Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Number Systems that Rock Your World - Now Available!

There it is, in red! It's 11:38 and I literally JUST finished the Number System unit

It's  got everything. Scientific Notation, Exponent review, Binary, Hexadecimal, Octal, Conversions... a clown riding a pony, caviar buffets... and old guy swearing at Paris Hilton... sorry Stefon... we aren't going to the newest hottest night club in NYC. But close!

It's 31 pages, jam-packed with keys, guaranteed to make your students better number crunchers, and more enthusiastic about those pesky scientific notation problems that keep cropping up. And it's only $3.99! 

If there is enough interest generated, I may extend it into a full-blown 2nd book this summer, complete with graphing activities and interdisciplinary connections. 

Please, check out the new listing... download the free preview... and if you like it, buy the whole unit! 

Off to bed.... peace out.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Zombie Number Systems Deadline = EPIC FAIL!

Well, gee willakers. It is 11:47 and there is NO WAY I am going to finish this mini unit before the weekend. Without turning into an actual Zombie. Maybe tomorrow? At any rate, it's nearly 20 pages. And it's awesome. Here are a couple more free previews for you to enjoy until the publish day comes.

What I actually did this weekend:

Make Zombie children Dinosaur peanut butter and jelly sammich picnic lunch (with brains).

Synch up my teacher website with a fantastic new Track & Field menu of homework choices for the week for our Rational Numbers and Measurement unit.

Take several trips to Coborn's and Walmart to buy what never seems to be enough groceries.

See the Hunger Games movie on Saturday. It was on par with Book-to-Movie quality with Harry Potter 7 and Breaking Dawn. (In my humble opinion)

Used up all 3 tissues that I brought to the theater, bawling my eyes out at various Spoiler-alert moments that I'll be nice enough not to mention. And totally knew were coming. Pathetic.

Blogged and posted random pictures about the Games all weekend long when I wasn't "working".

And lastly, made these super wonderful pages to my unit, just for you to preview! Sorry, you can't have the keys or the rest of the unit unless you want to buy the whole thing ;o)

Zombie Teachers do have to make a little money, while we continue to work without a contract for the 2012-2014 school years.... ummmm... no further comments needed. Enjoy! 'Night!  (and yes, I did make all the graphics by myself. Zombie club hands are good for something after all!)

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Zombie Teacher versus the Potty

Happy Hunger Games week everybody! 

Kids at school are reading like crazy, soaking up every word from the Capitol... lost somewhere in Panem. I caught myself using the same sheet of paper for my shopping list four different times, and thought, I might just make it in District 13!

While I would rather be at home reading the Hunger Games for the fifth time in the last two years, I did actually have to go back to school on Monday. And I must say, Trimester 3 is off to a rockin' start! So much is going on.

Between the Hunger Games Movie coming out at Midnight on Thursday, the debut of my soon to be new favorite show Touch (also on Thursday), and the finale of Project Runway All Stars (ALSO ON THURSDAY!!!), is there really any point to going to school at all on Friday?! Just kidding... there is no physical, possible way to miss a second of prep time during the first week of a new trimester.

You know when you're having a really busy week, when you look back on the last three days, and you can't remember the last time you went to the bathroom at school. Hence the lovely Dinosaur vs. the Potty book picture. You should totally click it and buy a copy for your little ones. The story is hilarious, and it gets the message across that you don't HAVE to play up until the very last second before you wet your pants. Not that we, as teachers, are anyone to talk. I've gone days on end, having to pee before school starts at 8, and not getting to the bathroom until the bell rings at 3. Can we say, super bladder?

I hate to get all gritty and gruesome, but all y'all teachers out there know exaaaaaaactly what I'm talking about. Three-minute passing times, meetings before school, 5 cups of coffee, 75-minute long classes, random copies needed right before the bell, emails to check, lockers to unjam... we're lucky if we can spare a second to take a deep breath, let alone hobbling who knows how long down the hall to the nearest restroom.

