58-Dishin’ with the HyperDocs Girls

Kelly Hilton, Lisa Highfill, and Sarah Landis are the HyperDocs Girls

Kelly Hilton, Lisa Highfill, and Sarah Landis are the co-creators of HyperDocs and authors of the HyperDocs Handbook. These ladies have designed a remarkable website providing teachers with digital lesson templates and plenty of sample HyperDocs. Aside from outstanding organization, the templates are beautiful, which should never be underestimated. To begin creating, simply FILE>MAKE A COPY and complete the stages of the lesson cycle by adding instructions and resources.

I became aware of HyperDocs because of my mentor Kristen Kovak. I featured Kristen in Episode 39 which is on the paperless classroom. My mentor is a grand total of 24-years-old. As I mentioned in the last episode, older teachers like me, need to get over themselves and learn from the youngins. Not long ago, Kristen waltzed into my room and challenged your humble narrator to start utilizing HyperDocs. My initial reactions was, Oh great! Here’s another thing I’m going to have to figure out. The good news is that mastering HyperDocs was easy. You create them by making a copy in Google Docs and then morphing the HD Girls’ templates and then BAM…you upload your creation to Google Classroom. Here’s the link for the HD I created for the Korean conflict.

My final plug for the HyperDocs Girls website is important. Many virtual tools that I utilize have a free version and paid version. I’m careful about what I pay for out of my own pocket, or solicit my administration to fund. I’m certain I’m not alone in this concern and the HD Girls are here to help. All their templates are free for the copying and please investigate the Teachers Give Teachers tab on their website.

Episode Template

The Problem:

Your Google Classroom feed is an uninspiring jumbled mess.

The Solution:

Introduce inspiration, organization, and beauty with HyperDocs.

What You Can Do Tomorrow?

  1. Peruse the HyperDocs Girls’ lesson templates.
  2. Insert one of your lessons plan into one of their templates.
  3. Post your creation to Google Classroom.
  4. Debrief your students to see how you can improve with your next HyperDoc.

HyperDocs is a tool you’ll use weekly, if not daily!

Listen to “58-Dishin’ with the HyperDocs Girls” on Spreaker.

57-Escape Rooms Encourage Students to Sneak out of your Room…Starring Kayla DeMuth

Kristen Macklin and Jason Manly are Escape Room Architects. Kristen is a District Media Specialist and Jason a District Instructional Facilitator. When I asked Kristen where she got the idea for student escape rooms, she answered quickly, “Our principal went to one with his kids and loved it. Then, Spanish teacher Jennifer Zimmer appeared and asked for an assessment idea. I did a little research, found an article about educational escape rooms, and then approached Jason Manly with the concept.”

As I listened to Kristen, I recalled a Big Bang Theory episode. Amy, Emily, Leonard, and Raj visit an escape room. Being the brilliant characters they are, they burn through the clues quickly and escape. Nonetheless, the room itself was cool, the props were compelling, and the puzzles they solved would be quite challenging for the typical student.

Creating such a learning experience may seem like a tall order. Jason Manly suggests that intrigued teachers visit Breakoutedu.com for ideas, explanations, examples, and where you can also purchase equipment. Kristen has inventoried many props that make escape rooms possible. She and Jason utilize combination locks, QR-codes, jigsaw puzzles, hollowed out books, toolkits, tackle boxes, lock boxes, bicycle chains with locks, and their collection keeps expanding.

Jason suggests teachers place a lot of effort on creating engaging and challenging prompts. Then, architects like him and Kristen can build exciting escape rooms based on the teacher generated prompts. The student objective is simple. Small groups must solve a puzzle to get directions to the next. The ultimate objective is to be freed from the room. This occurs only after the mastery of many obstacles.


What you can do tomorrow:

  • Research educational escape rooms. You’ll find plenty of examples and instructions with a basic Google search.  
  • Share a Google Form with colleagues. See if you can find some like-minded colleagues who’d like to explore this concept. Jennifer Zimmer would have been lost without the help of Kristen Macklin and Jason Manly. Finding like-minded colleagues could also help in terms of gathering props and the creation process.
  • Approach administrators. Hopefully, they’ll be onboard with the idea. They may even be willing to pitch in some financial resources to prop acquisition. They also may have suggestions on where the escape room could be located. Perhaps, there’s an underutilized room in the building.
  • Create engaging and challenging puzzles. This is entirely your job. In the Big Bang Theory episode, the characters solved the puzzles too quickly. It’s better to make them too challenging than too easy!

