Sunday, November 18, 2012

Time to Give Thanks

When you work in a school, there are definitely a lot of people who deserve your appreciation. So at Thanksgiving I like to prepare a treat for the secretaries and custodians/maintenance people that help keep me sane! Usually my treat of choice for this holiday is banana nut bread; it tends to get rave reviews.

 And of course I can't resist adding SNOOPY tags, with a little note on the back.

A sampling of this year's masterpieces.

I mix it up a bit during the other holidays with various treats, and add in more of the people that help me day to day. At Thanksgiving though I want to make sure I remember the biggies!

What do you do for your support staff at Thanksgiving?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Interior Design/Housing Project Idea

Having taught Interior Design/Housing for a few years before moving to junior high, I've always been on the lookout for good projects for the subject. A few years back another FACS teacher recommended using dollhouse kits for a project, which was an awesome idea and one I used. A lot of the kids were really into it and did great work. The drawbacks were that they were detail-oriented and time-consuming, so some students lost interest fairly early on. It was also a bit expensive. Tonight while surfing on Pinterest (and let's all admit, we're all addicted to Pinterest, right? The slippery slope, eh Jenna?) I found a great alternative option I just had to share. I think it could make a terrific group or individual project, depending on the skill/motivation level of the student. Check it out!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Smart Boards & Sewing

I have to say, Smart Boards rock! Last year I had a projector for the first time ever, which was a game changer, and about a month ago I received my first SB. Not only is it glorious, it has saved lives. Student lives, which may have ended had I been forced to repeat myself any more.

Here's an example: the dilemma of teaching sewing to a couple dozen kids is that only two or three can see you demonstrate at a time. Meanwhile your back is turned to about 20 kids who have access to pins, needles, and scissors. We've all been there, it ain't pretty. Then of course throughout whatever project you're working on kids wind up spread out across seven different steps and it takes forever to get anywhere because you can't help them all at once.

Smart Board to the rescue! For each of my projects (and each of the practice steps leading up to the projects) I created short videos for each step. The entire class can watch the instruction, and I can replay it as many times as they need without losing my mind repeating myself endlessly. Then when some begin to move ahead while others move slower (or miss a few days of school), I can just play the video for the step everyone needs. It's been amazing!

An added benefit: I upload all the videos to a designated channel on YouTube, that way kids can access them at home if they are doing make-up work or just want to work on projects on their own time. Not saying I get a lot of views, but at Parent/Teacher Conferences a few weeks ago a few parents did tell me that their kids had been watching the videos at home. Hooray for useful technology!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Year Two

Successful new lesson today, so I'm sharing. We're learning about toddlers, and their assignment was to create a "visual" timeline of the second year of life. They were given a sheet with 12 boxes, to represent the 12 months in a year. In each, they had to write the number of the month, a description of something you can expect to see in a child that age along with a picture, and a label of "P," "I," "S," or "E" (physical development, intellectual development, social development, or emotional development). They did a really great job! Here's a cute one:

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Being Green

Whew, things have been so busy! As is always the case with us teachers, I know. I've been logging many a Saturday hour trying to get my kitchens kid-ready. My first group has begun their "Food Unit" rotation, and as soon as we get through food & kitchen safety they'll get their first peek. Luckily it's a somewhat smaller class, so I can focus on four kitchens and let the other two go a bit longer until a larger class rotates in.

One thing that I found desperately necessary in this classroom was relining the kitchen drawers. Most of them are lined with contact paper which must be at least one, probably two, decades old. It's worn out and faded and grimy.

Of all places, Staples had just what I needed: neon, solid-colored contact paper. At my local store they carry yellow, blue, red, and green - four of the six colors I'll need.

