Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Please Explain

Looking at the "Back-to-School" supplies has raised a couple of questions for me. First, colored pencils. Now I understand why Crayolas are more expensive than other brands - those other brands are just plain not as good, we all know that. But how do you explain double the colored pencils being triple the cost? Is a pink colored pencil really that much more expensive to make than an orange one?

Then there's the safety scissors. A regular pair of safety scissors is $.50; safety scissors with the little cap will cost you about $2, four times as much. For that additional little piece of plastic. Which (and correct me if I am wrong here, elementary teachers) if not lost within the first 24 hours will almost certainly never be used to cap the scissors after initially removed in class, instead will just be thrown haphazardly into the supply box until it does indeed become lost. Or maybe it's the included stickers that inflate the price. And why the stickers?

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Linky - 10 Things I've Learned

Hooking up with a Linky from Miss Kindergarten - aside from Farley's Currently I don't really do much in the Linky world, but this looks like a good one! Most of the teachers on this Linky are elementary, so here goes a middle school/high school perspective.

10 Things I've Learned From Teaching (in no particular order)

1. Jr high/high school kids are too tall to efficiently place garbage in a trash can - put your bins on chairs and you won't have trash surrounding the can.

2. Go Slow to Go Fast! The more time you take to explain, check comprehension, and break activities into small pieces, the more you will accomplish, and the faster it will go in the long run. If you rush or give too large a task to do at once, it will take sooooooooo much longer to get done.

3. You absolutely must have the support staff behind you. Take care of them, and they will go over and beyond for you. One, because they are good people who have usually chosen their profession because of a desire to help. Two, because they are treated poorly by most faculty, so they appreciate appreciation. Nice matters! (Fabulous example: I was recently rehired by a school I used to work at. During the "tour" part of the interview at different points the principal and I ran into the three custodians, all of whom made a big fuss over me. Talk about your good impressions!)

4. Look for opportunities to make a personal connection with your students, even if it's something silly. I once had a student totally zone out (not pharmaceutically, just daydreaming) at the beginning of class, and as a result she was still sitting in her desk in the middle of the classroom alone after all of the other kids had left for the computer lab. I just stood at the door and waited for her to come back to reality, at which point she was really surprised. When we took our next test, I stapled this in the middle of her copy:

(apologies to Bill Watterson)
She loved it!

5. Never underestimate the motivating power of stickers. Yes, really, for high schoolers - when they see that some kids got stickers and they didn't, most will step it up on the next assignment/quiz/test/etc. The same applies to cool stamps.

6. If you have a group of really annoying jocks in one class who are all great friends and band together, it REALLY helps if the "hot girl" in class is on your side. I was dreading a second semester class one year because I knew I had a group like this. "Hot girl" was in this class, and since I have several different preps this was the sixth class of mine she had taken. The second day of class she asked "When are we going to start taking notes?" in an anticipatory tone. Captain Football asked her "Why are you so excited about taking notes?" She said "Her notes are really fun and interesting, not boring like other teachers'!" Never once had a problem or disruption during lectures in that class.

7. Schools are almost incestual. They are a web of relatives, in-laws, best friends, frenemies, childhood friends, etc... staff, faculty, students, and administrators, all interwoven. Until you really know your school, never say anything about anyone, ever; in fact, just hold on to that rule the whole time you work there.

8. Make NO assumptions. Never, ever, ever assume your students know anything, no matter what grade they are in. Always assess (and by this I of course do not mean bubble tests). I have had seniors who did not know multiplication tables, food groups, or how to create a title page. I've had untold (and growing) numbers of students over the years who did not know how to hold scissors. Reading levels, comprehension levels, basic social skills levels... you cannot assume anything.

