Monday, December 21, 2015

You did what???? WHY???

Sorry for the long break, everyone. It has been a crazy two weeks between school's term ending, my daughter's first high school semester ending, and me heading out to run my first ever ultra-marathon.

Wait. what?

What is an ultra-marathon? Didn't you just finish your first marathon a few weeks ago?  Aren't ultra marathons longer? Why would you ever do that? Do you hate your body that much?

Almost exactly one year ago I started playing with the idea of running a full marathon with the goal of raising funds for Nationwide Children's Hospital.  I had not run anything close to that distance in my life.  I ran my 2nd half marathon in May of 2013, and when I crossed the finish line, I swore I'd never run anything close to that distance again.

You can read more about that on my blog here.

So this past weekend I did what I thought was previously impossible: I finished the Huff 50k (31.5 mile) ultramarathon.  It was an amazing experience.  In fact it led to three very amazing thoughts:

It is amazing what you have left in the tank when you think it is empty. 
How often in life have you felt, "I have nothing left to give." I will say that happened more than once on this journey - during training, during long runs, and during the events themselves.  So many times I thought that I was done - then I remembered that slow progress is still progress. Walking is still moving forward. Resting is an important part of the whole picture. You have more to give.

It is amazing what you can do with a good friend by your side.
This past weekend, my friend Beth and I ran the entire 31.5 miles together.  We were both completing our first ultra, and it was great to share that experience.  I had a mini freak outs ("OMG we've been running over two-and-a-half hours and still have freaking 20 miles to go!!!) She had mini freak outs, but when we did the other was there to just keep us grooving along, sticking to the plan, putting on the illusion of loving life... and saying something that will make you laugh.  She got me through it and I got her through it.

The end of the run was one of my favorite memories, and not because "I was done."  Nearly all of our friends that had made the journey were waiting at the finish line.  Some had finished their shorter 10 mile race hours and hours before, and other finished their 50k well more than an hour or two before us.  Still others didn't even run and stayed at the park for eight hours.  Any of them could have gone back to the house, showered, eaten, slept... but they didn't.  They stayed at the park in dreadfully cold conditions just to watch us finish, and when we did their smiles and joy were so important to me.

I think this happened about mile 20.

It is amazing how many people underestimate what they are capable of doing.
Doing the unthinkable makes everything else a little easier.  How many people in your life have told you they want to accomplish something: start their own business, publish a book, run a 5k.  After you have done 'the impossible', everything else seems a bit easier.  Your perspective on 'normal' and 'possible' shifts.  Your self-confidence and determination increase. You feel what you really have in your tank.

So in about year I went from someone that could kind of finish 15 miles in a week to someone that could finish over 30 in one run.

I have to ask: As we are getting ready to ring in 2016, what impossible task will you accomplish?

You really can. Seriously.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

History is Many Things, but it is Generally NOT Glitter and Unicorns

I hope everyone (that is those that live and celebrate in the States) had a healthy and happy Thanksgiving!

As the leftovers were being cleaned up, I was reflecting on the year as well as the holiday itself - specifically how it is portrayed in schools.  My daughter is in elementary school and as such she did the typical Thanksgiving celebrations - turkey word searches and decorated pictures of pilgrims.  However, it made me think of something my colleague mentioned this month.

My middle school recently returned from a 4 day trip to Washington D.C.  It was a fantastic expedition during which we visited so many amazing and historical places.  Our students did an amazing job, pushing 13 hour days, over 10 miles of walking, and absorbing as much information as their minds would allow.

We were also part of a wreath laying ceremony at Arlington

The trip also showed our social studies teachers one of the problems with teaching history in American schools.  The focus on curriculum is not where it needs to be.  Students in 7th grade should have a solid understanding about the workings of the US government - the branches, the balance of power, the role of each branch.

She believes that elementary school students should not be directly taught 'history.'   History is NOT glitter and unicorns.  History is dirty.  Many of the topics are not appropriate for younger students due to their graphic nature.  Events are rarely black and white - good or bad.  Unfortunately elementary school students are not (nor should they be) exposed to this, and so they are raised with a strong cultural bias.

Ask younger grade school students about Columbus and they can tell you all sorts of "facts." He sailed the ocean blue in 1492, he found America, he proved the world was round, he traded with the Indians.  Then the pilgrims came, had a rough go of it, made friends with the Indians, who helped them survive before they vanished in the woodlands.

How we teach it

Unfortunately, many of those 'facts' are not true, and the ones that are are very much open to debate and perspective.  Elementary schools paint a pretty picture of colonization because, appropriately, the truth of how Columbus treated natives shouldn't be presented to 7 year old children.

And that is the problem.  We are teaching our younger children incorrect history, giving them part (specifically an anglo-american part) of an intricate story, and sending them on their way... and then middle or high school teachers have to be the 'bad guys' and 're-teach' students.  We have to explain that there have been multiple genocides, not just the one in Germany, and one occurred on the land on which we are currently teaching.  And when we bring this up, teachers are met with anger and disgust from both students and parents.

What isn't mentioned

The question she brought up was why not teach government and other objective topics in grade school.  Let's get students into middle school already knowing the different branches of government, the major historical documents, and how the Constitution is arrange.  Teach them about the electoral college.  Teach them about the different branches and their respective responsibilities.  Have them understand the difference between a democracy and a republic.

I certainly don't have a perfect answer - truth be told this is outside of my area of expertise.  But she did bring up some great points and I'm curious what other educators thing about this opinion.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Ripcord - Behavioral Managment Systems That Don't Go Splat

Thursday night on #mschat we talked about Social Emotional Learning and its importance in education.  I brought up part our behavior management system, specifically our 'ripcord' system.

During class, students go through a range of emotions - excitement about a new topic, frustration about being the 'only one' in the class that doesn't 'get it', and everything in between.  Our students take a class called 'brainology' where they learn about brain development, learning styles, and how emotions can interfere with learning. They learn that when someone is overstimulated or overwhelmed emotionally,  the amygdala goes into gear and higher function thinking gets shut down.  When this happens, people are more likely to say or do things that they may regret later.

Enter the ripcord.

In skydiving, a ripcord has a specific function - specifically to save you before you go splat.  However, there is a certain timing to pulling your ripcord.  Pull it too soon and you don't get to feel that freefall experience.  Pull it too late and the parachute won't be enough help to save you.

