Thursday, June 18, 2015

Why is Travel Gear So Expensive!?

I leave in a little over five days for Europe.  The past few months, I have been doing research (and by research I mean going on Pinterest) and poking around on a lot of blogs.  These blogs have a ton of fantastic information, not only about how to pack and what basics to bring but tips about little gadgets and such that will make travel easier.  So many of those blogs and websites say something to the effect of, "I absolutely love this bag.  I use it for all my carry-ons.  It's a God send."  Usually this is provided with a link to check out the bag and buy it for yourself.  Now, the last thing I need is more stuff, but if the bag's cute, there's no harm in looking at it.  Yeah, big mistake.  Most of the time, the bag in question is over $100, in some cases over $300.  That's more than my entire luggage set!  It kills me.  If you can afford a $300 carryon bag, a $75 passport case, $80 foldable ballet flats and so on and so forth, more power to you.  Traveling is expensive enough as is.  You can still have all (or most) of those fancy gadgets and other helpful organization and travel accessories without spending $300 or more on a simple bag

My carry-on bag was a steal.  I got this adorable Thirty-One tote for $25 after I spent $35 getting a gift for a friend of mine.  It's important to note that the bag is usually $80 (for you math buffs, that's about 70% off).  The bag is huge, it fits everything I'll need during my flight to Europe (keep your eyes peeled for a post about what specifically I put in my carry-on).

In terms of travel gadgets and what not, I did invest in a few items that cost a little more than what I would like to admit.  Think about it this way: is this an item you will only use while traveling, or will you use it other times as well?  My logic with buying a $30 foldable duffel bag is that I'll use it for weekend trips, especially ones for school (my school goes camping once a year with the sixth graders, and I don't want to lug a nice suitcase out in the middle of the woods).  Plus, I learned the hard way to bring an empty suitcase when traveling.  When I was in London, I bought WAY too many souvenirs and had to pay a fortune for another suitcase to bring my stuff home in.  It's a cute suitcase but not the best quality, and because it's plastered with sites to see in London and what not, it cost a small fortune.  I'd rather have an extra bag with me and not use it than wander around the city the day before leaving to come home in search of a bag.  So not worth it.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Three Weeks Out

It’s just under three weeks out from my trip to Europe, and it’s definitely starting to sink in now.  I have been planning this trip since early August, at least the Poland leg of my trip.  As for the Ukraine part of my trip, I have been planning that since March.  There has been a lot of time, sweat and effort  put into this trip, much more than my last adventure overseas.

Last time I went overseas, I spent six weeks studying abroad in London.  Looking back, I over packed a lot.  I remember bringing a blazer I wore once, maybe twice, a stack of movies to watch that I never touched and at least five pairs of shoes.  Seriously?  What was I thinking!?  This time around, I know better.  Instead of a blazer I’d only wear once, I’m packing clothes that can be mixed and matched to create a wider variety of outfits.  I’ve put digital copies of as many movies as I can on my iTunes, along with some that are on Flixster.  I’ve whittled it down to three functional pairs of shoes: tennis shoes, flip flops and ballet flats.  I’ll wear the tennis shoes on the plane, put one in my carry on and one in my checked bag.  Already, I’ve saved a lot of space in my suitcase.

When I look at my packing list, I actually think that I’m not packing enough clothes.  I’ve been doing my research (and by research I mean spending hours upon hours on Pinterest), I’ve seen a variety of packing lists and most of them say that you only need four or five bottoms and six or seven tops, that’s it.  I like my clothes, I like my variety, so that doesn’t seem like enough for me.  Right now I have five bottoms (two skirts, three pants) and five tops.  I know I need to add more to my packing list, I’m getting there.  All of the packing websites I’ve seen have instructed to pick a color palette and then add a little splash of color.  As a result, I have almost entirely black and white picked.  I need more color in my wardrobe.  There are  a few scarves tossed into the mix, so I have something.  Scarves are lightweight and so versatile, they’re perfect for upgrading an outfit while on the road.

As for the actual stuff needed to travel I definitely feel like I’ve got a better hold on this as well.  I have a travel power strip, a clothes line and detergent for laundry in the hotel room (yeah, that should be an adventure) and, most importantly, a collapsible duffel bag for the journey home.  This was something huge I didn’t have when I was coming home from London (along with a luggage scale, so I ended up buying one at a ridiculously high price because I was desperate).  Between the extreme over packing and the surplus of souvenirs from London, I desperately needed an extra bag to get all my stuff home.  Rather than planning for this ahead of time like some of my friends did, I was left scrambling a few days before coming home and ended up overpaying for a cute (but cheaply made) weekender bag to fill up with souvenirs.  You’ll start to a notice a pattern here.  Twice while I was in London I was unprepared and had to overpay for something.  Yes, both were necessary, and buying the luggage scale actually saved me money because otherwise my luggage would have been too heavy, resulting in paying more to bring it home, but that’s not the point.  I was more focused on what clothes I was going to bring and not the other “stuff” necessary for a long trip abroad and how to pack.  Will this trip go flawlessly?  Probably not.  Despite my incredibly detailed spreadsheets outlining everything I need that are so organized it borders on obsessive compulsive will I forget something?  Undoubtedly.  Will I end up running around in a foreign city looking for something really stupid right before leaving to come home?  I plan on it.  Is that part of the adventure?  Absolutely.  As long as I don’t have issues with customs, I’m pretty much golden.  

