Saturday, August 1, 2015

August Writing Deadlines

For those of you unaware I am a BIG believer in allowing students to do assignments that LEAVE the classroom. The first of every month I try to post some opportunities for your students to show off their writing skills and maybe get some recognition. All of these deadlines are in August! If you start the school year this month, it could be a great way to start off the semester. If you don't start until September, consider including these with your "Welcome Letter" to the parents.

August has some GREAT writing opportunities for your students!!!!

1. Do you teach students between 6 and 14 years old? Have they read any of The Princess Diaries books?  Here's a contest that's perfect for your students! They just need to write an essay (500-1000 words) that answers the question "What would you do if you found out you were royalty?"  The grand prize winner receives a $2,500 Pottery Barn gift card and a signed copy of  From the Notebooks of a Middle School Princess. Deadline is August 31st

Guidelines and submission details are available here.

2. How many times have you heard your students talking about their pets? Mine seem to do it all the time! Before August 31st Chicken Soup for the Soul is accepting submissions on the topic of Cats or Dogs. They want to read about stories about people's cats or dogs (up to 12000 words). All tones are appropriate as long as they are inspirational! They are doing two different books, one about cats and one about dogs. Your students can submit to just one, or to both (depending on the furry stories they have to share). If a story is selected and published they will be paid $200 one month after the book is published. Plus, they get ten free copies of the book to show off as well (see if they'll give a signed set to your class library).

Guidelines and submission are details available here

3. The role of women has changed throughout the years and many would argue is still changing! Chatter House Press is holding a Mini-Memoir Essay contest for women called, "Biting the Bullet," about women who define courage. It is only for women who are residents in the US and over the age of 18, so sadly most high school students won't be able to enter, but I wanted to include it in case you teach older students.  Your students' essays should show how a woman (or women) demonstrate(s) courage in daily life, or regarding a specific event. The deadline is August 14th. Prizes include publication and copies of the book.

Guidelines and submission details are available here
The Farmer's Lad via AntiquePrints

4. Do your students ever get depressed because they don't think they can meet the 1,000 word count minimum some contests have? Here's the PERFECT competition for them.  They are looking for a short story told in ONLY 21 words. The theme is, "Backyards and Porch Swings." Chosen authors don't win a cash prize, but they do get bragging rights and possible publication in the literary journal From the Deaths.  This deadline is hard to pinpoint and it stops when they receive 200 submissions, so as soon as possible is best. 

Guidelines and submission details are available here.

A cover of one of the issues of The Blue Earth Review
5. The Blue Earth Review is part of Minnesota State University. From what I can tell this is open to anyone, but please evaluate the guidelines on your own. It has two opportunities to get writing recognized for free. The first is the creative nonfiction contest. The text cannot be over 750 words. Students may submit more than one piece, but they need to have them in the same document.

The  other option is their poetry contest. Students may submit up to three poems (again in a single file).

Both contests include publication in the Blue Earth Review and a $500 cash prize. The deadline to submit is August 14, 2015.

Guidelines and submission details are available here.

There you are five ways to get your students motivated to write for more than just a grade, get a chance to experience writing for a different audience, and see that writing isn't just for the classroom. If you know of any others or your students really have fun with one let me know in the comments. If you find one of these doesn't work, also let me know so I can update this list.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Top Three Tasty Teacher Lunches

I am ALWAYS looking for snacks. Here's a sample I got.
English teacher note: I tried but my Ts fell short in the title. I guess I could have said, "Treats" but that makes me think of sugary desserts. Update After publishing this post I realized I unintentionally spelled tasty wrong! I fixed it, but the web link will forever verify that when I am hungry.... I don't spell well :)

Poor writing aside,  I am all about the snacks and goodies. When I was in Mexico I taught three times a day and had office hours Tuesday and Thursday. Pretty much all day Thursday I would be grading. Occasionally students stopped by for help. They would often ask why I was always eating nuts. I explained that if I don't eat, I get cranky...and they want me to be happy when I was grading, right? Though my intention was not for them to feed me, I usually found anonymous gifts of snacks found by my office door on Thursdays.Students can be very lovable sometimes :) The point being I do not work well on an empty stomach, and I am not sure any of us do.