Much like the classic Atari 2600 game. 

This is the analogy our amazing school counselor uses for our students.  When students are overwhelmed emotionally (usually due to anger or frustration, but possibly because they have a laughing fit coming) they are encouraged to pull their ripcord.  We talk about timing when it comes to pulling a ripcord.  Pull it too soon and you won't learn your limits and abilities. Pull it too late and you'll go emotionally splat.

Each classroom has a ripcord area.  In this area are pre-printed sheets.  Students take a piece of paper and express their emotions.  Younger students identify their emotions by circling emojis, and then draw how they feel.  Older ones draw, circle words, or write their own.  The goal is to get them focused on the problem and in the process of doing so, re-connect all parts of their brain.  Once the student has calmed down, their teacher has a conversation with them about how to best return to class.

This system helps on many levels.  It gives students the power of self-management.  It allows students an 'out' before they say or do something that would be unacceptable.  It acknowledges that students (and teachers - yes, we have ripcord rights too!) get frustrated at times and a time-out is sometimes needed.  It also puts the teacher in the role of a coach and ally, not a cop looking to write someone up.

Would this system work in your setting? Please contact me or leave a comment below!

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Where have you been? Mediocreing?

The problem (for me) with blogging is twofold:

a) not having anything to write about because
b) I have so much I WANT to write about.

It becomes an endless cycle of 'list topic, start blog, ohh squirrel!'

Then I realized something.  This is what happens with teaching as well.  By this point of the year we're all 'in our groove', first term (or so) is finished, and we're hitting the main stretch of the school year.

Of course by groove I mean not-being-able-to-get-into-a-rhythm-due-to-all-the-holidays-and-days-off.

It is really easy at this point of the year to just lean back on the culture and routines you've established and just coast through winter break.

"What's the point of getting this fantastic lessons ready when I have a 3 day week then a 4 day week then a 2 day week, then just about two weeks, then winter break? I mean the students are going to be so disengaged that I'll just do this easy lesson and it will basically do the same thing."

Fortunately for you, the amazing teacher inside of all of us is shouting at full lung capacity:

As teachers, we need have many responsibilities, but there are also things we are NOT responsible for doing.  We are not responsible for 'getting through material' with 'easy to create' lessons.  We are responsible for sparking life long learning.  We are not assigned to stuff knowledge into student's heads.  We are assigned for opening, and then blowing up, our students' minds (more on this on my next blog!) 

A big push in education is student engagement.  Are students asking questions? Are they showing grit?  Are they moving up Bloom's taxonomy? 

Here's my question: How can you expect your students to be engaged if the TEACHER isn't engaged?  

You are responsible for your students engagement, and it starts with you.  If you are creating safe lessons, lessons that don't excite you to teach, lessons that you are bored even thinking about, how can you expect your students be engaged to learn?

As Dave Burgess, author of Teach Like A Pirate says, "Safe lessons are a recipe for mediocrity at best."

And you did not wake up today to be mediocre.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

I Was Literally Speechless... And That's Not Easy To Do.

I got into a great discussion on #twitter last week.  It involved 'retakes' and 'grades.'  Specifically the discussion revolved around two questions:

a) should students be allowed to retake quizzes and tests
b) what is the maximum grade they should be allowed on a retake.

I already have a post that touches on this topic.  That one is titled Maureen Shouldn't have to Deal with This...  If you have not read this, I would strongly encourage it.

For those of you that have read my blog already know my opinion on this, but I feel it is important to re-address because it came up in a tutoring session as well.  A student, we'll call her Abby, had gotten an unusually low score on a test.  When we looked it over she admitted she did not study for the test, didn't ask questions, didn't prepare... she was not ready for this test and knew the 37% she scored was an accurate reflection of her efforts.

So we looked at the test and analyzed what we needed to work on to improve her score.  We looked at the topics and learning targets and I set up a plan for her to learn the material.  When she looked at the plan she told me she wasn't going to do all of that.  I was kind of taken back because Abby is typically a hard working student.  I was curious and asked her why she didn't like the plan; was it too hard, did she not like the teacher... what was up?

What she told me solidified my belief in retests.

"What's the point of studying all of it? I can only get a 60 on the retake."

Only a 60? So students that need to retake this test only need to know 60% of the material? Are you saying they can ignore 40% of the material?  Two days out of five are not important enough?   "It's not fair to give a kid an 'A' if it takes three tries" is essentially saying, "it's ok if you don't learn this; it's just a number on a piece of paper" (or on a computer in most cases these days.)

I looked at Abby after she said that and was at a loss for words.  As an educator I felt hurt, confused, and frankly a bit connected with her.  She was right - why should she put in the effort and energy of studying all of the material if she wouldn't be recognized for her work?  Why learn all three learning targets when one will get her enough material to max her score on a retake?

I could not on any level try to justify why she should spend hours of her own time reviewing material when her teacher has essentially told her, "it doesn't matter how well you do this next time, it doesn't matter how hard you work or study, you can only get a D-."

I wondered about the learning philosophy of the classroom.  Was the philosophy "you must learn all of this material in this format by this date" or "you must learn this material." I wondered how students could get motivated to study for a test they knew they couldn't get better than a D-.  I wondered how this fostered 'hope' in students.   I wondered how that policy instilled a sense of awe, wonder, and passion of learning in students.  I wondered why this adult was standing in the way of a student's learning instead of pushing them to feel the internal flame to NEED to learn the material.

But most of all I wondered what I could do to get these policies changed.  

Monday, September 28, 2015

#tweet your learning

Processing is one of the most important aspects of learning, and yet is often one of the most overlooked areas of education.  Students need time to reflect on what they have learned, have time to digest new information, and connect it to previously learned material.  Reflection ensures students are fully engaged and making meaning of the material - producers and not just consumers.

Over the next few blogs, I am going to talk about some of my favorite processing tools in the classroom.  These activities allow students to actively internalize information, have them use different cognitive skills during the activity, and have an element of fun or interaction which I also enjoy.

The first activity is "tweet" your learning.  I am not yet at a point where students have active twitter accounts (though I'm working on this!)  However, using a subpage on called Twister, students create a tweet to tell me one important fact they learned from the day.

