Wednesday, December 9, 2015

What Do You Ban From Your Classroom? My 2 1/2 Deal Breakers

All of us have our pet peeves that find their way into our classroom rules and procedures, and it varies from person to person. For example, I once worked with a math teacher who had an explicit "No Singing" rule. Apparently year after year she's had trouble with students spontaneously breaking out into song in the middle of class, and she reached her limit. I'm not sure if I haven't experienced it at the level that she has, or that it doesn't bother me, or that I just don't notice it, but I've never felt the impulse to impose an absolute ban (there have of course been isolated incidents wherein I discouraged it, like the Fergie/Jesus episode or in the wake of the release of Frozen).

However, there are 2 1/2 physical items that I have imposed an absolute ban on.

It is the herpes of decoration. It never goes away. You think it's all cleared up and then BAM another outbreak.

I HATE them. They are delicious and festive, but they always always break when students have them and they always always shatter into a bazillion sticky pieces and the students always always step on or smash them even further and they never never clean them up. They're like glitter that attracts bugs and vermin. Fun story: sometime in mid-April one year a senior walked into my room to deliver something from the office while eating a candy cane. I hollered: "Freeze! Back up to the door! You cannot have that in here!" He looked at me and the rest of the class in complete bewilderment. Several students backed me up and told him "Yeah, she's not kidding, you can't be in here with that." I love it when students vehemently defend your arbitrary rules.

Only allowed after school, never before or during (students aren't the problem with this one, it's teachers. They really don't like being turned away. There is a teacher's lounge, people!). The aroma of popcorn smells heavenly the first ten minutes. As it continues to hang in there air, however, it quickly degrades into a weird funk that inspires every. single. student. that walks through the door for the rest of the day to loudly announce "It smells nasty in here!"

Those are my absolute bans. What are yours?

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Leftover Chipotle Peppers in Adobo Sauce

It's pretty rare that I've run a lab that requires chipotle peppers in adobo sauce that actually used the entire can; at home it never happens (for me that is, maybe you can't get enough!). Here's how I deal with the leftovers.

Plop each pepper onto a baking sheet lined parchment paper, careful to include a healthy amount of sauce with each but keep them separated. Then throw that puppy into the freezer for an hour or two, won't take long to freeze:

Once frozen, they pull off the paper nice and easy, sauce and all:

You can then toss them into a freezer bag, and they'll be easy to pull out one at a time whenever you need them.

Now that you know the trick, you can apply it to so many more foods than just peppers. This is also how I freeze berries and chopped veggies - freeze them separate and flat, then when they go into the bag they don't freeze into a ginormous clump that's impossible to break up without a hammer or defrosting.

Happy freezing!

Monday, October 19, 2015

Pediatricians Say Absolutely NO DRINKING WHILE PREGNANT - it's about time!!!

Finally, finally, FINALLY, pediatricians are saying point blank NO DRINKING WHILE PREGNANT!

Why did this take so bloody long? Why, for years, have they allowed doctors, researchers, hairdressers to advise women that a little bit won't hurt? Unfathomable, completely unfathomable, given the irreparable harm that we know prenatal exposure to alcohol can have!

In my Child Development classes I told my students point blank, I don't care what you read in the news or see on TV or even hear from your doctor, NO AMOUNT OF ALCOHOL IS SAFE DURING PREGNANCY.

And then I showed them video after video of the results of fetal alcohol syndrome. Some years we read articles written by families affected by and children with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder themselves. One year I was even able to convince a small group of girls to read "The Broken Cord" and use it for a book talk there were supposed to give in their English classes. All of this uphill against a media constantly blaring "Oh, a couple of drinks here and there won't hurt."

And let's not even get into how people don't understand what really constitutes "a couple of drinks." In towns that I've taught in there were massive amounts of people who thought a couple of drinks = passed out before midnight.

Thank you, pediatricians, for finally getting your act together!

NPR Article "Pediatricians Say Absolutely No Drinking While Pregnant"

Full text of clinical study published by the American Academy of Pediatrics

Infographic from Edmonton and area Fetal Alcohol Network Society

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Meal Prep Monday - A New Link-Up from Miss, Hey Miss!

I stumbled upon this new link-up from Miss, Hey Miss!, and thought it would be a great one for all teachers but especially FACS teachers!

The idea is to share ideas for lunches that you can prep ahead of time for the week, helping all of us to expand our repertoire! 

One of my all-time favorite kitchen appliances is my rice cooker - how did I live without one all of these years? Perfect rice every time without having to watch it.

