into his box.  My heart was pumping in my throat by the time I sat down in my chair.

Next came the part I had been waiting for – we all opened our valentines and arranged them all on our desks.  I could see from across the room that he had opened his Secret Valentine, as it was on his desk with his others…  My cheeks started turning pink.


Soon, Mrs. Pollak inquired “Did any of you receive any unusual Valentines?”


From the corner of my eye, I saw him raise his hand.  I started to blush even more.


“I did, Mrs. Pollak.” He said with a shy smile in his voice. “I received a card from a secret admirer.”


“OOOhh!” said Mrs. Pollak “Do you know who it is from?”


“I think so.” He said.


“Well that’s exciting!  Do you want to share?”  My teacher asked him.

The whole class was now turned towards him, waiting for his reply. He was now also blushing bright red.  He softly said “The mystery valentine has my name spelled wrong: K.I.L.E.  It should be K.Y.L.E.”


My face grew red hot as he continued…  “Only one other person spelled my name wrong the same way…..  it was Suzy.”


Every face turned towards me as I tried to turn invisible.  I was about to throw up all over my beautifully feathered box when I heard Mrs. Pollak, saying – “Well, Kyle – I wouldn’t jump to conclusions – I saw a couple of young ladies come in the room from down the hall while we were passing out valentines.  My guess is that you have several possible secret admirers…”


Then, my wonderful teacher changed the subject by saying it was time to eat our cookies while we listened to her read our read-aloud chapter book.  She read to us until the very end of the day.


As the bell rang, and I went to leave the classroom, Mrs. Pollak gave me a smile, a wink and quick hug as she whispered in my ear….  “Suzy, I admire how brave you were today, but next time?  Remember to use the class list!”


RemindersWe are still in need of drivers for Wednesday’s field trip to the Cotuit Art Center. Please let me know ASAP if you can help us out.
Our valentine share will be on Friday, but students can bring in their cards to hold on to at any point.   Thank you!!

Dream Big,

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February 10Video of the WeekScreen Shot 2014-02-09 at 8.51.19 PM

Padleting Together

With the iPads rolling in on Monday, it was a perfect time to talk about our planet research. I asked students to think of what is important to learn when studying planets. Instead of having them raise their hand and share one by one, we used a free online collaborative tool called Padlet.

Formerly known as WallWisher, (which I used for years), Padlet is a virtual bulletin board, and students create virtual sticky notes on their devices. They show up instantly on the pad,  so we’re able to see everyone’s ideas pretty much instantly! A note can contain text, a link, an image, a video, or a document upload. Every student has a say, every voice is heard. Students readily helped each other as we chatted about planets and thought of more questions.

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You can check out our Planet pad by clicking on the photo – but I’d also like parents to give it a try themselves!  Be sure to follow the link to our Parent Pad below.  We’re asking you to leave a note of encouragement for students as they journey through the 2nd half of 3rd grade. Be creative!

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I also created a document for my adult students (who are all teachers) – giving them suggestions on how Padlet can be used in the classroom.  Perhaps some of the ideas would work well within your family! Plan a family reunion, share family recipes, write a collaborative note to a far-flung relative, etc… If you have any additional ideas of how Padlet could be useful for you, let me know and we’ll create a list!

padlet ideas

Download a copy of the PDF Grab a copy of the PDF padlet ideas!


We are still collecting Box Tops for Education and wanted to thank everyone who has sent some in. Thank you also for the canned goods we donated to the Falmouth Service Center!
Early Release tomorrow!!

Dream Big,

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February 3Video of the Week

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Economic Literacy

Is your child Economically Literate?  You might be surprised at the answer!  Over the past several weeks, Ally’s mom has been coming in to Room 204 to present lessons from Junior Achievement as a curricular tie-in to our Social Studies program.

junior achievement
So far, students have spent time learning financial concepts such as taxes, city planning, interest, needs and wants, and interdependence. They are better understanding the circular flow of money in our economy while practicing math, speaking, listening and cooperative learning skills.

To enhance our in-class discussions, be sure to share appropriate information with your child about household income and expenditures, as well as the decisions made between our needs and wants.  Whether helping to budget groceries for the week, or planning ahead to finance the next family outing, your children will learn so much from these real-world examples.  Students have also been learning how to keep a checkbook register – so take the opportunity to open a savings account for them and have them keep track of the growing balance themselves.

The concept of taxes will re-enter our lessons a little later on when we study the road to the American Revolution. Until then, be sure to ask your child about their weekly Junior Achievement lessons!


