3 Places to Practice Teacher Self-Care

Monday, August 14, 2017 3 comments
This year I am making it a focus to take good care of myself. I started practicing intentional self-care last year, and it was by far my best teaching/mom year yet! I avoided feeling overwhelmed, I managed to take less work home and my class routines and management seemed to flow more smoothly! I wanted to share with you some of the things I did, along with some other ideas for self-care. 
I broke down the ideas into three places- your desk, at school and at home. No excuses this year!

3 Places to Practice Teacher Self-Care

Want a handy printable? Grab it here!

At Your Desk
I love keeping something special in my desk or filing cabinet for when the going gets rough! And since I am known to hoard treats, other teachers often come to visit! Here are some of the things I like to keep:

  • Tea or hot chocolate (I have the whole set up- teas, electric kettle, sugar, creamer, extra mugs!)
  • Chocolate (usually Hershey kisses, but sometimes mini-candy bars)
  • Healthy snacks (granola bars, goldfish, dried fruit packs)

I also keep things that make me happy on my desk in a special space. Pictures of my kids, a candle, potted plants, little science-y knick-knacks. It makes a little calming space for me to rest my eyes.

At Home
Make sure to schedule some time for your own hobbies! I dedicate time 3 days a week to run (about an hour total), then the other 2 days are for cleaning (this only takes about 30-45 minutes and it makes me feel better!) I also want to set aside time this year for sewing and baking (my two favorite hobbies).

Spend time with loved ones/ animals- or both! Take your kids and dogs for a walk! Go to the park, play a game. I like to do mini projects with my girls or walk around the block to get my 10,000 steps in. I actually have an app on my phone (Offtime) that blocks other apps, so I can focus on what I am doing. I set it for when I go to pick up the girls, to right after they are supposed to be in bed. I also set it for bedtime to after the girls have been dropped off, so that I am not distracted in the morning.

If you have time- volunteer! I rarely have time, but I do like to give money and goods to different charities. I donate in person or I write a paper check- it makes me feel more connected. I do a sweep of our house, toys and clothes every 6 months and donate them to a children's charity and Goodwill. Good karma and a clean-ish house!

Relax and do nothing! Watch mindless tv, read (non-pd!), listen to music, take a long soak! 

At School
Connect with other teachers! Don’t get stuck in your room- make the effort and go visit! I have social anxiety so this is hard for me, but I try to pop in and be non-intrusive. Usually I bring something by the first few times (hey, I made cookies, would you like one?), and occasionally afterward. Also, invite them on walks as well!

Again, social anxiety, but making positive phone calls can be relaxing and bring on a rush of endorphin! Parents are always surprised and delighted by positive phone calls. Bonus points if it is a usually “bad” kid!

Get something crossed off your to-do list! I don't know about you, but I have Post-its stuck all over my desk of things to do! I find one that can be done pretty quickly and cross it off! The good feeling of getting something done (usually a boring, mundane task is awesome!

Keep special notes in an accessible place- I usually pin them onto a bulletin board behind my desk. Seeing the wall fill up over the years has been very heartening!

During a prep or at your lunch, take a few moments to do some yoga or stretching. Or take a walk around your school (inside or outside!) There are many different apps for short yoga- I have been using a 7 minute Yoga app, and it is the perfect amount of time! 
So there you have it- all my tips and tricks that have helped me take better care of me! Now, just make sure to take care of yourself this year!

Let me know what sort of self-care gets you through the year in the comments section below!

Lesson Planning: Scientific Method Unit Outline

Monday, August 7, 2017 1 comment
I have been teaching for 7 years now, all different science subjects, in both middle and high schools. The one thing all of my classes have had in common is that I always start out with teaching the scientific method. Yep, even my high schoolers.

I like to start out with something as basic as the scientific method for a few reasons. First, it is an easy introduction to science, a topic that pretty much all students have seen. This guarantees that they will be successful and helps to boost confidence in my students. It also keeps them pretty engaged because they "already know this".

The second reason to start with scientific method is because it is a good introduction to my method of teaching. That way they are not learning two things at once!

