Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Grateful Zombie / End of Year Thanks & Appreciation

Congrats to classes of 2012 around the world on your achievements! Another year has come and gone in the blink of an eye. My school door only has 5 days left to cross off before we say farewell. The last set of copies will be sent to the copy room tomorrow. Yearbooks to sign. Filthy, cluttered classroom to clean out. D'OH!

Before I return to complaining about my quickly growing to-do list, I wanted to pause and reflect on all the positive things I have to be thankful for this year. It might just make the grunt work to be done seem a little less tedious.

Zombie Hubby Thanks! For accepting a new Zombie kitty into our home, and making a little room for yet another litter box. Miele (pictured at left) is slowly coming out of her shell, and seeing what it's like to be outnumbered in the house (as I am) by a ratio of three boys to every girl. 

And for dealing with the realities of having a teacher in the family. Like late nights of papers to correct, websites and grades to update, parents to email, and general crankiness from being too nice at school all day. And lots of lots of laundry left unfolded in a pile in the laundry room. Lying in wait for me now... can I put it off another five days???

Zombie Parent Thanks! I have the most amazing parents, who have supported me throughout my life and many career trips and dead ends. With everything else going on in our tumultuous lives right now, they find a way to put everyone else first. Buying lawn mowers. Paying for meals. Flying family members (and pets) around the country. WITH luggage. Arranging impromptu birthday parties and catering at the cabin. Driving out to replace a sump pump line on the fritz, after my duct-tape-and-plastic-bags doctoring didn't do the trick.

Zombie Friends & Family Thanks! The outpouring of assistance, play dates, hot dish meals, Facebook pictures and videos, mailing of cards and gifts, verbal and other expressions of sympathies are deeply appreciated. Transitioning back into work and home life after the tragedy was as smooth as could be expected under the circumstances. Being around some normalcy and the bubbly energy of teens helps keep the grief under control.

I am sure there are individuals I have forgotten to thank, so I'll let Ethan do it for me. "Thanks for the extra cash that finally motivated Mommy buy me the new bike I needed! I got to ride it out of the store!"

Zombie Coworker Thanks! To all the wonderful team members, support staff, secretaries, custodians, administrators and other professionals I work with on a daily basis. You put up with my daily lateness (I'm still running on "Ashley Time" after all) and grandiose ideas, and bossy over-management of all spreadsheets, and somehow still love me enough to throw together a big wad of sympathy cards, words and cash to make me feel better after my sister's passing. The money really does help. No one realizes just how quickly the expenses add up after a death in the family; especially when travel and settling of accounts and property take place. 

Zombie Student Thanks! Daily sympathy cards and gifts continue rolling in to keep me going each day. Random hugs and positive thoughts, pretty plants, compliments on my sister's clothing and jewelry that I wear all the time now, and continued effort through the end of the year, are more than I could ever ask for. It is such a privilege as a teacher, to see students blossom into creative, analytical, and reflective thinkers at the end of the year. No Senior Slide here. (knock on wood!)

Now that testing season has come and gone, my math enrichment classes are completing a read-aloud of All of the Above and have started the tetrahedron project. We have made a Stage 3 (64 tetrahedrons) so far, and are hoping to complete a Stage 4 (256 tetrahedrons) before our last class next Monday. We were going to have a party that day, but several students have informed me that they would RATHER CONTINUE READING THE BOOK! One girl even said, "can you keep reading it to us while we work on the tetrahedons???" (yes, it's THAT good... or maybe it's just that my attempt at an inner city accent is really entertaining to them ;)

Anyhoo, I will post some pictures of the tetrahedron project in the next few days, as we work our way towards "THE END". Peace out.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

In Memoriam: A Sister's Life Lessons inspired by Ashley Ellen Goetz


One of the unanticipated fringe benefits of being a teacher: 
Sympathy prayers grow exponentially, to the power of students and their families.

This post is dedicated to my baby sister, Ashley Ellen Goetz, who died tragically in a car accident last Monday at the age of 26. She was an artist, a writer, a sometimes musician, a teacher, and above all, a wonderful sister. Her professional website will continue to be available at, where you can see some of her best works of poetry, creative writing, photography, strategic design, and mixed media art. Ashley leaves behind a rich legacy of creativity and life lived to its fullest.

Staff Writer Ben Storrow, at the Daily Hampshire Gazette, interviewed my family shortly after the accident, and wrote a wonderful article celebrating Ashley's life, and stating the known facts of her accident. You can read his article by clicking here.

