March 31, 2011

Organization Week: Where I Store Things

Today at Mrs. Patton's Patch is "Where Should I Store Things?!?!?!" week (punctuation added by me :).  I must confess that last year I was of the "Put the $&*^ in any open cabinet, close the doors, and run away" camp, mostly because a) I was pretty much a hot mess teacher all year and had no energy left to organize, and b) I had no idea WHERE anything should go!!!
Thankfully I finally have a few systems worked out for all of the crazy amounts of STUFF in the room!  Here are our shared supply shelves:
I keep little tool boxes with extra crayons, colored pencils, markers, pens, etc. here.  On top are lined paper, white construction paper, and a tub of scrap paper (aka remains from Miss Teacher's many copy machine errors...)

This storage cart is in the front of the room under our board.  The top drawer has our dry erase boards, expo markers, and "erasers" (aka squares of fleece).  The other two drawers have our glue, scissors, and rulers.  I like to keep them communal, but it's always a fight!  My 5th graders are always trying to sneak them back into their year I might just give in and let them keep it all...Why fight it, honestly?  

Other supplies are kept in my storage closet.  These were very messy and disogranized until recently when I started putting everything in bins.  I don't have bins for my units or anything (in 5th grade a file folder will usually do!!  We aren't as cutesy as primary!!),  but these bins are for my cleaning supplies, party supplies, craft supplies, and all of the extra notebooks and folders I have.  I also keep my extra name tags, etc. in here so they're handy when I get one of our (frequent) move-ins.

That's about it for storage, but I HAVE to share with you my all-time favorite teacher store purchase.  I bought these magnetic pockets from Lakeshore before I started teaching and am obsessed with them.  The kids turn in everything to these babies.  I stick them along the bottom of the board every morning under my Morning Message and write on the board above each pocket what should be turned into it.  Result?  Neatly sorted homework!  Then, throughout the day I will put up a pocket for things to be turned into.  It's also nice to be able to just grab one off the board and throw it in my bag to take home and grade.  I would recommend these 100%.

March 30, 2011

Wednesday Little Happys

Three random things so far this week that made me smile:

Monday morning (first day post spring break) one of my girls came in before the bell to say hi.  She likes to come in a little early every day to unpack and help me.  When I said good morning, she smiled and said, "I forgot what your voice sounded like!"

Yesterday I read this post in one of the kiddos' journals in response to the prompt, "What is something you think is unfair?":

Love when they "think deep" in their journals.  :)  Love kids. 

By far the most amusing....this afternoon I was picking up the 5th grader I tutor and had his 1st grade brother in tow.  Walking towards my car, 1st grader asked, "Did your car cost 13 dollars and 1 cent?" :-D  It seems he had noticed my 13.1 magnet for the first time!  Loved this.

And now, after quite possibly the most horrifically painful foam rolling session of my entire life (Damn you, IT bands...), with 50% of my legs coated in biofreeze (which btw is making me really freaking cold!!!), I am off to bed...Goodnight!

March 29, 2011

Organization Week Day 2: Literacy (aka Daily 3 Bootcamp)

Yesterday's organization linky party from Mrs. Patton's Patch was on literacy centers.
As yesterday was a crazy day (make that Crazy with a capital C!) as Mondays tend to be, I'm a day late.  :)  Actually, I'm a day late and a little off topic, since I don't use literacy centers in my classroom.  Centers just DON'T work for me and my kiddos.  I use the Daily 3, an adapted version of the Daily 5.  My Daily 3 are Read to Self, Work on Writing, and Word Work.  Since I am required to use a basal reading series (McGraw Hill Treasures), my Daily 3 is pretty different than the Daily 5 model presented in the Sisters' book, but the essence is still there! :)

After Shared Reading, we usually get to two Daily 3 rotations a day (3 if we're really flying!!).  During these rotations, I am always meeting with guided reading groups.  Because I teach the "big kiddos," I ask them to plan out their weeks on Monday morning.  I give each kid a literacy packet (don't cringe when I say packet, it's not busy work, I promise!!) that has their graphic organizer, vocabulary words, and comprehension questions for our weekly shared and guided reading.  On the front cover is a blank schedule that says when they will meet with me.  The kids then fill in which Daily 3 choice they plan to do when they are not meeting with me:

I also keep a visual schedule of who I'm meeting with when on the board:
(BTW, the kids choose their own group names, in case you were wondering how I came up with some of these gems!)

Now, for the Daily 3 choices.  Here are our anchor charts:
We made these as a class the first weeks of school when we were modeling, practicing, and implementing each of the Daily 3.  Now, I refer back to them when we need a little bit of re-teaching, which is fairly often. :)

Read to Self: The essence of the Daily 3 and literacy instruction. :)  For Read to Self, the kids read.  Plain and simple.  They bring their book box to a quiet spot in the room (I have pillows, bean bags, etc.) and read.

