Something really fun happens when you put fifth graders in charge! Yesterday we had our Halloween Party. One third of the students were in charge of the food, one third were in charge of the decorations and one third were in charge of the games. Having never been given this opportunity before, the students have been all smiles for the last two weeks!
The decoration committee immediately asked if they could make a spider pinata. The students brought flour, newspaper and the balloon. They spent their recesses rolling, tearing and dipping newspaper in the flour and water mixture. It was painted, candy was dropped in and it became officially finished the day before the party! In the meantime, skeletons, spider webbing and lights were hung to create a spooky atmosphere!
The food committee created a spooky menu and brought a variety of delicious foods! There was so much to choose from! They set up a bit early so we could eat while we watched Roald Dahl’s The Witches!
The games committee had a “Guess How Much Candy is in the Jar” contest, a “Throw the Stuffed Pumpkins at a Target” game and a costume contest. The grand finale of the party was smashing the pinata to bits!
What a successful party! What a delightful group of party planners! Happy Halloween!
Here are some hilarious Halloween Jib Jabs to watch!
The fifth graders are just finishing up a really great book called Night of the Spadefoot Toads by Bill Harley. Now there are a lot of great things to love about this book, but being the fifth grade science teacher, I love that it includes the fascinating topic of vernal ponds (also known as ephemeral ponds). Most of the students are aware that we have a pond in the woods behind our school that comes and goes, but they don’t know much about it.
Immediately I had students researching and finding out what they could about the words <vernal> and <ephemeral>. They found out that these two words do not share the same meaning, but are still appropriate names for the temporary pond we have in our own school woods! The narrative that follows here happened over a few days.
At Etymonline we found out that <vernal>means “pertaining to spring” and that it has been found in print as early as 1530. It is from Late Latin vernalis “of the spring”, from vernus “of spring”, from Latin ver, “the spring, springtime”.
After looking in several dictionaries, the sense of how to use the word broadened. We could speak of vernal sunshine, sweet vernal grasses, vernal ponds and the vernal equinox. Well, actually we couldn’t speak of a vernal equinox until we understood what it was!
I wrote the word <equinox> on the board and asked if anyone recognized any familiar morphemes. One person saw the word <ox>, and one boy saw his own name (Quin). I guess this is not surprising since so many scripted spelling programs use “finding unrelated words within a given word” as a strategy to help with remembering a spelling. That is another one of those misguided strategies that may help with remembering a spelling, but no doubt distracts the student who also needs to understand the word’s meaning. In my own opinion, it also reinforces the idea that spelling is about remembering letter order and not about understanding words so you can enjoy and use them.
So I explained that we were looking for morphemes (word parts with meaning), and that these would be prefixes, bases, or suffixes. Because morphemes carry meaning, as we put them together, they help us understand the whole meaning of the word. It was at that point that someone offered up “equal”. We looked in a dictionary to see what <equinox> meant. We found out that twice a year the length of our day and our night is nearly equal. The use of the word <equal> in the definition confirmed our idea that one of the morphemes in this word was <equ>. Since there is no <i> in the word <equal>, we thought that the <i> had to be either a connecting vowel (indicating Latin) or part of the other morpheme in the word. It was at this point that a boy in the back row raised his hand with great enthusiasm and wondered if the <nox> had something to do with night, seeing that the definition of an equinox mentioned equal length days and nights. Next stop – Etymonline!
We found out that the word may have come directly from medieval Latin equinoxium “equality of night (and day)! Smiles all around. The only question left to ask was, “So if an equinox happens twice a year, when is the vernal equinox? Confidently and with exuberance, the whole class answered, “In the spring!”
Next we were onto the word <ephemeral>. Since none of us recognized any morphemes in this word, we went right to a dictionary. The students found out that it meant “short lived, perhaps even as short as one day”. Then I remembered a word that I haven’t thought of since my husband was getting his Masters Degree in Aquatic Entomology and I was typing up his thesis. I thought of <ephemeroptera>. I knew it was an order of insects, but now I was ready to understand how or if it was related to the word <ephemeral>. I wrote <ephemeroptera> on the board and underlined the <pter>. Then I rewrote the <pter> to the side and asked if anyone knew a word that began with those four letters. I didn’t have to wait long. “Pterodactyl!”
I underlined the <pter> and shared that this morpheme was from the Greek pteron and meant “winged”. Then I wrote the word <helicopter> on the board. We looked together at the Etymonline entry for this word and found out that the first base is from Greek helix (genitive helikos) “spiral”. I reminded them that the <os> on <helikos> is a Greek suffix we have seen before (bios, lithos, cosmos, geos, tropos, thermos, hydros and mesos — when we were looking at word sums for biosphere, lithosphere, cosmosphere, geosphere, troposphere, etc.) I also shared with them the logical switch from a <k> in <helik> to a <c> in <helic>. I wrote the word sum next to it: <helic>+<o>+<pter>. Underneath the base <pter> I wrote “winged”. Underneath the base <helic> I wrote “spiral”. Then we imagined the movement of a helicopter.
I said to my students, “I don’t know about you, but recognizing the <pter> as a base in the word <helicopter> has been one of my favorite discoveries since I’ve started studying orthography!”