9. You will care more than your students do. No matter what you teach, your class is a mere tiny fraction of their lives. They will not be as excited as you about the tedious details of your content area; they will not devote enough attention to preparing for your class; they will not be mentally present for your class at all times, every day. Your class will never be their first priority. That's NORMAL. And freeing. That short writing assignment from a week ago you just haven't been able to get around to grading? They've forgotten about it. It's okay to occasionally let things like that disappear. No matter what crazy thing happens during your first hour class, something will trump it by the end of their school day. Five years from now, they will only remember vague bits and pieces from your class (think back to your own high school career!), so if a lesson doesn't go well one day, or a unit tanks - it's okay! Do better next time! You will not destroy their education if every day isn't a homerun.

10. You are never "off the clock." No matter how hard you try, you will only be able to push teaching out of your mind for very brief periods of time. You will be on vacation and start thinking about pencil procedures; you will be out to a nice dinner with your husband and recall that nasty parent phone call you received; you will be at Target and, well, you know very well what happens every time you go to Target. For better or worse, you will never leave the job at work.

Those are my ten things! Link up and add yours!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Foods Lab Prep: Unopened Containers

A little advice for people teaching Foods for the first time. Whenever you have a new package, carton, box, bag, jar, etc that you will be using in a lab, always, always, always, ALWAYS open the container yourself before the lab. Always. Why? Because when you set out unopened containers for the first time, you're probably expecting a result something like this:

What you are actually going to get is something like this:

I am so not kidding. And this is the best case scenario, wherein the food inside the container didn't go flying all over the place (chocolate chips? bread crumbs? etc...)

p.s. These were demonstration items assembled in my home. And yes, it was painful to do this to the peanut butter. We all have to sacrifice for our art.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Why We Need Home Ec


Painting Plastic File Crates

We all know how much I love color-coding, so it really bugs me that I don't have crates in all of the colors I need. Take these binder crates that I used up until this past semester:

No orange! No yellow! Hmpf! So I set out to change that; I am turning a spare red crate into an orange one!

First, I had to remove all the dust from the red crate. I used a barely damp cloth, then swabbed the little parts with a q-tip.

Then I put on my paint pants (everybody has pants stained by paint, right?).

Next, my paint sunglasses (note the crack on the right).

At this point I should have also found gloves, but not realizing how difficult it is to wash spray paint off of your hands I did not break those bad boys out until the second coat. Don't let this happen to you!

Outside we go. Here I am waving to you!

First coat complete! Oh no, lookout!

Ha ha!

It's a bit mottled after the first coat, but that's okay - second coat's a'comin'!

And TADA!!! An orange crate!

Until next time...

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Folders vs Binders

Way, way back in January I mentioned that I was going to switch from binders to folders for the new semester. Then I never brought it up again, so I'll now recap for you (click here to compare to my binder procedures).

First of all, I want all of my students to have a binder/folder that is usually kept in the classroom. That way the running back and forth to the lockers, the oh I left it at home, the I don't know where it is gets eliminated. I provide the binders/folders for the students because 1) some students take forever to bring one in, 2) I want to start the binder/folder procedures the first day of class, 3) I want the binder/folder prepped with names and beginning papers the first day of class, and 4) I want them all a uniform shape and size so that they can fit where I want them to fit in the classroom. My first couple of years of using binders I had the kids supply their own, and without fail in every class someone would bring in some enormous zippered monstrosity that wouldn't fit anywhere. But I digress.

Second, I switched to folders for two primary reasons. One, putting three-hole-punched-papers into the three rings of the binders seemed to be a task that eluded a majority of my students (primarily the 8th graders; the 7th graders seemed to be able to handle this rather well). Two, due to their size I couldn't effectively have the binders passed out before class, which resulted in much pushing, shoving, etc (a la junior high kids) around the binders as kids went to retrieve them. So, here's how I organized the folders.

I purchased 3-prong folders for every student, color-coded (of course) by class hour. Then I put a label on the front of each with the student's name, class hour, and school mascot - just like I did for the binders.

On the inside front pocket, I placed a label that read "Papers to Turn In." This was to remind them that all papers to be graded needed to be in that front pocket so that I could find them, and anything else they wanted to keep in their folders needed to kept in the back pocket so that I wouldn't have to paw through all of their stuff on a treasure hunt. On days that I collected the folders to be graded, I would spend some time in class helping them get organized - we would go over what needed to be in the front pocket, and in what order. Most of them were actually really good at complying with those directions, which made grading much quicker.