Nothing fancy, just clear and obvious which kitchen you're in. Now I just need to find some orange and purple contact paper, and I'll be set!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Dude, ummm...smbdy brok in2 ur crib

I tried a new lesson this week that went very well, so I thought I'd share. The topic this week was communication, and on the day in question we were focusing on verbal/nonverbal aspects (open your hymnals to FACS National Standard 13.3!). For this activity, each student first had to write down two pieces of news that would be really hard to have to deliver to someone. The examples I gave were "Your dog died, your uncle has cancer, you have to repeat 8th grade." They wrote each idea down on a card. Some examples they came up with: pregnancy, house robbery, stolen car, boyfriend/girlfriend cheating, parents getting divorced, failing math. I shuffled them up, then they each had to draw two cards. They read the cards, then had to write out a text message for each one as if they were telling a real person. I encouraged them to use real text-ese, with the stipulation that they could not use school-inappropriate language. I allowed them to work in groups to help each other, but they each had to complete their own. They really got into it! And of course the conversations they had in their groups captured the essence of the lesson: "Man, this is hard!" "This is AWKWARD!" etc, etc.

We posted several of them on the board so that everyone could read them. Then we had a large group discussion about the disadvantages of texting, which led into the point that body language, etc, is the crux of communication.

Note: this went along easier with my 8th grade students than the 7th grade students. It took the 7th graders much longer to make the connection between the texting activity and the importance of non-verbals, but they got there eventually.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Out with old.... wha?....

Yesterday was my first to begin going through cabinets and such in my classroom, in the hopes of gaining some sort of feeling of belonging. As any of you who have been through the process already know, taking over a room from a retiree is an overwhelming and time-consuming process. Since this is my fourth time taking over for a retiree I knew full well what to expect in terms of the time commitment (since I couldn't come in over the summer, it will probably take most of the school year to truly purge and settle), and also knew I'd probably find a few odd things. My previous experiences did not hold a candle to finds from this school. Take a look!

Slides, floppies, old worksheets, older radio... all very helpful.

This one isn't so unusual, I just enjoyed the irony.

No faculty handbook, but I found this lovely guide copyrighted 1961. I actually am interested in flipping through it.

Here's a goodie, all sorts of professional journals - from 1970. I love the technology update in the one above!

And who doesn't need a box of seamless stocking color samples from Fall of 1967 in their classroom?

Finally we have here an envelope with someone's "thumb-sucking" money in it, signed by the previous teacher. Wha???

This was all from one cabinet. Who knows what I'll find next?

Saturday, September 8, 2012

New School vs Old


1. My beautiful, organized classrooms.
If you've been paying attention to my postings at all, you know that I have an obsession with an organized classroom. I am not anywhere near that ideal in my new school yet. The delay in getting into my room has really hurt that endeavor. When I did get in, my husband (my sainted helper) and I spent the precious few hours shoving all of the STUFF that was out on the counters, on the shelves, on the tables and desks, into the cabinets and filing cabinet drawers so that the room at least had a tidy appearance. That, setting up the tables, and setting out the materials I needed for the first day took up most of the allotted time I had. So the room appears neat and I have my bare necessities, but I need more!

2. (Going along with the above) Access to my classroom.
At my last school I could get into my classroom pretty much 24/7 (excluding the hours between midnight and 5am). This obviously made cleaning/organizing/etc much easier. It's a BIG change to have so little access.

3. My friends.
My wonderful work friends, and our "lunch bunch." People whose classrooms I could drop into; people who would appreciate my stories; people whose stories I appreciated. Having people to sit and joke with during staff meetings. Going to Subway for lunch on Fridays. The endless series of pranks and inside jokes. That'll happen eventually here, but it takes time.

4. My kids.
Of course I miss my kids. Especially since I get so many repeaters - kids who take more than one of my classes. It's odd not having anyone I know or who knows me in my classes.

5. The kids knowing me.
The old school was fairly small, so even the kids I didn't have in class knew who I was, and I could chat with pretty much anyone in the hallway. Here, if I talk to someone that's not in one of my classes, they kind of just give me weird looks and back away slowly, looking for an escape.


1. When I log in to the student info system, I do NOT have an administrator's view.
At my old school I had several responsibilities on top of teaching, including assisting with scheduling. Hence, when I logged in instead of seeing only my classes, I saw EVERYTHING. I love that I am "just" a teacher again.

