JOES Weekly Newsletter -9/20

Greetings Families,

I would like to begin by thanking you for a wonderful start to our 2018/2019 school year. We have gotten off to such a wonderful start and that is in large part a result of your support in ensuring that our students are showing up ready to learn everyday. Our wonderful staff of educators have been thrilled with how their classroom communities are forming and the level of academic response they are getting from each and every student.  
 We will have some changes to our enrichment program this year. We are sad to see Ms. Lilli take the year off to pursue her own artistic endeavors. Ms. Lilli has been dedicated to engaging our students at Jose Ortega with a multitude of art mediums. Through those 11 years she has worked with each of our classroom teachers to reflect and plan for lessons. All of our classroom teachers plan to engage their students in many of the lessons that Lilli has modeled over the years. We will be organizing a school site arts committee to plan for how this will be supported throughout the year.

I am pleased to inform you that we have recommended a Computer Science teacher, Aimee Thomas, for hire. Aimee comes to us with years of service to schools in the East Bay supporting students in their acquisition of computer science skills and overall exposure to technology. The formal process for hire has begun and we should have the Computer Science classes up and running by mid-October.  
As we aim to continue to strengthen our home-school relationship, we will be kicking off our first PTA meeting of the year this Thursday, September 20 from 6-8pm here in the Jose Ortega cafeteria. This initial meeting will be a great opportunity to revisit the role the PTA plays with supporting the Jose Ortega community at large and also hear information on ways you can be involved throughout the year. We will also utilize PTA meetings throughout the year to share various initiatives that the school is engaged in. For this first meeting we will be providing more information and clarity on what it means to be identified by Superintendent, Dr. Vincent Matthews as 1 of the 20 P.I.T.C.H schools within SFUSD. Please come on out and join this vibrant community for an informative evening.  
 I will continue to email out our Wednesday Newsletter with all upcoming information on school matters and community events. Please reach out if you have any questions.  
I am looking forward to our partnership in ensuring that ALL of our students are thriving at Jose Ortega during the 2018/2019 school year.
 In Solidarity,

Ms. Caitlin's Science Update!

Pre-K: We had a new animal visit the classroom this week. This animal goes through a big change in its life, from a tiny egg hatching into a worm-like animal called a mealworm, The mealworm eats and grows and sheds its skin, until it finally goes into a pupa stage, where it stays very still and doesn't eat. Finally, the adult emerges as a beetle. It is similar to how a caterpillar changes into a butterfly. We got to observe the adult beetles, and students had a chance to let the beetles crawl on their hands with their tickley feet. 


Pre-K SpEd: We observed crayfish this week. We saw how the crayfish live in the water, and eat a plant called elodea, and live in little houses where they like to hide. Some students were brave enough to touch the crayfish's tail while a grown up was holding the crayfish.

Kindergarten: This week's animal is one that are students are familiar with. They've seen them on the school yard, and on sidewalks: the isopod! There are many names for isopods, and most students know them as rolly-polly bugs. As with our other animals, we read about isopods in our animal book, learned about where they live, and about their body parts. Isopods have many body parts that we have heard of before in our other animals. Isopods can live on the land or in the water, but all isopods breathe through gills, just like fish, which is why land isopods need to live somewhere moist. They have legs to help them walk, antennae to help them sense around them, and their bodies are made up of segments, just like earthworms. Isopods also have two small parts on the back end of their bodies called uropods. We will be observing two kinds of land isopods (we saw a picture of a deep sea isopod, which is much bigger, the size of a small cat, and we were very glad that we would not be observing deep sea isopods!). Our first isopod that we observed on Monday is called a sow bug. We drew a diagram of its body, labeled the parts, and colored it in. We saw that sow bugs have flattish bodies, and they cannot roll up.

On Thursday, we observed our second type of isopod, the pill bug. Like sow bugs, they have antennae, legs, and segments. But there are differences between them. Sow bugs had very visible uropods on their hind ends, but pill bugs have their uropods mostly hidden under their rounder shells. Sow bugs were mostly grayish brown without much of a pattern, while pill bugs had a variety of patterns, with spots of yellow and green. The biggest difference is that pill bugs have a much rounder shell, one that allows them to roll up into a ball, which gives them their name "pill" bug. As with our sow bugs, we sketched the two antennae, the seven segments with a pair of legs at each segment, and tiny uropods on the tail. We paid special attention to the color and patterns of our pill bugs when we colored in the diagram. 

Vocabulary: observe, compare, isopod, sow bug, pill bug, antennae, gills, segments, legs, uropods

First Grade: Our wheat seed experiment was ready to be analyzed this week, to help us find out the answer to our question: "What does a seed REALLY need to start growing?" The first step in understanding our results was to see if our control worked as it was expected to. Our control in this experiment was a set of seeds that were given everything we believe seeds need to grow: water, light, air, and space. If those seeds didn't grow, it would mean that something went wrong with our experiment and we would have to start over. But, checking out the seeds in the control cup across all three classes, we could see that they were growing just as expected! That is, most of them were. There were two seeds that hadn't grown at all. This happens sometimes, and it is part of why it is useful during an experiment to set up multiple trials. Since our control worked as expected, we could move on to observing the results for our independent variables, and recording our data. We saw that there were two cups that had no seed growth at all: the cup with no air, and the cup with no water. The cup with no sunlight and the cup with no space both had seeds sprouting in them. The variable cups were set out on four tables, and students were given a worksheet to draw the results from each cup, moving freely around to each station to complete their work. After recording the data, we had to think about what the results of our experiment mean, and what we learned. This is called the "conclusion." We concluded that the answer to our question of what seeds really need to start growing is: Seeds need water and air to start growing. 

