Saturday, November 17, 2012

Kitchen Science and Public Humiliation

Public Humiliation

Last night I had the pleasure of going out to dinner with about 20 friends.  Although Nathan was out of town at SICOM, I was super excited to get out, sans kids, with other adults and enjoy dinner without catching drinks, coloring place mats, wiping faces, and shushing whines.  One of the, um, older Sunday School classes at church arranged to watch all our kids while they prepped for Sunday's Thanksgiving meal, giving several of us younger adults a chance to go out together.

I really had a lot of fun!  We were loud, silly, and happy.  The food was fantastic.  I ordered shrimp scampi with fettucini alfredo.

But sometime between my last bite and the arrival of the checks, my head started to hurt.

By now I recognize this hurt.  It's not exactly a headache.  Before I even realize what I'm doing, I'll find myself rubbing my eyebrows.  Bad sign.  Then my tummy started to protest.  My hands started to shake.  And I started to feel far away from myself.  Auras danced across my vision.  I made several back-and-forth trips to the ladies' room, hoping to settle my stomach, but I knew what this meant: I was going to faint.  I down-played it as best I could, but it was clear to those around me that I was not well.  These sensations tend to ebb and flow, so I'd start to think I was through it, but then another swell would overtake me.

Feeling faint's bad enough, but if you've ever felt that way, you know your tummy doesn't feel great either.  Although blacking out in public is bad, I'm less worried about passing out in public than I am about hurling in public!  Eventually I laid down on a nearby booth, muttering apologies to the employees and fretting at how rude I appeared.  Faces hovered above from time to time, seeing if I was OK, waiting for me to be lucid enough to head back to the church.  I made it to a friend's vehicle, rolled down the window (it's similar to feeling car sick), and kept my eyes closed for the ride back.

I had tunnel vision by then, but I found my way to a couch back in the youth wing.  Tovi was worried, Oren was wound up, and both wanted to snuggle.  People occupied my kids, brought me Gatorade, and then insisted I stay the night with them.  Angola's about 30 minutes from our home in Garrett, so it was highly unlikely that I could get me and the boys home safely.  I didn't think I could even manage to RIDE that far if someone else drove us.  This family has 5 kids of their own, so adding my 2 wouldn't be too much of an imposition.  I still felt like a burden, but I was grateful.  I cranked the AC on myself during the short ride to their house.  Tahlia, a saint of a friend, set out jammies for all of us and got my boys ready for bed.  I texted Nate, then laid down with Oren beside me and Tovi in the next bed.

Although snuggling Oren overnight results to fitful sleep at best, I was so relieved to not have to be alone while so unsteady.  After being horizontal all night, I was well enough in the morning to enjoy some pancakes (thanks again, Tahlia!) and get the boys home.  They played in the playroom down the hall while I laid in bed.  I think God prompted especially cooperative behavior and positive attitudes. I'm still woozy if I'm upright too long, and experience says this sensation will probably stick around for a few more days.  But I'm improving.  Thank God for an easy work week coming up!

Kitchen Science

Under healthier circumstances, when Nate's out of town I try to do something special with the boys.  I had originally planned to make glow-in-the-dark slime with them, and around lunchtime I decided to give it a shot anyway.  The process is pretty quick, so I figured I could fit it in before being upright long enough to bring back the woozies.

I found the recipe here, linked on Pinterest.  We made some minor adjustments simply due to my curiosity when I discovered so many colors of gel glue (WITH GLITTER!!) at Wal-Mart.

