What do teachers do over summer vacation? I can really only speak for myself, but I find that I am thinking of school. All. The. Time. No matter what I’m doing, it’s always there running around in the back of my mind. Last year I transitioned back into the classroom after five years of teaching reading intervention. This coming year I will again be changing assignments. Our second and third grades are becoming departmentalized, and I will be on a three teacher team. One teacher will teach reading to all three classes, one will teach math, and I will be teaching science and social studies. I am very excited about all of the hands-on project possibilities, but also a little overwhelmed.
To be honest, the just-completed school year really kicked my butt. I was exhausted by the time it was over. I knew that moving back to a classroom after five years of teaching groups of 5-7 students at a time would be a big change, but there were lots of other challenges as well. Our school was in the process of changing over to the Common Core, but because the state tests haven’t caught up yet, we would still need to cover a lot of the old standards. Luckily I was familiar with the second grade reading series because I had taught reading in second grade, but the math series had only been in use for one year and was completely different from the one I had used my last time in the classroom. On top of that, as a grade level it was decided that instead of teaching through both series more or less “in order,” supplementing and adapting as we went, we were going to pull everything apart, add things, take things out, and generally completely rearrange them. Now, most teachers would tell you they don’t use any series as a be-all end-all, but I like to look at them as a good jumping off point. They have a lot of material and activities right there, ready to go. I always felt that having a certain amount of material on hand gave me more freedom to create the additional lessons that I wanted or needed. I know several teachers who don’t feel right unless they have created every single lesson from scratch themselves. Not me. I am all about the hunt. Google is my best friend. All those ideas running around in the back of my mind? Well, every once in a while one of them pokes its way to the front. Sometimes its pretty fully formed, other times not. On those occasions, I usually know what I want to accomplish, but maybe not how to go about it. Google to the rescue! After scouring and scavenging web pages and blogs, I choose the best ideas and put together my own little lesson. It’s kind of like going to a flea market and scoring hidden treasure, or bringing home a beat up old dresser and transforming it with some paint, paper and Mod Podge. (I don’t really do that myself, but I’ve seen it on Pinterest! ) This year, I just did not have the time or energy for that. Keeping up with the changes we were making in our basic curriculum was hard enough. I feel like I got the basics covered, but didn’t have a lot of time for the “extras.”
I am already hard at work on next year’s material, taking the science and social studies standards (or content statements, as they’re called here in Ohio) and working on a pacing chart, developing essential questions, and gathering ideas for lessons. Pinterest is a big help here. Whereas I use Google to refine or streamline a specific idea, Pinterest is excellent for general trawling. We have quite a few social studies standards dealing with maps, so one of the things I have done is go to the official website for every state in the union and request travel information. It’s free! I’ve got travel brochures and maps, maps, and more maps from all over!
The two blue file jackets in front are full of just maps, and I’ve got about half that many again that don’t fit in the folders. Minnesota, South Carolina, and Oregon have been especially prolific in the amount of material they’ve sent. They reeeeeallly want me to visit. I’ve gotten some very interesting material too. I’ve got a skill-rated motorcycle map of the Black Hills of South Dakota; an airport guide from North Carolina, with aerial photos and details on all of their small airports; I’ve got truck driver handbooks and maps of national parks. I did realize that I’m going to have to do a more thorough reading of all the brochures, however, when I came across the one from Atlantic City, New Jersey that had a fairly robust section on “adult” entertainment!
Second grade science focuses quite a bit on weather, so I’m looking forward to making weather instruments such as sundials, anemometers, barometers, and others with the students. We also have several standards to cover on forces and motion, so we’ll be making marble rallies, Angry Bird-type structures, and stick bombs. Hmm, with a “zero tolerance” policy on weapons, maybe we’ll rename the stick bombs. They are awesome, though. Watch this…
I’m looking forward to next year, and with June already over, it is fast approaching!
After last night’s craftastic failure, I felt the need, the need for speed. No, I felt the need to have a successful project. My first attempt at embellishing a sweater turned out well, so I focused my attention on a project that I had started but never finished. Ironically, it also involved cutting up a neglected t-shirt. The candidate this time: a long-sleeved ivory t-shirt that was too wide at the bottom and not long enough to stay tucked in or to leave untucked. The sleeves were also too wide and floppy at the wrists. I also had a plain green cardigan that I never wear.