Snickers gets that a hungry mind makes a troubled brain
In Mexico I had three hour lunches (WOW). Now I have just thirty minutes, and once a week I have to chaperon at lunch meaning I need to eat standing or grab a snack and go.

In an effort to fuel my body better (and keep me happier and the best teacher I can be), I am going to try to get in the habit of making better lunch choices. Mainly, I am going to try really hard to eat lunch. This was one of my new year resolutions, and I did get better at easting something instead of starving all day. Now I want to get better at what I am eating.  I've tried a bunch of different lunches and snacks during the summer. I was looking for five things.
  1.  I wanted things that I could make the night before so in the morning I could just grab them and go. 
  2. I have to be able to, "grab them and go." Portability is key!
  3. It needed to be "healthy." I don't care about the type of diet, but I knew I didn't want to have recipes that called for five cups of butter or three cups of sugar. 
  4. I had to feel "full." I can spread peanut butter on celery. It is delicious, but it takes about an entire stalk of celery before I feel like I am not starving... so that's not gonna work.
  5. Delicious. If I don't enjoy it, then I don't want it.
These are my top three winners.

I've seen tons of versions of the Mason Jar Salad (there are cookbooks dedicated entirely to this topic). This one is simple and yummy.
  • Step 1. Make your favorite Thai salad dressing, or skip this step and buy one you like. 
    • My favorite is about 4 tablespoons lime, 5 tablespoons oil, 1 table spoon soy sauce, fresh ginger (a teaspoon), a garlic clove (minced), 1 thinly sliced chili pepper, 3 tablespoons cilantro and about 1 twist of freshly ground sea salt with 2 twists of freshly ground pepper... YUMM. Makes enough for a salad meant for four people, so you'd probably only use a fourth of it for lunch.
  • Step 2. Put the dressing in the bottom of a mason jar
  • Step 3. Open and drain a can of chicken
  • Step 4. Put this in the mason jar
  • Step 5 Add chopped mushrooms, bell pepper, bean sprouts and celery (crunch!)
  • Step 6. Add sliced almonds (optional, but I love these)
  • Step 7. Add spinach (the stuff from a bag works fine)
When you get to school you shake it and then dump it on a plate! The greens were on the top so now they're on the bottom and everything else should have stayed crunchy and delicious.If you have a pepper grinder you can even top it with some freshly ground pepper at school (it's all about the details!)

Another option is zucchini chips. I used to make them all the time! I have healthy in italics because I am not going to pretend I am a nutritionist... but i have to believe they are healthier than me buying a bag of potato chips.

Step 1. Cut zucchini into thin and even slices
Step 2. Coat with olive oil and freshly ground salt / pepper
Step 3.Arrange on a cookie sheet
Step 4. Bake at 250 degrees for 20 minutes. Flip them and bake for another 20 minutes.
Step 5. Remove and let cool (they should be golden brown. If they aren't you may want to leave them in the oven a bit longer)
I put them in Tupperware with a dip (powdered garlic in plain yogurt) during break or prep periods. If you want something with more protein (or less garlic) you could dip them in hummus.

I found out about baked chickpeas on a road trip a while ago. I have made them at home numerous occasions.  This is one that is pretty basic but I love.

Step 1: Preheat the oven to 450 degrees
Step 2: In a bowl combine two tablespoons of live oil and two cans of (drained) chickpeas. Stir to make sure the olive oil coated all of the chickpeas.
Step 3. Add your favorite spice to the mix. My mom makes a "Mexican" seasoning that is dried cilantro, peppers, cumin, and I don't know what else it is amazing though and I use that.
Step 4. Arrange the chickpeas on a cookie sheet
Step 5. Add freshly ground salt and pepper (I add more salt than pepper)
Step 6. Bake for 30 minutes

These are SUPER crunchy and addicting. They are the perfect snack to tide you over before lunch, or during the after school staff meeting (you may want to bring enough to share!).

What about you?
All this gets me wondering. What's your go-to for lunch?
Do you buy something at school? Make meals Sunday night? Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches?
Do you skip lunch altogether but snack voraciously during the school day?

