Manure for the Mind!

Recently, the students have been investigating words related to our study of the American Civil War.  In our last post students explained what they understood about some of the words.  One of the comments we received on that post was from Old Grouch, our true Real Spelling friend from France.  Since one of the words investigated was <emancipation>, and the students had found this compound word to be made up of the bound bases <man> and <cip>, Old Grouch playfully replied using many words that share those two bases.

He began his comment like this, ”  I anticipate that they won’t need a mandate to participate in manufacturing a manual of these bound bases.”  What fun we have had with that!  The students have each made a list of the words in his comment that share the base <man> and the ones that share the base <cip>.  Then the research began.  How does knowing the meaning of the base element in a word help us understand the meaning of the word?

Some of the words really gave us pause to think, while others were more obvious in their meaning connections.  Overall, it was a very bright week in the classroom (light bulb moments were happening in proliferation!)  The following videos focus on the words with the base <man> .


Word Investigations Related to the American Civil War

In an earlier post, three groups shared their investigations of <civil>, <slavery>, and <abolish>.  These last two groups investigated the words <immigration> and <emancipation>.



While both groups uncovered some truths regarding these words, I’m left wondering about other words that share the same base.  For instance, I never considered <emancipation> a compound word before.  Indeed the students convinced me with their evidence.  But I’m not quite satisfied yet.  What other words have the base <man> with the same denotation?  I crave examples of the bases <cip> and <migr> as well.  I feel that there is still so much to bring to light in these investigations.  Good thing we have tomorrow 🙂

National Geographic Geostory!

When I began teaching, I knew I wanted to do something that would take the students out of the classroom.  Our school was right next to a creek.  My husband was an aquatic entomologist and I was familiar with how he used macroinvertebrates to determine the health of rivers.  So my students and I began a study of the Koshkonong Creek.

Over the years our study has grown.  We are just about to publish this year’s data.  The cool thing about this project is that we are telling a story.  Each year a new group of fifth graders writes a new chapter in the story of our creek.  I remember the year a dam was removed.  The overall health of the creek dropped drastically.  It took four years for the creek to recover.  Even now, 8 or so years later, the health of the creek is not what it was before the dam removal.  We have had years of extremely high water (sort of like this year!) in which we could not measure the velocity of a riffle nor a pool.

Some years we fished garbage out of the creek.  I will never forget pulling a television, bicycle, laundry cart, and chair out and setting them on the side of the road for our village workers to pick up.  We’ve brought back shells to put in our classroom frog tanks.  The oddest momento though, is a doll we found half submerged.  We brought her back and she hangs in our classroom with dried duckweed in her hair – a creek mermaid of sorts!

The students will of course remember who fell in!  It seems that every year someone took a spill.  Thank goodness the creek is not very deep.  And yet … once your waders fill up, you’re wet through and through!  They will also remember getting stuck in the muck.  In certain years, the banks were muckier than others!

Of course, I hope they remember that scientific observation doesn’t cost a lot of money, and yet can yield great information.  We can wonder things and then figure out a way to seek the answers to our own questions.  And the big one …. learning doesn’t only happen in a classroom – it happens wherever one’s curiosity surfaces!

What an honor to be included in the National Geographic Geostory on Citizen Scientists!  Please click on the link above to see the story.


Stepping into a Deeper Understanding of Words.

Students have begun research on the American Civil War.  They are all researching Abraham Lincoln, and they are each researching both a particular person who was alive at the time and a specific battle or Civil War term (uniforms, artillery, medicine, etc.).  This week, we began talking about the research.  I also began lecturing, and they began taking notes.  Our discoveries are being shared, and the adventure of investigating a significant event in the history of our country has begun!

A new topic of study always lends itself well to word investigations.  The students practice their investigation skills and broaden their understanding of the topic at the same time.  This week the class was split into five groups.  The words investigated were <civil>, <slavery>, <abolish>, <immigration>, and <emancipation>.  The video clips below feature the words <civil>, <slavery>, and <abolish>.

