Another Trip Up Everest

Today was one of my favorite activities we do in my class all year. We took my 4th annual trek up Mt. Everest, and it was epic!

The Setup:

It all started with the setup yesterday. I had a few kids tell me it must take me a long time to set up, and I told them it did. Then I told them that they are worth it, and they definitely are worth every minute I spent cutting out paper mountains and yaks, shopping for tea supplies and reorganizing my room. But it is definitely a lot of work.

For the setup I drew a mountain scene on the chalkboard cabinets (which is one of my all-time favorite ways to relax). Then I created mountains out of construction paper and covered my windows with them. I also had to move all of the desks off to one side of the room and attempt to hide it with green and white paper representing more mountains (it didn’t work, so I just told the students the desks were a rock slide).

I also set up a tent in one corner of the room and made six other campsites. Two were round tables, one was my comfy chair section in the free reading corner, one consisted of the two wooden benches I made this summer, one was a set of floor chairs and one was just a spot on the floor. Then I set up the tea station. By the time I left the room was almost ready to go.

This morning I added a few finishing touches, created some rules signs and it was ready to roll.

The Climb:

I always start the climb the same way. I stop them at the door and ask if they have their climbing permits. Today I was wearing a heavy coat, gloves, a hat and sunglasses. I told a few students they were going to freeze to death because they had on shorts. Then I pass out their climbing permits and go over the rules for Mt. Everest. The rules are framed like climbing rules but they are reiterations of regular classroom rules. I emphasized that they shouldn’t pick up the snow (which I learned from prior experiences to tell them not to do).

Then I start letting groups go in to set up their campsites. I base the order they get to choose their campsites based on their current team rankings in my gamified class. First place got first pick which was always the tent. Then the rest of the groups filled in.

Once everyone was situated they designed banners for their camps. They had a blast coming up with new names for their teams that combined their current names with snow/mountain terms. It also gave them a chance to be social at the beginning which I knew would be important later on. After about 10 minutes we shared names and then I explained the plan for the rest of the day.

For about 30 minutes they read their novel, Peak by Roland Smith by following along on an EdPuzzle video of me reading the chapters with them. While they were reading I called groups up to get a cup of hot tea with honey. A lot of the kids said they had never tried tea before.

After about 30 minutes of reading and enjoying their tea we had an epic dice battle. Camps went head to head rolling the dice to see which team would come out victorious. The winning team earned 100 points for their team. The losing team had to wait until the end of the hour to find out their consequence. The dice battles were a great break in the block and then they read for the last 20 minutes of class.

At the end of the hour I broke the bad news to the class. I had every team that lost the dice battle raise their hand. I said, “bad news. Unfortunately you all got frostbite.” Then I rolled the dice. Whatever the dice landed on they lost that many fingers for the rest of the day. There was a huge wave of laughter and groans. I found out from students after school that most of them stuck with it. They told me stories about trying eat lunch with only one hand or trying to figure out how walk their bikes down the sidewalk with those “missing fingers.”

It was such a fun day, and here’s the reality. The bulk of my lesson plan today was reading comprehension. I got kids to read for almost an hour and covered all of the same things I would have normally covered. The climb up Everest and the game elements were just added layers on top of my existing content. And since it’s a block day I get to do it all tomorrow!

What stories do the numbers tell?

I love statistics. I love numbers. I love all of the interesting stories numbers can tell, and I love trying to interpret what causes peaks and values in any data set. I have spreadsheets full of student data that I’ve started analyzing for my new students, everything from previous reading scores and math scores to the correlations between birthdays and peak scoring. I love the challenge of figuring out what all of this could mean.

However, I know that this is an incomplete data set. It isn’t a complete representation of who these scholars are and who they can become. It isn’t even the most important piece of information. If I picked a point from one of the valleys on a students data line, I’m seeing the moment they may have struggled with the content, or the day their dog died, or the moment they got stuck with that one teacher who smelled funny and smacked their gum while they were trying to focus. Or what if that was the moment a student decided to try something different, or take a different approach to a challenge?

When I look at a data set I look at trends, but I also look at ranges of possibilities. I used to focus on an average accumulation of a student’s scores. I looked at the average of a given data set and used that as a baseline for what the student was capable of, but the more I think about it, the less sure I am that it’s the right way to look at it. I don’t want to look at averages, because I don’t want average kids. I want to look at the peaks of a students performance and celebrate those accomplishments, use that as the baseline for a student’s potential. I want to look at the valleys and have the students understand why their scores dipped. I want to celebrate risk taking that led to failure and recognize students who are challenging the mediocrity.

I love the story that numbers tell, and I want to sit side by side with my students and help them determine what the numbers mean to them and how they can use the numbers to exceed their own expectations.

