73-Impose the 15-Word Gauntlet on your Students…Starring Arielle Brown and Ashlynn Hathaway

Ashlynn Hathaway…Arielle Brown

If you’ve taught for any time what so ever, you’ve probably suffered through painfully boring student presentations. And if you were bored, think of the other students. Let’s strive to make such presentations are:

  • More attractive
  • More engaging
  • Less time-consuming
  • More interactive

In order to create such presentations, your kids must first run the gauntlet.

According to various sources, fifteen to twenty words is the average sentence length. That seemed long, till I actually wrote a sentence:

When I was in high school, I would have laughed uproariously

if anyone had informed me that I was destined to be a teacher. (24 words)

This will be a wonderful challenge for your students. They may revolt. Not only is it important to reduce the number of words, the limit will also hopefully dissuade copying and pasting. This awful practice flirts with plagiarism and makes for exceedingly dull presentations as students drone the words of another.

The fifteen-word limit encourages creativity. Students must populate slides with attractive images. They must animate slides with captivating stories. This leads to far more engaging presentations. 

As explained in the episode, another powerful engagement tactic is to have kids present to one another through Pear Deck. This will boost engagement ten-fold. The student presenter will monopolize the screens of his or her audience and that audience will have a front row seat to the presentation’s compelling images.

Episode Template

The Problem:

Student presentations are filled with boring slides that are text rich and image poor.

What you can do Tomorrow?

  • Direct students to create a one-sentence description of themselves. 
  • Create the 15-word Berlin Wall or, the 15-word 38th Parallel. 
  • Display fifteen-word examples on the board. 
  • Display the longest and shortest sentences. 
  • Inform students about the fifteen word maximum for the next presentation. 

Student presentations tend to be boring. Let’s make them engaging instead. Foster student creativity and ignite storytelling passion by limiting kids to fifteen words per slide.

Listen to “73-Impose the 15-Word Gauntlet on your Students…Starring Arielle Brown and Ashlynn Hathaway” on Spreaker.

72-A Harvard MBA Inspires Educators to Reach out to People…Just Like Him…Starring Brent Wilkinson

Brent Wilkinson NOW and THEN

If you’re married to your high school sweetheart this doesn’t apply to you, but for most of us, our high school flames are murky memories. That’s certainly the case for me. I didn’t marry a girl from my hometown, but one from Mt. Vernon a pretty little town on the edge of the Appalachian foothills in North Central Ohio. About a decade ago, I attended the Mt. Vernon High School Class of 1981 Reunion. It was a lot of fun for a while, but as the night wore on, my ability to follow and contribute to stories that were unfamiliar…with people I didn’t know, became problematic. My wife was having a blast and was certainly entitled to uncompromised nostalgic bliss, so I had to step-up my social game.

Penny, fortunately, introduced me to her old friend…Brent Wilkinson. The next 90 minutes simply evaporated. Brent is a fascinating guy with a wonderful Horatio Alger story. He left Mt. Vernon in 1981 bound for Boston. He went on to captain the Harvard football team, earn his MBA, and thrive as a corporate officer and entrepreneur in Boston’s highly competitive private sector. I loved his story, but what impressed me more was his humble recounting of it. Penny and I visited Brent in Boston this past summer. As we strolled the city and interacted with this fascinating guy, I knew I had to get Brent on my podcast.

When educators and private sector types collaborate, it creates opportunities not just for students. My experience interacting with business folk has revealed that problems of communication, motivation, and management are largely universal. What’s also universal is the value of growing human capital which is exactly what can happen if teachers reach out. Brent and his colleagues will absolutely collaborate with my kids before year’s end! Why don’t you create such an opportunity for your students?

Episode Template

The Problem: There’s little collaboration between schools and the private sector.

The Solution: Form your own school-business partnership.

What you can do Tomorrow:

  1. Scan your curriculum for a collaboration opportunity.
  2. Network with friends and acquaintances in the private sector.
  3. Set a date when collaboration will materialize.

School and business collaboration will obviously benefit kids, but fostering such relationships could also be transformative for adults. Be a prime mover in this equation! Listen to “72-A Harvard MBA Inspires Educators to Reach out to People…Just Like Him…Starring Brent Wilkinson” on Spreaker. 

71-Issue the Nonverbal Communication Challenge to your Kids

WELCOME! I’m not threatened by you!

