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Inside out and Back Again Book Unit Ideas

3 Dec

Chances are sometime this year whether you’re a teacher, work in a school, know someone who’s a teacher or have kids you have heard the words “Common Core”. What is it? A new set of standards that the country is implementing to get all states on the same page about what is taught in schools. This means all states have the same standards, instead of separate standards for each state like it used to be.

The common core standards are designed to make underperforming U.S students more college and career ready. I believe they are  more authentic and will be more helpful than the old standards for meeting that goal.

Some teachers are irritated with my state, New York, because they have gone ahead and designed whole book units on books for each grade level and “suggested” to schools to teach these units. This takes away creativity of the teacher as she is no longer able to design her own lessons. No one wants to be a robot and just follow a script, which is what essentially the NYS modules are.

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My school district has not mandated that we use these units, however I really liked one of the books, Inside out and Back Again by Thannha Lai so I decided to go ahead and teach it. I haven’t followed the scripted lessons word for word; I have taken what I could use and implemented changes that will fit the needs of my students. Okay, since I’m probably boring you with teacher speak, here are some ideas that I used to spice it up.

1. Include websites and more supported material on Vietnam that is student friendly.

Many of the articles and websites that the state used were dry. So here are some that I used to spice it up.

Vietnam War Facts

Fall of Saigon Video

Helicopter Pilot recalls Fall of Saigon

Sweet refugee stimulation video game <<<< really cooL!

Refugee Background

2. Real life correspondence with refugees.

The school I used to work at was an area that serviced a lot of ESL and refugee students. I got in touch with a friend (thanks Judy!) and we organized a little “pen pal” type activity. My students are so excited to see what our refugee student has to say in response to questions they created! We’re reading them tomorrow in class. This will help with their refugee research for the final project. I also reached out to local agencies and organized an office supply drive at my school. Some refugees at a center in Buffalo are having a hard time with supplies for applying for jobs and learning English. I organized a drive at my school and I will deliver the office supplies to the agency when the drive is over. Another great real life connection!

3.Differentiated final project

The final project of the module was the write a poem. I offered them multiple choices utilizing my school’s 1:1 I pad situation. They will use apps like Instablend, Piccollage, Videolicious, and Podomatic to create these projects.

Final Projects for Inside out and Back Again

I can’t wait to share the projects when they are completed! This blog topic was way far off from my regular topics but I am excited about the ideas I tried and just wanted to share! Thanks for reading!

If you’re a teacher, how do you feel about the common core?

Does your state have scripted lessons? Would you follow it?

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Are you working for the weekend?

15 Nov

The world of education lately can be pretty discouraging. I see daily posts from teachers and parents who are struggling with changes none of us can control. And it’s easy to lose sight of what we’re all in this for: the kids. I think a lot about my choice to become a teacher and how it may or may not be what I thought it was going to be. Regardless, it’s what I do, and I have to find ways to return to the reasons I chose it. If you don’t like you situation, you can sit there, complain, do nothing about it and blame others (which is what most people do), or you can choose to live your life a different way.

The negativity in education is almost overwhelming. I can’t even walk into the doors of my school without another teacher jokingly saying on the way in “Is it Friday yet!? Heheh!” I don’t want to live every week just waiting for Friday. Isn’t it weird that complaining and negativity just tend to seep into your pores as soon as the other person opens her mouth? That doesn’t mean I’m upset about Friday rolling around and taking the time to relax after working all week, but I truly want to find ways to enjoy each day and find happiness in little things instead of getting bogged down in all the complaining and negativity. I’ve decided to compile a list of things I LOVE about my job and my kids this year, and brainstorm ways I can capitalize and focus on the things I love instead of focusing on the negative which too many of us do.

Inspirational Quotes

1. I love the how fun, quirky and unique every single one of my kids is.

This year I am gifted with the most amazing, individual and fun students I’ve EVER had. The funny thing is was all last year, the teachers kept warning us about how ‘bad’ this class was and how we were going to have a terrible year next year. I just tried to block it out and it couldn’t have been farther from the truth. I absolutely am overwhelmed with the amount of fun I have with these kids. Everyone has such an individual personality, and everyone of them is accepting of one another’s differences. When I was in middle school it was all about being ‘popular’ and ‘cool’. There IS no “popular” group in this class because they all just let their individuality shine and I love it. And they are also some of the most caring, self-less kids I have ever met.

