Last day of school.

It’s been a bittersweet and crazy week.

Monday: Graduation practice and Field Day

06.16 Field Day_03

They had to play this really ridiculous relay where a pop can was suspended between two players holding a piece of thin spaghetti in their mouths. My team was so not into it, until the whistle blew and then they were suddenly overcome with competitiveness. (Tear, my kids rock.) We totally killed this one. And I’m just going to forget the softball tourney when they were literally laying in the outfield screaming about their boredom.

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I also had them do this year’s fingerprint tree. I love this tradition.

fingerprint tree for teacher


Tuesday: Knotts’ Berry Farm Ditch Day

I don’t do roller coasters. So I joined up with a couple of other teachers and we swapped kids. They took Team Roller Coaster through all the long lines and terrifying rides, and I took Team Wuss on the carousel.

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We did more than the carousel. All of Team Wuss went on Jaguar, the “easy” coaster, which was actually a bit scarier than I remembered it and had described it to my kids, but they all (minus one) loved it. Team Wuss preferred to stay on the side of the park with the smaller rides, so after eating some turkey legs and watching our friends get whiplash on the Accelerator, I parked it on a bench for awhile with all our stuff (including two new balloon pets) while they repeatedly went on the Dragon Swing (actual name unknown).

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Wednesday: Take room apart, read kids’ messages on the board, and graduation!

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I did not write that on the board.

I was going to put up a couple pictures from graduation, but there are too many kid faces in them. Trust me, they were all adorable.


Thursday: Technically the last day of school for all other grades. I started my summer project of going through all my printed files, chucking nonessentials, and reprinting unit items that had been lost. Got all the way through unit 1 before heading out to the end of the year staff luncheon. Normally that would be the end of the year, summer officially started except…


Friday: CPR Training

Yes, today we had to get up one more time for normal school hours to attend CPR training. None of us counted it summer until the guy (finally!) said, “All right, that’s the end of our workshop….” He probably said more after that but I was too busy internally cheering and externally gathering my stuff.



Sugar and Drama

Today was a rough teaching day.

We had a virtual mall type thing at school today to raise money for our Ecuador fundraiser. Lots of kids out on the playground selling little trinkets, nachos, root beer floats, and all kinds of sugary badness that makes kids go crazy.

Following this was my final class of the day. Since it’s Tuesday, and my weird schedule day, my fifth module is my usual second module group of kiddos, whom I usually have in the morning. In this class are some of the more difficult-to-manage kids. They’re not bad; they just get out of hand quickly.

Well, being hopped up on sugar didn’t help things. As soon as class started, we began the power struggle dance. These five boys just did not want to listen. Or sit still. Or stop talking. Or pretty much do anything reasonable I was asking them to do. At one point, I send the rest of the (well behaved) class outside to work as a treat, and just pleaded for my naughties to just spend five minutes working without talking. They all failed. My frustration was mounting. They’re giddiness was growing. I don’t like condoning bad behavior, because I think everyone can control themselves despite circumstances, but I knew they were being so outrageously ridiculous because of all the sugar they’d gotten hopped up on in the last hour. And so I tried to have grace, as much as I could muster.

And in the last minutes I said screw it and we played Heads Up, Seven Up. And even that, they couldn’t handle.

When I got home frazzled and tired, and sad because I had to go back in an hour to run a booth at the science fair, I complained a bit too Chris, then went to lay down for half an hour. Feeling pretty sorry for myself for having such rotten kids, and not having the ability to control them, I scrolled through some social media and then went looking for a photo from the day to post. I found the videos I took earlier today, of my fourth module class, being absolutely amazing. Seems in my angst about how awful fifth had gone, I’d completely forgotten about how smitten I was with the kids before that, who’d totally rocked a collaboration review project I gave them. I seriously wish I could post the videos, because they were just a dream class.

So two things I want to remember about this:

1) You’re going to have bad days. Or just bad modules. Whatever. Don’t get all stressed out over them. Don’t rely on threats or make yourself crazy trying to get 5 kids to cooperate when the other 22 are being great. In hindsight, I should have just sent those kids outside to separate tables with their homework and told them I’d deal with them later.