I would like to share with you my Introduction to Science Unit outline. It takes me about 5-7 days to teach this unit, depending on the students and how much they participate. I end each unit in a station review that includes 5-6 stations of task cards, practical activities and sorting activities and a unit test. Click on the picture to download a PDF of my unit plan; I have linked the resources below as well.

Scientific Method Unit Resources

Day 1- Introduction to Science Lesson
Day 2- Observations, Questions and Hypothesis Lesson
- Quantitative and Qualitative Observations Activity by Elly Thorsen
Day 3- Variables and Experimental Design Lesson
Day 4- Data, Graphing and Conclusions Lesson
-Data Collection and Graphing Activity
Day 5- Alka-Seltzer or Gummy Bear Lab
Day 6- Scientific Method Stations Review (usually takes 2 days)
Day 7- Test

Additional Resources- I like to have resources on hand, depending on the class.
- Scientific Method Task Cards by Amy Brown Science
Scientific Method Stations by Elly Thorsen
**I have not used this particular one, but I have use Kesler Science Stations before, and they are generally good quality- Scientific Method Stations

I hope this unit outline has been helpful for you! Let me know what you think below in the comments!

10 Easy Make-Ahead Dinners for Back to School!

Monday, July 31, 2017 2 comments
If you are anything like me, the looming, overwhelming, impending BACK TO SCHOOL is starting to freak you out. It is everywhere right now. Heck, even my Target has put out back to school stuff, discounted it, and cleared out the area for something new!


Anyhoo, since it is "that time", I have started to think about preparing for "it". One of the biggest things I have done to make the school year easier is to prepare dinners ahead of time. Yep, totally non-school related, and yet, so helpful! It takes a huge load off my mind, and one more decision off my plate. (pun intended!) By making dinners ahead of time, it forestalls the inevitable "what's for dinner?" question, saves us from nightly fast food and keeps our grocery bill (and portion sizes!) in check.

In the past, my husband and I would spend Saturday or Sunday entirely on making our pre-made meals for the next 2-3 months. Now, with two little "helpers", we don't have an entire day to spend on it. Usually, we will make one or two pre-made dinners every weekend- one serving to eat that night, the rest to freeze. We will do this over a couple weekends, and fill our freezer that way, and then be good to go for a few months!

Our weekly meal plan normally looks a little like this-
Monday- baked chicken and a vegetable
Tuesday- Pre-made dinner
Wednesday- Baked pork chops and a vegetable
Thursday- Pasta night
Friday- Pizza Night
Saturday- Takeout or pre-made
Sunday- Takeout or pre-made

Obviously, this menu is not the same all the time, but those are our basic go-to meals. For the girls, we also always have on hand chicken nuggets and fish sticks, frozen pasta, and box mac and cheese, for the nights when they are not feeling what daddy and I are cooking.

I have linked the recipes that we use the most for pre-made, along with my tips and tricks-Enjoy!

A little note about preparation- in general, we use the 1 lb foil loaf pans for most of these recipes; for the soups we use the quart sized plastic containers. They are the perfect 2 person serving size (or 2 adults + 2 littles under the age of 4)- add on a side of vegetables, and it's a meal! Sometimes the girls surprise us and devour our portions, sometimes not.

When you are ready to eat a meal, you can pull them out of the freezer either the night before (you early planner, you!) or the morning of (whoops!) and they are ready to cook that evening. Pretty much everything will cook in under 30 minutes-pop it in the oven as soon as you get home, and hey-presto! dinner!

1) Cajun Meatloaf by Paul Prudhome -This meatloaf is beyond just a baked loaf of meat! Delicious as-written, but I only ever use about 1/4 of the seasoning mix. Prepare the recipe up until the final bake. Cover with foil; when ready to eat, put in fridge to thaw for about 8-12 hours and follow cooking instructions. This makes about 4 to 5 one-pound foil loaf tins.
The great chef, Paul Prudhome! 
2) Shepard's Pie by Paul Prudhome -Yes, this recipe is different from the meatloaf. I love this one because the veggies come with it! Again, I cut WAAAYYY back on the spices, and I up the amount of veggies and potatoes. You will cook the meat first, and I usually drain it before adding the veggies and potatoes. Prepare these up until the final bake as well. Cover with foil; when ready to eat, put in fridge to thaw for about 12 hours, then follow cooking instructions. Depending on how much extra veggies you add, this can stretch from 4 to 6 one-pound foil loaf pans.
Mel's Kitchen Cafe Baked Pasta
3) Baked Ziti by Mel's Kitchen Cafe -This one we make pretty much every time we prep. Beloved by both girls, we usually up the amount of veggie sides we make with it, and serve bread. I always add extra cheese on top and use chicken spinach-parmesian sausage. Boil the pasta for less time than you think- it cooks more during the final bake; boil too much and it gets mushy. I also like to use fresh spinach, although frozen does work. Prepare these up until the final bake. Cover with foil; when ready to eat, put in fridge to thaw for about 12 hours, then follow cooking instructions. Makes about 4 to 5 one pound foil loaf pans.

