Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Parent Contact

I'm big on parent contact (it's a self-preservation thing among us teachers). What I am not big on is sending items home in a school envelope - oddly, those things tend to never make it in to parents' hands... hmmmm....

To prevent such troubles, I take a two-pronged approach. If I am sending either good news or informative news home, I use a postcard:

This way when the kids pull it out of the mailbox they know that they will not get into trouble, and their parents actually get to read it. I ordered these personalized postcards from Paper Direct - very cute designs, and good sales for reasonable prices. I also like having them pre-printed with my name and school address, phone, email, etc - that way I don't have to write any of those things on there! Above is an invitation to Parent/Teacher Conferences, which I send out to every student's parents. I print the dates and times on a sticker to save extra work, but I like the personal effect of a handwritten note. I obviously start these WAY before PTCs.

However, let's say I'm sending bad news home - this I don't want displayed on a postcard. So I send it in a regular notecard with a regular envelope:

This way the kids don't know it's from the school, and the message gets through. I used Paper Direct for these also, and again my info is already printed on it. Sneaky!

In addition to invites and "bad" notes, I try to send at least two good postcards per class per week, to help build those positive perceptions. A lot of parents have commented on how much they appreciate "the postcards." Bonus - my parent attendance at conferences has gone from about 3-4 per night to around a dozen since I started this. In light of the total number of students I have it's a small percentage, but three times more than usual is a big improvement!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Review Games

I'm a fan of using games to review before written tests. One thing that the kids really get into is using board games for these reviews. I used to just tape the game boards up, but with a projector it's even better! Just project an image, use magnets for game pieces, and modify the rules a bit - the kids get really competitive, which helps them all prepare!

Chutes and Ladders


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.

Décor – Flags

An easy way to add a little seasonal color and fun to the classroom are outdoor flags. I am a HUGE Snoopy fan, so thanks to eBay I now have a wide variety (meaning many, many more than any normal person should own) of Snoopy flags to hang throughout the different seasons and holidays. Easiest way to manage is to attach a café rod where you want to hang your flags – that provides a low-hassle way to quickly change them out.

Nice all-purpose flag.

When the leaves start to turn...

Veteran's Day! (With another fall flag to the right).

Décor - Ironing Board Covers

Worn-out and/or hideous ironing board covers in your classroom? Make your own! Very similar to upgrading your desk chair. Turn ironing board upside down on fabric of your choice and trace around, adding approximately 4 inches all around. Cut, sew casing, insert elastic, fit to board. You can leave the old pad on or make your own from fleece, an old blanket, etc. Gives a whole new look to your classroom!

 Hideous, stained, worn-out ironing board cover.

FABULOUS ironing board covers! I can't decide which one is my favorite.

Décor – Pimp My Desk Chair

Time for a little fun - some ideas for classroom decorHave an old, shameful-looking desk chair? Reupholster it! It's a much easier task than you might think. Choose a fabric that can take a little abuse and won't wear or fade quickly. Remove the cushions and trace around them onto fabric adding about 4 inches all around. Create a casing, insert elastic, fit around cushions, reassemble chair. Presto – “brand new” chair, in your choice of covering!

Ugly chair!

Home Ec teachers can't have ripped chairs!

Fun fabric...

Cover ugly fabric...


Sewing room chair (this gets addictive).

Make-Up Work

How many hours we would save if all students were here every day! I have several procedures in place to allow students to be as independent as possible in obtaining their make-up work. First, the week’s schedule is written on the board, so they can check there to see what they missed. Second, the current copy of the Table of Contents is located at the front of the room for them to find the titles of any documents they may be missing. Finally, any handouts/notes/etc that are given out, I toss in their binders the day they are gone – since all of the absentees’ binders are still in the crate, this is easily accomplished in less than a minute. Truly takes the headache out of having to continuously pull out make-up work!


A note on notes – we do take a fair amount of notes in my classes, not in small part due to the fact that our textbooks are so outdated! I use skeleton notes, which assists the students in staying organized (particularly those students with related accommodations). Their binders of notes more or less become their textbooks for reviewing and studying. 


All teachers know that paper flow is a tricky beast to manage, and teachers with several different preps like many of us FACS teachers have to make a little extra effort. I’ve found it works well to make the students keep all materials in one place – a class binder. I provide the binders for all students at the beginning of the year – not cheap, but then there are no excuses not to have one, and since they’re all the same size they fit together much better. I make an address-sized label for each student’s binder on the side with their first name, then place a 2” x 4” label with their full name, the name of the class, and the school mascot on the front of the binder (nice personal touch).

At the beginning of the year I provide them with a blank “Table of Contents” form, and copies of the course syllabus, rules, and procedures to keep in the binder. All notes that they take and a majority of their short assignments are kept in the binder, and students must keep track of all items on their Table of Contents.

I provide a crate for each class to keep their binders in (each crate’s color corresponds to the class’s assigned color, naturally).

Still looking for a yellow crate!

I grade the binders every one to two weeks, using the ToC page – if they don’t record something on that page, it doesn’t get graded. I keep a current copy of the ToC at the front of the room so that they can double check it before it’s do, and I also project it two or three times a week for them to add what they may have missed (I LOVE having a projector in my classroom! How did I live without one?).

Protective sleeves to guard against grimy teen paws.

Color-Coded Tables of Contents!

The advantages for them are that they always have all of their notes, and that I let them use their binders on parts of their tests. All tests have two parts: one must be memorized, the other is open binder. As you can imagine, most of the binder part of the test is application and critical thinking. 

Speaking of tests: rather than hand back tests, quizzes, papers, etc, etc, individually, I just place graded work in the front pockets of the binders along with a grade printout once a week. Saves plenty of class time!


You can never predict when the copy machine will break down or when there will be a long line, so most teachers learn quickly it’s best to do as much copying as far in advance as you can. The trouble then sometimes becomes where to store all of those handouts so that you can easily find them when you need them. I keep a small crate at the front of the classroom with about six or seven file folders of each class’s color, and keep that week’s documents in there – easily available, low transition time. Any “leftovers” go into the folders in the filing cabinet, and then they rotate in the following week.