Category Archives: Teaching

Proposition: A unit on Bill and Ted’s Most Excellent Adventure

So, it’s summer. Our break is cut one week short because next year we’re starting a week early (womp womp). I opted to stay local this time… and lo and behold, Amazon Prime came through with Bill and Ted’s Most Excellent Adventure.  I’ve heard of it, but never watched it.

As I watched it, i thought.. how fun would it be to do a  short vocabulary unit and a crash-course World History unit.  You’d learn some really amazing vocabulary words (bodacious, heinous, excellent, savory, oddity, ease, triumphant, tranquil, outstanding, afoot… I’m sure there’s more) and you could do a crash course on world leaders around the globe (perfect for 7th grade).

I could imagine that at the end of the unit, having each student take a subject to do a short oral presentation, and right before doing it (or right after), watching Bill and Ted’s Most Excellent Adventure.  

It would be fun and ridiculous and insert some social studies that our schools keep seeming to shrink every year.


  • Pick vocabulary words
  • Make a list of world leaders
  • Create a large timeline
  • Create a word wall

Week 1:

  • Show BTMEA trailer
  • Introduce vocabulary words gradually or all at once (spend about 15 minutes a day using whatever protocols you use)
  • Introduce unit and explain major deliverables (notes + final presentation + movie reflection?)
  • Start by doing a general overview on Ancient Greek Civilization (1-2 days)
  • Jump over to China and Japan (1-2 days)

Week 2:

  • Continue vocabulary word work
  • Ancient Africa (1-2 days)
  • Medieval Europe (1-2 days)
  • Pick historical figure and start personal research

Week 3:

  • Continue vocabulary word work
  • World in the 1800s – 1900s (1-2 days)
  • Mid-research reflection
  • Peer edits / practice

Week 4:

  • Written report due
  • Final presentations (1-2 days)
  • Watch movie
  • Movie/learning reflection
    • what’s accurate vs. what’s not accurate
    • more questions?
    • “I used to think… now I think…”


I’m sure you could shorten this too by doing really general overviews OR if you were teaching this throughout the year, you could do a quick review over a few days.  Anyway, I think this would be fun for the end of the year.


What does it mean when I shake your hand?

Shaking hands with every student who enters my room was something that I was taught in my fourth year of teaching. I thought it was sort of lame at first, but when my coach timed me, and it came out to be less than 3 minutes, I felt like this wasn’t a battle I was going to fight. If someone thought that my shaking hands was a habit that made me a better teacher, I wasn’t going to argue.  Yet over the years, I realized this isn’t something I want to let go.

Sometimes, sad to say, that beginning of class handshake is our only interaction for the day.  It’s a step in our relationship.

That beginning of class handshake means you are seen.  I love you.  I care for you.  It’s a message.

That beginning of class handshake is also a reminder.  Be your best. Do your best.  Remember yesterday’s victories and failures and learn from them.  It’s my belief in your capacity.

That beginning of class handshake is a way for you to see what a strong greeting looks like — that eye contact and a firm grasp is one way to set the tone.  It’s a model.

That beginning of class handshake is unwaveringly strong.  One day you will mirror that strength back to me.  It’s a symbol of my hope in your growth.

So in case you didn’t know.  When I clasp your hands and say, “Good morning/afternoon,” it’s more than a greeting.  It’s hands joined in alliance – we are here with a shared goal.  It’s an unspoken agreement – we will fulfill  our personal responsibility.  It’s affection – I see you and I am so happy you are here.



Disclaimer: If you’re sick, don’t touch me!  (Love you. kthxbye)

Progress Reports Hack


  • My kids don’t all have e-mail addresses.
  • My school doesn’t have a universal grading system/hub.
  • We are standards-based (but not everyone is trained in this. AKA, many kids just think 4=A, 3=B, 2=C, etc… when really, most kids should shoot for a 3 (at grade-level target))

My Philosophy:

  • This year, I want to try rarely putting “grades” on work I give back.  Rather, I highlight errors and write comments (since usually kids just look for their grades and don’t learn from their mistakes).
  • It’s important to give kids regular feedback – even though most kids aren’t super motivated by grades, they are to an extent. And it’s important for them to see how their actions connect to the results.
  • If I’m grading, they might as well see what’s there. If they’re checking, then mistakes could be taken care of sooner than later!