I envision her last moments spent thinking, "Well, I couldn't have done any more with the time I was given!" and that is the biggest tribute I can give her. I'd bet money that she's LOVING the fact that she doesn't have to waste any more time sleeping, now that she has no corporeal need for it ;)

You've probably noticed that I haven't blogged for quite a while. Mostly because I've been wracking my brain trying to think of the appropriate words to remember her by. Then, I finally decided, I don't have to speak for her. She can do it herself. Please enjoy.

A Sister's Life Lessons
inspired by
Ashley Ellen Goetz

Silly faces are the universal language of childhood.

Sisters know how to make you feel beautiful. Even in big bangs and early 90's pastels. 

There's no need to spend money on Halloween costumes, when you have footie pajamas, face paint, and fake ears. 

Life seems to make more sense when you're surrounded by nature, hiking an unknown path, listening to the rush of the current.

Take time to feed the ducks.

Spend time with your grandparents. Listen to their stories. They actually know some things.

Everyone looks good in a giant sombrero.

It's never too cold to hit the slopes. Frozen toes and fingers = warm hearts.

There is no better feeling in the world than rubbing your face into the fur of a purring cat.

Sibling bonds cannot be broken by distance or time, no matter how much they annoyed you in childhood.

Know when to hold 'em, Know when to fold 'em, Know when to give it up and stick it to your face.

Take more pictures. Use real film. Aim the lens less. Stick it on a shelf for a few years before you develop it. You just might surprise yourself.

Travel the world. Learn a new language. Try a new food. And buy lots and lots of scarves.

Sniff babies as often possible before they lose that heavenly smell.

Who needs toys when you have your Auntie godmother's jewelry to play with? 

Everything is better with a pitcher of beer.

Always properly light your pictures.

And don't forget to smile.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Exponential Growth of Spring Zombie Brain Decay

Mother's Day weekend was phenomenal. From the giant-sized Frosty ice cream inflatable, to fishing off the dock at the cabin, to sunning my zombie-pale skin on a deck cushion until I looked more like a salmon filet... I was pampered by the hubby, my folks, and occasionally, my children. And now, only 16 days of school left!! (We made a count-down for my classroom door to staunch the flow of students asking over and over again HOW MANY DAYS LEFT OF SCHOOL)

We even have it marked with special days, like "Next Friday is Exploratory Day!" and "June 4th all Library Books are due!" and "Last Day of School: Valley Fair field trip!" so... technically there are really only 13 or 14 actual educational days left. And boy are we feelin' it! 82 degrees outside today!?

After having completed our review lesson, I took my math classes outside to do homework in the sun. There were naturally groups laying out to tan while they worked, and others finished with work frolicking near the soccer nets (luckily NOT trying to stick their heads through the gaps). And.... then there were the three gangly, 5'10" seventh grade boys CHASING BUTTERFLIES through the field. No joke.

They actually caught one and brought it to me. Alive. I was literally RITG (rolling in the grass) LMAO (expletive deleted). It really is a crying shame that more middle schools don't have playground equipment, or some sort of rec area for kids to go blow off steam. Just to run a few laps, or climb on something (other than my classroom desks and counters) and BE A KID! We do often forget, that even though middle schoolers have grown-up sized bodies at their disposal, there are still actual children living inside those big bodies with children's desires... to run and play and be free and have FUN.

So... the challenge of keeping zombified middle school brains from decaying past the point of no return is getting harder by the minute. Thus, it's CAREER PROJECT TIME! 

First Task: Brainstorm and create an ACTUAL, working resume to keep in Word format, and edit throughout the rest of their middle/high school careers. You'd be amazed how many activities, sports, awards, jobs and volunteer opportunities have been earned by even young zombies. 

Second Task: Research and choose a plausible professional career that they (students) are interested in; including how much schooling they will need, how much money they will make, and the demand for said career.

Third Task: Research and contact a college or trade school where students might likely obtain said training for the career in their second task. Find out how much  the annual tuition, books, room and board are; as well as how rigorous the admissions procedures are. What kinds of activities and skills do they look for?

Fourth Task: Research and/or contact a local bank to find out the typical interest rates on student loans. Write an equation for the duration and annual costs to attend school for the expected amount of time to obtain necessary degrees. Calculate inflation both for yearly tuition cost increases; as well as the compound interest accumulated on the loan over the 4+ years in attendance (this is an accelerated class after all!)

Fifth Task: Calculate the expected monthly payments required to pay back the college loan, and write a summary report comparing these payments to the income and lifestyle each student expects to realize as a young professional.

