Showing posts with label Cleaning. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Cleaning. Show all posts

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, 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!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Protect Your Handiwork

Here's another tip from the department of the obvious, yet took me a while to figure out that I actually needed to implement this procedure. I have these beautiful stand mixer covers I made for my kitchens, which were constantly getting mucky because the kids would just toss them wherever. I tried to get them in the habit of placing them on top of the microwave and out of harm's way, but to no avail - and somehow even those that followed through still managed to muck them up. So I started requiring that at the beginning of any lab involving the stand mixers, the covers had to go into a box by the ingredient table as soon as they were taken off of the mixers.

Problem solved. After the first lab with this new procedure, I never had to tell them again, someone would always remind the rest of the class to do it. Including me when I forgot to set a box out. Such a simple thing, but it works!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Healing Hands

This particular post falls under the category of “Taking Care of You.” This time of year our hands tend to get really torn up: between the extra cooking and baking of the holidays, making homemade gifts, and constantly washing our hands to fight the inevitable attack of teenage germs (not to mention all the usual hands-on work of our jobs AND the cold weather), probably none of us are worthy of hand model status at the moment.

Over the years I’ve tried all sorts of lotions, tried wearing gloves whenever possible, tried getting someone else to do all of the work (kidding… maybe…), but none of these ever seemed to make any impact.

Until I tried Aquaphor:

Note: I am not getting any money from Eucerin, sad to say; I just really think this is a helpful product. This stuff WORKS. It is an ointment, not a lotion (think Vaseline), so it has a different feel and a different consistency than lotion. However, I’ve found it absorbs almost as quickly as lotion, is non-greasy, and works so much better. Not only does it heal hands, but it also acts as a kind of sealant. When I remember to use it about half an hour or so before doing a lot of baking, at the end of the process my hands are significantly less dry than when I don’t. A container is more expensive than regular lotion, but I've found that it lasts much longer, so the money spent evens itself out.

So, if you too are a hand abuser fighting dry and chapped skin, give it a try – I saw a dramatic difference within my first week of using it, and I’m confident it will also make a difference for you!

And Eucerin, some coupons would be really nice!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Job Wheel the Sequel

A year and a half ago or so I posted about a job wheel I created to assign miscellaneous tasks that need to be completed after each cooking lab. This year I've switched to displaying it on the projector during labs; it's easy to rotate the wheel in PowerPoint, and the different images accommodate classes with different numbers of cooking groups.

The morning Foods class only has four groups, so they are responsible for:

TABLE - clean off the ingredient table (close lids/boxes/containers, wipe off table)
FLOORS - sweep ALL of the kitchens and common area in between
TOWELS - make sure all towels are in the washing machine
POWER - check all kitchens to make sure all appliances are turned off

The afternoon Foods class has five groups, so one kitchen from that class is responsible for washing the ingredient containers. Meaning, if there was an ingredient I had poured out into a bowl or set out on a plate, I would take that item from the assigned kitchen and they would be in charge of washing and putting it away.

Below you can see a green bowl set out under the salt (the idea being that they lean over that bowl when measuring, rather than their mixing bowls or the table); on this day the "green" kitchen was assigned to Ingredient Containers, so it was their extra job to wash and put that bowl away.

I have to say, I'm impressed with how well this works. They always remember to check the board for their "extra" job, and I don't have to nag them to sweep or whatever. I'll also add that they're much more careful about brushing stuff onto the floor, knowing that someone else will have to sweep it - or that the other group may get revenge on them later on when it's their turn to do the sweeping :).

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Pie Bags in Action!

Over the summer I posted about trying out pie bags, and today was my first opportunity to see them in action in the classroom. Epic success! They made rolling out the dough SOOOO much easier for the kids, and almost entirely eliminated the insane flour mess that usually accompanies such labs. Check 'em out!

Very little flour required! Nice clean rolling pin, too!

Check out the clean countertops!

The bag easily peels off after rolling.

See how little sticks to the bag, even with minimal flour usage.

There's still always one group that completely overdoes the flour, but look how contained it is!
(I concede it drives me crazy that they chose to line their cookie sheet AFTER getting a bunch of flour on it, but oh well...)

This simple, wonderful invention took an enormous amount of stress out of this lab, both for me and for my students. Highly, highly recommended!

Available at and miscellaneous kitchen stores (like Kitchen Collection at the mall), in two different sizes. Let me know what you think if you try one!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

OCD Much?