This List Price is $39.90, but it could be yours for free!
To entice you to share your favorite recipe, I'm having a giveaway! The prize is a dual pepper and salt grinder You could keep it at your house, or even in your classroom to add a touch of class to your lunchtime (because freshly ground pepper always sounds fancy!).

This grinder can be used for any spices technically, but as a boring person, I use it for salt and pepper. It retails at $39.90 but is currently on sale for $23.97 on Amazon.

I was lucky enough to get a free product and was given the chance to give a free one to a fellow teacher. As a result, here we go! If you want your own just leave a comment with your favorite lunch time recipe for school and then fill out the form below. Your recipe can include a link or be written in the comments directly. I'd love to get some more ideas.

You can earn bonus entries by following me on Twitter, or answering a quick poll about your lunch habits.  The winner will receive an Amazon code which gives them the salt and pepper grinder for free! While this blog is directed mainly towards teachers, you don't need to be a teacher to apply. Just keep in mind meals you think would work best for a teacher!

Good luck!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Back to School Organization

I am joining Snazzy in Second and Notes from the Portable in their Back to School Link Up about getting organized and set up for the school year.

I  feel silly trying to give any advice on organization when this is only my second year with a classroom of my own. However, I really have put a lot of effort into my room this summer with organization in mind.

Here is my basic advice in just two tips:
  1. Do what works for you!
    • I have seen a lot of GREAT set ups that would not work for me because of my students...or my style. Don't try to do what someone else does if you know it won't jive with you once the school year starts.
  2. Have some fun
    • My parents were both teachers, but when I was little any school supply I wanted I (usually) got. Their theory? If the Lisa Frank pens made me a little excited about school it was worth it? Make your classroom a place that you feel happy, and it will show in your work.
My classroom isn't done yet, but I have totally planned with organization in mind! This is focusing on the teacher section since it is the part where most of my organization happens.

First off, I don't really have a theme in my class. Our school colors are blue and gold, and I found this black and white paper I really liked... so that's as "themey" as I get. What I do have is a whole lot of practical.

You can actually scroll over the first two pictures pictures seen here to get more specific information, but here's the gist. I am ALL about color coding and storage spaces. If there's an open space, I can use it to store something. This is why I am really proud of the fact my bulletin board is NOT full right now. I've learned this gets added to with time, so I am making space for future discoveries. I also have it set up with lots of clippies so when I want to put something up that I can take down and consult I can clip it inside of pinning it.

Backing up a but you can see I have quote a lot of storage space this year in cabinets and behind the whiteboards. I try to keep most of the "teacher stuff" (coffee, lesson plans, tissues etc.) near my desk and the "student stuff" (dictionaries, textbooks, library books, etc) closer to the door.  I also use a lot of mini bins to divide and organize all the little things I have.

I am a big fan of color coding since I teach five different classes students know that they have a color and that's how I keep their materials straight. I even keep class calendars in the back color coded so students know what's happening when.

My "hidden organization" comes behind the podium. I store the day's progressions of handouts or realia in order. If I can't make it then the sub just needs to find the podium to be able to follow the plan.

There we go! It may not seem like much but it is "home." I hope that this coming year the organization I took the time to set up over the summer will be worth it!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Back to School Blues: English Only

In a recent post I focused on how excited I am to be starting the 2015-2016 school year because we are becoming a 1:1 school! I am ridiculously excited, but I am also predicting the normal back to school issues.

To give some background, I am an English Teacher at my high school. I teach American Literature, World Literature, Speech, and Academic and Technology Literacy. My students are (mainly) the ones who struggle more with English (students with IEPs, non-native speakers, low readers, etc.) My school is very close to the Mexican border and many of my students cross the border every day. We are a diverse environment, but we have a lot of Spanish speakers. Now, I can speak Spanish, but I don't usually do it for two reasons:
  1. I also have the foreign exchange students (Chinese, Vietnamese, Brazilian, Lithuanian etc.) in my class, so that would exclude them. (Sidenote: these students usually are pretty good at staying in English) 
  2. These students speak Spanish ALL the time! In some cases their parents even tell me that they think the only time their children speak English is in my class. As much as I would love to teach bilingually, that really isn't fair to these kids. 
Some of the memes I've used in the past

I am sure at this point you can guess what my biggest back to school issue is. My BIGGEST struggle at the start of the year is getting students to speak in English.

