Tag Archives: learning

Make 2019 Magical!


JK Rowling says, “Something magical happens when you read a good book.”

Tisha Richmond’s book Make Learning Magical: Transform Your Teaching and Create Unforgettable Experiences in Your Classroom is a book that will inspire and ignite. I first met Tisha through the weekly #XPLAP Twitter chat and was always enamored with the pictures and ideas she shared on Twitter regarding gamifying her culinary classes. I was honored when she contributed a chapter in my book Gamify Literacy (ISTE, 2017) on the culinary missions her students embark on each semester. Her passion and commitment to education is contagious. Taking cues from Mary Poppins and Mr. Rogers, she shows us that play, laughter, and fun is necessary for learning.

Make Learning Magical is filled with amazing magical learning experiences. She sprinkles joy and love in all that she creates. The seven components she writes about in her book and ones that I will continue to adopt in my own teaching include:

Memorable Beginnings – Warm welcomes, entertaining hooks, passion and enthusiasm are important in creating a classroom community. I love that Tisha has a coffee bar in her classroom and rewards students with a trip to the coffee bar for winning special challenges.  Think about the vibe in your classroom and what kinds of activities you can do in your classroom to build a spirit of community and belonging.

Authenticity and Agency – Kindness, gratitude, and passion are important, even more so, giving students voice in the classroom. Teachers need to provide more hands-on activities and connect with students to personalize learning.

Gamified Experiences – Immersive learning happens in Tisha’s culinary class. She has gamified each of her classes from Masterchef and the Great American Food Truck Race. She uses Mystery Boxes and mini games to promote learning and critical thinking. She deconstructs basic games and shows you how to design them into content specific learning opportunities.

Innovation – “Thinking about things differently, shaking up the status quo, and devising new and better ways of teaching – is how we make learning magical.” It is about being open to using technology in innovative ways and adapting existing things (and even lessons) for new purposes.

Creativity, Collaboration, and Curiosity  – Creating missions for students to demonstrate their learning and go above and beyond the required curriculum is another gasified element in Tisha’s classroom. She allows students to create videos and other artifacts to showcase their learning and talents.

Authentic Audience – School today is about real and relevant. The assignments that students create should help them not only get a grade in the class but also give them skills and knowledge they need to succeed outside of the classroom. Meaningful learning experiences are key. Students aren’t only creating for the teacher but for a wider audience and build connections.

Legacy –  “Every day we have the power to transform students’ lives.” How do you celebrate student successes and how can you help your students realize they have worth?

The new year has just started and our resolutions are in place to be better in the new year. Transforming our classrooms into a magical space where students feel valued and heard is important in building community and making learning happen. Tisha’s book has give me some new ideas how I can adapt my current practices and games in my classroom to spark magic, play, and meaning everyday.

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Playing with Legos for Classroom Learning

I just finished reading Quinn Rollins’ book Play Like A Pirate: Engage Students with Toys, Games, and Comics and found more than a dozen ideas to bring into my classroom. As a huge fan of Dave Burgess’ Teach Like a Pirate, I knew this was going to be another resource filled with ideas to engage students and energize teaching.


In each chapter, Rollins takes on a toy, board game, and kid favorite by sharing ideas and examples how he has used them in his own classroom to promote learning and understanding. Whether it is action figures, Minecraft, or games like Monopoly and UNO, his teaching tools go beyond worksheets and textbooks to “playfully” teach his content material. Bringing in these games and toys does not only bring an element of fun into the classroom, but is also allows students to use their own critical thinking, creativity, and analytical skills. The chapter on Action Figures gave me many ideas for sidequest projects this upcoming school year.

As a parent to a future Lego engineer, the over flow of the Legos in my home has ended up in my classroom. Two years ago, I was able to get my son (then eight) to help me recreate scenes of Midsummer Night’s Dream for a slide show to share with my students and help with their understanding of Shakespeare.

Rollins’ book bolstered the idea to put the Lego work in my students hands. In small groups, students selected the most telling quotes from each Act in Midsummer Night’s Dream and then created a Lego scene to depict the quote.

The final products were great. I talked with the students’ about taking multiple shot types to help find the best angle to convey the scene.

Rollins offers additional ideas for using Legos in the classroom:

Design a Minifigure – Students could design the four most important characters in a novel or a historic archetype, or four leaders of a particular movement from history.

Design a Set – Students design a Lego set about a historical event. For example, a set for the Great Depression can include a Lego representation of the Okies on the Road to California or a Hooverville.

Lego Stop Motion – Legos is a great tool to make stop motion animation videos. YouTube offers lots of amazing examples to inspire students creativity.

As the late Jim Henson said, “Kids don’t remember what you try to teach them. They remember what you are.”



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Beyond the K-W-L: Activities that Activate Schema

One of my most popular posts this past spring was about alternative closure activities beyond the exit slip strategy.  After seeing the K-W-L activity (A brainstorm of what students know, what they want to know, and what students learned) over used often by teachers and pre-service teachers, I felt the need to create a list of alternative activities to kick off inquiry in the classroom.  Here are ideas, in addition to K-W-L charts, to activate prior knowledge and are alternatives to the traditional brainstorm.

