Looking back at fourth grade

Looking back at 4th grade

My son just finished fourth grade at a Honolulu public school. He loved his enthusiastic, creative first-year teacher and opportunities to do more project-based work. That said, he still brought home a big stack of workbooks, worksheets, and loose papers. Over the year, he showed definite opinions about the projects and activities he wanted to do.

I’d like to share our fourth grade school year experience. How does it compare with your fourth grade memories?

One day of articulation classes. Starting this year, all of the articulation classes (Art, Computer, Hawaiian, Library, Mandarin, Music, and PE) were scheduled on the same day. It was a good change. Students focused on classwork, without having to interrupt their studies to get ready for an enrichment class. Teachers had more time to plan lessons and collaborate with other teachers.

Classroom economy. Students designed and voted on classroom money. They wrote job applications for classroom jobs (one month, my son was “hired” as a wiper). They earned money for doing their jobs and earning ClassDojo points. They paid “rent” for their desks or had the option to “buy” their desks for $300. At the end of the month, they could use extra money to buy an extra recess, homework pass, or other trinket. My son bought his desk early in the year and had a small wad of “cash” at the end of the year.

Edmodo. My son’s class signed up for this kid-friendly, teacher-moderated online social network (Facebook lite). Parents could view their child’s student activity, classroom announcements, and discussions. The first question posed by the teacher: “If your first week of school was a story, what would be the main idea? Be creative!” My son’s response: “My first week of school was a ‘mystery’ and ‘adventure’ story. The main idea was that we met our new classmates and teacher.” Unfortunately, after the second quarter, the class stopped using Edmodo – but it was interesting while it lasted.

ClassDojo. My son’s class also signed up for this real-time online point system that tracks student behavior – and it lasted intermittently throughout the school year. Teachers gave points to students for being on task, thinkers, knowledgeable, open-minded, helping others, and more. Each week, parents could see a summary of their child’s performance and even communicate with the teacher about their child’s progress. “I think [my teacher] gives out less points if you already bought your desk and have a lot of money,” my son confided.

International Baccalaureate (IB) units. The six transdisciplinary IB units were thoughtful, well-designed, and challenging. The units are more project-based than textbook-based. For example, in the “Where We are in Place and Time” unit, students learned about Native Hawaiian navigation, met with Austin Kino from the Polynesian Voyaging Society, and had a video-conference with crew members aboard the Hokulea. In the “Sharing the Planet” unit, students researched how we can save Hawaii’s marine ecosystems and completed a final project.

No Big Island trip. Grade 4 is the exciting Big Island trip. But with my son’s agreement, we decided to cancel the trip. At the time, Dengue Fever cases were still being reported, and our son is susceptible to mosquito bites (if there’s a mosquito around, it will find him). Though Dengue Fever cases did drop dramatically by the date of the trip, we decided not to second-guess ourselves – we made the best decision we could at the time.

Unit tests, standardized tests, and more tests. In addition to “regular” unit tests (reading comprehension, spelling, science, math) STAR Reading tests, STAR Math tests, and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) tests in Language Arts and Math, grade 4 offered an additional test: three rounds of the Hawaii State Assessment (HSA) in Science. My son complained that they had to spend two hours learning to use the online tools for the SBAC test. He thought it was a waste of time, and was glad that he missed one of 40-minute classes to go to an interview about his science fair project.

Science fair. At my son’s school, the science fair was open to fourth and fifth graders. The school organized two planning workshops, regular check-ins with the science fair advisor, a field trip to see the Hawaii State Science and Engineering Fair, and a fun rocket-building wrap-up workshop. My son chose a project about mobile device batteries, and learned to manage his time, perform Internet research, use presentation software, and design a poster board.

“I am definitely confident that I am ready for 5th grade. I learned a lot this year,” my son wrote in his writing journal at the end of the year.

Do you have school-age children? How are expectations about student learning different from when you were in elementary school? What has been your experience with common core and standardized tests?

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