Here you can see the strips I cut from the t-shirt, the roll of tulle I used to back the strips, and a couple of the strips gathered and ready to go on the sweater.
I basted the t-shirt strips to the tulle strips, then gathered them and pinned them where I wanted them on the sweater. Then all I did was sew the strips down, and viola!, an embellished sweater.
Until now, I’ve had success with projects found and tried on Pinterest. Recipes, craft projects, classroom ideas, they’ve all worked out pretty well.
Yesterday I was shopping, and one of my purchases was a new scarf. While I was looking around Pinterest for different ways to tie a scarf I also found a tutorial on making your own scarf out of an old t-shirt. It looked cute and I actually had a couple of perfect candidates for this project in my pile of can’t-throw-out-but-maybe-can-refashion clothes. I had two long-sleeved t-shirts that I just never wore. One was striped and one a coordinating solid color. I thought it would add a little interest to combine them in the same scarf.
My raw materials:
The directions were pretty simple. Use paper plates as a template to cut circles out of the t-shirts. Then cut the circles into a spiral, pull them a little to stretch and get the “curl,” then just gather all the strips together and wear as a scarf. I’m not sure at what step, but this project went very, very wrong. The strips didn’t really curl up when I stretched them, so when I put the “scarf” around my neck and looked in the mirror, instead of a cute fluffy ruffle-y scarf, it looked like I had a bunch of stringy rags around my neck. It reminded me of the website Cake Wrecks, when they post pictures of the cakes people ordered along with pictures of the cake they actually received:
Click picture to see Cake Wrecks site…hilarious!
Then I started thinking of ways to salvage my shredded strips. I had twelve, so I thought maybe I could braid them together. So I braided sets of three strips together, and then took those four braids and braided them together. The only good thing about this project was that I learned how to braid four strands together. Basically, you take the strand on the far right and weave it under, over, then under the other three strands. As I was braiding, I was reminded of those pot holders we used to weave as kids. This thought did not cheer me on.
After completing the braid, I now have a thin, tight strip, nothing at all like the cute scarf in the tutorial. Maybe it wants to be a belt? The strap for a tote bag?
In the interest of trying to write more often, I’ve decided to try out Word Press’s “Daily Prompt.” Today’s prompt is “What’s the 11th item on your bucket list?”
I was tempted to skip this because I don’t really have an official bucket list. (Was that even a thing before that movie came out?) As I thought about it though, there are a few things that I’ve always wanted to do, I’ve just never organized them into a list. Which is weird because I do like making lists. My dad was a big M*A*S*H fan, so I saw a lot of it growing up. Thanks to Klinger, I have always wanted to go to a Toledo Mud Hens game. After watching the Food Network, I know that I want to go to Primanti Bros. restaurant in Pittsburgh, where they put the fries and cole slaw right on your sandwich. Yes, I am a simple girl with simple needs. I may get to check that one off this summer; we’re planning a trip to see the Cincinnati Reds play back-to-back series in Cleveland and Pittsburgh. I want to go parasailing. I’ve been waiting for my kids to be big enough to go back to Cedar Point. I went once, with a girlfriend, but haven’t been able to go back since I was pregnant the next summer. I want to read all of the Newbery Medal winners. I’m a little dismayed at how few of these I have already read, but being a kindergarten teacher for so long, the Caldecott winners were more up my alley.
Some of the items I’ve already crossed off my list? A trip to Chicago, to see the Reds take on the Cubs. We also had amazing pizza at Lou Malnati’s and hot dogs at Superdawg. (Yes, a lot of my list does seem to be fueled by baseball and the Food Network!) While we were there we also went up to the Skydeck, on what used to be the Sears Tower and went out in the glass boxes high above the city. It was a weird feeling to step out onto “nothing” and look down on the streets below. I loved Chicago. I’m not a fan of city living, but if I had to pick a city, I think Chicago and I would get along. Last Christmas, I made homemade marshmallows. They were ridiculously good. They tasted like marshmallows, but so much better. After my parents and most of my siblings agreed to go, I finally talked my husband into a family trip to Disney World. He was not looking forward to it, but after we got home he was the first one to suggest going back.