My Grading Hack!

So, I keep track of exit slips, homework, etc in Google Sheets. I really like Google Sheets because it’s accessible via Google Chrome, my smartphone, and anywhere as long as I have internet.

I’ve already buffed it up using conditional formatting, rounded averages, and then class averages (so that I can get one little piece of data to inform how the lesson went).  ((Aside: ThoughtCo is super helpful for figuring out excel formulas.  As was my 10th grade Keyboarding class LOL (this one time, I tried to take Journalism and was super intimidated and dropped it. There were no other classes available except a keyboarding class that would fulfill a career/voc. ed. credit.. so I took that. And learned to type really well and then did computer application projects and then began ceramics.. and that’s how I began to blow glass in high school!)).


I wanted to figure out a way to use Mail Merge so that kids could just automatically see the grades.  The problem was my kids don’t all have e-mail!  I also didn’t want one document with pages of grades.  I didn’t want to keep printing out progress reports (especially if they were for the kids and not their parents)… in my head, I wanted something where if I uploaded my excel sheet, each child would have ONE document shared with them that they could check ANY TIME and see their progress!

There are many Google Sheets Add-Ons, but the best one was Autocrat.  All the other ones would cap it, only offer a free trial, etc.  SAVE YOUR TIME.   Also, Autocrat has a NIFTY help document.

So, basically, using Autocrat (super user-friendly), I created a standard Progress Report sheet for 7th and 8th grade.

Screen Shot 2017-09-17 at 9.07.51 PM

Then, once I connected them, it ALL WORKED!!!

And it’s beautiful!  See?

Progress ReportContinuum

AND I can share it JUST with them. AND a parent if necessary.  AND i made it so that it automatically updates every 24 hours.  So, I don’t have to worry about anything except updating my templates and my spreadsheet.


I document homework regularly on paper. However, by scanning it quickly, I can figure out if students have a 1, 2, 3, or 4. I’ll probably update bi-weekly. Then for important homework or classwork assignments, I can just list missing assignments in the spreadsheet and it shows up on their report!

Missing Work

Future Notes:

What I want to figure out in the future is how to make an “if-then” type of option with 4 options (this is how I stumbled across ThoughtCo in the first place).  Rather than having student see a number, I want another column where given a number, the description of that band would be inputted into the progress report.  


I want them to READ where they are. And internalize that they’re not “at a 3” but “on target” or “almost there.”

PS: Did you notice how the rubric is color-coded so that it matches the area (exit slips, homework, blended, etc) that it describes?  I might be more explicit about this if kids don’t get it (aka, just label it).  But right now, it’s so pretty AND formats well.

PPS: I need to translate it into Spanish.

PPPS: Did you notice that rather than giving the PERCENTAGE of how much each category is worth, I did it in FRACTIONS? That’s because I’m mean and kids keel over every time they see fractions.  But really, if I made this a pie chart, they’d totally get it.

Classroom Agreements

So, I finally started year 7, and I have to say, it’s the smoothest one yet.  There are definitely a few bumps (quite a few these past few days actually), but I am glad to say that for the most part, the classroom is up and running.

I always have a hard time figuring out what to do at the start of the year, to ease my kids into the idea of school and what school requires.

This year, I was pretty happy with a short lesson I did on the third day of school. It’s something I did to set the stage last year when I took over a 4/5 combo classroom in November, and I tweaked it for my 7th and 8th grade math classes this year.

The philosophy of this stems from my experience that when students take part in creating their classroom rules (norms, agreements, expectations, blah blah), they are more inclined to at least grudgingly accept that they exist when they are called to account for them.

