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Badges/Brag Tags & Slides Collaboration

Badges & Brag Tags– Interested in offering incentives in your classroom but want to get away from giving kids more “stuff” like candy, small toys, food, etc.? A number of teachers are using badges and “brag tags”– virtual or physical stickers/tags that signify when a student has accomplished a skill, behavior, task, or proficiency level. Doing some looking into this idea, I came across this post on that does a great job of explaining badges, why you might use them, and how to get started.

Kasey Bell (@shakeuplearning) has a great blog post where she recommends a number of tech tools for getting started with badges. Jeff Peterson (@petersonjeffrey) just tried out and was pleased with the end product, but said the technology was a little cumbersome. Though there was a bit of a learning curve with the technology, Jeff created a badge for each Essential Learning that students are expected to be proficient in by the end of the year. Jeff plans to use these “merit badges”  when a student reaches proficiency of an Essential Learning. He is turning them into stickers for students to add to their interactive science notebooks as they progress through the course. Though Jeff is using actual stickers in his class, there are a number of tech options available– even ones that are supposed to integrate with Canvas. Take a look at Kasey Bell’s post that was mentioned above.

I’ve also heard this similar concept called “brag tags”, which might be more prevalent at the elementary level. There are loads of resources, Pinterest boards, Teacher Pay Teachers templates, and posts online if you’d like to give a physical incentive vs. digital. A quick Google search will give you tons of ideas and resources.


Collaborative Google Slides– Last Spring I attended the Ditch That Homework workshop with Alice Keeler (@alicekeeler) and Matt Miller (@jmattmiller) where using Google Slides as an interactive way to lead a class period was shared. I have noticed that I love using all of the Google Apps but often struggle with utilizing the best part about them– the ease of collaboration. Here are a few ideas that Alice shared that might kick-start some collaboration and feedback in your classroom:

  • Feedback Loop– Alice demonstrated how she has students work on an assignment in a Google Slides presentation that is the “template” for their work. All students share the same presentation but add their own slide. She sits with a few students and provides feedback while looking over their shoulders and then goes to her computer and posts comments on slides for a few more. She repeats this process and attempts to provide personalized feedback to as many students as possible. She talked a lot about providing quality feedback and even teaching students how to do the same. Since the presentation is shared students can also leave feedback for each other. To get started, be sure to make a copy of your Slides presentation then share the copy (with editing rights) with your students. This can be done directly by inviting them to edit or making the URL accessible to them.
  • “Post-its”– Create a slide in your presentation that poses a question or task that requires a response. Then create an empty text box, change the fill color, copy & paste it a number of times. During class, students will then drag and drop a text box on the slide and type their response. The end result looks a lot like Padlet, but the comments button allows the teacher (and students) to push or guide thinking. Students can also be asked to comment on other students’ responses.
  • Polling– Want to ask a super quick question but don’t want to exit out of your presentation or use a polling app like PollEverywhere? Pose a question at the top of the slide and create a large text box for each possible response (such as “yes” and “no”). Choose an image or icon and copy paste that image a number of times into the slide. During class, students will show their response to the question by moving an image into the appropriate response box.

To access more ideas, step-by-step instructions, and templates visit Alice’s website


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Beginning of the Year Strategies for Making Connections from Poor Students, Rich Teaching

I borrowed a book from a friend and colleague that I’d like to share a few tidbits from. They are particularly relevant for these first few weeks of school, no matter your student population or make-up. Poor Students, Rich Teaching: Mindsets for Change by Eric Jensen is full of classroom strategies for student success that he places under 4 categories: relational mindset, achievement mindset, rich classroom climate mindset, and engagement mindset. I’m still reading, but finished the chunk on relational mindset with a list of ideas to share. Image result for poor students rich teaching

As we know, building relationships with our students early in the year will lead to more positive experiences in the classroom all year long. Jensen says this about the “relational mindset”– “We are all connected in this life together. Always connect first as a person (and an ally) and then as a teacher second.” Here are the 3 big ideas from this mindset:

  • Personalize the learning.
  • Connect everyone for success.
  • Show empathy.

To put these ideas into practice, Jensen describes a number of activities and strategies to use in your classroom. Here are just a few that I found relevant and timely–

Name Learning Strategies for Teachers & Students– This is always tough at the beginning of the year, isn’t it? Check out a few of these ideas.

