Saturday, July 31, 2010

Housekeeping, routines and life

Yep, I'm to more home bound topics on this post. School starts next week for me (teachers only, no students, yet) and I'm full time this year. Last year, I'd hoped to be full time, but it didn't work out for them, and I think it was a good thing for me. I was at school all day Monday, Wednesday and Friday and for a few hours Tuesday and Thursday afternoon. Despite my disappoint at not being full time, it worked well for me. I got lots done on T/Th mornings -- grocery shopping, cleaning, running errands. It left my Saturday free to play and catch up.

This year, I'll be at school 5 days a week, all day. I'm full time. For many you, you might be thinking, "yeah, normal life, what's the big deal?"  I've never worked "full time" before. The closest I've gotten is 39.5 hours a week at the local coffee shop right after graduating from college, but before leaving for China. And I was still paid hourly with no work to take home after hours. I have finally reached true adulthood. In my mid to late 20s, I'd begun to wonder if I really counted as a true adult. Sure, I had the years of living, but I was still a student and had never held a full time/salaried job.  That I wasn't married didn't help any (I know marriage shouldn't play into it, but it does sometimes). So, all that to say I finally have my first "real" full time job.

Luckily, I'm excited about what I'm going to teach, just in case you hadn't notice from reading my blog. But I'm nervous as well. I have a lot of things I want to work on, just to be a better teacher. Teaching more means less time to spend in homekeeping.  And I'm really into homekeeping, in theory at least.

I love the idea of keeping a nice house in good condition, company ready nearly all the time. I read, and enjoy, Martha Stewart Living, I follow and I've read, cover to cover, Home Comforts: The art and science of keeping house. I love this stuff. If you had a chance to look at my bookshelf, there are other books that point to my desire to read about and think about keeping house. When it comes to the practice, however, I feel like I can't keep up. There is a voice in the back of my head (and Hubby says, it too) that says I'm not doing that bad of a job. Not getting around to vacuuming except every few weeks is not the downfall of the family... it just means the carpet isn't as clean as I'd like.

Yes, this all has a point, I promise.

In preparation of teaching full time, I put together daily routines to practice before school starts. I'd followed Flylady's admonition to spread out the cleaning tasks over the weekdays to keep Saturday free for "Family Fun Day". As I've practiced, and as Hubby observed, I realize I'm lazy in the evenings. And when school starts, I'll be tired. I want evenings to wind down, to chill and to get to bed at a reasonable time (which for me is 930 or 10 if I'm getting up at 6 or 630 am).  Some evenings we won't get home till 6:00 pm as Hubby has late classes those days -- doesn't leave much time for chores and chilling. So, I'm adjusting the routines. I'm taking all those chores (vacuuming, dusting, laundry, mopping, etc) out of the evening slots and putting them all Saturday morning. It will only be an hour or two, it will be good for me to have some specific to get done to get my day started, and it opens up my evenings. (Wow, many new thoughts of random reflection about me starting a day well have overwhelmed my thought processes. Crazy how that works.) Sometimes it takes me a bit to figure out the obvious, I can be quite stubborn.

In addition, I put together a very nice control journal. I've been using a simple, black, 1 inch binder with a flylady sticker on the front, and its worked okay for me. I realized recently that I need to be able to take this binder with me as well as some key supplies; having it all contained together is a major bonus. I have a small box of bill paying put together (checkbook, stapler, pen, envelopes, stamps, return address labels, a few paper clips and some post-its), but I'd like something to go with the binder with pen, pencil, post-its, and other such random items. I also want a binder where lots stuff doesn't all fall out when I put it in a bag or take it out, as it does now. I think I found something that works nicely (at least it does so far)... it has fabric elastic to pull around the corner to keep it closed, pockets in the back and these really nifty inserts. They fit in the front of the binder, under the rings and adds 2 more pockets to the front. I feel like there is no good way to fully describe it! Anyhoo, I got a pocket that fit in the rings to carry my random office supply style stuff, and stick-em-on tabs to put on the sheet protectors so I have "tabbed dividers" that actually show from between the sheet protectors. I feel pretty good about picking this thing up and taking it along. I might need to adjust what's in it so I can put school stuff, routines and notes, in it also. Now I'm wishing my calendar book was three-hole punched so I can put that in there, too. Oh, well, can't have everything.

