Makerspace as motivation

Just as my juniors are building relationships using a breakout game, my sophomores deserve more than the typical sit and get day one. Last year, I had them create origami boxes. This year, I’m leaning towards just the lids. They are the most challenging part of the box, and challenge, plus six word memoirs, should present them with an opportunity to practice grit and growth mindset.

Here’s a link to how to make the boxes, if you want to try it out yourself.

Instead of me standing up and explaining what to do, students will begin in one of four stations. The stations are:

  1. Origami box lid
  2. Six word memoir
  3. Six word memoir
  4. Origami box lid

Day one is only 28 minutes long, so I want them to have time to finish the lid and the memoir. Each station will have directions and models of what I want them to make. My goal is for them to create a box lid, glue in their memoir, and write their names on the back of the box lid. This way, I get to know them, but they do not have to overshare on day one. I plan to create the word YET on my wall, using the box lids.

If you’d like to try six word memoirs, below are some linked suggestions:

After an interlude of essay writing to show what they know from their summer reading assignment, Ready Player One from Ernest Cline on Day 2, we’ll move on to something I’m really excited about: personal motivation posters.

On Day 3, we’re back in makerspace.

After spending some time perusing examples of excellent motivational design, students will photograph each other and create their poster, using a quote that inspires them and their image. I’ll print these and mount them on black cardstock on my very white front wall, right under the word “community.” I can use this activity to get to know their names as well as allow them to get to know each other.

“A logo for MaKey Makey: Alphabet soup” by jayahimsa is shared under a CC by 2.0 license.


Save the forest: the paperless classroom

A paperless English classroom? Yes, please! It’s the unicorn of the English world–how do we empower students to think and learn for themselves without consuming a wildfire’s amount of paper? Well, these are my top tools for not only saving paper but also saving what little free time you have, if you’re an English teacher. In no particular order, my favorite tools.

Tool one: Touchcast

Are you sick of staying after school, pouring over those posters? Or wading through terrible Power Point presentations? Touchcast is a powerful tool for any content area, because it supports interactive video. Imagine: it’s not a printed and poorly glued picture, it’s a graphic that, when clicked, takes you directly to the website from which it came. Students can use their face or their voice in an organized presentation that invites the viewer to interact. Polls, a live Twitter feed, embedded videos, all hosted on not only Touchcast’s website but also on the iPad from which it came. It’s another free tool, on iPhones, iPads, and Apple desktops.

Tool two: Diigo

Have you ever taken your students to the library to print their research articles, because you want them to highlight and annotate the information they plan to use in their paper? Well, not only does Diigo, a Chrome extension, make printing articles a thing of the past, it also allows students to collaborate. They can share their annotated websites and pdfs, not just with you but with the class. Did you students forget to record the author or title of the website they visited? Well, because Diigo links to the information on the web, it’s easy for students to get back and get that vital citation information. And it’s free!

Tool three: Google Classroom

Google Classroom became my go-to tool for turning in papers last year. It is by far the easiest way I’ve found to disseminate and collect student work. I post the assignment, and students have an organized, uniform way to give it back to me. It’s timestamped, so I know if it’s late, and because Classroom does the legwork for keeping student work in one place, it’s easy for both my students and me to find it again. No more am I searching through my email to find student work. Totally free, as long as your school is a Google Apps for Education user. (If they’re not, go beg. It’s worth it!)

Tool four: Snagit

Do you spend hours marking up a student paper, only to have the student in question seemingly resubmit an identical paper, with only the minute grammar mistakes or spelling mistakes you marked changed? Or have you spent an entire week meeting face to face with students, painstakingly workshopping, only to have the student apparently ignore all your well thought out criticisms? Well, it’s not because students don’t care; it’s because they’re overwhelmed and confused. By using Snagit to create a screencast of a student’s paper, you can use your voice and your mouse to point out suggestions to students. Because you can record and because your students can replay those recordings outside of class, you not only save time, you save your sanity, because students will do a better job at revising their work. It’s a Chrome extension. And yes, it’s free.