However, beyond just having a floating set of classroom agreements, I like to root it in why kids come to school anyway and WHY in the States, at least, we FUND free education.  Reminding students of WHY we’re here, then looking at the obstacles that prevent them from achieving the WHY, then leads us to the agreements that the class sets for themselves.  It’s a rather tidy package, and yes, it sounds tidier than the messy work of day-to-day getting along, but at least we have a foundation that I feel able to build upon.

Without further ado:

Materials: post-its, large construction paper, projector

Optional: slides with discussion questions/photos

Warm-Up / Do-Now / Bellwork: (2-min)

On your post-it, write your name and answer the question, “Why do you go to school?”  (For kids who claim they have no idea, ask them why are their parents sending them to school.  Allow the “I’m forced to.” responses)

Hook (10-12 min):

After most of the kids are done, I set up my projector and show these slides with photos taken from the article, “25 of the Most Dangerous and Unusual Ways to Get to School.”

I don’t preface these slides too much — just showing them gets the kids awed and amazed.

Once we finish clicking through the photos, I have the students turn-and-talk.  Since this is the third day of school, prior to the turn-and-talk, we go through what a meaningful turn-and-talk is, and what students should be doing.

I ask the kids to answer 2 questions: Why do people go to school, and why do they (my students) go to school?

(Aside: Depending on the group, sometimes, I feel the need to remind them that unlike many other countries, and even the US 100 years ago, our schools are free and open to everybody.  I ask them why people would pay for an education or why people care so much.)

Then, I have a spokesperson from each table group share their table’s main thoughts.  As they do so, we practice listening respectfully, projecting our voices if we are talking, and using agreement hand signals.

Also, I collect the post-its from the individuals from the table that is sharing and post them on the large construction paper I have.  I roughly group them in categories.

They range from “To go to college and get a good job, to make my family proud, and to learn” to “my parents make me go.”

Framing The Objective (2 min):

I explain today we are coming up with classroom agreements.  I then emphasize how these kids have been in school for almost a decade already and they know what they need to succeed.  I also don’t want to make a BUNCH of rules or USELESS rules, which is why I need their ideas in crafting classroom agreements.

Building Agreements (15-20 minutes)

To help us with agreements, we should root it in our reasons for why we come.  I summarize for the kids what their main reasons are, and then, I ask them What obstacles get in the way?  I bring up each main reason, “To learn, to succeed, to make friends, etc etc,” and then kids pipe up with obstacles.  As I call on volunteers, I actually like to call one person, and then have that person call the next one.  It helps me gauge the social meter in my classroom.

I end up with a whiteboard full of obstacles such as…

  • not paying attention
  • not getting enough help
  • not enough money to get supplies
  • distracting others
  • others distract you
  • feeling shy about getting the wrong answer
  • having a bad day
  • etc

Then, I talk about what we can control and what we can’t.  I cross off the obstacles we can’t control (there usually are only 1 or 2.. mainly having to do with parents or money), and then ask students, “What can students do to overcome these obstacles?”

As they express an idea, I draw an arrow specifically to each of the obstacles the actions would fix (we are usually able to fix most of the obstacles).  From this, we are able to specify, clarify, and narrow into 4-5 agreements.  I frame it as, “Can we agree to…?”  If a classroom is missing an agreement that I would really want, I just bring it up and ask them.  “Hey guys, I know that these are your agreements, but do you think we could also agree to come to school prepared with our materials and homework?”  I keep the explanation short, and kids are usually agreeable.


Lastly, I ask, “What can the teacher do to help?”   I want them to know that along with their classroom agreements, I also want to actively join them in their endeavors for success.   This ALSO is a time when I’m able hit the rest of the obstacles that kids feel get in the way (for instance, “Not understanding how to do something” gets nixed by the teacher agreeing to try to break down a problem if a student doesn’t get it the first time).

