Saturday, April 28, 2012

Crunchy Brain-Mashing Zombie PB Cookies!

It's a cold and rainy Saturday in Zombie Land. Papers are graded, mid-term grades are posted, class website is updated... what to do with myself... I debated long and hard (well, not really) whether to walk on the treadmill, or bake some super-fattening but uber-delicious peanut butter cookies. It was a "really tough" decision ;)

I have a few Zombie twists to making easy, delicious, no-mixer needed, PB cookies that I thought would be worth sharing. I apologize to my overseas and out-of-country friends who are on the metric system. Hopefully you have those wonderful measuring cups with both standard and metric labels? At any rate, Enjoy!

Recipe: (yields 3 dozen)
-1 cup light brown sugar
-1 cup white granulated sugar
-1 stick butter (do NOT use margarine! Ewww!)
-1/2 cup shortening (for fluffiness)
-2 eggs (don't bother beating, just dump in bowl)
-1 1/4 cup CRUNCHY Peanut Butter 
-2 tsp. good vanilla
-3 cups flour
-1 tsp. baking soda, dissolved in 1 tbsp HOT water (important!)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
2. Grab 3 cookie sheets and cover with foil. Coat with non-stick spray.
3. Dump all ingredients in a bowl, in order provided. 
4. Stir for a while with a couple big spoons until you get bored. 
5. Wash your hands well.
6. Dig your hands into the mix and work it like a meatloaf, or a zombie mashing brains.


7. Once the cookie dough looks well-mixed, pour some granulated sugar in a bowl.
8. Grab a monster-sized fist of dough, and roll until smooth like a golf ball. 
9. Roll the ball in the sugar until coated. Set on tray, spacing balls about an inch apart.


10. Grab a fork. Press down slightly in two directions, forming cross-hatches. Depending on how much you trust your kids, they can help with this. Zombie child #2 tried  to help, but his freakishly strong wrists mashed the balls into smitherenes and I had to re-roll them.


11. Once spaced out (the cookies and/ or the Zombie), bake for 12-15 minutes. DO NOT OVERCOOK! Bottoms should barely be browned.

12. Commence annoying of kitties and other general silliness while you wait for cookies to come out of the oven.

13. Still waiting? Have a funny face contest.

14. STILL WAITING!?!?!?  (I know, my oven sucks too) Annoy the cat some more.

15. YES! THEY'RE FINALLY DONE! Move cookies immediately to paper towels or a baking rack to dry. 

16. Consume with milk.  This is required Crunchy Zombie PB cookie LAW. Violators WILL be prosecuted. 

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Springtime Deep Thoughts

I would like to send an official welcome to the three newly hatched sparrows living in the fake plant above my front porch. Their mother was chirruping furiously from the nearest ledge as I took the picture, despite the fact that I was safely behind the glass of the front door. Such feisty mothering instincts are admirable. Especially living so close to Zombie Math Teacher and family!

In school-related news, we finished the first round of school-wide state tests earlier this week. My wonderful coworker paid for mint gum packs for our 90+ shared students out of her own pocket, which was much appreciated, and much quieter than clanking hard candies. But having the desks in nice straight rows for the two days of testing left me feeling stuffy and rigid. So the same morning that we finished testing, I immediately enlisted the students to help me in rearranging the desks into pods. Here is the result.


I have to say, the classroom looks much cleaner and larger in pictures than it actually is in real life! The extra open walking space adds to the decluttering effect, I think. As does the lack of 35 large bodies in every seat. The best part about this seating arrangement, at the end of the year, is that it facilitates student discussion. And it forces ME as the teacher, to do less lecturing. I'm lucky to have their eyeballs on me for 5 minutes before their attention wanes anyway, so why not use their sideways bodies as a reminder of it? 

Also, the end of year chattiness is virtually unstoppable, so why not use that as a strength instead of a weakness? I have tried to fight it for 3 years now; with projects, long lectures, a new unit, and/or cumulative review, and it is EXHAUSTING. So this year, I give up. They want to talk? I'll make them PRODUCTIVE with their talking. Maybe even throw in a group or partner quiz for once!?!?

