August 26, 2014

The Human Timeline Race

To start the year in world history, we've been working on our map and timeline skills. Most of this is review, but we did add a few new elements for seventh grade. For example, in addition to the timeline labels BC and AD, which they already knew, we learned about BCE and CE. For those that don't know, these refer to Before the Common Era and the Common Era. The terms replace BC and AD as they are more culturally sensitive.

One of our learning targets is to correctly be able to plot BC/AD, BCE/CE dates on a timeline. To practice this we did a human timeline race, which was a lot of fun. 

I gave each student a card, on which was a historical date and event. They were instructed not to look at their cards until I told them to start. I taped a GIANT timeline on the floor, which spanned our entire room, and I marked "0" (which they know isn't really a year but a place marker) in the middle. 

The goal was to get every student to line up in the correct order WITHOUT TALKING! As you can imagine, the not talking part was the hardest direction to follow. Since I'm a meanie, I added 20 seconds to the overall time for talking of any kind.

Each of my six classes participated in at least 2 rounds of this activity. I was especially proud of my third period class because they came back with a vengeance after a rough start. In their first round, I clocked them in at 6 minutes 19 seconds, but they ended with 2 minutes 37 seconds after a little practice. 

My 9th period class also happens to be one of my honors classes. They beat my previous fastest time in their first round. I was blown away! One of the students suggested an extra challenge of not being able to see your own card, which I thought was a great idea! 

Who says learning can't be fun?! :)
So we busted out the tape... and had to pose for a class photo (most of the class anyway) before the big challenge. 

Even without knowing what was on their cards, they were able to complete the timeline in less than three minutes. I was pretty impressed! 

If we have any extra time tomorrow or Thursday, I've promised them we can do some in-class challenges! My students sure do love a little competition!

August 21, 2014

An Eventful Curriculum Night

Today was a LONG day. I arrived at school around 7:15 AM and didn't leave until about 8:45 PM because we had curriculum night. To say I'm exhausted is an understatement, but I wanted to fill you guys in on my eventful evening...

About 2 minutes before the doors were set to open to parents, the power went out. Now, we've had CRAZY thunderstorms all day long but at 6:30, it was dry. Well... we're probably dealing with 99% humidity, but there was no rain. 

We have a backup generator, which left us with some lighting. But projectors, computers, clocks, air conditioning... nope! That powerpoint and video I had prepared? Yeah... that was a waste of time!

By the time parents were done with the welcome speech and headed upstairs to my room, it was already toasty, and I was sweating. And then I became self-conscious about the sweating, which only makes the problem worse. haha

I was certain it would be an awful night. 

And then the first mom walked in, shook my hand and introduced herself.

Parent: Hi, I'm Laurie X!
Me: Hi... I know you!
Parent: I know you too!
Me: How do I know you?
Parent: I don't know, but I know I know you too. 
Parent: What did you say your name was?
Me: Actually, I'm Mrs. G's long-term sub. My name is Erin L.
Parent: OH MY GOD! ERIN L!!! You're so grown up!
Me: OMG! Laurie!!!
<We hug and laugh at this coincidence>

You guys... this woman was a coworker and friend of my mom's when I was REALLY young. Like elementary school. She used to babysit me! Her daughter and I actually ended up in high school together too. And now, her son (from a second marriage so much younger) is in my first period class. 

I never would have put it together. She has a different last name. One I've seen through her daughter's Facebook over the years, but not one that I would instantly recognize. And with 201 students, I'm not even paying attention to last names yet anyway!

Not 5 minutes later, as I'm standing in the hallway, my old coworker (who was also my cooperating teacher when I student taught) comes up to me to say hello. I knew she lived in the district, but I had no clue her kids went to my school. What a fun surprise!

I live a good 45 minutes away from my school. So, it's incredible to me that I had two connections like this in the first 10 minutes of the night!

And I was able to wing my presentation and still make the parents laugh... a lot. I explained some of my big expectations and shared a little about our pass the plate activity where I was sure to point out that a big part of this class will be clearing up misconceptions... like Early Humans were NOT mermaids, and China has given us much more than Panda Express and Bruce Lee! :)

I received a ton of positive feedback from parents who stuck around after each presentation. It was so reassuring to hear that their children are talking about how much they love me and my class, and I guess I really impressed the parents with my energy because they commented on it all night long.

This was definitely my most successful curriculum night... despite the glitches and sweat! ;)

August 20, 2014

Pass the Plate Brainstorming Activity

Today in history, we did a fun brainstorming activity to clear out those cobwebs and recall all the information we already know about the subjects we'll be studying this year in an activity called Pass the Plate.

