New Year Cleaning Spree

I don’t think I’m the only one that gets a fierce urge to clean like crazy in the days after Christmas. It seems like once the holidays are over and we are getting ready to start a new year, I want to start fresh, clean and organized. However, even though I have the urge, I can’t/don’t actually act on it. Or that urge only lasts for a few hours, and then it is gone. After all, Christmas break is for relaxing too. Most of the time, those cleaning days get pushed back until the last day or two before school starts again. Everything I meant to do in small amounts over the two weeks gets crammed into a few 2 hour periods when the kids are napping or in bed for the night. Of course, I hardly make a dent into my ever increasing task list. But that’s ok! Because having an impromptu dance party with my kids is way more fun and memorable than having an organized pantry.

I did manage to complete a few things done that didn’t take up much time and made a big difference. Here are 5 organization and cleaning projects that will take you 20 minutes or less and leave you feeling accomplished!

1. Clean the washing machine

After several months and who knows how many loads of laundry, my washing machine seems to start smelling like… well… not clean laundry. Having hard water doesn’t help either. I stumbled upon found this advice from Practically Functional on how to make sure my washer is clean, fresh and can keep doing its job! Although the project takes several hours, it only takes a few minutes of actual work to clean. It was easy to do on a day we were all at home inside (and we had a few of those this break because of the super freezing cold temps!) Just look at the difference!



2. Do a quick toy sort

My kids accumulated a lot of toys this fall. Between two birthdays and a few Christmas celebrations, all of a sudden our living room is overflowing with toys! We needed to organize and  gather some toys to store in closets to rotate out later. I also wanted to give away some things. My 3 year old briefly helped sort through a few bins of toys. I wasn’t sure how this would go, but I asked him “What can we give away to kids that don’t have anything to play with?” He willingly put several things in the bag! It took 10 minutes and I could easily do this a few times a year with the kids.

3. Organize the pantry

This is the project I meant to do all break but didn’t end up starting until the last day of vacation! I was dreading it because I thought it would take forever. However, I wanted to start a meal plan for the next week and desperately needed to go through what we had in the depths of the pantry. I started with one “easy” shelf of cereal and soup. It took less than 2 minutes to organize, so I felt motivated to do the next shelf! 20 minutes later, all the shelves were done. I surprised myself on how quick it went! Items were thrown away, organized by expiration date, and I actually had a good idea of what was in the pantry (which is always helpful!)

4. Make a meal plan

As mentioned, this goal was what started the pantry organization. I try to make a meal plan for most weeks, but hadn’t been doing much planning in the past month! After quickly assessing what freezer and pantry food we had, I easily came up with a meal plan for the next 2 weeks. This plan tends to be very flexible since schedules can quickly change. However, sitting down for 10 minutes of planning saves a lot of frustration and time later in the week!

5. Sort through papers, files and documents

Special shout out to my husband for this one! I can’t take any credit for this task being done… We have a big file where we keep many of our important documents and receipts. My hubby spent some time one evening organizing, sorting and shredding a whole stack of these papers! This is hugely helpful and now we are prepared for tax season. To be fair, I’m not sure how much time this took, but even 20 minutes at a time will help with this process!

Teacher Resolutions

I’m not very big into making New Year’s resolutions. When you’re a teacher, you view the year a little differently… the “New Year” starts in August, or maybe even July, rather than January. Recently though, the conversation of resolutions keeps coming up in online articles, tv shows and even in conversations. It got me thinking about how as teachers, it is pretty cool to be able to “start over” halfway through the school year.

Now I know coming back in January is not quite like the beginning of the school year, but I see this as a good thing. The students already know the procedures, rules and routines of the day. All the beginning of the school year craziness doesn’t exist in January, so you can actually focus on a few ways to change and improve the classroom, your teaching methods, or just your attitude.

Here are a five New Year’s Teacher Resolutions

1. Get Organized

I always intend to get everything cleaned up and put papers perfectly in the appropriate folder and binder during the summer months. That NEVER happens. When the last day of school rolls around, I’m frantically finishing grades and stuffing things in closets before the cleaning crew needs to come through. If I would simple spend 10 minutes at the end of each week organizing, recycling and putting away materials in their proper places, I would not have this problem. This applies to my home too. Spending a few extra minutes each night or even weekend would go a long way!