2. I love being able to have deep conversations about literature with my students.

Many people are complaining about the “common core” and how it’s so horrible. When in fact, some of the standards regarding literature are asking me to have discussions with students about literature that I would never have dreamed we would be having because I thought it was ‘too advanced’. I never thought my 8th graders would be analyzing literature. That’s something I did in college. Believe it or not, I LOVE analyzing literature and it’s one of the reasons I became an English teacher. So being able to pass my passion on to my students makes me happy.  I thought getting 8th graders to understand symbolism was a thing of the past. I’m happy to bring it back!

and i'll feel sorry for the students who are forced to read my book and write essays on it :( pin by kay

3. I love designing lessons that will excite and engage my students.

I want to branch out and not do the same thing all the time. With the prescribed lessons that NYS is distributing to us, it’s quite easy to follow along to the lesson without deviating. However, that’s boring. What I like is bringing new things to the table that I know will interest and excite my own students. I love just trying something crazy that I know is completely impractical. Many times I think of creative projects that I’m scared to do because it takes up “test prep time”. However in the back of my mind I know how much my students will enjoy it and how much fun we’ll have doing it.  I try to do at least one of these big projects a year. Last year, we rehearsed and filmed scenes from Anne Frank’s Diary. The year before, we created graphic novels based on unrequited love for the Romeo and Juliet unit. A lot of times I’ll have a crazy idea and I know it will be fun but take a lot of work. I do it anyway.

If your dreams dont scare you they aren't big enough

4. Every class, every day, every year is different.

I cannot fathom how people go to work at desk job day after day, year after year. No offense if you do and you love it. I’ll admit there are some days when I think “why can’t I just go sit at a desk all day??”. But the truth is I would HATE it every day. Every day to me just flies by without even thinking about it. I blink and its 3pm. I’m busy up to the minute I leave. And every day is a new challenge, a different experience. Even from class to class- one lesson can go poorly and the same exact lesson can go great. That happened today! My lesson in the morning was very rocky and I got discouraged (actually why I thought of writing this post lol) and then the same lesson was amazing in another class! I love trying to figure out who my students are and what will work best for each class. I love noticing what went well and why and how I can improve it the next time. Every lesson I get to do 5 times since I have five sections of 8th grade. So by the fifth time you can bet I’ve made some tweaks. And it definitely keeps it interesting. And who else has a job where every September you get to start over?!? Like you get a new reputation. It’s like changing towns and nobody knows who you are and what you’re like and you can change things about the way you teach and no one will ever know!

I challenge you to start noticing what went well in your day. The good things. Instead of focusing on all the negatives. Whether it be in your job or just life in general. What are you grateful for and how can you focus on it to make each day count and stop living for the weekend? Seeing the good in every day truly makes a difference in your overall happiness.

Favorite Posts

14 Nov

I guess I should acknowledge that my blog turned a year old the other day! Happy Birthday Pencils and Pancakes! It’s weird that I’ve more or less been documenting my life on the internet for a year. Sometimes I feel self conscious. A lot of people who have never heard of what a blog is or are unfamiliar with it don’t understand why anyone would want to do post their life on the internet, or constantly be taking pictures of food to post….but all I know is I enjoy blogging, reading others’ blogs, and writing. So I’ll keep doing it for now!!! I know…you were worried 😉

Since my blog is a year old I though I’d run down some of my favorite and most popular posts from the last year:

School-

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Sometimes I doubt if I should continue blogging about teaching, since I feel like the blog has morphed into more of a food blog, but teaching posts continue to be what people searching come for. So I’ll be happy to throw up a couple teaching related posts a month.

How to teach counterclaim

Book unit on Micheal Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma

Food-

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Over the past year I have been experimenting with the Paleo diet. I love how it makes me feel! Although I don’t stick to it 100% of the time. Here are some of my favorite recipes from the past year (not all of them are Paleo).

Paleo Cereal

Butternut Squash and Chicken Curry over Coconut Cauliflower Rice

Spinach and Garlic Pizza

Grilled banana and peanut butter stuffed french toast

Spicy Roasted Carrot Fries <<I make these at least once a week

Game Day Treats: Roasted red pepper poppers

Reviews-

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Quest Bar Review

Gordon Biersch Brewery and Restaurant Review

Wedding-

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Pros and Cons of planning a wedding on Pinterest

Rustic Wedding Crafts

Bachelorette Party

Ceremony and Bridal Party

Miscellaneous Favorite Posts

What to buy organic

How to grocery shop on a budget using coupons

Working out in the morning: pros and cons

How to change your mindset and become happier

 

WOW it’s kind of fun to look at all the posts and reflect over the past year. I haven’t really taken the time to re-read much of my blog. Anyways, for the 2-3 people that might read this blog 2 of which include my husband and mother, thanks for reading! Next goal is trying to get this baby self hosted. It scares me whenever I think about it…any tips?

