Saturday, January 26, 2008

FCAT Explorer in the Computer Lab

Dear Parents,
I have scheduled my students in the media center computer lab one day per week to work on FCAT Explorer between now and FCAT testing week in March. Everyone started with Reading Island, the 6th grade program, but when they finish I want them to proceed to Reading Boardwalk, the 8th grade application. Please try to schedule time each day for your children to work on FCAT Explorer so they will be able to complete both sections before FCAT testing week.
Many thanks, Mr. Blount

PM Class 2nd Quarter Honor Roll Students

Principal's Honor Roll
Cristina, Teresa

High Honor Roll
Calista, Thomas, Dustin, Landon, PJ, Christian, Jawan

Honor Roll

Straight A's in Citizenship
Teresa, Calista, Francisco, PJ, Carly, Jawan, Landon, Benji, Christian, Cristina, Thomas, Dustin, Chase, Ismael, Nick

Perfect Attendance
Cristina, Teresa, Francisco, Landon, PJ, Ismael, Dustin, Benji

AM Class 2nd Quarter Honor Roll Students

Principal's Honor Roll
Josh, Billy, Jordan, Alexis, Holly, Sydney, Hannah, Aramis, Ian, Martha, Tyler

High Honor Roll
Andrea, Sara, Daisy, Hunter, William, Chance, Nallely, Georgette

Straight A's in Citizenship
Colton, Daisy, Georgette, Aramis, Hunter, Ian, Andrea, Tyler, Alexis, Jordan, Billy, Lane, Chance, Nallely, Sydney, Martha, Josh, Hannah, Sara, William

Perfect Attendance
Sydney, Andrea, Holly, Tyler, Alexis, Jordan, Nallely, Martha

How to Write an Expository Essay

We have been spending a lot of our language arts class time preparing for Hillsborough Writes!, our district writing assessment. Patterned after Florida Writes!, the state writing assessment that eighth-graders must pass in order to be promoted, Hillsborough Writes! requires that students be able to write a 4-paragraph expository essay.

During the first semester our writing focused primarily on poetry, freewriting, creativity, sentence structure, grammar, and conventions. When we returned to school after the winter break, we started learning how to write expository essays. Isolated writing lessons are helpful, but I know that in order for students to understand the writing process, they must be able to clearly see how it works. That is why I model the process for my students from beginning to end. As a teacher, it is one of the most challenging tasks that I undertake, but I believe it is worth it. Several years ago, after attending a writing workshop, I made the decision to write a collaborative class essay with every writing class in order to model the process. This year was no different.

I began by teaching students how to brainstorm and do pre-writing, a process essential to effective writing, using my 4-square method. Then we read a model essay so students could see what a "6," the highest score a paper can earn, looked like. Students identified the essential parts of effective essays such as leads, topic sentences, examples, anecdotes, and conclusions. After that we discussed what to write about. The AM class chose to write about cruise vacations and the PM class decided to write about practical jokes. Together we wrote our 3-part prompts, and then students completed their individual pre-writing and wrote their own timed 45-minute expository essays. After I scored and returned their essays, we used their ideas to write a class collaborative essay. Students contributed their ideas while I, as recorder, wrote the class essay on the overhead. They were able to see exactly how to write an introduction, two sub-topic paragraphs, and a conclusion. When we finished, Sara typed up both essays, I proofread them, then we posted both essays on Tomlin Internal for other teachers to use in their writing classes.

In order to share our collaborative class essays with a broader audience, I have posted them here for our online readers:

AM Class Expository Essay: Cruise Vacations

PM Class Expository Essay: Practical Jokes

PM Class Expository Essay: Practical Jokes

Don’t you just love the great rush of adrenaline you get when you’re trying not to get caught? You have just pulled off the perfect practical joke, and no one knows you were the culprit. The only problem is that no one but you is laughing. Has your prank been naughty or nice?

A harmless practical joke is when no one gets hurt, physically or emotionally. Harmless pranks should be fun for everyone involved including the perpetrator, the bystanders, and especially the victim. Traditional practical jokes include gadgets like the hand buzzer, squirting flower, pepper gum, and the ever popular whoopee cushion. Over the years, however, pranksters have forsaken the old-school devices and have designed more elaborate tricks. Last Halloween, my whole family dressed up like mummies. My parents stayed behind to give out candy and possibly scare a few kids with their bandaged bodies, while my brother and I went trick-or-treating around our neighborhood. Most of the houses we visited handed out candy, but a few houses were dark. We decided to ring their doorbells anyway, and run. It was our twisted version of ding-dong-ditching. When our candy sacks were full, my brother and I headed back to our house to sort through our loot. When we opened our bedroom door and switched on the lights, we saw a horrifying sight. Our room was completely woven with toilet paper from ceiling to floor like a giant spider’s web. As if that was not enough, our parents suddenly sprang from the closet and tried to grab us. We started screaming bloody murder! Mom and Dad had observed our doorbell prank and decided to get us back. Our room was a mess to clean up, but we all had a good laugh.

