Toddler Tips: Learning Colors

Maybe it’s just the little one I spend my days with, but it seems like toddlers get hooked on a color and that is the answer to every “what color is _____?” question.

A cow? It’s blue.

That yellow school bus? Also blue.

How about her favorite food? You guessed it. Blue.
Her favorite food right now is peas, y’all.

Every once in a blue moon (see what I did there? 😉 ) I’ll get an “orange!!!” out of her, but that’s still pretty inaccurate.

So enter winter vacation and I get to pinning (big surprise) and I stumble upon this amazing article about teaching Color Immersion, as I can only think to describe it. This genius momma, Jessie, uses her 11 week program to completely surround her littles in one color each week. She works it into playtime, reading, and even bath time! What a super-star mom!

If you’ve got little ones at home and are looking for creative ways to mix up their learning, check out Jessie’s blog immediately!


Last Teaching Tip Tuesday!

Happy last Teaching Tip Tuesday!! Today will be my final post of the school year for teaching tips. Starting next week, Tuesdays will be Tank Top Tuesdays where I will feature a fun summertime activity for all ages!

This week’s teaching tip is all about evaluating; Evaluating your lessons from the year, evaluating your classroom management systems, and evaluating your quality of teaching.

Now I’ve got an administrator who gives me honest, constructive feedback on my quality of teaching, and I am constantly reworking my lessons to make them better, so for me, that leaves evaluating my classroom management system.

I don’t know about any of you teachers out there, but I know that I am always looking for new, genius ideas from others about how to make my classroom run smoother. Here’s what I’m planning on doing next year (if I’m blessed enough to find a teaching job in Cali!):

Make these Posters

c d

My kiddos, being raised with a phone in their hands, sometimes forget the consequences of their actions. Both of these posters address common issues with secondary students, but in a fun, straightforward way.

Handle Cell Phones

bI will be buying a clear shoe organizer the minute I find out I’ve got a teaching job. This is a no-fail way to keep the kids from texting/facebooking/tweeting/instagramming during your class. When they come in, they drop their phone in their numbered pouch, and when they leave, they can pick it up. This also gives me the chance to have students use their cell phones for learning opportunities because only I can give them permission to get their phones during class.

Keep Groups Friendly

eSome little lovelies just don’t get along well with certain peers. This awesome wheel makes sure that groups will never have a catalyst…unless you work in a middle school where kids change best friends every week…then, good luck to you 🙂

Stop the No-Name Brigade

aThis seems a little juvenile for secondary school kids, but after seeing how many papers I could not grade this year because a name was missing, I’m doing this.

Keep my Pencils


Many kids steal pencils on accident at the end of class, but having these canisters by the door is a great way to help ensure you get them back. Letting kids know they can take one out of the SHARP container as long as they return it to the PLEASE SHARPEN container at the end of class will hopefully stop my supplies from going missing!

I hope any of you teachers out there have a GREAT summer! Well deserved! Next Tuesday, tune in for my first Tank Top Tuesday post!

Summer Science

As we get down to the last couple weeks of school, I find my kiddos bored with movies and overwhelmed with final exam study guides. To remedy both situations, I have planned a week full of fun science experiments that include ingredients commonly found in our kitchen. Here’s the schedule for the week (pictures to be posted as we go!) :

Tuesday: Giant Bubbles

Today I mixed up two batches of homemade bubble fluid:

Giant Bubbles – 6 cups water, 1/2 cup dish soap, 1/2 cup cornstarch, 1 Tablespoon baking powder (not soda!)
To make bubbles: Add all ingredients in a bucket and stir gently until dissolved/combined, trying to not make bubbles in the mixture

Indestructa-bubbles – 6 cups water, 1 cup corn syrup, 2 cups dish soap (Joy was recommended)
To make bubbles: Combine water and corn syrup in a bucket and stir until combined. Add soap and stir gently.

We used a whole bunch of kitchen tools as bubble wands to make all sorts of different bubbles!

I’d post a video, but there are video wavers necessary for that…

Wednesday: Soda Geysers

The kids and I watched a video by Steve Spangler and will be replicating this experiment with a few changes.

– 1 two-liter diet coke
– 5 mint Mentos candies
– A hammer
– A screwdriver or nail
– A large paperclip


Unscrew the cap of the Diet Coke and set aside. Drain out about 1 cup of Diet Coke. Drink!
Using the hammer, carefully punch a small hole in the top of the diet coke cap.