Our first book talks were last week and they got us off to a great start! You can check them out from the link on our blog.
You might notice I’ve started using an email newsletter. I’m trying to iron out the wrinkles – feedback is welcome! Thanks!

Dream Big!!

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January 27halfway day

Video of the Week

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Multiplying Maestros

struggling in math

I’m really old, but yet I can still remember learning my multiplication tables when I was in 3rd grade. Mrs. Lynch would have us listen to each times table as a song on her record player, and I could sing you those songs still today.  Combine her strategy with having us practice with flash cards, and needless to say, I memorized all of my facts by years’ end.

I carry some of that tradition to my own classroom, and I hope it is effective.  Students have been listening to and watching the Schoolhouse Rock! videos for each of the times tables through ten. Some tunes are catchier than others, but they are all cute. I can sing those, too, ha ha.

We continue to progress through our quizzes. We have a specific routine for quizzing that I learned from working with Laura Candler and her book Mastering Math Facts: Multiplication and Division. We are working as a team to conquer the 0-10’s tables this year, and so far, we have all mastered 0-2.

Last year, I videotaped our routine to share with families at home.  Miss Sally (my mom) was nice enough to run the camera while we went about our business.  You can check out the video  HERE

To practice, students can be using flash cards, online games, oral practice, or our XtraMath program online.  In fact, many of the same programs we use in the computer lab and on iPads can also be accessed while at home.

Five minutes per night is really all it takes – but just imagine how much progress can be made if each student practiced for 10 minutes per night!!
Thank you for everyone who sent in their Book Talk paperwork. If you have reviewed the requirements with your child, please send in the signed form.
Book Orders are coming home today – I’ll give it a week or two before they are due. I’ll be using our Bonus Points for a project!! Stay tuned!


January 20Video of the Week

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Long Winter Weeks Ahead…

I am glad that we can soon put these short weeks behind us. As much as I enjoy the long weekends and vacations, the shorter weeks are a challenge when it comes to squeezing everything in. The upcoming months represent a significant amount of learning at school. Students at this point know what is expected of them, and should be very focused on their work.

In Science, we have been exploring the Solar System. Everyone has been excited to learn more about the planets, the moon phases, and how our Earth is part of a much bigger world!

As readers, we are working on comprehension skills & strategies to better understand what we are reading. The very important skills of questioning, visualizing, connecting, predicting, synthesizing and making inferences are all weaving their way into our reading.

In Math, we are working on our first unit on Multiplication and Division. When we meet these topics again, it will be to tackle double-digit problems. Tricky stuff!! We are working hard to learn all of our multiplication facts from 0-10.  Not easy!!!

In Social Studies, we are continuing our journey through Massachusetts history and will soon learn more about the Puritans. We will use digital video from DiscoveryStreaming.com to enhance the lessons found in our textbooks.

As you can see, your children have a wide range of lessons to explore each day. Your continued message at home about the importance of Best Effort is very much appreciated.


RemindersRecess weather is unpredictable at best. Be sure your child has appropriate clothing to keep them warm on chilly days and dry on wet ones.
Our pile of Ticonderoga pencils is wearing thin. They are the only ones that work well in our sharpeners… If you have extra, feel free to share! Thank you!

Dream Big,

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January 13

Video of the Week

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Next Generation of Assessment Systems

Usually around this time of year, I am writing newsletters about preparing 3rd graders for MCAS.  MCAS has been a reality for students in my class since I began teaching third grade 9 years ago. Though the content has adapted to align to state frameworks and standards, the format of the tests has remained pretty much the same:


Reading Comprehension: Students are required to read passages ranging from fiction to non-fiction, including poetry.  Multiple choice questions and written responses are required to demonstrate understanding.

Mathematics: Students demonstrate mathematical understanding through multiple choice, short answer and open response questions.

Preparation for these tests has always been integrated throughout the school year, as we solve similar problems in our daily curriculum.  Some targeted instruction has been adapted to better answer open response questions, as we have found those to be most challenging for 8 and 9 year olds.  Your students will take the MCAS this spring – the reading exam is in March, and the mathematics exam is in May.

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As part of the new Common Core State Standards, a new generation of assessment systems are being developed to better measure what students know, understand and are able to do. There are a few consortiums developing exams (i.e. PARCC and Smarter Balanced).  In Massachusetts, we will be taking the PARCC exam, but all assessment systems are rather similar.  Questions require students to access higher-order thinking skills and problem solve in new ways.  The questions are very different from what we have faced in years’ past, and they are administered online several times during a school year.

