Problems Prompt a Need for Problem Solvers

As we finished up our second fabulous Friday, we took time to revisit our web of problems brainstormed last week. After illustrating the ideas, students considered what kinds of problem solvers would be able to tackle each problem and the feelings associated with the problems. As we pushed our thinking, we realized that problems, which sometimes scary or frustrating, can help develop determination, courage, and creativity.


Speaking of problem solvers, fifth grade students (former fourth grade scholars), embraced the challenge of preparing our first class-led assembly… in one week. They pulled it off masterfully. Using their unit of inquiry into human rights and responsibility as their foundation, groups of students introduced us to a variety of rights we have. We were grateful for their effort and example of excellence!

Value of a Venn


Over the course of the last 9 days, we have read several books featuring problems and problem solvers.  Working with a thinking buddy, students reflected on the readings and sought to compare and contrast the characters, setting, plot, problems, solutions, and themes. Because we are “fifth grade thinkers,” students were challenged to carefully and completely on the triple Venn diagram. Through their discussions and debates, students were able to identify significant comparisons and contrasts.







Character, Community, Conflict, Connection, and… Comparing

We started off our day today by spending time with Mrs. Kovacs, who is filling in for Mrs. Chofi while she is on maternity leave. Mrs. Kovacs conducted a Words Their Way assessment with us, which will help us identify areas for glowing and growing as scholarly spellers.

After completing the assessment, we had an opportunity to choose from a wide variety of mystery books featuring… famous fictional problem solvers.

We were able to read for 19 minutes without interruption or distraction. This was a great starting point as we seek to grow our reading stamina. While hard to put our books down, we managed to pull ourselves away for a brief discussion of key characteristics of the mystery genre.


We then gathered on the carpet to share a reading of Eve Bunting’s book One Green Apple (Interview with Eve Bunting). While reading, we discussed character, motivation, point of view, author’s purpose, conflict, and theme. As part of our analysis, we referenced TASOK’s Learner Profile, trying to identify qualities evidenced in the main character, Farah. We will be rereading this text to further discuss Farah as a problem solver. Our captured thoughts will allow us to compare and contrast ideas with several other texts.

Continuing our search for details to help design a detective story, we examined a variety of maps of China. Since setting can play such a critical role in a story, it is important to know where our mystery will take place and how location and place will impact the character and plot.

After recess, our math-magical minds were put to work as we compared and ordered large numbers. Being able to justify and explain our thinking was a critical component of today’s work. Using the place value chart and expanded form was one way we were able to compare today.  Thankfully, we had our multiple source as a reference.

The highlight of the day was hearing such scholarly math conversations happening as we provided evidence for our thinking.

Absolutely Perfect!

Today, we continued building our learning community by reading and discussing a book by Kevin Henkes entitled Chrysanthemum. (Click on the links to learn more about the author and the book). While the story is simple, the ideas are significant. After reading, we spent time discussing the form and function of Chrysanthemum as a problem solver. While it was not initially obvious how Chrysanthemum could help us learn about problem solvers (form) and the problem solving process (function), as we dug deep into the words and actions of the primary and secondary characters, we discovered there was more to learn than we first thought.

Challenge: With the Learner Profile in mind, add a note to the Padlet identifying a trait exhibited by one of the characters and explaining how that trait was shown.


Made with Padlet

In addition to referencing the TASOK Learner Profile and seeking to apply what we learned to our interactions with others, we also took time to analyze the text, considering the main character, her community, and the conflict (internal and external). From an author’s point of view, Kevin Henke’s word choice is particularly powerful. In the days ahead, we will continue to analyze these and other texts through the layers of the literary analysis triangle. In addition, we will make connections to other stories, draw conclusions, and identify theme.

Throughout the reading and analysis of this text, it was easy to put ourselves in the shoes of Chrysanthemum, but how would the story have been told if Victoria was the main character? As a scholar, consider a different point of view.


Challenge: Write a letter from the perspective of Victoria to Chrysanthemum. Retell the events of the story, apologize for the actions of Victoria, and explain the lesson learned. As you write, think about what qualities of a learner each character needs to strive to grow. (Online version of an in-class task).

Challenge: Somewhere in your letter, strive to use a list of synonyms in the same way Chrysanthemum’s father did.