Here's what we did.
-We set out one bowl for each color we planned to make.
-In each bowl, we poured 1 cup of warm water, 4 oz glue (I estimated--each bottle was 6 oz, so I eyeballed 4), and 2-3 teaspoons of glow paint from the acrylic craft paint aisle.  The original recipe calls for food coloring, but since we used colored glue, I used food coloring only when we wanted colors we didn't have paint for (like red--the paint was pink, so I added red food coloring).
-Then the recipe said to mix the paint, glue, and water.  We found you have to mix WELL or the recipe won't work.
-Next, in a separate bowl, mix 1/3 cup warm water and 2 teaspoons of Borax.
-Add 2 tablespoons of the Borax solution to the bowls of glue mixture.  The more of the Borax solution you add, the thicker the slime.  Less creates oozier, stickier slime.
-Stir it all together and watch it go from snot to Gak :)

My oldest is a texture-phobe, so I used enough Borax to make pretty thick slime.  Your kids may like it dripper, but it will be messier and will stick to hands and surfaces.  The thicker variety feels slick but doesn't stick to hands or surfaces.  We varied the amounts of Borax enough to make some slime oozy and some almost like foam.  It stretches if you let it hang, rolls into a ball, bounces, and breaks into pieces if you pull it.  Fun to explore!

The paint is light-activated, so we had fun holding the containers under the lamp and then running to Tovi's room to open them under the bed.

We're planning to bring these along to Thanksgiving this year to give all the cousins something to do :)

Cheap, easy, memorable fun!  Enjoy!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Some Classroom Freebies

Thanks to my slightly off-the-wall, kooky, active teaching style, I've generated a sizable repertoire of unexpected learning activities.  I've found that if I can hide the learning inside absurdity, humor, and fun, my students learn more and actually enjoy doing it.  So here are some activities we've done lately.

Verbs with AFV!
To build anticipation for and gather some quick formative assessment data on what my students already know about verbs, I used the hit show AFV.  I streamed clips of America's Funniest Home Videos (but you could use any clean, funny videos) and had the students write a sentence describing what they saw happen in each clip and then identify the verb(s) in each sentence.  The kids LOVED it, I got the data I needed, and we all had a good time.  MUCH better than a worksheet!

Checkers for Worksheets or Review

For this one, you'll need a checker board (and checkers).  I labeled each square used in play with numbers (there are 32 squares played in checkers, but my worksheet had only 27 questions, so I labeled 5 spaces as free spaces, similar to those used in BINGO).  Because I wanted to use these checker boards for other activities, I used Post-it strips to number the spaces, but you could easily write directly on the board.  I wanted students to turn this worksheet in, so I made copies for each student.  However, you could laminate your worksheet or use page protectors and rotate kids through the activity, reusing the same sheet with dry or wet erase markers to save paper.  My kids have iPads, so they could even snap a picture of the page and email it to me (though most of my kids have iPad 1's, which don't have cameras...).
OK, here are the rules of play:

Checkers Review Game o  Set your checkers up as you would to play a normal game of checkers.
o  Move your checkers as you would in a normal game.
o  When you JUMP your opponent, look at the number you LAND on.  You must answer that question correctly to take your opponent’s checker.  If you answer incorrectly, your opponent’s checker stays.
o  When you move your checker in to be KINGED, you must answer the corresponding question correctly.  If you answer incorrectly, your checker is NOT kinged.
o  The player with the most opponent’s checkers at the end is the winner.
You get the same information a worksheet would provide, but you're also breaking up the monotony and allowing learning to happen in an unexpected way :)

4 Corners
You've probably already heard of this one.  Label 4 areas of your room, one for each term or concept you're covering (we did the 4 types of sentences).  Then you give an example and have kids WALK to that area.  You can also use this activity as an ice-breaker or time-killer ("Your favorite zoo animal: tigers, lions, chimpanzees, or alligators--go!").  Cheap, quick, and easy!  And the kids LOVE it and tend to remember the concepts because their BODY was there.  When we did the types of sentences, kids connected the type of sentence to where they had stood in the room and used that to help them on the final assessment.

Voting Paddles
These are great for yes/no questions or any question that can be answered with one of two answer choices (think math--positive or negative or opinions--agree or disagree).  I made mine very simply: laminated paper and craft sticks.  That's it.  Then I have the students use wet-erase marker to write our answer choices for the day so we can reuse the same paddles for other activities.  I ask questions and have the students quick vote with their paddles.  Students can also poll each other that way.  Again, quick, fun, easy formative assessment!