Along with the giving up on talking, I am also relinquishing the power of seating charts for the remainder of the year. It seems early, I know... but there are only so many "barrier students" you can build around the higher intensity personalities, before they've burned all their bridges. So let 'em pick themselves. Each day. With the caveat that messing around will result in alphabetical seating for everyone, for an indefinite period of time. And they HATE sitting alphabetically. Time will tell if I regret this new philosophy. 

But for now, one last deep thought... HOT GLUE GUNS ROCK. 

I posted last month about the book All of the Above, and its interdisciplinary connections to math through the building of tetrahedrons. I am unsure if I can agree with the gluing methods described in the book. Supposedly, each student builds the paper shapes, and then puts either a blob of glue stick or regular glue on the corner, and then holds it until it dries in place. THIS DOES NOT WORK! We tried. With foam glue, glue sticks, Elmers glue, rubber cement, and even tape. Finally, I gave up and bought a cheap low-temp hot glue gun. And VIOLA!! A stage-2 tetrahedron is born.

Total props go out to my student for taking the added step of writing book themes on several of the figures, using each of the 4 faces for a different character's perspective of the various themes. While we glued and held the corners together, classmates came to the front table to check out what we were doing; which started a great conversation about bigger tetrahedrons, and if we wanted to try a Stage-3 challenge (64 tetrahedrons) before school gets out. I said, let's go for it! 

P.S. Not-so-deep-thought: PENCIL SHARPENERS ARE MY NEMESIS. We somehow broke BOTH of my new pencil sharpeners over the course of two testing days. And the pencil sharpeners took their revenge; eating sharpened lead straight out of the barrels of a variety of sizes and wood quality pencils. Make that item #3 on the list of "things I've given up on" this spring... 

ATTENTION STUDENTS: WRITE WITH WHATEVER YOU WANT FROM HERE ON OUT. As long as it's not blood. My zombie nature forbids it. I have better things to do with my class time than battle with Darth Sharpener any longer. Unless someone buys me this one ;)

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Zombie Teacher vs. The Dreaded Pencil: The Sharpener Strikes Back

Happy Saturday everyone. After an epic day of chocolate chip pancakes, a trip to the ECFE family fair to pet native MN alligators and baby bunnies (who luckily did not get eaten by the alligator, as his mouth was duct-taped shut) and yet another trip to Walmart, I can proudly say that I have procured a brand-spanking new electric pencil sharpener for my classroom!

There were several models to choose from, including a beautiful $30 one that plugs into the wall, but after several failed attempts (see my previous blog post) to maintain them in good working order, I figured that I minus well go with the $8 battery operated one that will likely not make it through its first set of batteries before getting jammed anyway. Does anyone have any  good tips for keeping those nasty colored pencils OUT of the sharpener bit? Because clearly verbal warnings and notes taped to the front don't work.

The reason I finally caved, is because spring testing is upon us. School-wide Language Arts state tests are next week, which are the only exam still on pencil-and-paper, and every student is required to have TWO (functional) sharpened NON-MECHANICAL #2 pencils to use on the test. Which usually means that the school has to supply them.

Literally, a student arrived Wednesday with two brand new boxes of pencils. I confiscated one of the boxes, wrote his/her name on it, and LOCKED IT IN MY SUPPLY DRAWER so there is NO possible way the student will be without a pencil for at least.... ummm..... 12 consecutive days. (I think there were 12 pencils in that box). 

Why, might you ask, am I spending my own money on a new pencil sharpener? Sheer futility, I tell you... and total annoyance at my own personal short-comings. 

Shortcoming #1:  Not planning ahead.
I have known for several weeks that my pencil sharpener was on the fritz, but didn't bother to ask the custodians if we had any new ones available until last week, because I felt guilty. I just asked for a new one, and had it installed, before Christmas. It should last longer than that. And now they're out.Which leads me to...