I'll post about my classroom/teaching routines when I get those figured out.  For now, here is my housekeeping/life-in-general routines (haven't figured out a good time to go grocery shopping, though). And... think this post is long enough, now. Time to go!  I'd love to hear your thoughts about what you do to keep up with life.

Friday, July 30, 2010

I guess the farm is too wet.

So, I notice these guys in the worm farm a few weeks ago (borrowed picture)

Garden soldier fly larva

In the last week, I've been finding them on the dinning room floor, apparently crawling out of the worm bin. Finally, this morning I went about scouring the internet for an answer. One of the two worm farms is going back to school next week, and I'd rather not have a cleaning lady asking me about these guys she might find on the floor.

Turns out, I'm quite confident about this, that it is a soldier fly larvae, or, perhaps more specifically, a garden soldier fly larvae. All I read is that they are voracious eaters of dead and decaying matter (good for worm farm), don't compete with the worms so much, but like it much wetter than do worms. So, I will go about adding some nice dry material to both farms today. They leave the worm farm to pupate, looking for dryer soil. Alas, my dining room floor doesn't have much soil, I work hard to keep it that way.

I'm gonna have to totally have a 'worm farm ecosystem' lesson this year in either (both?) grammar 6, Life Science, or Logic 2, Biology. Now the creative juices are flowing! We can identify how it works in the carbon cycle and the nitrogen cycle.... WOOT! I'm excited now!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Regrets and Plans, part 3: the new stuff

Sorry about the massive number of new posts today, I haven't figured out how to delay posting so that they are evenly spaced even if I write them all at once. That is, how to delay posting without me coming back and going through the process to post it (I want it done automatically at a certain time). Yes, I'm lazy about it. I've only got so much time and energy, so I pick what to be lazy about and try not to stress it.

This post is about what I'm doing new this year. I've got tons of ideas and even more hopes that I see great improvement this year. I think I know what kind of feelings I want as the year progresses and what I want to see out of my students.  I've got 2 things really going for me. First, two of the three classes I'm teaching I taught last year, so only one class is new to me. Second, two of the three sets of students (by grade) I had last year. Basically, it means I'm familiar with 2/3 of the material and 2/3 of the students. The other 1/3 of the material, and 1/3 of the students, is not totally new to me in that I've interacted with the material before and interacted with the students some this last year, just never as MY class. I think these two things in and of themselves makes for a more confident year.

So, what's gonna be different?

1. I have a plan and a system for grading. I think it will be easy for me to implement standards based grading (sbg) since I don't already have a system in place. Nothing to replace, just a hole to fill. And SBG seems intuitive to me, I'm not sure why I didn't come up with it on my own. As a linguist, I'm very familiar with language learning and the goals and progress involved with teaching and learning a new language, which almost completely standards based, just witness the language learning progression/levels. I will make sure I detail this out and how I'm going to do it in another post, but I think this is enough for now.

2. I'm gonna correspond more with parents.  I had some contact with parents, but I want more. I teach at a private school, so parents are quite involved already and some I got to know fairly well. Luckily, I'll have some of those same kids, so I'll see some of those parents again. But I want to be able to talk to parents more about how their child is doing (both good and bad) such that when something really does come up there is less shock value when I send an email or make a phone call.

3. That means I'll have to keep up with grading and paper work! Drat! No more putting off grading that paragraph till the end of the quarter. I want to be able to give good feedback on how the student is doing in relation to this or that, but that means not putting off grading/marking till the last minute. (slap hand just for thinking about it)

4. Discovery learning at least once a week. Yep, hands on, experimental, let the student go kinds of learning times. I'm pretty good with a bit of chaos in the classroom, I think with a clear set of guidelines and structured and specific instructions and goals, the kids will take this to the nines.

5. (this is for home life, too) Do the routines. No skimping and no whatever-I'll-do-it-later. Routines are good (say it often, repeat till it is ingrained!)

6. Have a water boiler in the office. Yep, hot tea on demand; no more walking to the teacher's lounge where I get distracted by this, that, and the other. No more getting coffee from the office where I think to rummage in the cabinet to see if anything fun can be found and don't get back to work for 45 minutes.