My advice to teachers for the last year has been to explore these new assessments themselves.  Experiencing the uniqueness of these exams give us a clearer view of how we will need to support our students moving forward. Students will need to work independently, attend to precision, think creatively, persevere through challenges and rely on technology skills.  A tall order for our youngest test takers. The more prepared we are as adults, the more we can support children as we circumnavigate the anxiety these tests can create.

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I encourage my 3rd grade parents to visit the PARCC site to see their example questions. To take it one step farther and interact with an online exam, I also suggest visiting the Smarter Balanced site where there is a interactive practice assessment.  Don’t just view the 3rd grade test – be sure to explore exams all the way up to the 11th grade level.  I am blown away by what students will be required to do by the time they graduate from high school.  As a teacher, I am considering what skills I can encourage in 3rd graders that will serve them well later down the challenging road.

I have mixed emotions about the future…  At first glance, I imagined these tests were beyond what all 3rd graders could access.  After thinking about it more, I considered how these students will face assessments their whole lives…  As a society, we are tested all the time – for licenses, for certifications, for placement, for careers… I want my students to feel well-prepared and take this testing all in stride when the time comes.  They are bright and capable problem solvers, and we need to give them new, meaningful opportunities to shine in the classroom. These tests will ultimately reflect their amazing progress if they are learning in amazing ways.

RemindersInformation about our upcoming Book Talks will go home this week. Read the entire packet and be sure to ask questions if you have any. One night per week will be dedicated to book talk preparation.
Welcome back! Let’s get back to work!!!

Dream Big,

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January 6

Video of the Week

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Sunshine for Homework

Recently I was tagged by both Beth Holland (@brholland) and Drew Frank (@ugafrank) in a blogger challenge.  I loved reading their posts, as it’s always fun to see what similarities we share across the World Wide Web. Thanks for including me!!!


Drew:Homework Club & Eleven Challenge

Beth: I’ve Been Sunshined!

While the names of this challenge differ from the Homework Club, Sunshine Award, The Eleven Challenge to the PLN Blogging Challenge – they are all designed for bloggers to get to know each other better and connect in new ways.  This post will be a combination of the Sunshine Award, Homework Club and Eleven Challenge.  Here are the rules:

  • Acknowledge the nominating blogger.
  • Share 11 random facts about yourself.
  • Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
  • List 11 bloggers. They should be bloggers you believe deserve some recognition and a little blogging love!
  • Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated. (You cannot nominate the blogger who nominated you.)

11 Random Facts About Me:

  1. 11 is my favorite number.  I make a wish every day at 11:11 when I see it on the clock.  For years and years and years (and years!), I wished for a horse.  Seems that wish was granted to my sister, so I’m now on to Plan B for Wishes.
  2. You could not pay me any amount of money to go back to high school, to relinquish my camera, or to live too far from the ocean.
  3. I love to travel – the whole experience -> planning, airports, flying, hotels, seeing new places – I miss being a travel agent but still find opportunities to go Hither and Yon.
  4. I love to read. I love to read so much, I’ll avoid my responsibilities, my family, and my bedtime. I have set time limits for myself to stay out of trouble, which I stink at. Anyone have any good book recommendations?? ;P
  5. I have a beach museum in my classroom with vials of sand from all over the world. Some are collected by the Brooks family, and some are collected by my present and former students and my friends and colleagues.
  6. I stink at crossword puzzles, word searches, Sudoku, Scrabble and Monopoly. I love Pictionary and I can beat anyone at Bop It… but nobody plays those anymore.
  7. I’ve been a Girl Scout since I was 8 and am a Gold Award recipient.  The Eagle Scout award in Boy Scouts is the equivalent to the Gold Award in Girl Scouts.
  8. When I was a senior in HS, I didn’t think I was smart enough to go to college. Seeing everyone leave that fall was horribly difficult. I wish I could have seen the future and known one day I’d be an honors student graduating with a 4.0 GPA from both college and graduate school.
  9. When I was 16, I was in the Miss Massachusetts Teen USA pageant. The experience was invaluable as I gained confidence and came out of my oh-so-shy shell.
  10. My anxiety permeates nearly everything I do in life and has gotten worse as I have gotten older. Fortunately, I have become braver as I’ve aged, so I think it all balances out.  I have come to learn that sharing my story helps myself and others accept the realities of anxiety and share management strategies. I know I’m not alone.
  11. My students inspire me—and not in a cliche way. Trying to find the best way to meet their needs drives me to distraction. I become so completely attached to who they are and what they require and I spend 180 days trying to support them as whole children. Every September, the cycle begins anew, and I am re-energized with a new batch of learners!