It’s hard to believe, but humans communicated before there were words. We may not realize it, but we still use pre-verbal methods of communicating. There’s an entire language that we unknowingly transmit with each interaction…it’s nonverbal! It comes naturally to us. All we have to do is tune in to an ancient frequency. Think of when you’re trying to communicate with someone who can’t speak your language. You default to expressive arm gestures and facial expressions. You probably also do this when communicating to your four legged pal. Dogs are champs at reading nonverbals.

As teachers, students come at us in waves. It’s hard to give kids our undivided attention, but that’s precisely what we should TRY to do. Transmitting the right nonverbals is an essential skill that teachers should master. The good news is that mastering such skills is a blast! You can even get your students in on the game.

I learned about nonverbal communication while writing my first book You’ve Gotta Connect.

I devoted an entire chapter to nonverbals, but I also featured them in Hack 73 of my new book Hacking Engagement Again. My favorite book on body language is the Definitive Book on Body Language by Barbara and Allan Pease. Not only is this book informative, it’s also hilarious!

This episode is so much fun. Please give some of my ideas a try and deputize your students in the process.

Episode Template

The Problem: We’re unaware of nonverbal signals which can encourage, or undermine, relationships with kids.

The Solution: Become fluent in this ancient form of communication.

What you can do Tomorrow: 

  1. Practice on your significant other.
  2. Enlighten students about your goal.
  3. Play an active listening game.
  4. Have student performers demonstrate effective listening techniques.
  5. Practice nonverbal listening in one-on-one interactions.

Students who don’t feel like you’re engaged with them will feel totally undervalued.

Listen to “71-Issue the Nonverbal Communication Challenge to your Kids” on Spreaker.

70-Don’t Just have Kids Read About a Place…SEND THEM THERE…Starring Quin Thomas

Quin Thomas

Friday afternoon hardly seems the time to talk shop, but Quin Thomas and I did exactly that. I’ve always wanted to interview Quin and I finally talked her into it. She’s a dynamic young teacher who gets kids and gets tech. She’s one of my young mentors.

She migrated to the Room 111 Studios to enlighten us about the power of Google Maps. I’d used them a bit before our convo. I love grabbing the little yellow guy in the lower right hand corner and dropping him on a blue dot, or a blue street for a closer view.

I needed someone to give me a shove and use this fantastic tool more…Quin was just the woman for the job!

Picture this…you’re studying really cool places like Machu Picchu, Tiananmen Square, the Coliseum, the Taj Mahal, or Timbuktu. Instead of just yakking about it, or having students read about it, tell kids to hop on their Chromebooks, fly around the world, and then drop in for a close-up view from ground level.

Here’s a link to my introductory assignment I gave to my 9th-grade Geography class.

Here’s another link to the Chinese Geography Challenge I gave to World Civ kids.

I was so motivated by this idea that I downloaded the Google Street View App. I felt that our school not having a street view was a darned shame. I followed the instructions, captured a 360^ image and then uploaded the image which generated a blue dot on Google Maps for Big Walnut High School in Sunbury, Ohio. Why don’t you see if you can find it and drop down for a closer look!

Episode Template

The Problem:

It’s hard for kids to visualize that fascinating places teachers talk about.


Send kids on a virtual journey with Google maps.

What you can do Tomorrow:

  • Work through one of my docs linked above to familiarize yourself with the tool.
  • Challenge students to map their commute to school.
  • Create a prompt that forces kids to find and then visit some exotic locales from your curriculum.
  • Challenge students to upload an image to Google Maps.

Google Maps is the way to make the fascinating places your kids study come to life!

Listen to “70-Don’t Just have Kids Read About a Place…SEND THEM THERE…Starring Quin Thomas” on Spreaker.

69-Rebel Against the Bell…Starring Melissa Maxson


Kids are just starting to get it, they’re finally opening up in a discussion, they’re finding great resources for a research paper, they’re starting to harmonize in choir, their sculptures are just beginning to take shape, their findings in a science experiment are just about to materialize and then the bell rings.

This frequently happens to Melissa Maxson’s devoted art students. You know you’ve engaged kids when they say, “Dang, I can’t believe the period is over.” Melissa hears this daily.

In this episode, hear Melissa’s solution to her frustrations with the uniform 50-minute modules. Listen to her recipe to detonate space/time limitations. 

Look up!

Episode Template

The Problem: The fifty minute class period undermines engagement.

The Hack: Create an extracurricular club for your class.

What You Can Do Tomorrow?

  • Create an extracurricular club for your class.
  • Investigate a project opportunity.
  • List ways to promote your club, your class club, and your club’s project.