2) Don’t let the bad moments overshadow the good. When I was taking the videos during fourth mod, I remember thinking, “I can’t wait to show Chris how awesome my kids are!” But instead, I came home and ranted about just the stinkers. Luckily, I came home from the science fair with a much cooler head and rediscovered love for my kiddos, and I showed him how cool they were a little bit ago.


So I couldn’t show the videos of my kids’ spectacular collaboration skills, but I can show the non-face pictures I made sure to take of their posters. These posters, by the way, are the product of a hectic race to finish up their topics, and after I’d said not to worry so much about the posters look. They just couldn’t resist. 🙂

Classroom poster making for exponentials Classroom poster making for exponentials Classroom poster making for exponentials Classroom poster making for exponentials

Teachery Things: Transformation Stations

This last week I did a three day long lesson on transformations, which included four different stations for kiddos to explore hands on.






Things that worked:
The reflection station was a hit. The kids got super creative and were really excited to paint in math class.
The rotation station also worked well with the instructions clear enough for anyone who actually read them to completely follow along. (The ones who didn’t read the instructions were of course lost.)
The transformation series game Shape Mods was a big hit. Most kids were super into it, and though some were really frustrated at first, once they figured out the controls and some strategies, they started moving through levels quickly. Some were devastated when it was time to switch stations.

Things I would change:
I would make my own translation maze with the dot pictured on it’s starting point. Too many kids were asking, “Where do I start?” The directions on the worksheet weren’t great.

I need to create a real file with the rotation stations rectangles further away from the paper’s borders. I thought I’d make it faster for the kids by drawing the cut outs along the edges, but the copier cut off one side a bit, making those shapes useless or frustrating the kids who accidentally used them, since they no longer matched up.

This lesson was chaotic and fun and the kids had a good time. On one of the days (it took two and a half days to get everyone through every station with sufficient time) I had my yearly observation and my principal loved it. She went around taking pictures of the kids working on her iPad. When she left, one of my girls said, “Hey, she takes pictures of us just like you do!” Yes, children. I’m not the only weirdo who likes taking pictures of you guys while you’re being all cutesy and learning stuff.

Memory games + a love/hate relationship with the laminator

Students in Algebra play Scientific Notation Memory game
I’ve really been trying to come up with new activities for my classes. I don’t think I worksheet them to death or anything, but I do want them to come to math class everyday wondering what new thing they’re going to get to do. Some days are notes and straight up learning. Some days are all review. And some days there’s a perfect balance of new learning and activity that go hand in hand.
So technically scientific notation is not “new” learning for these guys. Or at least it shouldn’t be. But since we switched to common core in the middle of the year, and it’s officially an 8th grade standard now, I felt I needed to throw some sci no review into our polynomials unit. Scientific notation and exponents fit nicely into the beginning of polynomials, I feel. And my kids seem to have a good grasp on scientific notation right now, though we’re still struggling with nailing down those exponents. 
The Memory game was easy to make in InDesign. I made two versions. The blue, pictured above, is the beginner game, where all problems can be simplified by the kids in their heads. Things like 8 x 10^5 and such. The advanced decks are printed on orange and require some scratch paper because they consist of multiplication of expressions in scientific notation. And while it looks like you can see through to the other side, one of my kiddos quickly discovered the backs actually just picked up some of the ink from other cards while they were in a pile waiting to be laminated.
Speaking of lamination, let’s talk pros and cons. While I really like seeing these cards all nice and slick looking on the tables, the days of work to cut them out is kind of a pain. And I don’t even cut them out. My minions do. 
algebra memory game scientific notation
Anyway, I seriously had kids on the floor in the back of every class for two days cutting those things out. They love it, but I don’t love the constant mess and how seriously long it takes to prep for one activity. And with 8th graders, there’s no guarantee that even lamination is going to save these cards for next year’s kiddos. I’ve found myself much more often forgoing the lamination and just printing on card stock, sending a kid to the chopper to slice them out unevenly (perfection is overrated in 8th grade), and just warning the kids in each class that they have to last all day. And they always do, though they’re definitely more worse for the wear at the end of that 4th mod. Then I just toss them in the recycle bin. No storage. No planning weeks ahead to send them off to the laminator (ours isn’t on our campus). No planning days ahead for minions to cut them out. 
To sum up, laminating is overrated. But it’s so pretty and shiny! But it’s time consuming. Bleh. I guess I’ll keep my love/hate relationship with it for now.