Give me a ., !, ?
I'm using this one currently for our reading log.  I have the students give me a brief statement summary (.), one thing that surprised them (!), and one thing they're still wondering about (?).

Adverb Charades
You'll need strips of paper or index cards, two different colors.  One one color, have the kids write one verb that could be easily demonstrated.  Then have them write one adverb on the other.  Gather the cards in separate stacks.  When a person is "it," they draw a combo and act it out.  Students then guess the combo.  I usually quickly write a word bank on the board as I gather the cards.

And one last instructional freebie: If you haven't yet checked out the site, you need to! It's a free, online classroom management site that lets you award or deduct points for any issue (you can input your own, positive or negative) and keep running totals and even email reports to parents!  I LOVE this site, and it's motivated my students like never before WITHOUT creating more work for me!  Woot!

Finally, I try to do things on open house or conference night to make my room as welcoming as possible.  Sometimes parents and/or kids are nervous, younger siblings are squirmy, and everyone is tired and frazzled.  I appreciate that parents take the time to come in, so here's what I do to make the whole experience a little more enjoyable:

And since our conferences are student-led, students often sit there uncomfortably unsure of what to say while parents impatiently flip through page after page of old homework assignments.  This year I developed a conversation guide to focus the time.

Name__________________________________________Student-Led ConferencesDiscussion Guide1) Thank your parents for taking the time to come in. 2) Show your parents your 1st Quarter grades on PowerSchool.  Go through each class and take the time to answer any questions they have. 3) Show your parents your agenda.
Do you fill it out each day? _____________________Do you take it to every class?_______________________
Do you look at it at home to see what you need to do for homework? __________________Do you show your parents your agenda each night? ______________________________________ 4) Go through your accordion folder.
Have you kept your folder organized? ____________________Have you shown Mom and Dad your graded work, notes home, etc? ___________________Are you keeping ALL your important papers in your folder? ____________________________Are you as organized as you need to be? _____________________________________ 5) Homework:Have you turned in ALL your assignments on time? _____________________________________Are you doing homework at home? _______________________________________Are you taking the time to do it well? _________________________________________Does any of your homework feel too difficult? _______________________________________Do you have a specific time and place at home to work on homework? ________________Look back through your grades on PowerSchool.  Are there any marked as missing, late, or zeros? _________________________ 6) Studying:Do you tell Mom or Dad when you have a test coming up? ______________________________Be honest.  Do you REALLY study? ___________________________________How much time do you typically spend studying at home for a test? ___________________Look back through your grades on PowerSchool.  Are your test grades above 70%? ________________________What could you do to better prepare for tests 2nd Quarter? _____________________________ 7) Attitude:How do you feel about school? __________________________________Do you like coming to school? __________________________________What do you like best about school? _____________________________________________________Do you get along with your classmates? ____________________________________________What do you need to do to improve your attitude or behavior? ______________________________________________
  8) Goals:Did you give your very best 1st Quarter? _____________________________________________________What do you want to improve most for 2nd Quarter? ___________________________________________What will it take to accomplish that goal? ___________________________________________________ 9) Read180:Show your parents your rBook and talk to them about each of the workshops we’ve done so far (1, 2, and 6).  What was your favorite? _________________________________________Look back at your Read180 and English class grades.  What were some assignments you think you really gave your best on? ______________________________________________Explain bell work, daily trivia, journals, reading rotation, etc.Go over your Reading Fluency rubric.  What did you do well? ______________________________________What did you need to improve? ________________________________________________Go over the rubric for your Halloween poem.  What did you do well? _____________________________________What did you need to improve? ________________________________________________Explain Class Dojo and how you’re doing.Make sure you SHOW them your poem too!You can show your parents the software, the different areas of our room, etc. 10) Math (if you have Mrs. Powell for math)Go over your math grades.  We covered whole numbers, story problems, integers, and decimals this quarter.  Which of those skills was your best? ___________________________________Which did you struggle most with? ______________________________________________Do you typically take the time to check your work? ______________________________________Do you SHOW all your work? _______________________________________________Did you take advantage of the chance to re-take or redo tests and quizzes? ________________________________Did you do all your homework assignments? _____________________________________________How do you feel about math? ____________________________________________________ 11) Social Studies:Review the things Mr. Weimer told you to review.  Use your data notebook app. 12) Science:Review the things Mrs. Kreienbrink told you to review.  Use your data notebook app. 13) What is one thing you wish your parents knew about you or school? ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________14) What is one thing you really should thank them for? _____________________________________________________________________________________________________________If you or your parents have questions to address with other teachers or you’d like to stop in to see them, you can go visit other classrooms.LOCKER:Show your parents your locker.Is it organized? ____________________________Take a moment to tidy it up.