Vocabulary: controlled experiment, control, independent variables, conclusion

Second Grade: We have learned that motion is movement, that forces are pushes and pulls, and that motion is caused by forces, sometimes by forces we can't see, like gravity. We learned about rotational motion, and this week, we began learning about a new kind of motion: vibration. Vibration is a quick back-and-forth motion, and vibration causes sound. We observed how vibration causes sound with two hands-on activities. First, each student was given a tongue depressor and shown how to make it vibrate by holding it down on the edge of a table with one hand and plucking it with the thumb of the other hand. We could see the tongue depressor vibrating when plucked, and heard the sounds it made. We observed that we can make the sound change by changing how far off of the table the tongue depressor is positioned. Second, each student was given a plastic cup and a rubber band. The rubber band was placed around the cup, with one side across the mouth of the cup. The students were asked to watch the rubber band vibrate and observe the different sounds made on each side of the cup, top, sides, and bottom. We learned that there are two qualities of sound: volume and pitch. Volume is how loud the sound is. Pitch is harder to explain. We observe that some sounds have a low or deep pitch, and some sounds have a high pitch. We were able to demonstrate the differences with our voices, but understanding what pitch is and why it happens will be part of our lesson for next week. 

Having learned that vibration is quick back and forth motion, and that it causes sound, I demonstrated how to use a tuning fork. When struck, the tuning fork emits a sound, but we cannot see it vibrating. How do we know it is vibrating? Because it is emitting a sound. Is there a way that we could see the forces moving the tuning fork back and forth? Since there are forces pushing and pulling the tuning fork back and forth, we could use those forces to make other things move. We demonstrated this by using a ping pong ball at the end of a string. A student held the string as still as possible so the ball hung almost motionless. The tuning fork was struck and placed against the ball, and the ball began to bounce off of the fork. We also tried placing the tuning fork in a cup water after it was struck, causing the water to spray up the sides of the cup in a burst. Our final thought for the lesson was how sound reaches our ears. Why is it that a tuning fork moving back-and-forth at the end of my arm is something I hear in my ears? This is because of sound waves, which move from the vibrating object through the air until they reach our ears. When they reach our ears and our ear drums, our brain interprets the sound. We saw how sound waves move by pushing air molecules using a metal slinky. One student took an end of the slinky and pulled it away from me, and held it up to their ear. I explained that the slinky was like the air molecules filling the space between the student and me. I struck the tuning fork and touched it to my end of the slinky, releasing some of the coils so that it moved in a wave to the student's ear. 


Vocabulary: balance, stable, balance point, counterweight, motion, rotation, force, axis, axle, vibration, volume, pitch

Third Grade: We have learned that adaptation is a structure or behavior that helps an organism survive and reproduce. Last week, we looked at the structures of crayfish, and how those structures functioned to help the crayfish. This week, we examined crayfish behavior. Behavior is action, or what an organism does. Starting with a single crayfish alone in a bin, students observed the crayfish's behavior under various conditions and stimuli. First, we observed the behavior of a crayfish left alone by itself. Then, we reached toward the crayfish, touched its back, its antennae, and its tail. We tried placing it on the table top, then replacing it in its bin and adding a house, observing what happened when the house was first introduced, then what happened after the house had been in the bin for five minutes. Finally, we added another crayfish to the bin.

After observing these various behaviors, students were asked to write about the different ways that crayfish move. We met back on the rug to discuss our observations, and to think about how the behaviors we observed were adaptive. I explained to the students that a range of behavior is normal and can be considered adaptive, the same way that a person can behave in many different ways if approached by a strange dog. For our first observation, some students' crayfish simply sat still in the bin, while other crayfish crawled around the perimeter of the bin. I asked the students how each behavior could be an adaptation of a crayfish living in the wild. The crawling, searching behavior could be adaptive because a crayfish could be crawling around searching for a place to hide from predators. The behavior of staying still can also be adaptive. A crayfish in the wild might be camouflaged against the bottom of its habitat, and staying still might help it go unnoticed by a predator. It also helps them save energy. Of course, it is also possible that staying still is the result of the crayfish being sick. (One group had a particularly lethargic crayfish.) Other behaviors varied by group. Some groups had fairly docile crayfish, while others had very defensive crayfish who spent most of the observation with their pincers raised in warning.


Vocabulary: structure, organism, function, seed, seed coat, embryo, cotyledon, germination, adaptation, SWAN, photosynthesis, behavior

Welcome Back to JOES! Message from Principal Ben

Dear JOES Families:

Welcome to the 2017-2018 school year!  I hope your family is enjoying the summer break.  This is going to be a very exciting school year.  Construction on our Green Schoolyard Project has been completed and it is beautiful.  We are very excited to get it planted and bring life to space!

