Saturday, June 29, 2013

July Currently (aka holy cow it's almost July!)

I canNOT believe July is in two days. Where has my summer vacation gone?? I always feel like after the 4th, the summer is on its way out, even though technically summer the season just started last week. We go back Aug. 15, so after the 4th, I only have a month and some change left. Boo :(

I will try to do a content post this week. I had some work meetings last week for Common Core and have some stuff to share about that. I also really need to start planning for English III, which I haven't taught in awhile and am basically starting from scratch on :/

But first, I am linking up with Farley for my July currently.

1. Listening to: I am at Barnes & Noble on this rainy afternoon. Mmmm coffee!

2. This summer I have tried bringing my lunch up to a pretty walking trail that looks over the river as much as possible. It is so beautiful up there!

3. I can't believe it is almost July! So sad.

4. My parents are coming to visit and we're doing a cookout on the 4th and playing with some sparklers in the yard. Hoping for no rain and no 100ยบ weather!

5. The house is kind of a disaster but I can't find the motivation to clean it. Blargh.

6. We have so many mosquitos in our backyard and can't use anything toxic to stave them off because of the dog. The citronella candles and torches only do so much. I also swell up really badly when I get bit. I have found aloe vera lotion offers more itch relief than Calamine lotion. I've also heard good things about vinegar, though I'm a little hesitant to walk around smelling like vinegar!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Tried it Tuesday (, Wednesday): Trip Itinerary

Well, even though I'm a day late and a dollar short, I thought I'd still link up with Holly for Tried It Tuesday, because, why not?

By the way, I have recently gotten a bunch of new followers. So welcome! So glad you came by to check out the blog :)

I will admit that the project for this week's Tried It was a little indulgent on my part, but it still fit in with the curriculum of my English IV course. I looooove planning trips. I sometimes even plan trips I know I won't be taking for a very long while (like a trip back to Hawaii or to Italy). Even weekend getaways give me something to be giddy about and I love having something to look forward to.

Well my English IV class is a practical writing and communications class, but we also talk about other aspects of life after high school so they can go on to be responsible and knowledgeable citizens. At the beginning of the semester, I pass out a student interest survey. While there are some things I will cover regardless (resumes, cover letters, memos, etc.), I usually have a few weeks at the end of the semester where I can do a choice of a few projects I have up my sleeve that all tie in to the content. Three out of four semester I have taught this course, I did a sample trip itinerary project with them.

The majority of my students said they wanted to learn more about budgeting. I do talk some about budgeting in regards to the home, like utilities, groceries, etc. Our capstone project (which I should do a separate post on) actually has budgeting as a possible topic, and it usually always get chosen.

But another way to work in writing (which is key in this course), as well as problem-solving, decision-making, and budgeting skills is to have the students plan (either individually or in groups) a sample trip within a budget and stipulations I give them.

I require four written components of the project turned in:
1. A trip proposal: Where they are going, why they chose it, any foreseen problems this trip might produce, questions they have, etc.

2. An overall budget: how much will be allotted to transportation, lodging, food, activities, etc? I also prefer for them to look at flights/train schedules, etc. and put down some possible transportation and lodging specifics.

3.  A detailed, day by day trip itinerary with prices listed (yes, I do actually make them look up restaurants and excursions online to give accurate or, at least educated guesses on prices)

4. A project reflection: what costs surprised them most, what would they change if they actually took this trip, etc.

We spend at least 2 weeks working on this daily. Many students don't even know about sites like Travelocity, Trip Advisor, etc. I do give them stipulations. I give them the dates of travel (to correspond with a school break), the nights they have to be there and a budget (I do $1500). I do allow them to split hotel rooms with friends and travel with friends, but in their write-up, they must share a room with ONLY same-sex people :)

What I like about this project:
  • It's real-world application for my students, and most have never planned a trip before
  • They do a LOT of writing for it, so I'm not skimping on content at all. I still grade for organization, thoroughness, grammar, etc. Also, some may perhaps have to plan travel for their work in the future.
  • It gives them experience with budgeting. Like I tell them, most will not have an unlimited budget with which to travel. I sure don't! Some found their original destinations were just not realistic for the time constraint or budget.
Problems I ran into:
  • Kids started to get sick of it after about a week of working on it. So in the future, I think I may have them do one or two parts, then take a break for a couple days with maybe a pertinent grammar mini-lesson, then go back to the project.
  • Many tried to cut corners the first time I did this, and didn't really get the experience I wanted them to. For instance, many said they would borrow their parents' car and their parents pay for their gas always and they wanted to drive somewhere where they have family and they could stay for free. Well, even though we do take trips like that sometimes, we don't always, and I wanted them to actually have to budget lodging and transportation. So every time since the first, I have not allowed them to stay for free with anyone or get free transportation.
  • Many students didn't understand how packages on Travelocity, etc. work. They decided to travel with a friend, and therefore said they were going to split the cost of the package. That's not how packages work though. A package with airfare + hotel is just for one person and cannot be split (it's impossible to share an airplane seat, for instance). So I took time one day to explain how packages work.
  • Every time I do this, I have students who either do it bare bones and have hardly anything on paper and/or lie about excursion prices because they don't want to put in the research to look things up. If a price seems off, I ALWAYS Google and find out if it is right or not. I also have started requiring they do at least one excursion per day of their itinerary. Some students wrote "play video games in hotel" for every single day, but again, that is not realistic for every vacation you take, and they weren't getting the budgeting experience.
Overall, I liked this project and would do it again if I had time. The kids did like it even though they got burnt out towards the end, which is why I'd split it up. I also have always just done this as an individual project, but would consider making it a group project and have each group present their trip to their classmates at the end of the whole thing using a visual aid.

