67-Context is Key to Engagement…let ReadWriteThink Help

    China 1899 – 1949

I teach history. Even as a boy, I was a history nerd. Recently, I was enjoying the company of friends at a party. My buddies all have college degrees and are successful in their chosen professions. A historical topic surfaced. I decided to conduct a little wine-inspired experiment. I just listened to them pontificate about a subject I knew a lot about. This is generally not my disposition when vino veritas is factored in. What took place was fascinating. While my friends had a working understanding of the topic, their background chronology was out of whack which, of course, did a serious number on their understanding.  

If intelligent adults struggle with context on what would seem common historical knowledge, it would be foolhardy to assume that k-12 students, aside from the budding history nerds, would have a clue about the order of events. Contextual ignorance does not just apply to events, but also processes. Students in math, science, and language arts must understand many processes like the quadratic equation, the scientific method, and MLA citation. Chronological awareness with such concepts breeds confidence, which is crucial to engagement. Let’s inspire some of that awareness with a cool virtual timeline builder.

Last semester, my World Civ class was embarking on a unit addressing 20th Century Chinese history. My kids knew virtually nothing about this important topic. I decided the first step in this academic journey would be for my kids to create virtual timelines. Here’s the prompt I gave students, which can easily be altered to match concepts or processes in other subjects:

  • I gave them a starting point (The Boxer Rebellion 1899) and an ending point (The Communist Victory 1949).
  • I challenged them to plot seven important events in between.
  • I required that each event include a title, the year it took place, an explanation as to why the event was important, and a public domain or creative commons image. Imagine some of the cool imagery students could find for quadratic equations and the scientific method!


The Problem:

Contextual ignorance undermines engagement.

The Solution:

Challenge students to build virtual timelines with ReadWriteThink. 

What you can do Tomorrow:

  • Create your own timeline on ReadWriteThink.
  • Select an important topic.
  • Formulate small discussion groups.

When students are able to place events or processes in context, they become confident and engaged academic explorers.

Listen to “67-Context is Key to Engagement…let ReadWriteThink Help” on Spreaker.


66-Hacking Engagement Again…THE SEQUEL

When I wrote Hacking Engagement, I was amazed that fifty hacks flowed out of my fingertips and compressed the keys of my laptop. Fifty seemed like a marathon, however, those hacks systematically materialized. When I typed the last period of the last sentence, I thought, Wow. that was a lot of hacks. I need a break. What happened next was fascinating.

My neighbor recently bought a scarlet Toyota Prius. I’m not a car guy, but when she pulled up beside me as I walked my dog, I could barely hear her engine, which I thought was cool. It looked sleek and futuristic and then I asked her about gas mileage, this non-car-guy instantly became a convert. Later that day, my wife and I went out shopping. Everywhere we drove I saw red Toyota Prii (I was so determined to use this example that I visited Toyota’s website and found out how to refer to Prius plural). The same thing happened when I wrapped up Hacking Engagement last summer. I thought I was done writing about engagement, but potential hacks kept appearing on my radar. Articles I read, colleagues I spoke to, guests I interviewed on my podcast, and most importantly, lesson plans hatched in my creative incubator of a commute every morning to school compelled me to write fifty more. My publisher was thrilled.

Hacking Engagement Again is just like its predecessor Hacking Engagement: Both are short, containing a little over 30,000 words apiece. Both are comprised of fifty hacks that are each about 600 words in length. Neither is linear. Instead, they’re like cookbooks; you scan the table of contents and find what you need to make tomorrow’s lesson delicious.

Listen to “66-Hacking Engagement Again…THE SEQUEL” on Spreaker.


65-Matthew Porricelli Preaches the Gospel of Student-Led Learning and his 4th Grade Disciples Back him 1000%

Matthew Porricelli is a 4th grade teacher at the Mamaroneck Avenue School just outside of Manhattan. In this marvelous episode, we learn about Mr. P’s classroom from expert witnesses…his students:

These kids are a joy to listen to and the things they describe should be standard operating procedure in every classroom regardless of the level. PLEASE check out Matt’s Google Doc which describes:

  • Flexible Seating
  • Student-Led Lessons
  • Passion Projects (Which the kids frequently reference during the recording)
  • Hacking Assessment

Mr. P’s class sounds like a dream, but what really moved me, was the way these young folks responded to their teacher. It’s apparent that there’s a bottomless mutual affection. This episode is golden for it’s outstanding suggestions on pedagogy, but there’s something more…something more profound and important. Matt’s students are crazy about him! As you listen to these wonderful voices, keep asking yourself, How can I evolve such a climate in my room?

