Friday, November 13, 2015

Weekly Update + Report Cards!


Here's what we've been working on in room 303:

Language Arts - We have been finishing up lots of book group projects in our room.  Students are given three (3) options upon the completion of a book group book:

1) Character Model - Using "model magic" (molding clay), create a character from your book, including as many details as possible.  Please attach three character traits that describe the character.

Here's an example of a character model from the book Pippi Longstocking.

2) Poster - Using special poster paper, create a poster that advertises your book to other students in the class.  Include an illustration and as many fun facts as possible.  Please also include a brief summary of the story written in your own words (as you might find on the back of a book).

3) Triorama - Using folded poster paper, create a 3-D scene from your book.  The scene should be a major event in the story.  Please include as many details as possible related to the setting and characters.  Also include a caption that describes what is happening in the scene.

Being a Writer - Nearly every student has completed a typed, "final copy" of their written work.  Students selected a favorite written piece from their writing journals and did some light revising and editing before using Microsoft Word to type their stories.

We will be starting a non-fiction writing unit in the coming weeks!

Social Studies - Last week, we finished up our economics unit with a "Class Market".  Students were asked to produce 5 goods (or coupons for services) at home, and bring them in to sell to their classmates.  Each student received $5 of fake money and we held 3-4 rounds of buying and selling.  I think everyone learned a lot about supply and demand, consumer behavior, and what it means to specialize in a miniature (classroom) economy.

In a separate task, students were asked to work in groups to use natural resources (sticks, leaves, pinecones, pasta, beans, etc.) to create a good or service that others might find useful.  Students produced everything from a roller coaster, to a truck, to a catapult - all in 20 minutes!

This week, students are creating their own civilization!  We are basing their projects on the book, Weslandia, by Paul Fleischman.  You can watch the video below:

Finally, here is a link to the work students have been doing (taken by our excellent Assistant Principal, Mr. Crutchfield).  This is after multiple days of planning everything from a staple food crop, what the shelter will look like (and what resources can be used for construction), inventing an alphabet, and more.  I'm excited to see how the civilizations will grow and evolve next week!

Math - We have been working on adding and subtracting whole numbers up to 9,999.  After introducing a variety of strategies, we have been choosing the most efficient ones to practice problems where regrouping occurs (my teacher called it "borrowing" back in the day).  There's a very cool website (link) that uses base 10 blocks to show the process of regrouping when adding and subtracting.

We have also been enjoying a variety of fun ways to practice our math facts.  Our gifted resource teacher has books with "Math Line Designs From Around the World", picture puzzles that have directions in English and Spanish and involve cutting out pieces and gluing them on correct sums/differences, as well as practice problems that can be colored, cut out, and folded/taped/glued into 3-D shapes!

I hope everyone is having a wonderful Fall so far!  We have many things to be thankful for.  I'm certainly thankful for the 23 students that show up every day to do their best in school!

Have fun!

- Mr. B

P.S. Report cards for the 1st quarter of the school year are "going home" today.  There is a parent portal website where you can access your child's report card starting today.  A few paper copies went home today for those parents that requested that method of delivery.  Please feel free to contact me with any questions/comments!

Monday, October 19, 2015

Bee Bop & Parent Conferences


Apologies for not posting a weekly update last week.  I was busy running with all of the other students and teachers during my planning time for Brownsville's annual BEE BOP.  It was great to get outside and run around with the 2nd and 3rd graders!

Some important dates to share:

October 19th-October 30th (next two weeks) is the window for Parent-Teacher Conferences.  A link to a sign up genius (online sign up website) went out on Friday.  Please email me at if you aren't able to sign up online, or if you would like a different day than those offered (M/T/Th/F).

October 23rd will be the last official day of the 1st Quarter of the school year.

We will be taking a cumulative 1st Quarter Math Test on Friday, 10/23.  The test will include questions related to our study of graphing, time, place value, and rounding.