Do you ever go back and read your own blog posts?

How hard is going to self hosted? BE HONEST!!!

Character Trait Anchor Chart

5 Nov

Checking in to share some of the stuff I’ve been doing in my classroom. Today we learned about mood and tone. This is always a difficult concept for students to grasp. I feel like every English teacher teaches it and the students then forget it.every.year.

Last year I came up with a special hand motion trick for how to get students to remember mood and tone.

MOOD= MOVES (how it moves you)- Wiggle your arms

TONE= TELL (how the narrator tells it)- Put hands to mouth in a megaphone style.

The students laugh at me wiggling my arms around and think it’s goofy. Hand motions and auditory techniques really work for memory so I am hoping it gets them to remember it a little better. I also made an anchor chart so they can reference it in the classroom when I ask them what the tone/mood of a particular piece is.

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The purpose of an anchor chart is to give the students the support they need while learning a concept. They might know what mood is but struggle coming up with a word to describe it. All year they can look on this chart. Then when they get to the test *hopefully* one will pop in their heads.

Character Trait Anchor Chart

Another thing students struggle with is finding words to describe characters. I need students to come up with words other than “happy” and “sad” to describe a character. So after a lesson the other day where students were having trouble thinking of words, I made this to hang up:

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I separated the words into “positive” words (happy face) and negative words (sad face).

Hopefully this helps students think of some better 8th grade words to use when describing characters.

What are some useful anchor charts you have in your classroom?

Participation Grade: Yay or Nay?

11 Oct

A school post!!! Sorry for all my foodie followers. I have to attend to the other half of my blog’s title. Since last post was about pancakes I figured this one would be a nice contrast. I love my students this year!!! My year is going great. I just started the new Common Core NYS Module Unit 1. More on that later……

inside-out-back-again

When I originally started teaching I used to be all for participation/effort grades as a component. I thought it would be a good motivator for students who don’t want to put effort in or raise hands (especially if you have a shy class which I hate). Then I kind of figured that:

– If a student doesn’t hand in homework or classwork, they will get zeros, and that in itself shows his effort/participation grade.

– Participation grades are kind of redundant since if students give their full effort usually they are doing well.

– If a parent has an issue with a participation grade, it’s kind of hard to “back up” whatever grade you’re giving them because there’s nothing really concrete about the grade.

(source)

So I haven’t been doing it the last couple of years…BUT this year I brought it back. In order to combat the issue of having nothing to ‘back up’ I’ve created this rubric.

Students first fill out this rubric and circle where they think they’re at. There are also reflective questions they have to answer and provide examples for. Here are the questions I gave them. I got them somewhere on the internet, but I seriously don’t remember where. I didn’t make them up. I probably just Googled “participation questions” and copied and pasted them into a word document.

 

1. Do you initiate working and learning most or all of the time in this class, or does the teacher have to push you a lot?

 

 

 

 

2. Do you take risks and try challenging tasks in this class even if you make mistakes (and learn from them). Or do you “play it safe” most of the time?

 

 

 

3. Do you try to teach other students if you understand something more than they do? Do you just give them the answer, or do you help them learn? Or do you only focus on your own work and ignore students who need help?

 

 

 

4. When you don’t feel like doing the assignment, most of the time do you do your best anyway, or do you try to put it off and/or not do your best?

 

 

 

 

5. Do you act professionally and exhibit proper classroom etiquette most of the time, or do you choose to violate classroom rules and expectations and engage the teacher in argument?

 

 

 

 

6. Think about the answers you made to the last five questions, and think about the quality of your school work this quarter — tests, classwork, computer assignments, etc. What grade do you think you deserve and why?

So as I was first grading these I thought it might have been overkill……because like I said the kids that try the hardest and participate already have the best grades.

BUT

Then as I continued grading I could really see how this could be helpful in my classroom because:

-The kids who participate will get positive reinforcement for doing so.

-The kids who need to put in a little more effort can take a minute and really think about how they can change.

So I think this will have a positive outcome in my classroom. Only time will tell. If a parent wants to see why I gave a student the grade I did I can simply pull out the rubric and the questions.

What do you think? Is it pointless to have a participation grade or do you think it helps efficacy?