This is a problem year round, but at the start of the year I always find it one of the most predominant issues. Students have spent all vacation speaking whatever they wanted however they wanted. Switching back into English is something that does not come naturally to them.
I always start by explaining I love languages. I studied Tagalog and Arabic in college. I've lived in Mexico, Spain, The Netherlands, Korea, Turkey, Vietnam and Singapore. I LOVE being surrounded by a language and learning as much as I can. I am so envious that most of my students are at least bilingual in high school (I was still struggling with the subjunctive when I was in high school). However, they are in my class because English is not their best subject. As a result, I need them to only speak English.

I have positively reinforced speaking English as much as I can. I have also thrown in some punishments for not speaking English. Mainly, their class participation grade goes down. In extreme cases I e-mail or call home to ask for parental help. Since, "English Only" is a rule, I can give detentions if students speak any other language. I never have and I am afraid this is the year I will have to start. I feel AWFUL doing this. As a Mexican I feel like I am betraying my heritage, but I also know that to improve their English they need to use their English (just like i had to speak Spanish in my Spanish classes).

My class is a safe environment where we don't laugh at anyone's mistakes, but they have trouble switching to English. In some cases it is a habit (like I said they pretty much speak Spanish all day). In other cases they don't want to put the effort into describing something. If they don't know the word they just want to switch back to Spanish. I usually share my light bulb story to show that they can communicate with a bit of effort, but they are either unable or unwilling to do so.

Down & DirtyI am the first teacher in years who has stayed at this position for more than one year. My hope is that now students will realize I am not going anywhere and maybe take the rule more seriously. However, I can only hope. Any advice is appreciated :)

Check out what other Secondary Teachers are preparing for as the school year approaches by checking out the Down and Dirty Secondary link up at Edison Education

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

My planner matches my class (or does my class match my planner?)

I am joining Robyn of Kreative in Kindergarten and Meghan of Keeping up with Mrs. Harris for Plan With Me Sundays (yes I know today is Tuesday, but I've had a busy week). I wasn't sure I wanted to participate since my planner use really doesn't start until the school year, but I figured I have "technically" started and this weeks' post is about supplies. Those I can talk about.

I tend to have an AWESOME planner the first week of school...and then it all just gets lost. This school year I am making an effort to do better!

I tend to plan in four different places, my phone, my e-mail (Outlook), my desk calendar, and my school planner. Outlook I am more or less stuck with because my bosses use it and I need to mark when I am busy there so people know when to schedule appointments. My desk calendar is key for big items, but not day to day. My phone is awesome, but sometimes having things in writing is just best.

Normally, my school planner isn't much to look at, but this year I moved into a new classroom and am really trying to make it homey. I got some awesome black and white wrapping paper from the dollar store and have used it for accents around my room. It covers part of my podium, is the background of my wallpaper, and acts as the border for the class bulletin boards. I used this to add some color to my free "weekly lesson plan" notebook the school gives every year.

I can't show the inside of the planner because I don't know my schedule for another few weeks. Until then all I can really do is play with the cover and wait.

So, my yet-to-be-completed cheap-o school planner.

I am a big fan of school spirit, so dollar bin gold tape and blue rewards stars rim the edges. I also LOVE stickers (who doesn't?). I grab mine from all over the place. Sometimes I grab them from Michael's, The Dollar Tree, Target and of course a small store called The Grossmont Nutrition Center that always has random stuff. I haven't doodled it yet, so it is rather plain. I like to leave my covers relatively unfinished so when I bring them into meetings I have something to doodle. I am a strong believer in the power of doodling.

I do HAVE favorite pens for planning, but will admit that since this comes with me home and to school, I usually use whatever is on hand.

I am a HUGE fan of highlighters, not only for focusing on important ideas, but also for color coding. I teach five different classes and work after school. All of these are on rotating schedules, so I like knowing that I can match one color to a specific class or activity. 