We are also working hard to complete finished writing products by the end of this week.  Students have the choice of using "final writing paper" or typing their stories on a laptop and printing them out.

Also, just a friendly reminder that this year our report cards will be going out electronically (on Parent Portal) unless requested otherwise.  Report Cards will be available in early November.

Finally, a reminder that with Autumn months come Autumn temperatures.  Thanks to everyone for helping to make sure our students are dressed warmly for school!  We play outside every day, weather permitting.

It is officially Fall!  Almost time to start making Leaf Print T-Shirts!

Have fun!

- Mr. B

P.S.  Tonight's Homework:
*Read for 20 minutes (or more)
*HW Packet -> Due Friday
*Bring Back Monday Folder
*1st Quarter Math Test -> This Friday (10/23)

Friday, October 9, 2015

Weekly Update


Here's what we've been working on in room 303 this week:

Language Arts - We started new word study sorts this week.  Students have two weeks to work with these words before they will be quizzed on them (next Friday).  We also continued to improve our language arts rotations.  There are three book groups going on in my room (Tornado, Pippi Longstocking, and Frindle), and one going on in Mrs. Dettmann's room (The Family Under the Bridge).  We're developing a sense of independence and responsibility for completing one's work.  I'm personally really enjoying the fact that I'm able to meet with small groups of kids and listen to them read, ask them questions about their books, and share in the excitement of reading new stories!

Being a Writer - This week we learned about acrostic poems.  The class read the book, Silver Seeds, which is a book full of nature words that the authors (Paul Paolilli & Dan Brewer) have turned into acrostic poems.  Each letter of the word begins a new line, and all of the lines in the poem are supposed to describe the word in some fashion.  For example, for the word "SUN", the poem reads:  "Sliding through the window,/Underneath the door,/Nudging us out to play."  Students had the opportunity to create their own poems, in addition to having time to work on other stories in their writing journals.

This book showed us how cool acrostic poems can be!

Social Studies - We successfully completed our study of Maps and Globes this week!  Today we took the quiz, which asked students to show what they know about the 7 continents (can you find them on a map?), 5 oceans (wait...there's a southern ocean?), and other geographic vocabulary words and concepts.  We learned about map legends, symbols, directions, coordinates and more!  We even created motions to our very own game of Simon Says!  Thanks for all you do at home to encourage geographic literacy.

This is a map of the earth at night.  Can you locate the continents?  The oceans?

Read Aloud - Currently, we are nearly 2/3 of the way through the book, The Indian in the Cupboard, by Lynn Reid Banks.  We are at a suspenseful part of the story where Omri and Patrick are looking for the missing key to the cupboard.  Yesterday we talked about the word "sieve" since it came up in the story.  Students discovered the word was similar to "strainer" and "colander", or something that one might use to separate small things (or liquid) from big things.  Each day we're trying to find new and unfamiliar words that we can all learn.

Sievea utensil consisting of a wire or plastic mesh held in a frame, used for straining solids from liquids, for separating coarser from finer particles, or for reducing soft solids to a pulp.  (Definition according to Google)

Math - This week, we continued to work on rounding numbers to the nearest ten, hundred, and thousand.  We practiced this by playing a game called "Round it!"  The game involves flipping over 4 digit cards, arranging them into a 4-digit number (e.g. 4,582), and then rolling special dice (labeled with 10, 100, and 1,000).  Depending on the roll, students would round their number to the nearest ten, hundred, or thousand.  In general, most kids are able to round to the first digit (thousands place), however, things are slightly more difficult when rounding a 4-digit number to the nearest hundred or ten.  Common mistakes are:  leaving off part of the number (4,582 rounding to 600), rounding to the wrong place (4,582 rounding to 5,000 or 4,580...both correct answers but for different places), and just not knowing or being able to visualize the number line when getting specific with large numbers (which just takes more exposure to, and practice with, numbers up to 9,999).