I really want to do one of those zipline tours, but I’m a little hesitant. A few years ago I was able to try something that I had been looking forward to for a long time, and it turned out to be one of the most boring things I have ever done. Ever since the Sidney Olympics in 2000, I wanted to do a bridge climb. During one of the segments where they show the local sights, NBC focused on the Sidney Harbor Bridge Climb. Intrepid visitors could take a guided tour climbing up and over the bridge from one end to the other. I thought it was one of the best ideas ever. Fast forward to 2006. The Purple People Bridge, a pedestrian bridge in Cincinnati, was opening a bridge climb! My sister and I signed up as soon as we could. We knew we would have to wear silly looking jumpsuits and wear safety harnesses, but we were not prepared for the plodding pace our guide set. Every few steps we had to stop. And answer trivia questions. Do you know why Cincinnati is called Porkopolis? What is the actual name of the bridge? Look, there’s Ken Griffey, Jr.’s apartment building! Aaaaarrrrggghhhh! It was the most boring supposed-to-be-exciting thing I’ve ever done. Not surprisingly, the bridge climb closed in May of 2007.
What’s on your bucket list? Have any of your adventures not lived up to the hype?
I wrote my first blog post one year ago today. I haven’t been writing as much as I’d like lately, because second grade is taking up a lot of my time. I’m not actually in second grade, I’m teaching it. I haven’t been a classroom teacher for five years, but I’m loving it. I’m already sad that I will never have another class like this one. They looooove to read, and I love introducing them to my favorite authors. They write plays–at recess. One girl is writing her own novel; I believe she is already up to chapter six or seven. They give me books that they are reading and ask me to make packets of questions and activities for them. They decided to have a science fair and brought in some very impressive projects. And they are fun and funny. One of my favorite characteristics in students is a well-developed sense of humor, and I have a very good class.
Even though I haven’t been blogging often in recent months, I’ve still had a steady trickle of visitors. It’s interesting to look at my stats and see what brings people to my blog, especially the search terms they use. Coming in at nearly 38%, the top search that leads readers to my blog (and this post) are variations on the theme of nerf sash/dart belt, which weirdly includes a few searches for “nerf dart cake recipe.” The next most popular search (26%) that lands people on my blog are various iterations of “What’s the opposite of ode?” which I wondered myself in this post, which was a follow-up to this one. If I add in the oddball “What’s the opposite of dirge?” it bumps up to almost 28%.
In addition to seeing the search terms that bring readers to my blog, I can also see views by country. People from 34 different countries have read my blog. I have followers, too, who have signed up to be notified when I publish a new post, and only 12% of them are people I actually know in real life. Weird.
Looking at the search terms that bring readers in, it won’t surprise you to learn that the posts that have had the most views are Nerf Dart Tag Ammo Belt and What’s the Opposite of ‘Ode’? The next two most viewed posts a personal favorites of mine, Grammar Police and (Don’t) Look at Me! Grammar Police is also one of the most commented-on posts, along with Mmm…Soft Pretzels. I have a slight pet peeve about comments, though. Many of my readers are friends who click the links I post on my facebook page. They comment, but they go back to facebook to do it!
Going forward, I hope to get back to writing more often, and to the sewing and cooking projects that I originally intended to blog about. Maybe I’ll try one of those sites that provide a daily/weekly writing prompt. If nothing else, I’ll see you this time next year with my nerf dart cake recipe finally perfected!
In a previous post, I promised you the story of my house. I read somewhere, probably on Pinterest, about the idea of writing down the story of your house and hiding it somewhere for future generations to find.
John and I bought our first home about a year after we were married. It was small but nice, although the only bathroom was so small and configured in a way that if there were two people in the bathroom at the same time, one of them had to be in the shower and one on the toilet. And there was a window in the shower. Facing the front yard. This is not the story of that house. We had no children yet, so we were saving as much as we could each month toward a down payment on our dream home. John proclaimed that he was only moving once more, so the next house had to be the house.
Time passed, and we had our first child. For such tiny people, babies sure have a lot of stuff. (This baby was not so tiny, at 11 pounds and 3 ounces!) With all of the bedrooms now occupied (we had a third bedroom we used for the computer), it was time to get a little more serious about a house search. At some point, we grew tired of looking at houses and began looking for land on which to build. This was a small victory for me, to convince my husband, who grew up in town, to consider the country life. We found the perfect spot by accident one evening while driving around to give our son a few more minutes of naptime. Neither one of my children could be removed from the car without waking them.