Dorky 8th Graders

Today was a good day.

I LOVE my 8th graders this year. They are too funny.

They’re also all super dorky. But I’m dorky, too, and I think that’s why I love them so much. They just are so innocent and have no shame.

For instance, one of my boys today told me about how he was googling me the other day. Now, I know my kids do this (one reason I don’t have my last name anywhere on this site, or I’d be hearing it on Monday about how I called them dorky), but usually they don’t tell me they’ve done it. This kid was super excited because he found all Chris’ and my wedding pictures online. What thirteen-year-old boy is super stoked to tell his teacher that he found all her weddings pictures online? One of my silly, innocent thirteen-year-olds, that’s who.

Now I do know they’ve found my Instagram. I don’t exactly hide it. All they have to do is find our photography website and they can access it from there. Last year I knew kids kept tabs on my account, but no one ever said anything, except an occasional slip of asking about something I’d done over the weekend before realizing they’d seen it on my Instagram, and not heard about it from me, which always tipped me off to who was following me. This year the following is not lurking in the shadows. I get likes from several students, and one likes everything I do within about ten seconds of posting about it. I’m not sure how he does that…

Friday Happiness

Today I am happy to be a teacher. 
It’s hard a lot of the time. I know last year it was hard because the group of students I had were just… not nice most of the time. Not all of them. But the “leaders” definitely had malice in their hearts, and sadly, most of the other kids were followers led astray. Each day was an emotional battle. Even still, I loved (most of) those kids very much. They were my first group of students that were mine.  And if you got them away from the leaders, they were mostly sweet, helpful, fun-loving kids.
I cannot get over how different a group of 100+ thirteen-year-olds can be from one year to the next. This year is a night and day difference. There is honestly not one child in any of my classes that I would consider a true troublemaker. At most, I’ve got some kids who are squirrely and have a hard time concentrating. That’s it. I am so enjoying these kids. The majority want to learn. I can have them do activities without having to worry about my classroom being destroyed or someone throwing a chair or having a temper tantrum. (All things that happened last year.)
I told Chris that this year I actually get energized from the kids. It’s still tiring and hard, but the emotional drainage isn’t there this year. The kids have fun in class and I can in turn make class even more fun. 
Yesterday we did mixture problems, one of the worst Algebra concepts to teach. I love teaching it though. Last year I discovered that hyping it up as one of the most Difficult Things Ever just spurred my lovely and ever-contrary 8th graders to prove me wrong. I did the same this year, along with making up a couple of graphic organizers to work through in class. Throughout all four classes, I would hear gasps of horror when I first read one of the problems. Then we did a little demo that involved mixing two solutions of varying amounts of food coloring to give a visual of the chemist mixing up two solutions. They liked that. Then it was just a matter of putting all the information into the graphic organizer and all of the sudden… click.
I had my weakest kids solving these things like nobody’s business. They even told me this was the easiest thing they’d ever done in math. (Hardly, but okay, kiddo.) Today when we went over homework, I overheard one boy commenting, “This homework was sooooo easy. I helped (insert name of student who was absent the day before) figure it out. Me. I never help people!”
Today we moved onto motion problems, the dreaded “one train leaves at 1pm going this way, and another train leaves at 3pm going this way…”problems. Luckily for me, you set them up exactly the same way you set up a mixture problem, so I knew the kids were going to be fine. I was going to print up more organizers and have us all go through it together as a class again, but at the last minute (like midnight last night) I decided to simply review the distance formula with them and let them group up to figure out problems on their own. They totally struggled, but it was the good struggle. A few figured out they could make a table of values or do guess and check to find their answers. Others needed hints along the way, but most of the time I’d get halfway through the hint and then hear, “Oh! Then this person was going x + 25 miles per hour!” It’s so great when you can easily see that they really are getting it. It’s also great hearing the cheers of a team finding out they found the right answer and seeing the big, proud smiles. 
So, yeah. Today made me a happy teacher. 🙂