So here's this week's lunch. I started off preparing a big batch of brown basmati rice in the rice cooker. After it's finished, I toss in a bit of chopped cilantro, lime juice, and salt - mmm, better than Chipotle rice! Being unprocessed, this rice contains all eight essential amino acids, but is a bit low in lysine. What has lysine and goes perfectly with rice? Beans, of course! I divvied up the rice into containers, added a bit of seasoned black beans to each, then packed up smaller containers of cheese, guacamole, salsa and lettuce, that I'll be able to just grab each day as I pack my lunch bag. I can heat up the rice and beans, then add in the cold ingredients. Yum! Hearty, filling, and a pretty quick prep.

So excited about chowing down on this that I forgot to take a photo of it altogether, but I think you get the idea. This was the first time I've tried one of those Wholly Guacamole minis - it was great!

Also included in the linky are four different graphics you can choose from to create a Meal Prep Tip! Here's mine:

The three-cup Glad rectangle (pictured above) is my go-to, fits perfectly in my lunch bag. 

BY THE WAY, I will be posting about finishing my first marathon this week, check back!

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Lab Notes

After every cooking lab I have always thought to myself "Next time I need to remember/change/etc." Usually I even jotted reminders down. When next time came around, it was kind of a crapshoot whether I would remember those thoughts or come across those notes, which resulted in many a palm-forehead experience. Then I started keeping the notes with the recipes, but that meant that I only reviewed them as I was beginning to prepare for that lab, and some reminders I needed further in advance. Finally I got around to doing the obvious and keeping all of my lab notes in one place, which turned out to be immensely helpful. For each lab I jotted down what I wanted to remember for next time, such as

  • things that worked well that I want to remember to do again
  • changes I want to make next time
  • steps/procedures to review or emphasize the day of the lab, based on mistakes or misunderstandings that happened in the kitchens
  • other helpful reminders/hints to myself

Sidenote: It's funny now to see the recurring themes, such as "do not accidentally turn off oven." When the oven timers would go off students would hit the "Cancel" button thinking they were turning off the timer, when in fact they were turning off the oven. This was a big problem when that timer was just for the first check!

It's a simple thing, but very helpful. Having the notes for several recipes on the same page also helps because I wind up reviewing them more often, rather than just before using a specific one. And of course, it makes it easier to identify patterns over time.

What do you do to make sure you remember your wishes for "next time"?

Friday, September 11, 2015


9:03am EDT. Second tower. Everything changed. Hug your loved ones.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Tech is Not the Enemy - Lack of Common Sense is

Hardly a day goes by when an education-related news article doesn't get me steamed, but this one I couldn't pass up:

In a nut shell, there was a freshman assembly, and during the assembly students were asked to use their cell phones to post anonymous questions that were immediately projected on the big screen for all to see.

And guess what happened?

My boss has often said that he wishes we could carry penalty flags like football referees, and throw them out when someone says or does something that is so alarming and revealing of their ignorance it's just simply unacceptable. There absolutely should have been a flag on this play as soon as someone suggested it. How could you not see this coming?

The three possible explanations I have come up with:

  1. The people who planned this activity have never, ever been around high schoolers. Ever.
  2. The people who planned this activity were high.
  3. The people who planned this activity were suffering from traumatic brain injury.
The idea itself was a GREAT one - a fantastic way to keep students engaged in the seminar and to take away the fear of asking a question out loud in front of a crowd. Brilliant really.

BUT... no safeguards? Come on, it would have been ridiculously easy to set this up so that someone had to approve the questions before they were displayed. Appropriate question? Click, displayed. Inappropriate question or statement? Click, rejected. The end.

Tech is not the enemy, people. Lack of common sense is. If you don't have a firm grasp on the latter, don't use the former.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

FACS Teachers are Cancer-Fighting Super Heroes!

Wow! Check out what we have been able to do!

Since I opened my FACS fundraiser, all of you have helped me to double my fundraising goal! 
Some quick stats on the donors:
  • Total of 127 donations
  • 120 cities
  • 33 states
  • 2 countries
See how amazing this looks on the map!

Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU! It's really inspiring how many teachers have been willing to give to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society; people really DO care.

I know there are still a lot of districts out there gearing up to start after Labor Day. If someone you know could use a bundle of FACS goodies in exchange for helping to fight blood cancer (and a charitable tax donation!), be sure to pass this on. Especially if your state isn't on the map yet, you don't want to be left out. It's win-win!

Hope everyone if off to a good start this year!

