More than just an echo chamber

It’s 8:58 on a Tuesday night. I’m sitting at my kitchen table with my Laptop open and Twitter pulled up, one tab for Notifications and one tab for the #xplap chat (I know Hootsuite and Tweetdeck can do this in one tab, but this is easier for me). I have a snack next to me and I’m ready for an engaging discussion about gamification in the classroom.

This has been my Tuesday night, almost every Tuesday for the past two years. By this point I know most of the people in the chat and feel like I’m at a point where I can help others in their gamification journey like others helped me a few years ago. I look forward to this chat each week.

This isn’t the only chat I’m a part of. You can find me engaged in Twitter chats on Monday nights at 8 (#tlap and #ksedchat), Thursday nights at 9 (#ditchbook), and the occasional Saturday morning (#leadlap). I love feeling like a part of a community and I glean a plethora of great ideas to implement in my classroom. Being a part of these chats is like hanging out with friends every week. It’s the source of my best professional development.

I’ve started to notice something about these chats. You have a group of passionate educators gathered around a common interest, engaged in a share session of some of their best/most creative ideas. Scrolling through the chat you’ll see affirmations galore, teachers encouraging each other, cheering others along when they start to doubt themselves and generally putting a positive vibe in the world about education. This is phenomenal and there are many days this is exactly what I need. But there’s no push back.

There are times when I need affirmation, but there also times when I need to be challenged. I need someone to tell me when my ideas aren’t on track with my classroom goals. I need someone to ask me deep questions that challenge my stance on classroom issues and helps me solidify my beliefs or alter course to something that will better suit my needs.

How do we prevent the Twitterverse from being an echo chamber where everyone agrees and we never move forward or push the boundaries of what education can be? Maybe it’s the medium itself. 280 characters isn’t enough to engage in a deep discussion.

I also see the value of positive affirmations after a tough day. Is it possible to do both?

We could all use a little grace

A couple of weeks ago I missed a meeting at school. It was one of four meetings I had for various groups I’m a part of. It’s that chaotic part of the year where everything is flying at teachers at once and many of us are trying to just stay afloat. It’s always challenging, but we’ll find ways to get through and start cruising along later in the year.

I know a lot of teachers are feeling this right now. They are feeling the pressure to constantly stay on top of schedules, grading, family lives, meetings, curriculum, and expectations. Everyone is posting reassuring memes on social media to support each other and reminding each other that you don’t need to be perfect, you can’t do it all.

I 100% agree with all of this. Teachers are bombarded with tasks to tackle and things to balance. Every once in awhile things will fall through the cracks, and we need to give one another some grace and respect.

This is where I get on my soapbox. There are teachers who share all of this and then go back to their classrooms and deny their own students that same respect and grace. How in the world can you ask for help filling out your professional development points at the last minute because you didn’t keep up with it all year like you should have (this was me this year) or show up 10 minutes late to a meeting with administrators (also me) because you didn’t understand the new schedule and then count students off for turning in late work (fortunately not me). Or you criticize students who wait until the last second to finish a project but turn an important document to administrators seconds before it’s due.

“We could all use a little reminder that kids have chaotic lives just like we all do.”

We are adults who have control over the majority of our day and yet we are asking developing minds to be more organized, more thoughtful and more together than we are on any given day.

Please don’t read too much into this. I work with amazing colleagues. I’m not trying to call out any one person. I’m just pointing out a trend in education where we hold students to a higher standard than we hold ourselves.

I just think we could all use a little reminder that kids have chaotic lives just like we all do. They could all benefit from a little grace.

It’s time for some TweetUps!

In education it’s easy to get bogged down and let frustrations get the best of you. To counter that I’m constantly trying to find ways to build my students up. I tell my students why they’re awesome and try to encourage them anyway I can. Sometimes that isn’t enough. Sometimes my words don’t hold the same weight as their peers.
That is what spawned the idea of TweetUps. TweetUps are little slips of blue paper meant to look like a Tweet that students use to write positive messages to each other. They are a chance for students to put some positivity in the world, tell their classmates why they rock, and tell them they aren’t going unnoticed.
Here’s how it works:
There is a box on one of my shelves for students to put completed TweetUps in. Once a week I pull all of the TweetUps and read them in a special edition of my daily announcement videos. The students love hearing Tweetups about them, about their classmates and also sneaking in some inside jokes.
Here is my latest TweetUps video. A student created the theme song, and another student is currently working on a logo:
It helps create a great classroom culture of building others up. Students can take credit for writing a Tweet or they can keep it anonymous. The nice thing about anonymous tweets is I can share some TweetUps about great things kids are doing, and they don’t know it’s from me. Sometimes it’s better that it sounds like it came from one of their peers.
Usually part way through the year I ask if anyone would like a list of students who haven’t received a TweetUp yet. There are always a handful of students who take the challenge and make sure that every student in class gets recognized. I’m always cognizant of the need for tact on this. I don’t want students to feel embarrassed about not receiving a TweetUp yet and I also don’t want them to feel like their TweetUp is insignificant. So far everything has worked out perfectly.
Once the TweetUps have been read on video they are hung up on a bulletin board. When the bulletin board is full or there is a good transition time (during Winter Break for example) I take all of the TweetUps down and hand them out. It amazes me how many students keep the TweetUps in their binder for the rest of the year.
I can’t take full credit for TweetUps. Below is the PDF of the TweetUp form that I use. My wife designed it for her 5th grade classroom.
tweet ups
TweetUps are a quick way to make a positive change in the classroom.