Work on Writing: For WoW (as the kiddos like to call it), most often the kids choose a piece from their Writing Workshop notebook/folder to work on.  Some will draft, some will revise/edit, others will grab construction paper or a laptop and publish.  It's very unstructured and I don't monitor it carefully, but it WORKS because I have a successful Writing Workshop foundation in the classroom.  Last year, it was like pulling teeth to get the kids to write during Daily 3.  This year, because we have spent so much time developing Writing Workshop, the kids not only know what it looks like to sit down and write, but they have pieces in progress at all times.  We store writing folders and notebooks in bins (by team) on top of our computer cart:
I am currently using notebooks and 4-pocket folders, but am considering switching to looseleaf binders next year...thoughts from anyone who does Writing Workshop?

Word Work: Okay, I JUST revamped my Word Work program TODAY.  (While I know most primary teachers use WW to focus on spelling, I focus on vocabulary during this time.  Spelling is important, but I think a rich vocabulary needs more of a focus in intermediate grades.)  Up until now, I was using vocabulary sentences for my main Word Work activity, plus some fun extras once those were finished.  You guys, it was awful.  It was like pulling teeth to get them done every week, plus I HATED grading them!  I had an epiphany in the past few weeks: my WW was tanking because I had failed to include the most crucial element of Daily 5--CHOICE!!!  So, my fabulous Lit Specialist and I brainstormed some new vocabulary activities.  Now, every week the kids will have to choose one activity from the Word Work board:
All of the handouts and instructions, as well as lists of our vocabulary words, are stored in the hanging files below:

Most of the new activities are things like graphic organizers that ask for parts of speech, sentence, picture, etc.  I also have options for writing a story using vocabulary words, illustrating the words with a sentence, sorting the words into categories, etc.  I'm hoping that these work better because of the choice factor.  I'll let you know how they go in the next few weeks!

Last but not least, here's how I display our vocab words.  We don't have a word wall, but I hang the 8 vocab words from Treasures in the blue pocket chart.  The red pocket chart has 6 social studies words + 2 "real world" words (based on current events).

 So, that's how we stay organized for literacy and run Daily 3 in my room!  Phew!

March 28, 2011

I Love GOTR!

I first heard about Girls on the Run years ago, I think in a magazine article I was reading at the doctor's office.  As soon as I read the part in the article about how the girls run a 5K wearing tiaras, I was convinced that this program was something fabulous.  Earlier this school year, I started learning more about this remarkable organization, and the more I learned, the more I knew I HAD to be a part of it.  When I volunteered at the Fall 5K in November, I was hooked.  From the tiaras to the face point to the grins on the girls' faces as they ran past the spot I was cheering at (around mile 3), hand in hand with dads or moms or loved ones, digging deep and racing to the finish, I loved it all.

In the past few weeks, I've been lucky enough to have the opportunity to volunteer as a coach at a nearby site.  (I plan to start a site at my school next year, but for now I'm just happy to be coaching!)  I have to say that coaching GOTR has not fallen at all short of my expectations.  There are many things I love about Girls on the Run, but here are some of my favorites...

ONE: Healthy Body Image & Self-Esteem
The Girls on the Run curriculum is SATURATED with activities and lessons that focus on building the girls' self-esteem.  For example, last week we wrote down negative self-talk comments we say to ourselves on index cards (ex. "I'm a bad runner) and positive self-talk comments (ex. I love my sense of humor!).  Then, the girls DRAMATICALLY read their negative comments aloud before "feeding" them to No-Nonsense Nelly (aka a shoe box with a monster face on it).  We all cheered when they fed the negative comments to the monster!  Later, during the running workout, every time the girls passed a coach, they were given a card with one of the positive comments on it to hold/read during their lap.  While running with the girls, I have to say that even I loved getting a card that said something like "I'm a great runner!" to hold during my lap!  GOTR is about so. much. more than running, and in a world where girls are fed so many horrible messages about what they should or shouldn't look like, be like, or act like, any program that celebrates them for who they are is important.

This is the message engraves on the back of the GOTR 5K medals, and it touches my heart when I read it.  What a great message for girls (or anyone) to grow up hearing.

TWO: Active Kids
I'm pretty uncoordinated.  Like pathetically uncoordinated.  So, as a child, I never got involved in sports.  They just weren't fun for me because I was so terrible.  After awhile, I placed myself in a neat little box of "non-athletes," and it was only in the past few years that I realized that being uncoordinated does NOT mean that I can't be an athlete.  Girls on the Run not only gets kids UP and MOVING AROUND, but it reminds the girls in the program that they can be athletes, no matter how fast or slow they are.  GOTR is NOT about competition, it's about getting moving and having fun.  The program makes fitness and being active fun.  The workouts always have a fun, energetic twist, and girls are always encouraged to walk if they feel like it (or skip, dance, twirl, you name it!). It's a unique way to "grab" girls who otherwise may not be interested in sports, and show them that being active is FUN!

THREE: Going for it!