Friday, August 28, 2015

A Little Fun with Pop Quizzes

Sometimes you gotta check in to see what the kids are getting and what needs some work, which in fancy lingo is referred to as formative assessment. I do this in a variety of ways, but sometimes a pop quiz is the way to go. However, I don't want the kids to get so freaked out that test anxiety confounds the results and I don't know if they actually don't know what I want them to know, or if they couldn't produce what they know because of nerves and therefore look like they don't know what they know.

Did you have to read that twice?

Point being I try to make things like this as anxiety-free as I can. One thing that's fun to do is give a pop quiz in the form of a card. Below is an example of a vitamin pop quiz I gave. I made little quiz-cards, placed them in envelopes, sealed them with veggie stickers (unnecessary but added to the fun! Thank you Target dollar bins), then popped them into their folders with a "Do Not Open" note written on them.

Was it more work than just handing out a quiz the old-fashioned way? Yes. Was it a little cutesy? Yes. Did the kids like it? Yes. Were they freaked out about taking a quiz? No.

Would I have done this for multiple large classes? Heck no, unless I had student helpers - this would be a great thing for student helpers to do, by the way. But, for just a couple of classes, it was totally worth it, and made learning about vitamins just a touch more fun. 

p.s. Want more vitamin fun? Check out my completely ridiculous yet useful Vitamin Poem!

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Anonymous Donors

Hi everyone!

If you have donated and not yet received your bundle... did you donate anonymously? Some of you have chosen to remain anonymous - perfectly fine - and then contacted me separately with directions for where to email your goodies. That has been working really well! But for those of you who haven't contacted me, remember, as I stated in the directions, if you donate anonymously they don't give me ANY of your info, including your email address!

If you are an anonymous donor, PLEASE send me a message at so I can send your resources out to you!

Thank you again to all who have given to the Leukemia and Lymphoma society!

Friday, August 7, 2015


AMAZING! Thanks to all of you wonderful FACS teachers who have donated to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, yesterday morning I hit my goal after less than 5 1/2 days! You guys rock!

I will continue to keep the special deal open, so if you have any teachers you could pass it on to please do - every single dollar makes a difference in the battle against blood cancers! 

For those of you have already donated and received the bundle, please don't hesitate to contact me with any questions as you begin to stroll through the files. I do hope that they will be of help to you and that your students will benefit.

Thank you again to all who have joined the cause, and to those who spread the word!

p.s. We're now up to 42 states and 3 Canadian provinces that have been donated from - make sure you check out the map!

2017 Map

2016 Map

2015 Map

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Google My Maps/Google Maps Gallery

A few people emailed me about the map I put up on yesterday's post, so I thought I'd share a little bit about it. Google My Maps allows you to create your own maps, then either share the link or embed the map within your website. Any time you make a change, it will automatically update wherever it is embedded/linked. For example, I will continue to add the cities of the teachers who donate to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society through my fundraiser, and it will update the map on yesterday's post every time. You can even access and edit your maps right through your Google Drive! This is a great tool to use to create resources for your classes, or for your students to create maps, too!

Another great related resource is Google Maps Gallery, which is a huge repository of maps created by others, individuals and institutions alike. There are maps related to pretty much any topic you can think of and find a related map, which you can then link to or embed. A few samples (click on the icon next to the map title for a description and to navigate the maps):

So yes, really, just about any topic you could think of!

Monday, August 3, 2015

Using Social Media for Good!

Social media is definitely like The Force - it contains enormous potential for good, but also has the Dark Side. As teachers we all know how everything from Facebook to Snapchat can used for evil  (oh, sophomore girls... sigh...), which makes us wary of its power.

But then, something good happens! This weekend I started a fundraiser offering a huge bundle of FACS resources in exchange for a $25 donation to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, and just look at all of the cities FACS teachers have donated from so far! Thank you so much to all of you!!!

The fundraiser is of course still open, and I will continue to update this map - check back here to see the new locations added. Better yet, consider taking advantage of the special deal and have your own town added to the map! Not only will you gain an oodle of new classroom resources (there is an itemized list included with the details you can view before committing), but you will also be joining the cause of fighting blood cancers!

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Special Deal - Over 100 Resources!

As promised, here is the special deal I alluded to earlier in the week!