I received outstanding reviews on my book Hacking Engagement. One review, however, was critical. The reader felt like my hacks were geared too much towards older kids. If someone throws out constructive criticism, I try to swallow my ego and learn and make adjustments. Hence, I’ve had 2 shows this summer featuring elementary students. They’ve been wonderful episodes!

The Problem:

Teachers are stuck in outdated instructional models.

The Solution:

Emulate Matt Porricelli’s teaching style.

What you can do Tomorrow:

  • Answer this question: What clues did you hear in the episode which would explain Matt’s kid’s deep affection for him? Compile a list of ideas and determine how you could implement some in your classroom.
  • Read Matt’s awesome Google Doc.
  • Take one of the ideas he promotes and weave it into tomorrow’s lesson.
  • Debrief students at the end of the experience.
  • Seek out a like-minded colleague who would be game to experiment with some of Matt’s techniques. This partner in crime can help you and vice-versa.

The world is changing at warp speed. Education needs to change too. Matt’s classroom is the classroom of the future. Emulate his fine example!

Listen to “65-Matthew Porricelli Preaches the Gospel of Student-Led Learning and his 4th Grade Disciples Back him 1000%” on Spreaker.




64-The Learning Scientists have a Vaccine for Test Anxiety

The Learning Scientist are researchers determined to help teachers build academic confidence in their students. They do this by offering proven strategies to help kids achieve. Here is the team:

Megan Smith, PhD

Yana Weinstein, PhD

Cindy Wooldridge, PhD

Carolina Kuepper-Tetzel, PhD

Remarkably, they provide all of this free free advice via a comprehensive and powerful resource, which is their website. My suggestion, before you dive in, is to watch this 8-minute overview of their 6 strategies.

In this episode, I’ll discuss with Dr. Smith and Dr. Kupper-Tetzel:

  • How the Learning Scientists came to be
  • How to utilize their tremendous website
  • 2 of their 6 strategies

My exposure to their website was pure serendipity. In early June, my wife and I attended a PD session at Columbus State Community College. Prior to the day’s breakout sessions, we were subjected to keynote remarks. I say subjected to, because sometimes such monologues can amble on without much relevance. But this presentation was different. Dr. Smith and Dr. Wooldridge mounted the stage and enlightened us about research findings in regard to student retention. Their spiel was interesting, but what engaged me was their website. I pulled out my tablet and bounced all over their site while they spoke. I thought, Wow. I can use these techniques.

Immediately after their presentation, I ambled up to Megan and Cindy, introduced myself, and invited them to appear on my podcast. This episode is the product of that interaction.

If you’re listening to this episode prior to July 19, please join these fine ladies for their Learning Scientists Twitter Chat at 4PM EST on the 19th. #lrnscichat 

Episode Template

The Problem:

Students have no idea how to study.

The Solution:

Employ the strategies of the Learning Scientists.

What you can do Tomorrow:

  • Explore the Learning Scientist’s website.
  • Carve out a portion of tomorrow’s lesson to practice one of their strategies
  • Map out other times during the week where you can employ other strategies, especially Spaced Practice and Retrieval Practice. 

Let the Learning Scientists help you help your kids build academic confidence.

Listen to “64-The Learning Scientists have a Vaccine for Test Anxiety” on Spreaker.

63-Collaborating with Students is an Essential 21st-Century Skill…let Ann Coates Help you do it

Ann Coates the Pride of Hanover, Mass @annmcoates

If one were to make a list of essential educator skills for the 21st-Century, certainly…collaborating with students would be near the top. This episode features a collaboration expert. Ann Coates is a veteran high school teacher in Hanover, Massachusetts. Ann is all about giving timely and meaningful feedback to kids. She states that instant feedback is, where the actions is!

This attention-grabbing statement got me thinking. I get feedback from colleagues and administrators all the time. Some of it welcome, Jim, that was awesome! Some of it not, Jim, you need to improve your essential questions. In regard to constructive criticism, unless I act upon feedback promptly, I tend to forget it. So, give your kids timely feedback and then encourage them to act upon it.

Additionally, deliver feedback in a 21st Century fashion. When I was young, I rarely read red pen comments in the margins of my research papers. I checked my grade, which was all the information I cared about. I’ll wager that you have a bevy of students, like the young James Sturtevant, who don’t read the important comments that you labored to write in their margins. Yes…it’s frustrating, but it is what it is and perhaps you can adjust. Utilize some of Ann’s outstanding suggestions and watch kids begin to digest then act upon some of your constructive and helpful feedback. Observe your relationships with students evolve as your collaboration with them blossoms.