While I started running at the end of high school, it took me until last summer to run my first 5K.  Why?  Because I was worried I'd have to walk during the 3 miles and that I would be the slowest one.  Seriously.  If I've learned anything in the past year, it's that running and fitness is about celebrating your body for what it can do.  Races are a chance for me to celebrate my training and experience the community of running with other people who are doing the same thing.  And yes, I walk.  A lot.  I NEVER would have dared to run a 5K as a child.  No one ever told me that running could be FUN and that it's about trying your best and reaching for your dreams.  In fact, I just remember hating running in PE class.  GOTR has a different message: it teaches girls that they CAN achieve big things and helps them set big goals.  Many of the girls can barely run a mile at the beginning of the program, but they all make it to the 5K at the end.  Some will walk most of it, others will fly through--and it's all okay.  GOTR teaches girls that it's okay to believe in yourself!

I can't wait for the Spring 5K in June--let's hope my legs are in good shape and I can run with them!

March 27, 2011

Daily Materials Organization

As you may have noticed, I have had organization on the brain these days!!!  So, you can imagine my delight when I saw that Mrs. Patton over at Patton's Patch was having a week-long linky party all about organization!
*silent cheer*  
(Side note: When I was nearing the end of my long and painful drive yesterday, I literally let go of the wheel and gave a silent cheer when I made it to the McDonalds that marked 1 hr left and my Shamrock Shake treat.  In that moment I realized that I am THAT TEACHER who never turns off the classroom habits. I was glad that no one was in the car to witness and ridicule.)

Today's theme is Daily Materials Organization, aka how I manage to teach without spending 15 minutes at the start of every lesson hunting down transparencies and handouts... (Actually, let's be real.  Even with an organization system, I still have to do that sometimes...)

Here's how I keep my materials organized:
Thursdays are my big copy extravaganza day...I try to get the bulk of my copies done for the entire next week, although of course things still come up at the last minute, resulting in me scrambling to the copier throughout the week anyways!  But getting at least most of my things copied Thursday afternoons keeps me at least mostly sane and organized!  Then, I paper clip everything together (along with the transparency if that particular handout has one) and slide the piles into the slot for that day.  I also have the "Next Week" slot at the bottom, which is crucial.  If I don't get to something on a particular day, it gets refiled in a different slot.

Since I teach 5th grade, the smallish slots in this shelvy thing work fine--far less materials each day; mostly handouts, transparencies, and occassionally picture books.  If I am doing a science lab or something that requires more materials, I will gather them all in a bin and slide it under my desk until we are ready for it.  Counter space is rare in my classroom!!

Another tool I use to keep the Pile Monster away from my desk is this little 3 slot magazine file that I was lucky enough to stumble across...
 Before I got this little guy, I typically had huge disorganized piles all over.  I'll admit that I am a lazy filer, but at least this way everything stays neat and tidy until I actually file it where it belongs!  After I make my Thursday Copies, I stick an original of everything in the "File" bin.

Sometimes I make copies WAY in advance, like with EDM Study Links or my ISAT practice tests.  I'm still looking for a system for these babies, since I don't want to lose a whole file drawer keeping them there.  Right now, I stick them in baskets in one of my storage closets, but I'm not a big fan of this system...Suggestions?  Ideas?

Bye, Spring Break... :(

Well, I survived the two 4 hour drives through corn and nothingness and enjoyed a wonderful visit with a wonderful friend--actually, my OLDEST friend, not in age, but in length of time!  We met as babies. :)

The wonderful scenery aka boring farmland on the drive...
One of many small town sign gems that kept me amused...seriously, there were so many things I wanted to take pictures of, but couldn't get my phone out in time...

It was fun being with my friend at school and gave me a little flashback to college days.  We enjoyed watching hours of Friends on dvd and reciting the lines, shopping, and going out dancing.  In true college form, we didn't go out until after 11pm. (!!!)  This is usually my bed time... We had a great time, although after that I am exhausted!

On the drive home, I stopped for one of these...
Mmmmm.  Shamrock Shakes...It made the last hour *ALMOST* bearable!  

Unfortunately today is the LAST day of spring break, and I am not too excited to go back to school...especially since I really have nothing planned for the week!  Oops!  Time to head to Starbucks with my manuals and computer... :-/ Maybe after a short nap...

PS: I realized yesterday that there are only a little over TWO MONTHS of school left!  WHAT?!?  Oh my goodness, that's nowhere near enough time to squeeze in everything I was hoping to teach...but at the same time, summer cannot come soon enough. :)

March 24, 2011

Three Things Thursday

OR I am a lazy bum.

Seriously, my body is in for a rude awakening when I have to go back to school on Monday.  This has been the laziest week ever.  Today I actually attempted to be productive and ended up falling asleep mid-grading.  Sad, but very true.  Anyways...

I am driving out to "the country" aka non-suburbs tomorrow to visit one of my besties at grad school.  While I am dreading the (corn field filled) drive, I am looking so forward to seeing her.  One of the saddest parts about getting older is the distance it puts between you and the people you grew up with.  I am so lucky to have so many people from my childhood and teens still in my life.
Me & L
I have the tendancy to get a little bit sleeeepy on drives over an hour (this drive is 4...), so I'm in the middle of making a playlist to hopefully keep me awake.  I realized I have the tendency to put the same songs on pretty much every playlist.  This one is a mix of what I'm currently loving plus some old favorites.  Ex. My Girl is on almost every playlist I have.  It's probably my all time favorite song. :)
Taken out of my car window on a drive there a few years ago...picture this x 4 hours...