7. Provide healthy snacks for the last class of the day. I sort-of did this last year; I let the kids bring a snack to eat at the beginning of class since it was the last period of the day and they'd just come from P.E. and they were so very, very droopy. However, it was as often as not candy and/or soda which doesn't help the learning atmosphere. So, I decided I'll keep a supply of bananas, apples, oranges (and whatever else is cheap and in season) in a bowl in the room. If the I-just-grew-2-inches-in-the-last-hour boys find they are hungry, there is something to eat. Won't cost me tons, might get me to eat more fruit and will provide food for the worms (we have a worm farm :P). [seriously, though, I was at least an inch or 2 taller than all the students in grammar 6 at the beginning of the year last year, and by the end two or three were an inch or 2 taller than me!]

8. Work ahead. I've already got skeleton skedules (:D) for 1 class done, with the topic plans for the first quarter written out. For the other two classes I have some of the skeleton skedules done, and I still have 5 business days till in-service starts and 2 weeks after that till the students start back. And then, logic 2 biology won't start till the next week due to orientation and such for the students. I'm feeling so prepared right now! The key will be keeping up so that by quarter 2 I'm not significantly behind. It helps that I know the basic systems of the school, how things work, where things are, I know most of my students, I know my co-workers, I'm not moving into my house, nor learning a totally new city (as I was last year this time), so I don't think it will be as hard to stay ahead.

This is what I can think of so far, and stuff I've started working on or planning for. Here's to hoping this year is heads and shoulders better than last year.

Regrets and Plans, part 2

Last year wasn't all bad, was it?

You might feel the desire to ask this question after reading Regrets and Plans, part 1. No, last year wasn't all bad; there were somethings that went quite well and I hope to redo these things.

1. We had lots of fun demonstrations and hands on learning, especially in grammar 4 and 5. Grammar 4 is an introduction to physics. Yes, 9 and 10 year olds learning physics. We didn't do any of the math (they learned about decimal points and such that year in math), but covered most of the basic topics. That meant lots and lots of building things and seeing things happen. We built a paddle boat out of paper milk cartons to see elastic potential energy at work (used rubber band to attach the paddle and make the paddle go). We let a toy car roll down an incline and smash a banana to see gravitational potential energy at work (we raised the incline to see how high it had to be to smash the banana). Grammar 5 was an introduction to chemistry. Yeppers, 10 and 11 year olds doing chemistry! We made gak, we burned various salts in solution to see their colors, we put together a density tube, and any number of other 'experiments'. It was tons of fun.

2. I let the students ask all the questions they wanted. The grammar 4 students were the best at this, they were so good that I asked Hubby, a physics/astronomer nerd, to come and answer their questions. The kids loved it. They asked about black holes, why Pluto wasn't planet, was their life on other planets, will our sun ever run out, and on and on. The first time I let them just ask questions was a day we were reading about... gosh, I forget... but the students just started asking good questions. It was hard shutting it down when our time was up, they had so many more questions. After that, when I felt particularly busy, I'd dedicate a class to just Q and A. The older students weren't as into this, but that's okay. We still took rabbit trails through various topics. One class we were reading about designer molecules, and synthetic DNA was one molecule we read a brief paragraph about. Someone asked about cloning, and then someone asked if we could clone humans. We talked about what questions we should ask about morality and ethics when it came to cloning, as well as the physical/scientific questions.

3. We had some fun field trips. We went to the Waco Wet Lands (grammar 5 and 6) and I took the grammar 4 students to the Mayborn Museum. Must... do... more....

These are big things that are very big-picture oriented. I want these things to continue.

Regrets and Plans, part 1

I have a ton of regrets from last year and boo-koos of plans for this year. I'm feeling the need to write about them, and I've been inspired reading so many others discuss these things. This post pushed me over the edge to go ahead and start writing. I decided to split this post into 3 parts; part 1 will be a rendition of the ways I screwed up last year and here's to hoping I didn't doom my students to perpetual science failure.  Part 2 will be a rendition of what went well and what activities students loved. Part 3 will be a, hopefully, organized presentation of my plans for this year to rectify my mistakes and make general improvements (and keep the good stuff).

What I regret about last year:
1. I had no plan or system for determining grades or giving grades. Students got credit for doing homework, there was the occasional quiz, and topical tests. Eventually, I added in a daily participation grade, especially because, for example, the grammar 4 science was more about doing the activities and talking about it than being able to answer questions on a piece of paper. I wanted them to be able to tell me why the rubber-band paddle boat worked, in their own words, not be able to write out the definition of elastic potential energy.