Anchor Activities for Free Time

5 Sep

I survived the first day of school unscathed! I still have three more of my classes tomorrow but it feels good to have the first day under my belt. I honestly can’t remember being more excited and enthusiastic about beginning the year. I guess it’s because for the first time, this isn’t the first year at a new school for me. This is my sixth year of teaching and every single year but this I’ve had to change schools or districts. It was the most underwhelming beginning of the year I’ve ever had- and it was fabulous.

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Calm before the storm

Our kids are receiving 1:1 I-pads TONIGHT and I’ve been busy googling and pinteresting away at all the amazing things I will be able to do. It’s a lot to think about and I know I will start small, but it sure is exciting.

I have really been trying to reflect and make this year great by thinking about mistakes I made last year and how I can change that. I know that the first days of school are really important in setting a precedent and communicating expectations to students. I feel like I have always struggled a bit with classroom management a bit. I constantly think about how I can change and get better at it. Over the last school year I really noticed that having a well run classroom isn’t about being super strict or enforcing consequences or following a stringent rule plan like I read about my first year of teaching in Harry Wong’s book. It’s more about the atmosphere you create in the classroom. I think because this is the smallest school I’ve ever worked at…it’s really easy to gauge the atmosphere and overall ‘aura’ of the class and if the students are actually even listening to you, engaged and on the same page. I think this year instead of focusing so much on giving detentions and following a strict rule plan I will focus on creating a classroom atmosphere where the students feel motivated to do well because a) they like and respect me and b) they really are engaged in what they are doing so they don’t have time to act out. I think the I-pads will be a great launching pad (no pun intended) for this.

Last school year I was really frustrated about the amount of free time kids were given and them wasting it. My kids have a lot of study halls and fluff classes and it’s difficult to motivate them to do anything when there is no grade attached to it. When they claim to be “done” with their homework they have free time and start to act out. I started getting annoyed with this so I created this Anchor Activities requirement in my classroom. A quick Google search for anchor activities will explain what they are- basically activities that students have to complete when they are “done” with the day’s work to prevent idle down time. They are also great for differentiation when you have some kids who finish first and are just sitting around. This will work well in my inclusion classes where I have a range of abilities. I made up 8-10 activities like making flash cards, spelling lists, creative writing prompts, class journals, free rice and Brain Pop. Each activity is worth a certain number of points and students have to get 50 points a marking period.

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Required is their AR (independent reading) quiz and they have to read at least one book per marking period.

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I’m explaining the program to students next class. I really want it to go well and help fill up time of students who finish activities early and are just sitting around wasting time. Maybe it will even encourage them to try harder and put more effort into things instead of just rushing to get it done.

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Whole Class journals students can write in and respond to others in

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I’m really looking forward to this year and trying to enjoy every minute of this exciting back to school time!!! I’ve really never felt this not busy to be actually excited and looking forward to the year! It’s a great feeling.

Classroom Organization Ideas

27 Aug

Almost time for back to school…..dun dun dun. Yup. Summer went by in a flash. It was expected to though. I am in denial about going back kind of happy to get back to work. There’s only so much HGTV & Food Network one can watch and Pinterest-ing one can do without feeling like a lazy, good-for-nothing pile of crap. Plus, you know, the whole getting paid thing is nice too. Contrary to what most people think teachers do not get paid in the summer!! It’s nice to have summer off but by the end of summer I NEED to start working again. It’s kind of like if you asked your boss for two unpaid months off. It’d be awesome, but eventually the bills need to get paid.

That being said, today I visited my classroom to set some stuff. Last year I had tons of ideas on the blog about catering your classroom to the common core. This year, the incoming 8th graders are supposed to be notoriously disorganized, so I’ve set up my room to support them to be successful. I designed one side of my wall with a chalkboard I’ll update every week that includes the essential question (what the students will be learning), an “I Can…” statement (what they will be able to do at the end of the lesson), HW that is due, and HW for that night. This way, no student will can ever say he didn’t know what was due when, etc. I have a feeling it might be hard to keep up with a little, and there’s no saying it won’t change from day to day. But I feel like the students NEED to know what they are supposed to be learning every day, and have a measurable “I Can” statement.

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Now if I could only find my chalk…..

I also added some more goofy posters with quotes to make it look like I’m a cool teacher.

LOL

HA HA get it?

punctuation

Punctuation!!!

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My favorite book of all time!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Surprisingly, To Kill a Mockingbird is on the 8th grade common core list!!! I’m not doing it this year but I can’t wait to do it in the future. I just hope 8th graders can deal with all the language….another blog post for another day.

7 more days!!!!

What organizational details are you adding to your classroom this year?

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