2. No 25 minute before school hall duty.
At the old school, every four weeks I had a week of hall duty that commenced 25 minutes before the first bell. Not so here.

3. No detention duty.
At the old school, each teacher had to monitor a certain number of after school detentions per year. Not so here.

4. Not being responsible for a school-wide curriculum.
I was in charge of writing curriculum for a school-wide advisory period; no more! That frees up literally hours and hours of my weekends, yippee!

As great a joy as coaching can be, it's an enormous commitment of both time and energy. Also, an enormous commitment to patience with both players and parents, on top of the patience required for teaching - one can only have so much patience before parts of your brain begin to pop! But seriously, it's amazing that I get to focus solely on my teaching.


1. Reloading the copy machine.
So far this year, I am still the first to use the copy machine due to my early arrival. And, it is always devoid of paper, so once again I am the early morning paper reloader.

2. Rule follower.
The first couple weeks of school the kids looked at me like I was stupid and/or ridiculously uncool for enforcing universal school rules (like having to have your planner to get a pass, no passes first or last ten minutes of class, no food in the classroom) when the "smarter" and "cooler" teachers didn't - just like at my old school. But they're now starting to come around and for the most part have stopped trying to get around the rules with me. Be consistent, most will usually get it. Eventually.

3. Forgetting my lunch.
It's ridiculous how often I forget my lunch. But since I bring real food, I can't very well set it out with my purse and briefcase the night before. At the old school I could run home or to Casey's (mmm, Casey's fountain pop........ says the nutrition teacher...); not so here. At least I've smartened up enough to keep a box of granola bars handy for such emergencies.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Expectations vs Reality

A little over a week ago I attended a White Sox game (actually, a Red Line Double-Header: Cubs @ Wrigley in the afternoon, then a Red Line ride down to The Cell for White Sox ball in the evening - awesome, but beside the point). During the top of the third inning, catcher A.J. Pierzynski was ejected, upon which he immediately swung around, pushed up the mask and was in the official's face.

photo from

Naturally at that point Ventura had to come out of the dugout, and was then ejected himself.

photo from

And of course throughout the ordeal the entire stadium was whoopin' and hollerin', cheering Pierzynski and Ventura on. Flowers came in to catch, the Sox won, there were fireworks after, and yet for most people the most memorable part of the game was the altercation in the third inning.

Put this into the context of a middle school or a high school.

1. Student A is upset by something that Student B says. Student A then immediately begins yelling in Student B's face (and as we all know, we're very lucky if it's just yelling).

Staff Reaction: try to break up altercation using whatever procedures/policies school has in place.

2. Crowd of Students gather round and start whoopin' and hollerin'.

Staff Reaction: try to disperse crowd while still trying to break up altercation.

3. Student C jumps in the fray to back up Student A.

Staff Reaction: try to keep Student C out of it while still trying to disperse crowd while still trying to break up altercation.

4. Crowd of Students becomes even more excited and animated.

Staff Reaction: try to get all three main parties disengaged while trying to disperse crowd.

5. Students A, B, and C are finally pulled apart and taken to separate offices for de-escalation and consequences, crowd is dispersed, and for the rest of the afternoon teachers have difficulty beginning each class because the students are still reliving, recounting, and reanalyzing the scene from earlier.

Staff Reaction: vetoing the conversation, lecturing the students on their Jerry Springer-ish voyeurism, using the opportunity as a springboard to discuss good choices and the consequences of actions, etc, etc.

Administrator Reaction: rehashing with the staff policies and procedures for breaking up hallway disturbances, reiterating the importance of staying on top of the students at all times and not allowing such things to occur in the first place, reminding of the importance of being at your hallway post during passing periods, etc, etc.

Staff Reaction to Administrator: nodding, doodling, thinking about what to make for dinner, annoyance that only a couple of staff members weren't doing what they were supposed to be doing at the time of the incident yet everyone is getting lectured, etc, etc (you know it's true).

I'm not suggesting that fights should not be broken up, crowds not dispersed, procedures not reviewed and so on. All of these actions are necessary to ensure the return of stability so that the school day can continue, learning can continue, and lack of injuries among the student (and staff) body can continue. 