2. Don’t grade everything

Let’s face it. Some of the homework we give to students is busy work. Sure it may be helpful or good practice for the students. But is it completely necessary for me to grade every piece of paper the students complete? Absolutely not. Families also appreciate it when their child doesn’t have hours of homework every night. So I plan to be selective with the homework I give, make time in class for students to self check, and not grade everything!

3. Pay more attention to students’ lives – not just their grades

Students love when they are actually heard. I’ve noticed that if I can spend two minutes with a student in a conversation about something other than school work, their attitude changes. Sometimes I get too busy with trying to get things done that I forget to take the time to really talk with my students. A few minutes here and there can make a big impact.

4. Roll with it

During even the most normal school day, things do not go as planned. The copier will break. The administrator will walk into the classroom right as a demonstration for the class failed. The perfectly planned lesson will end up taking half the amount of time as you though. And it’s OK. Getting frustrated or upset only makes my day worse. And if the students see me get flustered, they get flustered too. So when things get a little crazy, I will be flexible. That’s what YouTube is for anyway.

5. Stay Positive

Sounds easy, right? But if you have even worked in education for a fraction of the year, you know how difficult this can be. Student issues, parent problems, colleagues complaining – all of these things can bring me down quite easily. Thinking about one exciting, fun or encouraging thing going into the day makes it that much better walking into my classroom. And when I leave at the end of the school day, reflecting on what went WELL instead of the stresses can make the rest of the night a much more pleasant evening! It takes conscious effort to do this and some days can be extremely difficult – sometimes it means saying a prayer and just giving the problems to God. However, it can make a huge impact on the way I teach!

Even though I wrote these resolutions from a teacher perspective, I think they can apply to all areas of life – inside the classroom and out.

Whatever your resolutions (or if you have any at all), may your new year be full of blessings from God!

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!

May your day  be filled with blessings from God. Take time to celebrate the greatest gift of all – Christ’s birth!

Peppermint Ice Cream Brownie Sandwiches

This time of year, I’m excited to see the peppermint ice cream show up in the freezer aisles. Although I like mint flavors, I don’t usually buy mint ice creams.  For whatever reason, I don’t even think about it… until the Christmas season. That creamy, pink ice cream with chunks of candy cane just hits the spot! Add some chocolate to it, and you have a perfect festive treat.

It just so happened that last week, a fellow teacher brought peppermint ice cream and brownies to the teacher’s lounge for us to enjoy. The little sundae I created was just what I needed to get me through the rest of the chaotic school day. I enjoyed it so much, that the next day, I bought some peppermint ice cream for myself.

The combination of a brownie and the peppermint ice cream inspired me to make a new treat that combined the two. I had made brownie ice cream sandwiches before by simply replacing a regular cookie with a brownie. I decided I could easily make peppermint ice cream brownie sandwiches for a delightfully festive Christmas dessert!    

Rather than making regular brownies, I used a brownie mix to make a brownie cookie. By adding extra flour and a few other ingredients to the mix, the dough comes out a little more firm than it would for regular brownies, making them easy to scoop and bake like cookies.

After allowing the brownie cookies to cool completely, simply add a scoop of the peppermint ice cream to one side and place another brownie cookie on top! You can wrap them individually with plastic wrap and place in the freezer. Or, make a whole bunch, place them in a container, and put the container in the freezer until you are ready to serve.

The recipe I used for the brownie cookies was taken from Scattered Thoughts of a Crafty Mom. It was


  • 1 package of your favorite brownie mix (13×9 size)
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 cup oil
  • 1 container peppermint ice cream
  • Plastic wrap (optional)


  • Follow the directions to make these brownie cookies here
  • Once the cookies have completely cooled, take out the peppermint ice cream from the freezer and let it sit at room temperature to soften for 2 to 3 minutes.
  • Using an ice cream scoop, put a scoop of peppermint ice cream on on of the cookies, then place another cookie on top.
  • You may have to press the cookies together to make a nice ice cream sandwich!
  • If you choose, you can wrap each individual sandwich in plastic wrap and place in the freezer to enjoy!

Before eating, it is helpful to let them sit out just for a minute or so. This lets the cookie part defrost slightly, but the ice cream will stay frozen for longer!

Peppermint ice cream brownie sandwiches are sure to be a hit at your next holiday gathering!