So there ya go!  Feel free to add your own activities and resources in the comments!

Monday, October 22, 2012

I'm Absurd for a Good Cause...and Baked Fiesta Cups

As you probably know, I teach 6th graders for a living.  If you've ever met a 6th grader, you know they are fairly ridiculous creatures.  For example, one of my students asked, "Why do I need to take English class?  I already speak it goodly."  In another class, a girl asked my colleague if people can get bad gas. She was speaking of the fuel, not flatulence, but her question didn't come out quite the way she intended.  This stuff is gold, and I couldn't make it up.  12 year olds are just this delightful all on their own.

Last week was a spirit week to raise money for Junior Achievement.  But I'm a rational, mature, intelligent adult.  Wearing pajamas to school is wonderful to the average 12 year old.  But to this rational, mature, intelligent adult, it's terrifying.  You've had those dreams when you woke up late on the first day of school, or missed your alarm, or shown up in your jammies, right?  I was a dork in middle school.  Popularity and coolness were not mine.  I was insecure.  So even now, when it comes to spirit days, I obsess a bit.  I'm always afraid I have the wrong theme on the wrong day and that I'll show up to work in my jammies on hat day.  Or I'll have the wrong week entirely.  Or, Heaven forbid, I'll have to stop for gas on my way to work.  In my jammies.

Seriously.  I know most of America goes to Wal-Mart in their jammies. is testament to that (and many atrocities more).  I don't get it, to be honest.  It takes, what, 30 seconds to put on pants?  So why not put on REAL pants before you head to the store? Or at least comfy pants of a solid color?  But NO.  Americans flock to Wal-Mart in their flannel print or character-adorned fleece jammie pants.  So when I had to go to the store on pajama day, I stopped home to change my pants first!  I couldn't do it!

Anyway, as an adult in the world of middle school, it takes courage to humiliate myself.  I have to be brave enough to humble myself and make an utter fool of myself.  I don't LIKE to do it.  But I like the results.  I was the only teacher in the whole school to participate in pirate day.  Did that bother me?  Yep.  It was like all those bad dreams, but in real life.  But as I walked to my classroom door from my meeting that morning, I heard a student say, "Phew, I knew she'd be in costume!"  I looked up into the face of a very relieved boy dressed in full pirate garb.  For a moment, I flashed back to all the insecurities of being 12 and realized that if I had been afraid to participate, he must have been nothing short of terrified.  Being 12 is hard enough.  It's an awkward time.  But when he got ready for school that morning, he knew Mrs. Powell would be even more ridiculous than he was, and that gave him the confidence to participate.

So, yes, I'm absurd for a good cause.

I've found that the bigger fool I make of myself, the better I do as a teacher.  This is true both when I'm dressed as a pirate and when I'm in a suit.  It's not about what I wear or don't wear.  It's about the fact that I'm willing to put my own pride aside and make my time at that school about my students.  If I sing songs about capitalization and punctuation, even though I can't carry a tune in a bucket with a really sturdy handle, they remember it.  If I chant about adverbs, even though I was never a cheerleader, for good reason, they remember it.  If I pantomime various over-the-top emotions for our show-not-tell lesson, they remember it.  If I dress as a pirate, they remember it.  I may be more than a little embarrassed on the inside, and the term DORK hasn't ever really left me, but it's worth it!