I am suggesting that we are fighting ingrained human nature. If a manager screams at an official, if two hockey players drop their gloves, if two ball players exchange blows, then the crowds are going to go nuts, the benches are going to empty, and everyone is going to jump into the fray. It's the same thing in schools. If someone feels disrespected, they are going to let go on the person who they feel disrespected them, then their friends are going to jump in to back up their boy/gal, the crowd will go wild, and it will be the talk of the school for hours. It doesn't matter how many lessons on conflict resolution and communication you work into the curriculum, how many "Expectations" posters you hang, how many PBIS Cool Tools you implement, this is how things are going to go down. Yet every time an incident goes down in this fashion (and it always goes down in this fashion), we debrief and analyze how things could have been handled differently to avoid the same results. And then the next time it goes down the same way. Is there an answer? Is it reasonable to expect 12, 13...17, 18 year olds to have the presence of mind to reject inner impulses and act responsibly in the heat of the moment when surrounded by dozens to hundreds of people who have just witnessed their defamation? And is it reasonable to expect these kids to handle the situation in that responsible manner when they have never witnessed the adults in their lives reject those inner impulses?

It seems unrealistic to me, but I see no other way to manage a school than to set the expectation that students walk away from altercations, that they stay out of it when their friends get into one, and that they continue walking by rather than stopping to take in the show. I will present the lessons on conflict resolution, on good decision-making, on the consequences of actions. I will de-escalate the excitement of students who come into my classroom after witnessing such an event. But inside, I know the same scene will repeat itself over and over again throughout the school year, with the same progression and same results. 

Anyone have any thoughts regarding our expectations versus students' reality?

Student Folders Upgrade

Back in April I described my Student Folder system. This year I have made a Pinterest-inspired upgrade.

Her system is to keep a sheet of mailing labels on her clipboard, keep running notes on the students as they work, then afix them to notecards to keep handy for conferences, etc - great idea!

So what I do is keep file folder labels (they fit well in the note space of my Student Record forms) attached to my clipboard, then stick the labels into the file folders. Brilliant! Not only do I not need to worry that I'll forget to record something of importance, but I also find that I'm making many more notes. I am especially getting many more "good" notes into student folders, rather than simply documenting discipline or off-task notes.

Thursday, August 23, 2012


Great find! These are great for grading, and the kids love them!

Here's a quickie activity that I just checked for completion:

It's a nice way to add a little fun to papers that you hand back. And so cute!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Tardy Documentation

What do you mean that's my fourth tardy? I wasn't tardy no four times - when was I tardy?....

A familiar line, eh? Hence, always a good idea to have a good system to track tardies. In the past I just jotted down the dates of tardies next to the students' names on the roster I carry on my clipboard, and being able to rattle off the dates of previous tardies has usually been enough to subdue objections. This year I'm going to take it a step farther and have students sign when they have a tardy, just to avoid possible problems down the road. What I did was make a sheet of labels that can be kept on above-mentioned clipboard, and all I'll have to do in the event of a tardy is fill out name/date/hour/tardy # and have the student sign it. Then I'll slap it in his or her student folder, where it can easily be retrieved if need be. After each tardy I'll also go ahead and pre-fill a second label with name and tardy #, that way if they earn another tardy I won't have to look up what number they're on.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Neon Rules

As part of my at-home preparation, I have been making posters of classroom rules/procedures/etc. Here are the two that are finished, minus laminating.

This is on posterboard cut down to 13"x18", and has the abbreviated schedule for the first two days of school on it. On the reverse side is the regular daily schedule, making it easy to flip back and forth between the two. As we all know, having a posted schedule greatly cuts down on (but, alas, does not eliminate) "When do we get outta here?"

Here is the remainder of the original poster board, brightly decorated with the class grading plan.

There are a few others dealing with classroom rules and procedures that still need finishing touches, but they are equally as bright and (you would think) hard not to notice in a classroom.