With the land secured, we moved on to choosing a floor plan. It was funny how we had different approaches to this. I would look at the floor plans and pick out several that I liked to show to John. He just wanted to know what the outside of the house looked like. During this time, the land between our house and the one next to us was put up for sale. Not wanting our country paradise to get too crowded, we approached our neighbors about splitting the property with us, and they gladly agreed. I’m still very happy with where we live, but I will admit to the slightest twinge of jealousy every now and then when I see friends posting pictures on facebook of the fun they’re having in their neighborhood with lots of same-age kids to play with. But then it passes.
Finally we had a floor plan chosen and construction was about to begin. Not long after some of the site work started, I found out I was pregnant with our second child. I seriously considered waiting to tell John until I was absolutely sure work on the new house could not be stopped. He tends to worry too much (in my opinion) about our finances. But I told him anyway and luckily he didn’t freak out.
Fast forward to move-in day, December 1, 2004. Now, if you live in the Midwest, you probably remember what happened in late December of 2004. Around December 21, a massive ice storm covered the region, causing trees and power lines to fall. I woke early that morning to the sound of cracking branches in the woods around us. My husband woke much earlier when a massive cherry tree fell toward the back of the house and missed hitting it by about 12-15 feet. He is a very, very light sleeper, while I am a very, very sound sleeper. And I snore, so did I mention that he happened to be sleeping on the couch right under the window that the cherry tree fell toward? It was a very eerie thing, every few minutes to hear branches breaking and falling, while the house was silent. You don’t really realize how much of a hum there is from all things electric, until it’s missing. We had no electricity and no water either, because the county water company was also without electricity or backup generators. Not yet knowing the full extent of the storm, with no tv to watch and no smartphones to surf the web, my husband went off to work, and I thought C. (who was just over two) and I would stick it out. The house lost heat surprisingly quickly, and by midmorning I was calling John to see if we could go somewhere else. His parents, who lived in town, had power so we went over there. We weren’t there more than an hour and a half before a transformer down the street blew. On to Plan C. My parents lived about 14 miles out of town, and also had no electricity and no water, but they did have a wood-burning stove, so off we went. John’s parents decided to stay put. My sister was also there, and my youngest brother was home from college, so we had 7 people shut up in two rooms; the kitchen and family room had doors that could be closed to keep in the heat.
It’s amazing how quickly we start to miss the normal comforts of everyday life. The ham and cheese sandwiches my dad cooked (outside, in below zero temps) on the gas grill that night tasted amazing. We had pancakes cooked on the grill the next night. There was no water, so we used melted snow in order to flush the toilet. My brother managed to find his very first GameBoy and a few game cartridges. We played some euchre and passed the time fairly pleasantly, except for when I was feeling pregnant and miserable.
We missed our first Christmas in our new home. After a couple of nights at Mom and Dad’s, John’s parents got their power back on, so we relocated again. They still had no water, so on Christmas Day, we traveled to John’s sister’s house, about 50 miles away, and had our first showers in several days. Being clean felt soooo good. C. was too young to notice that Santa didn’t show up on the right day, and a day or so after that we pulled into our driveway to retrieve some more clothes, pushed the garage door opener hopefully, and…it opened! Our clapping and cheering annoyed C., who was more than a little grumpy over being displaced for several days. We still had no water, but a warm house was enough so that my brother and his wife could bring their new baby down for Christmas with the family.
Santa came a few days late that year, but the two-year-old didn’t mind, and he loved his shiny new red bike. He was able to ride it around the house in a circle, through the kitchen, dining room, and hallway, and when he wasn’t riding on it, he sat on it to watch tv. We got water back a few days later, but for many people it was another week before they had electricity again, and a week after that before they had water. We may have grumbled, but we made it through safe and warm.
I like to sit on my bike and watch tv!
After three grueling weeks of school, we are enjoying our first break. Our county fair is the week of Labor Day and with so many students participating in 4-H, FFA, and other fair activities, local schools have had this week off for as long as I can remember. It’s actually a great week to go away on vacation, since so many other schools are in session crowds have died down. Last year we went to Chicago for some deep dish pizza and baseball.
