Hands-on Fractions

In math, the 5th graders recently moved from fraction addition to fraction subtraction, with renaming, mixed numbers, and simplifying fraction sums and differences.  

One day, the students cut ⅙ yard from ⅔ yard strands of ribbon they’d first measured and cut, then worked out how much of the ribbon was left. “This much!” was a great answer, but not to someone who was unable to see the ribbon, so they didn’t get out of the math that easily. This helped the students to see a need for being able to express the difference as a fraction that both ⅔ and ⅙ could convert to: sixths.  Thus lowest/least common denominator, ⅙ of 36”, ⅔ of 36”, and accurate measurement skills were all incorporated into this hands-on fraction subtraction introductory activity.

Another day, the students measured out 7 ¾ yards of “fabric” (they used white paper from a long roll, but visualized it as fabric).  Students then measured 2 ¼ yards of the “fabric,” representing a remnant after making curtains from the original cut.  Since their classroom mat area is not even 7 ¾ yards across, and their yard sticks are 39.37’/100cm rulers, there were many built-in opportunities for critical thinking, creative problem solving, negotiating, and sharing of roles to model and explain the answer to the question, “How much fabric was used to make the curtains?” 

Could the fifth grades have just written out ⅔ – ⅙ = ___ , and 7 ¾ – 2 ¼ = ____? Yes, of course! And that abstract algorithm is where they ended up, but by beginning with the lengthier, more complex task of hands-on modelling and talking about real-world math problems, the students developed conceptual understandings of how the algorithm works and what it represents.


On Thursday afternoon, Saklan’s 1st – 8th graders met with their family groups to discuss this month’s SEL topic: self-discipline.

The groups began by discussing what self-discipline means: recognizing or identifying that you need to help yourself to achieve a goal, task, assignment, etc. and being able to get yourself back on track.

Then the students watched this video of a lovable monster using tools to help stay on task! After the video they discussed the strategies the monster used: counting to 4, singing, imagining a cookie was a grandmother. The students then brainstormed additional strategies that could help them stay on task.

Each family group then used their list of strategies to act out self-disciplined ways to handle the following scenarios:

  • Someone cuts you in line.
  • You are having a hard time raising your hand, and keep calling out.
  • You are sad because you forgot your lunch.
  • You and your friend cannot stop giggling!
  • You are nervous/stressed over a test.
  • You are mad because someone grabbed the ball you were playing with and is now using it without asking.

The family groups ended their time together by creating posters showcasing suggestions to help others practice self-discipline in specific circumstances. Check out their posters below!


Apple Watches of Long Ago

Last month, the fifth graders were out on the turf holding paper plates. Was it picnic time? Not exactly! It turns out it wasn’t plates they were holding, but rather the “Apple Watches” of long ago!  As part of their Solar unit, the students made sundials, modeled a 24-hour day passing in a minute using a flashlight and their sundials, and then took the sundials outside to see if they would actually work.  They didn’t, until the clouds passed, and then, they did!

Did you know … that our 24-hour day is based on our ancient ancestors having 4-fingers and one thumb? Ask a 5th grader to explain how the ancient Egyptians developed what has remained a 24-hour clock for thousands of years, and how their plate-watches work.


The Lion King KIDS Video

Before the Winter Break, we were treated to a wonderful performance of The Lion King KIDS by the 3rd, 4th and 5th graders. If you weren’t able to join us for the show, or have been excitedly waiting to watch it again, check out the video of the performance below.

Thank you to our 3rd, 4th and 5th grade students for the courage, creativity and dedication they exhibited throughout The Lion King KIDS production cycle.

#SaklanCreative #SaklanCourageous

The Lion King KIDS

For 30 years, The Lion King has been a cultural linchpin. Music and lyrics by Tim Rice and Elton John placed the movie firmly in our collective consciousness. The movie is accessible, and the story loosely based on The Epic of Sundiata-The Lion King of Mali, is well known and loved by Western audiences unfamiliar with African culture and stories. Then when The Lion King came to Broadway in 1997, the designers brought new elements from the story. Costumes, set pieces, makeup, and props all were inspired by elements of African folklore. What is more, The Lion King was one of Broadway’s first shows to openly advocate for conscious casting, and more songs were introduced.

Saklan’s production of The Lion King KIDS attempted to honor the Broadway tradition of the show. Our students’ goal was never to “pretend to be animals” or to hide their humanity, but rather to highlight how connected we, as humans, are to the animals that are portrayed. Their headdresses, designed by the students themselves in art class, took inspiration from real African masks and textures, and the choreography brought in the element of circles over and over again, reminding us that we are all a part of the circle of life, along with every animal on the savanna. Through their performance, our students claimed their place in this world as protectors of that circle of life. They spent hours learning lines, music, and choreography, but also discovered elements of the languages of Xhosa, Zulu, and Swahili. They know about the range of lions in Africa, and what role buzzards serve in the circle of life. They know that hyenas are social and deeply misunderstood, and so much more. They took that knowledge and used it to become advocates for the apex predator of the African grasslands, the African Lion.

Saklan students are remarkable because they care about more than themselves. This show was a vehicle to move forward their environmental advocacy, and their determination to do their best shows through in everything they do.