Shortcoming #2: Not paying enough attention to my students
How do I not notice someone gleefully jamming a colored pencil or other non-compatible writing instrument (or pointy object) into my pencil sharpener over the course of a few months? Or are students trying to thwart the sharpener on purpose, so that they are unable to sharpen their pencils; thus, rendering themselves incapable of taking notes in my class? (They should know by now, I'll usually force a pen on them in such a situation)

Shortcoming #3: Not paying enough attention to the calendar
Where did February and March and most of April GO!?!?  I would have forgotten about my turn to serve detention on Tuesday, had the secretary not called to remind me after school. My youngest son's birthday is fast approaching, and I'm leaning towards having two tiny family get-togethers for the second year in a row, simply because I have NO energy to organize a party two weeks before school gets out. Do we sense a pattern forming here?

Shortcoming #4: A total and complete EPIC FAIL in the time-management department
Having figured out that testing is next week, and having determined that my pencil sharpener is in fact, totally beyond repair, to the point that I'm sending students to the adjacent room to sharpen... you'd think a normal human being would have some other strategy worked out. Which I did!

It was a teeny tiny manual grinder-pencil-sharpener, from the dark ages, except for the clear red plastic shell it was made of. But either from the same malicious students as #2 listed above, or from sheer overuse, it broke into 3 pieces during 3rd hour on Thursday, and even my most daft techy student could not put humpty-sharpener together again. So naturally, I waited until the WEEKEND to do something about this problem.

Shortcoming #5: Zombifying whilst reading Dystopian YA novels 24/7.
Mockingjay (the third installement of the Hunger Games trilogy) has installed a renewed sense of the value of finite resources in my classroom. I commend students for saving trees when they reuse the same sheet of paper all week (or month) long to do their daily math warm-ups. It's a good day when a pencil is not only brought to school each day, but used down to the nub! With or without an eraser!

I have also just finished reading House of the Scorpion this morning; or rather, listening... on (which if you haven't discovered these cheap and amazing audio-books... you're totally losing out) and my brain has alternately been musing on the topic of Human Will and the concept of a "soul" (does a clone have its own soul?), and wondering if the Spanish language and culture embedded in the book (which I totally understand because I studied it) is reaching its target audience.

So is the whole issue of posting about electric pencil sharpeners, or pencils, truly life-changing at all? I guess in the face of modern technology, not so much! When I posted about pencil use on LinkedIn, it sparked a crazy two-week debate, which I'm still reeling from the tangents that were explored and the greater picture of the
purpose of education that was addressed.

Speaking of pencils; when I told my hubby today that I wanted to buy a sharpener for my classroom, he said, "We need a pencil sharpener at home!" and I said, "Yeah, I bought one over a month ago and it's in the top drawer". He said, "Oh." and that was about it. So you can see how often the average American household (even one with a teacher in it) actually uses their own desk resources (for good or evil). And we wonder why our students couldn't care less about bringing pencils.

Because we don't USE them in real life. Virtually EVER.

And now that I have ranted about pencils some more, I shall return to my lovely copy of Game of Thrones that I am slowly getting hooked on. My first actual paper book to physically "read" since All of the Above over my spring break. Sadly, I have to admit, I was more motivated to read it by last week's SNL parody of the HBO series. Which I would not recommend to the faint-hearted or easily offended... Ahhh!!! What am I in for!?!?

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Parent-Zombie-Teacher Conferences: A Linear Equation?

The last night of conferences for the year has come and gone. Lots of good goal-setting, celebrating of accomplishments, and talk of upcoming tests/expectations took place. It is no secret that kids with involved parents, who take the time to contact teachers and check grades and hold their children accountable, have the greatest success in school and life. So I want to thank you, involved parents, for doing what you do. For fighting the uphill battle. For doling out gallons of that bittersweet concoction known as tough love.

Is there a magic equation or solution to student success? Because we teachers, try as we might, are not "the" solution. If anything, teachers are like the "slope" in the linear equation of SUCCESS, and parents are the "y-intercept". Teachers hope to accomplish a constant rate of growth each year (or exponential rate, in a good year!). Each student's slope of progress may be a different steepness, depending on their motivation, or mathematical aptitude, or prior knowledge. But as any good data cruncher knows, and I LOVE DATA, the real X-factor in the equation of success is your starting value. 

