Thursday, August 30, 2012

Organizing My Classroom

I set up my computers today, and it will come as a surprise to no one who has talked to me in the last week that this task involved disproportionate amounts of spider-slaying. I even decided to spray poison on the back of the towers just in (the very likely) case I had some kind of spider commune going on inside the CPUs. My room is really unreal. I have heard from other teachers that they get roaches in their closets, which I hope I've taken care of by spraying expanding foam into a giant crack in the back of my closet. (Is there any problem that can't be solved with spray foam? It's my new favorite thing.)

Speaking of closets, here's an extremely gratifying before and after for ya:

Note Miz Fuhrito's use of spray foam in the left back corner there. Nice.

School starts Tuesday: yikes! I haven't even started planning yet. I have a running list of activities I want to do and mini-lessons I need to teach, but I haven't actually sat down and written down when and how things are happening. It'll get done, but unfortunately it'll probably be over the weekend. I have a new resolve this year to manage my time better. My goal is to work no more than 5 hours on the weekend, and no later than 8 on weekdays. I really think that I could be much more efficient if I told myself that I only had a set number of hours to work and then I was done. I'd start to see what was a priority and not, and I'd have more energy during the day to be a better manager, and be better prepped. At least that's my hope. I'll let you know how it goes. 

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Addressing Standards

Top o' the morning everybody! I woke up with the idea to make a spreadsheet to keep track of which standards (CCSS) I've addressed in literacy and math each week. The spreadsheet adds up how often I'm hitting each one (I just type a "1" in the weeks that address the particular standard) so I know if there's an area I'm neglecting. Not that I would ever do such a thing. Ha.

I've shared the google doc I made, and I think you should be able to copy it but not edit it if you're interested in using it. Let me know if you'd like to use it but can't copy it for whatever reason. No sense in typing all those standards in again! (They're the third grade standards, by the way. I left off the 3 part, and I know some of it probably overlaps other grades, but it's probably not a perfect match. So compare against your grade level.)

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Polishing and Sealing the Counters

The counters are now polished and sealed. They looked amazing after being polished, if I may say so myself.

My goal in polishing the counters was two-fold. I wanted to 1) not effing electrocute myself, and 2) polish the counters. I finally procured a grinder that would work with my polishing pads (by the way, I got almost all the supplies for this project from concrete exchange, which is run by Fu Tung Cheng, the author of the book I used to learn how to do this. If you plan to embark on a concrete project I HIGHLY recommend that you both read this book and purchase supplies from concrete exchange.) 

Anyhoo, back to the hazards of polishing concrete! In order to accomplish this, you need to operate a hand-held polisher or grinder whilst pouring a stream of water over the area of concrete you are polishing. (Easier said than done when you're working alone, btw, though Cheng has advice on how to do this that worked out fine.) So, you're standing in a pool of water operating an electrical device, which also happens to be one that, if you're not careful will grind through your electrical cord. Which, as it happened, the previous renter of the grinder had done. The guy at the sketch-tastic rental place helpfully wrapped the exposed section in electrical tape and pronounced it safe because there wasn't any copper showing. He gave me some safety tips: "You need to be careful, you could get shocked...well, you shouldn't get shocked...well, you might get a little shocked...keep your feet dry and you'll be fine." Needless to say, I was a tad nervous about polishing. I wore my bean boots and heavy-duty PVC-coated gloves for insulation, and I hung the wires up high so they wouldn't be sitting in water (too much). It went fine, though halfway through I noticed the electrical tape job was coming apart, and there WERE copper wires showing in there! Scary. And then I noticed there were like eight grinder cuts on the cord. So I took a little safety break and electrical-taped those suckers up. 

But the polished counters looked awesome! I really got the hang of it and they looked beautiful. Unfortunately, Mr. Cheng's sealer directions really sucked, and I messed up the sealing process pretty good. I totally ruined the smooth, gorgeous polishing job. But it's not permanent damage, and no one except me will really notice/care, so I'm gonna live with it til it's time to reseal.

Tomorrow we'll install at least one section of counter. Stay tuned for pics...

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Secret Service!

I found this Secret Service idea on pinterest, and I was reminded of it again when I saw a similar idea in Jasztalville's plans for the beginning of the year. Basically, the idea is that kids do good deeds secretly, which makes it kind of like a fun challenge. Seeing how Ms. Jasztal implements it at school inspired me to do something similar in my classroom this year. Here's how (I think) I'll implement it:

I will secretly pick one or two students per week, starting the second week, to be in the "Secret Service." Their mission will be to secretly do nice things for other people, and then they'll record what they did each day. At the end of the week I'll read them like clues and have the class guess who was in the Secret Service that week. (still not sure about doing this actually: seems fun but don't know what purpose it would serve: maybe it sets up the sharing nice deeds aspect of this?). Repeat this process until everyone has had a chance to join the Secret Service.

Step two is more like your typical "Appreciations" set up: now that everyone's in the Secret Service, we'll share daily at closing meeting a few nice deeds that students noticed other students doing. (I'll give them each little notebooks and they'll get to spy on each other. That seems like it'll be fun. I'll probably need to designate when's an ok time to be making notes for the Secret Service.)

I know I have like three readers on this blog, and two are Sean and myself, but I'd love to know what people's thoughts are, particularly teachers.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Getting Excited for School!