Thank you to everyone who donated cardboard, made masks, gathered costume pieces, painted faces, joined us for the performance, laughed and applauded.

Special thanks to:

  • Our 3rd, 4th and 5th grade students for their courage, creativity and dedication to bring this show to life, to advocate for other people and animals, and for sharing their work with our community.
  • Lauren Haberly for her work with the actors on their masks and headdresses.
  • Javier Yacarini for his work on the set, and always saying “No problem!”
  • Joy Kim, Daisy Colby, Erin Moorhead and Toshie Baba for their ambition and creativity in creating and assembling Rhinos and Elephants.
  • John Miazga for carrying heavy things.
  • Astro Camacho and Jack Zippin for the gorgeous Elephant skeletons.
  • Every middle school student who painted, glued, and carried props.
  • And especially, Grace Chaffey for the vision, organization, confidence, patience, and inspiration she showed in directing the students to bring this wonderful story to life.

Stars, Planets & Our Solar System

Last week, 5th graders used spectroscopes and glass tube electrifiers to identify the elements that make up the stars and planets of our solar system. By seeing the colors that those elements reflect in gaseous form, the students were able to identify the elements. In other words, from right here on planet Earth, the students can tell what planets are made up of what elements!  This is a rapidly growing field of science and holds much potential for a great career for our budding scientists!

The students also spent time mapping the solar system. The fifth graders cut out scaled planets, and then tried to represent the relative distances from the sun of each planet. They began in the church parking lot, but soon realized that in order to truly represent the distances in the scale they were using they would need much more space, as their map would need to stretch out way beyond Moraga. 

#SaklanScience #SaklanHandsOn

Saklan’s West African Music Program

Every Thursday, the Saklan campus has a different beat, a beat that hails from West Africa. Under the guidance of Isaac Narell, students in third through eighth can be found studying music from the Ewe speaking people who live in Ghana, Togo and Benin (countries in West Africa).

Ewe music consists of singing, dancing, and drumming.  All these elements make up music styles. In 3rd grade, the students are performing a style called “Agahu.”

4th grade dancing and singing a Gota song.

Fourth and fifth graders are learning the styles “Gota” and “Tokoe.”

5th grade practicing Tokoe drumming

This unique music experience is a beloved aspect of the Saklan Music Program. Some 5th graders are so enthralled, that are choosing to stay in at recess on Thursdays and practice drumming together, while a group of  Middle Schoolers are practicing drumming at lunch time on Thursdays. 

#SaklanCreative #SaklanLearningByDoing

Zooming with NatGeo’s Enrique Lomnitz

Enrique Lomnitz is an industrial engineer who is solving water access problems in areas such as Mexico city (where he was born). This week, Saklan’s fifth graders got to join Enrique live over Zoom, to hear how he is developing water infrastructure for communities facing high levels of water insecurity, primarily through rainwater harvesting using roof catchment, pipes, and rainwater tanks.

Enrique Lomnitz presenting on NatGeo Explorer

As part of NatGeo Explorer Classroom, the students not only got to hear from Enrique, they also got to ask him a question, and in the process were featured live on Youtube.

Connecting with experts in the field, such as Enrique, enriches student learning. Additionally, hearing about the innovative ways he is helping his community encourages the students to think beyond themselves and develop the compassion, creativity, and courage to plan innovative ways to help others.  

#SaklanGuestExpert #SaklanCompassion

First Family Group Meeting

On Friday, September 30th, the Saklan first through eighth graders met with their family groups for the first time this year! During the meeting, the students in each group introduced themselves and shared one or two of their favorite things. Then each group had a discussion of what is means to be accepting, including why it is important that we are all accepting of others. They then played a game to help them learn something new about everyone in their group, as sometimes its hard to know someone and accept someone for who they are when you don’t know much about them.

The 8th graders then explained to their family group that as they go through the year together, they are a group or team made up of awesome individuals and they each bring their own strengths to the group. Some may have amazing sports or singing talents. Some maybe be amazing observers, or great listeners. Others might be a great friend to those around them.

Each member of the group was then given a puzzle piece to draw or decoratively write what they feel makes them special or amazing! These puzzle pieces were then all put together, showing that all members of each family group all are important members of the group. Check out their puzzles below!

#FamilyGroups #SaklanSEL #SaklanCompassionate

Work of Hydrologists

Our fifth grade students met Susan Levenson, an educator with Friends of the San Leandro Creek, in Chabot Park last week to learn about four water quality measures. Susan led the class in collecting samples of creek water to test; students predicted and then measured pH, Dissolved Oxygen, Turbidity (clarity), and Temperature levels.

The class was divided into groups, and then each group chose roles for conducting the tests, including recording and presenting their results. Discussing and allowing for human error, the results from each group were almost identical, showing that their tests were valid and the creek water is very healthy for supporting life! 

For the second experiment, groups chose from given materials to plan an effective filtration system, creating two models.  They were thrilled to see clear-ish water come out of one of them, and clearer water out of the other!  Students’ field work connected them with the actual equipment and processes hydrologists use.  In addition to the scientific process, it opened a window through which students might envision a career in the sciences.  


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