Trick or Treat!
Oct 31st, 2009 by jonmoss

Here’s my TRICK:

¡1ooɥɔs ǝʌoɹb ǝuıd ʇɐ ǝuoʎɹǝʌǝ ɯoɹɟ uǝǝʍo11ɐɥ ʎddɐɥ

Thanks to all the moms who came in to help us with our fun Halloween party yesterday, and to all the families who sent in supplies and treats!

Curious how to flip your text?  It’s easy at

Practicing Math Facts
Oct 31st, 2009 by jonmoss

Your child may have told you about our new method for tracking how well he or she is mastering his or her math facts.  As the math material becomes more advanced in fourth grade, it’s important that the students are really comfortable with their math facts.  To help your child to stay motivated, the Everyday Mathematics program provides teachers with a set of timed multiplication fact quizzes.  For each quiz, we calculate two pieces of information: How many consecutive problems your child correctly answers in one minute, and how many total problems your child correctly answers in three minutes.  The first piece of data shows immediate speed and mastery.  (For the one minute score, kids aren’t permitted to jump around to do easy items first, so the data shows your child’s performance when he or she is forced to complete a variety of multiplication problems.)  The second piece of data – the three minute score – reflects your child’s overall level of mastery when he or she is allowed to complete the problems in any order.  (Doing the easy problems first can make kids more efficient, but too much skipping around will slow them down.)

We will be tracking student progress on a line graph so kids can see how much they improve between each fact quiz.  (Each student’s graph is kept private.)  Practicing math facts (particularly multiplication facts) is a DAILY homework assignment – whether it’s written down in their planner or not.  You can help your child to learn his or her math facts by using some of the resources that are available on the internet.  Some of my favorties are:

  • Math Magician: Made by the Oswego, NY school district, this fun challenge should be familiar to most students who attended PGS last year.
  •  Lots of fun interactive games to quiz kids with their multiplication facts.  Enough of a variety to keep kids from getting bored!
  • Brainormous: Lots of neat math fact games, especially Multiflier (which is complicated enough to require strategy and planning, along with math fact knowledge).  Beware of (kid-friendly) advertisements.
  • Arcademic Skill Builders:  Several arcade-style games for kids to practice all sorts of math facts (and other skills too!)  Parents beware: There is the option for kids to play multiplayer versions of the games, so you may want to supervise.

It’s easy to find other math fact practice games!  (I found most of these just by searching Google for “multiplication practice.”)  If you come across other games that you want to share, drop me a line and I’ll be sure to share them with everyone!

Wednesday’s Homework
Oct 28th, 2009 by jonmoss

Tonight’s reading homework is web-based.  Please go to this website:

Complete Mrs. Dowling’s cool quiz about compound subjects and compound predicates.  No need to print anything!  Just come in tomorrow and be ready to tell me if you did your homework or not.  We are relying on the honor system, so tell the truth!

Have fun!

So it begins!
Oct 22nd, 2009 by jonmoss

What an October!  We’ve had measurable snowfall in some parts of the state, and now our kids are dropping like flies from whatever bug is making its way around school.  This doesn’t usually start to happen until January or even February, but everything is early this year!  I was out with the flu for two days this week, and whatever this bug is, it’s contagious!  I passed it on to my wife and to a friend who I saw briefly on Sunday.  Today, we had ten – yes, ten – students absent.  I must confess that it was the first time in my career that I had such a small class (14 kids) because of sickness.  First, thank you to all the parents who kept their sick students home so that they wouldn’t spread the bug to other students.  I know that you want your kids to come to school and to try to “tough it out”, just as I wanted to try to make it in on Wednesday, but I appreciate you thinking of the other students.

I didn’t want to proceed with standard lessons today since there were so many students absent who would need skills reviewed upon their return.  So instead, we focused on our in-class writing project and a few other tasks instead.  There is no homework this evening, and there is no make-up work for students who were absent today.  My plans for tomorrow depend on how many students are absent, so we’ll see what happens!