4) Stuffed Shells -Another good pasta recipe, although a little more time consuming. Boil more shells than it says you need (they always rip). You will want the flatter trays for this. The foil loaf pans work, but it is a pain to serve (they are all stacked on each other). You can dress these basic shells up a number of ways- I usually add chopped up chicken spinach-parmesian sausage and spinach. It's a thing... Prepare these up until the final bake. Cover with foil; when ready to eat, put in fridge to thaw for about 12 hours, then follow cooking instructions. Makes about 5-6 one pound foil flat pans.

5) Pastry Wrapped Salmon or Chicken -This one is a bonus meal! You can prepare it with salmon fillets or chicken breasts-delicious either way! This is a fancy recipe, but it doesn't have to be. We sub out the prosciutto for deli sliced ham, and the __________ cheese for pre-sliced Swiss. Is this as delicious as the original recipe? Meh... Is it still darn good, devoured by small children and a fraction of the price? You betcha! We use about 1.5 lb of salmon or 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (pounded flat-ish) and cut the puff pastry sheets into 2 pieces (for 4 total) after rolling out. Prepare up until the final bake; wrap in foil. You get about 4 servings.
Karrie Truman's Lasagna
6) Lasagna by Karrie Truman But, of course! I really like this recipe- it is not too fancy, but not too processed. She also has really good instructions. Again, cook extra sheets. Cut them to fit perfectly into the 1 lb foil loaf pans. Prepare these up until the final bake. Cover with foil; when ready to eat, put in fridge to thaw for about 12 hours, then follow cooking instructions. Makes about 4 to 5 one pound foil loaf pans.

7) Bean soup- I like to use the dry bean mixes (don't forget to soak overnight and rinse well!), and cook with a ham hock. Feel free to add veggies (onion, celery, carrots) to make this soup even a little more hearty. Makes about 3 to 5 servings.

8) Cheese broccoli soup by Ree Drummond- I use this recipe, with very few changes. I don't toast the broccoli (ain't nobody got time for that!) I use an immersion blender to make it a bit more creamy, but I don't blend it all. I like the broccoli chunks! This is really good with some crusty bread. Save some shredded cheese for topping fresh! Makes about 4 to 5 servings.
Corn Chowder by Ree Drummond
9) Corn cheese chowder also by Ree Drummond (can you tell I am a fan!) I also like to use an immersion blender for this one as well. I have added salmon chunks to this, and it was a huge hit (sort of a mash up of corn-cheese-seafood chowder). Again, nice, fresh crusty bread! (bonus points for bread bowls!!) Save some shredded cheese for topping fresh. Makes about 4 to 5 servings.
The Pioneer Woman's Mac and Cheese!
10) Mac and cheese again by Ree Drummond (like, seriously, a big fan!) This linked recipe is for when you are feeling extra fancy to make a sauce from scratch. In her post, it links to a non-sauce from scratch recipe. I have done both- I like this one better, but the other one is just as delicious. Depends on your skills and time frame! You can make this a meal, or you can use it as a side. We eat them as meals with a vegetable side. Makes about 4 to 5 1 lb foil loaf pan servings. I have also seen where people freeze them in muffin tins, and then put all the individual servings into a freezer bag and freeze that way for individual servings- seems like a good idea!

So there you have it- 10 easy recipes to make ahead for the school year! I hope they are helpful for your family and sanity as they have been for mine!