Introduction to Living Things: Classification

My 7th grade science class is beginning our life science unit. During this unit we will study characteristics of living things, cells, the human body and much more! One of the first concepts that we covered was classification.

My curriculum instructed me to cover the history of classification, from Aristotle to Carl Linneaus to more recent 6 or more kingdom philosophies. Although I find this information interesting, starting off a lesson with a lecture about dead people does not fascinate my students. But why not make them the scientists first?


Anything you can find in the classroom! Just make sure you have the same items for each group.

The goal for this activity was for students to begin thinking about how we can organize different objects. I gathered a bunch of random materials from my classroom: pipe cleaners, clothespins, toothpicks and anything else I could find! Each group received a basket with the same materials as the other groups.



 I told the class to work with their group and organize the materials given. The groups got right to work. Some students asked me questions, like “What is this 

made of?” I decided NOT to give answers right away. I wanted students to look and use reasoning skills. There were debates about where to put the straw, a

nd disagreements about the clothespin. Surprisingly, the students took this task very seriously. What I thought would take them 3 minutes, took closer to 10!

Once groups were satisfied with their groupings, we discussed as a class what the main factors were when deciding which group to put the items in. The material that makes up the object was picked several times. Others classified items by their shape. One group finally decided that they should organize their items according to the object’s purpose. We discussed how all the groups had slightly different methods of classifying, but they all worked… mostly.

Next, I challenged the students to make DIFFERENT groupings – something that had not been used yet. Some split the items by comparing “high mass” and “low mass”. Another group chose color as a separating factor. As I glanced around the room, other items tempted me to see what the groups would do! However, time, as always, stopped me. 

Doing this activity was a perfect lead into discussing some of the scientists that did just that! Students were now intrigued by these men, because they had just experienced similar confusion, frustration, and thrill of trying to “organize” many different items.

This was another one of my favorite kinds of activities – seemingly simple, but becomes a great springboard for students’ ideas and connects them to the lesson!

Christmas Bulletin Board Round Up

Tis the season to change up the bulletin boards! The first week of December means transforming classrooms for the Christmas season. Teachers at my school were hanging lights, putting up little Christmas trees and displaying shiny stars from the ceilings. Everything looks so festive!

There are lots of ideas floating around for bulletin boards this holiday season. Beautifully decorated, elaborate boards look awesome… but also take hours to put up. I don’t have the time to spend on these, especially when in 3 weeks, they will come right down again!

I like the more practical holiday bulletin boards. Ones that are quick and easy to put up, but still look nicely put together and bring a smile. Here is my Christmas bulletin board round up!

Presents – For God So Loved the World

This board is simple, but truly celebrates the meaning of Christmas. Pieces of wrapping paper and some ribbon can make elegant looking gifts. Adding the John 3:16 verse “For God So Loved the World” emphasizes the gift God gave us at Christmas

Fireplace with Stockings

I have done something similar to this board in the past. Using red bulletin board paper, I created a brick background, then cut construction paper to make the fireplace and flames. You can purchase mini stockings to “hang” by the fire as well. If my class was not too large, I would put small treats in these stockings leading up to Christmas break. The board looked great, and students loved the special Christmas surprises!


Snowman Planets are Out of this World!

This is a fun one that combines science with the season. You could even change the wording to “Hope your winter is out of this world” and make this board last all through the winter months. The planets might take a little bit of effort for that realistic look, but it was just too cute to not include!


After seeing this idea on AdventuresinIStem, I knew I could make it my own!This is the board that I actually put up this year. I had a smaller bulletin board to fill and not much time to come up with something. Since our academic theme this year is science, I had to do it! You can print off element cards and copy them in green. I used these here and they worked perfectly! Simply staple them in the shape of your tree! The gold element square cleverly copied in yellow and cut in the shape of a star tops it off. O Chemis-tree, how lovely are your elements!

Hope these ideas inspire you to make your own festive Christmas board!

Calculating Speed Activity

Need to practice calculating speed in your classroom? How about using toys?

My students had recently learned the formula for calculating speed. We had completed several practice problems and I knew my students could do the math on paper. However, finding and comparing speeds in real life is much more fun! I thought about using marbles and rolling them down ramps, but that has been done – not very exciting. After another quick online search, I got the idea to calculate the speeds of different toys that could move by themselves. Loved it!