Not all practical jokes are fun. Some pranks can be harmful to everyone involved. Practical jokes cross the line when the victim, bystanders, or even the perpetrator gets hurt physically or emotionally. If property is damaged in the process, the prank is called vandalism, and that is against the law. When I was in fifth grade I made one of the biggest mistakes of my life. I was trying to have fun, but when it was all over the joke was on me. I was walking home from the store when I met up with some kids from my neighborhood. One girl was holding a carton of eggs, and I could tell they were up to something. “I dare you to throw an egg at Old Man Jenkins’ house,” somebody said. That sounded fun, so I grabbed an egg, wound up, and fired away. The egg splattered all over Mr. Jenkins’ front door. But before I could even laugh, I was all wet. When I looked up, my elderly neighbor was aiming a garden hose straight at me. Apparently, he had been waiting in the bushes to see what we were up to. The next thing I knew, my “friends” disappeared and a police car slid into the driveway. Mrs. Rodriguez from across the street was standing on the porch with her phone in her hand. I was SO busted, but in the end Mr. Jenkins agreed not to press charges if I cleaned up the mess. Did you know there is nothing that smells more disgusting and is as hard to scrub clean as dried raw egg?

Even though many practical jokes are harmless, it is important to make sure that they don’t turn into harmful pranks or even vandalism. Such is the case with TP-ing. If you decide to TP a friend’s house or yard, you better pray it doesn’t rain! Better to be a clown than a bully.

AM Class Expository Essay: Cruise Vacations

Some people enjoy them and some people hate them, and I’m not talking about sushi bars. I’m talking about cruise ship vacations. You may think cruises are all about sea, sailing, and sunshine, but there is also a dark side to those sleek Leviathans.

I’ll be the first to admit that cruise vacations can be a lot of fun! Because my father is a cruise wholesaler and can get tickets at heavily discounted prices, my family has taken many cruises and enjoyed most of them. There are innumerable reasons to love cruises, but I especially enjoy the on-board activities, the never-ending supply of food, and visiting exotic ports. The last cruise my family took was a five-day tour of the Western Caribbean on the Carnival Inspiration, and the experience could not have been better. On our first day at sea I decided to participate in the no-boundaries scavenger hunt. I didn’t win, but I had a blast exploring that monstrous ocean liner. When we finally arrived in the Mexican port of Cozumel, we took a day trip to the San Gervasio Mayan ruins. The jeep trip through the jungle and touring the ancient temple was an unforgettable experience. All cruises have food available 24-hours a day, and I always eat my fill. But the best dining experience to me on this trip was the Captain’s Dinner. I ordered steak AND lobster while watching the entertainment provided by our servers. As we left the dining room that last evening on board, the ship captain shook everyone’s hand. I remember thinking, wouldn’t it be great if all cruises were like this one.

Unfortunately, all cruises are not as heavenly as the Inspiration. In fact, some cruises seem to have surfaced from Davy Jones locker. My first cruise on the Carnival Liberty almost ruined me because I was sick the entire time. To tell you the truth, 700 people, including passengers and crew, came down with the Norwalk virus. The symptoms were headache, stomach cramps, vomiting, and diarrhea. Everyone on the ship who was sick had to be quarantined in their rooms. My family had reserved a tiny inside room in the belly of the ship, and that led to my next problem---claustrophobia. I thought I would climb the walls! Sad to say, I had no strength to even move. Without a balcony or porthole, I was trapped. Even after I started to feel better and went out on the Lido deck, I still felt imprisoned because I had two days left at sea. Then I started worrying that the ship would sink. To make matters worse, the featured movie that night was Titanic. Unlike most of the ship, my illness lasted only three days. That’s when I realized that the ticket price was not all-inclusive. At every turn, ship staff members were bugging us by taking our pictures and then trying to sell them to us, hawking souvenirs, and advertising spa treatments. (Not that I didn’t need one.) In desperation, my dad exclaimed, “These people are going to nickel-and-dime me to death!”

Even though I’ve had some bad experiences on cruise vacations, when I remember them now I can look back and laugh. And I can’t help getting excited whenever my dad walks in the room with a big smile on his face and announces, “We’re going on a cruise!”

Monday, January 14, 2008

Featured Student: Holly

I knew Holly was a gifted writer when I first read her freewriting homework and poetry at the beginning of the year. She truly has the heart of a poet and knows how to put her thoughts on paper. She is self-motivated and writes from an inner drive rather than because of a class assignment.

Holly has started a blog to publish her poetry online. One of my dreams when I started the Mr. Blount's Classroom blog was to hopefully inspire my students to start blogs of their own and encourage independent writing. Holly has done that. You can visit Holly's blog, Next Great Idea With Hollister by clicking here.

