Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Curt's Crazy Cafe

I know that I left everyone hanging at the end of my last post wondering what "Curt's Crazy Cafe" was all about.  Some of my students' first reactions upon entering on the first day were:

1. "Amazing, completely and utterly amazing. It is set up so awesomely!"
2. "My first impression of Curt's Crazy Cafe was that this was going to be a strange experience that I would tell stories about."
3. "This is nicer than some real cafes I've been in!"

What could I have done to get this kind of reaction? A complete transformation of my classroom so that it looked at felt like a cafe.

After about $35 at the local dollar store, I walked out with six different colored plastic tablecloths, six different kinds of fake flowers, six glass vases, six sets of salt and pepper shakers, six tea light holders, and six electric tea light candles.

The Buffet Table
Each Trait Hangs Above 

Welcome to Curt's Crazy Cafe where cooking up great writing is fun and tasty!


Inside each folder is one to two assignments to learn and practice what the different writing traits are. Since there are nine assignments, I set nine days as a benchmark since they should not take more than a class period to complete.  A fellow teacher created/found many of the assignments.  I tweaked them to fit my class and added a few lessons from the writing traits kit that I have from my district. (See Freebies page)

My Name Tag
Since traveling to different countries is one of my passions, I worked that into the unit by having the cafe turn into a different country each day.  Using Grooveshark, I created playlists for each country based on my favorites or ones that were representative of the country.  I made sure to have enough songs to play for the entire period. (Click here to view or use my playlists.) I asked students to dress up and to bring snacks.  If they dressed and brought snacks that matched the theme, they would get LearningEarning bucks (will blog about this great site another time). I am not telling students what the next day's cafe will be until school ends.  They have to check Edmodo or get the message from Remind 101 in order to know.

For day one, I used Caribbean first since I knew many students had Hawaiian shirts or beach hats from our day two experience.  Also, I loved that it was alliteration! 
Curt's Crazy Caribbean Cafe

I chose an American cafe for day two since I figured many students had red, white, and blue to wear.  I played many classic rock songs.  When Bon Jovi's Wanted Dead or Alive came on, many began singing while working.  Excitement went through the roof when Michael Jackson's Beat It started! To have this happen on Friday seventh period is absolutely wonderful.

I really pumped up the cafe on Monday when I made it a Mexican cafe.  I had chili pepper lights that have sat in my attic for years, a sombrero hat, chili pepper necklace, and fiesta signs to make it Cinco de Mayo in the cafe.


Since today was the middle of the week, I decided to surprise them even more.  Last night, I messaged out that I had a surprise.  I decided to make do the Irish cafe since my husband has a very easy soda bread recipe.  It only took two batches to make 75 slices, and I had all ingredients except the sour cream.  Also, I was quite sure very few students have ever eaten it, and I wanted to introduce them to something new.  Many of them loved it.  A few didn't like raisins, but they liked them in the bread.

I'm saving the Spanish (Spain) cafe for Friday since I was able to pick up an awesome Spanish black hat with red pom poms hanging from it.  For our final day, I'm having my favorite, Curt's Crazy Italian Cafe.  I have lots of Carmen Consoli (the more C's the better!) songs to play and will have another food treat, pizzelles.  My daughter's caretaker is loaning me her machine, recipe, and containers.  Since she said it makes two every 30 seconds, I figured it will be super easy to get 75 of them! (I hope.)

As the students work, I remind them how many days the cafe has left and that by then the cafe will disappear and so will my crazy outfits.  Many don't want it to leave nor my outfits. "We love them!"

Since I have had such bad hat head from the chef hat or the other hats I've been wearing, I have had to wear my entire outfit, chef hat and all, to some parent conferences.  I'm amazed that none of them have given me a strange look or question me about it.  Everyone in my building, including all the other students, is used to me and are now asking me what country I am today! I never could have imagined this last year.

Japanese cafe
Spanish Cafe

Pizelles (Pizelli) for Italian Cafe

Friday, October 18, 2013

Infectious Party Atmosphere at Parent Conferences

Thanks to Todd Whitaker's ideas in his book 10 Minute In-service and to Dave Burgess for his presentation ideas and hooks, we were able to make our parent - teacher conferences an unforgettable experience for everyone!

Upon walking down the hallway towards our classrooms, families were greeted by our humongous, handmade welcome banner.  Also, we had pizza and coffee for refreshments.  Since we knew many would have to wait to meet each of us, we created three activity tables.  On one table we had two laptops for use in checking our team web page, students' online grades (we use gradebookwizard), and Edmodo.  The second table had Angry Birds coloring pages, and the third had all the supplies and directions needed to make a monster bookmark.

Since a team member's son, who works at Hasbro, donated the games, we were able to create a family game night basket as a door prize.  We sent home a flyer announcing our plans for the evening and to receive notice if they were going to be able to attend.  Students received an extra raffle ticket for the door prize if the flyer was returned.  Each family received a raffle ticket for each teacher they visited.

Besides a raffle ticket, families received a token of thanks from each teacher.  I made labels for all of the tokens.  See my freebies page for the different labels for apples, popcorn, mounds candy bar, and almond joy candy bar (I forgot to take a photo of this one).  Unfortunately, the QR Code that was to take them to our team web page was too small for the app to read.  Parents were surprised and seemed to love getting the little treats.

Since our corner was a beehive of activity for the entire three hours, a "buzz" started to go around the school.  Other families became interested in what was happening, and other teachers visited, too.  Throughout the following day, many teachers told me that it was amazing.  I created a survey using SurveyMonkey in order to get feedback from the families.

Thank you Todd and Dave for giving me the inspiration to reach for greatness and for getting my creative juices flowing!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Fun Times with Author's Purpose and Inferences

With state testing taking up most of the students' days these past two weeks, I haven't been able to blog about our happenings since not much was happening.

Testing is done so we are off and running now!

While on Pinterest, I saw all kinds of PIE ideas for author's purpose.  I decided to use Erin's from I'm Lovin' Lit and tweaked it with one idea from Pinterest.  I like using foldables and found hers easy to use.  It's one lesson in her Interactive Reading Informational Text Notebooks.  I used the one with the three pockets, but on the pocket I put the definitions and example of the kinds of texts.  Using the blank squares she provided, students looked through Scholastic book club flyers for books that were either persuading, informing, or entertaining.  Students put two books per a square and put them into the correct pockets.  While searching, students had to make inferences about the author's purpose based on the book title, cover, and small blurb.

Final Product
I used the author's purpose lesson as a springboard into our inferences lesson.  Since they will be doing plenty of inferencing on text they read in the future, I wanted the refresher to be entertaining.  What better way to entertain middle school students, especially during state testing, than to use short, animated videos? There are none! I found a few videos myself on Pinterest, but it was few and far between.  I am extremely grateful that I follow and read Jaime's blog over at Technology Up to Speed!  She posted about movie shorts and reading strategies with links to all the movie clips on YouTube and handouts to use.  I used Keepvid to download the videos in case they should disappear and want to use them again.  I used her handout idea, but I added guiding questions to help students know the parts where they should be making an inference.

Visit again to read all about the Pumas' Parent - Teacher Party during parent conferences and how it was received by the parents.  You won't want to miss finding out about Curt's Crazy Cafe - where creating great writing is fun (and tasty).

If you haven't read about my amazing professional development presentations about Teach Like a Pirate, do so now! It will be worth your time if you want ideas on how to TLAP your presentations. You can catch up on it since we're on hiatus this week due to the conferences.