Our quest up Everest

Today marked my 3rd annual trek up Mt. Everest with my students. It coincides with our reading of Peak by Roland Smith and usually falls on a day about halfway through reading the novel. It is by far one of the most fun spins to a normal reading day.
It all begins with a hook…
Our journey began yesterday towards the end of each hour. I played a “voicemail” I just received on my phone the students “just had to hear.” The message informs them that they have been selected to go on a special excursion to ABC on Mt. Everest.
Then I passed out climbing permits for the students to fill out, which I collected at the end of the hour.
The prep work…
After school the classroom transformation took place. To begin I put half of my desks in my reading corner (I told my students that corner was off limits because of a rockslide). This freed up a lot of my room for the students to set up their “camp sites.” Then I created a giant mountain out of construction paper. I also hung up some pictures of yaks and turned a couple of coffee thermoses into oxygen tanks (it’s the details that make the day fun). Finally, I created a mountain on my classroom door.

Climbing up Everest…
The students started in the hall waiting to enter Base Camp. I handed them their climbing permits and told them about the camps they could choose from: 3 pods of desks, a floor table, some comfy chairs, and the fave, a tent set up in the classroom. They were sent in one guild at a time to choose their camp site based on their guild standings.
Once the kids had their camps set up, I let them create a team banner for their campsite to replace their current guild crests they’ve been using since August. They also had a chance to create new names (my favorites were the YetiYetis and Blizzard Shakers).

While they worked on their banners I let them come over and get some hot tea to “warm up” like they do in the book. Many had never tried hot tea before. I let them add sweetener and honey to it. We also did a mini-lesson on appropriate responses when someone offers you a gift (only two responses: thank you or no thank you).


The kids spent the rest of the hour reading the next chapter in the book at their camp site.

The finale…
The highlight was at the end of the hour I broke the bad news to the students. One of the groups in each hour got frostbite and unfortunately lost the fingers on one of their hands. I had a dramatic dice roll to determine which group would get frostbite. That group then had to spend the rest of the day not using the fingers on that hand. It was hilarious and fun. I saw kids in the hall all day trying to figure out how to carry their books and open doors with their missing fingers.
The cleanup…
The hardest part about the day is cleanup. This year I came up with a solution. To begin I let my homeroom students have a snowball fight with the paper snow on the ground. They loved it. Then I let them play paper basketball with the paper snow into the trash cans. It was great. They were having fun and cleaning at the same time. Finally, I bribed them with some more hot tea to help me reorganize my desks.

Overall, it was an exhausting but great day.
The future…
Next year I’m hoping to add more team building activities around the campfire, team chants and songs, and then have them share some campfire stories they write beforehand.
It’s things like this the kids remember.

Our Flight to Tibet

Last night I was in the middle of a great Twitter chat with the #xplap crew about immersive engagement and planning out today’s lesson at the same time when I got an idea. Why was I talking about immersive engagement and not creating an immersive lesson at the same time? It seemed a little hypocritical, so at 9:30 at night I changed up all of my plans and this was the result:
We are 7 chapters into the novel Peak by Roland Smith. At this point in the novel the main character is on a plane flying out to Tibet to climb Mt. Everest. My original plan was to have the students do a flipped reading of the next 2 chapters (using EdPuzzle). To make this a more immersive experience I decided that we would fly on the plane to Tibet as well.
To start the hour I had the students wait in the hall until the bell ring. I had a sign on my door that said Stock Air: Gate SFT1. When the bell rang I walked out in a suit and tie (not my normal attire). They asked me why I was so dressed up. I told them that Flight Attendants always dress up and asked them for their tickets. When they couldn’t show me their tickets I told them I had extras for them and proceeded to pass out a plane ticket to each student.
I then tore off a portion of each ticket and welcomed them aboard the plane. My desks were lined up in rows to look like airplane seating. The next time I do this I’ll hang some sheets from the ceiling to make it narrower and look more like a plane.

After everyone was aboard I told them that they would need to download the inflight entertainment by downloading the EdPuzzle app. I also told them that the airline would be providing headphones if anyone needed some.
Once everyone was situated and ready to go I played a safety video from the flight attendant:
I then told them to prepare for takeoff and played audio of the pilot giving a message:
And that was it. The kids spent the rest of the “flight” reading their books. I put a picture of clouds on the screen to remind them that we were flying. They were doing exactly what I had originally planned, but after setting it up this way I had the greatest class period. The kids were engaged in their reading, I didn’t have behavior issues, and all of the kids got to work right away. Throughout the hour I would do things like ask visitors to the room how they were able to fly up to our plane and told kids leaving to use the restroom to be careful because of turbulence, anything to keep the illusion alive.
When class was about over I asked them to put their trays in the upright position and clean up their seating area. Then I played an announcement from the pilot:
When the bell rang I thanked them all for flying Stock Air and asked them to consider Stock Air for all of their future travel needs:
All of this came out of an idea I had at 9:30 the night before. Was it hectic trying to throw everything together at the last minute? Absolutely. Are there things I would like to do differently? Yep. I’m planning out all the ways I can improve this for next year. But those things didn’t matter to the kids. They enjoyed a new, unique experience.
Don’t be afraid to get out there and try something different even if you don’t have all the details worked out. Things have a way of figuring themselves out, and now I have an awesome idea for next year.