After pondering problems faced by Chrysanthemum, we prepared to ponder some problems of our own… place value problems.

What is the problem with this set of digits? (Note: This is not the same number we used in class.)


This was the question posed to our inquisitive inquirers today.

After some discussion, it was determined that this set of digits:

  • was difficult to read.
  • has lots of numbers.
  • has no places.
  • has some repeated digits.
  • included no operations (+, -, x, ÷).


When a single comma was added, the following observations were made and questions posed:

  • There are not enough commas.
  • Is it greater than or less than a million?

Our brains were exercised further when the number was changed to look like…


At this point, we were able to determine that the number is:


We discussed the purpose of place and the meaning of value. And, returning to our observation about repeated digits, we compared how they are different.

Once again, our scholarly multiple sources came in handy.

Place Value Chart

Place Value Chart (Currency Connection)

Quick Quiz: In this number, how are the repeated  twos, fours, and eights different? Jot your thinking in the padlet below.

**Be sure to include your initials in the title.**

Made with Padlet

Later this week, scholars, willing to learn, will puzzle about place value problems with their peers using Marcy Cook’s Math Tile Task Cards.

Sneak Peek: Give the example below a try.

Multiple Source: Marcy Cook Math

Tiling tasks used in class have been acquired from Marcy Cook Math. iPad apps are available through the Apple Store, if interested.

After conversing about Chrysanthemum’s qualities as a problem solver this morning, we continued to contemplate the form and function of problem solvers in our own writing. Using some of the information gleaned about China yesterday, we began to craft a character sketch of our detectives. The goal is to craft a description that will enable someone else to create a clear and accurate illustration. Questions for consideration included:

  • Does he / she have special abilities?
  • What are his / her distinguishing features?
  • What are his / her strengths and weaknesses?
  • Does he / she have a sidekick or any close friends?
  • What is his / her greatest ambition?
  • What is he / she afraid of?
  • What words best describe him / her?


Digging for Details to Delve into Detective Drafts

Each day (except Wednesdays) begins with French. Today, we headed to two separate classes to engage in language learning.

Upon returning from French, we started with a brief review of Friday’s reading of The Invisible Boy followed by a fresh book by Shirin Yim Bridges, Ruby’s Wish. This reading enabled us to make connections about problem solvers, but it also caused us to inquire about China, our country of focus for this unit.

We then transitioned to our observations of images featuring a variety of problems in China. With fresh eyes, we applied the visible thinking routine – See. Think. Wonder., adding on to the observations, insights, and inquiries of others.

After recess, we reviewed our work in our mathematical multiple source and sought to apply it to problems posed in our Everyday Math Journal. This will be a common practice this year, as we consider different points of view and provide evidence for our thought processes.

In the afternoon, we immersed ourselves in inquiry, examining an assortment of books and magazines about China with the intention of being inspired. Scholarly sleuths were presented with the task of finding something interesting about which they can write a mystery. Similar to Mary Pope Osborne’s Magic Tree House series, which contains nonfiction companion texts, we plan to use facts to create fabulous fiction.

Here are  a few resources that might get you thinking:

Kids World Travel Guide

National Geographic Kids


Mr. Donn: China

The World Factbook

China Facts for Kids


Home Learning for August 26-30 (Week 2)

  1. Read for at least 30 minutes each night. Complete the online reading log OR one on paper. (Copies are available in class).
  2. Reflect back on Week 1, and complete the “Reflection: Learner Profile & Approaches to Learning” form (A paper version is coming soon).
  3. Note: Homework is due on Fridays.


  1. Library is scheduled weekly on Thursdays.
  2. P.E. is scheduled weekly on Wednesdays and Fridays.
    1. Come dressed to exercise – sneakers, hat, sunscreen.
    2. Bring a water bottle
  3. Check your lunch card balance weekly.
  4. Please sign and return your Acceptable Use Policy.
  5. Don’t forget to complete the assignment for Ms. TaShawndra (which has a part for your parents, too)

Coming Soon

Below is a list of a few upcoming events of which to be aware.