Parents, as the y-intercept of life, control how much of a head start we give our kids. Are they getting just the expected, and starting at zero, which is to say, what teachers expect out of kindergarteners on the first day of school? Or are we giving them a head-start of 1-2 years by having them attend pre-school, or educational day care, or working at home on letters and numbers and reading? Or, worse yet, are we somehow hindering our children at home; thus, giving them a disadvantage with -1 or -2+ years behind their peers... through neglect, or poverty, or simple inattention to their creative/learning needs? 

I wanted to share this Minnesota standards document that I made for parents, to help them better understand their own child's personal "linear equation" for success. Of course we all want to see exponential growth in our child's learning, which does happen from time to time; but more often than not, we are just looking for them to follow a pattern of steady growth in content areas. 

What I often find, both as a parent and as a teacher, is that most standardized test scores (RIT, scaled, etc.) are very difficult for parents to interpret. And what do we do with data that we find hard to interpret? We misinterpret what the data actually means, and sometimes react in a way that is detrimental to our children. 

Take for example, my sons being at the 50th percentile for height and weight over the course of several years. Me being the perfectionist that I am, I feel like I am doing something wrong! What should I be doing, to get my kid to the 100th percentile of height and/or weight? Does that make him a "winner"!?!?  What the heck DOES a kid at the 100th percentile of height/weight actually look like? A mini tank? I don't particularly understand how the comparisons are made, or what's the "ideal" percentile, if there really is such a thing, so I just feel like a bad parent no matter what. And honestly there's not much I can do about it anyway. So you what... give up? 

Standardized test scores; even SAT and ACT and AP test scores, often feel the same way. Great. I received my students' test scores back. It's a 480. It's a 25. It's a 3. What does it MEAN!?!?! Is something right or wrong? Where does my kid stand? Did I not do enough? Did s/he not do enough? How often, honestly, do we look at our children's scores, just to look at progress year-over-year... without comparing them to the Jones' genius children.

And what does that set our children up for... other than never being "good enough"? 

So what is the solution...???  I say, judge them on PERSONAL growth. Judge SCHOOLS on that particular SCHOOL's growth. Judge a country based on that COUNTRY'S values and societal growth and norms. And QUIT COMPARING APPLES TO ORANGES. American students are not like students from other countries. They have their own values and priorities, and yes, we can make improvement, but WHO SAYS WE HAVE TO BE THE "BEST" IN THE WORLD ANYWAY??? Can't we just be "GREAT" in our own way? Can't we strive for continued improvement, and CELEBRATE when we DO make improvement? And quit complaining about what's WRONG with education? 

Because, frankly, I feel like celebrating all the progress I have made as an educator this year. And how far my students have come this year. And how much progress my teacher team, and my grade level, and my school has made this year. What truly motivates us in life, is celebrating our successes. Not harping on our failures.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Work-free Zombie weekend comes back to bite me in the butt

It was almost the weekend of "no work". Which for less than a month out from state testing is pretty much a miracle. Just papers to grade. Aaaaand they're still sitting there. They HAVE to get graded before I go to bed tonight. So naturally, I'm blogging. 

Uh oh... gotta update my school websites too. How did I forget that??? 

And pay bills. Hmmm... that can wait a few more days...

At any rate, I must not be the only teacher stressing about state tests, because I've sold 8 copies of my book (click on the picture at right) and another 5 digital chapters on TeachersPayTeachers in the last two weeks! That can't just be a coincidence :o) Thanks everyone!!! 

Before I dart out for the night to do some "real" work, I thought I'd share some amazing penny-pincher scores I made at Toys R Us this weekend. 

First, the glow-in-the-dark planets seen above! They aren't listed on their website, but they come in a skinny clear tube with black ends, (right next to the rest of the planetarium items in the store) and they're only $4.99!!! All the other solar kits my oldest zombie child wanted were between $20-$30, and were probably really heavy for the ceiling. These are super light plastic, and came with clear fishing type string, that tied to the planets, and then I looped them around nails, and jammed the nails under the metal ring of the light fixture. Voila! Light doubles as mobile. And kinda looks like the sun!