“Me too!” came a cry back from a couple of students with open-eye looks on their faces.
Side trip over, we got back on track with the word <ephemeroptera>. Somebody suggested that this was an insect with wings that lived only a short time. We looked online and found these: Mayflies.
The top picture is what they look like as nymphs when they live in water. The bottom picture is what they look like when they emerge as adults. They do indeed have brief lifespans as adults since they emerge without mouth parts and therefore do not eat! They try to mate within hours of becoming adults and die shortly afterwards. It certainly makes sense to call these insects ephemeroptera!
Another neat connection came two days later when I came across an article about a man who creates ephemeral art. His name is Andy Goldsworthy and he likes to use natural found materials to create his art. It is ephemeral because he creates it outdoors and leaves it there. Here is a lovely video of some of his work. His art may last longer than a mayfly, but the influence of the weather will certainly shorten the length of its existence. Some of it will definitely disappear once the vernal sunshine appears!
Next we went to Etymonline to see what else we could learn. The word has been in print since the late 14th century. It originally was a medical term and referred to a fever that lasted one day. It is from Greek ephemeros “daily, for the day”, also “lasting or living only one day, short lived”, from epi “on” + hemerai dative of hemera “day”. It wasn’t until the 17th century that it was used to refer to short lived insects and flowers, and it wasn’t until 1751 that it had the general sense of “a thing of transitory existence”. Fascinating!
Now that we had a deeper understanding of vernal and ephemeral, it was time to look closely at what goes on in a vernal or ephemeral pond.
This was an especially interesting film. After watching it we took a walk into our woods. Even though the recent rains meant there was water in our ephemeral pool, we now knew that it would not be there long enough for frogs to be laying eggs. That would happen in the spring when the water is there for a longer stretch of time. We imagined how the pool will be different in the spring and how much wider and deeper it will be. We decided that this pool can be called vernal because the spring is when it is full, and the life in it is active. We decided that this pool can be called ephemeral because it is not a pond like other ponds. It is only a pond for a short time.
Before we left the woods, we collected some thoughts on paper that we have since been crafting into poetry. Those will be ready to share soon! Stay tuned.
I am always surprised when students new to fifth grade misspell words like makeing, comeing, and lazey. I’m surprised because they’ve been writing these words for many years. Obviously, they never understood whether to keep the <e> or to replace it when adding the suffix! I may be surprised, but I’m not particularly concerned. These are spelling errors I can help eliminate!
The following Suffix Flow Chart is borrowed with permission from Pete Bower’s book “Teaching How the Written Word Works”.
I made copies and had each student glue it in their Orthography notebook for future reference. To begin with, we read through the flow chart together. Someone read the first diamond. We imagined the answer was NO, and decided where we should go next. Then we went back and imagined the answer was YES, and followed the arrow to the next diamond. We kept reading and following arrows until we had read all the boxes in the flow chart. Now we were ready to practice using it.
I wrote the following word sum on the board:
smile + ing –>
Then I asked someone to read aloud the first question we must consider. Before that question was answered, we reviewed which morpheme was the base or stem and which was the suffix. They also wrote the vowel letters above the flow chart in their notebooks.
Now the question was read again and answered. “The suffix <-ing> begins with the vowel letter <i>, so the answer to the first question is YES.” We followed the arrow to the next diamond shape and read the question: Does the base or stem have a final, non-syllabic <e>? We looked at <smile> and agreed that the final <e> was indeed non-syllabic.
Then we followed the YES arrow to the final box where it said to remove the single, non-syllabic <e> before adding the suffix. At this point we crossed out the <e> at the end of <smile> and were ready to write the final spelling of the word.
Here is how the final word sum looked:
smile/ + ing –> smiling
Here is how the students practiced reading it:
“s-m-i-l-e plus i-n-g is rewritten as s-m-i-l NO e i-n-g”
When reading it aloud, the morphemes are spelled out. Always. The students recognize the absence of the letter <e> in the final spelling of the word by saying “NO e”, so that they are always cognizant of its place on the base or stem.
We went through a few more examples including the word sums “grate + ful” and “create + or”. Then I gave them each a list of word sums, had them glue it in their notebooks and let them practice using the Suffix Flow Chart independently.
Everyone got right to it. I would say that it took maybe three minutes before the questions began.
“I’m not sure about this one.”
“What is the first question to ask yourself on the flow chart?”
“Does the suffix begin with a vowel?”
“Well, does it?”
“So where does the flow chart direct you to next?”
“Does the base or stem have a final non-syllabic <e>?”
“Yes. But if I remove the <e>, the word doesn’t look right!”
Student after student said the same thing. And while I directed each one to a dictionary to check the spelling, I couldn’t help but notice a big problem. These students had been taught to judge whether a word was spelled correctly or not by whether or not it looked correct.
So I stopped the class and asked if my observation was accurate. In each of my three classes, 98% of the students said that they often wrote a word two or three different ways and then chose the spelling that looked correct.
So today I feel great. I gave them a more reliable option. Why not just rely on the simple rule beautifully laid out in the Suffix Flow Chart? No more guessing games. No more taking chances. A few less words to edit when getting ready to publish one’s writing. Who wouldn’t love it?