Lesson Planning: Back to School-Teaching Rules and Procedures

Monday, July 24, 2017 5 comments
Well, teacher friends-it is just about back to school time! We start school on September 5th this year, and I am in full new-year mode! I have ransacked the Target, Walmart and Staples for supplies and I have been working on completely planning the first semester.

Lesson Planning: Back to School-Teaching Rules and Procedures

I try to have at least the first month mapped out completely. This helps calm my over-anxious teacher-brain, but is not so planned that I feel I can't change it after the month is over. I usually find that the first month is a sort of settling in period for me. I get to know the students, and they get to know me. I get a hands-on practice of how my systems and structure will work and what will and what won't need to be adjusted.

During the first week, I usually do a mini-unit on rules, procedures and expectations in my class, followed by my Introduction to Science Unit. These are both nice easy topics to learn and keeps the students (and me, tbh) from freaking out too soon. (I like to ease them into the freaking out part, lol!)

My mini-unit on rules, procedures and expectations usually takes about a 3 to 4 days of 50 minute classes.

Here is my schedule:
Day 1- Personal introduction and begin Back to School Stations
Day 2- Complete Back to School Stations
Day 3- Fun lab
Day 4- Mini Research/Poster Project

My Back to School Station activity is usually about 5-6 stations of different activities that I pull together, including:

  • a Syllabus Scavenger Hunt, where they have to read the syllabus and find the answer to questions
  • Getting to Know Your Group Dice Game, a school friendly version of "never have I ever"
  • an Around the Room Scavenger Hunt for locations of different materials and bits of information
  • a couple of group challenges (usually working as a group to stack cups or write with a single marker) 
  • setting up notebooks
  • and a station for logic puzzles 
These Station Activities can take anywhere from one class period to two. Sometimes, I will save the group challenges for the second day entirely and talk about how they will need to work together in groups. For that, I will try to have a couple more activities on hand, in case they really work fast! 

I have also had them spend a class period getting notebooks in order, depending on how I use them. If they are using regular binders, then the station will just be coloring a cover page and labeling their tabs for the binder. If I am doing full-on interactive notebooks, then I will spend an entire class period going over how to set them up, and pasting in rules and expectations, showing them examples of good and bad work.  

I like to do a mini-lab on the third day, just to get a quick assessment of how they work in groups. Everybody is still fresh, so no one has fallen into their "role" in class yet. This will usually be the marshmallow/spaghetti stack, or the saving Sam activity. (This is also a great introduction of how to complete classwork and turn it in, whether I am using a binder or INB.)
A mini-lab setup with the rolling lab tables
 **Just make sure that if you do this, you check with other teachers to make sure you are not repeating each other (that was awkward-Mrs!- we just did this in miss-so-and-so's class!)**

And finally, depending on how bored I am with introduction stuff or icebreakers, I will either have them complete a mini-research project to make a poster for my bulletin board or I will dive into my "what is science?" lesson and get started!

This year, I am looking into finding some new activities that are not quite so played out.
I have listed a few things on my wish list below! 

All About Me Back to School Ice Breakers by Getting Nerdy  -this looks like a great icebreaker and INB practice activity in one! Plus, I love their stuff!
Four Brains are Better Than One by Tangstar Science - I already own this one! It is quick and a lot of fun. I have used it and many of her articles as substitute work!

Back to School Science Activities for Middle School by That Rocks Math Science and ELA - This looks like a great collection of 12 activities that focus on different science skills. Geared toward middle school, and looks to be not your typical activities.

Back to School Beginning of the Year Activities: Science Edition by Martina Cahill, The Hungry Teacher - this looks promising. It includes different activities, along with getting to know you and questionnaires. Suitable for lower middle grades (think 5-6, maybe 7)

Take Notes the Cornell Way by Mister Science- I am still thinking about how I want students to take notes. I have done modified Cornell before and this looks like an interesting lesson to teach it more effectively.

So there you have it- my general back to school method! What do you guys do for back to school? do you have any special ways to introduce you rules and procedures? Anything new you are trying this year? Leave a comment below and share!

