Holday tradition turns into way to make every minute count for elementary teachers

December 10, 2011

Hands-on learning is always fun, especially when it involves instruments like candy buttons, gumdrops, Red Hots and creamy white frosting.

With walls of graham crackers and chimneys of candy canes and red licorice, Mid Valley Elementary School fifth-graders were hard at work this week constructing a Willy Wonka suburb of cookie-cutter gingerbread houses. The annual finger-licking holiday tradition took a twist for the class this year, however, as students were no longer cut loose with building materials and a one-time "get out of jail free card" for eating candy in class.

First, Geometry.

"It's a tradition we wanted to keep," said teacher Judith Holt-Mohar. "But with higher math standards and tests, we have to find ways to turn something like this into more than just a fun holiday activity. So we're using it to introduce students to geometry and simple formulas."

While studying formulas for surface area and volume of three-dimensional objects, students first constructed houses out of paper and learned how to determine the number of small cubes that would fit on and inside of them. Only then could they move on to graham cracker walls and Skittles ceilings.

"We have to make every minute count," Holt-Mohar said. "What we're learning in this lesson is just an introduction. By the end of the school year they will face more difficult questions in geometry and math."

In a move to prepare students for the increased challenges of the new Common Core State Standards and the Oregon Diploma, the Oregon State Board of Education voted in 2010 to increase math achievement standards grades 3-8. The change went into effect in the 2010-11 school year.

Recommendations by a panel of experts were to increase the level of math students are expected to know in elementary and middle school to create better alignment between the lower grades and the new high school graduation requirements for math.

The Oregon Department of Education noted that although the raised bar will initially result in fewer students meeting the achievement standards, it is necessary in order to ready students for the state's new graduation requirements. The department explained that, "fewer students meeting the achievement standard will not mean students know less than they did the year before or that they are doing worse in school. The new achievement standards simply require a higher level of mastery of mathematics information and concepts."

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Parkdale third graders sing "12 Disaster Days of Christmas"

Welcome to your sing-able Christmas gift list. What follows is an emergency rendition of “12 Days of Christmas” – for outfitting your home or car in case of snow storm, earthquake, flood or other emergency. Read it as a simple list, or sing it to the tune of “12 Days” – you know, as in “ … and a partridge in a pear tree…” Not to make light of it, but the song is a familiar framework for a set of gift ideas that you could consider gathering together, even if the recipient already owns items such as a bunch of coats, tire chains and flashlights. Stores throughout the Gorge are stocked up on all these items. Buying all 12 days might be prohibitive, but here are three ideas for checking any of the dozen off your list (notations follow, 1-12.) The gift items needed to stay warm, dry and safe are also coded to suggest items in your abode (A) in your car (C) or both (B). 12 Gallons of Water (A) 11 Family meals (B) 10 Cans of propane (A) 9 Hygiene bags (B) 8 Packs of batteries (A) 7 Spare coats (B) 6 Bright red flares (C) 5 Cozy blankets (B) 4 Tire chains (C) 3 Flashlights (B) 2 cell phone chargers (B) 1 And a crush-proof first aid kit (B) Price ranges? Here’s a few quotes for days Three, Two, Four and Nine: n A family gift of flashlights (three will run $15-30, Hood River Supply, Tum-A-Lum) n Cell phone chargers (two will run $30-60) n Tire chains (basic set, $30, Les Schwab, returnable if unused for the winter) n Family meals ($100 or so should cover the basics for three or four reasonably well-fed days) n The home kit should be kept in a handy place near an exit, and remember that water needs to be replenished every few months. If you have a solid first aid kit already, switch out the gift idea with “and-a-sto-o-u-t- tub-for it-all …” Otherwise, it’s a case of assembling your home or car kits and making sure all members of the family know what the resources are and how to use them (ie flares and propane). Emergency situations are at worst life-threatening, at best deeply uncomfortable if you and your family are left without power for an extended period, or traveling and find yourself in a situation where you need to wait out a storm, lengthy traffic delay, or other crisis. Notes on the 12 gift ideas: 12 – Gallons of water: that’s one per person in a four-member family to last for three days, the recommended minimum to be prepared for utility outages. 11 – Easy-open packaged goods, energy bars, dried food and nuts are good things to include for nutrition. Think of what your family of four needs for three days to stay fortified and hydrated (see number 12). Can-opener also recommended 10 – If you have a propane camping stove, keep extra fuel handy. 9 – Hygiene bags: put packaged moistened towelettes, toilet paper, and plastic ties in large garbage bags (for personal sanitation) Resource list courtesy of Hood River County Emergency Management, Barbara Ayers, manager/ 541-386-1213. The county also reminds residents to Get a Kit, Make A Plan to connect your family if separated, and Stay Informed. See www.co.hood-river.or.us to opt-in for citizen alerts. Enlarge

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