  • Introductions– have students say their name before asking a question or making a comment for the first few weeks of school. You’ll eventually tie the name with the face.
  • Desk Name tags
  • Alliteration– create a connection to the student and their likes by making an alliteration of their name (I love the idea of students creating these for you!) like “Chelsea chatty.”
  • Interviews– Partner students up for 2-3 minutes to find out something about the other person that is hard to forget. Each partner takes turns introducing the other to the class.
  • “Me” Bags– students fill a lunch sack with items that tell about them and their interests. Teachers create one, too. Share a few each day. Could be done with tech instead of using actual objects, as well!

Icebreaker Questions– Also check out this post on for a month of icebreaker questions to use with your students. The calendar is cute and has some great questions to help you get to know your kiddos!  

A Month of Icebreaker Questions for Kids

Cooperative Learning Groups– Another part of building relationships early in the year involves students working together. There are many structures out there for cooperative learning and reciprocal teaching. Give students the tools for a positive experience with a few of Jensen’s tips–

  • Allow groups to create team names, slogans, cheers, or logos for their group
  • Provide students with unique and valued roles
  • Create class norms for group behavior
  • Allow for some occasional down time

Showing Empathy– This passage from Poor Students, Rich Teaching really was a powerful one for me to read. Take a look and see what you think. I can imagine how this would “change the game” for some of our students.

“If a student is late for class, remember the first of Stephen R. Covey’s (2013) seven habits: seek first to understand. Listen more, and talk less. Before anything else (like a reprimand for tardiness), check for safety. “Are you OK?” Ask what happened without judging. Instead of reprimanding the student, talk privately when you have a chance. Say, “We missed you. Are you OK? Can you talk about what happened?” A lecture about tardiness is unnecessary; make sure students know you miss them and want them in your awesome class. This is what gets students to show up: when someone cares!”

For me, this really struck a cord. What would have happened all of the times that I reprimanded a student for doing something they shouldn’t have if I had approached the situation like this? He goes on to explain that many of the behaviors and reactions we see from students are a result of them not knowing how to respond. Modeling calm, appropriate responses and then talking students through the correct behavior not only keeps the situation from escalating, but teaches the student a life skill.


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Brain Break Ideas– Minefield, Positive Notes, & More

I had the pleasure of leading some brain break activities at our Staff Council Retreat yesterday. Though I lead adults through these activities, each of them could easily be adapted to fit  your grade level and content area for student participation.

  • Minefield– This challenge is SO much fun! The object of the challenge is to get each team member or student across the “minefield” without getting buzzed out and without speaking. First, place thirty, 8.5 x 11 pieces of paper on the floor in 6 rows. Line up participants and have them step on the pieces of paper to make their way across the minefield. Only 1 square per row is “safe”. If participants step on any of the other papers in the row “buzz” them out– I used a free buzzer app on my phone. Participants get back in line until all make it across by stepping on the correct pieces of paper. Remember that NO TALKING is the only rule. Feel free to allow them to communicate non-verbally. You will need–
    • Paper–  placed in rows
    • Pre-planned “safe squares”– I drew a little diagram & made “Xs” on the correct squares
    • Buzzer app
  • Best Smile/Legs Contest– The name of this one is a little misleading. It is much more of a guessing game. Take a few pictures of teachers’ smiles or legs (I kept all leg pics below the knee & all had long pants on) that are cropped enough that you cannot tell who they belong to. During a quick break, have participants try to guess who is the owner of that leg or smile. It is just that simple! Have participants trade & grade or grade themselves. I could see this being done with celebrity smiles or cartoon legs, too! Supplies needed:
    • Images of smiles or legs labelled with numbers
    • Paper for participants to write their guesses on
  • This is Better Than That–  For this challenge, participants work in groups to rank objects in their usefulness in a provided scenario. The goal is to be as creative as possible. Here is the prompt that I used–

You started from a tropic port aboard a tiny ship. You and 5 other passengers set sail that day for a 3 hour tour.
The weather started getting rough and the tiny ship was tossed. If not for the courage of the fearless crew the ship would be lost.
The ship set aground on the shore of this uncharted desert isle.
Now you’re here for a long, long time and have to make due. Rank and explain the items from most to least important to you. Be as creative as you can!