2. I wrote/figured out the test when I was ready to give a test. I should have created the test right after I established the objectives/standards for the topic, which the test could then drive my lesson plans and give me a tool for establishing exactly what I want the kids to know; instead I usually had to write the test around did-I-actually-talk-about-that?

3. I didn't know what I wanted the students to know. I had a general idea of "I want them to know about chemistry", but what should they be able to spout back about chemistry? It was all very nebulous.

4. I was too nice. I'm a push over, always have been; I started working hard last year to be mean, without being cruel, but when you start out too nice, its hard to go back.

5. I lacked confidence in myself to really be able to teach this stuff. I know this stuff, I love this stuff, I dream about this stuff (this stuff being science: chemistry and biology especially), but I doubted my ability to create lessons that students would learn from and truly enjoy, even students who don't naturally LOVE this stuff.

6. I procrastinated about grading papers, inputing attendance and grades, and just keeping up. I was lazy about lesson plans plenty of times, when I got behind and needed something NOW.

7. I always felt behind. I never really felt caught up or on time.

As I reflected here, I don't think I ruined any of my students. They still had fun, and as I've seen one or two over the summer, they seem happy to see me.

Lesson planning and formatting

I started teaching several years ago in Nov of 2006. True, I was teaching adult ESL then and now I'm teaching middle school science, but the aspect of lesson planning hasn't really changed. Not at all really. In fact, planning swimming lessons is much the same process as planning ESL lessons which is much the same process for planning science lessons. I've never liked any of the formats presented in books, classes, or seminars for planning out lessons when its a general lesson and not for a specific class. They, the book, the teacher, the instructor, assume that you can define the parameters for the class even if you don't know what class this lesson will be for. The lesson writer must make an assumption about how much class time there is, the level of the students, the pacing the students can handle. I never liked this, because when you finally had the class assigned with actual students, the characteristics of that class never lined up with the assumed characteristics of your fictional class. I have any number of examples of the issues with this general system, but I will refrain from detailing them all here.

I do see the general idea behind requiring the lesson writer to make assumptions about a class and then write a lesson plan. New teachers need the practice, ideally before they are under the crunch of time and a looming class period for which she must be prepared. I suspect that I learned more than I realized in those classes that required this lesson writing for a fictional class, and I owe more to those books and teachers than I give them credit for at this point. Nonetheless, those styles of lesson plans have helped me when I'm planning for a specific lesson and a specific class, but I yearned for a lesson plan style that allowed me to get the bulk the creative effort out of the way before the crunch time hit. Perhaps for others, this isn't an issue, such that the creative ideas spring from their mind easily. Or perhaps I'm unique among teachers in trying to come up with these creative activities (I seriously doubt this and will be drop-down surprised if this is actually true). I love brainstorming all the fun things I can do to convey new knowledge to my students, but when I'm looking at a looming class time in the midst of also grading assessments, inputing grades, making sure I did attendance today, finding the supplies I need for this activity or that activity, those creative thoughts are dashed against the walls of must-be-dones.  With 2 weeks till teachers start back with in-service, meetings and collaborations, I could feel the crunch developing and decided I would come up with a way to plan lessons that got the creative effort/ideas done (or mostly done) before the crunch hit.

There are a few things I know about the classes I'll be teaching this year: the classes will be 45 to 50 minutes long and either 3 times or 5 times a week (Grammar 5 meets 3 times, Grammar 6 and Logic 2 meet 5 times a week).

All of this starts with my writing up standards in my efforts to convert my haphazard grading non-method into a somewhat structured form of standards based grading (SBG). I've also been asked to start work on curriculum maps for 2 classes I teach, so I've already been thinking about the topics to be covered and reviewed in those classes.  Then, for teach topic, I wrote out the standards, basically what I think each students should know at the end of that topic. Then I divided those standards into smaller subtopics that could reasonably be covered in one class time. Then I let the creative juices flow... for each class time (based on the standards I partitioned into that time period) I wrote out all the possible activities I could do with the idea of having a slew of creative ways to communicate the new information. Finally, I finished with what is the most difficult part for me, I wrote assessment questions. I considered what I wanted the students to know, and how to make them demonstrate that knowledge. Here's the first topic I put together. Its not crazy exciting or fancy, but I think it will work for what I want. I'm also considering setting up a wiki with all my topics/lessons as I'm sure there are other teachers of middle school chemistry who might be interested in my collection, especially if they are teaching at a school with a classical/Charlotte Mason bent.

