Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Super Sweet

Some days just suck. Last week was full of those days, and Friday wasn't shaping up to be much better, but thanks to a completely random act of kindness by one of my sweet kids, I was able to end my week on a good note.

The backstory is that since I have a Mobi and usually circulate throughout the classroom, I'm hardly ever at my desk during class. I often let kids sit at my desk while we're taking notes, and I usually choose those who aren't really in trouble (yet), but need to be isolated for a few minutes. Sometimes, I choose them because they're struggling to focus, sometimes because they are having an off day and need some space, sometimes, it's because they forgot their glasses and can't see the projector screen, and occasionally, it's a reward for good behavior. My kids definitely consider sitting at my desk to be a privilege.

Friday, one of my students, T, could not stop talking. He wasn't loud, he wasn't being super distracting for the rest of the class, but he was driving me crazy, and it really seemed like he just could NOT hush. So I had T get his things and move to my desk to finish taking notes. It worked and I didn't have any other problems out of him for the rest of the period. Several hours later, when I sat down at my desk again, I saw the following note T left for me. (He also left another that said, "To: Mrs. S___ from T____," in case I wasn't sure who it was from.)

It was such a little thing, and I feel pretty confident that T hasn't given it a second thought, but it really turned my whole day around, and gave me just the push I needed to finish strong.

Ninth graders often get a bad rap, but they really can be such sweet kids. 

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Teaching: It's Not All Cupcakes and Glitter

Teaching is an important job, and important jobs aren't always usually easy, but the past two weeks have been exceptionally hard. Of course, there have been bright spots--always from my students (fits of uncontrollable laughter and several "lightbulb moments" and even one "Math has been so fun today!"), but for the first time this year, the good didn't outweigh the bad. I guess I am writing this as my own reminder that sometimes, teaching is like that.

My co-workers and I met before school started this year to divvy up the units we would be teaching in the first quarter. There are three of us who teach Algebra exclusively (the fourth member of our department teaches one section of Algebra and several sections of Geometry), and we decided to switch off so that we each plan every third unit.

My second unit of the quarter was a two-week unit on inequalities that was supposed to end with a unit test yesterday. During the past two weeks, this has happened:

Last Week
  • Homecoming Week (so kids are dressing up each day meaning, in their minds at least, that nothing important is happening in class)
  • Monday: Pep Rally which shortened my last class by nearly 40 minutes
  • Thursday: PBS Break (which shortened each of my afternoon classes by ten minutes)
  • Friday: Homecoming Parade (which took up two of my morning class periods and affected all of the others with Homecoming Excitement)
  • Friday: I wrote my first referral of the year--for a sexual harassment incident that occurred during the class change.
 This Week:
  • Monday: Bus Evacuation Drill (which shortened my first period--an inclusion class--by about twenty minutes)
  • Monday: Compass Learning training (which took our entire planning period)
  • Monday: I assigned my first detention of the year
  • Tuesday: Fall Picture retakes + Club Pictures + Class Picture (which affected each of my three morning classes)
  • Tuesday: Data Meeting (which took our entire planning period and left us feeling frustrated, dejected, etc. because for the first time, we realized just how much of a deficit our students are working with. We actually walked out of the meeting discussing the possibility of scrapping everything we've taught so far and "starting over.")
  • Wednesday: Department Meeting (A meeting that lasted nearly our entire planning period, a meeting we called in response to the Data Meeting, a meeting during which I barely managed to avoid bursting into tears.)
  • Thursday: Club Day (which shortened each of my morning classes by ten minutes)
  • Thursday: I wrote my second referral of the year--for a bullying incident--and assigned four more students detention
  • Friday: I wrote my third referral of the year--for an incident involving an interactive notebook launched at a student's face (This is enough information for me to forever champion working a fall break into our schedule. These kids are tired of looking at one another and need more than the two-day break a weekend provides!)