I love this exercise for many reasons.  Students can only give one 'tweet',  and so they only get 140 characters.  They have to be precise with their vocabulary and word choice. They start reflecting on 'what did I learn' and 'how can I summarize this so succinctly.'  Students are actively forced to use different types and levels of metacognition.

When students get to the site they have four fields to complete: name, nickname, tweet, and date.

On the surface, students can write their name their 'nickname' and give a tweet  and a date.  So, in theory a final product could look like this:

This tweet would definitely meet the expectations.  It told me one fact and even had some of the vocabulary we discussed.  While this is all great, one of my favorite aspects of this site is that it comes pre-populated with different images.  If you type a popular name into the real name field, it will use that person's (or creature's) picture in the tweet.  I showed this example to the students:

This tweet also shows comprehension of new concepts, but does so from a different perspective.  The tweet itself shows a dino misinterpreting those darn kids with the actual object in the sky.  The date, 65 million BC, matches the researched date of when the extinction level event occurred.

They then download the tweet as a .pdf and then upload the file into our digital dropbox.

The students really enjoyed this and don't realize how much thinking they are doing.  I got so many wonderful responses.  Here are a couple of student examples:

What would you tweet about what you learned today?  Who would you use as your avatar?

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

26 days - 26 donors for 26 miles

In 26 days I'll be completing my first ever 26 mile run.  I have one more long run, 20 miles, before I start falling back in preparation for the Marathon.

I've been reflecting on the past six months.  The emotions I've experienced over that time have been nothing short of overwhelming.  I've gone from someone that couldn't believe he was running 15 miles in a week to running more than that in a day.  My monthly mileage has increased from about 40 miles to over 120 miles.

Much like my training, when I hit a goal I've celebrated then thought about my next goal.  Eight miles became 10, then 12 and eventually 20.  I've constantly increased my running goal after reaching that goal.   Back in April, when I launched my fundraising page, my goal was $750.  I knew of a few people that would donate and figured that was a great 'stretch' goal.  I was amazed how quickly people supported my cause, hitting that first goal in the middle of May.  I then set goals for $1000, $1200, and $1400, and with the help of so many caring people I reached them all.

So here is my newest goal:  I would love to have 26 new donors in the next 26 days.  It is by far my most ambitious fundraising goal, but considering the growth I've made in six months I feel it is a reachable challenge.  However, much like the support I've gotten from my family and friends, I can't do it alone.

Here is how you can help:

a) Donate if you haven't done so yet.  Every dollar counts.  Donating $1 buys a pair of anti-slip socks for patients. $10 buys 5 boxes of child-friendly bandaids.  $25 buys 5 packs of diapers for premature babies.  All of the funds go to help a child and their family.

b) Share my link.  If you know of people that would love to support this cause, tell them.  About 25% of the people that have donated to my cause are people I had never met before.  It is amazing what humans will do for each other.

You can make a donation by clicking on this link.

If you prefer donating by check, or would like to share my message via paper, you can click here to get a mail in donation form.

I am so grateful for all of you that have donated so far.  Nearly four dozen people have made a financial commitment to my run and Nationwide Children's Hospital.  Some of you are friends, some family, and some of you are people I have never met.  I am so blessed to have so much support in my life.  Thank you to all of you.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Gaining Perspective on a Geological Scale

Earth has been around a long time. I mean a really long time.  Some people think landing on the Moon or the invention of the digital watch was a long time ago, but Earth hasn't even blinked a metaphorical eye in that time.

So the question is always how to explain to students what 4.6 billion years of history actually looks like.  Worksheets, articles, and videos all do a decent job, but this year I went a different route.  We started with students investigating various types of geological time words: Eon, era, period, epoch, ages.  We compared those to years, months, days, hours, minutes, and seconds.  Each word connects to a longer period of time and it is possible to say we're living in 2015 as well as saying it is September, or it 5:00 pm.

From there they investigated 4.6 billion years of history in one of three ways: an article, a brainpop video, or the geological timeline.  The goal wasn't to master any of the vocabulary or concepts, but just to get some familiarity with the material.

4.6 billion years of history in an itty bitty space

I ended the lesson by saying to get familiar with one of those three materials because our next session we're doing a lab... and I'm bringing in a time machine.

The next two days they did nothing but ask me about what I meant.  All I told them is "don't be absent otherwise you'll have to build your own time machine and go back in time to see mine!"

Amazingly, I had perfect attendance for my next class.

But first I had to build it.

When students arrived we did a quick entrance ticket on half life and then they got into their guilds to discuss what item they studied and what facts they remember.  Students started discussing many of the vocab words, concepts, and I had to make some clarifications, but overall there was a great supply of knowledge shared.

From there I said we would be going back in time 4.6 billion years.  Each group was given four flags with major events from the geological timeline: fish first appear, dinosaurs first appear, dinosaurs go extinct, humans first appear.   Their task was going to be to place the flag on the correct spot of the timeline.

My time machine was definitely a step down from a Delorean

The students went to the playground field and were told we would walk back in time.  As we did we'd see lots of historical events, but their job was to find the four they've been given.  I explained that there were many colors of rope, and that there was an orange piece of tape in the middle of each rope color.  I also gave them a paper with a scale on it: one foot = 12,000,000 years, color changes = 600,000,000 years, end of rope to tape = 300,000,000 years, and tape to tape = 600,000,000 years.

We walked the timeline back and ended 400 feet from the present day, reviewing the scale for the first few tape marks and color changes.  From there I gave them 15 minutes to debate and decide where their flag should go.  Each person was in charge of their own flag, so if there was a disagreement the owner of the flag had the final say.

Then I just let them go.  The debates and discussion was amazing.  Students cited evidence from their reading or video, used visual references from the time line they may have studied, and recalled their previous information to help build their hypothesis.  They were outside with nothing but their flag and their brains - no notes, no computer, just recall - but they were all actively engaged and using evidence. They also were working on disagreeing respectfully - a skill that we practiced the first few days while we were building our classroom culture.

Me standing in present day, my co-teacher about 1 billion years in the past, and dots of children at the birth of Earth.

After 15 minutes we had many different places of the flags.  We talked about which was easier: deciding the order or deciding the placements.  The students made the connections to relative and absolute age from previous lessons and were able to experience how much easier one is than the other.  When I asked how many flags their group put in the right place, all of them predicted zero. 

