32-Samantha Bickley and Grace Hofer are Two 16-year-olds that Will Set you Straight about Group Work

Teachers often group kids based on learning styles, ability, and skill sets. Such attributes are pretty easily identifiable, but teachers simply must take compatibility into account as well. I teach 9th graders. Freshmen are spastic and dramatic. If you place the wrong 15-year-olds together, the impact can be pandemic! Also, nothing frosts a motivated 15-years-old’s gourd faster than having to do all the group’s work to cover for slacker colleagues.

So…perhaps it’s time to listen to two brilliant young people riff about their experiences working in groups. Samantha Bickley and Grace Hofer were in my class last year. Now they’re sophomores and I miss them every day. You’re going to love their humor, their spirit, and their wisdom about group dynamics!


Grace Hofer and Samantha Bickley

Episode Template

The Problem:

Many student groups are unproductive and snarky.

The Solution:

Create supportive groups where members hold themselves accountable.

Here’s a wonderful resource:

10 Recommendations for Improving Group Work by Maryellen Weimer in Faculty Focus:

What You Can Do Tomorrow?

  • Take compatibility into account when forming groups.
  • Assign roles to group members. 
  • Require individual members to keep track of their contributions.

Collaborating in high functioning groups can be most engaging for students. Select group membership carefully and if needed, add structure and accountability.

Listen to “32-Samantha Bickley and Grace Hofer are Two 16-year-olds that Will Set you Straight about Group Work” on Spreaker.


31-Science Teacher Ryan Mocarski Takes Self-Directed Learning to a Whole New Level


Maybe…this is okay!

Ryan Mocarski has taught 8th-grade science for 8 years. His 2013 book the “Mocarski Model” demonstrates how to create a PBL-centered classroom that’s paperless. He believes that if you create a positive classroom environment, all students are able to become academically and socially successful.

That sounds like a pretty standard prescription…but his tactics are ground-breaking! Listen to this fascinating young teacher who fearlessly allows kids to DO NOTHING at times in his room! He also wears a suit and tie everyday!



Episode Template

The Problem:

Students are sick of sitting and listening.

The Solution:

Challenge your students to demonstrate learning in their own way.

What You Can Do Tomorrow?

  • Challenge students to come up with their own method of demonstrating mastery.
  • Repeat to yourself the following before class tomorrow, “it’s okay if my students are off task. The goal is to empower them and they may need some think time to accomplish this!”

Empowering students will open the door to epic engagement!   

Listen to “31-Science Teacher Ryan Mocarski Takes Self-Directed Learning to a Whole New Level” on Spreaker.

30-Do Your Students Know how You Voted?



Contentious national and state elections are tricky. Students want to know how their teachers vote. But one sure fire way to alienate portions of your class is to be too blustery about your opinions. Instead, embrace elections as a fantastic opportunity to engage students. When students ask you how you’re voting for, ask them…“What’s your guess?”

Episode Template

The Problem:

Opinionated teachers repel many learners.

The Solution:

Challenge your students to figure it out.

What You Can Do Tomorrow?

  • Select a controversial issue.
  • Introduce the challenge.
  • Provide an example.
  • Plan how you can avoid giving away your position.
  • Challenge students to find examples of bias.

Contentious elections offer a wonderful engagement opportunity. Challenge students to solve the teacher voting preference mystery.    

Listen to “30-Do Your Students Know how YOU Voted?” on Spreaker.


29-Turn your Students into 5-Year-Olds

When you were 5-years-old and your mamma wanted a little break from the awesome responsibility of raising you, she’d give you some paper and crayons, and for the next 30 minutes, you were blissfully and silently…in the engagement zone. Across the top of the paper, you drew a blue band which represented the sky. A green band at the bottom was grass. In between in a vast white void, was perhaps your house, your dog, a tree, the sun, and a smiling stick figure you. In all honesty, from an artistic standpoint, your drawing sucked, but you didn’t care. You were totally immersed in what you were doing. When you presented it to her, your mom probably marveled at your masterpiece, but you would have been just fine without all her false praise. The truth is, you loved the creative process.


Alas, the next year you went to kindergarten and your artistic innocence was shattered. Your peers and you started to compare artwork. Unlike your mom, your teacher was not as effusive with her praise. You became more interested in the way your art looked in comparison to others and far less content to just create in quiet bliss.

Now that you’re a teacher, try promoting drawing a picture in class. Students often groan, “I can’t even draw a straight line.” In fairness, no one can draw a straight line…that’s the function of a ruler. But don’t let those crabby statements dissuade you. Kids still love to draw.

The Awakened One by David Sturtevant

The Awakened One by David Sturtevant

Episode Template:

The Problem:

It’s hard to unleash the creativity.

The Solution:

Have kids draw your next lesson!

What You Can Do Tomorrow?

  • Create a drawing prompt based on your current lesson.
  • Gather material. you need and create a perfect atmosphere. 
  • Set the mood. 
  • Work the room. 
  • Celebrate their creations.

Challenge your students to draw tomorrow’s lesson. After some predictable pushback, you’ll be amazed at how engaged they’ll be in this creative process.

Listen to “29-Turn your Students into 5-Year-Olds” on Spreaker.

28-Charlie Rowley Tells Teachers to let their Freak Flag Fly


A few years back, Charlie Rowley became my student teacher. Charlie is a really good looking dude. He’s friendly, calm, and to top it off, he was a college football player. Many of my kids were immediately drawn to Charlie, but there was a handful who were totally closed down and not ready to give him a chance. It was like they were thinking, Oh great…another jock Social Studies teacher! I pulled Charlie aside and explained this delicate social dynamic. Charlie didn’t hesitate, “Okay…let’s see if I can win them over. This sounds like fun.” He’s a great guy.