I'm realizing that Spring Break is almost over and my big plans to "be productive" and get "ahead of the game" have failed miserably.  In terms of planning, I've only gotten as far as checking out some picture books on the American Revolution from the library and glanced at my math manual...oops.  That's what Sunday's for, I guess?  Oh well. :)  It was a necessary break!

PS: Make sure you stop by the fabulous Fit Crafty English Teacher's blog--she's giving away some pretty sweet stuff!

PPS: In the midst of my grading procrastination, I decided to make a 30 before 30 list this week.  Take a look! :) What are some of the things on your "bucket list"?

March 23, 2011

Classroom Organization: Take 2

As you may have noticed, I have been obsessed (to put it mildly) with getting my classroom organized.  So, when I found out school would be open this week, of course I had to go in.  Uninterrupted, quiet, kid-free time to get my room in order?  I'll take it!

Let me introduce you to my new friend and ally in the battle for the organized classroom...My Labelmaker:
Be still my heart...
I know, he's beautiful, isn't he?  I'm in love.  The rational part of my brain has managed to convince the psychotic obsessive part of my brain that I do NOT need to label every single thing in the classroom.  Thankfully, Rational Brain HAS allowed me to do some pretty awesome labeling damage.  Observe Exhibit A, my beautifully labeled binders of literacy transparencies and originals:

Do you keep your papers in files or binders?  I keep all of my math and literacy units in binders because it's easier to keep everythign in order, but everything else goes in files.

My other organization LOVE of late has been these amazing bins from IKEA.  I searched high and low on the website to link them to this post, but couldn't find them.  Odds are they're there and just called something silly and amazing like a fraya or preuge...I love IKEA.  Anyways, these bins are deep, fairly sturdy, and (drumroll) only $1.99!  I've already made a second trip back for a bunch more, and used them all up today.  They are helping me immensely get my messy cabinets under control.  Once they all have their own labels, I will truly be in heaven:
 Misc. supplies that heretofore had been shoved in any open space now have their own homes!

4 more also solved my problem of messy text books.  Our literacy texts (which are all numbered on the spine) are now organized into bins.  It's WAY easier to get 10 year olds to put text books neatly in a bin with 5 other books than to hope that they can manage to get all 25 neatly in order in a cabinet.  I have the bins in the front of the room under the white board for now, and as long as I don't trip over them when I'm teaching, I think they'll stay there.  Gotta maximize every available space, am I right?!

Because I am on the never-ending quest to cram more literacy into my day, I decided to make two new little independent literacy activities: Word Watchers and Book Recommendations.  Vocabulary and Word Work is an area that I have definitely been brainstorming ideas for improvement lately.  I decided that encouraging kids to be on the lookout for words would be a good, easy addition to what I'm already doing.  Enter Word Watcher.  In the pocket on the left are little slips that ask students to write down the word, where they saw/heard it, and what it means.  Then, they will put the slip in the empty (for now) pocket on the right.  I'm not sure what I'll do with them, but I'm thinking a raffle--I'm planning on asking the kids what they think a good reward for being a Word Watcher would be.

Also new to Miss Teacher's classroom are Book Recommendations.  I recently read some research on best practices in literacy that said teachers should give kids real life opportunities to talk about books, just like adults read and share and discuss books.  Adults rarely do dioramas or mobiles when they finish books!  Instead, we like to tell our friends about them or discuss them with someone we know!  Taking this into consideration, I've been talking to the kids lately about my own book club and how my friends and I love to share books with each other.  I think that one crucial element of good quality literacy instruction is modeling what it really looks like to BE A READER, and to me, this example is part of it.  So, today I made book recommendation slips that ask kids to record the book they enjoyed, who they would recommend it to, and why they think that person/group of people would like it.  For now I'm going to have them just stick the slips in the pocket, but my plan is to have a recommendation time maybe once a week where we share them.

BTW my idea for making the pockets like this comes from the fabulous Ladybug Teacher who uses laminated construction paper for pockets for her exit slips and things.  (I STRIVE to be as organized as she is!!)  It always looks fabulous on her blog, so I thought I'd try it!  Success!  (And I jump at any opportunity to laminate...)  One more organization idea I'd like to pass on is this beautiful To Do List printable I got from another fabulously organized teacher, Persnickety Pickles.  How cute is this??  I think my world would collapse without my To Do Lists.  I usually make them in a notebook, but I loved the spaces on this form for meetings and reminders for the week.  Thanks, Pickles!
Of course, while I was at school I just HAD to restock my snack drawer (aka the most important part of my room!).  Since I pretty much live in my classroom and since I have the metabolism of a 15 year old boy, a snack drawer is crucial.  Currently in the drawer: Oh My Omega trailmix from Trader Joe's, chocolate covered edamame and chocolate covered espresso beans (YES!  Both of my addictions in one convenient snack!) also from TJ's, variety of Kashi TLC crackers, brand new jar of sunflower butter (YUM!), and nutrigrain bars leftover from ISAT testing...not as appetizing as the rest of the goodies!  I also have a little fridge in the room with yogut, cheese sticks, and chocolate milk boxes.  Wow, after listing all of that out, it seems like a completely ridiculous amount of food!  But I like to have a mid-morning snack, plus a little something right after school, so it works. :)  Do you have a snack drawer?  What are your MUST HAVES?
I'm glad I went in today, but I still have gotten nowhere on the grading pile...if there's one part of my job I HATE it's grading.  Anyone want to do it for me?  Please?  Pretty please???