But, for now, I must prepare for sleep - Institute Day tomorrow, and my very first few precious hours to work in my classroom!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Course Syllabus

My first class at my new school begins at 7:40am this coming Tuesday. My very first opportunity to work in my classroom will be 3pm-7pm this coming Monday. Not even kidding. Due to some repair work being completed in the gym (right around the corner from my room), my classroom was sealed off this week, with all sorts of tubes and machinery and zippered plastic walls blocking it. It actually looked a lot like the house in ET after it was taken over. On the one hand, I really enjoy that analogy (I wish I had pictures!). On the other hand, this creates an enormous challenge.

But what can you do? Moving on, I'm focusing all of my effort on the things that I can accomplish at home. One thing that I'm really happy with is a revamping of my course syllabus/expectations to make it more "junior high" friendly. I must admit, it was pretty terrific to only have to create a syllabus for one prep, rather than four or five like usual. Here's what I created.

The one I used last year was a little text-dense - fine for high school, a little too much for the junior high attention span. It covers class content, materials, and my classroom management plan. Also, a page for parents to sign and include contact information, which we all know usually comes in handy at some point (amazing how often the phone numbers in the student data management system are incorrect, isn't it?). It's a lot of information to include in one document, but you know you've got to cover all your bases at the beginning of the year or face CHAOS. And chaos in a classroom with knives, fire, scissors and needles is a bad, bad thing.

Speaking of knives, fire, scissors and needles, at the beginning of both the sewing and foods units I do have an additional document with rules/procedures specific to those areas. I'm sure you'll find them on here eventually.

Good luck with preparing your classrooms!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Summer is... >GASP!<... ending!!!!!!

Well, fellow teachers, the end (or shall I say the beginning?) is near... time for Back to School! And before going any further, I just want to mention that I received my first B2S email ad, from Staples, on JUNE 19TH! Come on people, give us a break, eh?

Some big changes this summer... I have moved to a new city, and will be teaching at a new school. This year I'll be teaching junior high, 7th and 8th grades. Hence, LOTS of work to be done. Not the least of which will be re-starting color-coded kitchens. So glad I bought almost all of the smaller colored equipment for my last school with my own cash; however, of course very sad to have to leave behind my beautiful stand mixers and gorgeous colored pots and pans... sigh...

This Monday will be the first day I get to work in my classrooms. SO MUCH WORK TO DO. The kids start on the 21st, so I have one week to get as much as I can done. The good news is I won't start cooking for a few weeks, so I could hold all classes in the sewing room, giving me extra time to get the foods room in order.

I am also of course working on revamping curriculum - going from high school to junior high means big change! At my new school I get 7th & 8th graders together for one semester. Technically I suppose I could do the same thing with every class every day and only have one prep, a completely alien concept to me. However, I think you have to be a real masochist to want to run 6 foods labs in one day. My plan is to create a curriculum with four different units, and then stagger them among my classes. The first unit everyone will do the same, and then two of my classes will cook, two will sew, and two will study child care (from a babysitting angle); then they'll rotate every 4-5 weeks. This way only two of my classes get my first run in each of those subjects, and by the end of the year I will have taught the sewing, cooking, and child care units six different times - it's like combining six years of teaching into one!

My other challenge is that some of the 8th graders took this class last year, and they are mixed in with the 7th graders and the first-time 8th graders. I imagine that I'll be different enough from the last teacher that the veterans won't feel like they're doing the same thing again, but I need to plan for next year. I am tentatively sketching out a two-year curriculum, so that there aren't repeats. Like covering "cooking" one year and "baking" the next, alternating sewing projects between years, and swapping out child care for financial management or something else. 

One great thing about my new school is that they offer several professional development opportunities in the period before school begins. Yesterday I attended an all-day session on differentiated instruction, and I have to say it was the best workshop I have ever attended. Very informative, very useful, and immediately applicable. I'm excited to implement what I've learned!

One thing that I'm working on this weekend is "Welcome Back" postcards. I like to send one to each student the week before school starts. While it seems a little "elementary", a lot of students mention it throughout it the year (and it helps with the parents as well). I haven't been able to order my postcards with pre-printed contact info on them yet because I only just learned my contact info. So, instead, I'm using recipe cards!