This deal includes:

  • 24 weekly bell work sheets
  • 39 skeleton note forms with corresponding PPTs
  • ~50 resources for various activities
  • 24 recipes, most in lab plan format, many with self-evaluation forms and video demonstrations
  • 3 sets of lab task cards
  • 35 video links used regularly in class
  • an oodle of additional resources not easily categorized
  • everything you see in my TPT store (which is not a ton, but a decent amount)
  • Please click here to see a much more detailed list of the items here
On TPT this would cost you a small fortune. For the next few weeks all of this can be yours for... $25
Nope, not a typo! Why? To fight cancer!
Note: short link in image is outdated; visit  for this year's fundraiser! 

I will be running in the Chicago Marathon this fall, and I am running with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's Team in Training! This is a cause very important to our family, as my husband lost his mother to multiple myeloma when he was still in high school. 

What does this have to do with FACS resources? Here's how to redeem the special offered above:
  1. Visit my fundraising page at and make a $25 dollar donation. 
  2. Use the word "FACS" somewhere within the message box.
  3. Receive the full bundle within 48 hours! 
That's it! The only caveat is that if you select the option to remain anonymous, I won't receive your email address to send you your goodies. You can still keep your name from being visible on the fundraising page by selecting this option:

Benefits for me:
  • You will be helping me to reach my fundraising goal!
  • 100% of your donation will go to Team in Training!
Benefits for you:
  • Lots of great resources!
  • You'll receive a receipt that you can use for a charitable tax deduction (it won't count toward the paltry educator expenses limit!)!
  • You will be fighting cancer!
Benefits for patients and their families:
  • Donations to blood cancer research means more lives saved!
Visit today, and thank you so much for helping in the fight against blood cancer!

Friday, July 31, 2015

Prenatal Timeline Activity

In keeping with my theme of short group activities (can two days be a theme?), here's another one that's been really successful.

Before we dive into prenatal development, I like to do a little formative assessment to get an idea of what they already know, and what they think they know, and what they have so very, very wrong. For this activity, I divide them into groups and send them back to the kitchens (as I've mentioned before, this gives them lots of counter space, and gets them up and moving). Then each group is given a set of cards (color-coded to match their kitchens, of course!) that contain week numbers and a description of something that happens during the prenatal period. I ask them to work together to take their best shot at matching up the week with the correct description. (These really aren't the best pictures, but it gives you a little something to visualize.)

I then walk around so I can hear them discussing each item and where they think it belongs along the timeline and why. I get so much information about their prior knowledge, their thinking process, their communication skills... it's really a fantastic assessment! In addition to those benefits, it gives me a really clear idea about what misconceptions I need to work on clearing up as we go through the unit (and believe me, there are A LOT - but if you teach child development, you already know that!).

By the way, if you don't have white boards for group work, you absolutely must get some. The kids love them and they are fantastic for quick group work and all sorts of spontaneous activities. Love them!

p.s. Tomorrow's the big day for releasing oodles of materials to share!

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Play-Doh, Child Development, and Take-Out Boxes

So over a year ago I posted about using brightly colored take-out boxes (available at your local craft store) for project supplies, and promised to write about how we used the Play-Doh I stored in them in a later post. Well, here's the later post!
To review, the take-out boxes are not only a fun storage container, but being sealed and opaque they are also great for "secret" supplies and surprise projects. One thing that many students struggle with is understanding the differences between physical, intellectual, social, and emotional development (in particular they have a hard time teasing out social and emotional). In fairness, they are all of course interrelated, but I need them to understand each as a stand-alone as well. Because they have such trouble, my challenge is to take these abstract concepts and make them as concrete as possible, so I thought "Why not have them make physical representations of each?"

I divided the class into groups, then sent them back to the kitchens so they would have lots of counter space to work with (and also to get them physically moving around, get those brain juices flowing!). Each kitchen was given a take-out box (in the color that matched their kitchen, of course), which they were delighted to find contained Play-Doh! I explained that even though they were in groups they would each be making their own creations (haha to those who thought they could just watch! Boy, lots of exclamation points in this paragraph!). We quickly reviewed the different areas of development, and then I said "Okay, everyone create something with your Play-Doh related to physical development." And off they went! We did a few rounds each of physical, intellectual, social, and emotional. Check out some of their ideas:

I walked around as they worked, and asked them to explain what it was they produced and how it was related to that area of development. This was an important component because:
  1. not all of them were great Play-Doh artists and I'm not always the best mystery solver
  2. some of the creations could be applied to multiple categories so I wanted to hear their reasoning for their choice
  3. it forced them to not only think about what they were making but how they could explain what they were making to someone else
  4. viewing others' creations and listening to others' explanations deepened their understanding of the concepts and helped them apply the concepts to a wider range of objects/ activities/ relationships/ etc
They learned, they started performing much better on other assignments/ assessments related to areas of development, and we all had fun. And, I got to use the awesome color-coded take-out boxes! Slam dunk!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Food for Thought: Bell Ringers

I do like using bell ringers - you know, those little writing prompts or activities at the beginning of class that get kids thinking about what they'll be doing today (while you're taking attendance and juggling 4 million other things); but it took me a while to find a system for them that I really liked.