As always, if you are interested in my Word Watcher Slips or Book Recommendation Slips, I would be happy to send them to you!  Email me at juiceboxesandcrayolas AT gmail DOT com
(One of these days I'll get my you know what together and hop on the google docs band wagon...)

Manicures > Grading Papers

This makes me want to CRY
Happy Wednesday :)  Wednesdays are normally my LOOONGEST day: school, staff development, tutoring, Girls on the Run...oh my!!  So it was wonderful today to enjoy a quieter (albeit productive) Wednesday, complete with a nap.  Have I mentioned that I love spring break?  I'm so glad I decided to stay home this year and just relax...although I REALLY should start working on this pile o' grading I lugged home with me...

Ahh, that's better!
Yesterday I was majorly bumming out about my sore IT Band and in general feeling sorry for myself.  Sorry about that--I'm the youngest child and the only girl in my family.  Wallowing happens.  So does whining.  I'm better now. :)  What perked me up?  Why, mani/pedis with fabulous Miss R of course!  (Check out her new blog, The Wanna Be!)  We even kept teacher-talk to a minimum and enjoyed sharing silly stories from back in the day before we were friends.  When you get together with other teachers, do you find yourself CONSTANTLY talking about school??  As much as I wish I didn't, it's what ALWAYS seems to happen!!

Okay guys, work your magic!!
As far as the IT band goes, I picked up some supplements last night that another fabulous friend and marathoner extraordinaire recommended to me: Cal-Mag-Zinc and Iron.  Combine those and my good old friends Advil and Biofreeze, plus my buddies ice pack and foam roller, and hopefully I will be good as new in a few weeks!!  Do you take any supplements that you LOVE?

BTW, in case you were wondering, I gave the vegetarian thing a lot of thought the past two days since my post on the subject and decided that for now I am going to stop eating gelatin.  That means buh bye gummy vitamins... :(  I am going to continue eating cheese and dairy, although when I am grocery shopping I am planning to read labels more often and NOT buy cheese that lists rennet as an ingredient.  I will also try buying more vegan friendly cheeses and soy dairy products at the grocery store, but will not be eliminating dairy from my diet.  I figure if I buy less dairy, though, even if I still eat it from time to time when I'm out, I'm still making a difference.  Like I said before, there are no rules to being a vegetarian--just what feels good for YOU! :)

March 22, 2011

IT Band Woes

You guys, I am getting a little a lot frustrated by this injury nonsense.  I gave my leg about 10 days of rest after my IT band was bothering me last Friday (it flared up for the first time right about at mile 7 of the Princess Half Marathon...great timing!), but decided to give running a shot today.  I kept it really slow and easy, running just a minute at a time.  But still, after a mile, it was too much pain.  I just tried to do some foam rolling and totally gave up after 5 minutes because it was SO SO SO PAINFUL!  (I am a baby when it comes to pain, btw)

Okay, instead of wallowing in self-pity, here is my attempt to think positive:

  • At least it's not another stress fracture/bone injury.  With the sfx, there was really nothing I could do except rest.  And rest.  And rest.  It still took forever to heal.  A muscle injury is much more likely to respond to rest + other treatments, like foam rolling and stretching.
  • Maybe this is an excuse to go get another massage?  I have to admit, I got quite used to the life of luxury (aka 1 massage a week) I was living during half-marathon training to work on my knotty calf muscles.
  • Hey, at least the calf muscles seem to be better!  (Although I'd almost rather be continuing to deal with the same issue than having a new injury every few weeks or so... :-/)
  • No important races coming up  (I do have a few 5 & 10Ks, but I would definitely rather back out of those and heal so I can be all good to go when it's time to start training for the Rock & Roll Half-Marathon than run them and make the injury worse...)
  • This happened after (well, during) Disney...I definitely would be way more upset if this had caused me to miss that race!
Plan: I might as well bite the bullet and call the doctor.  Idk what your experience is with seeing the doc for running injuries, but it's such a pain to have to go see my primary care doctor (who is not the most knowledgeable in sports med) and deal with a referral process...Especially since I am 99% sure he will tell me to rest and ice and come back in 4 weeks.  Although, now that I think of it, he was right on the money last August when I saw him complaining of "shin splints"--he thought of stress fracture right away!  But unfortunately ruled it out when I had a clean x-ray...silly me, not knowing at the time that stress fractures almost never show up on conventional x-rays.    Anyways, what harm would it do to see him again?  Maybe I can end up with a physical therapy referral or something...

Until then, I guess I'm going to keep on RICE-ing and for goodness sakes suck it up and just deal with the foam rolling pain...Oh, and start taking some good muscle supplements.  Please send healing vibes my way, if for no reason other than you are SICK of hearing about my injury after injury after injury...