And... quick question... do you have to use the student bathroom? I am SO lucky to have a private locking handicap access/teacher bathroom within a stones skip of my commons area. The downstairs teachers are close enough to the office to use those precious two private bathrooms. But we all need our moments of privacy; and you have to admit, sometimes it's just flat-out embarrassing to be tinkling (or worse) in a stall next to one of your students. It must be mortifying for the students too! And it's GROSS.

I teach in a middle school with grades 5-8. You'd think that by fifth grade, kids should know how to flush the potty. But seriously, even in the girls' bathrooms, I regularly find a whole rainbow of colors of things that have NOT been flushed in said toilets. Add to that the makeup and paper towels coating the sinks and counters, and random boys' names scratched into the door frames, and I thank my lucky stars that the custodians in my building are such caring, patient people. 

What must the BOYS' bathrooms be like? Do teachers actually go into these male teenager dens of fecal nastiness to check on things? Or dare to actually use them? Because, let me tell you, I worked at McDonald's in high school, and I had to clean BOTH the Mens' and the Womens' bathrooms each night at closing time, and that was NAS-TAY!!!! The greasy food smell covered up the worst of the bathroom odors, but there is no covering that in a middle school restroom. EWWWWW. 

I know I've threatened the boys from the door way before, "If you guys don't quit horsing around in there and get back to class, I'm comin' in after you!!!"... but they must know, deep down, that my threats are totally empty. I wouldn't set foot in the boys' bathroom with a ten-foot pole, without a $100 dollar bill hanging from the ceiling.

While sitting in my private teacher bathroom this morning, admiring the random funny wall art some nice soul keeps hanging up, I thought to myself, there has got to be some funny school bathroom humor on the net that would make all the other Zombie teachers out there go tee-hee on this rainy, gray Tuesday. And sure enough, there was. So enjoy!

1. This was posted in our private bathroom for most of the fall. I did a double-take the first time I read it, and figured someone else out there might want to post it for a laugh.

Leave it to teachers to find a way to laugh in the bathroom. 

We also have a Walter the Farting Dog poster, which is not only a great book, but also very pretty to look at. If you can get past the trail of gas shooting out of his hind-quarters long enough to appreciate the beautiful pastels.

2. For the messy stinkers... this one will get your message through loud and clear ;)

Click the picture to go to several more funny signs that are not nearly as appropriate to post on a teaching blog...

3. Maybe you are in the same boat as I am, with randomly finding the seat left up in your teacher/work place bathroom. I found the perfect sign you can hang up! Click the picture to see the blog it originated from. The blogger complained about the sign, and I gave him my own two cents in a rebuttal.

I shudder to think how often women fall into toilets because of unthinking men, and how infrequently we report it because it's just too embarrassing.

OK, enough bathroom humor for one day. 

Zombie Out.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Coming Soon! Number Systems that ROCK your WORLD!

Great news to all my TeachersPayTeachers followers out there... I have a new unit in progress that should be done by the end of the week! 

There isn't much Number System material out on the net right now, and virtually nothing that comes with teacher keys. I have made a lot of my own over the years, and am trying to piece the patchwork of random worksheets I've created into a coherent all-encompassing unit. 

Over my spring break, I got my sump pump line fixed, did a zillion loads of laundry and dishes (somehow there are still four more loads to put away!?!?), cleaned out the garage, washed and vacuumed out the cars, and still managed to tan a little and paint my toes. Now, back to work. 

I was hoping to complete the Number Systems unit before I returned to school, but life happened. Oh well. As it is in progress, let me know if you have any special requests for skills or topics you would like to see in the unit (the objectives are pretty all-encompassing and not very specific). I am planning on covering number system conversions, adding in binary/hex/octal, and hopefully all operations in scientific notation. 

Here are a few preview pages for you to enjoy. Stay tuned! I will post again as soon as the final product is finished. 

Friday, March 16, 2012

Zombies catching some rays on Spring Vakay

 Happy Spring Break everyone, from our little Zombie family to yours. We are experiencing the warmest winter / earliest spring in Minnesota history. It's going to be 78 degrees today!  