Okay, I get that this is becoming borderline psychotic, but here's my latest classroom kitchen upgrade:

And now for the close-ups:

Lest there be any confusion whatsoever as to where I want these items to be stored after they are washed, rinsed, and thoroughly dried, there is now a visual guide in each of the upper cabinets. Drawers are next. Watch out, world.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

And That's My New Philosophy!

If you're a fan of "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown," you know that the title of this post comes from Sally's big number in the musical. It's been going through my head a lot this week, the reason for which you will soon read.

BUSY, BUSY, BUSY! Kids come on Tuesday! We had our first of two Institute Days on Friday, so it is GAME TIME, PEOPLE! I've been working hard at getting my room ready to go, as well as organizing all of my classroom materials - just like the rest of you. Unlike the very few of you non-teachers who read this blog either because you know me and I told you to, or you... well... I don't know why you would read this if you don't teach and you don't know me. Must be my winning personality! Anyway, here's a peek at what I've been doing.

First, a big scrub-a-dub-dub of all five of my new kitchens (thank you, mini shop vac!). God bless my new principal, who gave the okay for me to use the school's industrial dishwasher in the cafeteria to speed wash and disinfect everything!

What would have taken me DAYS to do by hand took about 90 minutes. Yes! So it wasn't long before my kitchens began to look like this:

Still have labeling, shelf lining, etc to do, but since we won't be in the kitchens until several weeks into the school year this was a good enough start.

I livened up my entryway, since it's the first impression my students will get of my classroom. My doorway is at the end of a hallway directly across from the stairwell, so they'll see this as they climb the stairs.

My Snoopy flag was of course a given, and will be changed out with the seasons - as will the apron. The red sign on the left is my daily schedule of classes, and the yellow is a sketch that a student from this school actually drew for me 5 years ago of a possible logo for outside of my door to replace that little chef guy - the sketch has Snoopy sewing and baking!

While the standing chalkboard in the classroom was charming, it was not nearly as practical as a whiteboard - especially since I'll be adding a projector to the room! Luckily there was a 4' x 6' whiteboard attached to the recessed wall past the flag (where no one can really see it, wha???), so the maintenance crew was extremely kind and moved it from the wall and attached it to the chalkboard at my request. It has of course been Snoopified with bulletin board border found at Joann's!

My desk has also been Snoopified in the same manner:

We're required to post a large display of our classroom rules (which I'm in the habit of doing anyway), so I took advantage of $1.60 engineering prints at Staples to make these:

After reading the "Whole Brain Teaching" book I added #6 - I love how it covers all of the loopholes you could argue for the rules! I made a really big schedule because I much prefer pointing rather than constantly answering the "When do we get outta here?" questions. In April. Hmf. On the back is our late start schedule, so I can just flip it over on days with a different schedule.

This year I've decided to also post "Class Philosophies" in addition to the class rules. These are the things that I say over and over and over again to the kids, to the point where I only have to start the sentence and then they finish it. I'd rather focus on these concepts than the rules, so they are much bigger in the classroom:

1. "Take Care of Self, Take Care of Others" is a phrase I learned through Link Crew, which I think encompasses the whole "respect" idea, as well as all the dangers that a FACS classroom has to offer - needles, scissors, knives, fire, etc. The language is a little less PBIS-y as well.

2. "Go Slow to Go Fast" is another tenet of Link Crew, but has been a mantra of mine since well before I encountered it there. I learned very early on that if you have students go too quickly nothing will sink in and you'll have to start all over. I say this every time a kid is rushing and will clearly have to redo or start something over, or when they complain that it takes us too long to get to the "good stuff."

3. "Say I can't YET." Gets rid of the whole "I can't" business.

4. "Make it AWESOME." I am still a huge, huge fan of Kid President's Pep Talk, so I think about this a lot. I've also found that "awesome" is a whole lot less subjective than you would think. This is my response every time a kid asks me "Is this good enough?" When I ask back "Is it awesome?" the answer is usually a pretty obvious "no" and it's back to work for him/her. I'll mention my sister thinks I should have made it "AWESOMESAUCE," but that's a lot of letters... : )

So this year I am going to try emphasizing these "philosophies" over the rules, in an attempt to make the classroom culture more positive.