For big things like headers, (or marking days off) I am a huge fan of chalk markers. They don't seem to bleed through as much as other markers, don't have that marker-y smell, and seem to be rather pigmented.

These Beary Genius ones also come with reversible tips so I can have some freedom with the size of lines.

These work great on any surface, but they really pop on chalkboard labels. You can find chalkboard labels all over the place, but I LOVE these from Chalkola. The neon colors really pop and they have tons of fun shapes I can play with that make my planner more fun to use thus, I actually use them!

I also tend to use  a lot of sticky notes. These are however for less permanent things. For example, if I know a student is very sick, I may put a post-it in my planner for a week from when I find out that reminds me to send a letter, or call home if they still haven't showed up. Once I've done that I throw the sticky out, so it doesn't mess with anything else. Stickies are basically my code for, "This is something you need to handle ASAP and it will take you less than five minutes."

That's pretty much it. Hopefully as the year progresses I'll have a chance to share what the inside looks like and you'll be able to laugh as you see the development of  the cover of my planner as it goes through numerous meetings.

Friday, July 17, 2015

My 2015 Adventure

I am so ridiculously excited abut going 1:1 this year. I think I may be the most excited of all parties involved.

For those who aren't familiar with 1:1, it varies a bit to bit, but basically means that each student will be have a device to use in class. In our case, the students are each receiving a laptop at the start of the term. They will be expected to bring this device to every class and teachers are encouraged to develop ways to have students use their laptops productively.

Last year was my first year at this school and I STRUGGLED with technology. Booking the computer lab wasn't always a guarantee. Plus, those computers tended to be old, slow, and complicated to log onto. Most of my students had laptops, so sometimes I would just tell them to bring their laptops. Then however they would expect me to help trouble shoot the five different models, My favorite was when the exchange students would expect me to help them.

Student: It isn't working for me.
Me: OK, let me look..... your computer is in Chinese... I can't really do much from here. 
Now I know 1:1 isn't a magical key. My students did a lot this year without it! We rocked interactive audio books, used student made review games, fund-raised for charities, made interactive "What Character Are You? quizzes, and used infographics to support a thesis. But imagine what I can do with students having their laptops every day! Plus, students will be able to gain technological literacy on a quasi-daily basis.

Now don't worry, it won't be all typing in my class! Conversation is still key :) Anyways, I just wanted to share a quick post about what I am most excited about next year (it was a close winner, my classroom being the second thing I am psyched about).

I hope this excitement will last me the whole school year, but I am also rather practical. I teach literature after all and know that no hero's adventure was great without obstacles and bad guys. I am sure wifi signals will go in and out, sites will be down, students will be off task, laptops won't be charged and overall chaos will ensure. However, I am really excited that in the end we will have gone on an awesome adventure.

I'd LOVE to know what YOU are excited about for this upcoming school year. For the next week this link-up is open, so feel free to join :)



Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Keeping the class clean

I am in the midst of looking for a gym, and am suprises how often the topic of cleanliness comes up! It is really important to some people to have a clean place to workout. Similarly, I think classrooms should be kept tidy. Nothing wrong with chaos while the lesson in happening, but it shouldn't have pointless trash left about after class.

Since I have my students every other day for an hour and a half, it is kind of hard to establish a routine. I'm not sure if what I've seen other teachers do would work for me, but I hope I can get some comments on different ways that teachers motivate students to keep class clean.

I can remember a lot of my teachers doing different things

I remember one of my teachers who actually had a rule that in order to leave the class we had to give her a small handful of trash. However, I also remember storing pencil shavings for just this purpose!

Last fall I had to forbid a class from taking their water bottles out of their bags. They had repeatedly left them behind after class and reminders didn't work. They improved a bit in Spring, but I still find myself repeatedly reminding people to pick up their trash. I wouldn't mind it, except sometimes I am circulating and teaching and I don't get a chance to remind them.

I recently decided to set up a little basketball hoop over the trashcan which I found worked well, except some students spend more time creating trash to throw away rather than work on their groupwork (these are the same students who proclaim they don't have enough time to finish activities in class.

How do YOU keep YOUR class clean?Positive reinforcement? Monster shaped trash can? "Clean" row leaves first?
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