5 Tips and Tricks I Have Learned on Family Vacations

Monday, July 17, 2017 No comments
Ahhhh, summer! That beautiful time of year when teacher-moms are planning to take a much-needed vacation. It will be family-friendly (and won't break the budget)! We will all get to relax and enjoy each other's company(you tell yourself)! The kid's will all get along perfectly (HA!)!

5 Tips and Tricks I have Learned on Family Vacations for a Fun and Relaxing Time!

This is the second year in a row that we are taking a family vacation with my husband's family. Last year they rented a house on the beach for 8 people (hubs, myself and our two littles, sister-in-law and boyfriend, and grandma and pop-pop) for 7 days. We did have a lot of fun, but we also learned a few good lessons! I wanted to share some of my vacation tips, tricks and truths with you as we embark on this year's adventure to the Poconos!

1) Figure out the right length of time for your stay!
For us, 7 days is toooo long! We actually already knew that from visiting my mom in Texas, but ignored it because VACATION. Not sure why we thought that would make a difference.... We have discovered that 5 days is our vacation sweet spot- long enough to really get to enjoy a place, but not so long that everybody is getting on everybody else's nerves. Figure out what works for you and don't feel bad!

2) Be honest about what you will cook/eat.
My in-laws are usually the first ones to arrive at the vacay house, and they will ask us what we would like from the store. Last year we hesitated to give them a list; it was SUPER long, and we felt bad about having them do all the shopping. Consequence-when we first arrived (right about dinner for two squalling kiddos!) no food kiddos would eat! Whoops! This year, we went ahead and sent the entire grocery list (mostly frozen pasta and chicken nuggets) and will pay them back when we get there. I have a basic plan for meals for myself (diet based) and the girls (picky) already thought out, so I am ready at any time. We are also bringing along a bunch of snacks from our own pantry for the trip and for any delays in supper time upon arrival.

3) Bring toys and activities.
Yes, we were at the beach for 7 days. My then-1-year-old was terrified of the ocean on day 1, and was sick of playing in the sand by day 3. The then-3-year-old was good at the beach until day 4. That meant we spent a lot of money at the local boardwalk and aquarium, taking random, really long walks and being cooped up in the house with tablets. On day 6 we discovered a local park, and the girls had tons of fun and made new friends! This time around, we made sure there was more than just one local feature (that was not too expensive!) There are 2 local playgrounds, woods to walk in, a splash park, mini-golf, movie theater and a little downtown. Plus, I am bringing more books and toys, and a few little arts and crafts activities. (Who wants to make slime and nature pictures!!!)

Making nature pictures after our nature walk!
4) Make a list of EVERYTHING!
And I do mean everything, right down to the mattress covers, night lights, and noise machines. No, we aren't traveling to the middle of nowhere, but last year I forgot my swimsuit (for a beach vacation. Yeah). I had to spend a couple hours trying to find a swimsuit at the end of the summer season. This year, I have been working on my list for 3 days! I keep it in Evernote on my phone, so I can add to it when I think of something. I feel pretty confident that we have almost everything! Bonus points- I also use it to make sure nothing gets left behind when we leave!

5) Try to relax!
This one is for the moms! I know that I always feel a bit bummed out on vacations. They are not really vacations for us, are they? Now, instead of keeping just my own little family on their schedule (naps and meals need to be on time to avoid meltdowns, amIright?!?!?!), but I am also trying to get 4 other grown adults on it as well. Mostly, moms spend their time trying to keep little people from falling into tantrums, but it is important to remember to communicate honestly and openly with the people you are on vacation with. And don't feel bad to ask them to take the kiddos for a bit! I had a bit of a meltdown myself, and I really plan to avoid that this year!

The daily view from our deck!
The babies were "dropped off" at our house two days in a row while mama foraged!
Okay, teacher-moms, there are my 5 tips and tricks that I have learned! Is there anything I missed? What lesson have you learned on vacation with your little ones? Share in the comments below, and enjoy your last days of summer!

Teacher for Hire! Tips from my Experience Searching for my Forever Home

Monday, July 10, 2017 2 comments
Teacher job search and interview tips
I am one of those unfortunate teachers who has not yet found their "forever home". I have been teaching for 6 years now, and I have taught in 4 different schools. I taught for about 3 years in my first school, and then I have been to a new school every year.