Please join me in welcoming our new staff members.  Ms. Angelica Chang will be teaming up with Ms. Chan to co-teach the Mandarin Immersion kindergarten class.  Ms. Chang was the founding Mandarin teacher for SFUSD’s adoption of the Mandarin Immersion Language Pathway and has taught for a number of years in SFUSD.  Joining us as our new Social Worker will be Allison Garcia.   Next year we will also have the opportunity to have our beloved Mr. Paul on campus full time supporting students and teachers.  Mr. Matthew Calderon will be leading a fully staffed after school YMCA program.  He is currently a Unit Director at the Stonestown YMCA.

On Saturday, August 19th, from 10:30am-12:30pm, the PTA will host a meet and greet for pre-k, kindergarten and new families. Come meet your teachers and get a sneak peek at your new classroom! The event will be set up outside so the kids can run around and play while you meet and mingle with fellow newcomers as well as current families. The event is a potluck so please consider bringing a healthy nut-free dish to share. All class lists will be posted in the cafeteria.  

Monday, August 21st is the first day of school.  Students must not arrive at school earlier than 7:30am and breakfast will be served in the cafeteria at this time.  Intake will take place on the main yard at 7:50am.  Class lists will be posted on the main yard and teachers will line up with signs that show room numbers. Directly following intake, the PTA is hosting a welcome breakfast! After you drop off your children, please join fellow parents for a meet and greet and tasty treats in the cafeteria!

I look forward to seeing all of you soon! Enjoy the rest of your summer.

Benjamin Klaus, Principal


School uniforms are equitable for all of our students. Please make sure that your child wears his/her uniform or the blue and white dress code everyday.  LAST FRIDAY OF THE MONTH IS A FREE DRESS DAY. Teachers will be providing daily incentives for ALL children who are wearing uniforms.  We shall notify you if your child is not wearing the appropriate uniform.  Our school uniform can be purchased at Target, J.C. Penney’s, or any other store that sells standard uniforms. The JOES website

explains how you can make purchases online and benefit the school.



Navy Blue Cardigan Sweater or Sweatshirt

Navy Blue Cardigan Sweater or Sweatshirt

Navy Blue Pants/Shorts (No Jeans)

Navy Blue Pants /Shorts(No Jeans)

Navy Blue Jumper, Skirt or Skort

White, Navy or Light Blue Polo

White, Navy or Light Blue Polo/ White Blouse

White or Blue Socks

White or Blue Socks/Tights     
Closed Shoes: No Sandals

Closed Shoes: No Sandals

The Multipurpose Family Income Form

The Multipurpose Family Income Form is now the new Online School Meal Application.  In order to qualify for free meal benefits, families must submit a new application for school year 2017-2018.  EVERY household must submit a multipurpose family income form - The form is simple, secure and confidential.  If your child qualified last year, you will need to reapply this year. ALL families are required to submit an application each year. Complete HERE.  Help us achieve our goal of 100%!!!

Emergency Cards

We shall be sending an emergency card home on the first day of school. Please fill it out completely and return it to school on the next day. There must be at least THREE (3) emergency telephone numbers on the card. Please include an email address. Students will not be able to leave with any adult, unless his/her name is on the emergency card. In case of an emergency, it is critical that the school be able to reach one of the people listed on the card. Please notify the school immediately if there are any changes so that your information can be updated.


IMPORTANT:  Email Address:  As we continue our efforts to go green, we ask that you include an email address on the emergency card.  We will use this email address to send various school communications. Please include your cell phone number on both the emergency card and form.

School Hours/Drop-Off and Pick-Up

School begins at 7:50a.m. Students should participate in intake on the big yard.  Students should not arrive before 7:30am, because there is no adult supervision on the yard or in the cafeteria until 7:30am. Students that arrive at school before 7:30am will not have adult supervision and this is a safety issue. Parents will not be allowed to drop students off at school before 7:30am.

Students should report to the schoolyard unless they are eating breakfast at school in the morning. If your child is eating breakfast, s/he should go immediately to the cafeteria to eat. On very cold or rainy mornings, all students should report to the cafeteria.

MORNING DROP OFF: In order to ensure that safety of parents and students, please do not double park or jaywalk when dropping your child off to school in the morning. If you plan to join us at intake, please arrive early and find a parking place in the neighborhood. It is best that students are dropped off at the ramp near Sargent and Arch.  Students safely walk up the ramp to the schoolyard.  Parents ARE NOT ALLOWED to drive up the ramp, in order to to drop off students, in the morning. Please do not block the driveways at any time. Please be respectful towards the parents that are directing traffic in the morning.  Please, do not drive up the ramp and park in spaces reserved for teachers.

School ends at 1:50 p.m. for all grade levels.  The Stonestown Y staff will pick up students that attend the Y. Students that ride the school buses will be escorted to the buses by JOES staff members.

AFTER SCHOOL PICK UP:  For students being picked up after school, please park on the Sargent Street (west).  You may double park and students will be waiting with their teachers under the big tree near the marquee. Do not double-park on Sargent between Arch and Ramsell Streets facing east.  Dismissal is at 1:50pm and the barricades for the school buses will block off Sargent Street between Ramsell and Arch Streets from 1:45pm-2:05pm.  Safety is always our concern; therefore, teachers will wait until 2:05 pm with the children and bring them to the school office if a parent is late.  If you are going to be late, please inform the office before dismissal.

Barricades will be set up for the school buses in the front of the school.  Do not ever park in the school bus zone! Please pay attention to the traffic signs and respect our volunteers.