The first time I did this, it was a suuuuper long conversation on the rug, and most kids were able to hang in there, but I didn’t want it to last that long this year.  So, my first period, we took about 50 minutes, but the rest of the classes took about 35-40 minutes.

IMG_8920Afterwards, I removed the post-its, but in that space, I wrote their reasons and made the ones that had more public approval a larger font while the random ones were smaller.  It was interesting to see how some classes were mainly motivated by force while others were motivated with the desire to learn.





Then, I wrote each classroom’s agreements on separate sheets of construction paper.  This year, I posted them at the front and grouped the 7th grade classes together and the 8th grade classes together.


Lastly, I combined all the agreements for the teacher from all the classes and put them into one sheet for me.  (Aside, it’s really interesting and sweet to see just the obvious but simple agreements my kids wish from their teacher.)

The next day, I showed these posters to the class.  I toyed with the idea of having them sign it, but to be honest, I was ready to move into some actual math lessons and didn’t want to spend time passing the poster around for them to sign.  However, I know that a lot of teachers do that, and I’m sure it would be nice.  I’m also certain that this will quell any child’s future retort, “I never agreed to…”


I also told them how rather than having different teacher agreements for different classes, that I believe that if one class felt it would be good for them, it probably would be good for all the other classes.  I also have it so that all the agreements that I’m following number way more than theirs.  This is ALSO good arsenal to have during follow-up conversations with a child who breaks an agreement by pointing out that Ms. Kim has more agreements to follow.

As the year progresses, I like to personally read it and remind myself what the kids want from me, and I like to gauge myself in public with a classroom (especially a class I might be having issues with), just to model what it means to agree to something within a community, and how to reflect on your progress.  I also told them how rather than having different teacher agreements for different classes, how I believe that if one class felt that it would be good for them, it probably would be good for all the other classes.  I also have it so that all the agreements that I’m following number way more than theirs.  This is ALSO good arsenal to have during follow-up conversations with a child who breaks an agreement by pointing out that Ms. Kim has more agreements to follow.

Thoughts for the Future and Next Year

  • Have students fill out a survey for why they come to school.  Then, create a wordcloud for each class and one large wordcloud for the grades.
  • Bring the 7th grade agreements to the 8th graders and ask them what they would keep or change
  • In the 2nd month of school, bring up the “why we come to school” posters, and ask ourselves if we are on track.  Tweak the agreements if necessary.
  • Survey at the end of the year: see if reasons why we come are still the same or different.

Random Mini-Unit I Wrote After 1 Year of Teaching…

I wrote this for a job of mine 5 years ago. Not sure what grade it was intended for and if I’d use all the suggested activities etc.  I think it’s interesting that issues that I thought might require empathy 5 years ago are just as relevant today. Sort of sad, actually.  

In other news, contemplating closing this blog and just starting a new one. Hmm.  This one is hopelessly disorganized.

Teaching Empathy Regarding Immigration via The Arrival

Session 1: Establishing Background Information (Half-session)

A.  Build Common Experience

Run an informal survey of classroom demographics (By a show of hands, ask how many students moved to the US.  How many students have parents who moved to the US.  How many students have grandparents who moved to the US., etc).

B.  “Where do I stand?” Survey

Based on the tenor of your class and the current political climate, create a series of statements for students to respond with the following options: “Strongly Agree, Agree, Disagree, Strongly Disagree.”

Statements should vary around the themes of immigration, settling, hospitality, and identity.

Sample Statements:

“Immigration is bad for the country.”

“America is what it is today because of immigration.”

“People should stick to what is familiar.”

“I consider myself American.”

**When thinking up statements, make sure they connect to the lesson objective of teaching students about empathy.

This survey will be brought out again for students to see where they used to stand and where they stand after the unit.


Read The Arrival and in their journal write a personal response answering some or all of the following questions: What facets of the book stuck out to you and why?  Why do you think Shaun Tan chose to use a wordless medium?  What might have been conveyed via this picture book that would not have been or could not have been shown if there was text?