We have several procedures in place to slow the spread of airborne germs, bacteria, and viruses.  First, we have a class job called “Sickness Stopper” which rotates each week.  The Sickness Stopper’s responsibilities include making sure that there are plenty of tissue boxes around the classroom and that the jars of hand sanitizer are full.  He or she also periodically makes a pass through the room with antibacterial wipes to try to clean up any germs.  Also, we have been pulling apart desks to give everyone some personal space, and we’ve discontinued (for now) the daily high-five or handshake greeting during Morning Meeting.

Hopefully next week will be a bit more healthy for us all.  When Dr. Perrault wishes the kids “Have a healthy week!” tomorrow during Health class, let’s hope it’s an accurate prediction of the week to come!

Monday Update
Oct 19th, 2009 by jonmoss

Today, there was no discussion of the sad news from last week.  I’ll be out sick tomorrow (Tuesday).  (I always like it when my students share, but this wasn’t what I had in mind… :-))  The new spelling words are now available (left).

Update – A Very Sad Day
Oct 18th, 2009 by jonmoss

The teachers and staff met Friday afternoon at 3:40pm.  We agreed that it is very likely – a certainty, perhaps – that this tragedy will be discussed on Monday, now that the sad news has become public.  I don’t intend to bring up the topic on my own, but if students ask questions or have concerns that they share, we will address them in class.  In a whole class discussion (if one comes up), I will focus on reassuring kids that they are safe and will talk about things that we KNOW, such as that we know she is not feeling sick anymore, we know you can not catch her illness, we know her family will be sad and that we will miss her too.  I will try to address individual questions or concerns in a private manner.  Counselors are available for students who want to have more of an opportunity to talk.

Have a good evening!  I will post an update tomorrow letting you know how our day went.

A Very Sad Day
Oct 16th, 2009 by jonmoss

Today was a terribly sad day for teachers and many students at Pine Grove School. This morning, teachers learned of the passing of  a kindergartner at PGS. Some time ago, she was diagnosed with a rare form of childhood cancer, and we were told that she lost her battle yesterday at approximately 3:00pm.  (I don’t post student names on the class website, so please pardon the sterile and seemingly uncaring way that I’ve written this by not including her name.)

Ms. D-H has sent home a letter to each parent today that explains what has happened and what we, as a school, are doing for the students.  (Your child should have that letter to give you.  The text of that letter is available here.  Click “more” at the end of this post to read it.)

But I wanted to take the opportunity to share with you directly how the situation was handled in our class so that you can best discuss this tragedy with your children.  (Each class addressed the situation differently, depending on whether students knew about the tragedy, whether they brought it up in front of other kids, etc.)  In fact, however, the topic hasn’t yet been discussed in our class.  Although many students in other classes came to school today knowing of her passing (which, I’m told, was shared late last night), none of the kids in our class seem to have been aware of the situation.  I made a point of being close to conversations out at lockers this morning as kids came in, and there were no discussions that I saw.  Everyone seemed happy. Because of this, I did not bring up the news with the class and want to let individual families proceed as they think best.  That said, I would imagine that there may have been some discussion at recess as kids from different classes socialized with one another, so your children may now now about the student’s passing.

On Monday, I imagine that many students will come to school aware of what has happened.  Conversations between students are likely (as they walk in, at recess, etc), and I would encourage you to have a discussion with your child in advance, to the extent that you are comfortable. Teachers are meeting at 3:40 to discuss how our classes were today (if they were aware of the news) and to formulate a plan for how we’ll proceed on Monday.  When I have more information to share with you, I will do so.  (At the very least, I will post an update on Monday so that you know how our day went specifically in Room 209.)

On a personal note, my thoughts and prayers go out to the family of the young girl – a sentiment that I know is shared by all the other teachers and staff at PGS.  As I watched students walk in this morning, most smiling and excited to see their friends, I couldn’t imagine my reaction if something were to happen to any of my students, given how close I feel with them all.  This is a tragedy that will undoubtedly touch the whole PGS community as word spreads, and we will get through it together.