The PTA is composed of parents and teachers working together to improve the effectiveness of our school. The JOES PTA provides parent education and support for school programs through fundraising.  The JOES PTA helps to provide those extras that we all want for our students.  Please make a point of joining the JOES PTA!  Keep an eye out for the membership form coming home during the first week of school.  Please join us for our first PTA meeting on Thursday, August 31 at 6:00PM.  

Turbines and Solar Ovens and Windmills, Oh My!

Ms Young with one of her students at the Engineering Expo

Ms Young with one of her students at the Engineering Expo

March 23rd marked JOES first ever Engineering Expo and what a night it was! Attendees mingled and listened to kids explain their various engineering marvels, parents representing a wide array of fields explained to rapt kids what a career in engineering can look like, fun science prizes were raffled off, and everyone munched on tasty treats.

Thanks to everyone who came and rewarded the students’ hard work, to all the teachers for going the extra mile to help these projects come to fruition, and for our wonderful science consultants Paige and Caitlin who spearheaded this wonderful event and help keep our children so excited about science each and every week.

Click here for more photos

Finally, we’re very grateful for everyone who donates to the PTA—your generosity allows us to fund this program!

Newsletter February 9, 2017

Hi JOES Community,  welcome to the very first Jose Ortega newsletter! 

We’re taking a step towards digital communication-—welcome to our first newsletter! We hope it helps you keep up with what's going at your school.

Here's what's coming up:


Parent Teacher Conferences

Reminder: Parent-Teacher conferences are coming up later this month, Feb. 27-March 3, and that means early dismissal at 12:50pm. When you come in to meet your teacher, the school will be also asking you to complete SFUSD’s Family Survey. This survey provides a great opportunity to provide feedback about your school and how it is or isn’t supporting your child. 


Black History Month

Nelson Mandela artwork created by Jose Ortega students

Nelson Mandela artwork created by Jose Ortega students

There's a lot of neat stuff going on next week to help celebrate Black History Month:

  • Selected students will dress in costume and tour classrooms, bringing historical figures to life!  
  • Lunches will be extra special, featuring slide shows and music that will take students through the evolution of African American music in history
  • February 9 - Parent Volunteers will be read books about black history to each classroom. 
  • February 17 -  Members of SF State's Black Student Union will present a step show during Friday sing-a-long and then visit classes to talk about their journey on how they got into college.


PTA Meeting

Thursday, Feb. 9 at 6pm: This month's PTA meeting will feature guest speaker Jennifer Devine, founder of Superstar Health Education, who will be teaching our 5th graders about puberty. This is a great opportunity to hear first-hand what she’ll be teaching our kids and to ask questions about how to best handle this potentially tricky topic with all ages. (Meeting in the Cafetorium; Childcare and food for the kids will be provided in the library.)


English Language Learner Council (ELAC)

Is your child an English Language Learner?

Ms. Danielle Uttley, from the District’s Multilingual Pathways Dept., is  our Special Guest speaker and will answer questions about DELAC and multilingual programs.

When: Friday, February 10, 2017, 8:15 a.m. – 9:15 a.m.
Where: Jose Ortega Conference Room 221

A Chinese translator will be available. Please let us know if you need translation in another language, and for any other questions about ELAC, contact Ms. Watanabe at 

A light breakfast will be provided.



Saturday, Feb. 11, a group from our school will be marching in San Francisco’s Chinese New Year Parade, named one of the top 10 parades in the world! We should be about 3/4 of the way through the parade, so come on down and cheer!! Or, if you can’t make it, you can check out the live broadcast on channel 2 or 26. Missed out this year but want to be in it next year? Contact:



Reminder: Parent-Teacher conferences are coming up later this month, Feb. 27-March 3, and that means early dismissal at 12:50pm. When you come in to meet your teacher, the school will be also asking you to complete SFUSD’s Family Survey. This survey provides a great opportunity to provide feedback about your school and how it is or isn’t supporting your child. 



Save the date! 3/23 (6-9pm) will be our school’s first ever Engineering Expo! For the next month, our science consultants and classroom teachers will be working with all grades on a special engineering challenge, which will be presented at this fun, family event!



Traffic! Rainy days make roads slippery and visibility poor. Please take extra care when dropping off your little ones, and a HUGE thank you to the parent volunteers who keep everything running smoothly. Do you have a morning to spare once or twice a month? We could sure use more help! Please contact for this or other volunteer opportunities!


Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more updates...we’re working on scheduling more fun community events, including a movie night and possibly a school concert & dance party! If you have any feedback or want to see anything added, we’d love to hear about it (email below)!

Ben Klaus, Principal

Melissa Unzicker, PTA president (

Science Update January 2017

Update from Caitlin:

Pre-K: Last week, we took a break from learning about how animals eat and trying to eat like they do to examine some real animals live and in-person. We watched a short video about the life cycle of a darkling beetle, and saw how it starts as a tiny egg, hatches into a larva called a "mealworm," grows and sheds its skin, turns into a pupa, and finally becomes an adult darkling beetle. After our video, and a discussion of how to safely handle the mealworms, each student was given a shallow plastic dish with a mealworm in it for them to observe, and to handle gently if they so chose. Some students were a little squeamish about touching the mealworms, but many students were brave enough to let the mealworm crawl on their hand, and felt its tiny feet tickling their palms. After our observation, we put the mealworms into their habitat. The bottom of the habitat is covered with bran meal, which is what they live in and eat. They also like to hide under the bran meal, because they don't like the light. We gave them a few apple slices to eat, which is also their source of water, and they have become a fixture in the classroom that the students check in on daily and care for.

