The Lesson That Failed

Tuesday, March 14, 2017 4 comments

So this little post is about the lesson that failed. It is also a little bit about building rapport with students.

Recently, we have been learning about scientific method. My lessons are pretty streamlined- notes, activity, notes, activity, and so on.  I knew I was going to be out, so I whipped up an activity that the students could do on their on- collect data on each other, then graph it. I was super excited- easy for a sub, the students were still learning- I was patting myself on the back.

Well, they didn't end up getting the lesson on the day I was out (there was a mix-up in the office), so I planned to do it the day I came back.

In the middle of introducing the activity to them, it dawns on me.

This lesson will not work. AT ALL.

I will have to completely change this lesson.


This is where the rapport part comes in.

I have a tendency to be very open and honest with my students. I am really transparent with them. I let them know why things are happening in the school when changes are made (so, all the time). I tell them how, why and when I grade papers. I tell them how, and why, they got their grades. I am all in favor of students having access to information so that they understand what is going on around them.

I do this not just because I think everyone should be as informed as possible, but also because it builds a sense of trust. They know that I will tell the truth, that I will explain things to them.

It also means that they will behave better. My class almost never has problems. Every time admin walks through, students are doing what they need to do- getting work done, participating, discussing.

I am upfront about my lessons, that the students are guinea pigs, and that sometimes the lesson that I give at the end of the day is completely different based upon what happens in each class. They are equal partners in this-my students are helping me be a better teacher by helping me build better lessons.

So yeah. Right in the middle of introducing the activity (which they are excited about), I stop talking. Just stare at the paper.

**thinking furiously**

Ok, guys. Change of plan. This will not work they way  I wrote it.
Proceeded to change a small group activity into a whole class activity.
And it worked. They laughed. They rolled with it. Enjoyed it even.

We collected data. We graphed data. We made conclusions.

They day was saved, I was able to adapt the lesson for the rest of the day. (Pssst-Do you want the fixed version? Find it here!)

You should never be afraid of failure. I have known teachers who thought that they had to be on stage the entire time- performing a flawless routine. These teachers never showed a crack, never had a mistake, even to the point of being completely in the wrong-still pushing that the teacher is right no matter what.

I have never agreed with that. I have always found that being honest with them has been the best policy (*see previous paragraph about behavior!).

So, anyway.. *climbs off soapbox*

This is my story about the lesson that failed. 

Have you ever had a lesson that went spectacularly wrong *right* in the middle of teaching it? Share it so we all feel better!

Finding My Voice and Starting Over

Wednesday, February 22, 2017 3 comments
In January, I made a decision to invest myself in my little business of helping fellow teacher-moms adjust to teaching+science+life.

I read all kinds of articles about blogging and reaching your audience.

I read articles about marketing products and blogs on Pinterest.

I read about social media schedulers and editorial content calendars.

I participated in writing and pinning challenges.

I wrote everyday for 21 days, and put out a blog post a week for 4 weeks straight.

But something was off. Not quite right.

I felt scattered. So I stopped.

I took some time to really focus on who I was trying to reach. Who is my reader?

What does she need? What can I give her that is valuable? That is worth taking up her oh-so-few free moments?

I have spent the last few weeks pondering those questions, and I have finally come up with an answer. I have found my perfect reader. I have found my voice.

My new blog posts might not appeal to everyone. My voice can be a little... rough around the edges. I can sometimes be a little too honest for some people's taste. But you know what? I am okay with that.

Because the people that stick around? The people that get it? They are my people. My "tribe" if you will.

And I am so ready to start!

I am so ready to help guide that first year science teacher-that girl, who is staring at a closet full of random, left behind science stuff. Who is excited and terrified, all at the same time. Who can't wait to have a science fair, but has no idea how to write a lesson plan, or even plan a lesson.

