Saturday, November 23, 2013

A Saturday in November

It has been raining like crazy around here.  Somehow I've been fortunate to not get caught in anything heavier than a mist, despite a three mile walk on Thursday with my 8th graders. (We walked to a local middle school to see a CYT production of School House Rock.)

Luckily the rain should stop this morning, just in time for me to run out and take care of some errands.  (Got to pick up a new teacher stamp and some white board erasers.) If our house stays freezing, we're even throwing around plans for dinner and a movie. We're not crazy over seeing Catching Fire though, especially with everyone else seeing it today, so everything's still up in the air.

Aren't Saturdays just the best?

Friday, October 11, 2013

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. :)

Tuesday, October 8, 2013


Lately it's been busy around here. Lesson planning and curriculum designing + being a photographers wife are time consuming. Sometimes I wish I had a normal 9-5 job, where I could come home and be free for the rest of the day, instead of coming home tired and sitting back down at my desk to prep for tomorrow. Though this second year of teaching is going so much smoother than the first, it's still a huge time commitment. Man oh man, I hope it gets faster...

Thursday, September 12, 2013

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!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

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!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Oh, 28...

Tomorrow I will be 29, which I'm not very happy about. I don't feel 29. I certainly don't think I act 29. So how is it possible that I'm 29? I just don't get it.

In an attempt to be more cheerful about it, I've looked through my pictures over the last year to see what I've accomplished. It hasn't been that bad of a year. And at the same time, it was the hardest year of my life. I live a paradox.

What I did in my 28th year:

1) Celebrated turning 28. Chris turned our garage into a ghetto birthday room where our friends and family enjoyed food and drinks and some old school Nintendo.

2. Left my amazing job of 3 years to move on to my very own classroom. I will always be a Woodmanite at heart, though. I've gone back about 3 times this last year just to eat lunch with everyone like old times.

3. One of my best friends, Jenna, got married. This is not Jenna. This is the giant teddy bear that sat at our table with us.

4. I started my first year of teaching. This is what I looked like the first day. Too tired to even change out of my school clothes. This teaching year was by far the hardest thing I've ever done. But I totally did it.

5. Oh, yes. This year I learned how to make bomb salads.

6. Saw Les Miserables. It fully rocked.

7. We got real adult furniture finally. I can say now that our house is actually furnished with new items, not our college items.

8. I spent many a night at my desk looking at this kind of scenario: a lesson plan on the right, and a good episode of How I Met Your Mother on the left.

9. My team won the coveted gold at the school Olympics. Take that first year!

10. We started drinking green smoothies.

11. We vacationed in Santa Barbara for a week. Took the train up and walked everywhere. It was delightful.

12. Snuggled with this guy. Repeatedly.

13. Tried to love running. It did not work.

14. Started Project Life.

15. Got my wisdom teeth out. This event is represented by Jack, who stayed with me during my bed rest and caught up with Once Upon a Time with me.

16. Attended my good friend Jeremy's wedding. Sorry, Jer, I was too far away to get good pics of you. But here's a cute one of me and Chris! (Did I mention this was two days post-wisdom teeth?)

17. Celebrated every half day like it was Christmas break.

18. Went kayaking with Chris for the first time.

19. Stayed home by myself for an entire week while Chris was gone at a conference. (I'm such a big girl/I hated the whole week.)

20. Actually grew things this year, to the point that we could actually harvest and eat them. Huzzah!

21. Saw West Side Story with the T family at the Pantages.

22. Welcomed a new baby Cowen...

23. ... and a new baby Holz.

24. Said good-bye to my first class of students.

25. Went to New York!

26. Saw Newsies...

27. ... and Matilda

So... yeah. All in all, a pretty packed year. Didn't realize I'd seen four musicals this year! And we had two vacations! And this summary of events really makes it look like I didn't spend almost every waking moment prepping for school. Retrospect, huh?

Thursday, August 1, 2013

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

Sunday, July 21, 2013

New York: Day 1

Saturday, July 6

Who's ready for a trip to New York! Okay, here we go!

Ryan drove us to the airport early Saturday morning to catch our first flight from San Diego to Nashville. This has been our first trip in awhile. I think the last was two years ago when we went to Vegas for the T family reunion. One thing to note here, so I will always remember: the Southwest corridor of the San Diego airport stinks. There are literally no restaurants, so you're forced to go to the one little snack area to buy gross sandwiches and water bottles that total $30 for two people. $30! Somehow we always forget that, and we just figure we'll eat breakfast once we've checked in, and we always get screwed over that way. So future self, when you read this, get breakfast at home!