This week, we returned to learning about interesting ways that animals eat, and we learned about a special fish called the archer fish. We watched a video about how this amazing fish catches his dinner: when it sees a bug crawling around on the plants above the water, it shoots a stream of water out of its mouth and knocks the bug into the water, where the fish can eat it. The scientist in the video told us that the archer fish is very good at being able to aim the stream of water as he spits, even at targets up to two feet away. We tried eating like an archer fish. Each student was given a small paper plate with three gummies attached to it (the gummies had been moistened with water and dried onto the plate). They were given a larger plate and a plastic pipette. The larger plate was filled half way with water, and the students had to pretend to be archer fish by sucking the water from the big plate into their pipettes, and shooting it at the "bugs" on their small plates. The rule was that students were allowed to eat the gummies, but only if they managed to get them to fall from the small plate by shooting them with water. 

Pre-K SpEd: To kick off our dinosaurs unit, we had a dino-dig. Students used their hands to dig into a tray filled with sand, where sea shells and an assortment of small plastic dinosaurs were hidden. 

Kindergarten: Continuing to think about how a material like paper is not very strong, but can be made into something strong like a box and our papier mache cups, I gave the students a challenge: using only a single half-sheet of newsprint paper and a single piece of tape, they had to build something that would be strong enough to hold a paper plate off of the table high enough for a marker to roll underneath it. If the paper could hold up a plate, the next challenge would be to hold up a small bottle full of water. They were allowed to fold, roll, or crumple their paper, but not to tear it. Students tried many different strategies, but we found that the best way to meet both challenges was to roll the paper up into a cylinder and tape the side. We have already observed that paper can be made stronger by layering it and adding glue, like the box and our papier mache, but now we had discovered something else that we could change about our paper to make it stronger: its shape! A paper cylinder was much stronger than crumpled or folded paper, and it could hold as many as 4 bottles of water before collapsing. If we added layering to our procedure by folding the paper before rolling it, it could hold as many as 8 bottles! So, now that we knew that changing the shape of a material could make it stronger, our next question was, what is the strongest shape you can make. On Thursday, we reviewed some of the three dimensional shapes that they have already learned about: cube, rectangular prism, triangular prism, triangle-based pyramid, square-based pyramid, cone, cylinder, and sphere. We decided to build a few of these shapes to test which is the strongest. Using toothpicks and play-doh, students constructed cubes, triangular prisms, and both kinds of pyramids (we realized that we couldn't build shapes that had round edges, because our toothpicks were straight lines). After building the shape, the students were asked to try testing its strength by putting pressure on its sides, its corners, and by picking it up to see whether it would hold together. We discovered that a cube was the weakest shape. It would wobble with only a little pressure on any of its corners, and if you tried to pick it up, it would fall apart. Our triangular prisms were a bit stronger. Sometimes the pushing on the corners would make it wobble, but it depended on which way the shape was oriented. It also fell apart when it was picked up. Next was our square-base pyramid. That was very strong if you were pushing on the top corner, but if you turned it on its side and pushed one of the bottom corners, it wobbled. When you tried to pick it up, it mostly stayed together. Our strongest 3-D shape was our triangle-base pyramid. No matter how you turned it, pushing on the corners didn't make it wobble. You could pick it up, roll it around, even toss it back and forth between your hands, and it would stay together. Why were some shapes so weak, while other shapes were so strong? We looked at our different shapes, and thought about the 2-D shapes that made them. A cube is made up of all squares. A triangular prism is three squares joined together in a triangle. A square-base pyramid is four triangles and a square bottom. A triangle-base pyramid is made up of only triangles. We realized that the more triangles our shapes had, the stronger they were, and we concluded that between a square and a triangle, a triangle is much stronger.