March 21, 2011

On being a vegetarian

or Isn't it about time for my next existential crisis?
or Spring Break = I have too much time on my hands...

This post is not about any of my usual blogging topics.  That is, it's not about running, reading, or teaching.  But it is about what's been on my mind today, so I'm putting out there.  Thanks for indulging me.  :)

Choosing to be a vegetarian came easily for me.  While I allowed myself a few months of adjustment to slowly lose the meat from my diet, once I hit the date I'd set to truly quit eating animal proteins, I never looked back. While I do have the occassional craving for sushi or chicken nuggets that can usually be satisfied by the fake stuff, I have never missed the meat in my diet or considered changing my mind.  I don't talk much about being a vegetarian because I worry about coming off as pretentious or condescending, when my choice is really just that: a choice for my own lifestyle that I don't think is better or worse than anyone else's.

Let me backtrack a little bit.  I've never been much of a meat eater, but my reluctance to eat red meat was always more of a health choice than anything else.  It wasn't until midway through college when I started considering the ethical side of eating (or choosing not to eat) meat.  I hadn't given it much thought before, but once I started to really think about what I was eating and where it comes from, I knew I had to make a change.  So, in August 2007 I ate my last california roll and said goodbye to meat and fish.  It was surprisingly easy, and while I do have occassional comfort food cravings, it has never been a choice I've regretted, and rarely one I think about.  Choosing to eat a vegetarian diet has just become a natural part of my life and, with that, a part of who I am.

I am a vegetarian because it makes me uncomfortable to consume animal meat when, in the United States, they are more often than not raised in an inhumane and abusive manner.  It pains me to think about the factory farms and genetic engineering that happens to bring chicken and beef to our tables, and while I can't change that in the grand scheme, I see choosing not to eat meat as doing my small part.

The greatness of a nation and its moral progress
can be judged by the way its animals are reared.
Mahatma Gandhi

Let me be clear: this is the right choice for me, but in NO WAY am I writing this because I feel that everyone should be a vegetarian.  That is not my judgment to pass, and just as I expect people to respect my choices, I would never dream of thinking negatively of those who disagree with me.

While I said I don't put a lot of thought into eating vegetarian (actually, I don't put a lot of thought into eating...I'm the laziest eater, worst cook, and biggest "grazer" you'll ever meet), I have been thinking a lot about it the past few days.  It started when I read a post on vegetarian "gray areas" on Healthy Tipping Point and reread a post on No Meat Athlete about non-meat foods that contain animal byproducts. Enter my "existential crisis" (or some less dramatic label).

I am not a vegan.  I consume dairy and eggs, as well as honey.  While I have an intense admiration for those that live a vegan lifestyle, I have never really considered doing so.  But lately, I've been wondering if I "should" be doing more as a vegetarian.  Let me clarify: when I say "should," I don't mean to insinuate that any vegetarian "should" be doing anything in particular--being a vegetarian is a very personal thing, and while there is very little black and white, there is a whole lotta gray.  I do what works for me, and strongly encourage all vegetarians and all people to create their own diet rules based on what works for their health and lifestyle.  That being said, since there is no "rule book" (other than the generally accepted "no food with a face" rule), it makes sense that there will be gray areas that every vegetarian must explore his or herself.

Up until now, I have had no reservations about consuming non-flesh animal products like eggs and dairy.  While I prefer cage-free eggs and organic dairy, sometimes a girl on a budget's gotta do what a girl's gotta do.    I've always said that I do the best I can, and that this is what works for me at this point in my life.  Today, though, I'm wondering about taking another step.  No, not vegan, don't worry Family. :)  I am wondering about the gelatin and the rennet I consume regularly.  To offer a little background, gelatin is derived mainly from animal skin, bones, and tissues (source: wikipedia [I know, what a crappy source.  *hangs head in shame*]), while rennet comes from the enzymes in animal stomachs, primarily calves as far as I've read (source: wikipedia again...).  I don't consume an EXTREME amount of gelatin, but I definitely do eat it fairly regularly, being a gummy lover...I even take gummy vitamins to tell you the truth.

Then there's rennet, which I haven't really given much thought to before now.  After doing some research, I've learned that it's not in all cheeses, but if I'm not mistaken, there are enzymes in all or almost all cheeses, not all of these being animal based.  But it gets sketchy until you start really doing research: there is no stream-lined labeling method for cheeses.  When I checked the labels of the cheese that's in my fridge, all of them just listed "enzymes" as an ingredient, but didn't specify if these enzymes are animal or plant-derived.

Short of being an obsessive researcher or eliminating cheese from my diet altogether (which I really can't do and still stay healthy at this point, as it is one of my main sources of calcium and protein...), it doesn't look like the enzyme issue is going to be resolved for me right now.  Maybe someday.  But I know that there are some small steps I can take to make my lifestyle more animal-friendly, like checking labels for gelatin (yes, that means buying real grownup non-gummy vitamins...*tear*) and for goodness sake buying less leather purses or shoes--I'm not a big leather person, but I definitely own leather...