I started out with the students writing them on notebook paper. This was useless. Either you have to collect a million pieces of paper a day, or they lose them. Even if you say "Keep the same paper all week; put it in your folder" or whatever, it's doubtful that will help. Then of course the paper itself is torn, crumpled, spilled on, chewed on, whatever.

So when I moved to binders, I placed a little packet of bell ringer sheets in with everyone's syllabus, etc:

This worked so much better! Clean, hole-punched paper that stayed in the rings. Beautiful.

Downsides: It wound up taking a good bit of room up in the binders. I was confined to boring lines and three sentence responses. I had to keep track of how many should be recorded every time I graded. I had to keep a list of the prompts handy for weeks after they'd been used. 

Then I moved to folders, and decided I wanted a weekly sheet that they would keep in their folders. I would graded folders every week, and this sheet would be removed from their folders every week. And I didn't always want to be confined to boring lines and three sentence responses. So I came up with these:

Each week had a different little food icon at the top, different shapes throughout the page, and the variation allowed me a variety of prompts. I would give the students blank ones like the one above, add the prompts to the page and project one each day:

Love this system! I used them in every class, not just Foods (though I of course changed out the title of the class). It provides a lot of flexibility, and is fun to boot. Check out these happy guys:

I know, I know: you're now irresistibly drawn to these and are thinking "Man, I've gotta make some awesome bell ringer sheets like that." Awww shucks, thanks! But don't. I'll be putting over a semester's worth of these bad boys up along with a ton of other new stuff as part of a very special bargain by the end of the week. Stay tuned!

Update: Packets of these bell ringer sheets are available in my TPT store if you're interested.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Ah, Junior High Kids...

A souvenir from my days of teaching junior high. This was an unprompted note:

My recollection is she was very sweet for about two days, then returned to her former ways. I'll always have those two days... and the memory of this note.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

A Specific Wrong Assumption

A couple weeks ago I wrote about a few of my first year mistakes, #1 being that I assumed my students knew more than they did. Flipping through some photos in an old folder, I came across one that reminded me of a big example of this. I assumed that my students knew the difference between dish towels and dish cloths. One is obviously much bigger, right? And would be a real pain in the neck to wash with, right? And a dish cloth would be way too small to dry with, right? Sigh. Every grade level, every school, every year, somehow these seemingly obviously details escaped a significant number of students in my classes. After a while I even began to point out "Look, one of these is much bigger than the other"...... made no difference. They still somehow got them backwards and used the wrong ones. Here's what finally solved that problem:

I started skipping dish cloths altogether and just went to Handi Wipes. Problem solved. Crazy, I know, but you gotta do what you gotta do! Never had a problem after I started using these. If you've never used them, they work just as well as regular dish cloths, and yes they are washable. And cheap, too! The only issue I ever ran into with them is if kids threw them in the wash with little clumps of yeast dough stuck to them - then they'd have to be thrown away, because they'd get all gnarled up in the wash. But cheap to replace! By the way, I highly recommend using bar mop towels. They're wonderfully absorbent and students won't need to use as many for each lab.

Related: for you newbies out there, you can NEVER have too many dish towels and dish cloths! If you have parents* who want to make donations, a little extra money in your budget (hahahahaha), or you're given a small WalMart or Target gift card and aren't sure what the best investment is, go for towels!

*Or fellow teachers/staff members. I worked with a lady once who asked what kind of supplies we needed for the kitchens because she loves to shop over the summer and doesn't really have people to buy for anymore now that her grandchildren are grown. Don't ask questions - just ask for towels!

Monday, July 13, 2015

Maintaining Teacher Balance

I'm taking the lead from Michelle over at Big Time Literacy and completing today's Big Time Blogging Challenge: Maintaining Teacher Balance.


One of the biggest things that helped me was rearranging where I completed certain tasks. Specifically, I tried to get as much grading as possible completed at school, and saved lesson planning and preparation for after grading or at-home work. For one, who enjoys grading? Forcing myself to do that first helped quite a bit - as they say, when you have a bucket of frogs to swallow, swallow the biggest one first and the rest go down nice and smooth. Two, that meant schlepping a whole lot less stuff back and forth between home and work (and let's be honest, how often does that grading bag go unopened in your home?). Three, you can do a lot of the lesson pre-planning in your head while making dinner, vacuuming, folding clothes, etc, rather than just staring at a screen at work or rummaging through TPT hoping for inspiration.