I’m kidding about school being grueling so far, but it is nice to have this break, especially after beginning a new assignment. After teaching reading intervention for the last five years, this year I am teaching second grade. The week off gives me an opportunity to reflect on the first weeks of school, and the time to regroup and reorganize. I am also sorting through all of the books and other materials left in the room by previous occupants. It’s been great to inherit a room full of resources, but since all of the cupboards and filing cabinets are filled, it’s been hard to get a handle on what’s there as well as find room for my own materials.
After three weeks of teaching, this week I’ve rescheduled my day to something that feels really good…on paper at least. It’s actually pretty similar to the schedule I had been working, with the loose edges nailed down. I find it hard to create a concrete schedule until I’m in the middle of it, so this little break from school is especially helpful. For part of the day, while I meet with small reading groups, the rest of the class will be working independently at various literacy stations. For the first three weeks, I had been letting students choose their own stations (within certain guidelines), but the various personalities in my classroom made this a little too chaotic for my taste. Have you ever noticed that every teacher has his/her own level of tolerance for noise/chaos in the classroom? Mine is relatively high, as long as it’s a productive noise, but I have a few too many students who will take advantage of that. So between them and the girl who always asks “Can I just color?” (“No, honey, it’s reading time.”) and the boy who would play Boggle all day long (can’t really blame him, if I could play word games all day long, I probably would), I’ve decided to be a little more structured, at least for now. What all that means is that I had to schedule 21 students in 6 reading groups in 5 different types of centers over 5 days and up to 5 stations each day, taking into account the students who are pulled out for intervention or gifted programs. That works out to 105 different time slots to be filled. It took me about 6 hours over the course of two days. First I had to settle on the schedule, then fill in each group so that everyone had the same amount of time with each station. Then I created a weekly schedule for each group so that the students would know what to do when. They will have the schedule with them during station time so they can work independently while I meet with small groups (hopefully) uninterrupted by questions like “What do I do now?” My master schedule was so nearly perfect that only two groups were slightly unbalanced with their time at a couple of stations. But when I started to fix it, changing one thing meant changing something else, and something else, and something else, that I had to stop. I will live with it for now and change it for the next week, otherwise I would have a perfect schedule but no time for planning the actual lessons. And all this scheduling only accounts for about an hour and fifteen minutes of my school day.
I am loving second grade so far. By Wednesday of the first week I felt like I was hitting my groove. All the little classroom routines and things that needed to be in place were coming back to me. I have a great group of students; even the difficult ones are not unlikable, and lots of them have a great sense of humor, which is my most favorite trait in students. I am eagerly awaiting our first book order to arrive (remember those from elementary school? the little Scholastic flyers?). According to the tracking information, it should be delivered to school today, so I may have to go over later and check. This month, Charlotte’s Web was available for only $1.00, so I decided to invite students to join a Family Book Club. Families could buy the book and read it together at home over the same period of time. I will send home discussion guides and activities, all totally optional. I may even set up some kind of online discussion group on a class website so we can talk about the book together. I bought a few extra copies myself in case anyone decides to join in later and borrow the book. Eight students ordered the book and I am looking forward to this experiment. Each month Scholastic has a different book available for $1.00, so I hope there are a couple more really good ones this year to keep the book club going.
I’m ready to go back to school on Monday, see my students again, and put my new schedule into practice. Even though this week has flown by, I feel it’s been productive. I’m feeling refreshed and energized and ready to tackle the rest of the school year.
We saw the house on the news, surrounded by crime scene tape and sheriff’s cars. The big white house on the little country road. I used to live there. My parents had the house built next door to my grandparents’ farm (where my mom grew up) and lived there for more than 30 years. It’s the place where my sister, brothers and I grew up, the only house my youngest brother ever knew. It’s where we played catch in the yard and basketball in the driveway. It’s where we would disappear into the woods to follow trails and build stick huts. Where we rode bikes down the road and watched deer graze in the field. My parents only sold it a little over a year ago. Both my grandparents were gone, and with no one in the family to take over the farm, it made sense to sell both properties at the same time.