Secondly, these lovely "Imaginarium" brand track switcher packs are AMAZING!!! And they're about half  the price of the fancy "Thomas the Train" ones. We already had a base set of wooden rails, but this pack came with so many switches and crossings, that I spent literally three hours on Saturday and another hour today trying to get them all to fit in one giant circuit. Not possible :/

And lastly, bring on the fantabulous Carnation Instant Key Lime Pie kit that has been staring me in the face on my counter for a month. My boys helped me make it on Friday night and we've plowed through half the pan already. It's surprisingly lime-y for not having a drop of real lime juice in it (that I know of).

Makes me almost forget that my DVD player is broken, and that it ruined my Breaking Dawn DVD, and that taxes were hideous this year, and that me and my fellow teachers are still working without a current year teaching contract. Maybe I'll cut myself another slice before I dig into this huge pile-o-grading.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Spring Time Fun in Zombie Land

 It is a Wednesday for celebrating! 

I am officially planned out to the last day of school. Down to the lesson. Only 8 weeks left? Where did it go?

Beautifully warm spring weather has reappeared. American Idol was AMAZING tonight. Plus I scored a DOUBLE STRAWBERRY Starburst pack from my kids' Easter stash! That screamed a blog post right there.

The weather was in fact so nice, that I interrupted our daily bike/walk to take some late afternoon pictures. Yay! Mother's Day presents!!

See, this here is why I rarely waste the time and money to get professional pictures taken. The boys take such nice photos outside when it's spontaneous and the light is just right. And I don't have to waste half a day planning outfits and stuffing chocolate down their throats to get them to behave for a photographer.

 OK, maybe not this one. What a ham.

Ethan actually did enjoy being shoved in a tree. He didn't want to get down.

Maybe he has some Katniss Everdeen spirit in him.

Here's some actual math-related content! My small-group math skills class has all voted that they need to review order of operations most desperately, which flows nicely after the exponents we just finished.

We are making PEMDAS foldables, but a little differently than the usual. Some of my students made them last year, but with one tab for each of the PEMDAS letters. I don't agree with this; it leads too often to students solving multiplication before division, and addition before subtraction. (Note the M/D tab, and A/S tab)

It's actually kind of a funny story... and a little embarrassing to admit... but my first year teaching, I totally forgot about the whole "multiply/divide goes left to right" and "add/subtract goes left to right" part. I taught them to use the PEMDAS order literally in order.  Which led to a lot of the exact backward solving that we want them to avoid!!  I hope I didn't scar their mathematical brains for life :(

D'OH!!! First year teacher gaffe :/  We all have 'em.

ANYhoo... these foldables offer a great visual/graphic organizer to store examples of each type of operation, and extra space under each flap to write related problems and examples. And here's my little twist... I have them sit with a chip or coin on top of the PEMDAS letter that they are on, so they can keep track of each step as they go. Once they complete a step, or if that step is not present, they bump their chip down to the next PEMDAS letter and check their equation again. 

Some teachers prefer "GEMDAS" to "PEMDAS" because the "G" refers to "Grouping Symbols". But I grew up with "PEMDAS" and "Please excuse my dear Aunt Sally", and it's hard to get my brain to switch. So I tolerate either one from my students. Note- I still draw all the "grouping" symbols on the "P" tab of my foldable.

My goal is for students to have a little lunch sack of interactive study materials to take home for state test/unit test/NWEA test review, on their own, just because it's fun. We've also made exponent quilt "squares" with common errors in powers of 2, and exponent "cubes" with common errors in powers of 3. Students chose their own most common errors in numbers 1-10 for both projects, to make them more meaningful. And I'm already seeing improvement in their number/operation skills in under 3 weeks!

Wahoo for Spring Time fun!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Let the Zombie Post-Sugarfest Commence

Another Easter weekend has come and gone. It really is a crying shame not to have Monday off, when everyone is fried from too much sugar, too much family, too much egg salad, and in most cases, too little quality sleep. And in my case, TOO MUCH PINK!

Now that the last major holiday of the season is over, we are in full-swing testing season mode for the next month and a half. Science testing, language arts testing, 2nd round of math testing, and then NWEA vertical math and language arts testing. 

Can we really blame the kids for wanting a little sugar in their system to help stay awake tomorrow? I will have my own secret stash, pilfered from the spoils of three separate Easter egg hunts, to keep me going. And some very large cups of coffee. So then... how can we help each other in class tomorrow? Me as the teacher, and them as the students, to have a meaningful, productive day? 