Read and Annotate “The Immigrants.”  Be prepared to discuss both pieces in class.

Session 2: Synthesizing what we know

A.  Collective Knowledge Sharing

In groups, allow for discussion surrounding The Arrival and “The Immigrants.”

If you like, you may ensure that discussions remain on task and is split up equally by assigning 1 note-taker, 1 timekeeper, 1 facilitator, and 1 reporter.


Possible Questions for discussion:

Go over questions from the journal write.

What stuck out to you in “The Immigrants” and why?

How are “The Immigrants” and The Arrival the same and how are they different?

How do these alternative mediums (poetry and graphics) help to get the message across?

Have reporters report on their groups’ discussion (or have a reporter report on a specific question) and use this moment to unpack The Arrival and “The Immigrants.”

Transition from the wordless The Arrival to the language-rich “The Immigrants.”

B.  Lesson on Language

Depending on your teaching style and your current classroom level, explain or review the following:

Difference in word/phrase meanings

Connotation vs. Denotation

Figurative language


*Be sure to use/find examples from “The Immigrants” to bolster your points.

C.  Themes Study

Although the topics are similar, the themes and opinions differ between “The Immigrants” and The Arrival. 


Engage class in a dialogue about the different themes and have a group brainstorm about what areas are connected and what areas differ.  Be sure to put in textual/graphic/narrative support.

Have them start on their assignment


Assignment:  Pick a specific theme or issue that is covered in “The Immigrants” and The Arrival and write a 2-3 paragraph analysis explaining how this theme/issue is approached in each piece and which approach is more effective, more relatable, more fair, or more (insert own opinion).

Session 3: Connecting to the Real World

A. Current Event Stations

Have students spend 10-12 minutes per station to read the article / watch the YouTube clip and then have them respond to questions specific to the article/clip that relate to the themes and connect to or challenge students’ personal opinions/beliefs.

Break students into small groups and have students take turns being one of the following at each station:

1 Recorder

1 Facilitator / ensures everyone speaks

1 Timekeeper

Suggested station materials:

B.  Personal Response

Have students journal about their overall thoughts concerning immigration and relocation.  Encourage them to draw from The Arrival, “The Immigrants,” and their impressions from the news articles today.

After five minutes, tell students to push back on what they have written or respond to what someone else might have said in their journals.

Assignment:  Prepare for In-Class Debate tomorrow (will be assigned tomorrow) by thinking up pros and cons and its respective supports for the following statement:  Children of illegal immigrants should not be allowed to receive state grants from college.   (Question may be changed for whatever is appropriate/current).

Session 4:  Challenging our Thoughts

A.  How to write an Op-Ed

Refer back to articles from the previous day.

Talk about what they noticed about the elements of an op-ed.

Pass out a checklist for what is needed in an op-ed and tell them they will be writing an op-ed (so pay attention during the debate).



B.  In-Class debate

– Explain the format

10 minutes to prepare; 3 minute opening statement for each side; 2 minutes for rebuttals on each side; 5 minutes for questions from the audience (teacher); 5 minutes for final preparations; 2 minutes for concluding thoughts.

[Total time: 34 minutes]

– Split the class into two teams.

One interesting way to do this is to have students raise their hands for “in favor” / “opposed” and have students argue the side they are against. 

– Run the debate

Assignment; Write Op-Ed Draft


Session 5:  Pulling Everything Together

A.  Partner Revision/Edit

Provide revision/editing checklist (or however you do it in class) and have students edit/revise 2 students’ papers.

Ask students to also include a double-positive-delta (two positive things about the op-ed and one suggested change).

Give students about 7-9 minutes per paper and enough time to dialogue about it.

B.  Personal Reflection

Take the same survey from day 1 (statements should be mixed up)

Have students compare and contrast and then fill out the following saying: “I used to think…, now I think…”

C.  Class-wide Reflection Sharing:

Have students crumple up the sheets, throw them into the room, and then given the amount of time, have the whole class read from a sheet they pick up or choose a few and have them read.