I'm fairly certain that this is remedial for the vast majority of teachers. Or perhaps my assumptions of where I stand on the good-bad teacher continuum is are skewed? Anyhoo, I looked around for several years for a method of writing lessons that gave me the bank of ideas/questions/activities that I need to be a good teacher during crunch time. Perhaps its out there, but since I never found it, I came up with my own.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Purposes and decisions

Warning: Rambling, thinking-out-loud post

I'm in an interesting spot.  My poor blog is due for a post... its been over a week since the last one. Poor neglected blog.  I'm feeling very academic and wanting to write on the thoughts in my  head about school, SBG and my various downfallings and successes as a teacher. I started blogging again back in January with the intention of blogging about my garden and my home. But here I am not interested in posting about my garden, my knitting or my cooking at all. My reading of blogs is leading heavily towards the blogs of teachers and academics with education topic posts. I've been writing a fair bit, but its related to role-playing, school and educational philosophy (and none of it is getting posted at the moment).

I think I need to decide the purpose of my blog. If it is about news and events of life for friends and family, the blog will be inclined towards one particular style of post. But if I want to reflect my many ideas and thoughts on eduction (of which I have many), then the style changes. ARGH!!! Decisions to be made, and my general life inclination is to decide to not decide when its a difficult decision. Say that fast 10 times!

Too many thoughts, too many ideas. My brain is so full right now, its scary. More to come, I promise!

PS. The February Lady Sweater got put on hold while I knit some Christmas gifts for the ladies in my extended family. After the FLS, I hope to knit either Every Way Wrap or 5 Way Cable Wrap. Its another decision to make....

30 minutes later
Update: I'm going to get better at putting labels, make it easy for people to find what they want. If I find that I am posting regularly about teaching once school starts, I'll branch off and start a new blog with some witty name that is dedicated to teaching. As it is, I suspect that my blogging interval will extend greatly once school starts, I've got a busy, busy schedule.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

More teacher thoughts: the blame game

I've found a slew of teacher blogs to read regularly. One that struck me recently was this one:

Building a Bridge

I started a comment, and realized it was becoming an essay in and of itself. I made the comment shorter and thought I'd post the essay here.

I'm with you, you can't blame previous teachers for a student's lack of skill or knowledge. Nor can you blame the student, or the teacher. At least, you can't blame any one person (or group) solely. I think the blame lies a little bit in each one. And, perhaps, the blame lies in each student's natural tendencies. Hubby is one of those students who always knew his times tables (still does) even before being taught them at school. I think his mother presented the ideas once and he got them. I, on the other hand, was the child that worked her bum off to learn that 8 times 6 is.... let me think... I'll go back to 6x6 = 36 (I know that), so 7x6 = 42, so 8x6=48, and I am not a particularly slow learner, its just that numbers will not stick in my mind, no matter how hard I work at it. Ask me to make salsa from scratch, and I can get the right number of tomatoes, peppers, onions, garlic cloves and I can whip  up a yummy compliment to tortilla chips in an afternoon. That's easy... Ask Hubby to do the same, and you will see a very lost Hubby.

Please don't hear me saying that a student is bound by his natural tendencies. No, no, no. Any student can venture beyond those boundaries, but it will take extra work. And as humans, I think we are lazy in that way: we like to stick with what comes easily. It's scary to try something that is difficult, its like committing yourself to the unknown. 

So, having said all that, I agree with Ms Caldwell that SBG is a solution to this problem. I'm all for SBG, I love the idea, I'm planning on implementing it in my class room this year, and I think it will provide the impetus needed to motivate students to excel at the subject at hand, beyond what comes easily. Perhaps it provides the motivation to work hard enough to venture beyond what you thought possible, in the realm beyond natural tendencies?

