Michael J. Allen

Class of 2016 - 2017

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Dear Fifth Grade parents,

Welcome back to our school and to your new class.

I hope everyone had a rewarding and interesting summer. I had a brilliant summer working on my fitness and health here in Boston, in Maine and in Canada.

That's all gone now!

Now it’s time for us all to face the challenges and rewards of a new school year and with the exciting addition of a new Principal to the school. It's time for new visions, new hope and new change. It's a thrilling time coming up!

Part of the thrills will include, for this year, switching classes with an exciting and talented second-year teacher Ms. O'Donnell, and her class (this switching is a mandated Fifth grade approach to the teaching of Math and Science in Medford, in case you were wondering.)  That means that Ms. O'Donnell will get to teach Math to my class for a year, while I will be teaching Science to her class as well as my own! She is a highly organized and passionate teacher who is going to do a great job for you and your kids!

I am, as always, excited, idealistic, and confident that this will be a very special year for all of us.

Of course, there will be a transition period for the class and the school at the start of this year as we all get to know and to adapt to the new programs that are being introduced this year and to the new members of staff who are joining our community.

I will do everything I can to make this transition as smooth as possible for us all.

Over the last few years, we have attempted to work ever closer as a grade. While each Fifth Grade classroom has a unique flavor, we are trying to see the whole grade as OUR group. The Fifth Grade team tries to get to know as many of the students as possible. There is much sharing of ideas and projects between teachers on the team with shared Field trips and special events becoming an increasing feature of the grade experience: We have recess together as a grade, as well as lunch every day. Special events are almost all inclusive of the whole grade: DARE class, Carwash events, Field day, Junior Olympics, Field trips to Kimball farms, 'Moving on' from the Grade, etc. With the spread of the Responsive classroom model for the social curriculum to almost every class in the school, there is also a shared approach to caring for, as well as intellectually challenging the students at the grade.

All of the teachers at the grade care about all of students in the grade, not just their own class!

I am concentrating for the opening weeks on what I think of as a series of ‘getting to know you’ mini-projects. The classroom atmosphere I am aiming for during this period will be relaxed, comfortable, and secure.

I have very high expectations for my fifth-grade classes. In my classes there is a focus on teamwork throughout the year. There is also an equal focus on independent learning. The deeper background skills that I aim for are the ones that lead to students who are self-motivated, skilled in all aspects of information search, retrieval, critical analysis, reformulation, and production, and who are skilled team members, in any context.

The educational philosophy at the heart of my teaching style is Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences approach. The basic idea is that people are smart in lots of ways; not only in logical and linguistic ways (reading, writing, math/science), but also in musical, spatial (art and, architecture, as well as building and making things), and physical (sports, dance, acting, public speaking) ways, too! Gardner describes an underlying interpersonal intelligence that is revealed in our abilities to coexist with other people and, alongside that, an intra-personal intelligence that governs our ‘self understanding’, and the personal strengths that make it possible for us to achieve our goals in life. The program I have developed attempts to provide multi-level opportunities for children to explore, discover, assess, develop, and improve their skills in each of Gardner’s main intelligence areas.

This is all work done within the context of the fifth-grade curriculum, determined by the Medford Public Schools, and by the Massachusetts Department of Education. I attempt to run a completely integrated curriculum, as far as possible. I use the Social Studies and Science Curriculum requirements as the framework for the integration through a series of ‘Projects’. I try to fuse the core topics into a single year long “story” that attempts a grand and idealistic goal – to give a basic grounding in all the key issues of contemporary science and American history!

Each topic is used to address the many language curriculum goals as part of the social studies or science research and presentation. A typical project includes multiple opportunities for reading, writing, and research training. In addition, there are multiple opportunities for building and design work, artwork, music creation and performance. There are creative opportunities for dance and drama. Topics are exploratory in nature, and are centered in genuine questions. Observations and experiments, as well as research and collaboration are at the heart of most of the projects. Students work in multiple team and solo formats. Most projects conclude in either group or solo presentations to various size audiences – from each other, to all the parents; from ‘buddy’ classes, to the whole school – and beyond! 

Any questions you have about this policy need to be addressed to the administration of the School and the City.

 
Here is the overall project plan for the year. Please note this plan is subject to radical and major changes especially regarding dates!

September:

Perfect World? - a design project to help build community.

 
October:

Space, the solar system, stars, and gravity.

Simple machines and start the related ‘Invention Challenges’.

November:

Trends in history – a topic based on, “Guns, Germs and Steel” by Jared Diamond, that provides a background to American and World history.

The Native Americans and the ‘Explorers.’


December:

Two week multi-media project culminating in a performance for parents.

January:

Rocks and fossils.

Light and Sound.


February:

The recording project – our class CD!

March:


Colonies and the American Revolution.

April:

Life! - Populations and ecosystems – an exploration of life on Earth.

May:

MCAS; Third week of May – MCAS tests in Science and maybe Math - two or three tests for each subject. We may be taking part in more PARCC tests or the new MCAS 2.0.

June:

The End of the Year Show – Two week Multimedia culminating event.

 

Now onto the thorny subject of homework!

Medford expects Fifth grade students to be spending one hour per day on homework. That means a rough weekly expectation of five to seven hours work per week. Please work with your child to ensure that they are within range of these expectations - not too many weeks above eight hours, that’s what I say!

 
There is a homework requirement of twenty minutes reading every evening in addition to the weekly assignments. Typically, if a project requires specific reading then the twenty minutes is subsumed into the general homework time.

Principle issues for parental involvement regarding homework are:

  • planning
  • organization
  • time management - completing work on time and handing it in
  • maintaining high standards

Sixth grade homework can feel intense to students. It is vital that your child has a comfortable, efficient and self-reliant way to deal with those demands by the time they get to Grade six.

I have a separate note for you about the homework with more information.

 
I believe the font of learning is joy. When a person enjoys their work and their life then learning is natural and automatic. My first job is to help generate and sustain passion and enthusiasm in the class. Enthusiasm is the fuel. Hard work is the vehicle. You will be seeing plenty of each from the students and me this year!

 
The Fifth grade is a special year for children. It is a time of transition for many of them. My ambition for the children is that they each will be fully prepared intellectually, personally, emotionally, socially, artistically, musically and physically for the demands of the Sixth grade and, beyond, into the rest of their lives.

The teacher is one part of the three part system that is the learning environment of your child. Most of my time is spent getting to understand and extend your child’s world. It is very difficult for me to get to understand the parent’s world in the brief and often hurried meetings at the beginning or end of a school day. With that in mind, I’d like to ask you to help me by writing to me about your child. It would be helpful for me to read your ideas about:

  • Your child’s strengths, weaknesses, enthusiasms, etc - anything you could offer would be valuable to me as I begin the process of learning about each child. 
  • Your goals and aims for your child’s learning this year.

If you have the time to get involved in the class by sharing your skills, enthusiasms or resources please let me know about that, too.

 
In closing, and having written all of this, I would especially also ask for your patience this year as we all enter into the demands of the new year at the Brooks School. I can’t honestly know how many of my plans and great schemes for the year will survive the transition period! All I can really say with certainty is, that I hope that this class is going to be one of the really great ones.I hope you enjoy the year as much as I hope I am going to try to!


Sincerely yours,


Michael Allen