For your next assessment, challenge your students to escape. Ironically, they may not want to!

Listen to “57-Encourage Students to Sneak Out of your Room…Starring Kayla DeMuth” on Spreaker.

56-Multiply yourself by 26 with Class Playlists…Starring Tracy Enos and Heather Roberti


I love Spotify. I’ve created a number of cool playlists. My music is known to get guests moving at parties. Most of my playlists consist of songs from my younger days…1970s and 80s R&B. My wife enjoys much of my music, but not all. When I do chores around my house, I often put on my headphones and listen to some of my more ostentatious old skool jamz that I’m certain my wife won’t like. In other words, I personalize my musical consumption. That’s the beauty of the playlists. They provide anytime anywhere jamz on demand. Wouldn’t it be cool if we could personalize tomorrow’s lesson in the same way?   

Tracy Enos and her twin sister Heather Roberti are two outstanding middle school educators from West Warwick, Rhode Island. Tracy teaches ELA and Heather is a Math teacher. Both enlightened your humble narrator about the beauty of class playlists. The idea is simple, elegant, and contemporary. Teachers craft a menu of playlists that are tailored to various student needs and abilities and then each playlist includes a number of tasks. Teachers can then suggest kids gravitate towards a playlist best suited to them. The tasks inside their selected playlist represent rungs of a ladder leading to higher levels of thinking.

Tracy Enos and Heather Roberti

Essential to the creation of magnetic playlists is beautiful templates. And that dear reader, is where HyperDocs waltzes into this narrative. HyperDocs are souped-up Google Docs that can include links, images and more. HyperDocs provide a template that makes the creation of beautiful and well-organized playlists possible. Lisa Highfill, Kelly Hilton, and Sarah Landis are the HyperDocs Girls. They’ve created beautiful templates that are available to educators for free. Thank you dear ladies!

Here’s a link to SOME of the Women of West Warwick’s playlists.

Episode Template

The Problem:

The traditional one size fits all lesson undermines personalization.

The Solution:

Introduce class playlists to facilitate epic personalization.

What You Can Do Tomorrow?

  • Make a list of at least three activities for your playlist.
  • Adapt your playlist to make a version for advanced students and one for students who may struggle.
  • Navigate to the HyperDocs Girls website and choose an attractive template.
  • Tomorrow, to begin class, display one of your iTunes or Spotify playlists on your smart-board and then play some old people music.

There’s an old saying that when in Rome, do like the Romans. So in attempting to engage contemporary young people, use things they like to use, like playlists.

Listen to “56-Multiply yourself by 26 with Class Playlists…Starring Tracy Enos and Heather Roberti” on Spreaker.




55-For Tomorrow’s Lesson…Give Students Virtually NO Instructions…Starring Charlie Smith

I’m not telling you how to do it!

Picture this…tomorrow you stroll confidently into your first-period class. You gleefully announce the day’s essential question. You observe with satisfaction the looks on thirty adolescent faces as their intellectual gears perk to life and start rotating. You then point out that 5 minutes of the class is already in the rear-view mirror, so they better get cracking! You spend the remainder of the period gliding from group to group challenging, inspiring, coaching, offering new perspectives, evaluating, and congratulating. This, my dear friends, is the classroom of the future!

Unfortunately, many teachers haven’t embraced this paradigm. They’re still defualt to the stand and deliver model. They hover in front of disengaged youngsters talking…and talking…and talking some more. It’s part of many instructor’s DNA to explain. By default, we want to elaborate and make sure we’re thoroughly understood. When we are asked a question, we’re hardwired to answer thoroughly. But these very tendencies may be robbing kids of valuable learning opportunities! There’s still a need for explanation. There’s still a place for presentation. There’s still room for inspirational messages. Teachers still need to play that role and display those skills. But the lion’s share of class time should be devoted to student-led learning. Instructors who buck this trend are on the wrong side of history.

Today’s guest is a fascinating young Physics teacher. Charlie Smith went through this student-led learning paradigm shift. In this episode, he’ll talk about why he changed, how he now teaches, and we’ll also discuss some of the significant challenges to self-directed classrooms.

Don’t ask me what the answer is…but I’ll help you find it! Charlie Smith

Episode Template

The Problem:

Teachers talk too much and rob students of powerful learning opportunities.

The Solution:

Pose a question and then challenge your kids to solve it.

What You Can Do Tomorrow?