Please feel free to contact me over the weekend if you have any questions or concerns.  My wife and I are in a childbirth class all day Saturday, but if you have any urgent concerns and need to reach me immediately, you can page me by emailing the emergency email address that I shared at the September open house.  (I have also shared that email address in an email to you all.  If you page me, include your name and phone number at the beginning, because I only get about 100 characters of the message.)  I can put you in touch with grief counselors, if the need arises.  Otherwise, I will check my work email throughout the weekend, whenever possible.

Click on the link, below, to read the letter from Ms. D-H.
Read the rest of this entry »

Update on Initial Tests
Oct 9th, 2009 by jonmoss

Wondering when you’re going to hear the results from the recent assessments?  Here’s an update.

Math Assessment

Over the summer, we upgraded to the newest edition of our Everyday Mathematics program.  Although the changes are very slight, I do like how it updates some of the activities to better support students.  One more significant change is how the new edition assesses students at the end of each unit.  There’s a greater focus on higher-level thinking skills, which I think is great.  Also, the test is divided up into two sections that distinguish between fundamental skills that students should be comfortable with having completed the unit, and developing skills that may still be a challenge for students.

This change in assessment format posed a challenge for us in how we inform parents about student performance.  Our old math cards (the ones with six units per side and checkmarks that show whether a student was in the B, D, or S range for each skill) do not fit with the new assessments, so earlier this week, a team of teachers from PGS and RBS met to develop new protocols and communication methods for filling parents in.  I’ve held off on sharing math results with you in hopes that we would have a new system ready, and I’m glad to say that we do!  The math profiles are still in draft form, but I want to make sure that you get the results, so I’ll be filling them out ASAP for each student and sending them home.  I have a wedding this weekend, so I’m not sure if I’ll get to it before Monday.

Writing Prompt

Score reports for the first writing prompt are going home today.  Students’ writing pieces are evaluated by a pair of teachers to ensure consistency of expectations.  (Inter-rater reliability, for all the data hounds out there!)  This is why there is a delay in sharing the writing prompt scores.  Each teacher uses a six-point rubric (available in the Parent Resources section of this site), and the scores are then combined to give a total score out of 12 points.  The passing grade is 8/12 points, however I don’t want to you think that your child FAILED if he or she received under eight points.  Rather, he or she hasn’t yet reached the proficiency level.  We will continue to work on writing skills throughout the year.  The score sheets that I send home include a brief explanation of the strengths and weaknesses of your child’s writing.  I have the actual writing prompts here and will be happy to share them with you at conferences.  (Getting close to report card season now!)

How We Help YOUR Child
Oct 9th, 2009 by jonmoss

This is a time of change for our nation, and although much of the discussion on the news surrounds the wars overseas, the economy, and healthcare, there are also many changes going on in the education field.  Supportive services for students who struggle academically are legislated (to some extent) by the federal government.  Based on a new revision to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, schools around the country are changing how they support students, and our district is priding itself on being ahead of the game in implementing the new strategies.

The old way consisted of schools supporting struggling students through various interventions (reading and math resource, PAINTERS, Wilson, etc.) and classroom support.  If a student continued to struggle for what seemed to be an inordinate period of time or experienced what seemed to be an intense difficulty without improvement from the support, a school might approach parents about determining the child’s eligibility for special education services.  With parental consent, a team of professionals would administer a battery of tests in hopes of identifying specific areas of strength and weakness.  This helped the team (of which parents are the most important part) to determine if the child would benefit from special education services.  If the team agrees that special education services would be a good option for the child, they developed (again, with parent involvement) an individualized education plan (IEP) that outlined goals, objectives, methods, defects, strengths, etc.  If the child did not qualify for special education, he or she would continue to receive all appropriate supportive services that fell under the REGULAR education (non-special education) umbrella.