No Whales in Royal Russia

This school year started with a bang and has just kept going! Every day I think, “I should blog that!” And then I spend my prep period actually prepping, get home, eat dinner, finish prepping for tomorrow, sometimes take a nap (8th graders are emotionally and physically draining), and then realize it’s like 10:22pm. When did that happen? And usually I think: “Well, it’s too late now. I have just enough time to start thinking about the day after next, and then I’m hitting the sack.”
Well tonight it is 10:22pm, and I will blog, darn it!
My 8th graders this year are super awesome. Super awesome. You wish you had my 8th graders, Algebra teachers. They are a fun, sweet, innocent, creative bunch who genuinely seem to want to learn this stuff called math. 
The first week of school, we started talking about real numbers and their subcategories. I had them do a foldable in their interactive journals, and the next day I had them draw out the nesting boxes to show which numbers are part of which categories. Then I showed them the really easy way to categorize any number: figure out at which category the number first appears (i.e., negative numbers first appear in integers, 0 first appears in the whole numbers, etc.) and then go up. Everything above that category is what that number belongs to. They totally got that. In the weeks since, we’ve even started ‘visualizing’ the nested boxes. I can put my hand low on the white board at “natural numbers” and work my way up pointing out the invisible categories and the kids totally know where I am and what I’m talking about. 
Student artwork of the real number system and its subsets as nested boxes
My third module decided they needed an acronym to remember the order of the rational side of numbers, and “No Whales In Royal Russia” was born. We’ve said it so many times over the last few weeks, that I feel like it’s a trick I grew up learning. On quizzes, I always see the phrase scrawled into corners of the paper. It’s caught on in my 5th module as well; one of the girls called it out today during our test review. (Already the end of unit 1, what?
The above artwork was made by one of my 3rd module girls. She gave it to me the day after “No Whales in Royal Russia” was born. I seriously love that she took time the night before to cut all these out and make such an awesome representation of the nested boxes! And I was thrilled to have such an awesome piece of “math art” to put up before open house!
This school year is awesome so far!

new classroom

Last year my classroom was really, really small. 
Like, really small. 
Thirty-four junior highers did not help.
Over the summer I got the most amazing news: the school was knocking out a bunch of unused offices to create a brand spanking new classroom… for Algebra! 
That’s me! Yes!
This is what my new room looked like back in July:

There was a lot that needed to be done.

Last week when we were in Catalina, I was getting picture updates from several people. The last wall got knocked out! The dry wall’s done! The carpet’s in! 

On Friday I went in for a 9am meeting and ended up staying till 2 moving stuff over from my old room. A couple of wonderful guys brought over the furniture for me, including NEW stuff. Ikea bookcases! A kidney desk! Tables for the kiddos instead of desks! I’m in heaven.

After training tomorrow, the plan is to put that room together officially. I got confirmation today that the boards are up, which is what I was waiting on to start decorating. For now, I’m off to sew up some more pennant banners for my room!