Anyways, those are my thoughts for the moment.  And I give myself full permission to change my mind at any moment, because being a vegetarian is about what is right for me right now.  Just like what's right for me might not be right for you, I am allowed to change my "gray area" rules at any time.  I don't know how many veggie readers I have--I doubt very many--but if you are one, I would love to hear about what your "comfort zone" is as a vegetarian and why you choose to live there.

What we eat is within our control, yet the act ties us to the economic, political, and ecological order of the whole planet.  Even an apparently small change--consciously choosing a diet that is good for both our bodies and for the earth--can lead to a series of choices that transform our whole lives.
Frances Moore Lappe, Diet for a Small Planet

NOTE:  While I included a PETA image, I do NOT agree with the way PETA chooses to voice their message.  In fact, more often than not I think PETA gives vegetarians a bad name.  I just think that logo is really cute.  Also, the Veggie Tales picture has nothing to do with this post, but how could I NOT include a picture of Bob and Larry when talking about vegetables?!

March 20, 2011

I Scream, You Scream!!

We wrapped up our study of Matter this week in science, and I must say that I loved teaching this unit.  My kiddos tend to have pretty bleak background knowledge when it comes to science and social studies.  Unfortunately I think this is the truth in more schools than not, especially in lower income schools, thanks to NCLB and our test mania focus on reading and math.  Anyways, it can be frustrating to teach a unit in science when our text book expects so much background knowledge and is written at a very high level.  I decided to pick and choose my text readings based on what the kids most needed to know to understand matter and to supplement with as many labs, demos, and hands-on activities as possible.

When I remembered making ice cream in a bag in my Methods of Teaching Science course in college, I knew I had to make time for this activity.  Have you done this activity before?  Basically, the kids combine milk, sugar, and vanilla in a quart-sized ziplock bag.  Then, they combine salt and ice in a gallon-sized bag before sealing the smaller bag inside the larger one.  10 minutes of shaking later, ice cream!!  I loved doing this activity because not only is it super fun and relatively easy to execute (although prepping and clean-up are a PAIN, as is often the case for science labs), but it gives kids a great opportunity to cause a phase change to happen (liquid --> solid).  We had a great discussion about how the cold from the ice slows the molecules down in the milk liquid, freezing it into a solid.  And YUM!  It actually makes some tasty ice cream!

My kiddos may not be science experts after this unit, but they definitely have a better understanding of solids, liquids, and gases, their properties, and what causes the phase changes between them.  All in all, a success!  Wish I could post the cute pictures, but they all have faces. :(  If you are interested in trying this lab, I'd be happy to send it to you:  email me at juiceboxesandcrayolas AT gmail DOT com

March 19, 2011

Book Review: Shiver

Today is my first official day of Spring Break.  Cue happy dance music.  We made it.

I decided to celebrate by staying up late last night reading with a glass of wine, then staying in my pajamas until 4 (!!!), continuing to read until I finished my book.  Which book consumed my Saturday this time?  Today it was Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater.  I'll admit, this book did not initially grab me.  In fact, I started and abandoned it two or three times in the past few months.  Even so, after one of the book club girls recently finished the book and insisted that it got really good, I gave it another chance this weekend.  And, in true Miss Teacher form, I fell for this book.  When I get "into" a book, it tends to consume me...remember what happened with Twilight???  Thankfully, this captivating book came at exactly the right time and was a great escapist start to my spring break.

I'm almost embarrassed to admit to those of you who are unfamiliar with this title that Shiver is a teen werewolf romance novel... In fact, it's another semi-personality-devoid heroine falls in love with supernatural creature, chaos ensues story.  Additionally, in true Edward-Bella-Jacob fashion, the love of the two protagonists in Shiver is not only intense and all-consuming, but IMMEDIATE.  Sound familiar?  I KNOW.  I know.  Never in my life did I think I would have enjoyed this book as much as I did.  But I really loved it.  I know what you're thinking...but please, indulge me for another moment here...

Shiver is the story of Grace, a seventeen year old high school student who has harbored an inexplicable obsession with the wolves in the woods behind her house ever since she was attacked by them as a child.  It is also the story of Sam, a brooding, dreamy eighteen year old with one complicating flaw: he changes into a werewolf each winter when the temperature begins to drop.  The chapters in this teen romance alternate between the voices of these two characters, describing their impossible love story that begins when, at age 11, Sam (as a wolf) saves Grace's life after she is mauled by other more vicious members of the pack.

After the attack, Grace watches the wolves (one in particular) for years until, after they begin to attract some negative publicity in the town of Mercy Falls, she finds her Sam, in human form, bleeding to death from a gunshot wound he sustained while a wolf.  From that moment on, Grace and Sam are inseparable.  (No seriously.  He moves into her bedroom.  Her parents are oblivious.  Again, sound familiar?)  The two begin a seemingly impossible battle to stay together in spite of  obstacles that pop up one after another.  (I did appreaciate the fact that, unlike Twilight, this book had a plot throughout, instead of about 400 pages of exposition and 100 pages of actual plot.)

