40-Inspire 100% Participation in Tomorrow’s Class Discussion with Philosophical Chairs…the Stanford History Education Group

I’ll wager you’d like to dramatically improve your class discussions! You yearn for discussions where all students participate. You dream about student conversations that tackle compelling topics with DEEP analysis, inquiry, and speculation. I’ll also predict you’d love your students to enthusiastically plunge into primary sources evaluating the perspective of the author, contextualizing what they wrote, and then corroborating the source with other primary documents.

Last week, my students did exactly this with Lin Zexu’s letter to Queen Elizabeth imploring her to end the opium trade in China. It was an epic performance by my students! The instructional template is Philosophical Chairs. What inspired this wonderful class was the Stanford History Education Group.

Today, Joel Breakstone, from SHEG, will discuss:

  • The Stanford History Education Group
  • Philosophical Chairs
  • Empowering students to devour primary sources
  • Inspiring kids to dramatically up their class conversation game

Joel Breakstone of SHEG @joelbreakstone

Follow this link to the Teaching Channel and watch this video where Valerie Ziegler, from Lincoln High School in San Francisco, demonstrates Philosophical Chairs. Please don’t stop reading if you’re not a history teacher. What this episode promotes could be utilized in every discipline.

Please also check out SHEG’s site that explores and inspires better assessment…Beyond the Bubble. 

 Episode Template

The Problem:

Class Discussions need to be better!

The Solution:

Philosophical Chairs

What you can do Tomorrow:

  1. Visit SHEG and watch the video on Philosophical Chairs
  2. Find outstanding primary sources
  3. Arrange the room for sitting, standing, and movement
  4. Create an alternative assignment for kids who don’t pull the verbal trigger

Listen to “40-Inspire 100% Participation in Tomorrow’s Class Discussion with Philosophical Chairs…the Stanford History Education Group” on Spreaker.

39-Kristin Kovak Unleashes the Lorax Challenge of Shame


The Lorax speaks for the trees and wants you to go paperless.    Source:  Dr Seuss / Brevard Zoo, Viera FL Author Rusty Clark from merritt usland FLA


Just yesterday…I was making copies in the Teacher’s Lounge when I realized I’d made a mistake and forgot to double-side and staple the set! The practical upshot of this wasteful frenzy was the destruction of innocent paper.

Teachers go through reams of paper daily. I must plead guilty to laying waste to forests in my efforts to educate modern youth. Sadly, many of these sheets of decimated vegetation awre used by students only temporarily, then discarded often bypassing the recycling bin in route to the landfill. But the tide of history is urging educators to alter their standard operating procedure. It’s time to do a “Paperless Week”.

But importantly…this paperless approach has the potential to engage your students. Sound interesting? I thought so! Give a listen to Kristen Kovak…a paperless guru…the contemporary Lorax!


Kristin mentioned these two tools:




Episode Template

The Problem:

Teachers waste MASSIVE amounts of paper!

The Solution:

Institute a Paperless Week in your classroom.

What you can do tomorrow:

  • Engage kids with the Paperless Week.
  • Require students to turn in assignments electronically.
  • Provide feedback to students electronically.
  • Prompt students to evaluate the experience on Friday. Of course…have them submit it electronically!
  • For the long-term…consider using Google Classroom.

Do something wonderful for the planet. Be a good role model. Future teachers will engage students without paper. Get ahead of the curve!

Listen to “39-Kristen Kovak Unleashes the Lorax Challenge of Shame” on Spreaker.



38-Transform your Class into a Daily TED Talk

Educators have an unquenchable thirst to explain. I have this urge. If some students don’t get it, it’s my job to clarify. Unfortunately, this tendency can disengage students who got it the first time.

It’s been my observation, both from the standpoint of being a student…and then working with colleagues as an adult, that teachers aren’t the best at weighing the trade-offs of their marathon explanations, presentations, and lectures. Let’s be less windy. Let’s become more attuned to nonverbal cues from our students. When we’ve lost the eyes, when their heads start to droop, when they get fidgety, when they’re unresponsive to prompts, they’re disengaged and we need to adjust.

A great template for teacher presentations is the ubiquitous TED Talk. I must confess, I love TED Talks. Some, like one I watched recently on posture, have profoundly impacted my life. TED Talks do not exceed 18 minutes.  Professional coach Carmine Gallo explains the TED Talk model in his article “The Science Behind TED’s 18-Minute Rule.”

When you reduce your airtime, it paves the way for student collaboration!

Episode Template

The Problem:

Teachers talk too much!

The Solution:

Morph your presentations into daily TED Talks by limiting the amount of time you speak.

What you can do tomorrow:

  • Invoke the 10-minute Rule.
  • Let students in on the challenge.
  • Practice the Clear the Deck Manoeuvre.
  • Practice the Listen to me with your Face Manoeuvre.
  • Clear the center of the room to create the Agora.

To engage kids, limit how much you talk and increase how much students collaborate.

Listen to “38-Transform your Class into a Daily TED Talk” on Spreaker.




37-Here’s the way you do an Epic Class Twitter Chat…Starring Derek Herman

Okay…here’s the situation. The semester is winding down and you need to include one more Socratic Seminar on an important topic. But…you look at the calendar and there’s no time! Sound familiar? It’s a classic necessity is the mother of invention situation.

I was faced with just such a scenario one month ago at the conclusion of the previous semester. So…I IMPROVISED! What materialized was awesome and will become a standard activity every semester, till I hang up my spikes! I decided to take my Socratic Seminar virtual and make it a class Twitter chat. But none of this would have transpired if it weren’t for the guidance of my friend Connie Hamilton and her insistence that I learn how to use Tweetdeck. I’ll explain this amazing platform in the episode.

