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.

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.