Now this horrible thing has happened there. Dad called to let us know before it hit the evening news, but over the next few days as the story unfolded, it became more and more gruesome. My children only know the barest details of what happened, but they know it happened where Grammy used to live. Tonight my daughter asked me if we could go to the little girl’s funeral, before including her in her nightly prayers. All I could do was hug her tight and try to choke back the tears. I cry for the life that was lost, for the face I see reflected in those of my own children and of my students. I cry for the children everywhere who do not live in a safe, loving environment. I cry for myself, for the loss of that future day when I might have knocked on the door and said, “Hi. I used to live here. Do you mind if I look around?”
I also feel guilt. I feel guilty for mourning what I have “lost” when the real tragedy is so much greater. If I’m going to be completely truthful, I probably was not going to go back and knock on that door. But the possibility has been stolen. The comfortable idea that families were still making happy memories in my house and that somewhere out there in the fuzzy future I could check in on it. There’s a song about “The House That Built Me.” But it wasn’t the house that built me, it was the home. The place where we knew we were completely safe not because of the walls, but because of the people who lived there.
I read once that you should write down the story of your house and hide it somewhere to be found by future owners. At the time I thought it was a nice idea and kind of filed it away in the back of my mind. I will do it soon for the house I share now with my husband and children. As for my childhood home, I choose to end the story in the summer of 2011, when my parents moved out.
Here we are, August 1st, just 12 days before school begins. Actually, the students have 12 days. We teachers only have seven. Seven more official days of summer vacation are left, although most of the teachers in my building have already been working in their rooms. I will be teaching second grade and have a new classroom this year. The best thing about my new room is that it was formerly occupied by a 30-year veteran, who left lots of books and materials behind when she retired. The worst thing about my new room is that it was formerly occupied by a 30-year veteran, who left lots of books and materials behind when she retired. The cabinets and shelves and file drawers are just filled with stuff. It’s great to have so much material available to me, but the thought of sorting through it all has me a little nonplussed. (You’ve used that word. It does not mean what you think it means. Most people think it means unfazed, or not bothered. It actually means the opposite: bewildered or perplexed.)
I have eight days until Open House, so instead of focusing on all of the stuff in my room, I’m going to work on making my room appear ready. (Darling, it is better to look good than to feel good.) This is not to say that I am going to neglect my lesson plans or other important things, but I think most parents would rather see a put-together room on Open House night. I have the wall outside my room decorated:
I also have one bulletin board finished inside my room. The idea of using the paint chips for synonyms and interesting words came from Pinterest. Eventually it evolved into this:
One of our focus areas this year will be vocabulary, and this board encourages students to vary their word choice when they write. The “boring” or overused word is on the lightest color of the paint chip, and alternatives are on the more “colorful” samples. One of our new standards for second grade is to distinguish “shades of meaning” among similar words. For example, thin, slender, skinny, and scrawny have similar, but not exactly the same meanings. I have added some examples to get the ball rolling, and we will continue to add to it throughout the year.
The background of this board is made from pages copied from some of my favorite books.
Here you can see the first page of the first Harry Potter book, along with Charlotte’s Web and The Tale of Despereaux. Despereaux, by Kate DiCamillo, is chock-full of colorful words. One of my favorites is perfidy. It means a deliberate and treacherous betrayal. It’s a horrible thing in real life, but it’s a perfectly lovely fairy tale word.
I also have some fabric to make some curtains for my door and windows, and a stack of books around which to plan lessons. One big advantage I have is that after three weeks, we will get the week of Labor Day off school. Our county fair is that week and in our rural area many students are involved in fair activities through 4-H or FFA. Right now my focus is those first three weeks, and then I will have time to breathe, regroup, and treasure hunt in my cabinets and files.
**Bonus points to anyone who can identify the two sections of this post that must be read with an accent!
I think I first saw this idea on Pinterest. Cake mix in the waffle iron. Genius! And so many possibilities. I decided to make strawberry shortcake, with yellow cake, strawberry pie filling, and Cool Whip. Simply make the cake mix as directed on the package and cook in the waffle iron. I didn’t pay attention to the cooking time, because my waffle iron beeps when the waffles are done cooking. Then top with the strawberry pie filling and Cool Whip. I got 13 big waffles out of the cake mix.
The kids, reluctant to try something new, opted not to have the pie filling on their cake-waffles. Instead they had chocolate syrup and Cool Whip.
Next time, we might try them with ice cream on top. With all of the flavors of cake mix available and any topping you can think up, the possibilities are endless!