I am so ready to help that teacher-mom who wants to do fun stuff with her toddlers, but who is more of a "big kid" teacher. Who has no idea how to spend 8 hours alone with toddlers (and I am ready to support her with a big middle finger to those snow days we used to love!) I am ready to help her find fun activities to engage and bond with her little people.

I am so ready to give that frazzled teacher-mom, with 50 million things racing in her head, a quick and ready recipe for dinner tonight. For that special birthday coming up. Delicious, make ahead meals that can be cooked fresh in less than an hour, so she can feel more accomplished, that she can handle it all.

I am ready. Are you?

Our New Classroom Pet!

Saturday, February 11, 2017 4 comments
My first year teaching, I bought my own 10 gallon fish tank and set it up in the room. It actually was a wonderful thing- the students loved it and we had some really great conversations about fish, and life/death and caring for another thing. I took it down when I went on maternity leave and put it in my daughter's room. In the years since, I have not set up another fish tank in a classroom-mostly just too expensive, or I knew I wouldn't be staying too long.
This year, however, I was donated a large fish tank and decided to set up another fish tank!

My initial thought was that I would get a turtle frogs or lizards, but my classroom is a trailer outside of the main building, and they usually turn the heat off at night. Plus, I needed a class pet that could handle being left alone for several days at a time over long weekends/holidays. I finally settled on fish-tough enough, can be left alone for several days (or at least you can leave food for them) and nice to look at.

Here are the different steps to setting up the tank:
1- empty tank- cycling- only has water, filter, substrate- and heater
2- plants- they sat for about a week without  fish
3- fish! we got to vote on what would go into the tank, and final tally was gouramis, tetras and mollys. (I would like to add an algae eaters once the tank is a little more established)
4- final set up

Drawbacks- wrong size EVERYTHING! oops! I got the hood replaced, but the stand will just have to do! The decoration did not sink.. womp-womp!

I also set up Fish Central- where the students can look at the different levels of pH, ammonia, nitrates and nitrites and tell if we need to adjust. I am also going to create a log of what is going on in the tank-births, deaths, etc.

They have really loved getting into the project-especially voting for fish! The final verdict was mollies, tetras and gouramis.

Even though it has only been a week or so, having this fish tank has been really great as a way to communicate and connect with my students. It is always amazing what you find out about them- hobbies and interests and just their life in general. I find that, especially with my older students and short semesters, I tend to focus on them as students and forget that they have an outside life. In the few (school) days I have had it, I have had some very real conversations with them, and it has been really nice.

I have a second empty tank and have been trying to decide what to do with it- maybe hermit crabs?
Do you have classroom pets, or have you been considering one? Any good suggestions for a hardy pet? Tell me about it in the comments!

PBL Posts: What is project based learning?

Thursday, February 2, 2017 No comments
Hi everybody!

Today is a short post, but I am posting about something I have been wanting to do for a while- move to a PBL classroom!

What the heck is PBL? It stands for "project based learning" and is a great way to get students to become more creative and innovative thinkers! It is a method of teaching that encourages students to actively discover the information in the curriculum themselves, not to sit passively by while the teacher lectures. It is a big buzzword going around in education right now.

The general idea of PBL is to use the standards as a guide to structure a unit that will allow students to discover ideas, experiment, make mistakes and "productively struggle" to reach an understanding of the material. This is a huge undertaking! As I sit here, and think about my subject (chemistry!) I can think of units here and there that can easily fit into PBL, others not so much.

My biggest concern is that the students will not get the information they need, based upon the standard I am supposed to follow. I teach high school chemistry, and most of the information about PBL that I find is geared more toward middle school, or towards having the students choose a problem and find ways to solve it (while learning the material on the way). I have still not quite figured this part out.

A big challenge will also be that my students are not on level, as far as reading goes (so the textbook is out) and we do not have any real access to computers. I think I will still have to do a little presentation to introduce basic facts, or to move investigations along...