My classes finished a full two-days behind my original plans and will test a full day behind the other teachers' classes, a decision I made late Friday. I don't feel good about being behind my co-workers especially in the unit that I planned, but I couldn't face the idea of the abysmal test scores sure to come if I tested on Monday. I'll be honest and say that I have never, never been more excited to pull out of my parking space on a Friday afternoon. Factor in a few personal things (e.g., two very sad anniversaries for my family and an out-of-the-blue text from a significant old boyfriend), and you get the two worst weeks so far this year, and I am so, so glad that they are over.

Having said all that, I'm off to school today so that I can catch up on the grading that didn't happen during planning this week, because while I've made great strides in not bringing physical work home with me, I haven't quite learned to turn this "being a teacher" thing off.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Things Kids Say

I am so happy to see September go. It has been a long, long time since Labor Day, a long, long month in general, and last week was the longest week of all. One thing that got me through was the funny, silly things my kids blurted out just when I needed a laugh most. Here are two gems:

Scene 1
Last week was Homecoming Week (what we always called "Spirit Week" when I was a student). Each day was a assigned a different theme and teachers and students were all encouraged to dress according to the theme. Even those who don't normally keep up with the football team knew that it was Homecoming Week.

Student 1 (a marching band member no less): Hey, y'all, is the game on Friday at home or away?

Student 2: It's Homecoming Week!

Student 1: I know THAT. I just don't know if the game's a home game or not.

Scene 2
Student 3: Mrs. S, have you ever been in a car accident?

Me: Yes, once in college. I was driving a Beetle, and a Tahoe ran a stop sign and hit me. It was pretty bad.

Student 3: Oh my gosh! Did you die?

Me: Yes. Yes, I did.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Semi-Homemade Buffalo Chicken Pizza

Dinner last night was Buffalo Chicken Pizza. I didn't really have a recipe (this never happens--I am a rule-follower through and through), but it came out pretty great especially considering I used a canned pizza crust. This was easy enough to do on a weeknight, so I think it will be going into the regular rotation.

Semi-Homemade Buffalo Chicken Pizza


For the Chicken

  • 3 boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • 1/4 flour
  • 1/2 Tbs butter
  • 1-2 Tbs olive oil
  • salt and pepper

For the Sauce

  • 1 Tbs butter
  • 1 Tbs flour
  • 1/2 cup milk (I used skim)
  • 1/4 cup Frank's Red Hot

For the Pizza

  • Pillsbury Classic Pizza Crust, 1 roll
  • 1-2 cups shredded mozzarella
  • 1/4 cup chopped green onions


For the Chicken

Adapted from thekitchn.com
  1. Pound the breasts until they are an even thickness--not too thin, just even--and lightly salt and pepper both sides of each breast.
  2. Mix half a teaspoon of salt along with some pepper in with the flour and spread on a plate. Quickly dredge the breasts in the flour, so that they are lightly dusted.
  3. Heat a 10-in. saute pan over medium high heat, and when it is hot, add the butter and oil to the pan, and swirl.
  4. Reduce heat to medium and add the chicken. Allow to cook for a couple of minutes until golden on one side (Not too brown! The chicken will definitely still be raw.) Then flip each breast over.
  5. Reduce heat to low, and put the lid on the pan. Set a timer for 10 minutes and walk away. Do not open the lid during this time. Don't peek! (You can use this time to work on the sauce.)
  6. After 10 minutes have passed, remove from heat. Do not lift the lid. Reset the timer for 10 minutes, and again, walk away. (Remember, no peeking!)
  7. After 10 minutes have passed, take off the lid, remove chicken to cutting board and cut into bite-sized cubes. 
  8. Optional: Drain excess oil from saute pan but don't clean. Heat over medium heat for a few minutes and return the chicken cubes to the pan to brown a little more and crisp up some. This should just take a couple of minutes. Don't overcook.

For the Sauce

Adapted from wineandglue.com
  1. Melt the butter over medium-low heat.
  2. Slowly whisk in the flour a little at a time so that a smooth paste is formed.
  3. Slowly whisk in the milk and continue whisking to avoid clumps.
  4. Whisk in the Frank's and allow to cook for about a minute more.
  5. Remove from heat and set aside.