Nightly Routine

A scrambled morning leads to an off-kilter day. One way to make your mornings go much smoother is to prepare as much the night before as possible. Before turning in I made sure my clothes for the next day were laid out, lunch was packed, school bag was packed, breakfast dishes were out, running clothes were laid out if I planned to run in the morning (or I just slept in them - you get out the door much faster that way!), etc. That way if everything went according to plan, my morning was easy-peasy. If weird things came up (power outage, dropped glass - happened twice my last year of teaching - that had to be cleaned up, pets escaping into the garage, whatever) I was much better equipped to handle them and didn't get set as far behind. This goes even better if you can spend time on Sunday doing extra meal prep!


This is one of those things that we all know is super important but we tend to relegate it to the "if I have time" category. Probably the number one benefit I derive from exercise is better sleep - we all need better sleep! I'm also a morning runner, so it's a great start to the day: I get those endorphins going and feel like I've already accomplished something first thing. And it just makes me feel better about myself, which is going to make me a more pleasant person. I've also heard some rumors that it does something good for your heart, lungs, metabolism...

Social Life

Who has time for a social life during the school year - at least one that doesn't involve basketball games, concession stands, or school dances? For me, I made Friday nights a "night off" - no grading, no lesson prep, no researching... just an evening with the husband. Then I'd try to get as much accomplished on Saturday as I could, to free up my Sundays for relaxation (ugh, Sunday night work is the WORST!). My closest girlfriends live in Chicago, about an hour's drive for me. A few years ago I made a commitment to myself to get up there once a month. It didn't work out every single month, but it made a huge difference in my stress level and overall happiness meter when I was able to spend at least a few hours up there for brunch and girl talk.

Looking Forward to...

Tying in with the last one, I found it's a huge help to plan things to look forward to. They don't have to be big events - even planning a coffee date with a friend a couple of weeks out is enough. By setting plans it forces you to break out of your teacher persona, forces you to leave the piles behind. And, when you're feeling overwhelmed by all that you have to do, it gives you a bright spot in the near future to look ahead to.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Docs Teach - a Great (Free!) Resource

Have you heard of Docs Teach? It's an online tool hosted by the National Archives that holds thousands of primary documents (and pictures, audio, video, maps, etc) along with a myriad of interactive lesson plans and activities based on those documents. You can even design your own activities based on documents of your choosing.

Think this could only work for history and government classes? Well, of course you don't, you know how interdisciplinary FACS is, but here's a random sample of items you could find:

  • An activity about the School Lunch Program and the Federal Government, including photos from the Great Depression, original advertisements for the school lunch program, school lunch recipes from 1946, letters from PTA presidents
  • Documents from an interview with a Montgomery Ward's executive as part of a Federal Trade Commission Home Furnishing Investigation on sewing machines
  • A letter to FDR from a recently unemployed woman arguing that married women with employed husbands are stealing jobs from desperate single women
  • Weekly family food supply plans published by the USDA in 1921
  • Resources on Civil Rights, child labor, drunk driving, food labels, unions, taxes, interior design, architecture, social security, environmentalism... and so on
There's even an app, for you 1:1/BYOD/Cart people! My brief blurb doesn't do it justice - take a few minutes to browse around Docs Teach, I'm sure you'll not only be impressed but will immediately be able to think of all sorts of ways to use it in your classroom. Below is a short video to give you an overview. Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

First Year Mistakes

I've been thinking about some of the mistakes that I made as a first year teacher: partly inspired by a "Reflections" post I read over at Big Time Literacy (great blog, by the way, check it out!), partly due to an influx of emails I've recently received from FACS teachers preparing for their first year this fall. Why not share?  Here are three biggies that come to mind:

1. I assumed that students knew or knew how to __________.

The biggest mistake I made as a new teacher was overestimating what my students already knew or knew how to do; boy was this eye opening! Some examples:

  • Measuring spoons and eating spoons are different
  • How to tie a knot
  • How to use a microwave
  • 3/4 cup, teaspoon, tablespoon, etc = 1/2 + 1/4 
  • What "boiling" means
  • Trash goes IN the trash can, not in the near vicinity (okay, some snark in that one)
  • How to summarize (this planted the initial seed for eventually seeking a Reading Specialist degree)
  • What a textbook "index" is
  • How to properly open a container
  • How to wash dishes
  • Proper way to hold scissors
I could go on for quite some time, but you get the idea. Over time I learned to assume nothing - though I'd get the occasional "duh" or eye roll, it helped immensely in making lessons and activities go smoother.