Here's my plan:
-inject humor whenever possible
-2 minute nap time to start off class
-frequent brain breaks and crossing the midline
-a brand spanking new GOLF math menu!

(see if you can catch my pathetically amateur golf term gaffe...)

The best part about the math menu, that I just came up with... is the "Out of Play" section. I'm hoping the students will really like it. They get to track their own time in completing the activities, with 30 minutes = -1 point. By offering them multiple pathways to achieve similar educational outcomes, they should have an easier transition back into the world of math, away from the world of sugar.

And they get to practice integers on the way! (note the negative point totals!) 

Did you find my error yet? Check the driving range section ;)

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Zombie Teacher on Facebook

Happy April to everyone! Happy Tuesday! Happy 4-day week! Testing season is ramping up again, and I for one, am stressed.

Note the lack of posting in the last week. Sorry :/  So I'll keep it short today and submit some current "likes" and "dislikes" for your viewing pleasure.

And while you're at it, head to Facebook, and "like" my page!

Like! New Textbook Adoptions
(I'll be nice and not say which series we're dumping)
-Free goodie bags
-Free books
-Free logins & passwords
-A LOT less supplementing next year
-A LOT less COPYING next year

Dislike! Student Attitudes this week
-It's NOT Easter yet. Stop eating candy.
-You seriously don't know what to do when you get to class? (warm-ups, HW out)
-I am talking. You are NOT. Period. Duct tape?
-You are invading my personal space bubble. Take 2 steps back.
-Seriously? You didn't "get" your HW? Did you Facebook Message me? Did you text me?
(Yes, my cell phone is on my teacher webpage, and no, no one bothers to prank me)

Like! Student showed me how to use the "pen" tool to WRITE on my POWERPOINTS!
-How did I not know this? Oh right, my students are smarter than me.
-Go to "Add-Ins" while you're in the file.
-Click on the wavy pen/writing icon.
-Go to Insert or Options or whatever is the right-most drop-down choice and enable the pen tool
-It will show up in the bottom left corner of your Powerpoint to activate as you go through the lesson
-Another student showed me there is also an ERASE tool there! SaWEEEEEEET!!!

Dislike! Losing prep time for field trips
-Field trips are fun.
-But not on my double-prep day when I have double test classes to teach the day before and after.
-Field trips are fun but TIRING.

Like! Helpful subs who correct your stuff because they're bored
-And then go help other teachers with THEIR stuff cuz they're bored
-I wish I were more organized to HAVE stuff for them to correct

Dislike! Not helpful subs who don't follow sub plans and make negative comments
-Why are you subbing if you don't want to help kids?
-Why are you subbing if you are undermining the teacher on purpose?
(Sadly, that goes for us full-time teachers too)

By Markus Zusak. Click the picture at right to check it out. I listened on Audible coming to and from work and the reader does a fantastic German accent that really brings the story to life. I bought a copy for my classroom. It's a perfect complement to whatever (mature) grade in your school is covering WWII and/or the Holocaust.

Most of the material we cover in school is from the perspective of soldiers or Americans in the war, or Jews who were affected; compared to this book, that tackles what life was like within Germany, from a teen's perspective.

I hadn't really thought much about what it must have felt like, to Jewish sympathizers living in Germany, or those actively helping to hide/save Jews; to go against the Nazi party, fear for their lives, and then be bombed by the Allied forces right alongside civilians who were actually Nazis. As though that excuses the killing of any innocents, whatever the circumstances.

Beware... you will need Kleenex in several parts of the book.

As far as math connections, maybe some map/scaling with History tie-ins? Where the locations of the book are? Statistical analysis of the population/war? Right now, I'm too tired to think of anything but my awaiting bed... and the work I didn't get done today... but I'll probably be dreaming of Liesel Meminger and her life as a Book Thief, and if the last 14 minutes of my Audible version of the book will make me cry again on the way to work tomorrow. Very touching and very thought provoking.

Dislike! Needing so much caffeine to stay awake that my right eye lid has begun to twitch.
-Zombie eye ball must be eating my brain.
-Zombie need sleep