Utilize some of Ann’s outstanding suggestions and observe your relationships with students evolve as your collaboration with them blossoms. As our education system navigates to a more student-led learning template, student-teacher collaboration will no longer be a cool thing that a few teachers in the building have mastered. It will be an essential skill that ALL educators simply must embrace.

Episode Template

The Problem:

Teachers need to up their student collaboration game.

The Solution:

Dedicate a portion of class time to student feedback and then have kids act upon that information.

What You Can Do Tomorrow:

  1. Divide tomorrow’s lesson into tasks to be evaluated.
  2. Create opportunities to provide feedback on these tasks be it, peer-feedback, self-reflection, or directly from you.
  3. Include a dedicated time segment in the lesson for students to act upon feedback.
  4. Direct kids to resubmit and get additional advice.

Collaborating with kids is essential. Use Ann’s outstanding feedback strategies to build relationships and student learning.

Listen to “63-Collaborating with Students is an Essential 21st-Century Skill…let Ann Coates Help you do it” on Spreaker.http://

62-Engage with me about Engagement on the #HackLearning Twitter Chat

On Sunday morning July 9th, from 8:30 to 9:00 AM EST, I will moderate the #HackLearning Twitter Chat. This is in preparation for the release of my second engagement book “Hacking Engagement Again”, which will be available in early August. Please participate! Here are the questions:

8:37-Q1: How do you engage students with lesson hooks?
8:45-Q2: What are some strategies that can make lessons ultra-engaging?
8:52-Q3: How can the assessment of student learning be conducted in a way that engages learners?

Even if you’re not available to participate, check out #HackLearning after the fact and see how educators and students from around the world answered these transformational prompts.

Just like in my Episode 37 where I promote conducting class Twitter Chats, I’m currently loading my prompts and responses on Tweetdeck. This will be a blast! Please come join us Sunday.

Listen to “62-Engage with me about Engagement on the #HackLearning Twitter Chat” on Spreaker.

61-2 6th Graders from OKC Evaluate Their Teacher’s Lesson…Starring Jon Belt, Jordan Flowers, and Conner Odom

Jordan Flowers and Conner Odom

Jon Belt teaches 6th grade at Mayfield Middle School in Oklahoma City. Jordan Flowers and Conner Odom are 2 students in Jon’s class. This episode is about Jon introducing learning stations in a lesson. The stations mirror the READS method which Jon details in the episode. Introducing movement and structure to class is something all educators should strive for weekly. This episode is worthy for its promotion of this concept, but as I interviewed this empathetic educator and his wonderful young students, another even more powerful dynamic surfaced. Jon Belt has fostered a learning environment where students feel totally comfortable helping Mr. Belt become a better teacher. He asks them to evaluate his teaching and they freely comply in positive and constructive ways. Displaying this powerful and positive dynamic is just as, if not more, important than the excellent learning tactic Jon describes.

When I was in 6th grade many moons ago, my teacher was not to be evaluated by students. If I would have offered some teaching advice, I may have ended up on the business end of her paddle. Now, please don’t interpret this wrong. I had wonderful teachers growing up. I loved my 6th-grade teacher, Mrs. Bates. It was just a different era. My wonderful teachers would have been even more effective if they would have included, then acted upon, student input.

As you listen to these 3 beautiful people from OKC, consider how their words could impact your class. Implement Jon’s movement and structure method and listen to Jordan and Conner chip in sage advice on how to improve this tactic. Finally, consider how you can empower your students to help you become a better teacher.

Jon is not just a model teacher, he’s also a fellow podcaster. Follow this link and savor Jon’s Teacher Tunnel Podcast. I was honored to have been a guest earlier in the year!

Episode Template

The Problem:

Kids are stuck in their desks and don’t get to move. Also, kids aren’t empowered to help teachers improve.

The Solution:

Introduce learning stations and ask for student input.

What You Can Do Tomorrow:

  1. Divide tomorrow’s lesson into tasks.
  2. Create learning stations around your room based on those tasks.
  3. Group your students to facilitate learning.
  4. Give kids a time limit at each station.
  5. Conduct a class discussion or debriefing and learn from your most important evaluators.

Introduce structured movement and listen and then act upon the sage advice of your students.