This week, we began by reviewing what we had learned about shapes and that, so far, our strongest 2-D shape is the triangle, and the strongest 3-D shape is the triangle-base pyramid. After the review, I told the students that we were going to take a short break from thinking about shapes, and think about houses. Giving each student a half-sheet of paper and 3 minutes to work, I asked everyone to draw a picture of a house. After we had drawn our houses, I shared the designs different students had drawn. We looked through many different pictures, and I asked the students to think about what shapes they observed in each house. We noticed a pattern: almost everyone had drawn a house that was made of a square bottom with a triangle on top. Even between the three classes, most students had drawn a house in the same shape. Why was this? Why does everyone draw the same shapes when they think of a house? I explained the students that here in the U.S., most houses that people live in and that we see in books, tv, and movies, are shaped that way. So it is natural for us to draw houses in shapes that we are used to seeing. We looked at a chart of the most common kinds of houses in the U.S., and we saw that many had the same shape, and that big buildings like apartment buildings and condos were also squares. We then looked at some other houses from around the world. Some other countries had similar houses (like adobe houses), but some houses had very different shapes. A teepee was shaped like a cone, and an igloo, a yurt, a hut, and a wigwam were all shaped like half-circles. I then showed the students a picture of an indigenous-style house from India, which was in the shape of a half-cylinder. We also observed that the house was made of grass, or straw. I asked the students if they had ever heard of someone building a house of straw, and indeed, they knew the story of the three little pigs. In the story, a house made of straw is not a very strong house at all. Why did the people who built this house use straw, then? Some students guessed that they hadn't heard the story, or that they weren't very good builders. I asked the students what houses in the U.S. are usually made of, and they listed wood, brick, cement, and metal. I asked whether those are strong materials, and they agreed. I then asked why the people who built the house pictured hadn't used bricks or cement, and it dawned on some of the students that the people who built the house didn't have bricks, cement, or other strong materials to build with. They built the house of straw because straw was the material they had. But even though the material wasn't very strong, the people still wanted a strong house to live in. What could they do to their material to make it stronger? After thinking and referring back to our paper challenge from last week, the students realized that by making the house into a half-cylinder shape, it was much stronger. It wasn't that the people weren't smart, or not good builders. They were using the materials they had in the best way possible. On Thursday, we took some time to look at the houses again, and think about how shape and materials both work to make something strong. We recalled that shapes with triangles were stronger than shapes with squares, but how did circles compare? We began by re-enacting the water bottle challenge, this time with paper that had been folded into a cube, into a triangular prism, and a cylinder. We saw that a paper cube could hold only 3-4 bottles of water, and a triangular prism had similar results, while our cylinder could hold 8. It seemed as though the circle in the cylinder was stronger than the triangle or the square. I showed the students an egg, and asked them whether eggs are weak or strong. Most agreed that eggs are weak and easy to break. Easy enough to break just by squeezing in my fist? Most students thought so, and were surprised to see that I couldn't break it by squeezing it. Sitting in a circle, each student was given a chance to try to break the egg by squeezing it, but try as they might, no one could. Some students suspected that the egg was fake,  or hardboiled, but once it made the round, I cracked it into a basin to show them that it wasn't a trick; the egg really was that strong. The eggshell itself was very thin, and I broke a fragment with my nails to show the students how fragile it was. So why couldn't we break it by squeezing? Because of its shape. Round shapes are very strong when there is pressure coming from all sides at the same time. To see how strong, we took a flat of 3 dozen eggs and had the students try standing on them. They were amazed and thrilled to see that the eggs did not crack. 


(There were several surprises, however.  After students in Room 2 tried standing on the eggs, they asked Ms. Griffith to try. She was able to last year, but this year, we had several cracked eggs. We also had a student crack eggs in Room 3, but that was because he rocked backwards on them. The biggest surprise, including for me, was during Room 4's science class. After the first egg had made its round through squeezing, I took one last squeeze, joking that maybe the students had weakened it for me. Perhaps they had, because, for the first time after having done this lesson at least a dozen times before, the egg burst in my hand and exploded everywhere. Luckily, I had clean-up supplies prepped and ready.)


Vocabulary: cube, rectangular prism, triangular prism, pyramid, cone, cylinder, sphere

Try this at home: Using blocks or other materials, try building some structures with your child and seeing which ones are strongest and most stable. Think about what makes one structure stronger or more stable than the other, and what you could do to strengthen a weak structure. (This will be a big part of our engineering unit, beginning next week.)

First Grade: Last week, we reviewed how an anemometer and a pinwheel work, and that they are both instruments that meteorologists use to measure wind speed. We then watched a short video about measuring the wind, and I told the students that the video would discuss three instruments, one they knew about, and two new ones. I told them to listen carefully for the names of the new instruments, and what they measured. After watching the video, students were quick to name the anemometer as the instrument we already knew about, and that it was for measuring wind speed. The two other instruments mentioned in the video were a wind vane, and a wind sock, which tell where the wind is coming from, and where is is going. The video also told us that wind direction is described in terms of compass directions: North, East, South, and West, and that when describing the direction of the wind, you always talk about where the wind is coming from, not where it is going to. For example, a wind that is blowing toward the South is a Northerly wind. I showed them a wind vane that I had built, and we observed how the arrow always pointed into the wind, showing you which direction the wind was coming from. After learning about our new weather instruments, it was time to build another weather instrument that is more commonly used as a toy: a kite. Students took their kites home.

After reviewing the wind vane and wind direction, this week, we went back to what we had learned about air back at the beginning of the unit, about how air can push and pull. I asked the students to think about the kites that they had made last week, and what we had learned about the wind scale some weeks before. You can't fly a kite in calm, or even in a gentle breeze. Why? There isn't enough wind to push the kite up. In a moderate breeze, the wind is moving fast enough to push the kite up. We know that air is pushing the kite up, but what is pulling the kite down? Gravity! If the force of gravity is stronger, the kite will sink and fall. If the force of the wind is stronger, the kite will rise and fly. To demonstrate what we would be thinking about during the lesson, I took out a model parachute made from a paper napkin, string, and a paper clip. I asked the students to think about what forces were working on the parachute. The parachute fell to the ground, but not as fast as a paperclip would have by itself. The force pulling the parachute down was gravity, and the force slowing it down was the air. I told the students that this force of air pushing against the parachute had a special name: air resistance. We then watched a short video about how parachutes work, and I asked the students to pay attention to the word that the video used to describe air resistance, because they would use a different word to talk about air pushing against things. In the video, they called air pushing against things drag. We realized that the best parachute would have a lot of air resistance, or drag. That would make it fall slower, and the best parachute is the one that falls the slowest (because it keeps the person using it safest). On our parachute worksheets, I had the students label a diagram showing a parachute with the forces moving the parachute. I then showed the students a second parachute, and before releasing them, we compared them. They were both weighted with a paper clip, attached with four pieces of string and stickers, and the size of the chute was the same. However, one chute was made of a napkin, and the other was made of newspaper. Would they work the same way? Releasing both at the same time, the newspaper parachute reached the ground before the napkin parachute. So which was the better parachute? The napkin makes a better parachute, because it creates more drag. I told the students that I had several materials for them to make their parachutes from: napkins, newspaper, plastic, and paper bags. Each student was to write the question: "I wonder what will happen if my parachute is made of ___________________?" on their worksheet under the parachute diagram, and to fill in the blank with the material of their choice. We then built the parachutes, which the students took home (we didn't have time to compare student-built parachutes, but we will be comparing the different materials next week.