My children just departed for the cabin with Grandma. Now... what to do with this beautiful, child-free day? 

(Other than sit out in the hammock and get my first Zombie-pale-skin sunburn of the year)

1. Absolutely nothing work related. I already spent a good 20 hours between Saturday and Thursday updating my website, improving Smart files, reviewing state standards and selecting strands for remediation, creating web quests, celebrating pi day (3/14) and reading a book called All of the Above by Shelley Pearsall for a possible interdisciplinary unit. 

Should you really count reading as "work" though? I know that once I started the book, I really couldn't put it down. Perfect for teenagers; boys and girls alike, the plot centers around a group of inner-city youth who take on the challenge of breaking the Guinness World Record by building a 7-stage Sierpinski tetrahedron. This may seem like a small feat, but each new level of the tetrahedron quadruples the previous quantity.

Stage 1: 1 x 4 = 4 tetrahedrons  (1/4 of the fuchsia corner below)
Stage 2: 4 x 4 = 16 tetrahedrons (entire fuchsia corner below)
Stage 3: 16 x 4 =  64 (fuchsia and indigo corner below)
Stage 4: 64 x 4 =  256 (fuchsia, indigo, blue, green sections)
Stage 5: 256 x 4 = 1024 (entire figure below!)
Stage 6: 1024 x 4 = 4096 (what previous schools had built)
Stage 7: 4096 x 4 = 16384!!!!  (the goal of the school in the book! over 8 feet tall!!)
Stage "Infinity": In theory, you could keep multiplying/growing this structure forever.

Click on either of the pictures above to learn more about the book, and possible projects, as well as to download and build your own tetrahedron! I really really want to try this in my classes, as a "when you're done" activity... no more whining "Teacher.... I'm done... what should I do now!?!?!?"....  Just get to work cutting, folding and gluing tetrahedrons! 

It's the perfect tie-in to 7th grade standards; so, bravo to the fictional seventh grade teacher "Mr. Collins" for aligning his activity to cover regular solids, scale change, and exponential growth. What a great idea. 

2. Anyway... back to NOT DOING WORK ON SPRING BREAK. You can see how well THAT is going for me. I think the deck furniture is calling to be put out. In preparation for some bloody rare Zombie steaks with baked potatoes to be eaten in the open air later today. With a side of brains, of course. Best part about early spring? No bugs!!!

3. LAUNDRY PARTAY!!! Real zombies may wear the same rags for eternity, until they rot away and fall off... but my little zombies, unfortunately, need to have their clothes washed. Although you'd think they are real zombies, by the quantity of grass stains, rips, food marks, and holes that permeate their outfits. My clothes, on the other hand, get the sniff check at the end of the day, and more often than not, get put back into the "clean" pile to wear again. Which is calling to me now... DUMP ME OUT!!!!! PUT ME AWAY!!!!  

4. Nap!?!? Yeah right. How about more coffee instead.

5. Replace the sump pump line in our basement. A mouse nested in it last year and chewed lots of lovely little holes all the way up and down the line in its futile escape attempt. Now, every time the pump cycles, water sprays through the cracks, behind our downstairs bathroom, slowly rotting through the dry wall. Yum. 

This may sound like an easy job, but the underside of the closet is PACKED with crap. It's a very convenient dumping area for all our junk that we are too tasteful to throw in the back yard. Which makes Job #5 a pretty major cleaning event, in addition to the hose work involved. Boo.

6. Go for a sunny Zombie walk, or "Phoebe run". It is sad how few people remember the "Phoebe run" these days. It was on one of the funniest, most memorable episodes of Friends. I do this in the hall at school sometimes, and the kids never know that it's a joke. They just think I'm crazy. (but they already knew that ;)

7. Take more silly pictures of my Zombie cats. Here you are. Enjoy your weekend, wherever you are! (Mirror, Mirror, on the wall, who is the prettiest kitty of them all?)