All of the Twilight similarities aside, the story is definitely unique unto itself.  It's not the Bella-Edward-Jacob story retold; in fact, it's superior to Twilight in so many ways.  First of all, Stiefvater actually has a clue about writing whereas Meyer doe not.  Second, while the romance between Grace and Sam is, like Edward and Bella's, far more intense than any young adult literary romance probably should be (in my humble opinion, at least), Sam is NOT a creepy, controlling douchebag in the way that both Jacob and Edward tend to be (as much as I love them.  Read more of my thoughts on this topic here).  In fact, I am officially on Team Sam from now on.  (In the YA supernatural genre, at least.  None of them hold a candle to Peeta.  Hunger Games wins again.)

Grace and Sam captivated me and I found myself fighting on their side with every page, wishing that they could overcome the obstacles separating them and find some way to be together.  When I finished, I was crushed to find out that all copies of Linger (book 2 in the trilogy) were checked out at my public library.  I need to read it immediately!!  (Don't worry, one of the book club girls is meeting me Monday morning to give me her copy!  Phew!)  Shiver is not a perfect novel by any means, but I loved reading it, and would recommend it to any Twi-hard or YA fan who needs something light for a weekend read.

March 18, 2011

Like a Kid on Christmas

The book bins arrived!!!  The book bins arrived!!!
 Take in the beauty...

This week I've been in something of a spring cleaning frenzy...alphabetizing files, putting papers in binders, rearranging the clutter, cleaning out cabinets, you name it.  As I have been trying to make my classroom an oasis of organization, I simply decided that my kiddos' completely trashed cardboard book boxes simply wouldn't do any longer.  (Side note: I took a picture of the old completely destroyed book boxes for a dramatic "before" picture...but obv I dropped my camera after school and broke it.  Pictures to come once I can get them off the memory card!!!  And for those of you keeping track, I have now destroyed in my lifetime 3 cameras,  3 laptops, 1 mp3 player, and god knows what else... :-/)

I wrote Tuesday about how Mr. Principal let me order shiny new book bins for my kiddos from Really Good Stuff and was completely floored when they arrived at school this morning!!!  Opening them, I was like a kid on Christmas morning.  The only ones who could top my excitement were the kids!  I was THRILLED that they were as pumped as I was!  We trashed the old boxes (sending about 4 home with one kiddo for his gerbil!) and filled the new ones with some new book pics and the like.  The kids were overjoyed to be able to pick which color bin they got too.  It still kills me the things that get them so pumped!  Adorable.  Although the OCD part of me hates that the colors aren't in alternating order when they're all lined up on the shelf!!!  Oh well :)

Seriously, how amazing and pretty are these.  You can check them out here if you're interested in ordering some too!  BTW is it sad that I'm this excited about them?  Oh well!

Want to know more about how we use book boxes in my classroom?

After I read The Daily 5 (Boushey & Moser) last year, I decided to adopt book boxes for use during my literacy block.  I LOVE THEM.  Here's what we keep in them:

  • Reading folder with this week's literacy handouts (graphic organizers, response questions, vocab list)
  • Literacy journal for use during morning journal time
  • Reading Record Book (I lovingly created these booklets for the kiddos based off of Beth Newingham's reading notebooks.  They use them to record the books they read each month, set reading goals, and track genres read.)
  • And, last but not least, the books!!!  I have them keep 3-5 books in here at all times to read during Daily 3 and any other independent reading time.  
Here's why I love them:
  • Organization: Literacy handouts (almost) never get lost because they are never supposed to be kept in black holes desks.  Even students who are folder-phobic manage to keep those things in the book box.  Plus, being kept in here keeps the books in better condition.
  • Book Sharing: It's so easy for me to check what the kids are reading and share books when they're kept in the bins.  I can peek in them quickly when they're lined up on the shelf after school, and walk by dropping new books in kids' bins.  You don't need book boxes to share books, but it's fun helping the kids keep them stocked.  
  • No "I have nothing to read!": My take from The Daily 5 was that one of the most important features of the book box is that the kiddos are never without something to read.  If they are doing Read to Self during Daily 3, there is absolutely no time wasted hunting for a book in the desk or pondering titles in the class library.  Choose a book from the book box.  If you don't like it, reach in and grab one of your other books.  Immediately.  Done.  If we want kids to be reading as much as possible, there's no sense in wasting time!  Plus, some days you just feel like reading one book and other days a different one!  The book box lends naturally to choice.

Here's how we use them:

  • The students grab their book box right away in the morning, pull out their journal, and start their morning journal writing.  When they're done, they have a book to read right there.
  • The graphic organizer we use with our Shared Reading (immediately following Morning Work) is kept in the book box.  Kids pull out their shared reading materials and are ready to go!  No time wasted rummaging in desks.
  • When it's time for Daily 3, the kids carry their book box with them.  (Sometimes they need reminders to do this, but I have a feeling that they're going to want to carry the new bins everywhere they go--not just during Daily 3!)  Again, the idea behind this is that they will have everything they need, all the time.
  • After Literacy, the bins go back up on the shelf until the kids need a book again.
Do you use book boxes?  How do you help your kiddos stay organized?
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