An Epic First Day of School

Thursday was one of the best first days of school I’ve ever had. It was an event that hooked the kids in and hopefully left them excited for the school year. All day long I kept hearing “this is awesome” and “best class ever” and the occasional “Mr. Stock you’re weird.” Keep in mind this has been an accumulation of years of first days before I think I finally have the exact balance I want. Here’s how we roll out the school year in my class. It started before the kids ever entered the room. I transformed my door into an old-school vintage arcade machine with the title of my class game, The Novel Quest, written across the top. As the students gathered outside of my room I patiently waited and asked them if they had their quarters to play. They looked at me funny, that panicked, what-did-I-miss-on-the-supply-list look.
My door to my classroom.
I asked “how do you expect to play an arcade without quarters?” Then I pulled out a stack of paper quarters from my pocket and told them I would pay their quarter for them.
I gave out “quarters” to play class game. These will activity an item in the future.
Side note: the quarter will actually play a role later in the year. The quarter will activate one of the items in my game for anybody who saved it. Which item…I have no idea. I’ll figure that out later. It also has a few minor changes to the quarter that I’ll try to work in somewhere later. When the bell rang they took their quarters and entered my room. After a few quick introductions to the class and a few checks of the schedule to make sure they were in the correct room, I shared with them a video that I told them came from a buddy of mine named Special Agent A. This is the first of many of my “friends” that appear in my videos and look mysteriously like me. I assure them that it isn’t me.
A recruitment video from Special Agent A.
The video recruits them to an elite force of superheroes destined to come together and fight evil. They then spend the rest of the hour working through the steps of designing their own superhero logo. This superhero logo is a glyph that tells me a little bit about the student. For example the outline is a different color depending on how many siblings a student has, the student gives their superhero a secret identity based on what they want to be when they grow up, etc.
At two different points in the class we take a break. The first one is a dice battle. Each table group sends up one representative to roll the dice. Then I put them in order based on the number they roll. That becomes the order of supplies they get to choose from. I had colored pencils, markers, and crayons. Apparently nobody likes crayons, because that one was always the last one picked. The second break we took was a plank challenge. I had one member of each group come up and perform a plank to see who could last the longest. They had a blast cheering on their teammates. I always like including a physical challenge every once in awhile to give students who might struggle academically a chance to excel in my room.
This is my sample glyph I created to demonstrate. Happy Love Skull is his name, Special Effects Artist for Marvel is his secret identity career (also what I wanted to be when I was a kid), and Molly the Demon Dog is his arch enemy. 9:50 was the time the class had to leave me at the end of the hour, hence the sad face.
The superhero activity is meant to do more than just tell me what a student is thinking as they are creating their glyph. It is also telling me a TON about what type of student they might be. I look for students who aren’t sharing the supplies, ones who struggle to follow my directions or work too far ahead, and ones who have creative responses to my questions. I also look at which students lead their groups vs. the students who boss their groups around. It tells me a lot about how to group them later on in the year. But they don’t usually pick up on any of that. All they know is that their crazy Language Arts teacher may or may not have recorded a random video recruiting them to a superhero team and helped them design a cool superhero logo. They left my room smiling and excited for what the next day might have in store for them. I’m psyched for another great year!

Having a growth mindset when things don’t go according to plan

I’m an overplanner. When it comes to anything, I overresearch, overplan, cross reference and overall look way too deep into anything I do. Before I came to the ISTE conference this year I had a color coded spreadsheet with listings of the first and second choice of sessions I wanted to attend. I had a list of my favorite presenters and had scoped out all of the poster sessions and playground activities I wanted to explore. Then I got in line for my first session on Sunday…and it was full. Then I went to my second session choice…also full. By the 4th attempt I gave up and went back to the hotel to check in.

Today (Monday) was going to be a new day. I would go to some awesome sessions and learn some amazing things to bring back to my colleagues. My color coded spreadsheet would work like a charm…and then I saw the line for the shuttle. Then I got to the conference and the lines were also crazy long…everywhere. It was bad when the line was too long to get my coffee, but the last straw was a line for the men’s bathroom.

It was an overreaction. I was frustrated and undercaffeinated and knew I needed a break. I decided to walk away for a little bit, walk to Dunkin’ Donuts and get some coffee to get my day on the right track.

On my walk something came to me. Every day I encourage my students to have a growth mindset, to not let setbacks keep you from accomplishing great things. I tell them to find ways to overcome obstacles, and yet here I was faced with an obstacle and I was doing exactly what some of my students do. I was pouting about how annoying lines are and missing out on the bigger picture.