Listen to “61-2 6th Graders from OKC Evaluate Their Teacher’s Lesson…Starring Jon Belt, Jordan Flowers, and Conner Odom” on Spreaker.

60-Morph your Kids into Photojouranalists…Starring Alexandra Lang

Certainly, you’ve heard the old cliché A picture is worth a thousand words. I did some research on this statement and was delighted to learn that prior to photography, individuals used to say, A painting is worth a thousand words. Images, whether captured or manufactured, are powerful. I cannot remember that last Tweet I sent that was imageless. Social media is fueled by compelling images. We need to capitalize on this natural human attraction.

Here are five iconic images from American history:

  • The painting of George Washington crossing the Delaware
  • The WWI Uncle Sam recruiting poster
  • The Marines hoisting the flag on Iwo Jima
  • Lyndon Johnson taking the oath of office beside a stunned and blood-stained Jackie Kennedy
  • Associates of Dr. King standing over his body pointing towards an assassin

Do any of these descriptions conjure up mental images? Do they inspire emotions, or perhaps personal narratives? If you weren’t familiar with some of these images, did you Google the description out of curiosity?

This episode will demonstrate how to use images in 3 powerful ways:

  1. To help students understand and a profound concept
  2. To empower students to create and manipulate images to express themselves
  3. To hook students in preparation for an impactful lesson

To help in this noble quest, is Alexandra Lang. Here’s Alexandra gazing at a provocative image on her Chromebook.

Alexandra Lang

We talk about why images are important and powerful and strategize as to how teachers can use them. Here are 2 images we discuss in the episode. In the first, Vishvarupa stands and delivers in front of a reluctant Arjuna. In the second, Anekantavada means that individuals may process the world in diverse ways:

It’s also important for students to create and manipulate images. Please navigate to this link which is my blog prompt on Chinese landscapes. The Prizma app takes images and morphs them into impressionistic paintings. Your students will love this app!

And finally, follow this link to see the gruesome images I to draw my kids into the horrifying but fascinating story of the Rape of Nanking.

Episode Template

The Problem:

Images are underutilized in most classrooms.

The Solution:

Use images to explain, empower kids to create and manipulate images, and also use them as a powerful hook.

What you can do tomorrow?

  • Create a Google Slide presentation with compelling images about tomorrow’s lesson.
  • Present with Pear Deck.
  • Challenge students to create their own Google Slides presentation based on your template.
  • Create a prompt where students must create their own images. 

A picture is worth a thousand words, so save your breath and liberate kid’s imaginations.

Listen to “60-Morph your Kids into Photojouranalists…Starring Alexandra Lang” on Spreaker.

59-Sometimes you Need to be the Sage on Stage…let Pear Deck Help

Modern educators are discouraged from being the sage on stage. As the overused cliché goes…Instead of being the sage on stage, be the guide on the side. I’m not a huge fan of this mantra. I understand the need for presentation styles to evolve, but sometimes you need to jump up in front of your kids and inspire them! Even though much of my instruction is flipped, it’s still important to present in front of students. While my kids enjoy my recordings, periodically I treat them to a live performance. A few years ago, my wife and I watched Jersey Boys on the big screen and then we saw it live on stage. There was no comparison. Sometimes, you have to go all Broadway on your kids. Sometimes, you need to be the sage on stage.  

And here, is where Pear Deck makes its dramatic appearance.

Infuse your presentation with highly interactive engaging prompts by utilizing this amazing tool. Morph your static sit and listenfests into intense student collaborationfests. Transform your lectures into twenty-five separate and simultaneous student-teacher conversations. Pear Deck allows you to do the following:

  • upload an existing presentation in Google Slides or PowerPoint.
  • permits students to follow your presentations on their devices, while you control the pace.
  • empowers instructors to insert engaging prompts before and during your performance.
  • hides student responses till the teacher decides to display them and student names remain a mystery.

Episode Template

The Problem:

Modern educators need to sometimes be the Sage on Stage.

The Solution:

Make your live presentations powerfully engaging with Pear Deck.


What You Can Do Tomorrow?

  • Watch this brief Pear Deck tutorial.
  • Select or create a brief Google Slides or PowerPoint Presentation.
  • Insert a fabulous hook into your first slide.
  • Prompt students through Pear Deck to respond.

Pear Deck creates a collaborative and engaging presentation environment. Embrace this new way to present and enthrall your kids.

Listen to “59-Sometimes you Need to be the Sage on Stage…let Pear Deck Help” on Spreaker.

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.