And that's my new philosophy!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Mini Shop Vac {Bet You Didn't Know You Needed This}

I'm borrowing an idea from "The Clutter-Free Classroom" blog, which has a series on helpful classroom items that she finds absolutely necessary. Here is my necessity:

This little guy is FABULOUS for cleaning out cabinets, sucking up loose threads, random food particles, and the very worst custodial offenders: hole punches! It is soooo worth the investment (less than $30 at Lowe's) to have my very own shop vac that remains in my classroom. Just make sure you write your name all over it. It's no guarantee that it won't walk off, but it's more likely to be returned.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Cleaning Baking Dishes

So I've been putting a lot of time into deep-cleaning my new kitchens (again), and I thought I'd share a few insights. Yesterday I posted about stand mixers, today it's glass bakeware and cookie sheets.

Since I've now been through the whole setting-up-the-kitchens things several times, I've come across some pretty nasty-baked-on-grease-and-other-unrecognizable-substances cookware. Apologies for forgetting to take before and after photos, but here's a good example I found online:

Mmmmm, appetizing! Luckily advice abounds on the Internet (Pinterest especially) on how to deal with these things. Since I've now had much experience in such matters, I'll share the method that I've found to work the best.

1. Don a pair of heavy-duty gloves. Possibly a face mask as well, if they're really gross.

2. Gather all cookie sheets, glass bakeware, etc into one central location.

3. Find a good-sized, sturdy box. The best ones are cookware boxes, because they're obviously designed to hold some heft.

4. Place ALL items into the box. Fold the top tightly closed - here's a demo video if you're not sure how.

5. Create a large, clearly written sign marked "TRASH," tape it well to the box, and set the box outside your classroom door.


I have wasted an insane amount of time cleaning up items that are relatively cheap to replace when my time would have been much better spent on other tasks that needed to be completed in preparation for a new school. Either sacrifice part of your budget or pay out of pocket, it is WORTH IT. Plus, you'll have shiny new stuff which the kids will take better care of anyway.

Actually, let me change one thing: leave the box top open. Chances are that someone will take a lot of the stuff out of the box - even once it hits the dumpster. Trust me. I just wanted to include the video, I thought it was hilarious.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Stand Mixer Fixer

The last time I worked at my new school, I used grant money to purchase brand new KitchenAid stand mixers for all of the kitchens (did the same thing at the next school I worked at - love these things!). They really class up the kitchens, and of course accentuate the color-coding scheme. Practical as well.

So, these mixers are now only about 5 1/2 years old. The photo below shows the general condition I found them in this week; I think that Dante needs to deal with people who would allow this to happen to a KitchenAid:

So, should you ever find yourself in a similar predicament, here's what you'll need: warm water, Dawn dish soap, a gentle rag, a toothbrush, a towel, and a magic eraser. 

Wash the unplugged machine as best you can with the water, dish soap, and rag, using the toothbrush for all the little nooks and crannies. Dry with towel. Repeat. Then use the magic eraser over the entire thing to pick up the well worn-in grime you can still feel with your hands. This should do the trick. For a little added shine, spritz with a little bit of glass cleaner. Bask in the glow of your beautifully transformed stand mixer : ).

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!

Monday, May 27, 2013

The End is Near...

This weekend held my last still-trying-to-clean-out-my-classrooms-Saturday of the year. We have one more weekend left before the last day of school, but I'll be out of town then so this was it. Good times:

Yep, over 20 #10 cans of random food. No dates on the cans, but the careful observer might notice the OLD food pyramid printed on the label of one of the above. Frightening. And there is a label on the tray holding the mixers declaring "Broken Mixers." Why, why, why keep them when they have obviously been replaced? Questions that will never be answered. Back to the cans, check out the bottom of one:

Um, ewwwwwwww.

My other task for Saturday was to begin packing up that which needs to be locked up over the summer. I'm thinking it best to box up my pretty colored kitchen equipment and to store it in one of my many (now empty) cabinets.

Lots to do before the last day of school, June 3rd!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

May '75

Another invaluable find from my classroom:

The writing on the masking tape reads "May 75 - Complete." This was found in a cabinet stuffed - and I mean STUFFED - with Singer accessories and supplies. 

There is not one Singer machine to be found anywhere in this building.

The silver lining of course being that I now have another completely empty cabinet that can be put to good use.

Happy Almost Friday!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

A Few More Kitchen Tips

One of my pet peeves is when measuring cups and spoons are thrown pell-mell into a drawer; it's messy and it takes the kids about ten times longer to find the tool they need. Because of this I have them put these items back on a ring after they clean up. I highly recommend to them that they take them off of the rings to begin with so that they don't have to wash all of them, but at the end they need to be hooked together again, in nested fashion.