Because I happen to have an almost three year old boy in the house, I knew I could come up with several self-propelled toys. After talking my son into letting me borrow a few toys for the day, he helped me grab the following:

  • Thomas the Train
  • Percy the Train
  • A Shark Airplane
  • A Big Red Car
  • A Little Red Car
  • I also had this lovely wind up toy already in my classroom, which I tell the students is me in my bumper car!

Some of these toys were pull back, others had buttons to turn them on and off. Both worked well!

The other materials needed were:
  • Metersticks
  • Stopwatches
  • Optional tape for start and stop lines

First, I placed students in groups of three or four. Each group would get one toy to test at a time and we would rotate the toys. I made sure that each group tested at least 4 toys total.

Once a group received their toy, they had to decided if they wanted to measure the toy for a certain distance, or just until it stopped. Students then timed their toys and measured the distance the toy traveled for that time. With this data, they calculated the speeds of each toy.

Once students had completed four toys, we came back together as a group and compared the speeds. Groups shared their slowest toys. Since not everyone tested every toy, we then compared the actual speeds of each to determine which one was truly the slowest. The bumper car wind up toy definitely took its time! Although there were a few different ideas on which was the fastest toy, most concluded that the Big Red Car won! A few had the Little Red Car at higher speeds. Some believed this was because it was pulled back extra far for these tests!

The fastest toy!

Students had a great time testing each of the toys! And I had a great time watching them comparing the speeds and doing the calculations correctly!

Quick Momentum Demos

I’ve got a couple quick demos that are great for demonstrating momentum in the classroom. These take very little time to set up, but can still be very effective in showing how momentum is conserved throughout a system!

The conservation of momentum states that the total momentum before a collision occurs is equal to the total momentum after the collision, as long as no outside forces are interfering. In the classroom, we discussed how this applies to car crashes and similar events. However, I did not want my students to actually be crashing cars in order to understand these concepts! So these are two simple activities students can perform on their own in order to grasp the concept further!

Here is what you need:

  • Ruler (should be a solid wood or plastic one. Super thin rulers will not work well).
  • A Dime
  • A Quarter
  • 2 meter sticks
  • 5 marbles

Coins and Ruler

To set up these demonstration, you need to place the ruler on a flat surface with the dime placed right at the edge of the ruler. Place the quarter at the other end of the ruler, however, slide it back and “shoot” it toward the ruler so it hits the end with force. The momentum should cause the dime at the opposite end to move away from the ruler. The more force used with the quarter, the farther the dime will go!

Next, have students try it the opposite way. If you place the quarter on the edge and try to slide the dime into the ruler, the quarter may move, but not very far. Why? Because the quarter is more massive and will not travel as far of a distance. Newton’s 2nd law explains this through the equation force = mass x acceleration.


If you want to take it a step even further, you can have students calculate the mass of each coin and the distance they travel. Their ratios should be equal!

Newton’s Meter stick Cradle

The next demonstration uses the meter sticks and the marbles. Placing the two meter sticks side by side on a flat surface, you can create a small space opening as a “track” for the marbles. Start with resting two marbles next to each other on this track. Roll a third marble towards the two, and watch what happens! When the marbles hit, the collision causes the outside marble to roll away. If you place three marbles on the track and roll two towards them, two of the originally resting marbles will roll away. This is very similar to watching a Newton’s Cradle in action. Students can experiment with rolling different numbers of marbles and watching what happens. The total momentum will always be conserved – how every many marbles are rolled, that is how many of the resting marbles will begin moving! Newton’s 3rd law states that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Students will see that clearly here!

These two quick and easy demos should take no time to set up and students still love them! Quick, easy, but still great at explaining the concept of momentum!

Pumpkin Party

   A couple of weeks ago, my little baby girl turned one year old. How did that happen so fast? I feel like I was just snuggling her in the hospital, and all of a sudden I had a birthday party to plan!

Baby girl’s birthday is at the end of October, so I decided a pumpkin theme would be perfect (and easy)! Apparently many others think so too because there were so many ideas online that it was hard to narrow down what I wanted for our party. We don’t have a huge budget for party planning, so my goal is to keep things simple and fun and do as much as I can on my own.