The new way is referred to as RTI (Response to Intervention) or, in Connecticut, SRBI (Scientific-Based Response to Intervention).  As the name implies, we use data to track how well a struggling student responds to various interventions that specifically target areas of difficulty.  As Ms. Grainsky (Assistant Principal) wrote in the PGS newsletter:

This new model considers many possible reasons why students may struggle with the demands

of school and fall behind their peers academically or behaviorally. In an effort to accommodate

the learning needs of students who experience school difficulties, we have identified three tiers

of support to help them achieve state and district goals.

Tier I is comprised of academic and behavioral strategies that teachers routinely use. For

example, if a child struggles in achieving his/her grade level expectations, the general education

teacher will offer support by differentiating his/her instruction to meet the learning and

behavioral needs of the student. Support may consist of individual help, checking that the child

writes down homework assignments, and small group instruction.

Tier II consists of programs for students who require stronger interventions. It is in Tier II

support where a student may begin to see a specialist to get help with reading, math or writing a

few times a week. Much of this instruction, although possibly administered by a specialist, may

be occurring in the classroom. This support will not take place while the child is in his/her

regular education class and participating in direct instruction from the teacher. At PGS, we are

presently looking for the best times to offer this instruction so that children do not miss core

instruction but also do not miss other important times of the day. This is proving to be a

challenge because so much of the day is full with pertinent and enjoyable instruction.

Tier III supports are for the students who are not responding to intervention in Tier I or Tier II.

Tier III supports will be delivered by a specialist and consist of a longer duration and greater

intensity than Tier II interventions. Again the scheduling of these supports is the greatest issue at

present.  A student receiving instruction in Tier III will need to participate in intensive and

targeted instruction, as well as being in his/her class for core instruction.

One of the biggest strengths of SRBI is how it encourages (mandates, in fact) teachers to support one another with ideas for strategies and interventions.  Every Wednesday morning (before school), the fourth grade teachers will be meeting with each other, Mrs. Lenihan (Speech and Language), Mrs. McCarthy (Special Education), Mrs. Cole or Mrs. DelGallo (Occupational Therapy), Ms. Gooding (School Psychology), and specials teacher (this year, our music teacher, Mrs. Cowdrey), an interventionist (Mrs. Daly-Byrnes, Mrs. Kryzanski, Ms.  Searson, or Ms. Jablonski), and either Ms. D-H or Ms. Grainsky.  (This is why fourth graders read in the hallway before school on Wednesdays.)  At these meetings, teachers are invited to bring up for discussion students who seem to be struggling with specific skills, concepts, or behaviors.  We will brainstorm new ideas, and the classroom teacher will return to their classroom with new strategies and supports to try.  That gets the ball rolling, hopefully on the right track for helping the student to improve whatever area is troubling him or her.  The formal evaluation process for determining a student’s eligibility for special education services does remain available, as do all special education services, but the goal is to help a student to improve weak skills through a series of general education interventions, rather than through an IEP.

If you ever have any questions on how we’re working with your child, please feel free to contact me.  If you have any questions about the SRBI model, please contact Ms. Grainsky.

Can and Bottle Collection Now in Full Swing!
Oct 8th, 2009 by jonmoss

Last week, we started our second year of collecting redeemable bottles and cans.  The proceeds go to Gifts of Love.  It’s an exciting time, because the state redemption laws have just expanded to include bottles of water.  That means that any water bottle purchased in CT after October 1st is subject to a 5-cent deposit when purchased and a 5-cent refund when recycled at a redemption machine or center.  I’m estimating that this will eventually double our normal profit, since we get lots and lots of water bottles already (which, until now, we have put into town recycling).   The collection bin is outside the office, and it keeps filling up!  So send in your bottles and cans, please!  We are in need of rubber (not latex) gloves so the volunteers don’t get messy when sorting the cans (redeemable vs. non-redeemable).  If you’re willing to send in a box of gloves, we’d really appreciate it!

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