After reading the prompt aloud, show the group 6 items to rank–  I used a plastic cup, 2 sets of chopsticks, a ball of yarn, a golden rubber duck, a plush Pokeball, and a bag of decorative marbles. Groups then split up and work together to rank the items and provide their reason for choosing that item. The responses will range from logical to creative and downright silly. Have group share their responses. You will need–

    • A number of random items
    • Prompt or scenario
    • Paper/handout for ranking & responses– 1 per group
  • Positive Posts– This activity was a great way to wrap up the day. I think it would be wonderful to use maybe within the first few weeks of school when students have just gotten to know each other. Pass out a piece of construction paper to each participant. Have them write their name in any way they wish in the middle of the paper (some will use decorative lettering, draw pictures, etc. while others will simply sign or write their names). Collect their papers and line them up around the room. Have participants then move around the room and write a positive note to each person whose name is in the middle of the paper. Once everyone has commented on every paper, collect, laminate and then pass back. It is great for participants to see the positive thoughts people have of them! Supplies needed–
    • Colored paper for each participant
    • Markers, pens, etc. for writing on paper


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Welcome Back– A Couple Quick Tips

Here are a few small ideas for the beginning of the year. If you would like more information or help putting any of these ideas into action, please let me know!

  • Sub Tub— This is something elementary teachers may be familiar with– so let’s steal it! Create a bin/milk crate/tub that contains lesson plans, seating charts, and any needed handouts for those days that you are unable to come in and prepare substitute lesson plans. It’s also great to keep everyone organized and in one place for those times when you may have up to 5 or 6 different subs in your room!
  • Seating Chart Pictures— Just a reminder that you can print seating charts with student pictures on them. This is great for substitute teachers and for the first few weeks of school while you are learning names. Hop into Skyward after assigning seats; click By Seating Chart; Printer Friendly Listing and adjust the size of the pictures to your liking before you hit print.
  • New Student Bags— While you have all of your beginning-of-the-year paperwork and supplies out the first few days, place extras in individual Ziploc gallon-sized bags. You can even write a note such as, “Welcome to class!” on the front. When new students enroll or schedules change, you can simply hand the new student a bag with everything they need to start your class on the right foot.


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PLCs At Work– Understanding the Big Picture

Last week, I attended the PLC At Work Institute by Solution Tree in St. Charles, MO. Before I fill you in on the conference, I’ll let you know that St. Charles is a historic, unique little place just outside of St. Louis. Our group really enjoyed all of the locally owned and operated shops and restaurants in the area. Though we stayed at the hotel connected to the conference center, it was easy to get the hotel shuttle back and forth to Main Street to enjoy the town’s offerings each evening. We dined at Trailhead Brewing Co., Tony’s steakhouse and Hendricks BBQ and enjoyed them all. 

Now, on to the good stuff! Our district has only just begun our “PLC journey” (as it was called throughout the week) so I came to St. Charles ready to learn. After hearing from a number of PLC “gurus” I feel as though I have wrapped my brain around a few big ideas that weren’t necessarily clear to me from my district’s initial roll-out of this concept–

  • Professional Learning Communities are a structure used by many schools to guide collaboration and ensure student learning.
  • The focus is on student learning. No matter what.
  • The 4 guiding questions used by a PLC are not an agenda but are the driving force of the work.
  • The work of a PLC centers around a growth mindset– students and teachers are always learning more and working towards success.

The presenters throughout the week said many of these points much more eloquently than I did here but these were my basic take aways. Overall, it makes a lot of sense why districts, buildings, and teacher teams would embrace this concept. It is a focus on student learning while working in a collaborative environment. In my mind, if you think about the PLC process as a structure, just like a structure you would use in your classroom to guide group work for instance, it is no longer another “thing” but a strategy. It is a way to guide collaboration of teachers with the sole purpose of helping kids learn. Presenter Anthony Muhammed said, “PLC is just a way of doing business. Think about it as the operating system for your computer– it organizes the work.” That’s it.

It is my understanding that there is a lot of freedom within form that wasn’t necessarily clear at our school last year. I think we all got tied to the 4 questions as more of an agenda and that limited the discussions that were had during our PLC work time. I also think that the connection between our work in our PLCs and RTI was lacking. In my opinion, questions 3 & 4 (what will we do if they don’t know it? If they already do?) were the “nice to knows/do” versus the driving force of our time together. Now that I have attended the Institute, I understand that a PLC structure is a way for teachers to work together to ensure that all students are learning at high levels no matter what skills they come to the table with. Though we need to be very clear on what it is we want our students to learn (which our district is working on right now through curriculum collaboration work) the real focus of our work time together must center around the students in our classrooms and how to get them to succeed at high levels.