For the Pizza

  1. Follow the instructions on the can for the your desired crust. (We like ours crispy, so we use the pre-bake option. I sprinkle a little garlic powder and freshly-ground black pepper on the crust before it goes in the oven.) 
  2. Spread the sauce on the pre-baked crust with a rubber spatula, and top with about half of the cheese. 
  3. Sprinkle the chicken on evenly, in a single layer.
  4. Top with the remaining cheese and the scallions.
  5. Return for the prescribed amount of time (again, just following the instructions on the can). 
  6. Remove to a cutting board and cut into squares. 

Saturday, August 31, 2013

INB: Order of Operations

This is the right-hand side of our INB layout for Order of Operations, borrowed from here. I heard lots of "This isn't like last year!" as we were preparing our hopscotch graphic organizer and working the examples. That made my heart SO happy!

Friday, August 23, 2013

One Down.

Week 1.

That is almost all of the thought that I can formulate.

I don't know if I forgot how exhausting the first week of school is or if this year is more exhausting than most. I am leaning towards the latter since all of my co-workers seem to be in the same boat. Or maybe it's like childbirth where the pain winds up being worth it?

At any rate, here are a few standout moments.

  • The fire drill Wednesday was the first time we've practiced heading to our new safe place. Last year, we high-tailed it to the stadium, but this year, we trek across the street to the track field. Half of our school goes through the tunnel and half go over the street. Super interesting to herd these students who have been taught from infancy NEVER to cross the street and always to use the tunnel. Even more interesting that we had to wade through the mud to get from the parking lot to the track. Of course I wore sandals, and I wound up up to my ankles in mud. Found a handy new use for Clorox wipes and bonded with my girls who also wore sandals. 
  • A full week of lunch duty makes me so, so thankful for the normal one-day-a-week schedule. Since I plan 6th period, I need those twenty minutes to take a load off and regroup. We definitely needed to monitor those kids though. We share a cafeteria with the junior high, so our students know their way around, but they go from sitting by class in 8th grade to free-seating as freshmen. Their minds are blown! And we've been overwhelmed by the sheer number of them. We have well over 500 freshmen this year, and it's never more obvious than when they're all together in one room!
  • No more morning duty! One of the other teachers needed someone to cover her afternoon duty so that she could coach at the high school, so I volunteered. She's taking over my breakfast duty, so I don't have to be at work early at all this year. This is one of the highlights of my week. I love knowing that I can hit snooze that extra time if I need to. 
  • The kids have been having a field day with my last name. One of my students asked me yesterday, "Did you get your name off that TV show?" My answer? "Nope. I got my name off my husband." 
  • Already sick. Yep. Sure am. Went to bed with a slightly scratchy throat Wednesday night, woke up feeling like I'd been swallowing razor blades. Today, the congestion has literally turned me into a mouth-breather. Benadryl helps, but I can't function when I take it, so I've just been toughing it out. Who gets a cold by the third day of school? It's got to be a record. 
  • We've been giving benchmarks for the past two days. It never fails, my "digital natives" act as though they've never seen a computer before. They have the MOST trouble just logging on to the computers! Being out of my classroom is bad enough, but having them go crazy is really, really frustrating. 
  • I have a steady, heady mixture of kids this year. Two who are hearing-impaired; one who is blind in one eye; one who just moved from Alaska where he was homeschooled in every subject but math (since third grade!); one with emotional/behavioral disorders (ODD and PTSD); at least one whose parents are in the midst of divorce; one whose dad just earned back visitation rights; several severe asthmatics; others who carry epipens for their severe allergies; and one diabetic kid who has already had to break into the emergency kit I keep in my closet. First impressions: mostly good kids, only one whose been a total goober so far. 
All in all, it has been a really, really good week. Only 35 more to go!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Teacher Survival Kit

My sweet mama puts together a teacher survival kit each semester. I've seen several versions of these floating around, and before I put the contents of this semester's kit away today, I decided to snap a quick pic of her version.