We also experimented with a review game called "Sink or Swim".  It's an attempt to review math concepts in a setting that emphasizes teamwork (students are grouped in teams and encouraged to collaborate), sharing mathematical thinking (a spokesperson is selected to present answers), good-natured competition, and fun!  Ask your child to find out more...

Poseidon traded in his trident for a beach ball for our game of "Sink or Swim".

In general, it's clear to me that we're making great progress each week.  Our classroom community has developed to the point where people are getting comfortable and the expectations are known.  I'm already looking forward to next week!

Thanks for reading!

- Mr. B  

P.S.  Thanks to all of the parents and friends who came early to school this morning to decorate our sidewalks with positive chalk messages.  It made for a great day!

Friday, October 2, 2015

Weekly Update


After some thought, I'm going to shoot for weekly classroom updates, to be published on Friday.  Here is the recap from this week in room 303:

Language Arts - This week our class made great progress with our "Language Arts Rotations" plan.

Every morning, after our morning meeting, students spend 15-20 minutes reading self-selected books independently.  They are allowed to sit anywhere in the room, but are encouraged to choose spots that are comfortable, quiet, and distraction-free.  Starting the morning with everyone reading books that make them happy is a great way to begin the day.  It also ensures a calm and quiet environment, making the reading time that much more enjoyable for all.

At ~8:40 a.m., we begin our first rotation.  There is a schedule that is projected on the board with groups of students working on different language arts tasks at the same time.  For example, one group of students might meet at the round table for a book group meeting (all students reading the same book, with teacher support).  Another group of students might be working with their word study words, choosing from a menu of activities.  Yet another group might be finishing up an assignment for a future book group meeting (e.g., finish chapter 2, find 3 unfamiliar words, etc.).  Students are expected to work independently for the duration of the 20 minute rotation.  So far, the class is doing great!

We transition to another rotation (#2) at around 9:00 a.m.  This allows another group of students to meet for a book group while the rest of the class works on independent reading, writing, and spelling activities.  Some students leave the room to meet with other teachers for more advanced reading groups or small group assistance.  The students seem to enjoy the independence and choice the rotations allow (they are allowed to be in control of their own learning to an extent).  I like the rotations because I'm able to work closely with groups of similar readers and really work on improving reading skills.

Every other Friday we will be having a word study quiz related to the words each student is studying.  The word sorts will change every 2 weeks!  We had quizzes today, so next Monday students will get their WS journal back with a graded quiz and a new set of words to work with and master.

At 9:25 a.m., we break for snack!

Being a Writer - This week, we focused on learning about pattern books and getting more ideas for our own writing.  We read the books Fortunately, by Remy Charlip, Animalia, by Graeme Base, and O is for Orca, by Andrea Helman (photos by Art Wolfe).  The students enjoyed the detailed illustrations in Animalia, and some even attempted to create an alphabet book of their own.  The class also enjoyed the humor and patterns found in Fortunately - a book that alternates good things ("fortunately...") and bad things ("unfortunately...") that happen to the main character.

Each picture is filled with things that begin with a letter of the alphabet.

Social Studies - We started our study of Maps & Globes this week!  We have been learning about map features like a legend/key, a compass rose, a scale, a grid system, and more!  Students have been introduced to world maps, globes (even watching a video about how globes are made), atlases, and computer mapping programs like Google Earth.  Yesterday, we spent some time creating our own treasure maps that we will then use to learn about coordinates.  Next Friday we will finish up the unit with a test on the continents, oceans, and various map features and skills that we have covered in class.

Math - This week we introduced the concept of rounding.  Many students remembered rounding from 2nd grade, however, this year we are rounding numbers to the nearest 10, 100, and 1,000.  To develop the concept of rounding, we spent our time doing three things each day.  First, we spent time practicing the art of estimating (  The idea of an "educated guess" and thinking "about how many" is a great way to warm up the brain for rounding.  Next, we spent time making "count by" lists.  Counting by 10s starting from 10, counting by 100s starting from 100, and counting by 1,000s starting from 1,000 are all things we did to get familiar with these benchmarks that will be used when rounding numbers.  Later in the week, we counted by the same amounts, but started from different numbers (e.g., by 10s starting from 680, by 100s from 3,200, by 1,000s from 18,000).