Friday, March 9, 2012

Zombie relaxation activities stimulate learning with killer endorphins

Happy Spring Break everyone! 

In honor of being done with work for a week, and returning to a semi-conscious Undead state, I thought I'd post my favorite "just for fun / relaxation" activities that we do in my classroom to channel our inner Zombies.

#1: PLANKING!  Have you discovered it yet? Kids love it. Adults love it. A girl even planked on American Idol this year while her sister auditioned. And it's just plain fun. You lay down on your tummy, stretch your body out behind you, and lift your legs and head a few inches off the ground. You look straight down at the floor, and hold your hands out at your sides, palm side up. See how long you can balance. It's a good workout if you can keep it going.

We have tried it on desks, the floor, my table, lockers, and anywhere else that we don't mind laying down and getting a little grit on our cheeks.

#2: POWER NAP TIME! We have pajama day a few times a year, and there's nothing better than turning the lights off, putting your head down on the blankie you brought, turning on some quiet music, and attempting to doze for 5 minutes. It never fails that I actually have a few kids who are so tired, they fall asleep right away and squint crazily when I turn the lights back on. 

Yup, that's me. The zombie math teacher. Napping AND planking. In blue snow flake jammie pants. Somehow my seventh graders still take me seriously!?!? 

#3: Meditation Time. I use this at random times, such as before a test or during our prescribed learning periods (PLP is the kid version of the kind of a PLC a teacher would have). We work on deep breathing, stretching individual parts of our bodies, clearing our minds, and trying not to laugh. Several of my current and past students have anxiety and sleep issues and they claim that this has really helped them focus and feel less nervous all the time. 

We talk about how meditation can help them calm a racing mind to the point that they are able to almost hypnotize themselves to sleep. It is also a very real issue for their growing teenage bodies that they don't stretch well or often enough; whether it be before gym class, sports, or just to ease growing pains. The benefits of stretching, and yoga related activities, are well documented, but not put into practice nearly enough.

#4:  Stare at the crazy picture until you go cross-eyed. Guaranteed to be attention-grabbing. Whether it's an optical illusion, a "wrong" nature picture, or some other cheesy, picture from Google Images, your students will get the brain break they need, and be able to focus on something new more quickly. 

This inverted flag is one of my favorites. Find a white space either on your computer monitor or the wall or a whiteboard, where you can look shortly. Don't forget that. Now stare at the center of this reverse flag, blinking as little as possible, for 1-2 minutes. Then look quickly at the white area you chose. You should see the real American flag colors super-imposed on the white space! It's the reverse image that has burned itself onto your retinas! Way cool. Click the flag to learn more about other neat color and image tricks.

#5: Crossing the Midline and other "get up and move" activities. Did you know that you can concentrate better if you have activated both sides of your brain? You can "unstick" the right and left brains by crossing over physically, like doing the "cross your arms, and then clasp your hands, and then pull them up through your middle" and back down. Or windmills. Or diagonal toe-touchers or bicycling. Just getting out of desks for a 2-minute talking break, can be really powerful. 

How long can we grown-ups concentrate in a meeting before we zone out? Yet we expect students to do it for hours upon hours upon hours... with longer and longer core classes. Some of the block classes I've seen can last nearly two hours with no break for bathroom, or drink or anything. How inhumane.

#6: Embracing school dress-up days in the class room. So what, it's hat day. Let them have fun wearing their costume in class! Let them show off a little. The humor it engenders will make the lecture more memorable. If the costume gets distracting, they can always take it off later.

This was during a class pop quiz. Somehow, all the students managed to get A's and B's on the quiz, including Iron Man. And you can see just how many class mates are giggling in the background.  Even super heroes need to pass math class. 

In conclusion: Educational time is very important. But so is the ability to concentrate. Human beings can absorb maybe seven new pieces of information at a time, before taking a break to process. Everything after that is lost. So you can kid yourself all you want that you are "using your classroom time wisely". But ask yourself this... when was the last time you gave your classroom a brain break? A month? A week? Even yesterday?

