Classroom Notes – Elementary Program

October 2014
Mona Nixon

Dear Families,

Our move to the main building has proved to be beneficial to our elementary classes. It has been fun to mix our groups for certain lessons or to help a child find a friend from next door for some social variety. The sixth graders have been able to work more efficiently on their Model UN work. We also enjoy having the primary students pop in from time to time to find an older student to help with a bead chain or to proudly read their hundred board to someone.

The younger children have been following up the First Great Story about how the universe came to be with lots of science experiments. Oftentimes an older student assists them with some of the more complex experiments, such as saturation and crystallization, which includes heating a solution of cupric sulfate and water.

There has been an explosion of math fact memorization going on with many of our students, the fruits of which are apparent when students are counting bead bars for multiplication on the checkerboard and tiny beads on the racks and tubes division board. We have a “subtraction club” that meets each day to work diligently to practice their skills.

Some of the older students have been passionately exploring volume, including volume of the pyramid, cone, and sphere. Two students calculated the volume of our library! Their interest has also inspired younger children to go farther than they usually would have with this work.

For the past few weeks we have all learned about the beginning of our country, including the founding of Jamestown, life in Williamsburg, and the Battle of Yorktown. The 4th – 6th graders are following up the wonderful field trip with presentations of characters from that time period.

The 6th graders have been working on their cultural presentations on Kenya, which they will give at the fund-raising dinner in November. They have been collecting recipes and even trying out a few of them on their classmates. We hope all of you will bring your families to this fun event.

We invite everyone to join us for observation. I think you will enjoy seeing the camaraderie of the various ages and the general feeling of care of each other that the students have, as well as the joyful learning and discovery that brighten each day.




February 2014
Mona Nixon

Dear Families,

Now that we have finally had a bit of normalcy with the weather, our students have been getting into the swing of things.  This time of year is so enjoyable because they have developed their work habits and their ability to work as a team.  Today as I was working with the youngest students on writing numbers in expanded form and reading numbers into the millions and billions, some of the older ones expressed their love of this work, which opened a door for them to join in and actually take over by working with the younger ones individually to go further.  It is so sweet to observe their gentleness and care when they help in this way.

Many students have had lessons on the cell theory and an introduction to the relationship of the cell, tissue, organ, systems, and organisms.  This work built up to a look at the plant cell, with students taking an imaginary trip through the cell wall, then through the cell membrane, into the cytoplasm, where they were introduced to the nucleus, mitochondria, endoplasmic reticulum, ribosomes, vacuole, chloroplasts, etc.  They all followed up with drawings of the plant cell.  It was fun to witness even the children who were not in the lesson listening in.  Next week we will look at the animal cell.

Students of all ages have been learning the names of countries of North America, South America, and Africa, as well as the names of the states of our country.  The sixth graders have begun learning the names of the capitals of our states, which is a long-standing tradition each spring.  All the students test each other and help each other to spell the names correctly and to remember to use capital letters at the beginning.

The first through third graders have begun their work on the Greek play of Orpheus and Eurydice.  We have studied the story, assigned roles, and begun practicing.  They gather in groups, memorizing lines and acting out the scenes with gusto.  Their enthusiasm and lack of inhibition make it such a delightful experience for all of us.  We hope you can all join us on March 21st when they present their finished version.

In math many students are learning their multiples of nine and trying to get faster with them.  Various lessons on the commutative and distributive laws of multiplication have been presented to students from first through fifth grade.  Some students are learning about square root. Others are learning to cube a three-digit number with the hierarchical cube, which is a version of the trinomial cube they built in the primary class.  We are also busy with fractions: adding. subtracting, multiplying, finding equivalences, etc. After a lesson of finding the least common multiple for the denominators for an addition problem, a group of older boys asked if the work could be done with several different addends.  They were off for at least an hour figuring out their answer (which ended up having a denominator of 630.)

Production and consumption have been popular topics with all the students.  The younger ones have been looking up information from our wonderful World Books that the PTO recently gave us and recording on maps which states produce corn, wheat, coal, sheep, etc.  The older group has been estimating the amount of milk consumption in our country, and then checking out how close they are to the actual consumption, and comparing that to the consumption of milk in other countries.

Our language work has included the preposition and adverb grammar boxes, further study of prepositional phrases and whether they are used as adjectives or adverbs, and the study of progressive and perfect progressive tenses.  We have been writing haiku, riddles, essays, character studies, summaries, thank-you letters, and short non-fictional pieces.  Students have also practiced reading with great attention to punctuation.  Our class read-aloud has been a historical novel about the Civil Rights Movement.

Many of the younger students have been drawing creatures from the Time Line of Life.  They recently became interested in the Tully Monster.  Older students have been taking a closer look at the Carboniferous Period, learning about our area having been much closer to the equator at that time and about how close our planet came to extinction of all species during the Permian Period. We have a specialist coming in next week to tell us more, thanks to Elizabeth Schelin.

We hope you will join us for an observation soon.  Your visits to the classroom mean so much to the children.


Mona Nixon


December 2013
Mona Nixon 

Dear Parents,

As we near the holiday break, students are mostly involved in their quilting project and preparing for the holiday performance. A few other lessons still occur, such as the lessons on the functions of roots with the young children and prime factorization for the older ones, and of course, the older students are working on their Model UN project.