There are thousands of people around the country right now who would LOVE the opportunity to wait in line to see some great speakers. There is a conference center full of opportunities just waiting to happen. There are thousands of people to network with, vendors to learn from and awesomeness around every corner. Sometimes I get stuck on my plan that I forget that amazing things can happen in spite of all my planning.

After my walk to get coffee and a little reflection and perspective, I went to a series of poster sessions that were fantastic. I explored the Expo hall and found some amazing tools I want to bring back to my classroom. Ultimately, I explored some things that I would have missed out on if things had gone according to plan.

Sometimes we need to practice what we preach and be as adaptive as we ask our students to be.

Enjoy the rest of the conference if you’re at #ISTE18, and if you’re #NotatISTE18 I’ll try to share out some of the awesome things you should check out.

P.S. If you see me at ISTE stop by and say hi. You’ll recognize me, because I’ll be the one in the bow-tie for #bowtietuesday!


Epic Reverse Quest

As the year was coming to a close a couple weeks ago, I was trying to think of some epic way to wrap everything up and recap the highlights from the entire year. I thought about doing a review Kahoot! or some sort of challenge activity. In years past I’ve had the scholars create board games reflecting on the year. Those would be fun, but then I had a better idea…an epic reverse quest!

My scholars spend the entire school year on a journey battling my evil twin, the dreaded Dr. Vonn Stock, my evil twin (he wears a pirate eye-patch so you know he’s evil). On their journey they face some of his minions like Cyther and Zak the yaks and try to rescue some of the other Agents helping them on their journey (the Special Agents also look mysteriously like me). Through this structure we travel to the different realms of the texts we read, from Mt. Everest in Peak by Roland Smith to a WWII battle in various WWII texts.

To wrap up the year we spent the last week of school going on a sped up reverse quest through the various novels and time periods we studied in class. Each unit was covered in some sort of challenge activity that the table guilds had to tackle. It was epic.

To start off we reviewed their WWII novels with a Grid Challenge. I can’t take credit it for this. It was one of the many great ideas to come out of the weekly #xplap Twitter chats. The guilds spent 10 minutes trying to complete a grid by filling in terms the started with the letter at the top and connected to the category on the left. For example: P- and Countries could include Poland because it was involved in WWII. They had some very creative answers and recalled a wide range of topics we had discussed during the most recent unit.

For more details check out a full explanation of the grid challenge here

The next day’s challenge was to write an entire reflection on the best poem from our Poetry Smackdown bracket. This one wasn’t as game based as I would have liked, but having a time limit (60 minutes) to brainstorm, outline, write and revise and entire essay was a great challenge. I’ve found this year that the students provide almost the same quality of work with limited time, than when I give them multiple days to complete a task. Before we began we had a socratic circle over the poems, and some of the discussions were amazingly heated.

Day 3 of the reverse quest took part in the Civil Rights movement. The students completed Civil Rights Movement dominoes. They spent another 15-20 minutes attempting to link a series of paper dominoes with terms and pictures on them. Some were directly from our studies of the Civil Rights Movement, others were random challenge words they had to try to find a way to connect..For example, some students connected “Civil Rights Movement” to “Turtles” because it was slow moving. Then they connected “turtles” to “Mother Pollard” because she probably walked slowly past the bus stops. I was impressed with their creativity.

For more details check out a full explanation of the Learning Dominoes activity here

We also battled the dreaded Zak the Yak. Their challenge was for each guild to write a story about defeating Zak using all of the prefixes and suffixes we’ve learned this year. Two teams earned a bonus for the next day, because they befriended Zak instead of destroying him. Those groups got help from Zak in the next days battle (this rule was made up when I heard their amazing stories and unique definition of “defeating” him).

Day 4 was the last day of our reverse quest so of course they had to face…Dr. Vonn Stock. But it couldn’t begin with any old battle. Instead I started the class in the usual manner. I had them read a book and then when everyone was settled I played the daily announcements video. A minute into the video the screen went to static, and I broke in with an announcement that I had been captured and the person in front of them was an imposter. It was super cheesy so of course the scholars loved it. While they were watching the video I pulled my eye patch out of my pocket and casually put it on. When the video was over I laughed and told them that it was true…Dr. Vonn Stock had taken over.

I explained that in order to defeat me they would have to complete a fierce Kahoot! Battle. Of course the questions had some evil twists. For example one question said to choose a box…only 3 of them were right. Another one asked them to describe Mr. Stock and since it was Dr. Vonn Stock’s Kahoot!, all of the answers about Mr. Stock having stinky feet and being a mean brother were the correct answers. The groups from the day before who found a peaceful way to defeat Zak the Yak were able to enlist his help on one question. This required every other team to wait at the front of the room for the first 5 seconds of a question. In one instance it was a game changer.