     Lots of debate on flag placement
 Different color flags represented different groups.

And it led to some fantastic debate

When time was up, students came back to the birth of Earth. I grabbed my meter wheel (top left photo) and we started walking the timeline together.  We examined sixteen major events, with the four they placed among 12 other key items.  

There were so many OMG moments and WHOA I DIDN'T REALIZE comments during the return to present time.  "Before we can have life, the Earth needed a crust... and that took... {walk walk walk} 15 meters, or about 600,000,000 years.  As we passed flags students picked them up to see how accurate they actually were.  

Below is the table I used as we walked the geological timeline.  

We did some processing in the field.  The biggest take away was how long it took for fish to appear.  When we returned to the classroom students completed a 3-2-1 exit ticket involving things they learned, whoa moments, and lingering questions.  Here are some of their responses:

"WHOA" moments:
I never realized how short of a time humans have been around! Dinosaurs were around for like 150 million years but humans have only be around for 2 million!

I knew that humans were the newest flag, but I didn't realize fish have been around for so long!

Life really just started on this planet compared to how old it is!

It took longer for the crust to form than when fish first formed to today!

When life started forming it happened fast! like we did almost the whole timeline before we hit fish but then it was like every meter we stopped!

and my favorite:

At one point algae was the highest form of life on this planet. 

What do you want for dinner? SUNLIGHT? MY FAVORITE!

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Front Loading the Gaming Experience

I hope everyone is having a great first week back (or is getting ready for an amazing first week back!) We've had a great start to the school year here in Central Ohio.  The weather has been amazingly mild (which is fantastic since I'm training for my first marathon), student attendance has been near 100%, and the gamification of my classroom is well underway!

Are you building excitement in your classroom? Are students dying to be called on in your class? If you are having trouble with this, read on!

We started our year with many of the team building activities I outlined in my past few blogs.  It really helped students and teachers learn names, set up a classroom culture of focused fun, and allowed students to get back into the routines of school after a summer off.  It was so nice to not even touch academics until the fourth day of school!

I also show my math class this video.  It is an amazing four minutes during which so many students, especially female students,  make incredible connections to the speaker.  It also destroys various stereotypes about 'math people.'
  • "She's a math major? She looks like she'd be in fashion."  
  • "That's so true - I always compare myself to everyone else!"
  • "I never thought of it as being at different places." 
For math class at Marburn, we start with pre-assessments which have students check out on basic facts for all four major operations, as well as whole number, fraction, and decimal computations.  As a class we have decided to do an operation a day and follow it up with a mini game.

objective: don't die!

We talked about how math is like a video game.  Students had to face 'speed boss levels' for their 2 minute timed fact test and then take on 'mini-boss challenge' for their operations.  You'll get a challenge, and sometimes you'll beat the boss level.  When that happens you get to go on to more challenging levels where you use the skills you've learned to take down stronger boss levels.

If you don't defeat the boss, you get new items and techniques to be better prepared the next time you reach that end level!  Most of the students attached to this quite well.

Many have enjoyed the paradigm switch from "I didn't do well on the assessment" to "I need more power ups before I'm ready to beat that boss level."

I've also enjoyed impressing my new math teaching partner with my ability to turn any game into a classroom activity.

"Hey, Erika, we're going to play Clue today in math."
"Clue... in math? Can't wait to see it!"

Students came into class while some mystery music is playing.  They saw their names on the board in groups of two with the instruction of 'sit next to your partner.'

But what if my partner is the killer?

From there I went through the procedure that is outlined below, making sure to keep the drama going strong throughout.

Game: Clue
Materials needed: Clue (cards and suspect sheets), white boards and markers (or notebooks)
Prep: Powerpoint of various math problems

Procedure: Put students into groups of two or three.  One person is the first 'writer'.  Each group receives a clue card of suspects, weapons, and location, a mini whiteboard, a marker, and a high tech white board eraser (a tissue.)

Each group also gets a set of 'clue' cards based on how many groups.  The game has 21 cards, 3 of which are removed as the confidential 'answer.'  The other 18 cards are divided up among the groups.  This may mean that some groups get more initial clues than others, for example 6 groups would have 3 cards for each group, whereas 7 groups would have 2 or 3 cards per group.

Students should take a moment to mark off the clues they have been given.  After that, they should leave their clues face down where anyone in the room would be able to access them.  I generally have them 'fan' out their cards on their desk.

Put the first math problem on the board.  Students work as a team to get the correct answer, but ONLY THE WRITER may write on the whiteboard.  Other students can help, guide, and suggest, but the writer is in control.  This also means if there is a disagreement about an answer or procedure, the writer gets the final say.

After an appropriate amount of time, have the students hold up their white boards. Any students that have a correct answer will have a chance to gain more information.  The writer passes the white board to their partner (or the next student if there is more than two in a group) and stands up.  They take one of their clue cards and can walk to any other group and trade.  They put their card face down and take any of the other group's face down cards. I have a specific procedure for this to minimize arguments and issues:

     a) trading round all happens at the same time
     b) once you touch a card, that is the card you take
     c) you have 15 seconds to trade

During the trade period, writers that had correct answers may trade with ANY other group, whether or not that group got a correct answer.

We do this is 'slow motion' the first couple of times to get used to the movement.

From there the new writer takes over for the group, a new question is posted and the procedure is repeated.

As the game continues, some groups may get close to solving the mystery.  If a group thinks they have the correct answer I have them circle their guess, but the game continues without them announcing their accusation.  If time runs out, groups circle their accusaton on their answer card.

I generally then give out the homework and announcements, and really build the anticipation of the contents of the confidential envelope.

I also give any correct investigators this certificate with all of their names on it.  I generally wait until all classes have played and list all the winners on one certificate.  I also post the certificate outside of the classrooms.

As they get used to the game, I change the cards to ones that have a bit more personality - I'll use teachers from the school as suspects, rooms from the school, and school items (staplers, scissors) as weapons.  This really gets them even further immersed into the gaming experience.