Straighten out a large paperclip. String Mentos onto paperclip (making a Mentos-clip). Make a loop with the end of the paperclip so the Mentos will not fall off.

Push extra wire of the paperclip through the  inside of the cap. Bend the paperclip so that it is holding onto the outside of the cap.
Carefully replace the cap onto the Diet Coke. The Mentos should not be touching the top of the cola. If it is, drain some more Diet Coke out of the bottle.
When ready, unbend the paperclip, letting the Mentos-clip  drop into the Coke.
Hold the bottle pointing away from you and watch the geyser happen!


Thursday/Friday: Solar Oven S’mores

The best explanation is shown here on Howcast!

Being the “Tough Teacher”

My college FCS professor and I butt-heads quite often when I was completing my Bachelor’s Degree. She was stubborn, hard-headed, and tough. We had the first two things in common already, but I could not quite ever bring myself to be that last one: tough…

Now I’m no pushover in my classroom. I like to think of myself as a realist. My students have a lot going on in their lives. Heck, half of them have bigger issues going on in their lives than I do! I tend to be the understanding teacher most of the time and let them turn in assignments a day or two late with minor penalty, listen to music during work times, and spend the first five minutes of class getting their “Chatty Cathy’s” out of their system.

Yesterday, however, I earned my stripes. I finally became the “tough teacher”. And I’m pretty sure I have a few new student enemies to show for it. You know what, though? I’m proud of myself. Let me tell you about the situation that caused me to come to this point…

I assigned a Culinary Portfolio project at the beginning of the year. I told the kiddos that it would be due at the end of the year and they would have all year (including some in-class work days) to get it done. It’d be a low-stress assignment if they kept up with it, but could become their worst nightmare if they procrastinated. High schoolers, procrastinate?! NEVER! 🙂

I’d been warning and reminding my students about the due date for the past month and a half. I even gave them three work days to finish it up while I was out for my sister’s wedding. And I told them in the clearest, most stern voice that I could muster before I left (and repeated EVERY day up until the due date) that I “WILL NOT ACCEPT YOUR PORTFOLIO IF IT GETS TO ME AFTER 1:40 PM ON FRIDAY, MAY 17TH! Unless you’re in the hospital where I can visit and bring you flowers because I care about you! (big cheesy smile)”

Now while most of my little lovelies turned in their portfolios on time (some even early!!), I’ve had a handful of kids approach me to give me their excuses on why they couldn’t get it to me on Friday because of an absence. There was a “family emergency,” a sprained ankle, and a suspension from school. And I had to sit there, with my game face on, and tell each student “Sorry, deadlines are deadlines.”

Inside, I was crying. What if they actually had a family emergency? (they didn’t I later found out). I felt so heartless, but then, bubbling out of my mouth before I knew what I was saying, I heard myself calmly say to the sprained ankle student:

“When did I say the due date was? (May 17 at 1:40) And what did I say would happen if it wasn’t here by the due date? (I’d get a zero)…. Honey, this is real life. In real life, sometimes you have to make the tough call and stick to deadlines. Even if it means relying on someone else to bring in your materials so you can still make the deadline. In real life, your boss won’t care that you had a sprained ankle. ‘It’s not broken? Great! Get back to work’, he’ll say, ‘and where’s that memo I asked you to write for our meeting today?’ Not meeting deadlines doesn’t just affect you in real life. It affects everyone you work with. So, darling, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it’s going to be a zero this time. Next time, get it done early, so if you have another sprained ankle, you’ll already have it done and turned in.”

Sprained Ankle student walked away (perfectly, mind you…with no signs of a sprained ankle…curious!) with his head down low, then quickly asked to go to the nurse to get out of class.

Sorry, kiddo. I’m the tough teacher now.


Leave me your best inspiring “tough teacher” story to keep me motivated to stick to my guns! It’s hard facing the sad faces of kids that you love and put so much effort into!

Wedding Planner Lesson Plan

T-minus 4 days until the wedding!

As for Teaching Tip Tuesday, I’ve found an ultimate lesson all about weddings!

I think many girls at one time in their life or another has wished that they could plan weddings for a living. I know I would totally love it, although, after watching shows like “Say Yes to the Dress” and “Bridezillas” I’m not sure I could deal with the freak-outs of the over-the-top brides!