For each class, I had a set of paper plates labeled as follows:
  • Early Humans
  • Mesopotamia
  • India
  • China
  • Greece
  • Rome
  • Middle Ages
  • Egypt
Students formed their own small groups of 3-4 students and chose a special flair pen from my stash. I then gave them three minutes to brainstorm and record their thinking directly on the paper plates. At the end of three minutes, I instructed them to "Pass the Plate" to the next group, and then the brainstorming continued for the next topic until the plates were back with the starting groups.

Obviously, students will know much more about topics like Greece than Mesopotamia, whose plates were looking pretty sad at the end of this activity! But by the end, they were full of color and, more importantly, ideas... and that's what counts!

I have to say, some of the brainstorming I heard today was absolutely hilarious, and it was SO HARD not to respond! Did you know that early humans were mermaids and cannibals? Neither did I! And I'm afraid to think about what this says about our society that one of the first things written about China was Panda Express (Joel would be proud. He loves that place!). 

I should've taken pictures of the finished plates... maybe I'll remember to do that tomorrow!

At the end of the year, students will get back into groups and will have the opportunity to Pass the Plates again. Except this time, they will be using academic vocabulary and recalling facts they learned in class rather than stereotypes and misconceptions. 

August 19, 2014

Bringing The ALS Challenge to the Blogs

I'm sure you've all seen countless videos like this recently, but I thought it would be a fun twist to bring the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge to the blogs.

You can't tell in the video, but I'm wearing my "Strike Out ALS" shirt, which was made for the annual ALS walk here in Chicago. I've participated in this event with my BFF Ashely and her family, who walk in honor of her father who passed away from this disease in 2010. He was like a second father to me growing up, and it was absolutely heart-breaking to watch his disease progress. 

I know there are a lot of people out there questioning this challenge, but I'm here to say that I KNOW it's making a difference. In fact, it's raised more than $15 million since the first video went viral nearly three weeks ago. That's HUGE! At the very least, this challenge is certainly spreading awareness of ALS, which is another positive for sure. 

I, for one, am honored to be taking part in another event that supports finding a cure! The mere fact that I'm putting this video on social media sites should prove how much I believe in this cause. I mean... just check out my face after I dump the water on my head! Good Lord! LOL

I will be donating to What About Bob, which is the group that participates in the Walk4Life in honor of Ashley's dad, Bob. If you're looking for a place to donate, they'd love to have your support for their event on September 21!

What About Bob at the ALS Walk4Life in 2010. I'm way in the back on the left side.

For this challenge, I nominated three of my bloggy buddies:

Michelle from Big Time Literacy

Ladies, you have 24 hours to accept this challenge and make a donation of your choice, or you can skip the ice water and donate $100 to a great cause! Let's Strike Out ALS!

August 17, 2014

First Official Post of the 2014-2015 School Year

I'm so excited that I finally get to participate in this linky since I'm actually doing the planning this year! I don't know the best way to share these, so I just took a screen shot of my planning pages. If you actually care to see what we're doing for the first week of World History, you'll have to click on the photo to enlarge. Here's a peek at my week!

I also want to link up with my sweet friend Michelle at Big Time Literacy for her new(ish) linky where we post Sunday Morning Letters. I'm only posting a couple this week because I still have some work to do before I head to bed (let's be honest... I wanna watch the Real Housewives!)...

Dear Students,
I'm teaching 185 students (plus a study hall of 15) this year. This is a tremendous change from the 75-90 I've had as an ELA teacher, and I'm not entirely how or if this impact my teaching and relationships with you all. Please know that I am genuinely interested in learning about you and am doing my best to memorize your names by the end of the week. It would also be great if you could extend a little grace as I figure things out in my new role as a history teacher!

Dear Mr. Sandman,
Please deliver good dreams tonight. And feel free to come a little earlier tonight. Tomorrow will be much easier with a good night's sleep.

Dear Morning Commuters,
Stay out of my way! I'm not a morning person, and I'm certain I'll feel anxious about getting to school tomorrow. Consider this your warning!

Dear Fellow Teachers Heading Back to School This Week,
Am I the only one who feels like summer passed too quickly? Just think... the sooner we start, the sooner summer comes around again. Happy first week of school, my friends! :)

August 16, 2014

Because I'm A Copycat

I thought this linky was really cute when I first saw it, but I decided I wasn't going to participate because I was busy doing important things like getting ready for my first day of school Monday. But then I saw like every one of my friends had done it, and I don't like to be left out of a good party. So...

