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.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Intro to Parenting

I'm big on short group activities this year - it gets them up and moving, gives them a chance to chat, and offers a jumpstart/refresher/review to whatever topic we're covering.

In Child Development, we have a short unit on "Parental Readiness" - the primary objective of course being to convince them that they are NOT ready to have children at their age. To intro this topic, I divided them into five random groups, and sent each group to a kitchen with this sheet:

In the box labeled #1, they had to choose (as a group) what they thought would be the most difficult job to have. Then they had to fill in the boxes in the column below box #1 to the best of their ability with what they already know.

All groups had to finish column #1 before anyone was told what column #2 was for.

When all had finished column #1, they were told to write "Parent" in box #2, then repeat the exercise for that column.

It was not long at all before they realized how difficulty the job of "parent" must be, leading to some great discussion. Also, a terrific springboard for that day's lesson. Score!

Here are the filled out forms for your entertainment:

I'll definitely be doing this one again!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Ironing Board Cover Tutorial

I do love fun ironing board covers, as you can see from the ones I made at a former school. At that school, I had a lot of floor space, so I had three full-size ironing boards. At my current school there was only one ironing board in the room, I assume because there is so little floor space. However, there is a good amount of counter space, so I figured counter top models were better than everyone waiting for one board. Naturally, they needed fun covers.

If you're looking for a tutorial with finished seams and overall 4-H quality, this is not that tutorial. But if you are looking for something simple, quick, with imperfections no one will notice, this is for you!

Supplies: Countertop Ironing Board (under $7 at WalMart) and 1/2 yard of fabric.

Cut around half of the ironing board leaving a width of about 3 inches.

Remove board, fold fabric in half, then cut around to make fabric symmetrical.

Iron approximately 1" in all the way around the piece. I left the raw edges - who is going to look underneath the ironing board?

Sew around the fabric, leaving an opening on the flat, short end to string your twine through the casing. I chose to use a zigzag stitch to overlap the raw edge.

Tape one end of a twine roll, then spear with a safety pin. Use pin to guide the twine through the casing.

Place ironing board on top of the fabric, pull twine, and tie.

All done!

The process is a little easier when you don't have a "helper" scampering about, but it does make things more interesting!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Post-It Comments

Here's something I've been doing this year to get the kids to read a few different news articles linking current events to the topic we were studying in class.

I print out a few short news articles (generally one for every three students in the class), blow up the font to make it easy for a group of three or four to read at the same time, then staple the article to the top of a piece of cut down poster board. I spread them around the room, leaving a small stack of Post-It Notes in each station.

When it comes time for the activity, I randomly divide the class into groups (in this particular instance I had them draw colored Easter eggs out of a jar; the kids were grouped by the color they drew), then send them to their stations with something to write with.

I tell them to take a couple of minutes to read the article, then write a comment on or question about the article on a Post-It, initial it, and stick it to the poster board underneath the article. We have a brief discussion on what a "good" comment looks like before starting.

When they finish the first article, I have the groups rotate stations. We repeat until they have a chance to read all of the articles.

Here's an example. Our topic is homelessness, and the article is "Hawaii Rep. Tome Brower Takes A Sledgehammer (Literally) To Homelessness Problem" from November 2013 (this article made me want to take a sledgehammer to something, so I was interested to hear what the kids would say). Note: due to benchmark testing I was missing several kids this day, otherwise I would have used a larger board.

The comments:
Why not use a safer and kinder approach?
This is just crazy.
Why can’t they use the shopping carts and how does he identify them?
People may feel threatened easily.
Why does he destroy the carts?
Why can’t the homeless have the shopping carts?
Why does he use a sledgehammer?
What a great guy!
Destroying people’s transportation that are homeless is rude.
He needs to give them something else after he destroys them.
Hawaii people need more sledgehammers.

Go Rambo Go!

Obviously not all followed our guidelines for good comment-writing (hence why I required initials), but there were both good thoughts and good questions. 

I've used this a few times this year in different classes, and I've really liked it. It gives the kids a chance to voice their opinions or ask questions in a safe way, without drawing too much attention to themselves. It gives me a chance to see how their thought processes work, as well as assess their background knowledge. As they go around reading, they naturally discuss what they're reading with each other.

Best of all, by keeping the articles short and keeping the kids moving, I've found that the kids do actually read what I put in front of them - amazing!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Currently February 2014!

The first day of a new month - that means Currently with Farley!

Listening - How well I know the "Skyrim" soundtrack : ).

Loving - Wow, January went FAST! That means we're inching toward spring, which means a reprieve from this epic winter; come on, Punxsutawney Phil!

Thinking - My content test for the Reading Specialist certification (and degree) is this coming Saturday, and is the last thing I need to do to officially complete that master's. Woot woot!

Wanting - One of my best friends just had her first baby on January 16th, and he is of course absolutely adorable! So far I've only seen the pictures though, because she's a little over an hour away and the weather will just not let up for travel!

Needing - We have yet to reclaim any sense of normalcy since returning from Christmas Break. The first week back was a three-day due to weather; the second was Homecoming; the third was a four-day due to MLK, Jr Day; last week we had two "polar day" cancellations; this week doesn't look promising; AAARRRRGHHH! The kids have been nuts, and who can blame them?

Truths/Lie - I did give up Pepsi for about 13 1/2 months. I do love Pepsi! I have no interest in any other soft drink, though in a pinch I may occasionally have a root beer. I'm happy to report that since returning to my Pepsi ways I've not been overindulging.

As for the FACS classes, I only took one FACS class in high school, it was only one semester, and it was "eh." Weird for a FACS teacher, huh? It wasn't until college that I discovered that passion!

And yes, there are TWO John Philip Sousa awards on our home piano - one is mine, one is my husband's. Back when we taught at the same high school we would go to the graduation party of that school's JPS winner from that year so that we could have a photo taken of all three of us holding our JPS awards.

Here's to a new month! Let's make it a great one!