Tricky Brains

The fourth graders have been looking at the way our brain works.  We’ve looked at some optical illusions, kaleidoscopes, maps of the brain, and read about Marcel Marceau and how our brains pick up on emotions and representation.  (Marceau also works in well with our post WWII setting for In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson.)  We’ve talked about National Geographic’s Brain Games and the tricks our brain plays on us.  That goes well with our optical illusions.  One of the games is a passage where you try to count how often the letter “f” appears in a short passage.  Most people don’t get the right number on the first try, because your brain skips some of them as unimportant.  And, we looked at a paragraph that showed some Cmabrigde Uinervtisy  (Cambridge University) research.  It says that our brain does not read every letter by itself, but the word as a whole.  If the first and last letter of the word is correct, the middle letters can be scrambled and our brain still reads the word.  We are pretty amazing animals.  

Maybe one day, one of our students will discover something else amazing about our brains or how to use our brain to advance learning or overcome learning disabilities.  


Hot Air Rises

Every so often the fourth graders take a break and do something fun.  No grade involved.  No test or assessment required.   One week, we wrote a paragraph on all we could think of that might apply if we took a black bag of air out in the sunlight.  Most of the class knew that black absorbs heat and that the air in the bag would get warm.  That was a pretty good start.

We discussed molecules getting warm and moving faster and taking up more space.  We talked about warm air rising, so the bag might float, and we discussed the difference between a demonstration and an experiment.  

Then we took our black balloon bag out and filled it with air for our demonstration on warm air rising.  Ours was a demonstration, not an experiment, because it had already been tested many times, and we knew what the results would be.  

The fourth graders also pretended to be cold molecules (we just moved in place).  Then we warmed up (a little more movement).  And finally we became pretty warm (we moved around the area).  Hopefully, this helped explain why the bag became fuller as the air warmed and then finally started to rise.   Another comparison we used was a small piece of ice on a metal lid, then the ice warmed and melted on the lid, finally set in the sun, it evaporated.  Wow, if it rained we would have had the water cycle.


Katelyn Gunter

A Thank You to All Veterans

St. James Day School does a Veterans Day event every year, where we invite veterans from our families to come and be honored.  Along with this, the fourth graders do a couple of things on their own as special recognition for veterans.  The families of our fourth graders send us names and addresses of active and military veterans.  The class mails out a thank you to each one.  Sometimes, the students will draw a picture to include with the thank you notes or to give out at the school’s Veterans’ Day event.  

Some years, we are honored with a visit from a military veteran, usually a grandfather or a great-grandfather, who is willing to tell us about his or her experiences in the military and answer some of our questions.  Because of our family atmosphere, someone from one of our families usually volunteers to help us have a better understanding of our military and the meaning of Veterans Day.

Here the 4th graders are signing cards to be sent to Veterans.


Native American Dioramas  

After studying some of the tribes that lived in Texas, the fourth graders were given time in class to make a three - dimensional diorama.  They could only use paper, calendar pictures, craft sticks, white glue, markers, and string.  It was a two hour, in-class project, with no outside of class objects allowed.  That required some creativity.  

The students could choose any Texas tribe, some chose the Jumanos, Karankawas and the Comanches, one took the Tonkawas, one the Coahuiltecans, one the Caddoes and one Apaches.

Katelyn Gunter

The fourth graders dissected (removed bones) from owl pellets (vomit /hair balls).  Along with our unit on the skeleton, we took a look at what owls leave behind after they eat.  

The students had fun finding tiny bones that they recognized.  We found craniums, mandibles, femurs, ribs, etc.  They were surprised at how tiny the ribs of a mouse are. We also read some facts about barn owls.  Their wing span is 44 inches.  We are thinking about drawing one to scale.


We even took a little time out for humor.  Will pointed out that he had a bone on his shirt, it must be a "collar bone".  That is a clavicle, not a humerus.  


4th & 5th Grade on Pink Out Day

To show our support of the race for the Cure, the fourth and fifth graders wore pink on Pink Out Day.  


The class discussed family members and friends who have had or have various forms of cancer.  They are very much aware of the need for a cure and how much cancer affects the lives of everyone.  

Katelyn Gunter

We are combining our social studies and our science this month.  We are learning landforms in science and geography in social studies.  So we have been surrounded by maps.  

Landforms were introduced in lower school.  The students even made their own models.  So we are adding to what they already know and moving into more terminology.  By October, we will be ready to test on what we have learned.  Right now it is practice and play to help us remember what we are learning.  

We aren’t going to make model landforms, but we are going to be making some of our own maps.  

There are a lot of different types of maps. One the fourth graders always enjoy is the relief map, where they can run their fingers over the mountains.  This map was given to us by the Schroeder family before the girls were even in middle school.  We have great parent support.  

Katelyn Gunter


Assessments can come in many forms.  The fourth graders did some paper work and some activities to help me get a better understanding of each student.  At the same time, they were able to get an idea of how to work best in the fourth grade dealing with me.

We began by defining assessment.  as·sess·ment    (əˈsesmənt)   noun

  1. the evaluation or estimation of the nature, quality, or ability of someone or something."the assessment of educational needs"

  1. synonyms:  evaluation, judgment, rating, estimation, appraisal, analysis, opinion"a teacher's assessment of the student's abilities"

Tests can be scary because they involve a grade.  An early assessment shouldn’t be frightening because it just shows where you are, and you aren’t expected to already have all the knowledge.  

One fun assessment was balancing peacock feathers.  We discussed the center of balance and then, while the students tried activities with the feathers, I observed.  

We did a week of assessing to find out where we are, where we want to go, and what we need to do to get started.  

We also learned a few things along the way!


Katelyn Gunter