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).

Monday, December 17, 2012

Hello again!

The blog is back after a November hiatus...

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

Language Arts - We have been working on a number of reading comprehension skills in Language Arts class.  One day, students listened carefully to the words read aloud in the children's folktale, The Emperor and the Nightingale, by Fiona Waters and Paul Birkbeck.  Students drew pictures based on what they heard and visualized in their heads.  Then they compared their pictures to those of the illustrator to monitor their own understanding of the details of the story.

"Close your eyes.  Listen carefully.  Ok, now draw what you heard."
          We have also been choosing characters from our book group novels for a final project.  The idea for this project was to really focus on the character development in the story.  Students made a model out of clay and listed four character traits that described how the character looked, behaved or thought in the story.  Students even spent time looking back in their books to find actual "proof" from the text for each trait they listed.

Writing - In writing we spent a great deal of time producing finished books for the animal research projects.  They are now bound and published, complete with title pages, tables of contents, pictures, captions and even a few indexes (indices?) and glossaries!

     We have also selected other stories from our writing journals to revise, edit and publish.  Recently, we worked on adding details to good sentences in order to make them great!  For example, students were shown the sentence "I walked to the tree."  With some coaching and encouragement, our class eventually changed that sentence to "I walked happily to the huge maple tree."  "He went home." changed to "He drove to a big brick house in a hot rod."  We decided that these new sentences gave the reader a better picture to visualize in their head!

Social Studies - During Social Studies, students have been learning all about the European explorers who discovered North America in the 15th/16th centuries.  We discussed the history of human settlement of the "New World" (North and South America) dating back to a land bridge over what is now the Bering Strait between Alaska and eastern Russia.  We studied the reasons European explorers chose to explore new, uncharted territories (e.g. "They wanted to find a faster route to Asia so they could trade for things like silk and spices.").  Students also chose one explorer to become an expert on (Christopher Columbus, Juan Ponce de Leon, Jacques Cartier or Christopher Newport) and completed a project of their own choosing (a poster, a map, a journal or a letter to the king/queen).  Projects will go home this week.

     This week we will be creating civilizations in room 303!  Based on the book, Weslandia, by Paul Flieschman, students will be tasked with creating their own imaginary group of people based around a staple food crop, a common language, similar clothing/shelter/food/music/games, etc.  Here's a video of the story for your home-viewing entertainment:

Math - We recently finished up our unit on addition and subtraction of large numbers (up to 4 digits).  Quizzes went home to be signed and returned, thanks for your support at home!  I'm allowing students to make corrections to any missed questions for 1/2 credit.

     We are also working with money in Math.  Aside from learning how to read and write different amounts of money, students have been working on adding, subtracting and making change using prices from various restaurant menus!  By the end of one lesson, we were even discussing how much tax would be added on to a bill of $2.60, and consequently, how much change would one receive if they paid with $15.00?  (and even... "Why would you pay with $15.00 if the total is only $2.60?").

"Hmm...what to order?"
 Parents, don't forget:

*Math Midyear Test happens this Wednesday, December 19th!

*Grandparent/VIP Day happens this Thursday, December 20th!

*Class Winter Party happens this Friday, December 21st!

Please feel free to call or email with any questions concerns.  Thanks for reading!


Mr. B

Monday, October 15, 2012

Picture Day, Conferences, etc.


This is just a reminder that we will have yearbook pictures taken tomorrow (Tuesday, October 16th) at 1:00 p.m.  Order forms went home to all students last week.  There are extra order forms in the main office if needed.

Also, today I sent home a note about upcoming parent-teacher conferences.  Please check your child's agenda binder for more information!  In short, I will be meeting with any interested parents next week.  Monday, Tuesday and Friday are the days I have set aside, however, I will be happy to work with you if your schedule does not work with those days.  If you have any specific questions/concerns, please email me.

This week we are beginning our book group "rotations" in Language Arts.  Students will have two tasks assigned to them each morning (after our independent reading time).  During these rotations, I will be meeting with groups of students to discuss and guide their reading.  At the end of two rotations, all students will have 15 minutes to choose the activity of their choice (from the options listed).  Examples of Language Arts activities are:  completing a character map, making riddles with word study words, reading with a partner, working on writing, listening/reading/quizzing on, summarizing a book, etc.