2. I didn't think out/properly explain how exactly I wanted students to __________.

Alternatively titled "Woefully underprepared in the procedures department." This is huge in any classroom; in a FACS course it can absolutely be your undoing. Now we're all familiar with The First Days of School (really? You're not? Stop reading this and go order it from Amazon - I've even linked it for you), so I did have routines in place for the beginning of class, end of class, etc, etc. But when you're in the thick of things, you have to give directions for so many different activities during a single class period - again, especially in FACS - and you don't have lovely pre-made posters on the wall or previously practiced routines to refer to for everything. Think it through, boil it down to a few short clear steps, and repeat repeat repeat. Even if it seems like something is the most obvious common-sense thing in the world ("...put your trash in the trash can..."), include it in the directions. Incidentally, when I mastered this, I became a master at transitions, even on the fly.

3. I didn't have a plan for ALL THE PAPER.

I thought a few file folders would do it: a grading folder for each class, a handout folder for each class, then maybe a couple more for school documents and other things. Right? hahahahahahahahahaha. Seriously, that obviously didn't work. if you've spent time looking through this blog, you know that I became a paper Nazi. What worked most brilliantly for me was never physically accepting an assignment from students or utilizing trays/baskets/etc - once I moved to having them keep everything in their binders or folders life became much more sunshine and rainbow filled. This came in especially handy with those students who accuse teachers of losing their work. First of all, I've known a LOT of teachers who do frequently lose work (if this is you, some tough love: GET IT TOGETHER! Once you establish this reputation, you can never dispute a student who says you've lost something, even when everyone knows they're lying through their teeth! Also, you make life harder for the rest of us). But even though I don't believe I have ever actually lost an assignment, when you have paper everywhere (even if you somehow "know" your system) it does not inspire confidence, and kids can/will take advantage. When students have to submit all work in a folder or binder, this argument is null. An actual conversation from last year:

Boy #1: I turned it in, you must have lost it!
Me: (looking him straight in the eye, unflinching)   I.     Don't.     Lose.     Things.
Boy #2: She's got you dude. This one doesn't lose stuff.
Girl: No lie, look at this place. you know she's not like {other teacher} or {other teacher}.
Boy #1: (hanging head and sighing) Yeah, you're right. What did I do with that thing?

You can't pull that line off unless you have a seriously established reputation for organization.

There are plenty of other mistakes I made that year and in subsequent years, but fixing those made a huge impact on both my quality of teaching and quality of life. How about the rest of you - first year mistakes to warn the newbies about?

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Don't You Miss Having Summers Off?

One of the first questions I'm always asked related to my former teaching career is "Don't you miss having summers off?" The answer is a resounding NO. Why? Pay very close attention...


That is crazy talk that can only pass through the lips of people who have no idea what they're talking about. Summers off, p-shaw. Yeah, sure, except for:

  • All of the professional development we need that schools won't provide subs for during the school year (or registration fees, travel costs, etc)
  • Redesigning previous curriculum
  • Planning new curriculum
  • Studying up on new techniques, technologies, and standards
  • Coaching summer camps, leagues and tournaments (school coaches are tied up year-round, not just the regular season) - not to mention fundraising!
  • Packing/moving classrooms when you're unlucky
  • Deep-cleaning/re-organizing classrooms when you get to stay
  • Working summer jobs to make ends meet (some districts may offer to spread it out over a year, but remember teachers only get paid for ten months)
  • Getting in as much "quality" family and friend time as possible, because you won't see them much August-May
  • Mentoring new teachers
  • Reading, researching, repeating............
This is my second summer "working," and I'm telling you, it is not a big deal. I have no pressure to cram everything in before I lose all of my free time again. I am not constantly thinking about all of the prep work for the next year that I still have to do and am running out of time for. And, I don't have well-intentioned (and often very ill-intentioned) people saying ridiculous things to me like "It must be so nice to have summers off."
For all of you teachers out there, I hope you are fitting in some fun along with all of the work you have to accomplish this summer. You deserve it after all of the hard work and sacrifice of the school year!