<Civil> …

<Slavery> …

<Abolish> …

One of our last orthography investigations was that of comparing a word as it is split into word sums and into syllables.  The general consensus was that if we want to understand a word’s meaning, syllables  confuse the issue, whereas word sums help us isolate the base element.  The base element, of course, is the central kernal of meaning in a word.

When the students approached the task of investigating these words, they spent much less time creating word sum hypotheses.  They have internalized the difference between dividing a word into syllables and dividing a word into word sums.  When I went around asking about their word sums, their hypotheses was based on known prefixes and suffixes!  I smiled a big inward smile.

Civil Rights Dodecahedrons





As we were learning about the Civil Rights Movement, the students were doing some reflective writing.  They wrote about Martin Luther King, Jr, Rosa Parks, and Ruby Bridges.  They wrote about the Bus Boycotts in Montgomery, Alabama, the Voting Rights Marches in Selma, Alabama, the Sit-Ins at department store lunch counters across the south, and the March on Washington.  They wrote about prejudice and segregation.  All in all, they wrote on eleven topics.  Then we typed up the writings and glued them to twelve panels (the twelfth panel being the heading).  Putting the panels together was fun.  When finished, the dodecahedrons were interesting to hold and read!

April Fool’s Fun

I would definitely say we had a fun day today!  Molly and I both brought in trays of cupcakes!  She, because her birthday was over the break.  Me, because … it was April Fool’s Day (she said with a sinister smile on her face).  Here’s a picture of my cupcakes.

What only looked like frosting was in fact mashed potatoes.  Beneath the mashed potatoes was a little meatloaf.  Hardly what everyone was expecting!  Molly’s cupcakes were the real deal though.  Delightfully yummy!

April Fool’s Day Fun

Towards the end of the day, we had yet more laughs when the principal helped me pull off another prank.  Even though we live in an area that is not prone to flooding, we managed to convince the students that we needed to do a ‘flood drill’.  They were told that they were the first to learn the drill and would be responsible for teaching it to the other classrooms in the building.  Because of that, they took it very seriously.  Next they were asked to stand on their chairs, take off their shoes and roll up their pant legs.  At that point, the principal revealed it was a prank.  I caught the last bit on video.

Flood Drill

Fun times in fifth grade!  I love my job.

Syllables vs Word Sums – The Understanding Continues

Having spent so many years clapping out words and breaking them into syllables in order to memorize spellings, my students are slowly making the transition to writing word sums instead.  Today I asked them to take a piece of paper and draw a line down the middle.  One side was to be headed ‘Syllables’ and the other ‘Word Sum’.  Then they were to look back in their Orthography notebooks at all of the words we have investigated.  They were to choose a bunch of those words and write each two ways.  On one side they were to divide the word by syllables and on the other side to write a word sum.  Then I asked them to talk to a partner about what happens to the word parts that have meaning when we break words into syllables.

As I listened in on the conversations, I was pleased.  This was a necessary step in the letting go of old habits.  They had to prove to themselves that word sums left meaningful word parts (morphemes) intact, whereas breaking a word into syllables just left them with letter groupings that had little or no meaning.  Allison pointed out that when <congregation>, <condensation>, and <integration> were broken into syllables, they all appeared to have a <tion> final suffix.  If the <t> is left attached to the <ion>, then the base or any suffix preceding the final suffix is harder to spot.

After the chance to discuss data in small groups, we had a large group sharing of the discoveries.  Maia pointed out that when <abnormality> is split into syllables, <mal> becomes an obvious word part.  We know that <mal> means bad, and that has nothing to do with <abnormality>, so in this case, syllables confuse the reader with incorrect morphemes.  Kolby made a great point when he talked about the word <unknown>.  If we don’t learn to recognize the base element of this word, we might not realize that there is a <w> in the word.  We certainly don’t hear it when we say the word!