  • Hard candy
  • Kleenex
  • Breakfast bars
  • Nuts and trail mix
  • Bandaids
  • Lip balm
  • Mints
  • Hand sanitizer, hand sanitizer, and more hand sanitizer
  • Hair elastics
  • Wet wipes
  • Clorox Wipes
  • Cold-Eeze lozenges
  • Not pictured: Advil, Pepto tablets
One thing I would be sure to add if I were giving this to a new teacher is duct tape! I bought several rolls of pretty duct tape before I started my first teaching job. I can't remember what the original purpose was or if I even had one, but I wound up using it for everything from re-binding old textbooks to covering holes in students jeans. I still use it all the time and usually pick up a roll or two at the beginning of each year.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

ISN: Learning Styles Foldable

I came to education by way of psychology, and topics like cognitive psychology and the psychology of learning still intrigue me, so I find myself electing to participate in professional development that relates to that. One of the courses I took last year focused on differentiating instruction based on learning styles and multiple intelligences. As part of that class, I had one of my geometry classes complete an inventory to determine their learning styles, and I'm planning on doing it with all of my students this year.

I spent some time today putting together a foldable that will (hopefully) help students identify and work with their dominant learning styles. The inventory questions and some of the suggestions were borrowed from the inventory Sarah Rubin gave her students last year. Since I am still using the legal paper donated to me a couple of years ago (Thanks, Mom!), I was able to get all of the info on one sheet of paper (front and back) with no shrinking or cutting necessary.

Scattered Thoughts

First, a February project idea. 
The math teachers are making a concerted effort to do things exactly the same way this year. Last year, there was a lot of midyear student-shuffling because the kids knew we did things differently and thought (perhaps rightly-so) that this meant there was an "easy" teacher and a "hard" teacher. Mid-year shuffling makes us question our teaching abilities and is a pain for everyone, so we want to avoid that this year.

This has meant a lot of compromising already, and one of my co-workers told me yesterday that one area she's not willing to compromise on is the African-American Mathematicians and Scientists project she assigns every February. The project she's assigned for the last twelve years requires students to research an African-American mathematician or scientist and present them to the class via poster or PowerPoint or what-have-you.  I think she may also have them write a biography on the person. 

I'm already thinking of ways I can make this project my own, and I'm thinking of having the kids put themselves in the mathematician's shoes and come up with two or three pics their person would have posted to instagram, a few tweets they would have posted, or maybe a YouTube video shot from the perspective of the mathematician. I think the kids could really have fun with this.

And a First Days/Last Days project, too.
I kind of the love the idea of having students write their math autobiographies at the beginning of the school year and then add to them as the year progresses or maybe as a culminating project at the end of the year. My kids would probably find this breakdown helpful.

Plus a game.
One of my least favorite sections to teach is interpreting graphs. None of us teachers really enjoy the topic, but our kids really, really hate it. And they struggle with it. I like this idea from Sarah Hagan of mathequalslove for practice describing/interpreting graphs. Graphing Scattergories is much more fun than anything we've come up with. 

I also really like the mathequalslove version of the marshmallow challenge. Her instructions are genius in their simplicity.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Thoughts Before a New School Year

Pre-planning week is over. It's so cliche, but I cannot believe how quickly this week has flown by. I will be heading back up to the school over the weekend so that I can put the finishing touches on a few things, but in general, I feel that if I had to teach kids tomorrow, I'd be fine.

Monday night was Open House. I currently have 141 students on my roster, and I had more than 80 students (and their families) show up Monday. The kids all looked so small, and I was reminded of how much last year's kids grew in the nine months they were with me. I know that I'll grow to love my new kids, but seeing all these new faces really made me miss the old ones.

The parents seemed eager to be involved, and several of them pulled me aside to say, "If you have any trouble with my child whatsoever, don't hesitate to let me know!" It's not usually those kids that need phone calls home, but it's nice to have that support starting out.  This year, we're going to be using Remind101 to send reminder e-mails and texts, and most of the parents seemed really excited about it. I hope they will use these reminders to stay on top of their kids about turning in homework, studying for tests, etc.

This morning, we attended training on data walls as our school is going to be piloting the use of a school-wide data wall for the district. I'm excited about the meaningful collaboration I think we're going to see this year.