  1. Create a provocative prompt.
  2. Challenge students to offer a solution or build a model.
  3. Encourage students to question their creations. 
  4. Encourage students to evaluate other group’s solutions and models.

Self-directed learning is the way of the future. Embrace this paradigm and you and your students will thrive. 

Listen to “55-Give Students Virtually no Instructions…Starring Charlie Smith” on Spreaker.


54-Morph Student Identities…Starring Spencer Cappel and Josh Kent

I’m certain most of my listeners have employed simulations and role play in their class. It’s a great way to learn. This episode demonstrates how you can combine role-play and simulations with my favorite student activity.

I love Socratic seminars! They’re the embodiment of self-directed learning and student collaboration. Kids take a complex topic, learn about it, and then sit in a circle with their peers and apply it, discuss it, explain it, and ask questions to one another. My experience has been that concepts, events, and topics covered in this fashion leads to deep understanding and significant engagement. But everything, even things you and your students love, will get old if you don’t alter it occasionally.

I faced this dilemma in teaching the incredibly complex topic which is the Syrian Civil War. I wanted students to engage in a Socratic Seminar, but I wanted it to be different. We had conducted a number of such seminars and I felt the format was getting a bit stale. So…I decided that in order for my students to understand the Syrian Civil War, they needed to become the powerful actors involved.

Josh Kent and Spencer Cappel help me in this quest.

Josh Kent and Spencer Cappel

These are two outstanding young folks that will serve as this episode’s original sources. I love a lot of things about these guys, but I particularly appreciate the intellectual depth they bring to my class. One silly note about this episode, is I’ve always called Socratic seminars Socratic circles. My students call them that too. I try to call them Socratic seminars in this episode, which I’m only partially successful doing and it totally confuses my guests. Whoops!

Here’s a link to an earlier blog post where I explain exactly how to do a Socratic seminar!

Episode Template

The Problem:

Your go-to learning activity needs an upgrade.

The Solution:

Morph student identities for your next Socratic seminar.

What You Can Do Tomorrow?

  1. Settle on a topic.
  2. List the important players.
  3. Assign students roles. 
  4. Prompt kids to research.
  5. Encourage students TO BE their role.

Socratic seminars are wonderful learning experiences. Keep them fresh and engaging by forcing kids to be somebody they are not!

Listen to “54-Morph Student Identities…Starring Spencer Cappel and Josh Kent” on Spreaker.




53-Entice Kids to Confront Their Phone Obsession and Actually Look Up…AT YOU…Starring Nahom Buckles


Nahom Buckles

It’s so discouraging! You’re preaching the gospel of education, enlightenment, self-improvement, promoting humanities’ greatest ideas…but then you notice that many kids are staring intently down at their laps. Unfortunately, you know why. They need to put that sweet pair of shoes on their Amazon Wishlist before you notice them obsessing over their screens and redirect them.

As a contemporary instructor, I’ve felt this profound burn. I’ll bet you have too. Some teachers are totally hard-nosed. They don’t give the kids an inch on phone use during instruction. If that’s you…RESPECT! However I, like I suspect many teachers, am not so stern when it comes to students and their phones. Plus, kids are darned adept at subtle screen time. And let’s not forget, students can use their devices in class in the pursuit of knowledge. While I’m uncomfortable with prohibition, I’d certainly love to see kids to stare at their phones less during strategic moments of instruction.

In this episode, I promote enlightenment over prohibition. I do this with the InTheMoment App. As I explain in the show, I’m more comfortable giving students tools and information, have them apply it to their existence, and then hope it makes an impact. The InTheMoment App tracks daily screen time. Of course, I applied it to myself first. I’ve read various stats pertaining to average daily phone use. Most data pegs usage at around 4 hours! That seemed exorbitant till I started measuring my usage. I was horrified! Check out March 31st:

At least April 3rd wasn’t bad. Unfortunately, I’d only been awake for 30 minutes!

I knew darned well that I HAD to expose my kids to this app. We were working through a unit on Buddhism. I was particularly interested in kids applying the concepts of non-attachment and impermanence to their lives. Our first blog prompt was on burning a mandala they drew on a square sheet of paper. Our second prompt promoted the InTheMoment App.

Appearing on this episode is a wonderful young man named Nahom Buckles. Nahom will talk about how this student-led learning activity was enlightening and potentially transformative. Please don’t think this lesson must be limited to social studies. I’ll bet with a little thought you could easily work a phone obsession prompt into your curriculum!