I have used all of the above tools for several years now, and they have really done an amazing job at transforming my classroom. And now, as a bonus, the new tool I’m implementing this year:

Tool five: Goobric

Last year, the first year I used both Snagit and Google Classroom together, it took me hours to create an individual rubric for each student, which I would share in the Google Classroom comments along with the screencast. Well, Goobric is a major game changer. All I had to do was change my rubric from a Google doc to a Google sheet. Goobric not only created a rubric for each of my students, it recorded the results on a spreadsheet and copied the rubric on each student’s paper.

Have a great start to the year, and good luck in your new, paperless classroom!

Image attributed to

Creating meaningful student blogs

Yesterday, we created definitions of community, the theme of my composition classes. When I asked students to think of what constituted a successful community, many wonderful words came through. Communication, respect, trust, (not) isolation to name a few. I left with a warm glow: this year is going to be epic.

Have you ever gone to the gym, or tried to go to sleep, and the ideas just don’t stop coming? Well, it hit me like a lightning bolt on the arc climber yesterday: their definitions of successful community are my solution for how to solve last year’s student blog problems.

First, some small background: I’ve been blogging off and on for several years now, and I’ve had students in my creative writing class blog for two of those years. Creative writing students understood the purpose behind their blogs, and the connections they made with other writers was meaningful and pretty amazing. So last year, when I decided to use blogs with my high school composition classes, I thought they would be even more powerful. I was wrong.

Students did not understand the reason behind our publishing. I had asked them to reflect on their own learning and demonstrate their progress towards a particular Common Core standard, and I even had a parent who came in all hot about how terrible Common Core is. I talked him off the ledge when I showed him the standards, but my students did not buy in to the whole concept of reflective blogging anyway.

So now it’s this year, and I have a clearer purpose for their blogs. Less about standards based grading, which I love but the district doesn’t use (yet), and more about building a community of writers. I had planned to require students to comment in a meaningful way on each other’s blogs, and to have them blog fairly frequently. My ideas were reinforced by by the voxer book club that Paul Bailey invited me to join this summer. We’re reading Innovator’s Mindset together, and they have been wonderful to get to know using this new to me technology.

So how will the definitions come into play? Well, blogs are one way to communicate with others beyond our classroom. We can break our isolation from the world, show mutual trust and respect, and learn how to appropriately communicate online. I can’t wait!

Photo acredited to

Game on!

Often the biggest barrier to innovation is our own way of thinking. –George Couros

Ever wondered how to implement gamification into your classes beyond kill and drill review games? Me, too. Last year, I tried implementing Classcraft last year, but it didn’t quite fit. The excitement wasn’t there, and the energy to gamify flagged when kids leveled up enough to get their favorite outfits. I was just debating whether or not to try again when my husband stepped in.

He’s my favorite sounding board, because he believes I can do anything I set my mind to achieve. And when I told him about my epic fail to make the energy spike in my room, he jumped in with an awesome idea: create a storyline that is more epic than merely leveling up.

Some wild drawings later, we came up with this: a massive game of RISK, with students trying to dominate the world of the classroom. With his background in geology and our backgrounds in gaming, he painstakingly came up with a world map for my kids to dominate.

Each Classcraft team begins in a city on the map. They move one hexagon for every assignment they turn in on time. Together, the team is more powerful, but each member can go on their own to explore the map. As they conquer each square, they will uncover side quests that align with the unit we’re about to begin. Some quests will be available only for higher level characters. Each team has a resource they must first find and then protect from the other teams, and teams can challenge each other in a Boss Battle to conquer the world, all while deepening their connects to each other and to the content of the course. Students who fail to complete their work cannot move forward in the game and risk weakening their teams. One team will rule supreme, as kings and queens of our kingdom. After dominating, they can move on to conquer the other continents (that represent the other classes I teach.)

Gaming ties right in with my desire to create deeper connections within my classroom, as well as fits right in with the novel we read this summer, Ready Player One.

Let the games begin, and may the odds be ever in your favor!