Hi there! I'm Erin AKA Miss Lifesaver. I'm about to start my 9th years in education here in the Chicago suburbs (except for the one year I taught at a charter school in Baton Rouge).  I've been a substitute, paraprofessional, ESL teacher, and ELA teacher. To start this year, I am covering a maternity leave teaching 7th grade world history. I am extremely passionate about working with middle school students and am constantly looking for my "home" school... maybe this will be my year! *fingers crossed*

Organizing, sushi, Chipotle, iced tea, beaches, flair pens, flip flops, chevron, anything pumpkin, french fries, YA novels, The Real Housewives of anywhere, da Bears, catching up with former students, Apple products, manicures, cupcakes... 

In high school, I was voted most likely to be a talk show host. Truthfully, I would give up teaching in a second if I had this opportunity. And I LOVE teaching!

Creative, Caring, Loyal 
"It's completely valid that my success as a teacher is measured by a test..."
This is going to sound cheesy, but I would LOVE to hang out with my bloggy friends I haven't been able to meet IRL yet!

It's Dark In This Hallway

You know how people always say when one door closes, another opens? Sometimes you're stuck in that hallway, looking for that open door, for much longer than you'd like. Things happen in the dark.. funny things, scary things... stories definitely worth telling. :)

 Remember how Sabrina the Teenage Witch would snap her fingers and have a whole new cute outfit and hair? I want to be able to do that! 

Something I have to tell myself often...

"Stay" by Lisa Loeb and Nine Stories

In high school, I broke the antenna off my car (don't ask how. Such details are embarrassing and don't matter.) leaving me with no radio. The neighbor I drove to school brought a WuTang cassette tape (I know... I'm dating myself here), which got stuck in the player. Our options were rap or sing. My BFF and I often chose to sing, but this was like the only song we could both sing all the way through so it was our default choice!
I'm more of a night owl for sure. It's far easier for me to stay up late than to wake up early. I hate mornings. If you know of any schools that start at 10, please point me in that direction!
My Christmas Carol Novel Study is one of my favorite units to teach. I love the way my students struggle through this book and then are so proud of themselves when the see what they've accomplished. This is my most thorough product, for sure, since I included everything I use to teach it. 

 Miss Lifesaver's Novel Study for A Christmas Carol

I've always wished I could sing. I mean... I do it ALL THE TIME... I just want to be REALLY good at it. Not so I could be famous or anything either. I just want to be able to bust into song without feeling judged by my dog... it's happened. Seriously.

August 12, 2014

News! News! News!

After officially hearing from HR today, I can finally announce that I have accepted a long-term substitute position for the first quarter of the year.

It felt SO good to send in my resignation letter to my school district to let them know I would not be returning. A part of me is sad that I won't get to see my kiddos again, but I couldn't pass up an opportunity to be a classroom teacher, even if it's not for the whole year.

I'll be teaching 7th grade world history and honors world history, which is probably my weakest area of endorsement. Luckily, after talking to the teacher I'm covering for, I learned that first quarter is a lot of basic information (map and timeline review, how to study history, primary vs. secondary sources), which I've already taught. As for actual world history, it looks like I will only have to cover the early man before she returns. I was also really glad to hear that she basically has the whole first quarter mapped out, so I don't have to do a ton of planning. Yay! 

We're meeting tomorrow to go through the curriculum and so I can see the classroom I will call home for the first part of this year. She assured me that it's already all set up from last year (thankfully, this district doesn't require them to pack everything away for the summer), so that's a huge weight off my shoulders as well.

Because I have to report for my first day this Thursday, which was a bit of an adjustment for me since I haven't been planning to return so early. Students come back Monday, which means next week will be seriously long... a full week on the first week?! Yikes!

I'm nervous but excited about this opportunity. I always hate being the new girl, but I am embracing this as a learning opportunity and a chance to make connections with new administrators (who will hopefully help me find more work when this leave ends).

Of course, this means my job search will continue, which is pretty much my normal. If necessary, I can become a day-to-day substitute again once this leave ends, but I'm really hoping I'll find something full-time. 

Until then... it's goodbye summer! 

August 11, 2014

IMWAYR: Reality Boy

I have been HORRIBLE about linking up with books I've read recently. And truthfully, I've been pretty horrible about reading anything besides my Facebook news feed, Huffington Post articles, and Buzzfeed lists these past few weeks.

BUT... Joel and I (yes, Alison, he finished ANOTHER book with me) just finished Reality Boy by A.S. King. The story centers around seventeen year-old Gerald Faust who is plagued by a former life as a child star, turning him into a raging teen without friends or a future, ready to explode at any moment. 

At the age of five, his parents invited cameras into their home for a Supernanny experience, which only managed to capture parts of his family's epic dysfunction. Instead of revealing the psychopathy of his eldest sister as he hoped, the show focused on his reactive behavior, which included him pooping on things to make a point, giving him the nickname The Crapper, which he could never seem to escape, even twelve years later. 