I love the engagement that this game naturally builds.  Students start to develop strategies such as trying to track who might have the cards they need to see, convincing other groups that they want to trade with them, and discussing answers to ensure they can gain new information.  The anticipation and excitement builds as more clues get revealed.  I've also added variations to this game so that if a group can explain their reasoning they get a 'double trade' (trade two cards instead of one.)  You will NEVER see students SO EXCITED to WANT to get called on as when you say "this question can earn a double trade."

I hope some of you try out this game in your room.  If you do PLEASE let me know how it goes and what variations you use! I love hearing different 'mods' in the game world!

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Team Building Parts 4 & 5 - Two more games!

First off, thank you for the wonderful feedback, everyone!  I really love getting e-mails, twitter comments, and messages on facebook about how the protocols and ideas I'm presenting are impacting how you approach games,  facilitation, and processing to start the school year.

One quick point I'd like to make based on a couple of comments I've received: I STRONGLY encourage you to use these protocols with your staff, team members, or friends before trying it with students.  First, it makes the struggle more authentic when you have experienced the same frustrations.  Also, it makes it much easier to facilitate and process the activity when you have an idea of what directions the game may head.

And of course, they really are fun to play!

Today I present two more games designed to help build culture during the first few days of school.

Protocol: Me, You, Left, Right

Materials: None

Procedure: Have students stand in a circle with you in the center.  Explain that the person in the center will point to someone and say one of four words: Me, you, left, or right.

  • If the person in the center says "me", the person that is being pointed at has to say the name of the  person in the center.
  • If the person in the center says "you", the person that is being pointed at has to say his/her own name.
  • If the person in the center says "left", the person that is being pointed at has to say the name of the person to his/her left (which is the center person's right).
  • If the person in the center says "right", the person that is being pointed at has to say the name of the person to his/her right (which is the center person's left).
Play continues until someone being pointed at doesn't know a name.  The two people involved introduce each other with a handshake or fist bump, and then the person who didn't know the name switches into the center.  

  • Ten-in-a-row: if the person in the center points to ten different people and they all get names correct, the person in the center gets to choose someone to come into the center.
  • Jail break: if the person in the center can name all (or half or ten) of the people in the circle, he/she gets to choose a new center person.

Protocol: Forced Choice

Materials: A list of this-or-that choices

Procedure: Gather students into the center of the room.  Explain that you will list two options.  You have to choose the one that describes them the best - not their 'favorite' but which one describes the best.

Read off one of the this-or-that choices (for example "river or lake"), pointing to one side of the classroom for each choice (river go left, lake go right)

When students make their choice, have them find one or two people to explain why that word describes them better.

Circulate during this discussion time to facilitate more conversation and learn about your students!

I often ask students to explain why they chose what they did.  Depending on the group I may even have students introduce each other and say their explanation: "This is David and he chose river because he is always moving."

After a few minutes, have everyone return to the center and complete another choice.  I'll often remind them to think about how the choice describes them - not to pick their favorite of the two.

Here is a list of potential this-or-that choices.  I love using the more abstract options as the game progresses to see how deep of thinkers I might have in my class.

"Are you more like (a):"
  • crocodile or frog
  • noon or midnight
  • trumpet or violin
  • Phineas or Ferb
  • tent or castle
  • hammock or water bed
  • taco or burrito 

I hope to hear how some of these activities worked in your class.  Have an amazing first week back to those that are starting up soon!  I start up with students on Wednesday and definitely plan on using some of these to build the culture of the room!

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Team building part 3: Processing the Experience

This is part three of my back to school ice breaker blog.  If you haven't seen parts one or two yet you can find them here (part one) and here (part two).

This blog will discuss processing.  Processing the activity is just as (some would argue more important) than the experience itself.  One thing I've learned is that trying to keep what I want to say in some blog-sized fashion isn't easy for me!  I love this topic and could probably go on for ages!  It allows both you as a facilitator to see and students as learners to explain what they got out of the activity.  It is important that the activity and the processing have similar goals.

I will use the  Helium Hoop activity from my last blog as an example.  It is a very difficult activity to facilitate because success will not come easy.  Students will struggle and there will be discord.  As the facilitator, your job is to create an environment in which people feel empowered and welcome. This leads to some internal struggles when leading this activity.

(learning is the treasure!)

As teachers our natural instinct is to step in and 'help'; unfortunately 'help' generally means solving problems for the students - pointing out errors and offering solutions that have worked for us in the past. We become the leader.

This, however, takes power away from the students.  It tells them that the teacher will 'bail them out' at the first sign of trouble.  As difficult as it is for you as a teacher, the struggle that students are experiencing is important.  It sets up a great lesson for them later: this class will be difficult at times, but you can persevere through it!

Helping them out and allowing them to have a quick success has other issues as well.

Here are the conditions that were set out for the helium hoop activity:
  • All people need to touch the hoop at all times
  • You can not 'grip' the hoop
  • The hoop can't just drop to the floor
Those seem straight forward enough, but after ten minutes of failure, many teachers tend to get into solution mode.  Since schools these days are 'final objective' or 'product' driven, those conditions may get blurred a bit.  Sally 'accidentally' grabbed it with her finger and Lauren really didn't touch it at all? Close enough - the rest of the group seems ok (or didn't notice.)  Besides, the hoop is down and we can celebrate success.

Let's think about the internal processing that is happening in this group.  Sally now 'knows' that the rules are just general and may not apply to her.  Lauren has learned that in group activities she can blend into the background and not have to worry about it.  Other students may have seen Sally 'cheat' and are wondering why the teacher didn't say anything to her.  Most students wouldn't say these thoughts out loud in a new setting (the forming stage), but this is what you have indirectly taught them.

These first activities are the foundation for culture in your room.  How your run them and process them determines your initial success with building your culture.  The art of being a strong facilitator is similar to being a great teacher - knowing where your students are and challenging them to reach that next level.

Here are my 5 keys to successful processing:

1) Don't assume their learning - participants may have gotten different things out of the experience.  Some may realize that they enjoyed a leadership role, others may find that they liked not being in charge.  Some may learn that it was ok to trust and listen to a student they never really liked before.  Still others may have just loved the activity itself.  These are all good outcomes! They're learning - don't take their learning away!

2) USE NAMES and model how to use names.  You can't build a classroom culture if students are point and saying 'umm, him.'  If you don't know a student's name, model how to ask.  If students don't know each other's names, make sure they introduce themselves.  If you are using activities and they aren't using names, you're doing it wrong!