So, my goal for this semester is to start adding in a lesson to each unit where I will give a demonstration (or show a video) and have the students begin to study to figure it out. I am thinking that this will be sort of like a 2-4 day lab, with materials and information to guide them on their way.

I would love to hear from some other teachers, of any subject- do you use PBL or inquiry based learning? How have you implemented it? Do you have any tips for a newbie! Leave comments below, and help a teacher out!!!

Lesson Planning: Introduction to Science

Friday, January 27, 2017 No comments
On February 6, we will be starting a new semester. The school I teach at is an accelerated high school, which means a chemistry class that is usually a whole year long, is only half a year (or one semester) long.

I am loving this format, because it means I get to see new students, AND I get to test out all the changes I want to try out in my curriculum! I don't know about you, but I scribble all over my master copies (and even on additional post-its) ALL the things that go right or (mostly) wrong after I teach a lesson.
*not an actual picture of it, but pretty close...
I was able to spend some time during the state exams we just took to revamp and make the changes I had written on my lesson plans during this semester. I am really excited about the changes I made to my first unit and I wanted to share them with you!

I always start every class I teach with an (re)Introduction to Science and Scientific Methods unit. I have found that most students either have never had this topic or never learned/forgot from previous classes.

My original Intro to Science lesson was okay- I felt it was choppy, and not presented smoothly. I mixed in a little bit of scientific method, without explicitly telling what the scientific method was (oops!). There were no good activities- I had made a worksheet, but it wasn't great.

There were many, many, many notes on that lesson plan....

My new and improved Introduction to Science is so much more focused! It is entirely about science as a field of study. It includes characteristics of scientific thinking, the branches of science, types of jobs that require science and ways that a knowledge of science and scientific thinking can help in other ways (not just passing class!). That was my biggest addition to the topic-reasons to learn science. I always have that question-"why do I have to learn this?" Well, now I have reasons that I can give them!

I also added in a color-by-number that goes along with the presentation, instead of the previous worksheet. I love the color-by-numbers available, but wanted one that was more inspiring for my students. The quote that they color in says "You can't start the next chapter of your life if you keep re-reading the first one." I love it!

You can check out my new Introduction to Science Lesson on TpT! For $3, this lesson includes a PowerPoint presentation (both regular and modified for special education), guided notes, a color-by-number activity sheet and a 5-question quiz. I find this lesson usually takes about a day, or one 50 minute class period to complete, with the quiz given the next day or so.

If you are interested in an in-depth unit on the Scientific Method, make sure to follow my TpT store-I should be posting it about the middle of the month! It will include an overview of the scientific method, then individual lessons on 1) observations, hypothesis and asking questions, 2) variables and experimental design, 3) data, graphing and writing conclusions. I also plan to release a bundle of all the lessons, plus a stations activity, labs and unit test!

Classroom Organization: You Lost My Paper!

Friday, January 20, 2017 4 comments
Classroom organization is something that has taken me a while (read: years!) to get a handle on. I have tried so many different systems- collect and hand back, mailboxes, collect and file, student notebooks, binders, you name it, I have probably tried it!

This is the first year the I think I have finally aced the paper trail in my classroom. It has been an absolute life-saver! In the past 6 years of teaching, I have never had students papers so organized, grading has never been easier and I have not "lost" a single thing!

 The set-up is this- All students have their own folder (2 pocket paper folder with brads) and hanging file folder (labeled with their name). All of these folders are arranged by class period.
classroom organization
Every student has a hanging file and folder with their name.
As they come in the door, the grab their folder, the worksheet for the day and a pencil.
(The worksheet for the day has the Do-Now, lesson or work for the day, and the Exit ticket). This should be immediately hole-punched and put into the back of the folder.
After they have collected their materials, they get started with the day!
Classroom Organization
This is the table by the door. Everything they need for the day is here!
At the end of class, they simply return their folder to it's hanging file, the pencil to the bucket and we are done and ready for another day!