For all of you non-teachers out there, stop saying stupid things about having summers off.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

PARCC, Social Media, AFT, and "Privacy"

So I'm taking a break from this (rather slow) description of my transition from teaching to the "other side" to ask this question: Why do people still believe that they have an expectation of privacy on social media???!!!! Perhaps like me you recently received this email from the AFT:

Warning: Rant headed right for you.

Now let me say straight up I am no big fan of Pearson or the PARCC, defending them is not my objective here. However, it makes complete sense to me that they would contract employees specifically to monitor social media for public posts regarding the test. This email (which conveniently provides no link to the original article by the way, including that hyperlink you see in the reference - it just leads to AFT's petition) defends the student by saying it "was nothing more than a tweet." It was upon reading that phrase that my brain began to bleed - TWITTER IS PUBLIC! 

Why do we keep waffling back and forth between telling students they need to careful about what they post on social media yet constantly defend their "right" to privacy? If you put something out there for everyone to read, then you have no control over who reads it. Period. You're "worried about a generation of kids growing up without a moment of privacy"? Teach them that social media is NOT PRIVATE! 

Really, how hard is this to understand, people? So no, AFT, I will not be signing this petition. Doing so would be agreeing that students don't need to think before they post, that they have a right to privacy in a completely public environment, that they need not be at all concerned about potential consequences of their actions. It would contradict everything I have tried to teach them about their online safety, which will just make them more vulnerable in the future.

And I realize that people will disagree with me on this, perhaps vehemently. I realize I may even get some angry responses. Why do I realize this? Because I understand that posting this in a public forum means that it is not private.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Job Description that Led to Quitting Teaching

This entry is part of a series explaining my departure from teaching. In previous entries I discussed my primary personal and professional reasons for leaving.

As I've mentioned before, last year was THE BEST teaching year for me ever. I was really happy with my school and my great kids, and was working hard to not only continue the awesome year but to make the following year even smoother by polishing up every lesson immediately afterward. You know, things like rather than make the quick notes about what to add/change/etc, I revised the lesson plans to include whatever spur-of-the-moment improvements I came up with, added the ideas I thought of later, and made sure whatever supplemental materials I created were edited/enhanced/laminated/color-coded/whatever and packaged conveniently for use next time.

So when my husband emailed a link to a job description to me asking "Is this something you'd be interested in?" I was really annoyed. Really, really annoyed. 

But during my lunch that day I had time to pull up the description and look it over, and had to begrudgingly admit that okay, maybe I was a little interested. The job was in the Instructional Technology dept at the local community college (the same one my husband works at) - essentially, teaching teachers how to use technology to enhance their classes. After looking it over and later drilling my husband for what additional details he had, I figured what's the harm in applying?

While I was definitely enjoying the year, I still knew that being a classroom teacher was probably not going to be my long-term plan (for all of the reasons that I discussed in my previous posts plus more); I was thinking maybe another two years, then it would be time to start seeking a support position, most likely related to my Reading Specialist degree. That this opportunity was coming a little earlier than expected, well, we plan and God laughs, right?

I received an invitation to interview shortly after applying. I actually enjoy interviews regardless (which I understand is somewhat of an oddity), but this one was extra fun because while I was truly interested in the job by the time it came around, I had nothing to lose - if it was offered to someone else and I had to continue teaching at my current school, I was perfectly fine with that.

Coincidentally, that interview was exactly a year ago. Today we conducted a training for dual credit instructors from the local high schools (including two districts that I have worked for), which has given me plenty of prompts for thinking about the differences between my teaching life and my current life. Tune in next time...

Saturday, January 3, 2015

The Best Year of My Teaching Career

First, note the difference between January 3rd of this year, and that of last year:

A difference of 51 degrees - holy cow!

Now let's look at an even bigger difference between this year and last year...

Last year (2013-2014) was hands down the best year of my teaching career. After the horrid year I'd had before, I fell in love with teaching all over again. My kids were fantastic, the school I was working at was great, the kids were amazing, I felt renewed confidence and energy... and did I mention the kids?

On June 2nd I turned in my signout sheet, my gradebook, my lesson plan book, my summer maintenance requests, my keys. That day I walked out with the wonderful feeling that I'd had the best year possible. And that wonderful feeling of freedom - not the one of being done with the grading, the planning, the paperwork, the phone calls, the test scores, the data. I had the one of simply being done. That day I quit teaching.

We all know how high the turnover rate is for the teaching profession, and chances are many of you are either seriously considering or beginning to consider leaving teaching yourself. Over the next few days I'll share my personal and professional reasons for my decision, and what life on "the other side" has been like for me.