I’m not expecting any issues getting into either Poland or the Ukraine, but that’s always my big fear.  A few days before I left for London, I had a dream that I wasn’t allowed into England because I didn’t have the appropriate paperwork.  This resulted in me running around the afternoon I left collecting a stack of papers to present at customs.  Low and behold, I get to customs, and the guy couldn’t care less.  I’ve already had one dream like that for this trip, and I expect several more to follow over the next 20 days.  I also know that despite my over preparedness for customs, I will most likely not run into any issues getting into the country.  It’s best to be over prepared in this case.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Using QR Codes

This is going to be a short post (and by short, I mean SUPER SHORT).  While writing my course outline for 6th grade for next year, I was trying to think of an easy way to make my contact information available to my students and their parents.  Suddenly, it hit me, put it in a QR code.  After doing a quick Google search, I came across this fabulous website.  I simply plugged in my name, my work email and my school's phone number.  Just like that, a QR code was created.  I saved the image and did a quick trial run, worked like a charm.  When you use a QR scanner, a prompt will pop up on your phone, asking if you want to add the contact to your phone.  All the information, name, phone number and email address, are already there, all you have to do is press "okay".  Perfect.  I simply added that to my course outline with directions explaining what it is.  I also saw a suggestion on Pinterest suggesting that you put the QR code in question outside your classroom on Back to School Night so parents can scan it then too (in case their child "forgot" to give them the course outline the first day of school).

Monday, June 30, 2014

Evernote: A Teacher's New Best Friend

I heard of Evernote in college (one of my professors swore by it), but I never really explored it until recently, and let me tell you, it's the best thing ever.  It's a wonderful way not only to take notes online but also organize your notes and access them whenever you need.  On top of all that, Evernote is free.  You can update your account to premium if you want, but you're perfectly fine if you don't.

So, how does Evernote work?  You can just type up the information you need in the appropriate "note" and have all the notes compiled together in one big group, or you can take it a few steps further and really take advantage of everything Evernote has to offer.

Think of each note as a separate piece of paper you've taken notes on.  Like I said, you can just have all the notes tossed together without organizing them, but that's like having a whole bunch of papers piled on your desk without any organization system.  You can organize all your notes into notebooks.  Think of notebooks as taking a bunch of related papers and putting them into a folder.  Now, your desk is covered with a collection of folders.  You can go one step further and organize your notebooks into stacks.  Stacks are like binders.  You take all the related folders and put them in a binder together.  Now, that original stack of papers you had all over your desk are organized in their own binders.

Above is a picture of one of my stacks on Evernote.  I use it to keep track of the classes I'm taking and the assignments for it.  Each notebook represents one class I'm taking, and the number next to the name tells how many notes are in the notebook.  When you click on the notebook, you get something that looks like this:

In addition to typing text, you can also upload files to your notes.  It's great if you want to add a PDF or PowerPoint to a note so you have that ready as well.

Once you have your note on Evernote, you can share it, just like Google Drive (formerly Google Docs).  All you do is click the wonderful "Share" button and select "Link".  You can also share it on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, via email, etc.  I haven't used this feature as much (I mostly use Evernote for homework and notes on books I read), so I can't really comment on it.

So, you might be thinking to yourself, "Well, this sounds a lot like Google Drive".  Well, yes, it is a little similar.  Google Drive has its own merits, which I'll get into in another post.  For some reason, I prefer Evernote, I don't know why.  Does that mean I don't use Google Drive?  Absolutely not, I use it, just not as much, and for other purposes.  For some reason, I find Evernote easier to navigate.  Like Google Drive, you can log on to any computer (or smartphone, tablet, etc) and pull up your account.  Unlike Google Drive, there's not overarching data limit.  Evernote has a limit of 60 MB a month of uploads for free or 1 GB if you have a premium account.  As for storage, you don't have a limit.  Which means, you can upload 60 MB of data a month to your Evernote for free every single month and never will they tell you you're reaching your limit.  Google has a limit of 15 GB storage limit.

Overall, I do have to say I prefer Evernote to Google Drive.  That doesn't mean I'll stop using Google Drive.  Like I said, it does have its uses, which I'll talk about in a later post.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Preparing a Travel Themed Classroom Part 1

So now that I actually have all summer to think and plan for next year, and I know what my classroom is going to look like (for those of you who are confused, I was hired on Thursday and started new teacher training Monday last summer), I can actually do a lot more planning than last year.  Since I teach world studies, I thought a travel themed classroom would be ideal.  I poked around Pinterst and did some work on my own, and came up with some ideas.

First, I bought some letters from Michaels and used de-coupage to decorate them with cheap maps I bought from a second hand bookstores in the area.  Ultimately, the letters spell out my last name, which I'll then hang up in my classroom above my desk.