After grading their papers, I would print out a grade report for the week including those papers and all project/quiz/etc grades, then staple the whole bundle together. The rule then was anything that I had stapled needed to disappear by the next time I graded folders - again, helped keep stuff I no longer needed out of my way, making collecting grades much easier.

On the right hand side you can see that there are items in the prongs. I placed their table of contents, class syllabus, and class procedures pages (all color-coded) in the front of the prongs before initially giving them out. I also placed all of the papers from the first unit I wanted them to keep in their folders permanently in the prongs (handouts, note pages, study guides). That way all of those items were in there secured so that they wouldn't get lost, AND I wouldn't have to spend class time passing those pages out. Before starting the next unit, I would insert the next unit's packet in the prongs. A couple of my classes were able to handle this on their own (classes either entirely or predominantly composed of 7th graders), and I would pass out the packets and have them do it themselves. Other classes (entirely or predominantly composed of 8th graders) made a mess of things like this so I did it myself to save the headache of lost papers and destroyed folders.

Some other details. I tried out the "Missing Work Form" I've seen floating around the Internet this semester. Whenever a student didn't turn an assignment in, I slipped a form into their folders that required them to supply an explanation as to why they didn't turn it in. Then I held on to these for parent/teacher conferences, IEP meetings, etc. It worked great with some students, not so great with others. The best part is that for students who forgot to turn it in or planned on turning it in late, this served an extra reminder to get it in (for some reason a "zero" on the grade printout doesn't get their attention, but this sheet does. Sheesh.).

I kept all of the folders in these file crates, which were just the perfect size! At the end of each class, I would have each row stack their folders together on their row's supply table, and then I would collect them and store them in the crates (after a couple of weeks I had student volunteers do this for me in most classes). Then before each class began I could just place each row's stack on their supply table where they could retrieve them.

Here are the advantages of folders as opposed to binders:

(The rest are in no particular order)
-Easier for one person to collect and handout
-Less cumbersome to pull papers out of and put back in
-Papers in the prongs stay put, much less likely to accidentally tear, all in the correct order
-Easier for students to take home if they need to
-Forces me to have all handout/note pages/study guides prepared and copied for a unit before it begins
-The papers that I actually grade are loose and easy to handle - I don't have to flip through the binders to find things
-I have the option of easily taking the papers out of the folders to take home to grade, or can easily take home an entire class's folders without much hassle or heft (taking home a class of binders is quite a pain)
-Cost! 15 cents for a folder versus 92 cents for a binder - this adds up big time!

Here are the disadvantages:
-Papers are not nearly as easy to add to prongs as to rings
-Because of the above, you can't pass things out piecemeal, you've got to have everything together in advance
-Papers cannot be rearranged without a big hassle
-Cannot clip concept card pack rings around prongs (another future post)
-Much easier for students to lose if they take them out of the classroom
-Having to open and close the prongs on over 100 folders before every unit (this one would not apply to my new hs students - they should be able to handle this)
-Very difficult for students to quickly find their own folders if I don't pass them out (no labels on the side); this is challenging when a student comes in during a different class to get their folder for some reason, or if I were to put the responsibility for getting all of your materials on the students again

I'm torn on what I want to do for the coming semester. For the most part, the advantages of the folders outweigh the disadvantages. The sticking point is that with going back to high school I'd really like to make the students responsible for getting out their own folders/binders, and that's hard to do efficiently with folders because you can't put name labels on the sides like you can binders. I don't want it to take 10 minutes for kids to find their folders; kids can find their binders in just a few seconds. I don't necessarily want to have someone "in charge" of passing out the folders either, because almost every day they need to start using them immediately.

Maybe I could put some kind of class procedure in place where the first person to arrive spreads the folders out on the table where the crates are kept - that way it will be easier to for kids to find theirs? Most of my class sizes are pretty small, so I don't think folders getting knocked around and onto the floor will be a problem - especially since we're not talking about junior high students anymore.