Everything we do is kept in their folder- from daily work, to quizzes, tests, labs, everything! I will collect quizzes and tests, and have occasionally collected lab work, but I file it into the hanging file folder after it is graded. The next day, they collect it, hole punch and put it into their folder!
Grading has never been easier- I use stamp markers to mark their work sections as I go along. I grade each folder every Friday- just check for the stamps and done! If the work is not hole-punched and placed in the brads, it does not get graded. I explain it like a job-if I don't file my paperwork, I don"t get paid!
Classroom Organization
Ignore the scribbles- she has never lost anything!
If a student wants to have me grade work that they missed, or anything from previous weeks, they have to fill out a form letting me know what they have completed. I am willing to accept work at anytime, but you could easily have a cutoff point as well.
Classroom organization
On the left is my Wall 'O Work. The picture on the right is for the extra copies.

As far as extra copies, and copies for students who miss. I make enough copies for every student, plus 8 (I have no idea why 8, just habit!). At the end of the day, all extra copies are filed into the "Missing Work" bin, in number order. On the wall, I keep track of the work we do each day (numbered in order, with day of the week and date listed). Students don't even ask anymore- they just take a look at the wall and check to see what they are missing. They go collect it, complete it, and write a note letting me know it is done!
This is directly next to the entrance table-everything else they might need!
This took a little bit of trial and error this year, but it has become such a great system! I have even had my admin asking me to share it with others! I have known for a while that I wanted to use a student journal type system, but last year was a mess! Order was terrible, there was no real way to add in printed pages, the students were THE. WORST. at numbering and labeling pages. They almost never went back and made up missing work.

The biggest changes I have done since the beginning of this year is go from having the student's folders numbered (which was really difficult because we have a very transient population) to filed alphabetically and adding in the extra copies bin.

Originally, my extra copies were in folders on the wall, but then what do you do with them after that week? Where do they go? How do the students know what they missed? Thus was born the Lesson Wall and Missing Work bucket.

So there you are-my genius classroom papers organization ideas! I hope that some of it might be useful for your classroom. If you have a genius idea, please list it in the comments section-I love to hear how other teachers organize the tidal wave of papers!

As an added bonus, here is a link to my FREE science-themed classroom labels! Happy organizing!

Fun Activities for Kids Stuck Inside: Foam Dough!

Friday, January 13, 2017 6 comments
The announcement of a snow day used to be awesome! I could look forward to an extra day of sleeping in and getting caught up on my shows and reading or lesson planning.
Now that it means my two girls are home too? Not so much excitement. Don't get me wrong, I love my kids and enjoy spending time with them. But a whole day of being stuck inside? With both of them? Oh, man-not the funnest for me!
By lots of trial and error (so much error...) I have found the best way for all of us to avoid going stir crazy is for me to have plans already made (because I am a teacher and there is no escape for planning!) for inclement weather days.

So, I thought I would start a post series for activities that I try out and their success (or failure, let's be real here!).

I have spent some time searching the internet for fun and easy activities for my littles. If you are interested, I have a great Pinterest board of activities that are good for the 5 and under crowd.
I also have a couple of books about activities, but my favorite (and the one I use most often) is
150+ Screen-Free Activities for Kids which you can find on Amazon (fyi-not an affiliate link!).

Some tips for planning:
I have a storage box (actually 2!) full of craft materials that only come out on bad weather days. They are full of pipe cleaners, puff balls, googly eyes, paints and craft paper.
I buy the basic materials (dry pasta, salt, flour, baking soda, shaving cream, etc) in bulk when they are on sale.
I keep/hoard other materials that may come in handy (toilet paper rolls, plastic jars, etc)

All of these activities are little-to-no-cost, mostly made with things you already have on hand, and can be whipped up really fast. I usually plan two or three per day, and try to keep it to materials that can be used for several different activities.