I also stenciled signs with locations we'll be learning about this year.  Underneath, I used this website to measure how far each location is from my school.  I created smaller signs, which I hung underneath with twine.  At first I was going to hang the signs around the room pointing in the direction of each location, but I decided not to.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Reflecting on My First Year

Okay, so I still technically have one more day left for this school year, but I'm done with the students for this year.  Tomorrow I have to go in to finish packing up my room (I'm moving to the first floor to teach all 6th grade next year) and check out for the year, but other than that I'm done for the year.

It definitely has been a crazy year for me, with plenty of ups and downs.  There were some moments where I had my doubts, but I survived.  Even my toughest class taught me a lot this year.  Yes, students got under my skin.  Yes, there were times I wanted to throw in the towel.  Yes, I did leave school feeling defeated on more than one occasion.  There were moments like the one below that makes it all worthwhile.

Long story short, I was extremely upset about something that had happened at school, I spent lunch on the phone with my mom crying.  Some of my students saw me upset and left me these notes on my chalkboard.  These moments made my first year absolutely worth it.

Looking back, I definitely would have done many things differently, but I've heard that from a lot of first year teachers.  Your first year teaching is, quite literally, baptism by fire.  The second you get in the classroom on your own, you quickly learn that a lot of things you learned in your college classes really aren't applicable (one of my favorite lines when a student does or says something particularly outrageous is, "They didn't teach me how to handle that in college...").  During your internship, you can deflect any difficult situations to your mentor teacher, or at least turn to them for guidance.  Your first year, however, you are that teacher, and you are the soul source of guidance and the law in the classroom.  You don't have someone else to turn to for help, at least not at that exact moment.  Yes, I turned to many teammate and coworkers for help, but it was often after the fact.  It's stressful and terrifying.

It's funny, I was terrified that I would be a nervous wreck on my first day of school.  I'd heard stories of veteran teachers who still got nervous on their first day of school.  Ironically, I slept like a baby the night before and wasn't nervous at all.  

I don't mean to ramble.  I survived the year, and that's all that matters.  I've filled my summer up with a wide variety of classes to prepare myself for next year.  Like I said, even my more difficult students made me a better teacher.  They're the ones who motivated me to take these classes to learn how to handle difficult classroom situations.  School just ended the day before yesterday, and don't get me wrong, I'm thrilled for summer, but I'm also excited for next year.  Everyone says the second year is much easier, and the possibilities are endless.

Monday, May 19, 2014


In just 19 short days, my first year as a teacher will come to an end, and what a whirlwind it has been!  The past few weeks I've finally felt like I've sort of had my head on straight.  My mind is till going a million miles per hour in about a billion different directions, but it's an improvement.  I can see the finish line, not that I want this year to end.  Perhaps the most heartbreaking moment I've had recently comes from my 6th graders.  It's been such a pleasure seeing them grow up from timid little elementary school students to confident preteens.  Sure, there have been some moments, but I wouldn't trade it for anything.  Anyway, after they asked if I would be teaching 7th grade next year (I teach mostly 7th grade this year), I told them that while nothing's set in stone, it looks like I won't be teaching 7th grade.  That set off a tidal wave of "No!"s and "Seriously!?"s, and it broke my heart to know that my 6th graders so desperately wanted to have me again next year.  I'll miss them, but I'll see them around.

Anyway, I digress.  I've never been one to sit still.  Even now, I have about five webpages open, my PowerPoint for tomorrow, and I'm flipping through several television channels (at least I turned off YouTube).  In order to fill up that humongous void that is summer vacation, I have decided to fill it to the brink with all sorts of classes, conferences and workshops.  I am currently registered for a fabulous class at Dominican University of California called Instructional Design where I basically get to log all the hours I put in over the summer as I prepare to completely overhaul my 6th grade lessons and implement interactive notebooks on a full-time basis (I'm using them in my 7th grade classes this last quarter as a trial run).  I'm also signed up for an online class called ESOL in the Mainstream, where I hope to get more ideas to help support my numerous ELL students in the classroom to make them academically successful.  I'm wait listed for a third class through MCPS.  On top of all of that, I signed up for a two day College and Career Readiness conference.  I'm very excited about this conference, it looks like it has a lot of wonderful resources connected to Common Core.  Finally, I applied to an awesome sounding workshop at the Newseum about the First Amendment and social movements.  I haven't heard back from them yet, but I'm hopeful.

Okay, by now you're probably saying that enough is enough.  Yeah, to any logical person that would be enough, but I'm not slowing down yet.  I'm currently in the process of applying to graduate school.  I'm honestly worried about getting in, but people keep assuring me that I'll be fine.  I'm just going to borrow everyone else's optimism and keep you posted.  If I do get in, I'll start in the fall, so I'll be teaching during the day and doing my classes online in the evening.  It'll take some time management, but I'm not worried.

Finally, I'm seriously considering a one credit class on collaborative learning in the classroom.  Structured student discourse (a fancy way of saying having students work together) is HUGE not only in Common Core but is also a part of my school's improvement plan.  I figure a one credit course will give me a little bit of a foundation to work with as I try to implement more structured student discourse in my classroom next year.