I just write a very short message - welcome back, I'm your FACS teacher, see you on the first day, yada yada - then stamp and address on the other side. I don't have the greetings or addresses on these yet, as I'm still waiting for my rosters, but those'll be the last things I have to slap on 'em before mailing 'em.

Well, back to work for me! I'll keep you posted on any beginning of the school year ideas I come up with. Good luck with your own preparation!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Sewing Project - Rag Quilts

It's been quite some time since I've posted, and for good reason: the end of the school year, moving to a new city, changing school districts, unpacking, preparing for new job, laziness... pretty intense stuff!

Anyway, here was our final project for the semester: Rag Quilts! These are a great beginner quilt, because with the ruffles in between each piece you don't need to worry about them lining up perfectly. Here are a few samples:

Mickey & Minnie - she made this for her mom. Awwww.

Blurry focus, sorry. This one is flannel.

Close-up. Once this is washed, the frills will be softer and more curled.

It was ambitious, but they were a very motivated class - I just wish I had remembered to take more pictures of the final products!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Amazing World of Keep-Tube

YouTube has a lot to offer to a mild-mannered FACS teacher, from close-up demonstrations on how to chop an onion and thread a sewing machine to home potty training videos and  3D shaken baby simulations. Yet invariably when you try to show a short video in class your connection is weak and the buffering monster thwarts your noble plans. The solution? The miracle of Keep-Tube! This website allows you to download any YouTube video directly to your computer so that you can play it like any other media you have saved - no more buffering!

And as for that 3D shaken baby simulation, if you teach Child Development/Parenting/Child Care/etc, you should really check this out. There's a watermark and you'll have to narrate, but boy will it leave an impression on your students. There are a few other short shaken baby videos I also show from YouTube, but I have no doubt that this one is permanently etched in their brains.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Sewing Project - ConKerr Cancer

Once kids have mastered the art of the pillowcase, we complete a second one for ConKerr Cancer. This is an organization started by the mother of a child with cancer. To brighten his hospital room, she sewed cheerful pillowcases for him. This led to sewing pillowcases for other children, and continued to grow into a national program which donates thousands of pillowcases annually to children throughout the US. I show a video (thank you, YouTube) to introduce the project, and from that point on the kids in my classes are hooked - they really enjoy getting to create things to make others happy.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Sewing Project - Reversible Tote Bags

Here is a project my class just completed - reversible tote bags!

The bags turned out super cute!  It combined all of the skills they've learned so far, plus added the use of fusible interfacing and the making of straps. We used this pattern, which I picked up on a whim a few years ago from Joann Fabrics.

The bag from the pattern is pretty big, so I reduced it to the size that would hold a standard notebook/textbook. This year one of the kids decided to make it a one-strap satchel rather than a two-strap tote, and they all followed suit - with really great results! It was also a really fun project for me, because the kids have become so confident in their sewing skills I didn't have to give really detailed instructions for each step - in fact, most of the time the kids could figure out on their own what they were supposed to do next. I love that! Pretty great for a class that just started at the beginning of January!

Sunday, April 22, 2012


Appetizing title, eh? Here's how we deal with draining grease in my cooking classes (I actually learned this from my husband, who of course does it this way because his mother did it this way) - turkey basters! Way easier than dealing with the muss and fuss of a strainer.

Suck up the grease, squirt it into the "grease can," move on. No need to remove the meat from the pan, get itty bitty pieces stuck in the holes of the strainer (which never seems to get completely clean), or splatter everywhere while trying to get a wide skillet to empty into a narrow sieve. 

Since it's also in the picture, here's my plug for a Pampered Chef product. While for the most part I have not partaken of the Pampered Chef kool-aid (since you can usually get something of similar quality much cheaper elsewhere), there are a few key products offered by P.C. that I absolutely love. Above on the left you see the "Mix 'n Chop" - this thing is terrific for breaking up ground meat while browning. I saw a friend using one once and purchased one for my home kitchen, then after a bit purchased four more for my school kitchens. So much more efficient than a spatula, a spoon, or even a potato masher. So the next time one of your "friends" drafts you into attending one of their parties, pick up one of these guys - you'll love it!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Sewing Project - Monkeys!