Answer Beth & Drew’s questions…

(I chose 11 out of their combined 22)


Best Day Ever:
The Best Day Ever…. Oh gosh, such possibilities! The morning would be rainy, so after getting up early and quietly getting some work done on the computer, I’d head out to breakfast with my family. The skies would clear while we were there, and so we’d decide to head to the beach for lunch. While we were at the beach, there would a perfect amount of time to relax, swim, walk and kayak before heading home. My house would be immaculate because I cleaned the day before (ha ha). We’d have people over for a BBQ and a campfire.  Every photo from that day would come out so perfect and in the end it would feel as if there were more than 24 hours in the day.  I love days like that.

How do you caffeinate?

I drink coffee every day – usually Dunkin’ Donuts but I also enjoy Starbucks, HoneyDew and MaryLou’s – all of which have different flavors I like.  About twice a year I give up caffeine, but it always sneaks back into my life. I only have one cup a day (but sometimes that’s a large cup!).

What is one thing you couldn’t live without?

I know there are standard answers for this question – my family, my friends, etc… Those, for me, are a given. But, they are not “things”, per se.  So, that being said, I’d have a hard time giving up my camera and my computer. Please don’t make me choose which one.

If you could go to have attended any concert anytime in history, what would it have been?

I’ve been lucky to attend dozens and dozens of concerts since I was a teenager. I am unlucky in that those endless performances damaged my ears and left me with Tinnitus.  There is one concert I missed, so I sent my parents instead. I would love to go back in time and attend that Garth Brooks concert at Gillette Stadium with them. :)

What’s the best topping combination to put on a pizza?

Garlic, ricotta and fresh tomatoes.

Who was your favorite teacher in school?

I cannot remember any of my teachers after grade 6.  But, I can clearly remember all of my elementary teachers and I loved them all.  The magic of Facebook has allowed me to connect with so many of my former teachers, and I treasure those connections. I still get that excited feeling when they send me messages or like my posts.  They were a special group of educators and they all influenced my teaching in unique ways.

Favorite twitter chat?

The ones I remember to show up for.  I love #edchat, #satchat and #edchatma but my timing is poor and I miss them more than I intend to.

Best place you ever vacationed?

I used to be a travel agent, so I’ve luckily traveled to a bunch of awesome places. I’m a huge Disney fan, and could easily say that’s my Greatest Place On Earth – but Disney was outdone by our recent trip to Alaska.  It was breathtaking.

If you could go out for dinner with anyone throughout history, who would it be?

I’ve done a huge amount of research into our family history, and I think it would be awesome to have a big old-fashioned family reunion with all the ancestors in our Tree.  Perhaps they’d be able to help me dig back farther than the Mayflower?

Favorite television shows?

I am a Reality TV junkie – I love shows like The Amazing Race, Survivor, etc.. I also love cooking shows and anything on HGTV.  Our DVR has a recording schedule that is just craziness.

Goal for 2014:

Easiest question – my goal is to have my house back to normal by the last day of school.  We had a significant leak early in December, and had to move out. Though we should be able to move back in soon, it will be months before our home is back to normal.

Nominate 11 bloggers to participate in this challenge:

Charity Preston    http://www.theorganizedclassroomblog.com/

Sarah Lewis  http://mrssarahlewis.wordpress.com/

Dan Callahan   http://remixteaching.com/

Nancy Carroll  http://teachingiselementary.blogspot.com/

Shawn Avery   http://mravery.edublogs.org/

Samantha Morra    http://samanthamorra.com/

Rachel Friedrich    http://subhubonline.blogspot.com/

Nate Everett    http://engineofsouls.com/

Sarah Brooks   http://saralynn24.tumblr.com/

Mark Molloy   http://www.mytowntutors.com/

Michelle Perron    http://missperronsecondgradestars.blogspot.com/


My 11 Earth-Shattering, Life-Altering Questions…..