Today we finished most of our presentations for our terrestrial (land) environment projects!  We saw lots of great posters, skits and comic strips that showed knowledge of environments like deserts, rainforests, temperate forests and grasslands.  Thanks to the students for all of their hard work this past week!  Students also shared their outstanding "Make-A-Camouflage" bugs last week.  This week we will be focusing on food chains and animal adaptations.  We will learn words like producers (living things that make their own food), consumers (living things that must find and eat their food), and decomposers (living things that break down dead or decaying plants/animals).  We will also learn about carnivores (animals that eat primarily meat), herbivores (animals that eat primarily plants) and omnivores (animals that eat both meat and plants).

Some animals eat only plants!  These animals are called herbivores.  Are you an herbivore?

In math we are still working on rounding, comparing and identifying different numbers and values within those numbers.  This Friday (October 19th) we will have our Place Value Test!  A review packet went home to help students prepare for next week's 1st Quarter Math Test, which is a cumulative review of all the math we have studied so far this school year (mostly graphing & place value).

Leaf T-Shirts will be going home in Ziploc bags tomorrow!  Thanks for your help and patience with that project.  Also, (as always) thank you for making sure your child is rested, fed and gets to school on time! 


Mr. Balnave

Monday, October 8, 2012

Weekly Update


Here's the weekly update:

Language Arts - We will be starting book groups in class this week!  Students will be placed in groups of 3-6 and will choose from a limited selection of "good fit" books.  I will be working with each group on specific reading strategies, helping them manage their time and find creative ways to show their understanding of the text.  We will also discuss specific characters and practice identifying character traits (words that describe how a character thinks/acts/looks).  Students will learn how to distinguish between "round" characters (fully developed with many possible traits) and "flat" characters (undeveloped with few possible traits).  

Writing - In writing class, we are learning about different ways to write about non-fictional topics.  Students have seen examples of a caption, glossary, index, etc. and are getting ready to use that knowledge to help research and write a non-fiction book about an animal of their choice. 

Science - We are continuing our study of terrestrial (land) environments.  We have also discussed and defined different vocabulary words related to animal/plant survival.  Your child should now know about and be able to discuss different adaptations such as camouflage, migration, hibernation and mimicry.  This week students will be asked to produce a project (either a poster, a skit/play, or a comic strip) that shows their knowledge of different terrestrial environments and the animals/plants that live there.

Caption:  This pangolin (scaly anteater) has specially adapted skin to help it survive!

Math - This week we will be working on rounding numbers to the nearest ten, hundred and thousand.  Today, students did a great job of "building mountains" to help show their understanding of numbers and how they can be rounded.

For example:  When rounding the number 73 to the nearest ten, we drew a number line with "friendly tens" on either side.  In this case, 70 and 80 are the friendly tens that are closest to 73.  We identify the halfway point (75) and draw a mountain above our number line with the peak matching the halfway point.  Since 73 falls on the left side of our mountain, it "rolls" down to the number 70.  If the number falls exactly on the halfway point, our fictional mountain has wind that blows it down the right side towards the bigger number.  I find that creating this imaginary mountain scenario helps kids relate to the somewhat abstract concept of rounding.

The goal is to master even the most difficult rounding problems by the end of this week!  Some of the more difficult problems might be:

Round 382 to the nearest ten.

Round 5,064 to the nearest hundred.

Round 340 to the nearest thousand.

Round 7,299 to the nearest ten.  And so on...

This week is also special because we will be making our annual Fall Leaf T-Shirts!  Thursday morning we will work on decorating the shirts with leaves from outside.  Then, with help from parent volunteers, we will spray the shirts with bleach to create a cool looking leaf pattern!  Please remember to bring in a 100% cotton, dark colored t-shirt by Wednesday, October 10th.  I will make sure that everyone has a shirt by Thursday.  Thanks for your continued support at home!

Have a great week!


Mr. Balnave