Don’t be limited by the traditional fifty minute class period. Create an after-school club based on your class.

Listen to “69-Rebel Against the Bell…Starring Melissa Maxson” on Spreaker.

68-BattleVant and SturteVingo…Two Zero Tech Ways to Engage Kids

A great way to engage students is to just have some fun with content. Accomplish this by mimicking two iconic American board games…Battleship and Bingo. Certainly, most of your kids have played, or at least are familiar with both. I reworked both games for my classroom. Of course, I renamed them Battlevant and Sturtevingo. I encourage you to create your own labels for your versions of these activities.

Any time there’s material you’d like to review, Sturtevingo and Battlevant are wonderful engaging options that can be employed frequently. Battlevant is a team game. I’ll demonstrate it as a two team contest, but it could be used with multiple teams. In Sturtevingo, every man and woman is on their own.

Two team Battlevant is played in the following way:

  • Divide the class into 2 teams
  • Secretly assign students in Team 1 a number from 1-20. Select 5 numbers as misses and assign the other 15 numbers. If there are less than 15 students in Team 1, you can award extra numbers to various kids. Repeat the same process for Team 2 with numbers 21-40.  
  • Prior to the contest, project the game board.

Battlevant Game Board

Team 1 Team 2
1 2 3 4 5

6 7 8 9 10

11 12 13 14 15

16 17 18 19 20

21 22 23 24 25

26 27 28 29 30

31 32 33 34 35

36 37 38 39 40

  • Ask individual students questions about the material. If they get it right, they can select a number from the other team’s range of numbers. (Team 1 kids will select numbers from 21 to 40)
  • If they successfully uncover a student’s number, you cheerfully announce that Johnny or Janey has been sunk and put an X through their number. If a student guesses a number that is a miss, circle that number. 
  • Johnny or Janey, if sunk, must then slightly turn their desks to demonstrate their damaged status. They may not answer general questions, but I like to issue “Back from the Dead” questions periodically to keep the sunk students engaged.
  • The contest ends when the questions are exhausted, or all the kids on one side are sunk.

Sturtevingo is a game that takes a bit more prep, but is easy to execute. Create at least 25 matching questions. I like to create 30 because it makes obtaining Sturtevingos even more challenging. The first portion of the period, students are working individually, or in small groups, matching concepts with descriptions like below:

  1. ______ Karma
  2. ______ Dharma
  3. ______ Khyber Pass
  4. ______ Aryans
  5. ______ Bhagavad Gita

a. Northwestern passageway for invasion and migration

b. The Hindu concept of duty

c. The law of action and reaction

d. The Hindu scripture that describes and promotes Dharma and Karma

e. Invaders, or migrants, from the west that transformed the culture of the Subcontinent

After kids have answered as many as they can, or the allotted time has expired, handout a blank Sturtevingo board:

Students will then populate the board with number letter matches. Encourage students to place the matches in a random fashion. That way, each student’s Sturtevingo board will be unique. The matches must be accurate to count. If a student put the letter A with number 1 when the answer should be C, they cannot be awarded the square if “1C” is called. Once kids have their game boards arranged, play commences in the following fashion:

  • The teacher asks a question from the list. If a student guesses correctly, “I think letter C goes with question 1” all the students that have the 1C match on their board can place an X on that square. You write 1C on the board.
  • The student that answered correctly then walks up to the teacher and subtly points to the next question they want asked. I frequently limit the number of times any student can answer to share the wealth.
  • Play continues till a student get 5 Xs in a row.

  • Unlike regular bingo however, don’t instruct kids to clear the board after the first Sturtevingo. Just keep asking questions and announcing number letter matches. It’s even okay if some kids get 2 Sturtevingos.
  • I like to up the intensity by rewarding Sturtevingo winners. It could be classroom privileges, a free homework coupon, or any coveted reward you can think of.


The Problem:

Teachers struggle making dull content engaging.

The Solution:

Play Battlevant, or Sturtevingo.

What you can do Tomorrow:

  • Create a number of questions based on the content. If you’re going to play Sturtevingo, make the questions matching.
  • Decide if you want teams…Battlevant, or every man and woman for themselves…Sturtevingo.
  • Craft some additional questions (trivial and or interesting) that can be thrown out to supplement the materialThese could be used to engage students sunk in Battlevant, or could spice up the competition of either game.

These games are a way to take dull content and make it fun and engaging.

Listen to “68-BattleVant and SturteVingo…Two Zero Tech Ways to Engage Kids” on Spreaker.

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.