Okay, on to New York.

Our first plane was crazy full and we were in the last group to board so we didn't even get to sit together on the longest part of the trek. Luckily, we were in the middle of a group of kids and adults from Nashville who were returning from a Mexico missions trip, so that entire part of the plane was both sleepy and super nice. The flight was over three hours, but I'll admit it seemed to go much faster. I must have nodded off at some point because I was shocked to see (on the new Southwest tracker app that one of the missions trip chaperones showed me) that we were approaching Nashville already.

After a quick layover where we found ourselves in a real airport with real food (hello, Quiznos, I love you and your under $10 meals), we were back in the air for the second leg of the trip. The airplane gods were with us on this one, because for the second time in our lives we ended up on a super empty plane, so we were really able to sprawl out for the last two hours of the trip. 

Chris edited. I watched free TV shows on the Southwest app, monitored our progress to New York, and leaned over him frequently to look out the window.

We found Sarah waiting for us at La Guardia. Hurray, we were there! I pulled on a sweater since it was now evening and, you know, the east coast is obviously colder than California. Then we stepped outside and got hit with Palm Springs night weather. If you've ever been to Palm Springs you know exactly what I'm talking about, and if you haven't it's hot and sweaty with no wind and leaves you thinking, "How can it possibly be this hot at night?"

I took my sweater off. (And didn't put it on again all week.)

We took a taxi into the city. Taxi's have gotten fancy, we discovered. They now have credit card readers and TVs in the backseat. Using my maps app, I tracked our movement from the airport to our little accommodations in the city. Down Queens. Over the Manhattan Bridge. Up Mulberry. And there we were.

So... it wasn't all that great of a place. We were on a dark, cramped, one way street. The building across the street was completely covered in construction. The street was strewn with dumpsters and trash that hadn't made it in them. Chris had told us that we weren't living glamourously, we were just renting out a simple little two-bedroom apartment in Nolita. What he did not tell us? It was a fourth floor walk up with no elevator. (What I did not tell him? I will be requesting full descriptions and photos next time we rent out a place. Question # 1: How many flights up is it? Question #2: Elevator?)

When we'd finally lugged our suitcases up those stairs, we were all (more) sweaty and exhausted. 
The apartment was muggy when we finally got inside, so we cranked up the window coolers and did what anybody would do at 10pm after flying all day: we headed to the Empire State Building.

 So here's the deal with the Empire State Building, and this is something Chris told us beforehand: It's not that great. You wait in line for a long time. I'd read that the best time to do it is early morning or late night, which is why we decided it might be good to just get it out of the way the first night. It still took 4 hours to get to the top and back down. And really, the view isn't that great. (When we went to the Rockefeller Building later on that week, the views were much better and we didn't wait in line at all.)

We made it back to our apartment early the next morning, delighted to find that the window coolers actually worked and our little New York apartment was nice and cold. We decided to never turn them off all week, so it would always be cold when we returned. (Did I mention it was HOT?) We all had to take showers that night because we were so gross from the heat, and we discovered the shower had pretty much no water pressure. It was more of a dribble, which made trying to get all the shampoo out of long hair super fun. (Question #3: What's the water pressure like? And that and elevators are really the extent of my criteria for a rental.)

After that we hit the sack for a full day of New York, and I learned my first New York fun fact: Construction sometimes happens in the middle of the night on small, cramped streets in the city. Thanks, guys.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013


We're back from NYC! Oh, you didn't know we were gone? Yep! Details and more photos to come.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Bride + Groom + Bathtub = Awesome

We had our first wedding of the season this past Saturday up in Rancho Bernardo, and it was an amazing one to kick off the crazy summer wedding season!

Jessica and John were so fun and playful. When they tentatively asked if we could take a picture in the house's awesome bathtub, Chris and I were like, um, yes! We love taking weird photos! Weird photos always end up being the best photos, and come on, this photo is ridiculously epic. 

Also wanted to point out the chevron table runners. Man, I wish chevron had been a "thing" back when we got married! Ugh, it would have been awesome with our yellow and gray color scheme!