One of the first things needed is the invitation. I’m usually all about making cards or creating a digital version by myself. This year, I knew if I wanted anybody to actually get an invitation, I had to buy them! Fortunately, there were so many online options that I just had to pick one! I ordered these from SugarPink Designs on Etsy. They personalized it and I just had to print. I loved how they turned out! My order even came with little personalized toppers for the cupcakes. Super cute!


Decorations turned out to be pretty easy as well. I bought a few large pumpkins that I planned to carve with the kids after the party, as well as several small ones to place at tables. My  parents had grown a few in their garden and graciously brought those as well. Pink and orange seemed to jump out as appropriate color for a girl’s pumpkin party. I also included white and green for accents and contrast.


I like to have at least one activity for the kids to participate in. When my son turned one, he had a ball themed party with a mini ball pit! We decided to include this again since it was a hit with the extra little ones. For the slightly older kids, I included a pumpkin painting table. I bought many small pumpkins and a guest could pick one and choose to paint it and take it home! Even adults participated in this, which was fun to see! For the biggest kids (adults) we used a pumpkin trivia that I found here.  I probably should have checked out the answers before handing it out though, because we found a few incorrect answers! Be careful for those fact-checkers that will get you!


The most important part of hosting a good party (in my opinion) is making sure there is food available! We did a little chili bar with two types of chili – beef chili and Grand Rapids White Bean Chicken Chili and had all the fixins to put on top.

We also served the following:

For dessert, we had a smash cake that I had decorated (I was a little rushed for time with this one, so the icing did not turn out as I had planned. My daughter did not seem to mind though!)

I also made:

Overall, the party was a success. As I was cleaning up afterwards, I thought, “This is truly a lot of work for a one year old that won’t remember anything about it!” But honestly, they party is not just celebrating her life. It is celebrating the family and friends who have helped raise our little girl and will continue to stand by us in the years to come!

Percent Change Race!

 I am always looking for math activities that take minimal prep time yet still are engaging and useful for my students. Recently, my 7th grade math students studied percent change. After a day of learning how to set up these types of problems and do the math, I wanted something more exciting to get students to understand more meaning behind the numbers. Luckily, I stumbled upon this from Hands on Math and instantly knew it would be perfect! Students would “race” themselves to see the percent change difference between running on two feet and running on one foot.

The day I planned to do this activity with my students, it was cold and drizzling on and off outside. I asked my students if they were still interested, and they all said “YES!” So, we ventured out into the chilly, wet world and raced ourselves!

I partnered up the students and gave each pair a stopwatch. The school’s drive through area was the perfect place to race because we already had large

Our racing lane

orange cones set up (we don’t have buses so this is where students get dropped off and picked up).  I simply showed students where our start line and end line were (about 40-50 meters apart) and then had students start racing! One person stood at the finish line and timed their partner. The first runner ran on two feet and recorded the time it took to do so. This would be the “original” time. Then, they went back and tried to run/hop on one foot. This time would be the changed time. After a student was done with both races, the partners switched.

We did not have even numbers in class, so I ended up being partnered with one of the students. I will say, I was pretty quick on the two feet race, but terribly at racing on one foot. I was probably the slowest person! However, the neat thing about this activity is students didn’t get very self conscious, because they were not really racing each other. The only other person that knew their time was their partner. There was a little bit of competition between partners, but overall, students really were competitive against themselves!

After we had all raced, we went inside to calculate the percent of change. We briefly discussed whether we had a percent increase or decrease of time. Every person’s time got slower (took more time) and so we agreed that everyone had a percent increase. Next, students had to compare their percent of change. Some students had times that were not too far from each other, and so their percent of change was lower than others. I am proud to say that my percent increase was the largest of the entire class – I had 189% increase in times! I need to work on my one leg running skills…

All you need for this activity is:

  • Worksheet to record times
  • Stopwatch
  • Something to mark start and finish lines


  1. Mark out a starting line and a finish line
  2. Have on student from each partner pair ready at the finish line. Their partner is at the start.
  3. Students time how long it takes their partners to run the distance on two feet and record the time.
  4. They repeat this, except the runner now must “run” (hop) the same course on one foot.
  5. The runner and the timer switch places and repeat steps 3 and 4
  6. Partners record all times then work together to calculate the percent change between the races.
  7. Compare and discuss the percent of change they find!

Have fun running!