I will upload more information once I've detailed out a "real" project description and created a rubric. My zombie brain is already half dead and it's only Monday...

Friday, May 4, 2012

Are you counting time, or making the time count?

My, it sure is getting nice outside. With the mild winter and early spring we have had in Minnesota this year, it is no wonder that students (and teachers) are having a hard time concentrating in school. Even still, I did a double-take this afternoon when I discovered there are only 22 days of school left. How and why did this happen? Because there never seems to be quite enough time to accomplish every academic goal set in the fall.

This is my first blog post in which I'm overtly eliciting feedback; whether you respond on Facebook, or on LinkedIn, or to this blog. I'd love to hear your favorite end-of-year units and activities, both from when YOU were a student, and that you have USED in your own classroom. Whatever your area of expertise may be.

Piggy-backing off my pie chart above, I'll start with my own experiences as a student. The most memorable spring project for me was in 7th grade, back at Dakota Hills Middle School in Eagan, MN. That would have been around 1992 or so. We had a science/ math/ language arts interdisciplinary project, involving plotting the growth of particular ferns in the woods near our school. We measured and graphed changes in math class, and looked at the fractal patterns formed in the leaves. In science, we studied the species of plants and made hypotheses which we tested over time. I honestly couldn't tell you what we did in the Language Arts piece; other than it involved using the school phones to make calls to local businesses, and I got my teacher's phone privileges revoked by sharing the building's dial-out code with a friend that she had entrusted to me. (back then, that was a big deal!)

As a teacher myself, I love to do projects and cover some of the items in our math curriculum that aren't necessarily tested by the state. My mentor teacher introduced me to the "Teach the Teacher" project idea, in which students are given time to develop a classroom lesson to teach "to the teacher" (but really to the class). It follows the principle, "to teach is to learn twice". And how true it is! You can see how well, or poorly, a student has really internalized a concept, when they attempt to explain it to their classmates. And the best part is, when you divide up the entire year, and assign a chunk to each group, you as the teacher can sit back and let the STUDENTS take charge of review for their classmates!

I do still offer a final exam, which is a little old-school. I like to have the data of a pre-course and post-course exam; however, I am still undecided whether or not any test data as late as June is really reliable for students still putting in good effort to show growth. I am starting to think it would be better to offer the final exam right after state testing is done, while the cumulative review is still fresh in their heads. Any end-of-year assessment can/should be more performance-based, to go with where their brains are at (which is NOT in a textbook or cramming for a test, for 80% of them). Again, I'd love to hear feedback on how others in the educational community feel about giving official "finals". Especially in the middle grades.

Lastly... my favorite end-of-year activity: Happy Awards! Once again, my fabulous mentor (who will remain nameless, she knows who she is!) had this fabulous idea... and I will not take any credit myself... but must share it:

Let the kids spend the last days of school thanking EACH OTHER and teachers in the building, celebrating all the positive things they have accomplished during the course of the year.

I tailored my own version, making a zillion different "silly awards", like "best laugh" or "future president" or "Lady Gaga Award for most unique dresser"... and of course the "Facebook Award", which I always receive a ton from students each year. (Yes, you let students give YOU awards as well :o) Always make 5+ extra awards than there are students in the classroom, so they have a wide variety to choose from. My biggest class has 35 students in it this year, so making 10+ new awards is going to be a challenge...

A couple more tips for the happy awards, should you attempt them:

1. Always make a class roster for each student, with room to record the award given, and to check when delivered. Have students write a quick note, or at least write "From, So-And-So" on the back, and threaten any nasty note-writers with an immediate lunch detention on the last day of school, should they turn this positive activity into a chance to bully with notes...

2. I make the awards quarter-page size, so it doesn't blow the school copy budget... and in as many colors of the rainbow as possible.

3. I make a cover sheet that is 1/2 page large, folded length-wise. I put the student's name and picture and "7th Grade Happy Awards!" on the cover, so everyone can tuck their awards in the corresponding folder as they pass by.

4. If you really want to be gung-ho, double hole-punch all the awards, and the cover sheet, so you can bind them with string or ribbon when they are done. They are so neat; even more-so than a yearbook, because they are personalized, and it often surprises the kids, who gives them what. The more positive the awards you make, the more meaning and memory your students will get out of them :o)

5. Save some time at the end of the class period for a class picture! These are so much fun, especially to look back after a year or two, and see how much they've grown. And try not to cry! It was another really great year!

Have a great weekend, everyone... time to get outside and enjoy this BEAUTIFUL MN WEATHER!