For the first snow day, I picked out the Foam Dough! This stuff was a big hit! Super easy-just mix together equal parts shaving cream and cornstarch (1 cup :1 cup). I used washable liquid paints to color it, but you can also use liquid food coloring. I just wanted to ensure that any spills are washable!

We were able to make little snowmen, but mostly just mushed it around. This dough is not great for molding materials (we tried it with some play-dough parts, but it was not successful!) but has a really wonderful feel to it. It feels like what I would imagine playing in a giant pile of chocolate mousse (yum!) would feel like. She mostly just covered her animals in it and stomped them through it.

It starts out very fluffy, more like the shaving cream, but as you play with it, the stiffer it becomes. I imagine that is because the cornstarch is becoming more mixed in. Towards the end of play, it was easier to get through the play-dough extruder.

A big added bonus? This stuff is super easy to clean up! Since it is just shaving cream and cornstarch, it wiped up easily with a wet rag, washed off hands and was easy to brush off of our clothes!

All in all, fun was had, time was killed (around an hour and a half, from mixing to "I'm all done!") and mission was accomplished!

Don't forget to leave a message in the comments about your favorite indoor activity! I am always on the lookout for new ideas.....

Hey You,Teacher! Show Yourself Some Love in the New Year!

Friday, January 6, 2017 10 comments
Happy New Year! Sorry it has been so long since I have posted. I started a new position at a new school and it has been super crazy! Of course, one of my resolutions for 2017 has been to get back into the swing of things with posts about what is going on in my classroom, new products that I am creating (and how to use them in your classroom!), plus delicious recipes (for all you teacher-chefs!) and fun little kid activities (for all you teacher-moms!).

This first post back, I want to talk about something going on in my classroom. Well, not my classroom specifically, more like school-wide. I want to talk about teacher self-care. In the past couple of years, there has been a definite push toward teachers practicing self-care. As teachers, we tend to think that we are carrying the weight of everything-lesson planning (and all the paperwork!), classroom management (and all the tricks and reward systems!), caring for students to the point of almost stepping into the role of parents, that we tend to forget ourselves. We tend to put our needs, and wants and loves and fears and hopes aside. And if you are a teacher-mom like me, add on parenting your little ones, and it is burn-out city!

I recall my first years teaching. My teaching partner/work wife and I would stay at school till 7 or 8 EACH night. Obviously, this was before kids! Also, we obviously became best-ies with the janitorial staff (seriously, they can do/get anything for you-we always had the cleanest classrooms!) We, along with most of the staff were new and young- we felt that we needed to put in the crazy amounts of time and effort to be successful. We came to school in the sun, in the rain, in the snow. I came in with colds, sore throats, who-knows-what, possibly the flu. She came in with colds, sore throats, and even worked through bronchitis. Did we forge an amazing bond? Yes! Was it healthy? Not so much.

It took me a couple more years of teaching and the arrival of my first baby to realize that I needed to prioritize myself. That working super-long hours didn’t make me a better teacher. That coming in when I was under the weather did not make me a better teacher.

What made me a better teacher was realizing that I needed to care for myself. That struggling to come to school when sick, instead of staying home and getting better was a recipe for disaster. Illnesses would linger. More than likely I gave it to others (sorry)!

Now, when I feel a true illness coming on, I take the time to rest. When I have reached my breaking point, and there are no days off near, I take a personal day.  I have made it a priority to take time to myself each weekend, even just a few hours while the girls nap, or go to the park with dad, to recharge.

This is my 7th year teaching. I am only sorry it took until my third year teaching to figure out the need to take care of myself, and implement it in my 4th year. So, I encourage you; check out your sick days and personal days. Then really pay attention to yourself! Prioritize yourself! No amount of long hours, or trudging through an illness will make you a better teacher. Reflect on what will make you whole and well.

Being your healthiest and able to focus on your teaching will make you a better teacher.

Please, add on one more resolution to your (long, long) list for 2017- take care of yourself!