This week we received notification that Holly's poem "Autumn Leaves" will be published in Creative Communications' A Celebration of Young Poets anthology. Holly had submitted her poem earlier in the year without my knowledge. I think she had forgotten about it too.

As her teacher, I am so proud of Holly for being true to herself, designing her own blog, and for getting her first poem published.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Focus Title: Woodsong by Gary Paulsen

Our latest focus title, Woodsong by Gary Paulsen, is a memoir of his adventures with a dog team. The first section of the book gives an account of how both domestic and wild animals taught him about nature. The second section is a daily log of the first time he ran the Iditarod, an 1122 mile dog sled race across Alaska, in 1983. Gary Paulsen is the author of the modern young adult classic Hatchet and many other fine books for both children and adults.

Click here for Gary Paulsen's 2008 Iditarod profile and links to other official Iditarod information. Another link is Gary Paulsen at Random House.

An older Woodsong cover

The newest Woodsong cover

The original Woodsong cover

Adult readers who enjoy adventurous nonfiction may enjoy Gary Paulsen's Winterdance. This book tells the same story as Woodsong, but it is written for a more mature audience. I read the book years ago and loved it!

Saturday, January 12, 2008

January Scholastic Book Clubs

January Scholastic Book Clubs newsletters go home Monday, January 14. All book club orders are due by Tuesday, January 22.

Follow the link below to place your order online. You will find the class user name and password on the memo sent home from school. Online orders are due by Monday, January 21.

Scholastic Book Club Online Orders

Monday, January 7, 2008

It's FCAT Time Again!

When students return on Tuesday, January 8, we will begin hitting the Reading Sunshine State Standards hard in preparation for the 2008 FCAT. We will also be learning to write expository essays to prepare for Hillsborough Writes! Although we have introduced much of the content in the first half of the school year, this is the time we must buckle down in order to do our best on these state and district assessments.

Parents, please make sure your children are setting aside time for daily independent reading and also working on FCAT Explorer. It is my goal that all my students complete the Reading Island module that focuses on 6th grade benchmarks. I also encourage students to go further and complete the Reading Boardwalk module that addresses 8th grade benchmarks. All of my students are in advanced classes and should be able to handle the material. My students have been given their sign-in names and passwords, and they can access FCAT Explorer from any computer. Let's blow the FCAT out of the water this year!

Read & Feed and a Visit from Nathan

AM Class

We held our first Read & Feed of the year on the last day of the first semester. A Read & Feed is when students bring snacks, drinks, and books and read and feed for the whole period. The last day of the semester was an early release day, but our students enjoyed this assignment-free activity even though the periods were much shorter. I believe Read & Feeds are just one more way children can find pleasure in reading.

PM Class

PM Class

A highlight of the day was when my one and only nephew Nathan stopped by for a visit. Nathan is the son of my sister Carla and Mrs. Gunn's cousin Todd Hood. The Hoods are missionaries to Jamaica, and they were able to come home for Christmas this year. My students hear me talk about Nathan so much they should be sick of it, but they all seemed so happy to meet him. Nathan, who is a first-grader at Montego Bay Christian Academy, made himself at home and read a couple of books himself. It was a special day in many ways and the perfect ending to the semester.

Nathan reading The Tub People's Christmas

Nothin' better!

Chance, thanks for taking an interest in Nathan and making him feel right at home!

Haley Demonstrates Public Speaking

Haley is our 2007-08 FFA president and also our current PTSA president's daughter. In the days preceding the FFA sub-district public speaking competition, we invited Haley to share her speech with us. Haley, who by the way is a natural on camera, presented her speech on hydroponics in both our AM and PM classes. She demonstrated to our students how to speak with confidence, clarity, and emotion. Haley placed second at the sub-district competition. Congratulations and many thanks, Haley!

Mr. Blount and PTSA on TBC

As you read in an earlier post, our homeroom class was recognized for having the highest PTSA membership in the school. On Tuesday morning, December 18, PTSA representatives presented Mr. Blount with a $25.00 Barnes & Noble gift card live on the TBC morning show. Thanks once again to our wonderful, generous PTSA for the many ways you support students and teachers at Tomlin!

Shared Creative Book Responses

Georgette, Josh, Aramis

The last week of school before Christmas Break, several students visited Mrs. Sykes' AM and PM classes to share their creative book responses. I selected several students I thought had created original visual or performing art activities for their selected books and also students I believed would present their responses clearly and confidently. All of the students I asked to share with Mrs. Sykes' classes accepted the challenge, conquered their fears, and presented their projects to an unfamiliar audience. Mrs. Sykes rewarded each of the presenters and communicated to me what a great job they had done. We hope Mrs. Sykes' students will be encouraged to read some of the books we shared with them.

Hannah, Billy

Landon, Christian

Ismael, Eddie, Teresa

Thomas, Chase