Monday, March 31, 2014


ARE YOU KIDDING ME, How I Met Your Mother????!!!!!!

Core vs "Elective" Courses: Misperception #3

Misperception #3: Testing doesn't affect you.


Now while testing certainly does not affect us the same way it does, let's say, English teachers, it most certainly does affect us.

Ask yourselves these questions:

  • Which classes are students taken out of for benchmark testing? (Hint: electives)
  • Which classes are students taken out of for make-up/extended time benchmark testing? (Hint: electives)
  • Which classes are students taken out of three to five days a week for RtI as a result of benchmark testing? (Hint: electives)
  • Which classes are students dropped into mid-semester due to changes in their schedules prompted by their benchmark test scores? (Hint: electives)
We sit in the same meetings as "core" teachers do going over lists of juniors, discussing their PSAE "potential" and brainstorming possible interventions to implement in every class.

We are required to implement the same PSAE-prep and intervention measures as all other teachers.

We get the same thinly-veiled, ominous threats from administration as all other teachers as we approach testing season.

We get the same foul attitudes and lack of motivation from students as all other teachers during testing season.

We get the same vilification in the press as all other teachers when test scores are released.

We experience the same sense of temporary relief as all other teachers in mid-May.

Come on people, it's 2014; no one is unaffected by testing.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Write and Wipe Pockets

Another colorful addition to the kitchens: transparent pockets for lab plans!

These are "Write and Wipe Pockets" from Learning Resources; they came in a set of five and just happened to be the same colors as my kitchens! They can be written on with dry erase marker (included with the set) and then wiped clean - perfect for keeping track of recipe progress! Additionally, with the use of command hooks (yup, I love 'em!) they keep the papers off of the counters where they typically do not escape unscathed. Also available on Amazon, the set is a very reasonable $12-$14. The pockets themselves only come with the upper left-hand corner hole-punched; I simply added another punch to the upper right and slapped on a couple of reinforcement labels:
Less clutter on the counters, easier for group members to see and keep track of what they've accomplished, and of course adds a little extra class with the color coordination. 

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Take-Out Boxes of Fun

Whilst at Hobby Lobby a bit ago, I noticed a display of brightly colored take-out boxes; at that moment, I knew that I had to have them for group projects. I picked up five in colors that correspond to my classroom kitchens.

Notice that I have them set up in a copy paper box lid, one of my new favorite tools this year. Anyway, when I divide the class up into small groups for short activities, I usually do so by assigning them to a kitchen - gets them up and moving, and also gives them a nice big counter to work together on. So once I saw these I realized it would be really fun to stock them with "secret" supplies for their activity. I used them for the first time this week; here's what was in them:

Stay tuned, and I will tell you what they did with the Play-Doh in a future post!

Friday, March 28, 2014


Here's how I set out stuffing for smaller sewing projects, like the monkeys:

This was one of those mega-containers of "Cheezy Balls" you can get at places like Sam's. This year my husband was one of the adults in charge of the kids' Sunday School Christmas pageant, and they chose to have the Wise Men bear three "modern" gifts - among them an XBox, a bicycle pump, and a large container of Cheezy Balls - it was pretty awesome :).

Anyway, I washed out the container, removed the label, and stuffed it full of stuffing. It eliminates the hassle of boxes or bags, especially since stuffing is a supply FACS teachers like to purchase in bulk. It's large and conveniently clear, so that kids can find it easily (you know how you can point directly at something and they still can't see it?), and I can easily notice when it needs to be refilled.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Traveling to the Computer Lab

Here's an incredibly obvious idea that took me nearly eight years to come up with:

Whenever I want my classes to meet me in the computer lab, I've always scrawled a note and taped it to the door. This is inconvenient and takes 2-3 minutes every time, which is incredibly wasteful. It finally dawned on me to create a permanent solution.

We have two labs in our school: the "Main Lab" and the "Keyboarding Lab." I made double-sided signs for each class (one side for each lab), and printed them on paper in the color I have assigned to that particular class. Then I slid them into sheet protectors, and attached them with a book ring:

I placed a command hook behind my door to hold them when not in use, so that they are always exactly where I need them:

I hung two more command hooks (I LOVE command hooks, by the way - they rock!) on the outside* of the door itself, so I never again have to bother with tape.

Again, kind of a "duh" idea, but one worth sharing - I can't be the only one tired of slapping handwritten notes on the door.

Anyone else have something obvious yet helpful to share?

*If you happen to work in a building where there's a healthy chance anything you attach to the outside of your door will disappear, you'll want to hang your hooks on the inside so that the sign shows through the window. Just saying.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Core vs "Elective" Classes: Misperception #2

Misperception #2: Foods 1 is a "Gourmet Culinary Arts" course.

Note: I work at a very small school; we only offer one year of Foods/Nutrition.

Just a sampling of the comments I hear in this category:
"I'd love to teach your classes - I'd just have them cook all the time."
"It must be great to have the kids making your lunch every day."
"It must be nice to just sit back and watch the kids do all the work."
"You should start a catering service/cook for in-services/run a student cafe/etc."