We all had a blast with this activity. While they were competing I would casually switch the eye patch to different eyes to see which groups would notice, or I would complain about how mean Mr. Stock was. Finally at the end to the hour the winning groups were awarded bonuses for their guilds. Dr. Vonn Stock also recruited some students to his evil mission.

All-in-all it was an epic way to wrap up their learning for the year.

Review Dominoes

Materials: Domino Pages

Time: 10-15 minutes (depending on how many boxes you want students to complete)


  1. Divide the students into groups of 3-4.
  2. Give each group a set of domino pages.
  3. Instruct each group to line up the pages so that the picture before and the picture after share a connection. Groups must be able to explain how each picture is connected.
  4. Give the groups a time limit to complete the task.
  5. Once the time limit is up have the students share how the pictures connect.
  6. Possible ways to share:
    1. Have groups create a video explaining how each picture connects.
    2. Random ask groups to describe the connections between 3 pictures.
    3. Have groups glue the domino pages to construction paper and write out the connections for each picture.

Bonus: I always like adding a few random terms/pictures to add a little challenge to the activity. It also helps get some creative ways to solve the activity.


The Grid Challenge

Materials: Construction Paper, markers, 5-10 terms for the side of the page

Time: 10-15 minutes (depending on how many boxes you want students to complete)


  1. Divide the students into teams of 2-4 players.
  2. Ask each team to come up with a random letter of the alphabet and write those letters along the top of a grid on the board. The grid should already have your category terms written along the left side of the grid.
  3. Then have each team recreate the grid (or you could have this step be part of their timed challenge).
  4. Give the teams a certain number of minutes to complete as many boxes as possible. To complete a box the teams need to write a word or phrase that connects to the category on the left and starts with the letter at the top. For example:
States Kansas Texas Alabama Maine Nebraska

5. The group with the most boxes filled by the end wins. Sometimes teams need to get creative with their responses to make them work. You get to be the official judge and decide if a response counts our not.


Download a .pdf cheat sheet of The Grid Challenge


Waiting for Permission

Today I boxed up 691 books to send off to elementary schools in our district. This is the 4th year in a row I’ve organized the Books for Backpacks program. The goal is to get books into the hands of kids who might not 

have access to getting a brand new book on their own. I love having a small part in providing these resources to kids. But nobody told me to start this program.

One day at church I was thinking about ways I could help improve students’ reading abilities. I was thinking about how much I love getting new books and how sad it was that some of my students probably never had 

the chance to get a brand new book of their own. But I wasn’t sure if this was true, so I asked them. Over half the students that year said they had never received a brand new book. They’d received used books and library books but not brand new ones.

I started thinking about how I could get good books into kids hands, so I collected books and wrote applications for grants to purchase new books. I found ways to buy books that would earn points to get more books for free.

Nobody said, “hey you should go start a book drive.” Nobody told me this was an important thing to do. Instead I saw a need and filled it.

There are a lot of people out there who talk about things that would be great like “Wouldn’t it be great if…” or “Can you imagine how great it would be if…” and yet they never take the next step to make it a reality. They worry so much about what might go wrong or reasons why their idea won’t work that it stays relegated to the great idea column.

Since that first year of collecting books, I’ve given away over 1500 brand new books to kids all over the district. I’ve also started collecting and giving away used books within my school and we’ve given away another 2500 used books. None of that would have been possible without taking a risk and trying something new.

If you have a great idea, try to make it work. Figure out what is one small step toward making it a possibility. You never know what might happen. You might be right. It might epically fail, and then you can try again. Or it might be a huge success and make a difference in people’s’ lives.

Why my #five4five is getting posted on day 10

Last week I heard about the #five4five challenge on the Well Played podcast and thought it sounded like a great idea. The challenge was to try something new each day over the course of five days. I decided to write a blog post each day. The plan started out great. I wrote my first blog post.

Check it out here:

The next day I tried to get a new article posted. I really did. But instead I only wrote half of it. The next day I was able to finish it along with writing another one. The day after that I wrote another one. And then it was Friday. I didn’t want to write. I wanted to spend time with family. Saturday I tried to write something, but nothing was clicking. Finally I posted my 4th post.

Today I am writing my 5th post in my #five4five challenge. Here’s what I’ve learned: I failed this challenge epically, and I’m OK with that. I tried something new. I pushed myself further than I had all year. I wrote 4 posts over the course of the week. Before that I’d written 4 posts since January.

I also learned that writing a blog post each day is crazy. There is no way for me to fit that in to my life right now. What I can fit into my life is 10 minutes of writing each night. We’ll see if it goes beyond that, but for now I’m excited to write more and get my ideas out there.

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