So there you have it! Speaking of trip planning, I am beyond thrilled that we will get to take a little mini-getaway this August. I just booked us a waterfront suite at an adults-only B&B in South Haven, Michigan.

South Haven, courtesy of Trip Advisor
A picture of the fire pit area at our B&B, courtesy of
We've never been up to Michigan before, and I am SO excited for a good dose of R&R. I'm not bringing my computer and only using my cell phone to check in with my parents (who are dog-sitting) occasionally and for emergencies. Totally going to unplug (OK, I might use it to Instagram some pics but that's it). We plan to spend a lot of time at the wonderful beaches up there, enjoy our private balcony overlooking the harbor, visit some wineries, go up to Saugatuck and visit the sand dunes, and just unwind before school starts the following week. I am GIDDY with excitement.

Any Michigan folks with recs for activities or restaurants we just have to try?

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Course Evaluations

Is everyone enjoying their summer break? I am! I know some of you don't get out of school yet for another week or so, which is so weird to me. All the districts around here are out by the beginning of June. If you do have to go late into the summer, when do you return in the fall? We were out May 30 but go back Aug. 15. Not sure if I'd rather get out of school earlier or get to go back later in Sept.

So far my summer break has consisted of being outdoors as much as possible. The rain finally ceased and we had sunny days this week. So far, I've done a lot of reading outside (I took my Nook up to a pretty road that runs by the river and has some awesome views and read up there), went for a long walk on a bike trail we have that runs through some pretty countryside and spent some time writing. Yep, this summer I am working on my lifelong goal of writing a book, a novel to be exact. It's something I've wanted to accomplish since I was a kid and an avid reader, and since I have no major obligations this summer (last summer we bought our first house and two summers ago I got married), I decided this time is as good as any. So far I have about 15 pages, and I am trying to carve out a couple hours each day to write, usually on my patio while this girl runs around.

Anyways, I wanted to write today about something I have my College English kids do each semester that I am thinking of expanding to all classes: a course evaluation.

This is very similar to the course/instructor evals I'm sure we all filled out while in college at the completion of every course. I started it with College English, since it technically is a college course, and I wanted to format it like a college course as much as I could. Their evaluations were only for my purposes, though, and didn't actually get sent to the college we pair up with. Especially since it was my first year teaching these classes, I did want some constructive feedback and knew my kids would be honest but, well, not jerks about it. It was a short one but covered what I needed it to cover. The questions were:

1) What skills covered in ENG 101/102 do you feel most prepared you for future College English courses?
2) Which skills do you feel deserve the most time and attention in ENG 101/102?
3) Did you keep up with the textbook readings? How helpful did you find the textbook?
4) What are some ways you feel the instructor could improve student participation and interest?
5) Did you feel comfortable approaching the instructor for help? Why/why not?
6) What suggestions do you have for the instructor to improve this course in the future?

The key to doing this is that is has to be truly anonymous or you will never actually get good feedback; just what they think you want to hear. I always have them do this after final grades are entered just in case they have their doubts about this affecting their grade if I found out who said what (which I assure them would never happen).

In college courses, usually the instructor leaves the room when the students fill these out, but in high school, I can't really leave them unsupervised (well, they would be fine but I'm sure my principal wouldn't want me just strolling down the hall and leaving them unattended!). So I have them fill them out, fold them in half, keep them at their desk and then assign one student to collect all of them. Then I have him/her shuffle so they are in no particular order before handing them to me. If you REALLY wanted anonymity, you could have them type, so you can't tell handwriting apart.

I do get good feedback from them. They have given me some insightful suggestions for future classes, and I know that if I do get positive feedback, it's because that's how they truly feel and not because they are just writing what I want to hear, since it's anonymous and is not tied to grades. Pretty much everyone said they hated the texts and never did the readings lol. Unfortunately, text selection for these courses is out of my hands and I have to go with what the college sets up. But I will try to find ways to supplement the text next year that make it more interesting.

So anyways, I'm thinking of rolling this out with other classes. To do this, you need a thick skin and need to be able to let the non-constructive criticisms roll off your back (things like "You're stupid/This is stupid/You don't know what you're doing", etc.). I don't get that stuff from my college students, but probably would with underclassmen. They try and write that stuff on peer responses, so I have no doubt they'd also try it with me :) But it still might be worth it for the few actual constructive responses you might get. I always want to try to improve, and since my students are my audience, why not go to them for some suggestions as well?

Have you used course evaluations in your classes? If so, how do you do them to get the best results and constructive responses?

Saturday, June 1, 2013

June currently

I'm linking up with Farley for her June currently (yay summer vacation!)

 1. We have started watching the first few seasons of "The Office" since the series ended recently :( The first few seasons were the best.
2. Yay for summer vacation! I am already kind of bored (lol), but I do have lots of projects I could start in on like...
3. I've got lots of stuff to do around the house this summer like landscaping, painting all interior doors, changing out hardware on doors, finishing some picture walls, and the list goes on and on.
4. The past 7 days straight we've had rain or storms. I am so ready for sunny, warm weather to make its way to our city.
5. Of course on Memorial Day I came down with a nasty cold for the last week of school. I still have head congestion but at least the sore throat and runny nose has subsided.
6. For this summer, I need lots and lots of good books (already read two this week), my camera so I can Instagram all the fun stuff and pretty sunsets and what not going on, and an awesome playlist to listen to in my car, on my patio, sitting inside watching the rain apparently lol.