With the invention of Pinterest, the Knot, and other wedding planning sites, ideas for weddings are endless.

Being an FCS teacher, I get the opportunity to integrate core academic subjects into my class in fun ways. As I was doing some research for my classes, I came upon this amazing lesson plan for planning a wedding. It not only integrates social skills, but money management and budgeting, consumerism, and compromise. The creator, Linda M. Rhinehart Neas, did a great job at writing a fun, engaging, useful lesson plan. This is honestly one of the most interesting lesson plans I have ever read!

Now, more than ever, I’m hoping that I can find an FCS teaching job in California so I can teach this fun lesson to a bunch of students!

Happy Teaching!

Incentives in the Classroom

I love incentives. By definition an incentive is “something that incites or tends to incite to action or greater effort, as a reward offered for increased productivity.” (Thank you!)

Kids need incentives. Think about it: when you were little you probably got some kind of allowance/extra privileges for doing chores. If you were good at the doctor, you got a lollipop or a sticker when you left. If you were reeeeeaaallllly good all year round, Santa/the Easter Bunny/St. Nick brought gifts! Even the tooth fairy left you money for loosing your teeth! Incentives work, people!

I love different kinds of incentives. Ones that motivate my kids to make good choices. Let me give you a few examples that I’ve found lately:

Homework Incentives – Keeping up with the Joneses


Not Using Your Cell Phone in Class Incentives


Staying Quiet During Classwork Incentives

All of these are new and fun ways to include incentives without being the teacher/parent that says “if you’re good, I’ll give you candy!”

I truly believe that we as a society need to stop rewarding bad behaviors, and instead enforce proper behaviors. I think all of these do exactly that. Your incentive is to make the right choice or there is a consequence. Be a good citizen because you can be. Use your force for good, not evil…wait…that’s for something else, right? 🙂

Happy Tuesday everyone! Leave me your favorite classroom/parenting incentive so I can add them to my ever-growing list!!

Unconventional Teaching

I’m 25. I’m heading into my 5th year of teaching. I’m the proud holder of both a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree. I also look like I’m 16 (or so I’m told when I get asked for my hall pass during my planning period….) 🙂 I’m still trying to figure out if I love or hate that fact… haha

I’m a proud, young teacher. I respect my veteran teachers and look to them for guidance on things like classroom management and content alignment.  I do wish, though, that some veteran teachers would look at me like I look at them; a resource for great new ideas.

Because I am young, and look even younger, I get brushed aside by many fellow teachers because (and I quote) “what could [I] know that they don’t already know….[they] have, after all, been teaching for 40-something years!”  And yes. That was said to me. Eeek!

Sometimes new ideas come from the people fresh out of school. I pride myself on coming up with activities that keep my students engaged and in touch with the technology they love. These kinds of things label me as an “unconventional” teacher. And I wouldn’t have it any other way!

Some examples of what I’m doing in my classes?

  • Wikispaces wiki pages
  • Culinary Scavenger Hunt 2013 through campus to find all of the ingredients to a recipe (all sanitary and packaged tightly!)
  • Writing lyrics to review information (
  • Learning games like Toss Up! and Bazinga! (tutorial to come)
  • Tweeting in class as an exit slip to leave class

The list goes on and on. Not only does it keep the kids on their toes, but it gives them something to look forward to when most of their classes are using lectures and note-taking as their primary way of teaching. I’m not saying that lectures and note-taking are obsolete, I use them too, but I think using something new and exciting helps the kids stay interested in their learning.

Here are a few things that I want to do next year in my (God willing) new classroom in Cali:

Fun First Day Homework Assignment


Classroom Rules using Memes
(click on link to see larger)


Reward/Leaving Class Cards


Happy Learning!


Prayers for Boston

I’m going to put aside my Teaching Tips today because I’m still processing and researching the events that happened yesterday at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. It seems like every year there’s some big tragedy(ies) that claims innocent peoples lives for no reason. When I was growing up, I can’t remember even one time that an event like this occurred until my freshman year of high school when the planes hit the Twin Towers.

Now while my sympathies go out to the families of those involved, I don’t think we should give the people responsible for this horrible act any attention right now. I think we should, as a nation, focus on getting the injured healed and recognize those who, in the midst of everyone else running from the scene, decided to flee towards it to help.