1. Anticipation Guides – Before a new unit or a reading develop six or more true/false questions about the topic for students to respond to or agree/disagree with.  For example, prior to reading an excerpt from Ian Stewart’s Letters to a Young Mathematician, I asked my students to respond True or False to the following statements: Math is a bunch of numbers; I use math every day in my life; One should not have to worry about basic math because we have calculators and computers to do that for us; and There is math in everything we see, use, and do.  There were a total of eight statements regarding math on the Anticipation Guide.  After the reading I asked students to go back to the anticipation guide and check for accuracy in terms of the content of the article.  This became a great discussion tool for after the reading as well.

2. Four Corners – A great idea that was suggested by The Learning Network blog and a technique similar to an anticipation guide.  Students are asked to react in some way to a series of controversial statements about a topic they are about to study.  In Four Corners, students move around the room to show their degree of agreement or disagreement with various statements about, for instance, the health risking of tanning or toddler beauty pageants.

3. Gallery Walks – Another suggestion from The Learning Network, and a way to immerse students into a topic at the beginning of a unit is a Gallery Walk.  This is a teacher-created collection of images, articles, maps, quotations, graphs and other written and visual texts that offers students information about a broad subject. Students circulate through the gallery, reading, writing, and talking about what they see.

4. Webquest – Similar to the Gallery Walk, a Webquest is completed online and students are given a specific role to help investigate a topic or subject.  Whether they are a private investigator or a rock historian, their objective is to find clues and evidence that will help them understand a topic.

5. Quick Write and Journaling –  Ask students to write down or respond to a question or statement.  For example, “What would you do it if . . . ?”  Students could then get into small groups or with a partner to discuss their writing.

6. Poll Everywhere – Take your anticipation guide or pre-test online and have students use their mobile devices to answer questions regarding a topic – these questions should be true/false or agree/disagree.  There are many different free polling sites like polleverywhere and polldaddy to easily create an online quiz or survey.

7. Possible Sentences – Give your students a word splash or create a Wordle using a variety of words that will be in the reading or the subject being studied.  Students can work independently or in small groups to create possible sentences or make predictions about the words they will come across.  Later, students can revisit the sentences to check accuracy.

Another idea with the possible sentences is to have students create a “gist statement” using many of the words on the word splash which they predict will summarize the reading or topic.  Finally, they list the things they hope to discover as a result of the words they didn’t understand or questions that inspired the process (This idea comes from Daneils & Zemelman’s Subjects Matter)

8. Dramatic Role Play – Students work in pairs or small groups to act out a situation or event they will come across later in the reading or subject.  For example, in social studies class where the students are going to study the Boston Tea Party, break up the students in small groups and give them role play cards with a brief description about the event (don’t name any names yet). Students brainstorm and then act out what they would do.  Each group can take on a different perspective or give each group a different type of reaction to see different responses to one issue.

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Technology and Teaching

My students know lots of things when it comes to technology. My colleagues, know a handful of things about technology. We are both immersed in technology, but different technologies. My students carry their cell phones with them all day in school even though the school policy requires them to keep them in their lockers during the school day. As soon as last period ends the hallways are a buzz with students on their phones, texting, talking, gaming, listening to music. Students try to hide their ear-buds and listen to their I-pods during lunch period or when class seems boring to them (more often than not). They spend their nights rushing through homework so they can get online and play games, I-M their friends, watch their favorite TV episodes online or create their own videos.

If our students are immersed in technology then why not utilize these tech tools in the classroom as teaching tools?

Technology in the classroom allows young people to demonstrate their tech savvy skills and apply them in a way that highlights their understanding and learning. Technology allows for creativity, inquiry and collaboration. Students can complete a web quest which emphasizes critical thinking skills and integrates media literacy. Why compete with technology and young people? Rather, use technology to highlight the strengths of young people and help invest them in the material we are teaching.

I strongly believe technology is vital to help students learn best and in turn, for my students to show me their understanding and learning. There is an infinite amount of ways to integrate technology in the classroom. When people asked my how or why I use technology in the classroom I show them what I have done. Then I list the skills we are building when we use technology in the classroom: Connecting to Prior Knowledge, Questioning, Predicting, Inferring, Summarizing, Supporting Claims and Providing Evidence, Synthesizing, Build Vocabulary. Retelling in Our Own Words, Sequencing, Monitor Learning, Foster Sense of Inquiry, Making Real World Connections, Creative Thinking, Collaboration, Listening and Reflecting, and Analyzing.

Books and technology both belong in the classroom. I cannot and would not pick one over the other nor would I be willing to give up either one. If students want to read on their Kindle or other device, I would say, “Go ahead.” As soon as something else emerges I figure ways to blend them into my teaching and classroom practices – mobile surveys, Google Docs, Glogster, Wallwisher, QR codes, the list goes on and on.

Anything to help my students learn best.

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