Vocabulary: anemometer, meteorologist, instrument, wind vane, wind sock, North, East, South, West, gravity, air resistance

Try this at home: The parachutes we made were not built to last, and probably fell apart by the end of the day. However, it is very easy to build another parachute, and you can build a few with your child and test different materials at home to see which would make the best parachute.

Second Grade: Last week, we observed that although milkweed bugs, silk worms, and painted lady butterflies are all insects, they do not have the same stages of their life cycles. While they all begin with an egg stage and end with an adult, from which future eggs come to continue the life cycle, silk worms and painted ladies go through stages such as "larva" and "pupa," while milkweed bugs go through a "nymph" stage. We learned that all insects go through a process called "metamorphosis," but that metamorphosis has two variations: complete and incomplete metamorphosis. Since metamorphosis is a big word, we broke it down into two smaller parts: meta, meaning "beyond," and morph, meaning "shape" or "form." An organism that undergoes metamorphosis is one that goes beyond the shape or form that it is born with. Some insects are born looking nothing like their adult parents, such as the painted lady caterpillars. To reach the adult stage, they have to completely change their shape. To go through such a drastic change requires a pupa stage. This is called "complete metamorphosis." Other insects, like our milkweed bugs, emerge from the egg looking like a tiny version of the adult, called a "nymph." The nymphs grow and shed their outer skins until they are adults, but they change only a little bit, so they don't require a pupa stage for intense growth and transformation. This is "incomplete metamorphosis." We watched two short videos about other insects that undergo metamorphosis: a luna moth undergoes complete metamorphosis, going from larva to pupa to adult, whereas a mantis is born a nymph, shedding its skin as it grows, undergoing incomplete metamorphosis. 

This week, we delved deeper into variation and where variation comes from. We read a section in our book called "Environment," and we learned that every organism has "characteristics" that make it a unique individual (similar to "properties" when we were studying geology). Some of these characteristics are inherited, passed down from parents to offspring. However, others are the result of environment. An example in our book was a darkling beetle. A darkling beetle has certain inherited characteristics, such as its body plan (head, thorax, abdomen, six legs), and its color. However, some beetles have characteristics that result from the environment, such as a broken wing cover or a missing leg. Some of these characteristics will be passed onto its offspring. The beetle's offspring will have the same body plan and coloration. But its offspring will not have a broken wing cover, or a missing limb, because those characteristics are environmental. We learned that variation, especially inherited characteristics, can have a big impact. We watched a short video about the differences between artifical and natural selection. The video taught us that for as long as people have been farming, we have been selecting organisms with preferred characteristics, such as sweeter, larger fruit, or more meat. In each generation, there is some variation, and farmers choose which characteristics they like the best, and allow only those organisms to reproduce. The farmer doesn't actually create anything, only chooses. In natural selection, it is nature that chooses which animals will live and reproduce. It isn't making a conscious choice like a person does, but simply by natural processes and forces, some variations will be selected for. The video showed us that many vegetables that we eat such as kale, cabbage, brussel sprouts, broccoli, and cauliflower, all came from the same weed. After watching the video, I revealed to my students that all these vegetables are brassica, just like the plants we have been observing in our classroom. The brassica we are observing is not going to turn into a vegetable, but it does come from the same plant that kale, cabbage, etc. come from. We also looked at selective breeding in two other plants. I showed the students a picture of Queen Anne's lace root, and asked them what they thought farmers might have selected it to become. They were very surprised to see that the small, tangled root of the Queen Anne's Lace was turned into carrots! They were equally surprised to learn that carrots have only been orange for about 300 years, and that farmers selectively bred the orange carrot from yellow, white and purple varieties to honor William of Orange. We also looked at how far bananas have come from the tiny, starchy fruit full of big black seeds in the wild to the large, sweet, seedless fruit we know today.

(Note: Due to the holiday for Chinese New Year, and because we will be starting the engineering project next week on Thursday, Ms. Guillen's class did not have the lessons about metamorphosis or selective breeding. This week, they had the preparatory lesson for the engineering unit that the other second grade classes will have this coming Tuesday.)

Vocabulary: larva, pupa, nymph, complete and incomplete metamorphosis, head, thorax, abdomen, variation, environment, inherit, characteristics, artificial and natural selection, selective breeding

Try this at home: Choose a favorite food and do some research into its origins. Almost every plant or animal that we eat has been selectively bred for hundreds, if not thousands of years. You may be amazed at what you learn!