The entire time I read this book, I was reminded of this Jon & Kate Plus 8 scene:

Just when it seems Gerald has no other options, he meets Hannah. Not Hannah Gosselin, mind you, but the girl from his job he's secretly been crushing on for months. The best thing about Hannah is that she sees him, and she doesn't judge him for his past or his label as a special education student. She has enough of her own crap to deal with (pun totally intended), and these two form a bond that they both desperately need. 

Due to the language in this book and references to sex (although not at all explicit), I wouldn't recommend this to my middle schoolers, but it's definitely a good read for a high schooler or young adult enthusiast like myself. In some ways, this is a coming-of-age novel where both Gerald and Hannah are desperate to be seen for who they truly are rather than who they are perceived to be. 

For this reality TV junkie, this story honestly makes me think more about the things that happen behind the scenes, especially when children are involved, because we never get the full picture. I've often wondered about the result of reality shows on children as they grow, especially when there is much turmoil like in the Gosselin family. I'm always curious to see how the kids are growing up, though I'm not foolish enough to believe I will ever really get a chance to see the truth on camera. Their lives are far too staged for that. But I am curious to know how their show has impacted them, and I suspect we will get glimpses of this as they grow up and become independent from their mother. 

August 8, 2014

Design Folder Tutorial

If you've followed my blog for a while, you probably know that organizing is kinda my thing. I believe that everything must have a home and can't it when things are out of place. This goes for tangible goods as well as digital goods.

What I want to talk about today is something new I've done with my design files. You know... all the backgrounds, frames, clip art, fonts, etc. you've downloaded from TPT. This was the one area I wasn't quite sure how to organize. It was honestly overwhelming for me to click through each folder to find the background or accent I needed for my product.

I'm not saying this is the reason I've been so terrible about adding TPT products to my store, but it certainly hasn't helped!

And then I had a genius idea to use images as folder covers so I would know what's inside. This is SUPER easy to do and has made it so much easier to browse my design elements.

I decided to organize my folders by background since I'm usually searching for a specific color scheme. As such, when I had a set, I kept all of those elements in that folder. For example, you can see in the photo above that I have a folder called Winter Holiday Set. Everything that came with this set is in that folder, and I used the preview image as my folder cover. My Accents folder contains all my frames, ribbons, clip art, and other add-ons. Here's a picture of that one just because it's cute!

But did you notice that boring Fonts folder in the first screen shot? Let's spruce that up a bit, shall we?

Step 1: Open the image file you want as your folder cover. If the design elements in the folder come with a preview page, I highly recommend using that.

Step 2: Select all and copy. You can now close your image.

Step 3: Select (right click on a PC or two-finger click on a Mac) the folder you want to change and click Get Info. It will look like the photo below.

Step 4: Click on the folder icon in the top left corner and paste (command + V or Ctrl + V).

Your folder will now have a cover image, showing you what's inside. You can see that my Fonts folder now has an image instead of the plain, blue folder.

I can't tell you how much faster it's been to search through my design files to find the right background or accent for my TPT products. I hope you'll try this yourself and find that it saves you time as well!

August 1, 2014

Take Your Time, August! (2 Freebies)

I honestly can't believe it's already August! We don't start school until the end of the month, but I'm really hoping to stretch out these last few weeks as long as possible. The early morning wake ups are the hardest part of work for me. I need to find a school that starts around 10:00. That would be just perfect for my sleep schedule. I wouldn't even mind working until 5:00!

As the clock is ticking down, I'm also reminded of how little time I have left to find a full-time teaching position for next year. If I don't find one, I have to decide if I want to go back to my TA job or give up the (terrible) salary and benefits and sub again. There are pros and cons to both; I've just got to figure out what will work best for me at this point in my life.

Without further ado, I'm linking up (on time... hooray!) with Farley for this month's Currently!

Oops.. silly me, I forgot that I wanted to expand a little bit on that last part. I try not to spend too much time going over the boring stuff on the first day because poor middle school kiddos just get overloaded with that on the first day. I do like to have each student introduce himself or herself so I can hear their names - I make it a personal goal to learn everyone's names by the end of the first week (even if it's a short week). 

Since we do a lot of collaborative work in my classroom, I think it's important to get my kiddos chatting with their peers. I have a fun little freebie they do in their pods by rolling 20-sided dice (I've seen multiple lots of these on ebay for like $5). It allows them to DO SOMETHING, learn about their podmates (This can be a word, right?). They simply take turns rolling the die and then answering the corresponding question, which I post on the projector. I love to circulate and listen to their conversations. Something about rolling the dice really makes them come out of their shells on the first day.

Of course, I also do the Human Scavenger Hunt thing like everyone else in the world. I make mine a competition to see who can get the most points, and some of my squares are very strategic. It's fun to review these answers as a class and get to know a little about what makes my kiddos tick.