Being a military spouse, I understand (and know) many people that would do just that. To know that there were runners finishing and running towards to hospital to donate blood, police officers tearing down temporary fencing to get to victims, and civilians on the sidelines carrying the injured to medical tents warms my heart and makes me want to recognize these Everyday Heroes.

An Everyday Hero, to me, is a person who goes out of their way to help others in a time of need; not just in tragedy, but in everyday life. A person at the grocery who calms down a lost child and helps them find their parent. A volunteer helping out at a hospital to make others’ days brighter. A child who wants to donate the contents of their piggy bank to help those in need. These are the Everyday Heroes.

So a big “Thank You!” goes out to all of those people (civilian and civil servant) who helped amongst the chaos and who continue to help those affected during this, past, and future occasions. You have my utmost respect and admiration.


Teaching Tolerance and Kindness for All

I was blessed to work in a middle school in Northeast Ohio for two years with an amazing bunch of students. Many people think of kids at this age to be mean, dismissive, and rebellious. My kids, however, were tolerant, kind, and accepting. Not every single kid, but 99% of them followed these behaviors daily. Something you need to know about my school, too, is that we were lucky enough to have three different special needs units in the building. Students at my school were exposed to kids with Autism, Cerebral Palsy, and Emotional Disorders, among other special needs. You would think that many middle schoolers would stray away from interacting with these kids, but with the help of the administration, the special needs teachers, and some very courageous student volunteers, special needs students in the school were widely accepted and cherished.

These kids represent the culture that I want my children to eventually have. Their unwillingness to accept bullying in any form is not only impressive, but admirable. It puts a smile on my face every time I think of these amazing young individuals. They really are “my kids”. I will forever have a special place in my heart for these individuals.

My current school has a special needs program, but the students are uneducated as to how to help these special individuals “fit in” and feel accepted by their peers. I have been struggling with some students in the past two years who blatantly make fun of, take advantage of, and mistreat these students. I’ve been in tears multiple times with frustration that not all students are as tolerant and kind as my middle schoolers. I know that with proper education, information, and exposure, that my current students can reach the same level as my Ohio kids. I hope to leave an impact on them as much as my middle schoolers left on me.

I’ve bought a few books on kids with special needs written by special needs individuals or their parents. These books were meant for an elementary crowd, but I think they teach inexperienced students a great lesson as well. If a kindergartener can accept a person who is different from them, then they should be able to as well. I found this amazing music video on bullying by Mike Tompkins, one of my favorite musical artists. Please take the four minutes to listen to the lyrics. I hope they make you hopeful for our society as much as they do me.

Teach tolerance. Be tolerant. Accept all for who they are. Be the Change!

Classroom Twitter and Sriracha Shrimp Update

Happy Tuesday everyone!!

If you read Sunday’s post, you’ll see that I didn’t have a chance to make the Sriracha Shrimp & Pesto Bruschetta (as I’m now calling it). I made it tonight, however, and it got RAVE reviews from my family! I think they’re a little biased, but they are usually brutally honest if they don’t like something, so I’ll count it as a win! Check it out, now with pictures: Recipe of the Week: Pesto, Sriracha Shrimp, & Basil

Now onto today’s post: Classroom Twitter!


Yes, I have a classroom Twitter. #followme @MrsVanCuren 😉 (was that in kid speak well enough?!) I use both my actual teaching Twitter account as well as a dry-erase version that’s posted on my storage closet door in my classroom. I use both for everything from exit slips to class discussions. The kids really like being able to take out their phones in class to tweet me responses and get excited when I tweet them back. As a teacher with a Master’s in Educational Technology, I understand that you can use social media in an educational setting, if and only if you set strict ground rules. My kids know that if they are going to tweet me, either on Twitter or on my door, that the responses need to be well thought out, school appropriate, and educationally-based. If they do not follow these rules, they will earn a zero for that grade and get a referral. So far, I have yet to have a problem!

If you are hesitant to actually use a Twitter account to reach your secondary students, however, I find that my students love my dry-erase version just as much! It’s an easy way to keep track of their daily learning in a clear, concise manner. All I did was draw the shapes for the response tiles in Word and print them out. I got each tile laminated at School Aides, the local teacher supply store, where the entire board cost me about $3.00 to laminate! Cha-Ching! If your school offers free laminating, then definitely go for that for a super low cost board!!

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If any of you out there are interested in using this in your classroom, leave me a comment below and I can send you the templates I created! Just change the picture and name on the Teacher Tile and you’re good to go!