D.  Teacher Encouragement

Encourage students that this is a gray area issue and to keep wrestling with it.

Assignment: Op-Ed Final Draft

Why is it so hard to add a special ed credential? :(

At many of the schools I worked at, Special Ed was always the area where we struggled. One school straight up ignored it, while the other schools had a relationship with Seneca (if you’re in Bay Area education, I’m sure you’ve heard of it.  Interesting tidbit: did you know the CEO is on the Alameda Board of Education? Talk about conflict of interest…).

I can’t say anything general about Seneca since some of my friends LOVED their Seneca peeps at their school, and I’ve felt mixed about my personal experience.  Anyway, the point is, schools ALWAYS struggle to find special ed teachers so they outsource to places (like Seneca) and end up with subpar results that simply comply with legal regulations but don’t actually help the kid….

AND, now I can see WHY.

I have 3 cleared CA credentials.  During my multiple-subject credentialing program, I was told I could just add a single-subject English credential by taking an additional online class and passing the CSETs. So I did.  Then later on in my career, I took an additional online class, passed more CSETs and added a Foundational-Level Math credential.  Now, taking these classes suck, but they helped me get to where I wanted to be….

To get a Special Ed credential, it seems like what I have to do is not only take those CSETs but ALSO take a full on credentialing course! It’s insane!  As a sane adult who no longer has the brain capacity to educate AND take full-on classes, the logical recourse then is just to continue with what I have.


This is so problematic. I don’t think teachers naturally veer towards Special Education because it feels so foreign. I think AFTER teaching for a while, you can start to see the need AND ways that you personally can fill that need. (At least, that’s what happened for me).  A lot of the complaints about SPED teachers from gen ed teachers is that they’ve never actually been in the classroom. They’ve worked with small groups so that what they suggest or prescribe to the teacher is not something that a teacher can easily implement.  I had the privilege of working with a teacher who used to be a SPED teacher. Watching how she differentiated and helped her kids in an inclusive environment is something I’ll always take with me.

Now, seeing the NEED for SPED teachers, I thought, why not? I’ll add that credential. But NO~! I can’t!

Dear California, I understand the need to properly train and vet our teachers. At the same time, there has to be some way to help teachers reach across and teach in other areas without making them a full-time student again.  Also, I’ve TAKEN classes about reading difficulties and the brain and learning.

Anyway, I don’t think I’ll try to go into special ed.

The end.

Lather, Rinse, Reset



But you know what? That’s okay. Because I’ve saved YOU, my reader, from reading my processing and I’ll just give you the nuggets of wisdom I just gleaned.

  1. I cried at school this morning and basically, I think I cry when I’m frustrated by how self-centered my kids are.. especially since we’re in March and the classroom is still so disparate and lacks community  Especially when I compare how much wealth this school has in comparison to my school in Oakland, I just start to feel icky…. and disgusted by them.  (Plus.. they’re LITTLE kids.)
  2. Some kids did come to me to apologize (and one girl said, “I think you need a hug”) … and I just drily told them, “4th and 5th grade is the awkward year where you don’t just say you’re sorry, you show it.”
  3. However, I can’t continue in this vein. I can’t control them by snapping at them or by fear. It’s not right.  I think it was really hard to overcome the coldness I felt though.
  4. But ultimately, I can’t CHANGE them. I can only change ME.  And my attitude.  And even though I don’t really know how to make this right, I know I have to try. (Even though for some of the kids, my extension of a white flag is what I “should do” since I’m a teacher and “it’s my job.”)
  5. So then, I wrote a list – 25 things – one to each child – where I let them know what I appreciate… and that brought me to the fact that
  6. They’re trying. Regardless of how emotionally stunted I think they are in comparison to where they should/could be… they are in their different ways.
  7. So.. the end. Tomorrow is a new day. I will try again.