It made sense to me that we would start thinking about “our” students as a group instead of comparing class averages that belong to the teacher. The idea is to find students that need extra help and give it to them– no matter who their teacher is. Here’s a taste of a few of the powerful statements that were made throughout the week–

  • “Are we talking about success for all or success for some?” – Tim Brown
  • “If you wait for kids to fail, they will.” – Mike Mattos
  • “They built this school so that students have a place to learn… not so that I can teach.” – Mike Mattos
  • “Are the decisions we are making right here and right now what is best for students or most convenient for us?” – Luis Cruz

As you can see, what really hit home for me was the big picture of committing to PLCs. My hope is that our district will send teacher teams to the conference in the future. More focused ideas from the institute to come. I will be attending a district training on PLCs next week and will try to share info gleaned from it, as well. Want more tidbits from the Institute? Search the hashtag #atPLC on Twitter and check out the resources at for loads of quotes, ideas, reproducibles, and more.



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Motivation vs. Discipline, KWL-H, & Social/Emotional Curriculum

I attended a professional training called High Ability Bootcamp held by my district last week. Here are a few tidbits that I gleaned that could be relevant in any content area or any level, as many of these could be beneficial to all students.

Motivation vs. Discipline– As middle school teachers we often struggle with students that just aren’t doing the work. It can be tough to differentiate between a student that is being a discipline problem and one that struggles with motivation as they often look the same in our eyes. Here are a few descriptors that were shared from Diane Heacox to help you determine which case you are dealing with and what to do to help–

Discipline issue:

  • Disrupts learning of others
  • Disrupts the flow of the lesson
  • Damages property
  • Poses a physical or emotional threat to others

Motivation issue:

  • Low self-confidence (general or academic)
  • Low expectations of success
  • Lack of interest
  • Fear of failure or success

If you are dealing with a student having trouble with discipline be sure to work with your counselors, administrators, parents, and any other stakeholders to create plans to ensure that this student is having his/her needs met and for their academic success. I have loads of information on working with students from trauma that might be helpful– just ask if you’re interested.

If the student is struggling with motivation, which can often be seen in high ability students, here are a few areas to address–

  • Autonomy– Choice and time flexibility are sometimes the key for an unmotivated student. Think about utilizing tools like learning menus that allow students to choose their “path” of learning and when they complete activities.
  • Mastery– Some students are reluctant to start if they don’t feel that they will receive a “perfect” score. Think about chunking or working with small successes before moving up to the larger assignment.
  • Purpose– For some students the “why” is essential. Take a look at this clip Michael Jr: Know Your Why.
  • Belonging– It can be difficult to make connections with students that aren’t doing their work but can really pay off in the end. Talk with them about what interests them. Ask their opinion. Ask for their assistance. Compliment them on something other than academics.

Carolyn Chapman has a number of strategies and resources for working with unmotivated students that are also worth taking a look at.

KWL-H– Many of us have used KWL charts in the past. Students begin a lesson by filling the “K” column with words, phrases, opinions, etc. that they already have or know about the given topic. They also fill the “W” with any wonders or want to knows. Ultimately they would then fill the “L” with new knowledge learned during the unit. This tip is to add an “H” column to this organizer indicating how students plan to learn the information or skill that is the focus of the unit. Think about preparing a list of possible activities at the beginning of the year but then allowing students to create their own once routines and expectation have been established. Choices that you could include on a learning menu would be great to list here– online research, books, sketchnotes, organizers, create a video, use a textbook, make a mind map, etc.

Social/Emotional Curriculum– One characteristic of high ability students, and middle school students as a whole, is emotional sensitivity. Think about incorporating some of those “life lessons” that we often learn the hard way into your lesson planning. Check out this feature from Pottermore.comHow Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone Tackled Bullying (you thought you were going to get a post without mention of HP!). Also think about having students journal or draw about how they feel as bellwork or a wrap-up for the lesson. Maybe have a discussion about the emotions that were prevalent in a story, historical event or time period, artwork, photograph, etc. that is tied to your lesson/content.

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Reflection– Student Feedback, Video, & Blogging

The end of the school year is often a time of reflection. We think back on the year and all that it brought with mixed emotions. How did this year go? What will I do again next year? What will I definitely refrain from doing again? Though I know the last thing many teachers want to think about is the start of school in August, when all we need is a break, here are a few ideas on reflection to check out for implementation next year.