The problem with this is that the rings that measuring cups and spoons come attached to are usually difficult to work with. You have to struggle to get them to open wide enough, and to keep them open as you add things on or take them off. Hence, I toss the plastic rings and replace them with book rings... much more user friendly!

I couldn't find any yellow ones, but they are available in colors, if you'd like them to match your kitchens. Check out the pretty green book rings:

I also have all measuring equipment kept together in one crate; that way again we're not searching for random tools. As long as they pull out the "measuring crate," they have everything they'll need to measure. A few years ago WalMart had these mini crates for sale in a myriad of colors, a perfect fit:

Finally, I just found these baskets in the $1 bins at Target about a week ago:

I load these with dish towels and dish cloths before the first lab of the day and place them in the kitchens; the students are then responsible for refilling them as part of their clean-up at the end of the lab, so that the next class will be set up. One less thing I have to do myself, and prevents later classes from running back and forth to the laundry baskets.

Simple little things like these can make all the difference, don't you think?

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Sewing Rules, Supplies & Starter Bags

As I mentioned the other day, this week I started my 6th curriculum rotation of the school year. It's been interesting teaching each subject only for about five weeks (minus half days, Monday holidays, institute days, etc); I've had to really think about what is essential to include and how to most efficiently meet my course objectives in that small amount of time. I've also learned many of the quirks of junior high students in general and of students at my school in particular. I'm going to share how I organize my sewing unit as I go along, in case you're looking for any ideas. I always am, so feel free to share what you do as well! Note: if you are not a FACS teacher, this is not going to be all that interesting. Perhaps even if you are a FACS teacher, it won't be all that interesting : )

We always start out with the rules. Some are worded a little harshly, but I've learned that blunt is usually the best for understanding. Here they are (they receive these in the form of skeleton notes, and we fill in the blanks during a PowerPoint presentation):

One thing that I have learned at every school I have worked at is that classes can be very unreliable and/or unpredictable about providing their own sewing supplies. Aside from the "forgetting" and unlimited lists of excuses, sometimes kids bring in things that either aren't quite right, aren't in good repair, or are just plain weird. I've found it so much easier to simply provide the basics, that way I know for sure that all students will have the right supplies on the correct day that I plan to begin sewing. Also, everybody has the exact same supplies which seems to limit petty bickering and jealousy.

Since my sewing unit is so short this year, the only supplies I require my students to provide on their own is the fabric for their one sewing machine project, a pillowcase - all they have to bring in is 3/4 yard of one fabric and 1/3 yard of a coordinating fabric. Even with this, I give them the option to pay me (one week in advance) for fabric, and I will make sure I have some on hand for them when we begin (limited choices of designs, of course). Here is the supply/info sheet I hand out:

So all that being said, when we begin the sewing unit, I give each student a starter bag. Here is what I include:

1: Quart-sized baggie. Can be a little tight at times, but I found that gallon-sized baggies took up way too much room. I write each student's name on their baggie with a Sharpie. During one rotation I tried sticking a label on the outside (I love printed labels!) but the kids tended to write/doodle/scratch out letters on those labels which made them difficult to read over time; also, when baggies fell into "enemy" hands people tended to write unpleasant things on that person's name label, which is easily marked with a standard pen or pencil. During another rotation I tried attaching a label on the inside of the bag, but that made it tricky to see when the bag was full. So a Sharpie it is!

2: Iron-on patch and needle. I cut iron-on patches into roughly 2" x 3" rectangles, then teach students to "Tuck, tuck, needle stuck" every time we clean up. Lost needles are a HUGE pet peeve of mine. When I first started teaching I would replace them, but they of course wound up all over the floor. Then I started to charge for additional needles. That backfired, because when kids dropped them they were too lazy to look for them and would just pay for a new needle. Again, needle-covered floor. No more. I have a very firm ONE NEEDLE policy. If it becomes lost, they must bring in one on their own, no exceptions. There's always one kid who will try to call my "bluff" - ha, doesn't work, Buster! Anyway, they tuck-tuck the needles into their needle patch before putting their needles away in their baggies. This way they are easy to locate in the baggie, won't get lost in the shuffle while looking for other supplies, and won't poke through and fall out. I begin clean-up time each day by saying "Everybody needs to tuck-tuck!" Usually several of the kids will then yell out "Needle stuck!" - it's kinda fun. I started out by using small rectangles of canvas, but the patches are quicker to prepare and the slightly gummy coating helps keep the needle in place. BIG sanity saver!