3) Don't judge effort.  Phrases like "if you try harder...", "most people seem to care", or "stop ruining it for everyone" assume students want to fail.  Even if a student is acting in a way that is showing she  doesn't care, at some deeper level she is dealing with the current situation as best she can.  This is a great chance to get to know the student and find out what is bothering her (or him!)

4) Acknowledge difficulty.  It's ok to say "this activity is difficult."  That is a great lead into processing the activity later ("do you think there will be other activities this school year that will frustrate you?")  People's behavior adapt to match their current beliefs about what it possible. If you hint that something is too difficult without your expertise, that is what they will believe.    If you expand their beliefs, their behavior will expand and reflect the new possibilities.  You present the door, but you have to let them open it up!

5) Observe but don't connect.  Let the students keep the power.  You should make observations that helped the group - Phrases like "I really liked when Tammy called a break because the group was getting frustrated" help students see the importance of a time out, but you shouldn't make leaps such as "The group was successful because Tammy called the break."

With that, here is my third team building activity that I love playing early in the school year:

Protocol: Group Juggle

Materials: a couple of tennis balls, koosh balls, or other small, soft objects.

1) Everyone gets in a circle (sitting or standing works fine). Everyone should put their hands out.
2) You will start the game by saying a student's name and tossing the ball to him/her.
3) That person catches the ball, then says the name of another person in the circle (I tend to say you can't give it to the person to your left or right), and tosses the ball. The tosser then takes his/her hands and put them behind his/her back (this helps keeps track of who has had a turn.)
4) This process continues until everyone has received the ball once.
5) The final recipient says the teacher's name and tosses the ball back to him/her.

Round two:
Explain you are going to do the same thing again, but this time you might add a challenge:

  • no drops (or one drop or three drops, depending on your group) during the cycle
  • time limit of so many seconds 
  • having to say thank you to the tosser after each catch: "Thank you, Evan!"
As the group gets better, you can add even more challenge to the game:

  • add a second ball that begins a few tosses after the first
  • add a second ball that goes backwards while the first one goes forwards
  • have the student say their favorite flavor of ice cream and then ask the next person (by name) what their favorite flavor is.
This is also a fun activity to process.  Students tend to realize that they drop the ball when they aren't focused.  They also realize that they become more focused when someone uses their name and makes eye contact.  When a second ball is introduced (either forwards or backwards) students may talk about how they had to focus on one thing at a time rather than watch both objects at once.

I will be posting two more team building activities during the week.  I'd love to hear some games and activities you have done to help build teamwork and culture in your class as well!

Monday, August 3, 2015

Team Building Part 2: Keeping It Authentic

"I showed them how to do it! The student's just aren't getting it - it isn't my fault!"

 What are you picturing?  A teacher explaining a math lesson?  Foreign language?

If you have been in education long enough, you've certainly heard (or maybe even said) something like that at some point.  As educators we know that you can't just 'present' material to have students understand it.  You can't give a lesson and expect them to master it.

This is my next point with 'ice breakers'.  So many times I have seen groups do ice breakers that go something like this:

"OK, the point of this activity is for this team to (insert random task)"

A couple of things might happen from here.

One person in the group quickly sees a basic solution, does it, and the facilitator gives some quick non-authentic feedback.

Alternatively the opposite could happen.  The team could be stuck, unsure of how to complete the activity.

So the facilitator does what any good teacher would do - he gives gives "a clue" and the group quickly sees the answer, and the facilitator gives some quick non-authentic feedback.

And then he surprised when they didn't get the relationship building they were promised.  He decides that 'team-building is just a waste of time.'

So often, teachers, leaders, and facilitators want to do the team building and ice breaking "stuff" as quickly as possible so they can get to the "important" parts of the day.  They want activities that can be done in ten minutes or less so that they have more time for people to be 'productive.'  They can't waste a single minute, let alone a whole class period on such useless activities.

But when have you ever seen an effective lesson hit the short and long term goals in just ten minutes?  Much like teaching a lesson, you have to ask what is the result you want?  Do you want students to memorize and be able to recall information on the short term?  If so, then an activity like the one above is a great lesson.  You won't gain any long term community, but you will have a short term celebration.  However, if you are looking to build long term relationships, as well as student success you have to put the same effort, planning, and processing that you would for a lesson.

Teachers have a difficult time letting students fail.  It isn't in our general nature.

As promised, here is the second activity that I use to help build positive relationships in my classroom.  This is a great activity for students as well as great practice to let you, as a teacher, to practice allowing students to fail.

Protocol: Helium Hoop

Size Limit: This activity works best for groups of 8-12.  You can break the group up into two and have them take turns.

Materials: a hula-hoop


1) Get students into a circle
2) Explain the task is to get the hoop to the ground with the following guidelines
3) Have the students make two fists with their pinky parallel to the ground
4) Stick out your index finger so it it pointing across the circle
5) Tuck your thumbs into your fist
6) Put your fists at hip level

Explain that in a few moments you are going to put the hula hoop so that it is touching everyone's fingers.  The goal is to get the hoop to the ground with the following rules:

1) Everyone must be in contact with the hoop at all times.  If anyone loses contact I'll grab the hoop and we'll restart.
2) Only your index finger may be in contact with the hoop.
3) The hoop must rest on everyone's index finger - no grabbing or curling around the hoop.
4) The hoop must be lowered onto the ground without it dropping.

The first time you do this activity the hoop will rise almost instantly.  This is an excellent game to play to help process blaming others and how your actions impact the group.

It is also a VERY difficult activity to facilitate - as the teacher your job is to let the group figure out the problem without giving major hints.  You have to let them struggle without getting completely frustrated.  Balancing the guidelines with how strictly you are enforcing them to maintain engagement without allowing them to 'check-out' from frustration.

Does this sound like what we, as teachers, need to do for students every day?

It is important to let them struggle - remember the goal isn't necessarily for them to succeed in two or three tries.  You are preparing them for a school year where they will have academic struggles.  There will be times that they will have group projects in which everyone is committed, but progress is still slow.  Let them reflect back on this activity on their struggles and think about how they eventually succeeded.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Team Building Part 1: Hi, My Name is Michael and I Have a Blog

How do you start the first day of a new year?  Is it the tried and true roll call - introduce yourself - explain your rules and expectations and then review the syllabus?  Do you have each child stand up, say their name, and a little something about him or herself?  Or do you start with a name game to get the students to get to know each other?