Feedback From Students– One way to gather some useful feedback, and have students reflect on their experience in your class, is to have students complete a course evaluation at the end of the 9 weeks, semester, or year. Take a look at a few feedback forms from The Center for Teaching at Vanderbilt College to get you started. I personally like “B” & “C” because they provide a little more focused information. Think about utilizing your teacher evaluation rubric to guide you in creating your own. I will never forget when receiving feedback from my students early in my career how surprised I was to see that they wanted me to be “more strict.” Or that my favorite units/projects were students’ least favorite. Not only do you get the honest truth from your students but occasionally you get a comment or two that makes all of the tough days worth it.

Think About Video– Please don’t start sweating and shaking your head “no” as you read this. One great way to reflect on your teaching and gain useful feedback is to video record part of a class period. I know you may be getting flashbacks to college courses where you had to check out a camcorder and you may still even have your VHS tapes tucked away on a dusty shelf somewhere. But I think this is a worthy idea to consider. Here’s why–

  • Video allows you to get a true picture of what is actually happening in your classroom. It is difficult to see and hear all that is happening in a busy classroom when you are in the thick of it. Why not see what your evaluator sees when he/she walks into the room?
  • You are able to create a worthwhile goal to improve your practice– not something that is just another box to check off before the end of the year. When you watch your classroom on video you are able to see areas of potential improvement that are relevant and meaningful to you and your students.
  • Use your video to create meaningful dialogue between you and your instructional coach. Instead of using your coach as purely a “resource finder” put them to work for you. When you have identified a need he/she can work with you to select strategies and ideas to implement that are specific to that need. He/she can also model, observe, and provide ongoing feedback to help you reach the goal you have created.

Think about it. Remember that your video is for you and no one else. Watching the first few times can be tough– I now know my voice is weird, I nod my head a lot,  and I play with my earrings when I’m nervous (among other faults). Ugh. But, the gain is totally worth the pain.

Blogging– Check out some of these sites and think about getting started with your own blog. It might sound like just another thing to add to the to-do list but I think it is worth looking into. Not only does a blog give you a chance to share tips, tricks, ideas, etc. with other educators (we learn the most from each other!) but it also gives you a chance to reflect on your current practice. Sitting down weekly, distilling all of the weeks activities, lessons, strategies, and ideas down into a story, step-by-step, or collection of tidbits forces you to look at what you are doing and why you are doing it. Not much of a writer? Don’t worry! Think about what you want from a blog– useful info, great ideas, and  relevance.

Happy summer break to all! Just a quick note– I will be posting throughout the summer though posts may be a little less regular. Thanks for reading!


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Memory Boxes, Top 10 Lists, & Packing Up This Year To Prep For Next

Memory Box– Need a great review or assessment technique? Want to give students a chance to show you all they know on a given topic? Or want to know what background knowledge students are coming to you with? Think about using a Memory Box. Students fill a box, frame, page, space, etc. with anything they can on a given topic. This can include lists, drawings, thoughts, opinions, ideas– really, anything. Make this activity digital (students could include images or links in this format) or keep it classic with paper pencil. Either way, give your students time to reflect on their learning and make it visual with this strategy. Want to take it a step further? Try one of these–

  • Class-created Memory Box– Do this activity with the whole class using a shared Google Doc or Slide.
  • Showdown– Students compare their boxes and earn a point for each idea their partner doesn’t have.
  • Expanded or On-going– Use this as a working document where students add notes as they go.
  • “Test” Your Memory– Have students fill a box before taking a test or quiz and use it as a reference throughout, if needed. Or have students fill the box with anything they know but wasn’t tested on at the end of the assessment.

I could also see this being a great page in interactive notebooks next year. Check out more strategies like this from the  resource site for the book Tools for Thoughtful Assessment. There are some great ideas for checks for understanding, processing information, and student data tracking.