I'm also pretty proud of the collaboration and teamwork the math department has already shown this week. We've been working like mad to get the first three units of Algebra 1 planned and ready to go, and I can't brag enough on their willingness to jump on board with interactive notebooks.

I have high hopes for this year!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

First Days: Algebra 1 Syllabus

Here's the Algebra 1 syllabus I am using this year. A lot of teachers are switching to the design-heavy flyer style, but I still prefer the old school format. It might not be as fun but I think it's more usable. The other teachers in my department have decided to use this one, too.

Students will be expected to keep the syllabus in their binders, so I won't have parents sign it. They'll sign the student information sheet that the kids complete the first week of school instead. I'll keep those in a binder behind my desk.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

ISN: An Interactive Notebook KWL

What I Know

When it comes to setting up an interactive notebook, there are basically two formats:

   1. "The left side is 'left' for the students."
  • Right side is for input (info/notes from teacher, text, etc.)
  • Left side is for output (where students process, apply, and reflect) 
  • As far as I can tell, this was the original format (what I think of as "traditional").
   2. "Left for Learning, Right for Reflection."
  • Left side is used for input (info/notes from teacher, text, etc.)
  • Right Side is for output (again, where students process, apply and reflect)
  • I think of this as the "logical" format. 

 What I Want to Know

  • Who decided that the "traditional format" was the way to go? (I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that it wasn't a math teacher unless the logic is just well-hidden.)
  • How did they come to that decision? Were there actually reasons or was it just an arbitrary decision?
  • Are there teachers who've tried it both ways? I would love to hear/read their opinions on which is the better way to go.

What I Learned

(to be continued...)

Saturday, August 10, 2013

ISNs - I'm doing it!

For the past couple of years, I've been reading blogs and articles and seeing pins about interactive student notebooks (ISNs or INBs), and I've wanted to try them so badly! In the spring of 2012, before I accepted my current position, back when I thought I would be teaching 7th and 8th grade math again, I decided that the 2012-2013 school year would be my year to finally give it a try. And then I accepted my current position, and I knew that with the craziness of starting a new job in a new district, teaching courses I haven't taught since my internship, also trying to figure out ISNs would be a recipe for stress and disaster.

This year, we've had many, many students sign up to take Algebra 1 and far fewer sign up for Geometry, so I'll have only one prep--Algebra.  With only half as many lessons to plan and assessments to create and with our school's time-saving adoption of gradecam, this feels like the perfect time to venture outside my comfort zone and give ISNs a try.

So I'm doing it, y'all. And two of my co-workers have agreed to do it, too.

I have a feeling that there will be some frustration and struggle ahead, but I'm hoping that there will also be plenty of engagement and growth for us as well as our students, too. I am beside myself with excitement!

I've included a few links about ISNs below mostly for my own benefit. This is just a start.

Interactive Notebooks
ETA - I keep coming back to add links, and I'm realizing what a hassle it's going to be to continue searching out this post as the year progresses. I've added an ISN tab at the top where I'll collect ISN-related links in the future.

Friday, August 9, 2013

First Days: Open House Plans + A Revamped Student Info Sheet

Last year, at Open House and again on the first day of school, the math teachers all gave out Student Info Sheets asking for schedule information, parent contact information, student hobbies, allergy information, etc. We had hoped that these would prove super useful during the school year, but I didn't find myself referring back to them as often as I had planned. And when I did look at them, the information was either illegible or incorrect. Schedules changed, kids moved in with a different parent, etc. Distributing the sheets at Open House also meant that the parents who wanted the forms completed immediately spent too much time in our rooms that night and those who elected to take them home never returned them.

All in all, it was a nice idea that just wasn't executed well.

This year, I'm planning on having multiple sign-in sheets stationed throughout my classroom at Open House. I'll ask for student name, parent name(s), parent phone number(s), and parent email(s) on the sign-in sheet itself. I'll also have information about contacting me by email and phone and enrolling in remind101 posted, but I want this year's Open House to be a meet & greet sprint as opposed to the marathon we had last year.