Episode Template

The Problem:

Your kids are obsessed with their phones.

The Solution:

Enlighten them about the extent of this obsession with the InTheMoment App.

What You Can Do Tomorrow:

  1. Download the app and track your screen time.
  2. Create a prompt based on your curriculum.
  3. Challenge students to track their phone use for 1 week.

Perhaps, a great way to manage phone addiction is simple awareness. While it might not convert all your students, I’ll wager that many of your students, like Nahom, will become determined to make changes!

Listen to “53-Entice Kids to Confront Their Phone Obsession and Actually Look Up…AT YOU…Starring Nahom Buckles” on Spreaker.

52-Priming the Pump for Tomorrow’s Lesson…Starring Campbell Allen and Emma Neeper

You stroll into class and you’re stoked! You have an awesome lesson and you can’t wait to lay it on your young disciples. Alas! Your students are more interested in who’s zoomin’ who. You have to compete with contemporary school and youth culture…which is a tall order. You get discouraged because you know that if they gave this lesson their full attention, it would enrich their lives.

So…that’s the problem and this episode will help you grab them by the virtual lapels and pull them into an amazing learning experience! I brought back some original sources we all love so much…the students! For this episode, I’m joined by Campbell Allen and Emma Neeper …two wonderful young adults. They took time out of their busy existence to talk about how to prime the pump for tomorrow’s lesson.

Here’s the approach we’ll all advocate:

  • Begin the lesson by issuing an interesting hook question. This question should be a real-life application, or at least something relevant to modern youth life. Campbell suggests pop-culture connections. Give kids a minute or two to contemplate your creative subtle prompt:


  • Direct the kids to collaborate about their ideas. This should also take about two minutes.


  • Finally, conduct a class discussion, or debriefing. This can last longer, but regardless…the pump will have been primed and your students SHOULD be far more receptive to the day’s lesson!



Episode Template

The Problem:

Your kids aren’t pumped about today’s amazing lesson.

The Solution:

You need to prime their pumps with an engaging introductory activity!

What You Can Do Tomorrow:

  1. Randomly sort students into small groups…check out Episode 43 for ideas!
  2. Issue a subtle relevant prompt about the day’s lesson.
  3. Allow kids a brief time to contemplate the prompt.
  4. Direct student to collaborate about their ideas.
  5. Conduct a class discussion or debriefing.
  6. NOW…dive into your transformational lesson!

Think of the catchy Anticipation song by the lovely Carly Simon. Prime the pump for your awesome lesson and watch engagement blossom!

Listen to “52-Priming the Pump for Tomorrow’s Lesson…Starring Campbell Allen and Emma Neeper” on Spreaker.



51-Please Apply the You…Y’all…We Template Tomorrow…Starring Norman Eng

Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute, and it will seem like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl, and an hour seems like a minute. That’s relativity. Albert Einstein 

Please don’t touch!

This wonderful quote is the embodiment of engagement. As teachers…we need to be more like the beautiful companion (obviously not in terms of physical attraction) and less like the stove.

And that’s why I’m simply thrilled to bring you my interview with Norman Eng.


Norman’s outstanding new book Teaching College is a must read for educators who want to avoid being Einstein’s hot stove.

Now, don’t panic! Norman’s book is about engaging students at all levels and he has cred. While Norman is currently an adjunct Education professor in the New York City University System, he spent many years instructing at the K12 level. In fact, he believes college profs could learn a lot about engagement from K12 teachers! Isn’t that a delicious switch?

But the heart of this episode is our conversation about…and how to apply, a marvelous lesson template. Magdalene Lampert’s You…Y’all…We template is an ultra engaging way to teach anything! I learned about it from Norman, applied to the next day’s lesson, and struck engagement gold! Listen and get inspired!

Episode Template

The Problem:

Teachers need an engaging template they can apply to various lessons.

The Solution:

Apply the You…Y’all…We template.

What You Can Do Tomorrow:

  1. Issue an engaging hook students work on individually (YOU). Here are some examples:

You’re introducing variables in Algebra…so you prompt:

Describe when you solved a mystery.

  • How did you do it?
  • What were some serious obstacles?

You’re beginning a unit on Catcher in the Rye in English…so you prompt:

Describe what you miss most about being a little kid.

  • How is being older frustrating?
  • Would you like to go back for one day?

You’re delving into plate tectonics in Earth Science…so you prompt:

Describe the heaviest thing you’ve moved.

  • How did you do it?
  • What were some serious obstacles?