I met with my coach today, and we talked through my literacy block, which I've been doing research trying to retool this year. We also scoped out the year and I am starting to get really excited! Last year was my first year teaching, and as I tell my husband all the time, I wish I could go apologize to my students because they deserved a better teacher than they got. I did my best and I worked my butt off (it REALLY drives me crazy when people are dismissive of the quantity and complexity of the work that goes into teaching! Especially when I'm working 80+ hours a week on a regular basis.) But a first-year teacher is a first-year teacher, and I have tried to just forgive myself and move on. I know this year won't be perfect, but I already have made so many changes and improvements to what I'm planning to do, I can already anticipate so much more sh#t that will inevitably happen, and even though from the sound of it, my kids will be a lot rougher at my new school, I feel much more ready to start this school year than last year.

One HUGE difference is in my level of organization. Confession: I am extremely disorganized. (As if you didn't know that already.) But fortunately I'm also a thoughtful student of my disorganization (along with lots of coaching from the very organized Sean), and in general, I find that disorganization is a reflection of my indecisiveness (which I also have in spades: two great qualities in a teacher, I know!) If I don't have a place for something, it just ends up sitting in a pile, or on a surface, and I tell myself I'll deal with it later. Which I don't. Because I can't, because I don't know what to do with it. Anyway, this year I have a lot better idea of what to do with all the STUFF, and I have a better idea of what kind of (and what quantity of) stuff will be generated, and I can develop a system and a routine prior to starting the year to deal with said stuff. I used to laugh all the time last year at how much time I spent over the summer prior to my first year of teaching, doing things that I thought constituted planning for the year. Oh lord.

So, the overall theme here, the difference from last year, is that I have a PLAN. I can't wait for September 4th!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Concrete Countertops

They're out of the molds, and they look amazing! We need to wait a couple days to polish them, and then we can install them. I can't wait til they're in the kitchen. As Sean pointed out to me last night, we only have a couple more days of plywood countertops left. Hard to believe!

This is a ledge-type-thingy that will house the sink faucet:

...and a close-up of the concrete: the line in it is because we waited too long between filling it halfway and then filling it the rest of the way. But I kind of like the way it looks. The holes are a result of not vibrating it enough, and also because our first batch of concrete was way too thick. But we'll fill them in and you won't see them in the finished counters. There's also some residue on the surface of some parts of the counters (like the angled surface in the top picture) because I used aluminum flashing to shape some surfaces. I think it'll polish off though. If not, then it's just a part of our counters!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Concrete Poured!

Oh my gosh, I never thought I'd actually get these counter tops poured! We still need to reinforce the cabinets, cut plywood to go underneath the concrete, and install the sink. Still a lot to do, but the end is in sight!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Concrete Countertops Update

The molds are built: tomorrow I'll caulk them and seal all the porous edges. (I also have two sections that need a little more work because they're a little involved, but that's another trip to Home Depot.) After that I will put in the remesh and rebar, and then it's time to pour concrete! So exciting.

Here are some pics of things so far:

I traced the templates onto the melamine particleboard in order to make the molds.

Here's the table I refinished for the sink.

...And here are the almost-finished molds for two of the sections.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Nice Try!

Arg, I just realized that I forgot to go to the first Love and Logic Study Group meeting this year! But seeing the reminder in my email caused me to read through some highlights on the basic principles of Love and Logic. If you aren't familiar, Love and Logic is a discipline philosophy that helps teachers (or parents) create firm boundaries while also helping kids foster good decision-making skills, self-regulation, learn to express themselves rationally and calmly, and take responsibility for their actions. At the recommendation of my assistant principal last year I started learning more about this approach, and eventually joined a study group to talk about how I was using Love and Logic in my classroom. I am not even remotely close to being an expert (one of the big no-nos is that you shouldn't be sarcastic, and I remember the second time I tried this approach, the student I was talking to eyed me suspiciously and asked, "Is this sarcasm or something?").

But I realized that there's one thing I've adopted and use regularly with a lot of success, which is, "Nice try!" Kids do stuff constantly to see what they can get away with. This used to (and occasionally still does) annoy me to no end: I would get so frustrated that kids were putting me in the position of having to tell them "no" all the time, or repeatedly doing things they knew they shouldn't. You absolutely need to communicate to them that what they're doing is not acceptable, but I've found that in most situations where a kid is just testing you, saying, "Nice try!" is a great way to communicate that. This tells them they're out of bounds with the extra bonus of showing them that you recognize their behavior isn't malicious, thus also reaffirming your faith in them and care for them. I love it.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Habits of Mind

I have been thinking a lot lately about what kinds of habits of mind I want to explicitly teach make a part of my classroom this year, and I wanted to share a great resource I found. I'm not sure how I didn't know about this organization til now, seeing as how they quote John Dewey almost as much as UTEP does. But anyway, it's called the Coalition of Essential Schools. It's a group of schools that adhere to a common philosophy of education and offer support and resources within that community. It consists of public schools, charter schools, and private schools. The coalition's vision is definitely focused around developing habits of mind and social-emotional skills, and generally preparing students to be good citizens and critical thinkers. Unsurprisingly, they have some good resources to help teachers think about habits of mind and heart in their classrooms. There's a whole site called CES ChangeLab with some great downloadable resources, which are all free if you sign up for an account. I am so excited I found this!