  • August 30 – Elementary (ES) Assembly – 2:30 p.m. (CAC) (Facilitated by Fifth Grade)
  • September 2 – Labor Day (No School)
  • September 4 – Elementary (ES) Back to School Night – 5:30-7:30 p.m. (CAC)
  • September 6 – Counseling Workshop – 8:00-9:30 a.m. (SS Lib)
  • September 8 – PTC Welcome Picnic – 2:00-5:00 p.m.
  • September 9 – ASAs begin
  • September 10 – MAP Testing (Language)
  • September 13 – MAP Testing (Reading)
  • September 18 – MAP Testing (Math)
  • September 27 – Elementary (ES) Assembly (CAC)

We’re on Twitter!

Follow TASOK @TASOKinshasa


Follow Fourth Grade @Scholarsare

Hashtag #TASOK


Learner Profile Trait of the Month – INQUIRER

**Check back later in the week for additional homework related to in-class discussions and activities.


Cinnamon, Citrus, and… Celebration of Learning

To finish out our first week of fourth grade, we began by revisiting yesterday’s read aloud and analyzing the text and our central idea through the lens of story elements.

To expand our understanding of problem solving, we read another book entitled The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig. As we continued our pursuit of powerful problem solving ideas, attending to the primary problem, proposing possible solutions, and pondering perspective were prioritized. In addition, we examined the illustrations and discussed their connection to the text. As was true in What Do You Do with a Problem?, color was a key to communicating emotion and the message of the text.

Challenge: What do colors communicate? How can we make the invisible visible?

Use the Google Drawing document to create a list of colors and their related emotions. (**You will need to make a copy of the document before completing.**) This final product will come in handy as we write our own compositions.

We also continued our exploration of place value, a key to mathematical problem solving.

How do the following resources expand or deepen your understanding of place and value?

Scholarly Multiple Source: Math is Fun

Make a Multiple Source: Place Value Cups

As part of out first unit of inquiry, we will be contextualizing the power, process, and perspective of problem solvers in China. Today, we started to study a set of snapshots set in China, each featuring a possible problem. Using the visible thinking routine See. Think. Wonder., we began to consider the implications of what we saw depicted in the images.

One of the images we looked at is included in the following video. What do you see, think, and wonder about what you see in this video? What problem is being presented in this video? How could solving this problem impact society? (positively? negatively?)

In addition to being the first week of school, we have had two big birthdays this week – Maada and Mathys. In honor one of our birthday scholars, Maada’s mom brought in some scrumptious cinnamon buns and lemonade. Yum! Everyone was thrilled with such tasty treats. Thank you, Maada, for sharing one of your favorites with us!

Do you have a favorite birthday cake recipe you are willing to share? If your tasty treats are not top secret, please share your recipes using the form below. We will assemble all contributions into a book of birthday bounty. Mmmm…

Finally, to end our week, we had our first assembly, led by former scholars, now in fifth grade, and one of our very own… Celeste. With the guidance of Ms. Paula, our new principal, the fifth (and fourth) grade facilitators presented most professionally. As we entered the CAC, the lights were dim and jazz music, selected by Morgane, created a calm and cozy atmosphere. Photos collected throughout the week were projected on the screen and we all looked on with smiles, snickers, and satisfaction. We were introduced to a number of new and returning teachers. The team also introduced us to our assembly essential agreements. We can’t wait for the next one… next Friday!


In Pursuit of… Problem Solvers

Today, we continued our inquiry into problem solvers by first accessing our prior knowledge. Students began by THINKing about 3 problem solvers (fictional or nonfictional) that they knew. Moms and dad were definitely at the top of many lists. Students then IDENTIFIED 2 qualities the problem solvers shared, and DESCRIBED 1 example of a problem encountered that has or has not been solved.

Once the THINKing had been done, students gathered in groups of 3 to SHARE their thoughts. As students compared listed, they realized that our family members, friends, teachers, and community members can be problem solvers. They also realized that they themselves can be problem solvers. Another big idea that came out of the discussion was that in order for there to be problem solvers, there first must be a problem. As we continue to inquire into our central idea, key concepts related to form, function, connection, perspective and reflection will be explored.

Once we had tapped into what we already know, we shared a read aloud entitled What Do You Do with a Problem by Kobi Yamada and illustrated by Mae Besom. We followed the journey of the main character who encountered a problem that quickly became overwhelming. We discovered, though, that when he became a RISK-TAKER and chose to face his problem, he realized it was really an opportunity. Being OPEN-MINDED, even about problems, can be transformative.