You’re introducing flexibility in your Health and PE class…so you prompt:

Describe a law or a school policy that needs to be eliminated, or updated.

  • Why does it need to change?
  • What will happen if it doesn’t?

2. After a few minutes, have students discuss their responses in small groups (Y’ALL).

3. Now that the pump has been primed, dive into the lesson activity. (WE) This is the application phase of the lesson. It could be a lecture, a simulation, role-play scenarios, consumption and analysis of video, class presentations, a Socratic seminar, or a class experiment. Focus on communal learning in this phase.

This constitutes active learning plus profound engagement. Please apply this template to tomorrow’s lesson!

Listen to “51-Please Apply the You…Y’all…We Template Tomorrow…Starring Norman Eng” on Spreaker.


50-Take a Peek at your School in 2037…Starring April Domine

Today, I’m celebrating the release of the 50th episode of the Hacking Engagement Podcast, so I thought I’d do something special. I interviewed an expert on the future of this noble profession. What will schools look like in 2027? How about 2037? Today’s episode will not sound like my other programs. This episode is longer than most…almost 40 minutes. This episode does not have the tight little list at the end explaining what you can do tomorrow. You’re certainly encouraged to implement ideas from this conversation into tomorrow’s lesson, but I was more focussed on what your lessons and your school will be like 10 and 20 years down the road!

My problem with retirement is simple…schools are becoming too fascinating to leave! The way I instruct has changed fundamentally over the past decade. I’m a markedly different teacher than I was just last year. I’m closing in on the end of this school year, but I keep thinking about tools, tactics, and strategies I can’t wait to try next fall. In short, I’m nowhere near ready to call it quits!

Then…I go and interview April Domine and I really get stoked!


April is the superintendent of Gahanna Christian Academy. April also has decades of experience as a public educator. She was a teacher, building administrator, and superintendent in the public realm prior to her recent migration to private education. April also worked as an education researcher. This was a pivotal role because if she’s going to advocate a program or policy, it needs to be backed by thorough objective research. April was my superintendent a decade ago. She evolved our district.

Listen to how she’s going to transform her school next year. Understand, this will just be the first step. The portrait that April paints in this episode is important because we’ll all be teaching like this in the near future! I think I just may have to stick around and watch this amazing process unfold.

Next week I’ll be back with the template and great suggestions about tomorrow. But for this auspicious episode…sit back and dream about the future!

Listen to “50-Take a Peek at your School in 2037…Starring April Domine” on Spreaker.


49-Engage as you Grade…Starring Kaizena

How about grading papers like this?

Okay…here’s the way this went down! I was a college freshman and I had a long way to go in the writing department. I needed to cite more, I needed more supportive evidence, and my sources were meager and of low quality. Sound familiar? When I got my paper back, I noticed the grade…which was a C, shoved the paper in my book bag, and went on with my existence. The next class, our professor urged us to read the comments she’d wrote on our papers. I read a few, but then I got discouraged and quit. It seemed like she was yelling at me! I missed some great directives and advice.

Now, I teach 18-year-olds how to write research papers. I totally get the struggle of students not embracing advice on how to evolve as writers. Karma is a beautiful thing! I was frustrated because I knew my students needed help. And then…I met a lovely little app called Kaizena. It detonated my paradigm on providing students with feedback. It transformed grading papers into a collaborative process!

Kaizena is voice grading. You highlight a portion of kid’s paper, hit record, and start enlightening.

There are a bevy of benefits to utilizing your voice as opposed to your default red pen:

  • Your voice is far more emotive than a simple written comment
  • Your voice can be far more encouraging
  • Your voice can better communicate tone and emphasis
  • It’s easier to listen than it is to read, hence kids are more inclined to listen to your comments
  • Most educators can speak a lot faster than they can type or write
  • This method invites collaboration because students respond to comments

Kaizena has the potential to make grading papers engaging for students and teachers

Episode Template

The Problem:

Students don’t read assessment comments.

The Solution:

Utilize Kaizena and transform assessment into an engaging collaborative process.

What You Can Do Tomorrow:

  1. Sign-up for Kaizena
  2. Generate a student invite code
  3. Commandeer a student guinea pig to help you navigate the process
  4. Designate a future writing prompt for your Kaizena maiden voyage

With Kaizena, students are far more likely to listen and then apply important directives they may have previously ignored. Student writing could become a collaborative process.

Listen to “49-Engage as you Grade…Starring Kaizena” on Spreaker.