I'm very interested in considering the reasons SBG allows for this, especially in students who might no otherwise be willing to try that hard. Some students tend towards learning in general and learning comes easy (generally, I'm that kind of student). Most students are not inclined to just *learn* on their own and most people feel no need to continue to learn beyond the "normal" school years. And while in school, its like pulling teeth for them to learn. How is it that SBG summons that ...intrinsic motivation (?)... that students need?

Anyhoo -- conversations I sure love to have!

PS. I'm debating a blog issue. Should I divide off the teacher essays into its own blog? Or keep it all as one, knowing the blog will be as eclectic as its author?

Monday, July 12, 2010

Technology in the classroom

I love to learn, so I've been having a great time reading all sorts of stuff that I found from Soft Skills Convention and the various other education style blogs I read.

First up, I listened to a discussion about the 1:1 initiatives by some schools to get each student access to a laptop or computer. The main question was Is 1:1 enough ....

Is 1:1 change a teacher?

Is 1:1 change a classroom?

Is 1:1 change a school?

Is 1:1 engage/empower/enlighten students?

Is 1:1 get politicians off our backs?

Is 1:1 move education into the 21st century?

I'm thinking to really address this issue, and why technology will never be enough to change more than the medium of the instruction (on its own, at least), we need to understand the idea of pedagogy and what issues are foundational to all aspects of pedagogy.

Here is a quick and dirty version of what I'm thinking:

The idea is that your 'educational philosophy' will provide the foundation, the basis for everything else you do. Your assumptions of how students learn will affect how you chose to teach. In the same way, your assumptions about how to teach and the best way to go about instruction will directly influence how you structure a lesson, how you write objectives and what students should learn.  Your methodology, materials and media used in teaching will come from how you structured your lesson, what your objectives are, what you decided students should be learning. I'm not committed to this specific ordering, I spent about 2 minutes drawing this in paint and thinking about it. I would love to dialog about what is dependent on what. However, I am confident that technology, outside of programming and computer science and such topics, fits into that top box: methodology, materials and media. The question of  'are students learning what we want them to learn' fits into those bottom two boxes. Giving students access to computers, the internet and technology might make the class more fun, might even make reaching specific objectives easier, but it won't change 'are students learning what we want them to learn'.  

Yet, when technology is talked about, its always about making it so that students will learn what we want them to learn. Its talking about using orange juice to make the oak tree grow the direction you want it to grow. Its like putting a bow tie, spectacles and a sport jacket on a dog and calling him a professor and hoping to learn math from him. Alas, I rant.

I think you've got the idea, reader, or at least I hope you do. Again, I'd love to dialog about these topics.

Other reflections on soft skills coming, but laundry calls to be folded at this moment. :P

PS pls forgive grammatical errors. I'm in a hurry :(

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Soft Skills Convention Center � Point of Inflection

(rambling teacher post)

I love to teach. I have taught swimming lessons, Sunday school, EFL, ESL, basic algebra/geometry (tutoring in high school), gardening, and all manner of science. And I'm good with the material, but when it comes to classroom management, I flounder. I love to learn, it comes naturally, and I tend to approach most of life and learning from this angle. I love to read and I love to think (I married a philosopher, and we talk philosophy on a regular basis). Teaching adult ESL, and now, middle school science has brought the fact that the majority of people don't approach life this way crashing in on me. At times, I just want to retreat to my own house and yard and pretend the world is just like me. But its hard to get a paycheck doing that, and I'd go crazy with just my own company (Hubby completely changes the dynamic -- I can spend days at home with just him). Figuring out how to relate to students who aren't just like me (in the classroom, while teaching) is really hard for me. In contrast, can usually find some thing about an individual student I can relate to. Usually, I try to observe and talk with them, making use of "Love Languages" and finding topics they love and asking lots of questions. That is near impossible for me to do/figure out when I'm working to relate to a classroom of kids, since they are all different, have different interests, etc. I'm pretty decent at one-on-one, but group dynamics throw me off, big time.

All that to say, I'm excited to read all these ideas and see what I can put into practice, 'cause I need some help. When I saw this link on a blog I read (thank you, google reader!), I just about jumped out of my chair. Luckily, the coffee hadn't totally kicked in, so it was more a quiet "woot".

I have read "The Soft Mutiny" and "So bad", and plan on reading the rest of them. Yeah, yeah, its by math teachers, and I teach science. Motivation and classroom management spans all classroom subjects... I hope. I'll let you know what else I learn.

Thanks for reading my rambling!