Here are some facts that seem to escape my colleagues:

  • I have a budget. It is not impressive. We do not cook all the time, not even close.
  • Most students come in with very, very, very little background knowledge. I literally have to start with lines like: "This is a measuring spoon. Measuring spoons come in different sizes." It takes a long, long path of baby steps to get them to the point where they can process even a basic recipe on their own without extensive support from me. 
  • Prepping novice "chefs" for lab takes an extensive amount of planning. Recipes have to be broken into chunks that will fit within class times, then further into tasks that can be dovetailed. We have to go over the recipes in detail, because they don't yet know basic terminology ("boil," "level" teaspoon, "whip," etc). I  create demonstration videos so they can see exactly what they are supposed to do. I set up the lab table to make ingredients as easily accessible as possible. This doesn't happen on its own.
  • My classes, just like yours, are only 49 minutes long. In that time we have to review the recipe, set up the lab, cook, possibly eat (most of our labs are stretched out over two or three days, so they don't eat every day that we are in the kitchens), and clean. This will not happen if I don't actively manage these novices.
  • And who do you think does all the grocery shopping? That would be me, outside of school hours.
  • And let's not forget that as little as they know about cooking basics, they know even less about food safety. This has to be addressed before they can cook - and also explains why I never have my students prepare my lunch.
  • Probably my personal favorite would be the co-workers with grandiose ideas. Last year an aide was using one of my microwaves as I set up for our first lab of the year. When she asked me what we were making, I replied "Biscuits." Her response was "Biscuits and?", then proceeded to lecture me on how these kids need to learn how to cook. At which point I tried to explain to her that just the biscuits would take us two days, and getting the kids cleaned up and out the door each day this first time around was going to take every ounce of my focused attention to accomplish. She just shook her head and walked out the door.
Starting the year with kids who can barely prepare Ramen noodles and getting them to the point where they can read and accurately execute a recipe is extremely rewarding, but in today's world of microwave snacks and dinners from a box this does not come easily. Remember that the next time you start to tell your Foods teacher how easy and fun cooking labs are.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Core vs "Elective" Classes: Misperception #1

Elective teachers are often misunderstood by teachers of core subjects. Don't get me wrong, I hold nothing against core teachers, nor do I underestimate their challenges - I am married to a math teacher, and my best girlfriend is an English teacher. I've just noticed that as a whole, teachers of those subjects tend to hold some rather inaccurate perceptions of what life is like for elective teachers. Hence, I thought I'd put together a mini-series on these misperceptions.

Please don't misunderstand my intention: this is not meant to be a rant, just a clarification of a few issues in response to the bizarre statements we tend to get.

Misperception #1: "Students CHOOSE to be in your classes, so they really WANT to be there."

Oh, if only. Here are the students that "choose" to be in our classes.
  • Kids who actually read and understand the course description, have an accurate understanding of what the class entails, and are interested in learning the content. 
  • Kids who sign up for the class with completely unrealistic expectations. For example, they sign up for "Foods and Nutrition" thinking that it is a snack class/second lunch, that we will eat every day, and that we will prepare steak and Hot Pockets with regularity.
  • Kids who sign up for the class because they think they can just show up and be given an A without doing any work.
  • Kids whose parents/guidance counselor/caseworker sign them up for the class because they think the kid can just show up and be given an A without doing any work.
  • Kids who think that the classes won't require any kind of reading, writing, math, or, well, thinking.
  • Kids who are transferred into the class mid-term because of "issues" in another class. A line I have heard ad nauseam over the years: "He/she was causing disruptions is his/her English/math/social studies class, and because of his/her first quarter grade he/she can't possibly pass that class anyway, so we're going to move him/her into your class." 
  • Kids who have no other place to go due to their special ed schedule. I have at least one section each year stacked with students with IEPs well over the designated ratio without an aide. One year I had four students with behavioral disorders whose IEPs specifically required that they be placed in small classes due to their aggressive/violent tendencies and triggers; not only were all four of these students placed in the same section together, it was also my largest class of the day. And also contained several students who were frequent fliers on the suspension list due to violent offenses. Not to mention needles, scissors, knives, fire...
  • Kids who didn't even know what the class was, they just circled randomly on the form.
These are the students who CHOOSE to take my elective classes. From there it's up to me to figure out how to get them to actually WANT to be there - just like my "core" subject counterparts. My motto at the beginning of each term as I look over my rosters: Challenge Accepted

Monday, March 3, 2014

Common Core Grids: AKA, Don't Reinvent the Wheel

This will be short and sweet! Are you currently working on aligning your curriculum with the Common Core? Yup, thought so. Check out this site:

It doesn't get any better than that! Thank you, Utah!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Ingredient Table

So we all know that a key component of a successful cooking lab is to get kids to and from the center ingredient table quickly - hence the egg carton trick, opening containers rule, etc, that I have posted about previously. Another organizational maneuver I utilize to make the ingredient table less chaotic is arranging the ingredients by lab plan "job." Here's a look at how I do it:


When we bake chocolate chip cookies, we divide the recipes into three main jobs: creaming the butter and sugars (note that the sugars and butter are at one end of the table), mixing the dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, and salt are at the opposite side of the table), and whisking an egg and vanilla in a prep cup (egg and vanilla are together). Chocolate chips are added last, and are measured out by whoever finishes their job first.


We have one person prepping the eggs (crack into a prep bowl one at a time, then place into the batter bowl), one person prepping the rest of the batter (milk, salt, sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla are grouped together), and one person gathering the bread and a l'il chunk o' butter (in the prep cups) for greasing the pan. Note that in addition to the milk jug I also have a large cup of milk set out, so that more than one person can measure at a time; also more than one egg and vanilla container are available.


One person picks up the English muffins and the toaster, one person grabs the sausage and cheese, one person grabs the eggs. For this one I was easily able to create a mirror set up where I had a set of each ingredient on both sides of the table; easier to reach and to share. You'll also see my wonderful copy paper box lids being employed again - we very rarely use toasters, so I keep them together. That way they're not cluttering the kitchens, and I can do a quick inspection of them during clean-up to make sure they don't get shoved into a cabinet with random ingredients splattered on them.

*Click on the starred links to watch my cooking demonstrations on YouTube.