I do still plan on having students complete a Student Info Sheet. I found a great one posted online by another blogger* and I wound up making only minimal tweaks. I'll distribute it, along with the syllabus, on the first day of school.

* I've scrolled back through the blogs I follow in Feedly and my recent pins, but I can't find the original blogger. If you know who created the student info sheet, please let me know. My whole department loves this sheet, and I would love to give him/her credit!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

(Nearly) Wordless Wednesday

Macy - July 2013

I love this picture. I love that my husband took it. I love that you can just barely see his seersucker swim trunks. And of course, I love that the subject is our sweet Macy. This was taken on Lake Martin, during this year's July 4th "weekend." It was one of the rare sunny days that week, and Macy's life vest can mean only one thing--boat trip!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Back to School: Lunches

In an effort to ease the transition between summertime stay-at-home-mom (OK, SAHM to a pup, but still...) and full-time teacher, I've been thinking this week about lunches. C started a new job a few weeks ago, and I've been testing out a few ideas on him. We'll both be taking our lunches this year as we save, save, save. (Mama wants some walls she's actually allowed to paint!) Below are a few ideas we've tried recently:

Main Dishes

  • Green Salads - Lots of different options, but our current fave is: baby spinach, grape tomatoes, red onion, baby carrots, and sliced cucumber plus either fat-free cottage cheese (for me) or cheddar cheese cubes (for C). We also add chicken. This recipe is super easy and perfect for salads but Tyson chicken strips were recently BOGO at our supermarket so we've been using those cut into bite-sized pieces this week. Love their buffalo chicken. I also add croutons to C's. 
  • Pasta salad - Current fave is a mixture of these two recipes. It's my go-to contribution to warm-weather gatherings, too. It makes a good bit and has a pretty presentation
  • PB&Bs - Peanut butter & banana sandwiches. I prefer these to the standard PB&J. Of course, C needs the J, too. He prefers the peanut butter and (grape, always grape!) jelly mixed together before being spread on the bread. Then just slice the banana lengthwise and pile it on. This is good for times when there's no time as they are quick and we always have the ingredients on hand. 
  • Left Overs -  I rely on these more as the temperatures drop. I love having my mom's hearty potato soup or this creamy tortellini soup waiting on me at midday.


  • Fruit - Lately, strawberries, honeydew melon, cantaloupe, and grapes. 
  • Veggies - Baby carrots, broccoli w/ peppercorn ranch. I send Ina Garten's roasted broccoli sometimes, too. It's best served immediately, but we even like it cold. 
  • Greek Yogurt - This is all me since C is not a huge fan of yogurt. I love Chobani flips in the key lime pie flavor. I've been enjoying Chobani Bites (Coffee w/ Dark Chocolate Chips) for breakfast, too.The fruit-on-the-bottom options are also pretty nice.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Say No to Coke (Day 20)

Rumor has it that it takes 21 days to break (or form) a habit.

Tomorrow, it will have been 21 days since I've had a Coke, a Dr. Pepper, or any other carbonated beverage. I think I can safely call this habit broken.

C and I spent the week between Christmas and New Year's Eve at his parents' lake condo. This trip was very spontaneous. (As in, C and I were traveling home from my mom's, and just before we reached the turn-off for the lake, I said, "Hey! Want to go to the lake?") So we weren't prepared with the groceries we would normally take with us, and I hadn't given any thought to meal planning at all.

This was a recipe for disaster.

We wound up with ingredients for chili and lasagna and two packs of soda.

Yeah, super healthy.

By New Year's, the idea of drinking a coke made me feel physically ill, so I vowed to quit cold-turkey. And so far, I have. I don't really have a plan to swear off soft drinks for good, but I also haven't set a deadline. We'll see how far I can take it!

7/2/2013 Update - I gave in to peer pressure during a family beach trip over Memorial Day weekend and had a real, full-of-sugar Dr. Pepper. We were down to just sodas in our cooler, and I wasn't going to break my streak for a Diet Coke! Since then, I've had maybe one a week. I think swearing off cokes all together was a good idea, but lately, I've been trying to be mindful of what I drink without being quite so extreme.