Monday, July 05, 2010


My works in progress:

curriculum maps for grammar 5 and 6 science
February Lady Sweater (for me)
House slippers (for me)
converting grammar 5, 6 and logic 2 sciences to SBG

And to add to this list:
a new purse/bag/tote of some sort (I'm tired of my current one)

Sunday, July 04, 2010

As a thankful American

See full size image

Today, we celebrate our independence as a nation. Whatever I might think of the current politics, whether I agree with what current or past leaders have done and decided, I'm proud of my country. I recognize that the freedoms we have are not unique to the United States, and some places might be better at some aspect or another. Nonetheless, this is my home.

I'm thankful that I can start a garden in my back yard because I want to. I'm thankful that when Hubby graduates from this PhD program, we get to decide where to apply for a professorship. I'm thankful that we got to look around at a variety of houses and choose the one that we liked best and that we will get to do the same when we next move. I'm thankful for my wonderful Hubby who supports me in my many hobbies, and puts up with my various idiosyncrasies. I'm thankful that I can choose to fly, or drive, or take a bus, to visit my family and in-laws... pretty much when ever I want and my schedule allows. I'm thankful for a school that lets me take initiative to write curriculum maps and chose curriculum for the classes I teach. I'm thankful that I get to chose what church I want to go to (and around her we have lots to choose from -- good or bad, hmmm... a bit of both, I think) and I have the freedom to go, enjoy worship, learn from the sermon without fear of reprisals.

I could go on; life has been good to me recently and I'm feel very much on top. But that is for another post.

Making and canning pizza sauce (and the dress I was making)

I made pizza sauce the other day. It was fairly easy and I canned it, and used the bit left over to make pizza that night. Unfortunately, I can only give general amounts of the ingredients I used, as my tendency is to toss stuff in, taste, mix in something else, taste again.

I had tomatoes left over after making salsa (which turned out very yummy). I think it was about 3 or 4 lbs. I am a lazy cook, so I chopped the tomatoes coarsely, only saving some seed to plant later (planning for a bunch of fall tomatoes -- the joy of living in the south!)

I chopped up two onions, medium sized, and 4 Anaheim peppers. I added the seeds of 2 of the Anaheim peppers, since we like it spicy. I chopped up 5 or 6 garlic cloves and added all of it to my large stock pot.

I get lots of compost when canning... so far at least. I'm also saving harvesting seeds to plant for more tomato plants.

I cooked the mixture, and stirred occassionally, for 2 1/2 hours at a med-lo heat. Well, I brought it to a boil, then reduced the heat to let it simmer gently for a total of 2 1/2 hours. I tried to moosh up the veggies as it cooked and they softened.

At the end of the 2 1/2 hours, scoop by scoop, I put the veggies and juice through the food processor and then through the strainer. Now, this is a special strainer. Its the strainer that the nice man gave me when he gave me all the canning supplies. It was a sad story, but I was happy for all the free stuff. Here's the strainer:

If you know the name of this strainer, please let me know; its one of the most interesting pieces of kitchen equipment I've seen. I poured the pureed sauce in it, turned the wooden stick around and around as the sauce seeped out the holes into the waiting bowl. It was a very nice tomato sauce, though a bit thin, so I put it back in the pot and simmered it for a few more hours (2 or so). When it was almost thick enough, I asked Hubby to try a bit and see if he liked it. He asked for more garlic, so I added some garlic powder and a tbsp of tarragon, thyme and rosemary. (random herbs, yes, its what I have around and it produces a nice flavor). Then, I ladled it into pint jars, leaving 1/2" head space, added lids and rings and put them in a boiling water bath for 25 minutes. I came up with 25 minutes based on the Ball Blue Book on canning instructions for canning tomato sauce. I got about 3 pints of sauce, and about 1 cup left over.

I added a can of tomato paste and a tbsp or two of water to the one cup of sauce and made pizza. It was pretty good. I think I'll plan to get 2 pizzas out each pint, but using half of this sauce and a can of tomato paste. Thicker is nicer when it comes to pizza, I think, I know Hubby likes it that way. (The white-ish specks are the garlic powder granules.)