Well guess what... they need it MULTIPLE times per day, 1-2 times per class period even in a 50-minute block of time. So get them out of their desks! Give them a break! Make them laugh and smile for a while. The gains in quality of learning will greatly offset any losses of class time.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

State mandated testing used for Good! Not Evil!

Greetings oh fellow mathematicians.

It's another epic Saturday night, complete with Sandwich King, Restaurant Impossible, Worst Cooks in America, and other DVR culinary delights on Food Network. Granted, I did rent Cowboys vs. Aliens on Redbox, but the hubby doesn't want to watch it, so I guess it will keep until morning. Or I'll pay a whopping extra $1.50 for another day. 

We are a week out from spring break in my district, and after our lovely Snow Day on Wednesday, us teachers have been scrambling to decide whether to cram in the current unit, or carry it over break, or make it into another full week. The things students never think about... how snow days REALLY mess with a unit. Especially those that have been timed out nearly to the second, and now we are down a whopping 75 minutes x 60 seconds... AHHHH!!!  

Alas, in the preparations for completing said unit, I was lucky enough to work with an open-minded colleague to branch into the territory of flex grouping. It takes a lot of guts to open up and share students mid-year. Considering how fiercely independent most educators are, to open up your classroom, share students, and be willing not only to cross-teach, but to share strategies and embrace the interconnectedness that comes from real teaming, is really powerful. It is nearly impossible not to become a better teacher, from the experience of sharing students and truly collaborating on content.

I can only imagine what it must feel like, being sorted into groups, if the intent is not explained. I was quite clear with my students, that we sorted students based on their performance on a particular strand of the state test, and that our goal is to push everyone into a higher bracket, from wherever they are. 

Students are surprisingly receptive to understanding that it is OKAY to not be the same as everyone else, when it comes to prior knowledge and ability level, and speed of acquiring new skills, for a particular unit. I have not had a single complaint from a student or parent, that said that it was a bad idea, to try to reach each individual student in a speed and content difficulty, appropriate to their skills. 

Would you want to compete in a marathon with runners far surpassing your own personal preparations and speed and age/gender? Would you want to be last in "their" class, or "best" compared to your own personal "best"? Don't we all, in the end, want to feel we are pushing ourselves, past our own prior expectations? And to feel we are doing the best with what we were given to work with? And to know we tried our best?

So here we are, half way complete with testing season, and I am surprisingly optimistic as to the benefits of multiple testing indicators in a current year. My team has embraced the goal of improving student retention and skills, and to show growth from winter to spring on all measurable indicators. We are already beating last year's data by 5 percent (comparing this year's February, to last year's April data). So by spring, we hope to double that growth. As professionals, shouldn't the goal of any SMART goal, or other goal, be to continually look for improvement, and to absorb what has worked, and ditch what hasn't worked? In that capacity, we are in a win-win situation. 

I am not sure how many other districts, states or countries can say the same. 

So my question, to my wonderful readers, is... what have you tried that has worked? or hasn't worked? Do you have a coworker who is holding you back? Are you getting push-back from somewhere else? Is your funding being cut? And in the long run, what are you willing and able to do about it? Because... let me tell you... having embraced the data, and used it for GOOD, versus EVIL, and as a TOOL, I have found many benefits to seek out the greater good, in the long run, than any evil repercussions resulting from "over-testing".

So is testing "real, or not real?" as Peeta Mellark says in Mockingjay, testing is as REAL as you make it! Do you embrace testing as a tool for change? Or as a punitive device? Because your students are watching you. And your attitude and integrity will make all the difference as to how they take the tests, and interpret the results of said tests, and how they feel about the results. 

Shouldn't the end goal be, that they tried their best, and they look for areas to improve? Because if it's not, then what's the point to going to school at all? Why don't we just go into the work force at age 14, if we're not going to even try to become better people? And learn from our mistakes... Hmmmm.....