Third Grade: Last week, we used the collaborative moon phase poster we completed in the previous lesson, and worked on individual moon phase charts that went into our notebooks.

This week, we completed the moon phase charts, and watched a video called "All about Stars," in preparation for our final lesson next week about stars and constellations. The students had to complete a guided worksheet for the video, filling in the blanks for different facts about the stars, such as how many they are (billions), what they are made of (hot gases, hydrogen becoming helium), the life cycle of stars (sometimes they explode in a supernova), their colors(blue, white, yellow, orange, and red, with blue being the hottest), and how telescopes work (lenses and mirrors collect light from stars, with inward curving mirrors collecting the most light).

 Vocabulary: lunar cycle, phase, new moon, waxing, waning, crescent, gibbous, full moon, stars, 

Try this at home: We will be having a guest speaker next week to share some information about the constellations. Weather permitting, take some time to examine the night sky and see which constellations you can identify. The speaker will also give a little background about the different cultural origin stories behind different constellations. If you know any of the stories behind the constellations you can spot, share them with your child, or feel free to make up your own together.

Update from Paige:

5th grade: Mr. Ellingson and Mr. Calubaquib
The most exciting experiment we have done in the new year occurred about two weeks ago. Thanks to the help of first grade parent, Susan Koo, our students had the opportunity to see a fresh pig heart, lung, and other tissues. A big "Thank You" to Susan!

We have been studying how cells get what they need to live.  It's pretty straightforward for single-celled organisms, but multicellular organisms (organisms made of many cells) have to have more elaborate systems to get resources to all of their cells. Previously, we studied how vascular plants solve this problem.  Now, we have been looking at how humans solve this problem.  In this study, we were trying to understand more about the circulatory and respiratory systems.  

We had four stations through which students rotated.
1.). The first station had laptops with pre-selected YouTube videos related to heart function.
2.). The second station had human models of the heart borrowed from Stanford and UCSF.
3.). The third station had models of the heart/lung in combination also borrowed from Stanford and UCSF.

4.).  But the truly awesome station was station 4. The fourth station had a pig heart specimen and a pig heart/lung specimen.  As an anesthesiologist involved in organ recovery, Susan was able to get access at Stanford to dissect two pigs and bring us fresh samples to examine in class.  Susan had dissected the heart, so students could see that the addition of liquid to the left ventricle caused the valve to close.  Susan had set up the pig heart/lung specimen, so the lungs could be inflated using an external hand pump.  It was incredible to see the lungs fill up with air and then deflate!  Honestly, it was an amazing experience!

4th grade: Ms. Washington, Mr. Calubaquib; 4th/5th Mr. Briggs

My favorite experiment in 4th grade this month was an experiment looking at how the distance between magnets changes the strength of the magnetic field.  We did a really cool experiment using a balance to explore this topic.  On one side of the balance, there is a magnet on a post attached to the balance base.  On the balance arm, there is a cup.  We put a second magnet in the cup that was attracted to the magnet attached to the base.  On the other arm of the balance, we put metal washers in a cup.  When the force of gravity acting on the washers exceeded the magnetic force holding the magnets together, then the balance would tip as the two magnets came apart.  We recorded how many washers it took to break the magnetic force.  We repeated this experiment, but we added small plastic discs (spacers) between the two magnets.  We recorded how many washers it took to break the force when the magnets were separated by 0, 1, 3, 4, 5, or 6 spacers.  When we graphed the number of washers vs. the number of spacers, we saw there was a relationship.  It’s actually a totally beautiful exponential curve:)  We talked about how we could predict how many washers it would take the break the force between magnets separated by 2 spacers.  After making a prediction, students tested how many washers it took, and lo, and behold, the predictions were nearly always correct.  Totally awesome.  Students talked about how the data showed that as the distance between magnets increases, the force between them gets weaker.  

3rd grade: Ms. Song
We started our unit called "Sun, Moon, and Stars" when we returned from winter break.   We began by looking at the sun.  Our first question to investigate was does the sun appear to move in the sky? We approached this question by recording where the sun was in the sky three times during the school day. In addition, students also drew their shadows on the concrete while standing in the same position each of the three times they were outside.  The next week we looked at the data. First, it was apparent that the sun does appear to move in the sky throughout the day. Moreover, the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. Next, we looked at the data of one student's shadow study. We saw that the size and direction of her shadow changed throughout the day.  To try to explain this phenomenon, we developed a model for what was happening. In our model, we used a flashlight to represent the sun, a cork to represent the student, and the table represented the ground. Students were challenged to try to determine why the shadow changed size and direction throughout the day. Through this study, they realized that shadows are created by objects blocking the light. They also realized that the sun moving through the sky from East to West explained both the change in size and direction of the student's shadow. When the sun is closer to the horizon, shadows are longer. When the sun is closer to overhead, shadows are shorter. When the sun is East of the student, the shadow is on the West, and vice versa.  In the end, we also looked at a model in which the earth was a globe, the light source was a flashlight, and the person was a small slip of paper on the surface of the globe. I explained, as most students already knew, that the sun doesn't move, but instead, the earth rotates on its axis, making it appear the sun is moving.