Next time, I'll use 3 times as many tomatoes; I'll fill the 8 quart stock pot with tomatoes. I'll use 4 onions (maybe 5), and 8 or 9 good sized peppers -- perhaps a 1:3 ratio of spicy:sweet (that would be... calculating... 2 spicy peppers and 6 sweet peppers. A whole bulb of garlic for sure will be used. I think I'll use the food processor to blend the onions, peppers and garlic together before adding it to the tomatoes (easier than chopping, and fewer tears). I will try to be more patient when reducing the pureed and strained sauce to get it thicker.

Anyhoo, I hope to have a much, much larger harvest of tomatoes this fall. Hopefully, I'll have used these 3 pints (won't be hard), and will have a better idea of what I like and don't like in the flavor.

I also finally finished the summer dress I was working on. Putting in button holes and sewing on buttons was the hardest part, but its done. I did make the button holes too small, and had to cut them bigger. Oh, well, I don't need to unbutton it to get it on or off, so I could just stitch the seem closed if needed.
See those tan lines??? I worked hard for those! Those are swimming lesson lines, hard earned in the hot Texas sun. Don't worry, I've been wearing long sleeves and long pants in the garden, trying not to get too much darker.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

My struggles with Standards Based Grading

I love the idea of Standards Based Grading (SBG). I love the look of the implementation, what it will do for me, and what it will do for my students. But some of it is daunting, much of that is related to the creation of assessments and defining the standards. That requires making decisions. I'm not a good decision maker.

I've been working from Always Formative, Think Thank Thunk, and MeTA Musings trying to learn about SBG and think through how my classes will work. I've worked up several topics for each class and creating the topic scales, but creating assessments is a bit more daunting. I think once I get going, I'll be able to create the questions I need, but I'm not good at this sort of thing. I need to see something, an example, to get me going.

At this point, I feel rather overwhelmed. I know, in my head, it will get worked out. Right now, I want to work on it, but I'd rather work on other stuff. Ah, well, there will be time come August (that's when pre-school inservice starts).

Friday, July 02, 2010

Food production and preservation (and related topics)

Life has been fun this past week. Less than one day after posting about the June 9 rain, it started raining again. Its been slower this time, in the past 18 hours, we've gotten about an inch. Nonetheless, it has cooled everything off quite a bit, and provided a great deal of free water. In addition to the original rain barrel we put out, I added 3 "homer buckets", which filled in the first couple of hours. Just now, I added 3 more plastic containers that are now filling nicely.

The original bucket and a plastic container, positioned to also catch some of the overflow out of the original rain barrel.

A full "homer" bucket on the front stoop.

The second "homer" bucket and the second of three plastic containers.

The third and last plastic container and the third "homer" bucket (full of water).

Forecast says to expect rain for several more days, so it shouldn't be a problem filling these three new plastic containers.

The compost is coming along very nicely. I'm planning to start some seeds this weekend, so I'll start sifting out the fine stuff soon. I'm very excited... the first bin was filled again with fresh grass clippings yesterday (beating the rain by an hour at the most).

All is growing wonderfully in the garden. Any ideas as to what type of gourd this is? It came in a packets of "mixed gourd seed", and I've seen at least 3 types of gourds so far. I'm planning to dry them and maybe I can make some decorations out of them, or sell them for others make decorations for the fall. Hmmm....

I decided to make 1 big bed, instead of 4 small beds. After talking with a friend at school, I realized roto-tilling will be easier and I have more space for planting and I can mix up where I plant stuff more easily. Plus, its fewer cinder blocks! I've got the last nine to purchase and put out, which I think I can do once the rain stops.

The cayenne chili plant is producing prolifically, so I decided to hang and dry them. They are up in the garage, and I add 3 or 4 peppers every few days. Hubby loves spicy food, so its hard to have too many spicy peppers. I've got plans for 2 cayenne plants for the fall.

I've also tried my hand at canning again. The canning of huckleberries worked just fine, it was just that the huckleberry jam wasn't so good. This time, I went for canning salsa. I used the "Better Homes and Gardens" recipe, using more spicy peppers than called for (and fewer sweet peppers). So far, its been a hit with both Hubby and I. I just hope 5 pints will last till the next tomato harvest.

I'm making pizza sauce today, with plans to can it. I'll dedicate a post to that process, when I know the final results. I'm all about figuring it out myself, so I should wait till its all done to know if it was successful or not.

Gosh, rainy days are nice.