Top 10 Lists– As we wrap up another school year, I know a number of teachers ask students to create an end-of-year project to show what they know. One thought would be to have students create a Top 10 List from the year in your content area. We all loved David Letterman’s Top 10’s, so why not use that same concept to have students process information learned? Have students brainstorm a big list of concepts, skills, activities, etc. that were a part of your class this year. Then, have them pull out the top 10 learnings and rank them, leaving the most valuable bit of information for #1. Think about whether you’d like to allow a sense of humor or if you want them to stick to facts/content only. This could be done paper/pencil, or think about utilizing these digital tools–

  •– infographic templates are easy to use. I’m not sure how easy manipulation will be on the iPads– please let me know what you think if you try this out.
  • Google Drawing– students can create infographic-like lists from scratch.
  • Google Slides– have you noticed that capabilities for adding images, text boxes, text effects, etc. is tough in Docs? Utilize Google Slides to give students more capabilities to express their ideas. Google apps are great for collaboration, so think about whether this assignment is best in groups or individual.
  • Piktochart– editable templates much like Canva. I, personally, feel that it is a little more difficult to share your presentation once you’ve created it but worth checking out.

Need some inspiration? Check out some old top 10s from The Tonight Show or check out resources such as Time’s Top 10 Everything of 2016.

Summer Pack-Up– Take a minute to check out this great blog post from Jodi at The Connected Classroom. This site, Upper Elementary Snapshots, features posts from teachers and former teachers with all types of focus areas and expertise. I know the name may be a little off-putting for some of us middle school teachers but there is a wealth of good info here if you just do a little digging. This post in particular is 3 Boxes Teachers Should Pack Before Summer Vacation. Here is the basic idea–

  • Get your back to school materials ready to go this week (maybe while students are taking finals or working on final projects) and save yourself some time in July. Think about including that paperwork you’ll need to give students the first week of school, Back to School Night materials,  lesson plans, notes-to-self, etc.
  • Designate a box for all of your teacher desk “stuff” so that it is easy to bust those things back out after summer cleaning.
  • Place in a box any decoration or set-up supplies you may need to get your space looking fab for your students such as bulletin board items, bins, table numbers, etc.

If you do a little clicking around you’ll see that Jodi has also posted some ideas for making your classroom clutter free (we all want to start that way, don’t we?!) as well other ideas for making the smooth transition from this year to the next. You might also want to scroll through the “About Us” section to find more additions to your professional learning network– many are on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.


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HP in NYC, Field Trip Zoom, & Mystery Hangout

As the end of the school year approaches, I begin thinking of the travelling that I will do over the summer (and in this case, Spring 2018!). So, here are a few travel-related ideas for classrooms this week.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: NYC– Merlin’s beard! Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, the stage play depicting Harry as a middle-aged dad sending his son Albus to Hogwarts, is coming to Broadway in the spring of 2018. Though the story does not focus on Harry himself, Potterheads of the US are rejoicing in the opportunity to see the latest installment to the HP story. The play has been winning awards and selling out seats since June 2016 in London.

For those of you that aren’t geeking out about this (Like I am! Yaaassss!) but do teach middle school, this is the perfect time to get students reading, or re-reading, the Harry Potter series. The 20th anniversary of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone coming up in June, recent release of the movie Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the upcoming online book club through, and now the stage play in NYC are all great ways to get students interested (again) in these magical reads. Here are some resources for wizards and muggles alike–

  •— This is the online center of the Wizarding World. Access up-to-date news pertaining to all things HP and dig deeper into the story while reading the books to get the details on characters, creatures, and more. Find out your Patronus, wand, and Hogwarts (or Ilvermorny) House all on this fantastic site. The new book club will be hosted by Pottermore, though I believe much of the participation will be done on Twitter.
  •— New to the world of HP? Check out this site to read excerpts from the books, listen to audio of chapters, and meet the illustrators.
  •— This is author J.K. Rowling’s website where readers can get current news and information pertaining to the HP world and her other writings.
  • There are TONS of Twitter accounts that could be followed to keep HP info flowing to you throughout the day, but do know that many are unofficial and could be anyone– I would urge students to stick with official accounts unless you are sure of the content being shared.
  • Do some Google searching and you’ll also find loads of posts about books for people who loved reading the Harry Potter series. Because many of these are blog posts, they may not be accessible to students when searching at school.

Swish and flick.

Field Trip Zoom– I just heard about this  from our e-learning coach in the district. Field Trip Zoom offers virtual field trips that are scheduled in advance and designed for student engagement. I have not tried this service out myself so I can only tell you what I have read on their website. It appears that you do pay for the service and there are many experiences to choose from at different grade levels and across content areas. I noticed events on the calendar that ranged in content from the Civil War to the Day of the Dead. The videos that I watched of students participating seemed to be more elementary focused though they do offer middle school and even high school “trips”. Here are the two options–

  • Field Trip Zoom Zone allows you to stream video and students are guided through the virtual field trip. This is only one-way communication– students cannot interact with the presenter. This field trip could be streamed by any number of classrooms at the same time throughout the country. This is set up much like a webinar, is my understanding.
  • Field Trip Zoom Class allows your classroom to not only be guided through the experience but also allows them to interact with the presenter. You do need some tech capabilities (video, microphone, etc.) to make this happen.