1.  What’s your favorite number? Why?

2.  Best gift you have ever received?

3.  Snow days – Awesome??…… or not so much?? Support your stance.

4. Finding balance in life is tricky. Any advice to share?

5.  How do you feel about surprises?

6.  Best elementary school memory?

7.  Design the perfect dinner menu:

8. What responsibility would you love to give up forever?

9. How many United States have you stepped foot in?

10.  How many hours per day do you spend on a computer/mobile device?

11.  What advice would you like to give to my 3rd grade students?


That’s it! Whew!! These posts take a long time – or am I just a turtle blogger?  Happy New Year, Webbie Friends!!

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Keeping Resolutions

“Every day,
we decide who we will be
by the actions we take.”

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Inevitably, this time of year brings about thoughts of reflection, resolutions and resolve.  I like that Jan 1st falls roughly in the middle of the school year. It gives us all a chance to think about the progress we’ve made, and where we’re headed before June.

When we return from vacation, your students will have quite the task in front of them.  I will be asking them to monitor the goals they set this week in class.

Because many New Year’s resolutions are long forgotten come February, we use this assignment to break bigger goals into smaller, more manageable chunks.

Take some time to talk with your son or daughter about the importance of setting goals.  Go over the goals they wrote on paper and see what you can do to support them. Because the idea of goal setting (and more importantly, the follow-through) is pretty abstract for kids, any support and guidance you provide would help.

If there is anything your student needs from me here at school, be sure to let me know, I’d love to help as well!

Enjoy the change of pace during vacation, and I look forward to seeing everyone again in the New Year!!

This Friday is Camp Read A Lot. Students are welcome to bring a blanket, pillow, flashlight, one stuffed animal and a favorite book. Wear PJ’s! We will be reading, but also working with the theme of snow as we learn about Snowflake Bentley. Donations of cheap white paper plates, blue & white pony beads and white pipe cleaners are welcome. Also, my stapler has gone AWOL, we could use a couple for the day… (or forever!) Thank you!!

December 16Video of the Week

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How to Keep a Wave Upon the Sand

This past week, I watched the live broadcast of one of my favorite childhood movies, The Sound of Music. A line from one song stood out to me – “How do you keep a wave upon the sand?” The struggle I envisioned really struck a chord in me. Imagine how difficult that would be to do? How frustrating? How exhausting?   There is a certain comfort in routine and all that is familiar. A wave represents change, constant motion, moving forward… A certain part of me would love to stop time and keep change from happening. Sometimes change can be scary, and moving forward can be even more so when the future is unknown.


We have begun Term Two in 3rd Grade. I can’t overstate how important that change is.  While there will still be familiar structures and routines in place in our classroom, the work our children will face will be more challenging and faster paced. Students will be expected to demonstrate independence, take on challenges, support each other, and become more aware of what they need to improve.  Assignments will be more rigorous, and now that we have a solid picture of what our students are capable of, the expectations will increase as well.  When students are reaching just beyond their current abilities, in an environment where they feel supported and encouraged, they experience growth.

Please be sure your child maintains 20 minutes of reading each night, along with 5 minutes of math fact practice. Their additional homework should take no longer than 20 minutes a night. MOST importantly, please be sure your child is in bed early, and has a healthy breakfast each morning, and energy-sustaining food at school each day. They will be working hard, and we want to set them up for success.

As I move forward into a winter of unknowns myself, I feel thankful to  have the support of the Mullen-Hall community. Thank you for your kindness.

RemindersConferences are this Tuesday. Each slot is 20 only minutes. Please come 15 minutes early to look through your child’s work before our appointment. Thanks!
Snow clothes are essential for students on days when the playground is snowbound. Students should help you by preparing their clothes the night before. Work together! :)

December 9

Video of the Week

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Cup Factory

If this is third grade, that must mean we will learn multiplication!  We’ve been exploring multiplication models, and discovering the relationship between factors and products.  To demonstrate our understanding, students have been working with product cups in our Cup Factory.


Each numbered cup contains a different multiplication product – students choose a cup, and then figure out a combination of factors to reach that product.  Students then model that multiplication problem in their math journals.


Students are learning the factor order can change the look of an array, their repeated addition, or the way they skip count – but the order doesn’t matter when it comes to solving the product…



Check out a mini-tutorial to learn more – click on the pic to see the video!!

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Our video on YouTube

What’s next? Commutative, Associative and Distributive properties, of course!!

Smile Wide,

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December 2


Also – ask your third grader about this image (and the one they recreated today at school).  We talked for a long time about the progression they will make through 3rd grade.  We evicted 2nd grade behavior today, as it is the first day of Term 2.  Each student in Room 204 is now a full-fledged third grader!!

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