Charlie Rowley

Charlie Rowley 


Over the next few weeks, Charlie shelved his ego and worked hard to engage his reluctant contingent. It was working. They started warming up to him. And then one day, one of Charlie’s emerging converts made an amazing observation. Listen to this episode to learn how a simple observation from a student revolutionized Charlie’s ability to engage his students!

Episode Template

The Problem:

Teachers are afraid to be human in front of students.

The Solution:

Become aware of, then whole-heartedly embrace, your interesting proclivities.

What You Can Do Tomorrow?

  • Challenge students to list some of their proclivities.
  • Direct students to list some odd tendencies or quirks of friends and family. 
  • Ask student a simple question,Is there anything I do or say on a regular basis that you guys think is strange or unique?” 
  • If you do something odd…own it, exploit it, and find ways to perform it on a regular basis.

Discover your unique proclivities. Exploit these wonderful behavioral fingerprints as potentially wonderful engagement tools.

Listen to “28-Charlie Rowley Encourages Teachers to let T

27-Dorali Arambula…a Beautiful Young Dreamer on More Inclusive Schools

Dorali Arambula is senior at Westerville North High School in suburban Columbus, Ohio. Dorali was born in Mexico, but she moved to the United States at age 2. America is her home. She has no recollection of Mexico.


Dorali Arambula

Dorali Arambula

Dorali was in my class 2 years ago. At the end of that school year, her family moved down the road to a neighboring school. As you’ll learn in the episode, It was not the first time she’d moved schools. Sit back and listen to her fascinating life journey. Sometimes she’s felt welcomed and valued, other times not.


With the brutal political rhetoric we’ve all experienced during this election season, it’s so wonderful to hear her uplifting voice! We all have a lot to learn from this beautiful dreamer!

Episode Template

The Problem:

Some students feel disenfranchised.

The Solution:

Become more empathetic and aware.

What You Can Do Tomorrow?

  • Take note of a student who might feel excluded.
  • Analyze why this youngster might feel this way.
  • Monitor your words and deeds. 
  • Strategically pair excluded students with positive peers.
  • Practice empathy 24/7. 

Make all your students feel welcome and included.

Listen to “27-Dorali Arambula…a Beautiful Young Dreamer on More Inclusive Schools” on Spreaker.


26-Amanda Reynolds and Channeling Your Inner Yoga Teacher

The Problem: Teachers get lost in their agendas and forget to be empathetic to students.

You might be muttering, “I don’t have an inner yoga teacher.” But please consider Amanda Reynolds’ words before submitting that verdict. She’s an amazing yoga instructor. I know because I’ve taken a lot of her classes. She’s compassionate, gentle, and encouraging. She empowers stiff students to open. If you interact with Amanda outside of the studio, however, you’ll be struck by her intense Ayurvedic Pita nature. She’s enthusiastic, active, focused, and competitive. She kids me that I’m a pita too. Guilty! Amanda’s story is relevant because her daytime job is to teach high school English. She uses her yoga background to channel, and at times mask, her intensity, build relationships, and engage students,  


The stunning Amanda Reynolds




The Hack: Use compassion to build relationships and foster engagement.

  • Engage your intuition.
  • Ask this youngster, “How are you doing today?”
  • Ask your students a courageous question. 

Strive to interact with students compassionately and in the process, gain valuable insight into them and how you can make your class more engaging.

Listen to “26-Amanda Reynolds and Channeling Your Inner Yoga Teacher” on Spreaker.


25-The Celebrity Couple Nickname Game Staring Trevor Ambrose, Jack Belcher, Liz Bender, Mikayla Colvin, Alejandrina Hernandez, Christopher Ward


The semester just started and you have 150 names to remember…and you must do it fast! Students feel marginalized when you can’t remember their names:

  • I’m insignificant
  • Mr. S doesn’t notice me
  • I’m not important
  • Mr. S doesn’t like me
  • I’m invisible
  • Mr. S knows other student’s names. He must like them better

A number of years ago, for some odd reason, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie came up in class. I referred to them reflexively as Brangelina. I was struck by how every kid knew exactly whom I was referring to. Hmmmm! Perhaps, I thought, I could do the same thing with a student’s first and last names. This was the birth of the Celebrity Couple Nickname Game. It has:

  • Been a fun bonding tool
  • Allowed me to remember student names
  • Created powerful allegiance to my class

Ten days into class, you don’t want to be saying, “Hey…you in the brown shirt, what’s the answer to #10?”

Listen to these incredible student voices promote the power of this technique!

Episode Template

The Problem:

It’s hard to remember student names.

The Solution:

Play the Celebrity Couple Nickname Game.

What You Can Do Tomorrow?

  • Take your seating chart and create celebrity nicknames out of the first and last names.
  • Present examples.
  • Challenge kids to morph your name. 
  • Deputize your students to create their own celebrity nicknames.
  • Present students with your creation. 

You can’t engage kids if you don’t know their names. Creating celebrity nicknames will transform this tedious chore into a fun game.  


24-Hacking Engagement the Book Launch

It is my great pleasure to announce that my book…“Hacking Engagement”, is actively seeking a home on your bookshelf! Mark Barnes interviewed me about my book for his Hack Learning Podcast. I liked the interview so much that I published it on the Hacking Engagement Podcast. Listen and you’ll learn a lot about my book…and hopefully, be motivated to spring for a copy!