Here's Duck Tape Day!
 I braided three kinds of Duck Tape for the bracelet and necklace.
I made my hair pin by making triangular leaves in green and pink, then curled petals of the zebra print, then taped the whole thing to a giant bobby pin.

My challenge to you this week is this:
What do you need to lay aside for the sake of someone else?
How would your impact be different if you weren't afraid to make a fool of yourself?
What would you have the courage to do?

This week, try it.

Finally, a bonus feature.
I cook the way I teach.  I have an insistence about doing things my own way, blazing my own path, and I'm insatiably curious and creative.  And stubborn.  So I rarely follow a recipe.  When I cook, I often throw things together and see what happens.

I have a very patient husband.

He's also forgiving.

And if what I serve is remotely food-like, he's happy.

Sometimes my experiments work.  Sometimes they don't.  Here's one that worked!

I call these "Baked Fiesta Cups."
You can call them whatever you'd like.
When you cook, you can change anything you'd like about this concoction.  This is just what I did!

In a pot or crock pot, combine:
shredded chicken breast (I used the Tyson pre-cooked variety--one of my favorite time-savers!!); fully cooked if whipping this together on the stove; you can use uncooked in the crock pot
1 can diced tomatoes with cilantro and lime (I used the Ro-Tel brand)
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
rice (minute or quick variety, brown or white)
1 packet either taco seasoning OR chicken chili seasoning (I used chicken chili--it's what I had!)
I also needed to add about 1/3 cup water for the rice.
You could even simplify this by using black bean salsa instead of the tomatoes and beans!

You'll also need tortillas, cream cheese, and cheese (shredded or otherwise) for later.

Heat the first ingredients through, then cover and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the rice is soft.

While it's cooking, pre-heat the oven to 350.  Grab your muffin tin and tortillas.  Slice the tortillas in half and roll into a cone-ish shape, then fold/stuff them into the muffin tin to make little tortilla cups.  Mine kept trying to un-fold/stuff themselves, so I dabbed them with a little water to soften them and keep them in the cups.

Is your rice soft? Then stir in half a package of cream cheese.

When it's blended into the rest of the ingredients, spoon the mixture into the tortilla cups, top with cheese, and then bake until the cups start to brown.

Then eat!  Well, you'll want to let them cool a smidge first.  But then eat!

They were super yummy!  Hope you enjoy!

And if you don't, psssh!  Make your own recipe! Ha! :D

Now go be absurd.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Happy Birthday, Oren!

Today our spunky, sassy, rambunctious youngest turns 3.

After I had Tovi, we thought I wouldn't be able to have more kids.  My body was in pretty bad shape after carrying him, but our doc encouraged us to try for another before having surgery to repair the damage (but end my child-bearing years).  Doc held me together with elastic and velcro (literally!), but we made it.  And on Sept. 10, 2009, Oren raced into the world after one of the easiest labors and deliveries in the history of womanhood.  And he's been racing through life ever since!

We celebrated with Lightening McQueen, Mater, Mickey Mouse, Batman, and one very interactive Superman book.

For a birthday treat, I made jello cookies (see this recipe, courtesy of Jamielyn at I heart nap time) and shaped them into long snakes, one thick for two thin, and sliced to make Mickey Mouse shapes.  They baked up in super vibrant colors and taste tangy and sweet.  I let the boys ice and sprinkle theirs, and then we served them with birthday cake flavored ice cream.  Yum!

Oren fell asleep with a bed full of Cars characters and a new turtle night light stuffed animal that plays very LOUD music (what a lullaby, right?!) and projects stars onto his ceiling after wiggling the starts around this room to make Grayson, the kitten, pounce and chase.  He smiled and giggled all evening.