When I interview, it is getting a little awkward. Thankfully, there is a darn good reason for having left each school, and I make sure to get a recommendation from the principal each time! The reasons range from truly awful principal, embezzlement and fraud, just not being a good fit (and wanting to return to high school) and the newest (the one I am currently looking to leave) is because they did not represent themselves accurately when I was hired. I assumed, and this was my fault, that they had certain benefits in place, which they did not! Rough surprise...

So this post is for all the other teachers, looking for our forever homes. This post is for all the other teachers looking to leave a bad situation and worrying about how their resume will look. This post is for the teachers who have found their forever home, so that they can get a glimpse into the life of a nomad teacher.

If you are also looking for a new position, or are a new teacher, here are some helpful tips from a "seasoned pro"!
**Please understand that these tips are not for everyone! I teach science for middle and high school grades in a city that has a crazy high number of charter schools, so I can interview in many different places. I am also lucky enough to have a partner who makes the majority of our income- my income is usually sent to daycare, fun spending, home repair and savings/retirement. We CAN live without my income, the only problem is that money would get tight (and I might go crazy from being stuck with my own little ones all day!) **

1) Don't go for the first offer, just because they made it. Schools are almost always hiring-I interviewed with the public school district here, and did not hear back until literally a week before school started. I wish I had held out for that position! I took an earlier offer because I was afraid of being without a job.

2) Don't be afraid to negotiate! Know what you are worth- research the salaries in your area and plan accordingly. I have negotiated my salary every year, usually up around $3000-5000.You will seem more knowledgeable and experienced, and I swear the principals I did this with seem to respect me more as an expert in my field.

3) Know what benefits you want and ask about them! Do not be shy about asking in the first or second interview- don't wait until you have signed a contract to realize that they do not pay into the state teachers retirement fund, or that you only have 5 sick days (and you expected 10)! If I had known this ahead of time- it would have been a no-go! Now I jokingly, but really, ask about them in the first interview! (obviously, this depends on how the interview is going...)

4) BE HONEST! If they are asking you about things that you are not interested in, or in activities you would not be willing to do- be polite, but be honest! Lots of schools have asked about teachers doing after school activities, so I tell them what I would like to do or join. Science club- cool! Mathematics and Robotic Club- nope!

5) Ask about the school day- how many classes, what does a typical teacher schedule look like, and extra activities (hall monitor, before or after school monitor, sitting in the lunch room). All these little things will eat your time during the day, and it is better to be prepared upfront. This can go into pro/con lists when you are deciding! Trust me, the difference between being expected to be at a post at 7:15 and just in you room by 7:30 is huge!

and finally
6) Be yourself! I am an odd, slightly abrupt and weird kind of person! I tend to say what I am thinking, without a whole lot of filter. I find that principals either love me at first sight or do not. I have become really okay with that! If they do not like me for who I am in an interview, then we probably will not work well together, and that makes for a rough school year. Or they love me and the interview turns into a 2 hour talk and an offer on the spot (that drives my husband nuts!lol)

Just remember- you are an awesome and unique person who is willing (and able) to teach little humans! This is a special gift; not everyone can-or should-do this!  We should make sure that we are being compensated and have found the best position for us. So go forth and interview boldly!

Do you have any tips you would add to this list? Are you still searching for your forever home? Comment below!

The Perfect Vanilla Cake

Sunday, July 2, 2017 3 comments

I can't wait to quit teaching.

Don't get me wrong. I love teaching. I love to teach. I love connecting with kids. I love seeing the a-ha! moment happen, and I love when they enjoy class. I love coming up with new curriculum that is engaging and captivating for students.

But if you ask me what I want to be when I grow up-teacher is not it. I want to open my own bakery. I live for cake. Cookies. Pastries. Cheesecakes. I think about them all the time.

When I eat a dessert in a restaurant, I immediately think about how I could make it better. What would I change? How would I present it?

I am a dessert snob. We went to the nicest restaurant in town (town= Philadelphia). We are talking $600 for 4 people for my birthday. And I refused dessert. They brought it anyway, and I ate it (hey, it's still dessert!), but I was judging it the whole time.