Not only did we analyze the the text, but we also used our detective eyes to examine the illustrations. The author and illustrator collaborated to tell a powerful story about problems and problem solvers. By using our super secret agent skills, we were able to see some of the symbolism associated with this big idea. As you watch this read aloud… what do you notice?

Tomorrow, we will spend a bit more time talking about this text and discussing it through the lens of story elements.

After recess, we had a special guest join us. Ms. TaShawndra, our new elementary counselor, popped in for an introduction. She just happens to be… a PROBLEM SOLVER. She talked a bit about her role and types of problems she can help us solve here at TASOK. At the end of her time with us, she sent us away with a task to complete at home with our parents. Don’t forget, it is due on Monday!

As scholars, we know it is important to use multiple sources, so at the end of the day, we started to look at mathematical multiple sources. This lead to a discussion about tools we can use in our classroom to better understand and work with numbers. Two tools are included below.

Place Value Chart

Place Value Chart (Currency Connection)


Converse. Capture. Construct. Consider.

Today, we started off by thinking about… problems. In preparation for writing about a small moment, a one time when we faced a problem, we brainstormed a list of different types of problems people face.

Made with Padlet

By generating this list of problems, students were able to jog their memories and identify a time when they faced a problem. After taking a mental snapshot and zooming in on one moment, students were challenged to recount the story with as much detail as possible, keeping in mind sensory details, thoughts, actions, and words.

Check out this video of Jack Gantos telling about a small moment problem he had. Pay special attention to how he zoomed in on the moment through the use of juicy details and considered the importance of structure as he developed his idea.

After a focused and fabulous time of writing, our learning community came together to find commonality. This quest for connection began as groups of scholars engaged in conversation in an effort to find things they had in common. Foods, family, feet, furry things, favorites, and foreign lands were discussed. Sometimes, rather creative connections were explored, as well. Each commonality was then captured on a card. Once enough cards were collected, groups were able to construct. The challenge was to create a 10- inch tower of cards that could stand for at least 5 seconds. Tough!


While I don’t think these qualities were captured on cards today, it was clear that patience, perseverance, and problem solving are common characteristics of our learning community.

As is true of the building of any construction, card or otherwise, it is important to establish a firm foundation. Likewise, as we embark on our fourth grade journey together and seek to build real and refining relationships with one another, a firm foundation key.

Consider… how is finding commonalities helpful to our classroom learning community?

Check out this house of cards.

Estimate: About how tall do you think it is?

Guinness Book of World Records: Largest Playing Card Structure

Digging a Bit Deeper

On Day 2, detectives dug a bit deeper into the classroom… decor. Each face and fabric, each flower and phrase, each book and blossom and bulletin board is purposeful and placed for perusal and pondering. Today, our task involved taking notice, so we can access our environment as a scholarly multiple source. 

After yesterday’s introduction to the TASOK learner profile and discussion of classroom and school expectations, today we took some time to wander and wonder around the room. Willing to learn, these thoughtful and curious scholars (a.k.a. fifth grade thinkers) read and reflected on quotes around the room. As COMMUNICATORS, each one posted questions of INQUIRERS and thoughts of THINKERS. As the year progresses, different quotes might catch an eye or spark an idea or inspire an action. Committed to considering different points of view, our OPEN-MINDEDness will allow us to continue to stretch and grow.

In an effort to share our thinking beyond our walls, we decided to walk and “CHALK.” In groups, students sought to describe or draw, what a scholar in a classroom at TASOK would look like, act like, think like, and behave like. 

Back inside, students huddled together in groups of 5 or 6 and prepared to listen to a story about the Wright Family. Each student was provided with a paperclip and instructed to pass it to the right each time he or she heard a word that sounded like “right” and pass it to the left each time he or she heard the word left.


Each group approached the task slightly differently.

At the end of the story, we took time to debrief. Students shared that the activity was confusing at times, but got easier as the story went on. They realized it required teamwork and that distractions, especially from groups that were louder, interfered at times with their ability to listen and focus. These ideas were then connected to how we function as a community of learners.

We also discussed the following questions:

  • How much of the story can you remember?
  • What does this activity tell us about communication?
  • What does this activity tell us about teamwork?
  • What does this activity tell us about listening skills?


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