Photo credit to


Pawns or partners?

Now that I’m (mostly) done with teaching Higher Ed, I should have a little more time to write. By next weekend, I’ll start expanding on these posts. 

As part of a Twitter book club (#TBookC, which meets 3 Thursdays of every month at 9 EST), I am currently reading Daniel Pink’s Drive. Part one discussed the idea of intrinsic vs extrinsic motivation, and which tasks suffer from extrinsic motivation.

Part 2, the section we’re discussing this week, moves into various theories of workplace management. Specifically, it looks at controlled vs autonomous work environments. It strikes me that the dichotomy of the two environments is very similar to the difference between teacher centered and student centered learning. This post will explore how both environments might work within a school.

Grit vs Apathy

To honor both my commitment to #Edblogaday and my crazy life this next week, this post serves as a stem for a longer blog post. After this weekend, I’ll be done with the community college classes I teach, and I can go back and flesh these out in more detail.

The end of this year has served as an experimental playground for my classes and me. This year marks not only the last year I’ll be teaching 10th grade lowest English, but also the best year of teaching the same. As such, I’ve tried out some techniques that before I have been told were only workable with “Advanced” students.

One such technique, literature circles, requires students to read a book on their own, without much input from me, and then discuss it several times a week with a group of students reading the same book. If you’ve never done such an activity, students set goals for how much they need to read before each discussion as well as fill out a “role” sheet about their chapters.  To help students stay on task, I’m using, one of my favorite websites that, fair warning, is also one of my part time jobs. Curriculet offers Common Core aligned questions and quizzes as well as embedded annotations to help engage student readers (if you’re curious, I write curriculets for them on the side).

The rest of this post will be a reflection on how some students have rushed through Marley and Me. one of the choices students had, in one weekend, with one student getting most of the questions right and the other two missing most if not all of the questions. In contrast, some students are struggling with Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by reading it at a slower pace than their group but getting a higher percentage of questions correct. I want to delve into how I could have handled the assignment differently while still remaining fair to the students.

A meeting of the minds

Just before Thanksgiving, we had a meeting of the minds. All the sophomore teachers and the administration got together, to discuss “what to do with the sophomores.” By luck or by happenstance, a double handful of students in the sophomore class have been dominating the majority of our time. They throw things in class (remember playdough boy?), argue when caught misbehaving, and disrupt the learning of the people around them. As the Ohio Graduation Test looms larger in our minds, something had to change.

Well, I have spent a considerable amount of time, trying to “flip” my classroom this year. At first, my principal was supportive, allowing me to experiment, but as the year has progressed, we have both grown increasingly frustrated. For the last several weeks in my general English class, I have asked them to create meaning from our classroom novel. They have applied various reading strategies, such as making textual connections, inferring from context clues, and determining what is most important about the text, with support from me. Some days, we have practiced close reading techniques in a discussion forum, and we’ve used graphic organizers to examine indirect characterization. I haven’t been telling them what is important, but drawing from them key elements and supporting them as they explore the novel. Some students have blossomed and really enjoyed the novel, while others have been a disruption and a problem.

My principal has clearly expressed that he wants more teacher directed lessons from everyone, because he feels that teacher centered classrooms are more orderly with less discipline problems. Apparently, critical thinking and problem solving, with its messy, active space, are less attractive to him than orderly rows and quiet students. He told me that he feels the sophomores are not mature enough to handle the freedom of choice. When recording “on task” vs “off task” behavior, he observes more on task behavior when the teacher tells the students what to do.

This isn’t all bad news. The administration informed us that we should warn a student who breaks a rule, letting them know that the next infraction would result in a consequence. If a student protests either the warning or the consequence, we could tell them to report to the office and assign them a consequence. Whatever we assigned them, the office would double if they had to be removed from class. I for one breathed a sigh of relief. If every sophomore class is treated the same way, then maybe my double handful will finally start to grow up.

This Tuesday, he met with the entire sophomore class, and the outcome has been startling. I will blog tomorrow about what has happened.