February 2, 2016 Update: Over 100 new FACS resources are now available in exchange for a small donation to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society - see details here!

For hand sewing practice, my classes have always really enjoyed creating monkeys - particularly the boys, go figure. They are simple little felt creatures with button eyes and stitched noses and mouths.

If you're wondering what happened to the one on the bottom left, the creator of that particular monkey told me that "He was in 'Nam." Fair enough.


Clipboards are great tools to keep on hand for various activities... unfortunately they can be difficult to keep on hand. Either they wander off, or are borrowed by other teachers and somehow lost, or are "borrowed" by other teachers and never heard from again. I've found that overt personalization not only helps cut down on dwindling numbers, but certainly makes them more fun.

As always, I'm a fan of Snoopification as well. A Sharpie and a projector are all you need!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Survey Monkey!

I like to continually get feedback from my classes. One of the ways I do this is through the use of Survey Monkey. This is a free service that allows you to create 10 question online surveys and have people take them anonymously (there are much fancier options if you upgrade to a paid account, but that's not something I've found to be necessary). I ask for their feedback on the class rules, on my teaching, on activities we've completed, on what they would still like to learn, and then a place for comments in general.

The first time we do this is typically the last day of the first full week of school. The double bonus is that by taking them to the computer lab this early in the term I can quickly find out if there are any login/password issues and get those taken care of right away. Here's an example of the 1st week survey taken in Foods:

My apologies for the insanely small type - gotta love Ctrl +.

Note - I realize that #2 is kind of vague, but I actually get quite a bit of useful information from it. This helps me figure out their first impressions of me, if I've done a good job of introducing and explaining class procedures, and also gives me an idea of the subjects they would like to learn about in class - I try to work in their suggestions whenever possible.

They take surveys at the midterm and end of every quarter as well, which ask more specific questions about the goings-on of the classes. I've found it to be of enormous benefit.

While the online surveys are anonymous, I also require a signed form of feedback at the end of every quarter as well. The instructions are as follows:

Write a full one-page letter including the following:


Dear Mrs. C,

-Describe one thing you learned in this class during ___ quarter
-Describe your favorite thing we did in this class during ___ quarter
-Describe your least favorite thing we did in this class during ___ quarter
-Tell me one thing you want to learn about next quarter
-Finish the page: you may write about anything you wish as long as it is school


I used to just have them write this letter on their own paper, but since I like to keep them it became difficult to control the different sizes and torn pages. So, I now copy lined paper with the intructions on the back and hole-punch them so I can keep them all together in a binder to refer to in the future.

I get some really interesting feedback from these letters - not only do they tell me what they liked/didn't like, but they always include their reasons as well (even though it's not part of the requirements). My favorite is when they tell me they didn't like something, but then admit it's because they just don't like to work - at least they're honest.

One thing I would like to try next year is a feedback bulletin board. I saw it on a teacher's blog and it looks like a great idea - perhaps I'll post on it next September.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Textbook Scavenger Hunt

One thing that tends to drive me batty is when kids act like they don't know how to use a textbook (i.e. "I can't find the definition!" "What page does Chapter 12 start on?!" "What section is that in?!" etc, etc). On the day that I hand out textbooks I also give out a "Book Scavenger Hunt":

I work some kind of "challenge" into it so that the kids race to finish with the correct answers, thereby tricking them into proving that they know how to find everything they would ever need to know how to find in their books on their own. Muahahahahhaaaa....

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Sewing Project - Zippered Pouches

Here's a terrific project you can use scrap fabric for: zippered pouches (click for tutorial found on Pinterest). A parent donated a whole box of zippers for my classes (yay for free stuff!), so we used the leftover fabric stash to stitch together these cuties.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Substitute Teachers

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We all know that preparing for a substitute is more work than actually BEING at work, but there are times when you just can't avoid it. Then you cross your fingers and hope that today isn't the day that your normally well-behaved children decide to act like little monsters. Also you have to hope that your sub isn't one who delights in bringing out the worst in high school kids - you know what I'm talking about. Here's my process for subs.