The strategy I used to introduce rounding was "building mountains" - basically a number line that helps students visualize the choice of "which number do I round to?"  We practice identifying the place that we're rounding to, choosing "friendly numbers" (e.g., when rounding 274 to the nearest 100, the friendly numbers would be 200 and 300), and then placing the number on the number line.  This helps students visualize the somewhat abstract concept of rounding.  Next week, we'll spend time reviewing all of the place value skills that have been taught (reading/writing #s up to 6 digits, comparing and ordering #s, etc.).

Thanks for reading!

Have a great (& dry) weekend!

- Mr. B

Wednesday, September 9, 2015



Just a quick update from Room 303:

Today most of the triorama projects went home.  Please be on the lookout for them!  Some students opted to wait a day so that their dismissal schedule was more triorama-transportation friendly.

In class today we discussed homophones, or words that have the "same sound".  These words are tricky sometimes because they can be spelled differently.  We read the book Dear Deer, by Gene Baretta, and talked about the meaning of words like "moose"/"mousse", "kneaded"/"needed", and "feat"/"feet".  Can you think of any other words that have the same sound but different meanings?

Students did a great job identifying the homophones in this book!

Students also spent time reading and then explaining (and drawing) a connection they made when reading the story.  We have been practicing the skill of making connections to text.  Students should be familiar with "text to self", "text to text", and "text to world" connections.  For example, if I was reading a Geronimo Stilton book and one of the characters in the story climbed a mountain, it might remind me of the time I went hiking in the Rocky Mountains this past summer.  That would be a "text to self" connection because the book reminded me of something that I experienced personally.  Similarly, "text to text" connections happen when one book reminds the reader of another book, and "text to world" connections happen when a book reminds the reader of something they've heard about in the world, but haven't experienced (like a volcanic eruption, hopefully!).

We also continued our measurement rotations today!  The class visited other 3rd grade classrooms and learned about reasonable units to use when measuring distance, as well as a lesson on telling temperature by reading thermometers.  Students had a chance to measure the temperatures of five objects (ice, hot water, room temperature, etc.) and record both the degrees fahrenheit and degrees celsius for each.

Finally, a sincere thank you to the folks who attended Back to School Night last night.  It's always fun sharing 3rd grade with other adults and I hope it was worth your while to attend!  If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, please feel free to email me at:


Mr. B

P.S.  Tonight's homework:
- Read for 20 minutes with a good book
- Reading Log (and HW packet) due Friday, 9/11.

Have fun!

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Back 2 School Night 2015!

Greetings Parents!

Welcome to Room 303.  Please feel free to look around the room.

We will start once everyone has had a chance to arrive.

Thank you very much for coming!  My hope is that this blog will be a useful tool for students, parents and friends of our class.


Mr. Balnave

P.S. - Tonight's homework is on the board:

- Read 20 minutes (or more) with a good book
- Reading log + HW Packet (due Friday)

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Back to School Night 2013!

Greetings Parents!

Welcome to Room 303.  This is where your child spends most of their time when at school each day.  Please feel free to get up & look around the room.  There is a letter addressed to you at your student's desk.  If you feel up to the task, take a minute and respond to it (on the front or back)!

We will start once everyone has had a chance to arrive and find the room.

Thank you very much for coming!  My hope is that this blog will be a useful tool for students, parents and friends of our class.


Mr. Balnave

P.S. - Tonight's homework is on the board:

- Read 20-30 minutes with a good book
- Reading log + Packet (due Friday)
- We will have a Math (graphing) quiz this Thursday (9/12).
- We will have a Social Studies (citizenship/government) quiz this Friday (9/13).