People have argued that name games are just an excuse to let kids get chatty.  That it becomes more of a social or party than a learning environment.  Or it leads to students being silent and the teacher doing all of the talking.

I can't disagree with this.  Team building, ice breakers, and all of the activities that teachers (or groups) use to build cohesion can lead to a disaster.  Like ANY good lesson, they have to be well planned and executed with clear objectives and structure.

One of the 'classic' name games goes something like this:  Everyone stand in a big circle.   OK, now we're going to do a name game.  You say your name and one thing you like. Then the next person has to say their name and what they like and then YOUR name and what you like.  This continues on until the 25th person has to say everyone's name in the circle.  Then you smile and look at the student that is in space twenty-five.

I feel you, kitty!

Admit it - reading that paragraph raised your anxiety... and it should.  There are so many poor educational models presented in this 'game'.

1) Limited engagement.  If I go third, I have to remember a total of two names... Then I'm off for the next twenty two rounds.  I don't have to say another thing for the rest of the activity.

2) Stress inducing.  The goal any good ice breaker is to lower students' affective filter.  This does just the opposite. Students that go early become bored.  Students that go later are panicked they have to remember dozens of names.

3) So much wasted time! Students spend almost the entire activity standing (or sitting) and doing absolutely nothing else engaging. Seriously. Twenty-two rounds of doing nothing.

Some may say "well it teaches them to pay attention and learn the names so they are ready when it is their turn."  I say it teaches them that as a teacher, I'm willing to let a student fail on the very first day of class... in front of everyone.

I am a huge fan of building community.  With my background in both Outward Bound and Expeditionary Learning and I know the importance of having students build relationships with each other as well as with adults.  Students should feel welcome on the first day.  They need to learn that it is an emotionally safe environment.

Tuckman's Stages of Group Development

This post will have the first of five activities I like to play in my class during the first few weeks to build these positive relationships.  These games allow students to take risks in a safer environment, allow students to get to know each other in multiple facets, and keeps them moving.  When a student makes a mistake in these activities the general reaction is fun giggles, not nausea and bathroom breaks.

Protocol: I have... (a modified version of 'have you ever...")


Students stand in a circle around a center point (I'll often use polyspots to mark the center and outside points)

  • The person in the center (usually the adult to start) introduces him/herself 
    • "Hi, my name is Mr. Taylor"
  • The group greets the person by name
    • "Good morning, Mr. Taylor" 
    • "Hey, Mr. Taylor"
    • "What's up, Mr. Taylor"
  • The center person says, "good morning group" and says something that they "have" (I often use these examples when giving the rules so students have an idea on how they can get creative with the 'have' - that it doesn't have to be something 'physical')
    • "I have a cat"
    • "I have eaten pizza"
    • "I have a love for math"
    • "I have gone on looping roller coasters"
    • "I have an addiction to twitter"
  • From there anyone on the outside of the circle that also "has" that statement comes to the center and high-fives everyone that is in the center.
  • Anyone on the outside says "nope not me!" and high fives someone on the outside.
  • After high fives are exchanged, everyone then finds a DIFFERENT spot.
  • Play is repeated until everyone has been in the center at least once.

Five reasons I like this activity:
  • Everyone participates in each round. Even if you don't "have" you still get to high five
  • Everyone get to share a tidbit about themselves on their own level.
  • Everyone greets each other by name.  Greetings are so key to building community!
  • Everyone is constantly moving - standing in different spots and next to different people
  • Students get to see what they have in common with someone else - great way to make connections.
About half-way through the activity I will stop and have them look to their left and right.  From there I'll ask them to give me a thumbs up if they know the names of the person on either side.  Depending on the atmosphere I may have them do a quick handshake/fistbump and introduce themselves. 

Remember, though, ice breakers are JUST THAT! They break the top of the iceberg; they don't uncover the entire thing!  Students aren't going to learn everything about everyone in one activity, and they won't remember everyone's name after one game, but it is important to let them feel more comfortable to do so as the week and year progresses.

What games do you enjoy doing on your first day?  What games would you like me to discuss in the future?

Monday, July 20, 2015

Marathon Update - Goals, Parties, and Children - OH MY!

So much has happened since my last marathon training blog post.  To start, I am running about 20 miles per week with long runs of 10 miles.  That may seem like a lot (and it certainly is), but I still have over 350 miles of training to go before my marathon on October 18th.

First, I want to thank more than two dozen people that have donated to Nationwide Children's Hospital through my run.  I have reached both my original goal of $750 and my stretch goal of $1000.  These funds can buy 10 weeks worth of infant blood pressure cuffs, or four new mattresses for patients at the hospital.

I tell my students that when you reach a goal, you celebrate and then set a new goal.  That is what I have been doing.  Each time I reach my goal I celebrate by thanking those that helped, then set a new goal to reach.

Last week I also got to celebrate by attending RunFest - the kickoff to the Columbus half and full marathon.  It certainly was a party atmosphere with plenty of booths and displays!  It was at this event that we were also introduced to the 24 Children's Champions for the 2015 Marathon.

Each one an inspiration

My younger daughter joined me during this event and she was not disappointed either!  We received so much free stuff from so many vendors including a water bottle, shoe-wallets, girl scout cookies (not a cookie, a FULL BOX!), and a wicken shirt from Girls on the Run.  All of that free stuff got us pretty hungry.  Luckily they also had plenty of free food.

Alexa and I sat down at a table for lunch and began digging into the bratwurst and creme puff from the Schmidt's booth (an amazing local German Restaurant.)   A few minutes later another family sat down, and they were joined by a camera crew.

I asked if we needed to move and everyone said no, so we stayed and enjoyed our food.  We also listened to the interview.

Here is what I learned: I was sitting with Gunner - a 2 year old with a rare type of muscular dystrophy - and his family, an older brother and sister, and his mom and dad.  It was amazing to hear the parents talk about their child, their family, and what their son has gone through in his very young life.  You can see part of the interview on the RunFest 2015 kickoff video. (Highly recommended viewing!)