In the front of each student's binder I have a few pages specifically spelling out procedures for special situations, one of which being a substitute teacher in the classroom. The first time I go over sub expectations is well before I have a sub in the classroom. Here they are:

The biggest help here is point #5: if there's something the sub says or does that makes you unhappy, deal with it. It is 45 minutes of your life. Put in perspective, the kids realize that it's pretty dumb to get in trouble over such a small part of their day.


When I know I'm going to have a sub, we review these expectations as a class the day before. After a time or two the kids begin to grumble  "we know, we know," but that leaves no room for excuses.


For the sub I leave rosters, seating charts, and detailed plans - all the usual stuff. I make sure to include my class schedule including the times for each class - apparently a lot of teachers don't think to do this, because subs always thank me for giving them this info. I also leave a note for each class to be read aloud by the sub - that way the first instructions they get are directly from me. I usually end with some kind of mock threat, such as "I expect to receive a good report from the sub as usual. If not, I will feed you to the seniors. Think it over." The kids get a kick out of that.
One thing I really hate is when the sub either leaves no information about what went on during the day or very vague notes. Hence, I have created a feedback form that I ask them to fill out for each class.

Since I began using these forms, I have received dramatically better feedback and notes on the day, the students' behavior, and other useful info. I read the comments left to the kids to show them I'm serious about checking up on them when I'm gone.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Sewing Project - Pillowcases

One of the first machine projects I attempt with my classes is the three-fabric pillowcase. It involves measuring, aligning, layering, right side/wrong side recognition, pivot stitching, French seams... all the basics. They turn out really well!

I love seeing all the fabrics the kids pick out - pizza, yum!

Cookie Jar of Righteousness

Detentions are a pain - you've got to fill out the paperwork, schedule a date, be in your classroom the entire time... it creates a lot of work. Not to mention the students never bring anything with them to do, making the whole situation unnervingly awkward. A few years ago I came up with a solution: behold, the Cookie Jar of Righteousness!

Inside this righteous cookie jar are scraps of paper with classroom chores written on them. I tell my students at the beginning of the year that if they are fortunate enough to earn a detention with me, they must draw a task from the Cookie Jar of Righteousness and must complete the task satisfactorily in order to receive credit for the detention. It's amazing - they are more than eager to fold towels, wipe down desks, clean white boards, sharpen pencils, or anything else they draw from the jar. It makes the time go by much more quickly for them, I get a little extra help, and at the end I get to thank them for their assistance, which helps "heal" the relationship and we can forget the incident and move on. I highly recommend!

Student Folders

Here's how I keep track of student behavior and performance as well as parent contact:

On the left side, I have sheets attached to fill in with dates, times, and details for any student or parent contact (calls home, holding a kid after class, grade reports, etc). I tuck copies of all notes sent home, email printouts, grade reports, carbons from referrals, accident reports... any and all relevant paperwork. If called for a last minute meeting, I just grab the folder and go! (And yes, the folders are color-coded to match the class they're in).

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Paper Management

Papers, papers, everywhere! Any teacher of any subject has to tame the wild paper beast. Here's my method...

 Sterilite Corp. ClearView 3-Drawer Organizer 

These drawer sets are the perfect size for holding papers. I designate a drawer for each class, then one for papers that need to be filed, papers related to coaching, and all the papers we receive during meetings/in mailboxes/etc so that they're easily accessible (and easily located!). I used to use stacking trays, but these look sooooo much nicer. Throughout the week I throw my papers in which ever drawer they belong. Then I go through them once a week, file what needs to be filed, toss what needs to be tossed, sign what needs to be signed, and put all graded student work back in the student binders. I absolutely love them! They're also perfect for sorting colored paper:

Again, looks much nicer than trays, and very easy to manage!