I know it can be difficult to get field trips scheduled, link to content, and find ones that students haven’t already participated in over past years in school. I’d be interested to hear what you think about this option. Please let me know if you decide to try this service out. I would love to participate and to hear about the process, pricing, and overall experience.

Mystery Hangout– Another way for students to “travel” outside the classroom is to host a Mystery Hangout. The idea is that your students would connect with a classroom via Google Hangout or Skype, somewhere else in the world other than their own school building. Students take turns asking each other “yes”/”no” questions to ultimately guess where the other classroom is. I absolutely love this idea for social studies and world language classes but would love to brainstorm some ideas for broadening the scope to other content areas. 


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Google Keep, Flipgrid, and Spinners

Google Keep– This is a tool that I learned about while at the GAFE Summit this spring. Google Keep is a way to take quick notes on any device (download the app for your phone or iPad)– since it is web-based notes are accessible from all of your devices! I used to be a big fan of adding the virtual sticky notes to my desktop to help me remember little bits of info, like when I had bus duty or to have a student in period 1 take the quiz after being absent. The only problem with the desktop notes is that I can’t take those suckers with me everywhere I go, they’re only on my desktop. Insert Google Keep. Here are some of the features it has to offer:

  • Notes can include pictures or audio
  • Type, draw or handwrite
  • Schedule reminders/alerts
  • Share notes with others
  • Send notes to Google Docs
  • Change color of notes for easy sorting
  • Archive notes you’d like to keep but not see right away
  • Add the Chrome extension to easily save websites, images, and content from the web to your notes

What I love is that my notes can range from those quick reminders (that I can set a notification for so I don’t just look past the note) to something I saw online that I’d like to come back to later. Not only is this a great teacher tool, but can you imagine having kiddos use it, too? I love the idea of students sharing notes with parents or teachers, or vice-a-versa– routines, homework, feedback, notetaking, outlines, brainstorms, reminders, etc.

Flipgrid– I’ve been seeing lots of posts about this tool on Twitter. Flipgrid is an online platform for teachers to post topics and have students respond via video. Students can respond to other posts and teachers can provide feedback on posts. There are a number of settings that can be adjusted for privacy, responses, etc.

Before getting super excited about this one, I have to tell you that this site is not free. It really breaks my heart. I think there are some great possibilities here for students and teachers but it is not cheap. It is free to create 1 grid, so my guess is the only way around the fee is to continue using the same one (sort or archive videos as you see fit to make this happen).

Here are just a few ways that I can see this tool being used in classrooms. I’m sure you can think of many more– so please share!

  • World Language– easily have students practice speaking and provide feedback for improvement.
  • Social Studies– have students discuss an event, idea, or concept from history or current events and respond to each other.
  • Math– talk through the process of solving a problem, what steps they took and why, etc. and provide feedback.
  • English/Language Arts– checks for reading fluency, discussions, debates, and more.
  • Visual Art– critique artwork, discuss an aspect of artworks, explain the thinking, rationale, or process behind an artwork, etc.

Fidget Spinners– Fidget spinners. Sigh. Everyone has one. I’ve seen students in the hall comparing the colors, the price they paid, and how fast they can spin them. I’ve read posts about how these little objects can help students focus and others about how they are a major disruption in class. No matter what you’re seeing in your room, here are a few thoughts–

  • This will end eventually like all other trends.
  • Be sure to take advantage of that “teachable moment”. There is a difference between fidgeting and playing– students need to know what that looks like.
  • Some students will find these objects incredibly fascinating while others could care less. Try not to blow it all out of proportion.
  • Don’t want to see them in your class? Make your policy clear to students and explain your reasons for implementing the policy. Stick to it.
  • Remember that the alternative for some students is to tap their pencil or foot, doodle (this was me),  play with their hair, or turn around in their seat.
  • Anytime you can connect to students’ interests you will increase the likelihood of engagement– weasel spinners into story problems, debate having fidgets in the classroom after reading an article, or slide them into creativity prompts– design a new fidget, etc.