So, yeah, a bakery. As you can imagine, I love to bake for myself and my friends. And co-workers. And my daughters schools. And Friday. And that time of the month.
I spend all my time looking at recipes, combining them, comparing them, adding to them. I almost never make the same recipe the same way twice, so when I find something I am happy with, you can bet that it will be amazing!

Which brings us to the Perfect Vanilla Cake. I make all the birthday cakes in our house (naturally) and for large birthday parties, I generally stick with vanilla cake. I have done other types, but they never get eaten, and I end up with leftovers, which is a WHOLE OTHER PROBLEM.

I have been testing vanilla cake recipes for a few years now. My criteria- it must be good for sheet and stacked cakes; it must also be good for cupcakes. I want it to be fluffy and moist, like a box mix, but homemade. It has to take food color well and have a strong vanilla flavor. It can't be too difficult, with too many steps or ingredients, or have too many bowls.

For a while, I used the recipe for Old Fashioned Cupcakes out of the Back in the Day Cookbook, which is still awesome in it's own right. Excellent vanilla flavor, great for cupcakes, but I always wanted the texture to be more like a box mix, more fluffy/moist, and less dense.

Recently, I bought the Cookies and Cups Cookbook, and I have been loving her Vanilla Cake Recipe! I have used it a number of times, and it fits pretty much all of my criteria. That being said, there are a few little changes I make to it.

The first change is that I use either cake flour, or I make my own cake flour, using regular flour and cornstarch. Oh, you didn't know about that little trick? Heck, yeah!-for every one cup of regular flour, replace 2 tablespoons with cornstarch and sift to combine! I think it is a combo of sifting and replacing, but it works, so wooo-hooo!

I also beat the crap out of it. Cream the butter until it is light in color and fluffy, and then at the end, the original recipe says to turn to medium for 30 seconds, but I bump a little higher for a little longer.

The trick I find with all the whipping and beating is to be extra careful when getting trays in and out of the oven-not too bumpy or you will loose your air bubbles!

I think the combo of those two little adjustments makes a great texture! The colors are vibrant, the cake stays moist (after being covered in frosting) and the flavor is awesome!

It works pretty well as a cupcake, too!

So while I may never stop searching for the Holy Grail of vanilla cake recipes, I think this one is going to stick around a while!

I have also added my buttercream recipe below!
The Perfect Vanilla Cake Recipe
(Adapted from Cookies and Cups Cookbook)

3 cups cake flour
             (or 3 cups flour minus 6 tbsp, then add 6 tbsp corn starch back in and sift 2-3 times)
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup butter, at room temp
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
4 large eggs, at room temp
1 tbsp vanilla
1 cup whole milk, at room temp

Preheat oven to 350 and prep your baking pans (cooking spray and parchment). This will make 2-9" rounds, or about 24 cupcakes.

In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In your mixer bowl, beat the butter and sugar. (I like to beat it until it is lightened in color.) Add the oil, eggs, vanilla and keep mixing until smooth, scraping as necessary.

Turn to low and add about 1/3 of the flour mixture, then about half the milk, beating after each addition. Repeat this step, and end with the flour mixture. Turn the mixer back up and mix for about a minute.

Put the batter into the prepared pans and bake for about 25-30 minutes. The tops should look dry and spring back lightly from your touch. A toothpick should come out clean from the middle.

Vanilla Buttercream
-makes about enough to thinly fill and frost one 3 layer 9" round cake or 24 cupcakes. Depends on how much you love frosting.....

3 sticks butter, at room temp
2 lbs powdered sugar (about 6-7 cups)
2 tbsp vanilla
1/2 to 3/4 cup whole milk (whipping cream is better!)

Beat the butter for a minute or so on medium speed to smooth it out. 

Turn the mixer to low and add 4 cups of the powdered sugar. 

Add the vanilla and half of the milk. Add the rest of the powdered sugar. Mix on medium for about 30 seconds, then turn back to low and add additional milk until it reaches desired consistency. 

Turn mixer up to medium/high and beat for about 5-10 minutes until frosting has increased and turned a lovely white, fluffy beautiful color. This is where using heavy cream (whipping cream) will really make your frosting sing! 


If you get a chance to try this out- let me know will you? 
I would love to hear your cake stories!!!

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.....