Some of the previous work has been etymology for the middle group, who were fascinated to learn about words coming from other peoples and places. Many of them continued to look words up on their own. Learning about decimal fractions has also been fun as the students practice reading numbers into the millionths. The older group has practiced multiplication and division with decimals. Younger students have been busily writing stories, practicing the adjective and verb grammar boxes, writing their multiples, building the decanomial square, and drawing creatures from the timeline of life.

Watching two boys ages 8 and 11 baking a birthday cake was heartwarming last week. These were two boys who were both new to our class. They did not need adult help because they had observed and experienced the culture of the classroom, and they were working beautifully together, even cleaning up! Once the cake had cooled, the class met to share their appreciation of the positive qualities of the birthday child and to enjoy the cake together.

I hope you all have a wonderful holiday. It will be pleasant for all of us to have a bit more time with our families, reading together, baking, and maybe fitting in a trip to a museum.


Mona Nixon

January 2013

Mona Nixon 

Dear Parents,

Our class has been working diligently to learn the names and locations of all the countries of Europe. We’ve been learning about 10-12 each week and we are finally down to the last stretch. During this time I have introduced them to the work of various European artists. We have read poetry by William Blake and listened to music by George Telemann, a contemporary and friend of Bach. We are also reading stories adapted for children from James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small.

Our American history continues with the presidency of Thomas Jefferson and the expedition of Lewis and Clark. We have learned about Jefferson’s $15 million purchase which doubled the size of our country. Soon we will learn about the Cherokees, who tried so hard to adapt only to be sent westward on the “Trail of Tears.”

In biology the young and new to our class heard “The Great River”, which is a story to introduce the children to the systems of the body with special emphasis on our blood stream, which connects and nourishes the “great nation.” This was followed by a lesson eventually given to all the students on “The Big Tooth”, which describes the parts of the tooth. Sometimes brushing one’s teeth seems more important after this lesson. Next we will look at the lungs.

Math lessons have included factors (on the peg board for the young ones and on paper for the older), fractions in some form for all, from equivalence to raising terms and reducing terms to lowest form, and stamp game division and “division club”, which is my way of calling everyone together to make sure they are getting enough practice. Some of the older students have been learning about the powers of ten, including the expression of fractions in powers of ten.

The young children have been hearing stories and then talking about the characters. This was followed by a writing workshop lesson on inventing a character. Many of the children continued later by writing their own stories. They have also learned to map out their thoughts to write a paragraph. The older group has been practicing writing a reason paragraph. Soon they will learn to extend this into several paragraphs, forming an essay. They are also writing summaries for each of the 15 chapters of Number the Stars, a story based in Denmark during the Holocaust.

Spelling has been a popular activity with our spelling charts in use every day. These focus on specific sounds in various forms. The children also pull out various spelling lists and quiz each other. We also have lessons during which we think of all the words we can that end in -age, for example, and then write them down. After this the children cover up their lists and try to write the words correctly using the rule. This could be a fun activity to adapt for the car if your child wants to follow-up with you.

In geography we have studied the crust, mantle, and core of the Earth. The older students have taken a more in-depth look at the ocean crust, learning about the various layers and the spreading of the ocean floor as well as its destruction.

I would like to encourage everyone to keep reading to your children. This is the most important thing you can do to promote being a good reader, even if it is just 15 minutes each day. Chances are, once you get going you will read even longer to them because it is so much fun.

Please come in to observe whenever you have an opportunity.


Mona Nixon


November 2012
Mona Nixon 

Dear Families,
Our 3rd through 6th graders have been busily taking the IOWA Basic Skills tests for the first
hour of each of the past five days. We have 2 more days to go. During testing the young children
have been in Ms. McKay’s class practicing their reading, penmanship, and math skills.
Meanwhile our holiday quilt-making has begun, with several children having completed their
quilt tops. There is still plenty to do to add batting, backing, and the hundreds of quilting stitches.
The children have enjoyed seeing some of the geometry concepts materialized in their quilt
work. We can’t help but burst into Christmas carols as we are cutting and stitching.
Lessons in animal classification have been fun. We are learning how animals are classified
according to similarities beginning with the kingdom, then the phylum, sub-phylum, class, order,
family, genus, and finally species.

In math, the young ones are working hard at understanding what division is and learning to use it
to solve word problems. They are also learning about large numbers, visualizing as we read
about how tall one million children would be if they stood on each others heads. Older students
have been practicing reading and adding and subtracting decimal fractions. We have also worked
on prime factorization and least common multiples.

In language, the first graders have been learning about and experiencing verbs, reading the
commands and then actually doing what the directions say. They have also been learning when
to use capital letters, periods, and commas in a list. Another common sight is practicing using
topic sentence, supporting sentences, and a concluding sentence to write a paragraph. Older
students have been practicing the myriad uses of the comma and learning about Greek and Latin
word roots. We have all been learning to write thank you letters, learning the proper punctuation
of the salutation and closing.

We have been learning the names and locations of all the countries of North America, breaking
into groups so that the older students can help the younger ones. We have also been memorizing
the presidents of our country, adding a new one each day. This work followed our study of the
election process.

All students have been involved in lessons on drawing from memory and from observation,
which includes comparing the results of each approach. We have also been learning some
beautiful songs for our Winter Performance. Many duets and group combos have formed to
create their songs and dances for your enjoyment. We can’t wait to share them with you.
Thank you to those of you who have joined us for an observation. If you have not had a chance
to come in, please call the office to schedule a visit. You are welcome at any time of the year.
Your visits mean a lot to the students. We love to have you actually see them involved in the
various activities that they enjoy.




© 2012 Shotton Design, LLC.