Any opinions out there? What do all of you do?

I have modified my folder system a bit for my new school. If you are interested in starting or tweaking a folder system, check out this post to see the changes I made to see if any of the new ideas would help you out.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Product Testing for Pie Making

Pies. I love 'em. I love getting to teach pie-making in foods class - if there's anything 'retro' about Family & Consumer Science, it's that if you take a foods class you should be able to leave knowing how to make an apple pie from scratch. In my opinion, anyway.

There is of course the downside to the pie unit. Complaints of "The dough is too cold and hard to work with," "I can't roll it out evenly," "I can't make a circle." Then there's the MESS: the over-flouring, the flour all over the counters, all over the floors... the flour that's STILL all over the counter after it dries, because they didn't really wash the counters they just moved the flour around and it dried in hard, flat blotches all over the counters... you know what I'm talking about.

So about two years ago I found this handy little contraption, the Harold Pie Crust Maker, and I decided to try it out today (yes, it took two years for me to get around to it, but in all fairness I didn't teach pies this year!).

Essentially it is a zippered bag that you roll the pie crust out in.

It comes in two sizes - 14" and 11". I purchased the bigger one because I could adjust for smaller crusts if need be. Here's how it worked; stated directions are in standard type, my comments are in Italics.

The directions say to lightly flour both of the insides of the bag. I also added just a pinch to the dough itself. I used much less than a tablespoon altogether for the dough and both sides of the bag.

Zip the bag up all the way around, then roll. The dough was extremely easy to roll, and I think faster than standard methods. I didn't go all the way to the edges, because I didn't need a full 14 inches. I think it's probably best to try to avoid going all the way to the edge, because the dough can get caught in the zipper when you open the bag.

Unzip the bag, carefully peel the top side off of the crust. Then invert on the pie pan, and carefully peel back remaining side of bag. I couldn't believe how easy it was to cleanly peel both sides off, as well as invert it into the pan without disaster.

The crust turned out a great thickness, and there was almost no flour or sticky/crumby dough left over in the bag - and none on the counter!!!

Hand wash the bag with soap and warm water. The bag was extremely easy to clean. Drying was a little tricky just because of it's awkward shape, so I just hung it over the faucet to blot with a towel and then I let it air out there so that the zipper would fully dry. Julie, that's the Snoopy quilt you made for me years ago in the background on the couch! Kristine, that's the afghan that you made for us for our wedding years ago!

Kind of irrelevant, but here is the finished product I created with the crust - it is a "Sawdust Pie" from this pie cookbook. If you're into baking pies, I highly recommend the book!

My overall opinion: I am definitely going to try using these in class the next time we bake pies! They are not that expensive - the big one bounces between $6-$7 dollars on Amazon, the 11" is usually just under $5. They're also available at a lot of kitchenware stores for a similar if slightly higher price. You'd have to make sure the kids clean the bags well, but they are much more likely to do that successfully (and in a timely fashion) than clean up their flour messes. It also takes the stress out of trying to make a circle for a novice baker, as well as makes cold dough easier to work with. I imagine it would work well with pizza dough, another bonus - I'll have to try it out the next time I make pizza at home.

If you face any of the issues I mentioned at the beginning of this post, my suggestion is pick up one of these bad boys and try it at home for yourself - I think you'll be just as impressed as I was!

And seriously, check out the "Pie" cookbook!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Confession & Ch-Ch-Changes

Here is my confession: the reason I have been procrastinating working on school business (other than it's summer and ain't nobody got time for that) is that I have been hoping for a change. Yesterday that change came true - I am changing schools! So long, junior high!

If you have been reading this blog for a while you know how much I detest changing schools, so this may be surprising. However - does it really count if you return to a school you've worked at before?