My class Twitter chat was epic. The hashtag was #heywc1. Feel free to check out the kid’s posts.

as in…”Hey World Civilization 1!”

To help explain Tweetdeck and participating in this Twitter chat from the perspective of a student is my partner in crime Derek Herman.


Episode Template

The Problem:

You long to do something new with your next Socratic Seminar.

The Solution:

Morph you Socratic Seminar into a class Twitter chat.

What you can do tomorrow:

  • Create a unique hashtag.
  • Learn Tweetdeck and then teach your students this amazing platform.
  • Create outstanding questions and responses and schedule them with Tweetdeck.
  • Invite your principal to participate.

Twitter is a fact of modern life. Embrace it and all its potential to engage your students.

Listen to “37-Here’s the way you do an Epic Class Twitter Chat…Starring Derek Herman” on Spreaker.


36-Students Caroline Gose and Simon Srisongkham Explain how to Build Student Allegiance

When your students are asked to describe themselves….wouldn’t it be cool if they replied, “I’m a proud member of Mr. Sturtevant’s class!” Two awesome students Caroline Gose and Simon Srisongkham are going to explain why this is important and how you might create such a dynamic.


Caroline Gose and Simon Srisongkahm

Caroline Gose and Simon Srisongkahm


Episode Template

The Problem:

Students don’t identify with your class.

The Solution:

Build student allegiance.

What you can do tomorrow:

  • Challenge students to come up with a unique name for your course.
  • Challenge students to come up with a unique logo design for your course.
  • Consider ways to utilize a class name and logo design.
  • Investigate the potential of creating class shirts.

Challenge your students to create a class name and a class design. Vigorously promote this identity and bond students to your class.

Listen to “36-Students Caroline Gose and Simon Srisongkham Explain how to Build Student Allegiance” on Spreaker.

35-Connie Hamilton and Starr Sackstein Urge you to Rethink Homework

There are so many things in education that we do simply because they’ve always been done…and done a certain way. Take the school calendar. We follow an antiquated model that was crafted to serve our agrarian society in the late 19th Century. But most are accustomed to the typical school calendar regardless of whether it makes sense educationally. The same could be said of homework. Teachers, parents, and administrators must reevaluate the entire homework paradigm. Students are also a crucial voice! It’s time to evolve! Connie Hamilton and Starr Sackstein are here to help. On today’s episode, they’ll talk about their new book “Hacking Homework”.






Episode Template

The Problem:

Educators need to rethink homework.

The Solution:

Solicit input from parents, administrators, and students in your quest to make homework impactful and relevant.

What you can do tomorrow:

  1. Evaluate tomorrow’s assignment
  2. Solicit information from students
  3. Solicit information from parents

Out of class assignments can be a powerful learning tool. Let’s evolve them for a new century!

Listen to “35-Connie Hamilton and Starr Sackstein Urge you to Rethink Homework” on Spreaker.



34-Abigail Myers and Mason Wright are Two Students Urging You to Include Squats and Pushups in your Curriculum

Abigail Myers and Mason Wright

Abigail Myers and Mason Wright

In 2014, my book You’ve Gotta Connect, which gives teachers tools to forge strong relationships with students, was published. I promote that teachers be approachable and then inject some enjoyment into their courses. This hack will succeed on both counts!

On a recent commute to school, I came up with the hairbrained scheme of pulling my students into one of my ridiculous weekend body weight workout challenges. In order that we could all keep tabs on one another, we utilized Voxer…the 21st Century walkie-talkie.


This program will tell the story of this AMAZING classroom adventure through the stories of two remarkable high school seniors…Abigail Myers and Mason Wright. Please give a listen and give a weekend challenge of some sort of activity…it certainly doesn’t have to be physical, a try.

Episode Template

The Problem:

Your class needs a little levity.

The Solution:

Issue a weekend challenge and keep tabs on one another on social media.

What you can do tomorrow:

  1. Concoct a weekend challenge that will inspire a majority of your kids
  2. Determine which social media you’ll utilize to keep track of progress

This bonding activity will not take one moment away from instruction. Forge bonds, inject fun, and watch joyously as those stronger relationships translate to student growth.

Listen to “34-Abigail Myers and Mason Wright are Two Students Urging You to Include Squats and Pushups in your Curriculum” on Spreaker.

33-Noah Heath Prescribes Art as an Antidote for Test Anxiety


How about demonstrating mastery like this? And then…writing about it!

Episode Template:

The Problem: Many students freeze when confronted with an essay assessment prompt.

I recently walked into Noah Heath’s room. Noah teaches Psychology.


@NoHeath66 Noah Heath and his lovely fiancee Kristen

I noticed some interesting art work on the wall. I asked about it. The next 10 minutes simply evaporated as Noah described his recent assessment experiment, “I have a lot of students who are uncomfortable with traditional tests. I wanted to give these kids an option. I let them opt to use art to demonstrate mastery of altered states of consciousness. They were to compare chemically altered consciousness (through drugs) and non-chemically altered consciousness (through hypnosis, meditation, and biofeedback). Traditionally, I give students an essay asking them to compare and contrast. Students who participated in my experiment still had to include a writing component, but it was to explain their artwork. Their creation did the job of comparing and contrasting!”

The Solution: Allow students to demonstrate learning through an art project.

What You Can Do Tomorrow?

  1. Create an art-worthy prompt.
  2. Expose students to a famous work of art and enlighten them about its deep meaning. An excellent example is Pablo Picasso’s Guernica. 
  3. Challenge students to brainstorm ways demonstrate learning other than essay writing.
  4. Call for student proposals. 

Many students suffer with traditional assessments. Experiment with allowing them to demonstrate deep understanding with art.

Listen to “33-Noah Heath Prescribes Art as an Antidote for Test Anxiety” on Spreaker.

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.