September is Coming

Yep. It’s almost time again. Summer’s remaining weeks are meager at best, and it’s time to face the cold hard truth: school will be upon us all too quickly. (If this were Game of Thrones, we would all be ominously staring at each other and proclaiming, “Winter is coming.”) So I’ve been slowly stockpiling ideas and pinning my pins and spending a couple late nights rearranging my overall curriculum plan. It’s a little daunting this year. Last year I was new to this school: I had no choice but to go into my classroom blindly and just try to wade through the brand new curriculum as best I could. I didn’t know what to expect of it. I didn’t know what worked well, what didn’t, and what I could do better. I didn’t know what supplies I would actually need and what I could make myself and what I could forego altogether. 
So this year’s going to be much different. I’m revamping the structure of my curriculum in a way that makes more sense. I’m continuing to make more of my own specific units and assessments to get the results I want. I’m putting in my requests now for things that will make life in my classroom go more smoothly (i.e, tables instead of eternally-tipping desks). 
But, dang, it takes a long time to do all this stuff. Kind of takes away the fun and relaxation of summer.  
So here’s some of my ideas for this year:
Absent Folder Crate: I don’t know if this was just because of the group of kids I had last year, but there were a LOT of absences on a daily basis. And trying to keep track of all those kids and what they needed to turn in or what they missed each day was capital C Crazy. So in an effort to maintain my goal of “Work Less than the Children,” I’m passing the responsibility over to them. You were absent two days ago? Great! Why are you asking me what to do? Go to the crate. I think this is going to be great for keeping everyone on track… at least the kids who want to stay on track. 
Weekly Stamp Sheets: This is something I was already doing last year. They get a sheet each week that has room for all our in-class assignments and homework, as well as the grade for homework, and space for a stamp at the end of each class. The stamp is for behavior in class, and I have to admit I was too free with the stamp last year. I really hated feeling like I was passing judgment at the end of each class, because, really, getting a stamp or not was completely subjective, and I didn’t have time to explain to kids why they weren’t getting a stamp that day. This year I plan to make it an all or nothing stamp. No homework, no stamp. If you need a warning during class, no stamp. If their stamp sheet isn’t done correctly and neatly, no stamp. (I really want to stress neatness this year.)
Interactive Math Journals: Super excited about this one. I’ve found so many foldables and fun ideas online, and I think it will really help the kids when it comes time to study. They’ll be able to add touch into their learning in a unique way, and they get to have a creative outlet at the same time. Win for all of us! If you check out the link, you can see all the fun foldables I’ve been pinning.
Student Jobs: This is something I wanted to do last year but didn’t have a good way to implement with four different class periods. I just figured the only way it would work smoothly would be with one class of kids. But by the end of last year I finally caught on to the fact that, despite my overemotional, overcrazy, overloud, somewhat attitudal eighth graders, they sooooooo want to help. Even with the lame jobs. So this year, instead of just assigning tasks arbitrarily, I’m going to set up a job system. I’ll have to come up with some more tasks, but I think overall it’ll be good for overall organization. And great for me to have specific kids doing specific tasks every day, especially during homeroom. I’m planning on passing off attendance and lunch count so I can focus on getting the kids settled and working first thing. Hurray!
Assignment baskets: I already had these last year, but this year I’m revamping with the addition of the record sheet. One of the student jobs will be to organize the assignments in numerical order (planning to do more with student numbers this year, too), and another will be to record the numbers that are missing. That’ll take up a lot less time entering grades.
There’s other stuff happening, too, but those are the big ones I’ve been thinking on to make my classroom run more smoothly this year. Now I just have to wait until my classroom is finished so I can actually start decorating and putting these ideas into practice. Unfortunately, it’ll be a few weeks still. They’ve finally got all the interior walls down (my new room was formerly four offices), but they still need to put up drywall, paint, put in the carpet, and place the smart board, white boards, and bulletin boards. I really have no idea what I’ll have in there. So for now, all decorating is in my mind and is completely subject to change. 
Two more weeks! :S

FYI, faithful readers!

So it seems my illustrious 8th graders have started googling me. And sadly, it’s very easy to find me thanks to a certain Mr. Shall-remain-nameless-because-saying-the-name-will-just-give-another-google-hit-to-my-blog. Let’s just say his name is long and Italian and I’m married to him, putting me at the forefront of all Google searches. Oh, the good old days of being Jordan Peck and nothing at all ever coming up about me in a Google search, mostly thanks to some midwestern basketball player with my name who hogged enough Google search pages that people (well, me) just got tired of looking.

Anyway, just an FYI, that I will probably either password protect this blog soon or move the blog entirely to a new address. Those pesky 8th graders are just getting too smart. If you want to stay in the loop, please email me or leave me a comment with your email so I can make sure to get you the password/new link, whichever may happen. 🙂

And if you’re an 8th grader in Mrs. T.’s room, go do your homework!