3: Bobbin of thread. Full spools take up a lot of room in a baggie, so I don't want to give one out to everybody. Also, at my current school they get stolen quite often if I put several out to share, which I learned the hard way. My students also don't share very well, so it's best if they each have their own source of thread. Each student gets a bobbin; if they lose it, they pay a quarter for a replacement. When it runs out of thread I trade them a new one for their empty one.

4: Dot paper! I use this paper to teach basic stitches before we use them on fabric or any kind of project. It makes it very easy for them to clearly see what they are doing as well as what the stitch is supposed to look like. Some of them groan about it when learning the first stitch, but after moving to fabric they understand the point of it and are much more cooperative when we go back to the paper to learn the next stitch.

5. Piece of scrap fabric. I use this fabric for pinning and cutting practice before we get to a real project.

6. Oval printed on paper. Students cut this out, pin to the FOLDED piece of scrap fabric, and cut out two identical pieces. Most students usually complain about how dumb this is before actually doing it. Then most students usually complain about how hard it is to cut around a shape. Some of them will acknowledge that practicing first was a good idea.

Side note: Have any of you noticed a sudden and sharp decline in fine motor skills, particularly cutting skills? Since starting out seven years ago I've noticed that scissors skills have absolutely plummeted. Just the way some of these kids hold scissors makes part of my brain throb. How do they not know that's not right??!!

7. Three buttons: large, medium, small. We start by sewing the large button onto the green ovals they have cut out, then move our way down through the medium and then the small. We aim for pretty on the front and on the back! By the third one most of them actually nail it down pretty well.

8. Monkey pattern! This is our first hand-sewing project, a carryover from the high school classes I taught. For whatever reason most kids get really excited about these monkeys, even the boys. Go figure. I let them choose their own colors from a classroom collection of felt, so I don't include the material in their baggie initially. They do keep the felt in their baggies as they work on the project, and it fits perfectly fine with everything else.

9. Small rectangle of plastic canvas. Our second hand-sewn project is yarn on plastic canvas. We begin by practicing on a small piece to work out the pitfalls of tangles and the details of knots, etc. They obviously use a different needle, but I have learned not to give that one out until they are ready for yarn - otherwise if they lose their regular needle they try to use the bigger one on their monkey project, which of course just destroys the felt.

Desk trashcan - a jazzed up baby formula can to be used as a trash can during class, and as a scissors/pin cushion holder in between classes. For these I do stick printed name labels on the inside. They're easy to remove and replace for the next class, and kids are much more likely to empty their trash cans and keep their supplies neat if they know they'll be stuck with the same can the next day.

There you have it - all of my intro to sewing preparation. If only I had come up with all of this half a dozen years ago rather than piecing it together bit by bit...

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, March 8, 2012

Desk Trashcans - Sewing

One of the problems with sewing projects is that threads tend to take over the floor. My solution is this – baby formula trash cans! Take empty formula cans, wrap with some fun wallpaper border, and there you go! A mini trashcan for every sewing station! Kids use it as they go to collect threads and other trash, then at the end of class empty it out into the main garbage can in the classroom. No more threads! Can also double as a container for scissors/pin cushions/etc after it’s emptied out.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Job Wheel

There are a few extra tasks that need to be completed during cooking lab clean-up that fall outside of the individual kitchens, and I much prefer to put the kidoodles in charge of these than do them myself. To fairly create a job rotation, I made this job wheel which I change every cooking day:

TABLE – clean off the ingredient table (close lids/boxes/containers, wipe off table)
FLOORS – use the big 3 foot broom to sweep ALL of the kitchens
TOWELS – make sure all towels are in the washing machine, add detergent, start cycle
POWER – check all kitchens to make sure all appliances are turned off

The kids are great about checking the wheel and taking care of business!

Dishwashing Soap

One thing that all new Family & Consumer Science teachers learn within their first two cooking labs is that if you put a full bottle of dishwashing soap out in each of the kitchens, the kids go through it like no tomorrow. For a while I used the smaller bottles and just refilled them from a larger bottle – it got the job done, but the outer labels tended to get pretty gunky after a while. Then I found this fabulous idea from - use craft bottles! Definitely a “why didn’t I think of that???” kind of moment. Fill these up part way and they last for several labs, the squeeze tops prevent extra soap from running down the sides, and they are very easy to clean. Thank you Shelley!