And Tovi was a fantastic big brother.  It's hard to let someone else have all the fun, and we did have to negotiate some sharing, but Tovi wanted to make sure Oren had all the trappings of a happy birthday, from opening presents to ice cream.  Tovi was very worried we'd leave something out!

 I'll leave you with some of my favorite Oren moments from the past year:

Sept. 11, 2011 "At the ER with Oren since he drank a bottle of benedryl. It was very scary, but he's doing fine now and resting well. Waiting for labs to clear him, and then he should be released by 1."Sept. 13 "In our house, Batman and Thomas coexist peacefully in the Batcave on the Island of Sodor."Oct. 16 "I just found a dart gun under my pillow. Yep, I'm raising boys. :)"Feb. 18 "Oren's been Captain Goober Pants lately. Last night he stripped bare and said, "I'm going to the beach!" and pretended to swim on the floor. Tonight he put a bucket on his head and said, "Look, I'm a chicken!" Silly, silly boy!"Feb. 25 "Oren is walking around with no pants, one shoe (Tovi's) on the wrong foot, and half a plastic golf club."Feb. 26 "First thing Oren said to me this morning: "Hey Mom, cool ears!""

 March 10  Oren loves for me to rub his belly. He even sings me songs about it. He pronounces belly like "betty". And snuggles are "suh-nuggles". I live bedtime rituals :)
March 21  Oren (playing with 2 Power Rangers)... Green Ranger: Hi Power Ranger. My name Mike. What's your name? Red Ranger: Ranger! :)April 7  Oren was trying to tell Tovi something, and it was taking him a little long to get to the point. Tovi said, "Uh huh. Uh huh. UH HUH!" I hid in the kitchen to laugh :)April 8 Oren recited John 3:16 for me tonight.April 9 Oren doesn't seem to really understand the whole hunting for eggs thing. He went to the fridge, opened it, and said, "There they are! I found them!"April 16  Oren is snuggling Megatron. Every time Oren rolls over, Megatron spews threats.April 19 Oren just brought Nathan Worcestershire sauce and said, "Here Dad! Here you go!"

 April 21 Oren (with his shirt sleeve down under his armpit)... Me: What happened to your shirt? Oren: It fell.
April 29 Waking Oren up from a nap is fun. He gives me random answers to any questions I ask. Me: Do you want to watch Teen Titans with Tovi? Oren: No, I want...ducks.May 27 Wait, what? We are ready for church 24 minutes early? That can't be. Oren will poop his pants or dump yogurt on himself and his brother in 3...2...1...May 31 Oren loves to be with me. He follows me around. Like into the bathroom. And he tries to help me with the toilet paper. Oh, life with toddlers! :)

 June 4 Tomorrow, Tovi and Oren will spend their last official day with the sitter they've had since they were each 6 weeks old. We have some special gifts prepared for her :) We have been so very blessed to have her!!!
June 5  When I snuggled Oren to bed a minute ago, he ripped a big one. I said, "Oren, you tooted!" He replied, with all seriousness, "No, I'm blowing bubbles."June 7 Oren has action figure Thor's hammer, and Tovi has action figure Power Ranger's sword, and they are engaged in an epic (miniature) battle.June 24 Oren pulled a knife on his Aunt Heather on her birthday and thinks swim suits are called swim soups. 

 July 2 So far for my birthday, Oren gave me Tovi's blankie :)
July 21  Oren got to start his very own memory verse chain tonight. Our 2-year-old has memorized John 3:16!Aug. 20 Boys' stats from their check ups today... Tovi: 5 years 0 months, 38lbs, 44 in (above avg height, below avg weight) Oren: 2 years 11 months, 38 lbs, 42 in (ummm...huge)Aug. 25  One of the greatest things ever: hearing my boys quote scripture to each other in the bathtub :)

Happy Birthday, Oren Kole!