A brief recap of my teaching career:

School 1 - 1st year: very large, urban high school (~3,500 9-12)
School 2 - 2nd & 3rd year: very small, rural high school (~250 7-12... not a typo)
School 3 - 4th, 5th, & 6th year: smallish, rural high school (~400 9-12)
School 4 - 7th year: large, urban junior high school (~700 7-8)

I am returning to School 2! It's a bit of a commute and a bit more of a pay cut, but I am so enthusiastic about the change!

And now that I know where I'll be teaching and what I'll be teaching, I can begin preparing for real, which I'm really excited about. I am thrilled to be going back to the high school level! Middle school hijinx aside, I really missed the content depth of teaching high school. Every few weeks I'd think "If I were teaching high school, we'd be studying advertising in foods in preparation for the Super Bowl right now," "If I were teaching high school, we'd be starting the quilts about now," "If I were teaching high school, we'd be busting out the 1040s now..." you get the idea.

In addition to prepping curriculum, I'm anxious to get into my classroom. Since I've been there before, I already know how I want to set things up - AND I'm not taking over for a retiree this time! Woot woot! Seems crazy that I spent soooooo much time working on my rooms this past year only to leave, but apparently this is what I do - I flip rooms to make them easy for the next person to work with. At least I've become pretty darn good at it!

Here's to School #5... er... #2... um... whatever! Yay!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Random Updates

Now that we are firmly entrenched in July, we can no longer deny that another school year is looming not too far in the distance. After all, look what is out this week:

Dun Dun DUN!!!

Most of my independent professional development this summer has been through reading - books, blogs, etc. I am almost finished reading "Whole Brain Teaching for Challenging Kids" - there are some great ideas in here! Of course I have a whole stack to continue plowing through once that one's completed.

My big plan for the week is to compile "The Checklist" - the things that I have to start preparing for the first days of school. Syllabi, folders, binders, etc, etc. I'm already beginning to have those dreams that it's the first day of school, the desks are not arranged, and I haven't made any copies or done any preparation. Ugh!!!

In other news, I like to periodically check on pageviews for various posts so that I can see what is striking readers' fancies, and have been closely watching the race for most-viewed post. When the Best Lab Plans Fail has edged out Substitute Teachers by one view as of this morning! Okay, that's probably dorkily boring, but the sub article has had a commanding lead for well over a year so it was fun to see something overtake that one.

Hope you're having a great summer! Get that last bit of R & R in, it's almost game time!

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Love to Starbucks

Dear Starbucks,

Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU for posting your recipe for chocolate cinnamon bread online. I tried it out, and it worked fabulously  in my home kitchen. I won't even begrudge you the added poundage this is sure to result in.


Tuesday, July 2, 2013

July Currently!

Time for this month's Currently with Farley!

Listening - ahhh, the pitter patter of little, um, wheels...

Loving - TIME TO READ!!! I just finished my first big fiction read of the summer, "Sophie's Choice." Hoo, brutal. Not the book, the choice. Despite it's affirmed place in popular culture I didn't know going in what the "choice" was, and it could not have been more heart-wrenching. Amazing book - now I want to see the movie, especially since I'm a BIG Meryl Streep fan! My current teaching read is "Whole Brain Teaching," to be followed by "Teach Like a Pirate." I've also just finished a shorter, lighter read that I saved for reading during workouts at the gym (kind of hard to concentrate on something like "Sophie's Choice" on the treadmill) - "236 Pounds of Vice President," hilarious memoir.

Thinking - I've been doing some work here and there, sketching a few things out, but now it's time to get going before the time gets going!

Wanting - I've just become hooked on "Boardwalk Empire," and am about to watch the fifth episode.

Needing - I've got the material, just gotta sew 'em up. Pretty easy project.

Tips, Tricks, Hints - Know what you want to say and who you want to say it to. For this blog, my goal was to primarily to share classroom organization ideas with other teachers, particularly for FACS. My secondary goal was to share the occasional story, anecdote, or opinion related to my career. The more I stick to this the more feedback I receive and interest I seem to generate. Also, the better quality conversations I have with other teachers. 

Happy July, everyone!