Can't wait to see him at mile 9!

Gunner is one of 24 children that will represent the Children's Champions.  These are the children, along with SO many others, that I chose to run this marathon.  These are the children and families that need the help.

When I started this journey I used the word perspective.  This is still true to me today.  If you are having a bad day, I strongly encourage you to read about the Children's Champions.  There is a short bio of each of them on the Nationwide Children's Website. It really will give you some perspective.

If you are able to donate, please click the link below.  After you click, select the orange 'give now' button on the right side of the page.  As a reminder all donations are 100% tax deductible.

If you donate $25 or more  (I've been recommending the symbolic $26.20 amount) you get to pick a song for me to add to my playlist!  It is a way for you to 'run along' with me - when that song comes on I'll be thinking of you and how you helped someone in need.   A few of you that donated $25 or more still owe me songs!  Here is the current list of songs as selected by donors:

If you are not in a place to give - you can help by forwarding my message to someone you know can help.  As always, my goal is never to 'guilt' anyone in to giving - I know there are thousands of causes out there and nobody has the means to support them all!

Thank you for reading and all of the support!

Friday, June 19, 2015

Top Ten~ish Takeaways from 2014 - 2015.

1) Apparently having a passion for teaching reading and math is still considered weird.  I'm extremely proud to have both my Math classroom certification and my Academy of Orton Gillingham Practitioners and Educators Classroom Educator certification.  It is amazing how when I'm tutoring in math my OG training comes out:
  • "What is this word?" 
  • "Hundr... umm... I don't know that word."
  • "What does 'th' say?"
  • "/th/... oh hundreths..."
Most teachers I come across love one or the other.  I can't see one without the other.

2) It is amazing how much growth my students show on standardized tests when I'm just allowed to teach.  I wonder how my other placements would have gone if I wasn't as micro-managed.

3)  On that topic, I'm still amazed we live in a country where 100% of teachers need to prove that 100% of the students in their class showed over a year of growth.  No other profession is held to that standard.  No doctor has to have a 100% patient survival rate,  no police officer has to have a 100% crime free district.

4) Even after 18 years of teaching I still do not have a 'set' curriculum.  Each class is different, each year leads down a different path.  I have material that I integrate, but my lessons always change. This is not a bad thing.  It could also be because for the 9th time in 8 years I'll be changing classrooms.

5) Connecting to a Personal Learning Network  has been amazing.  Using twitter as an educational professional development tool allowed me to grow in ways that no other medium could have done. I was able to give and get feedback and ideas nearly instantly.  I went from never using twitter to hosting #MSchat discussion in less than one year.  Check out links on the right to see at all the awesome educators you should also be reading!

6)  I'm very thankful to the Association for Middle Level Educators to provide such a wonderful conference, as well as Marburn Academy for providing me the opportunity to go there!  I made so many professional connections, saw amazing presentations, and met truly passionate middle level educators!

Some #MSchat members at #AMLE2014

7) I LOVE presenting at conferences.  AMLE 2014 was my first national conference and I loved being able to share my ideas, thoughts, and techniques.  I loved getting feedback from participants and especially loved getting e-mails saying how they incorporated my ideas into their classroom.  Unfortunately it didn't work out for AMLE 2015, but this is a role I want to expand in the future. [ ADVICE ON HOW TO DO THIS IS HIGHLY REQUESTED :) ]

8) Teach a student how to solve a rubik's cube and their confidence in EVERYTHING goes up exponentially.  I have yet to find any exceptions to this rule.

9) Apparently I have a knack for coming up with a game for any topic and any grade level.  I seem to be the go-to person when someone needs a 'fun way' to do this topic.   What can I say, I like games!

10) I'm still incredibly proud of our division's Hunger Games Food Drive. Arguably one of my best memories as a classroom teacher.

Positive use of competition

11) Lessons are better when you teach like a pirate.  Get the students wondering about what is going on instead of 'what are we going to learn' :play some music, come in costume, rearrange the room, make up stories... use mystery and intrigue.  The learning occurs naturally from there.

12) After a dozen and a half years I'm still as passionate about teaching as I was when I started. I'm already reading PD books and planning big picture ideas for 2015-2016.  It's like it never turns off!

Thank you all for reading my blog this year - it has been quite an experiment for me.  I'm not the type that usually publishes my writing, but I hope you have gotten something out of it.  I really loved getting the comments, e-mails, and tweets about how my ideas helped you in your class.   I'll be posting a bit over the summer and will be back full time in the fall!

Michael :)

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Time to help #SaveTheBigBlueMarble

So last week I posted about proposals that students presented at their discovery night.  These proposals had to help with the impact that electronic waste is creating both socially and environmentally.  If you haven't read this blog yet, you should definitely start there.

After calculating the votes, here is the winning proposal:

This group's proposal outlines like this:

First, find an e-steward or R-2 certified electronic recycling location in your area.  Our group chose Staples since they are e-steward certified.  If you don't have a Staples location near you, here are some links to help you find an e-steward certified location:

E-steward certified locations

An EPA map of locations

Sustainable R2 Recycling.

After you find a location, recycle your electronic.  When you do, take a selfie and post it to any social media you use - instagram, facebook, twitter, or the likes.

Use the hashtag #SaveTheBigBlueMarble when you post your selfie.  When you post, tag at least three people and challenge them to recycle one of their old electronics as well.

This is the blue marble we're trying to save :)

Our goal is to get this trending by the end of next week.  We'd love your help!  If you have any questions, either put them in the comment box below or e-mail me at

Thanks, and with your help we'll all do our part to help #SaveTheBigBlueMarble!

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Saving The World, One Electronic Device at a Time

My school just had our annual Discovery Night - a night were students celebrate their learning and display their expertise to parents, friends, staff, and guests.  Our classroom's topic this year was electronic waste and its impact both socially and environmentally.  It began with a unit on the periodic table, elements, and how elements are in the everyday electronics we use every day.

Students had been learning about this for the past quarter.  The more they learned, the more engaged they became.  It started with "wow, there is gold in my cell phone?" to "wow, I didn't realize how much stuff was made - they sure need a lot of copper!" and ended with "we really need to do something about this."  Students became aware of the environmental impact of creating and disposing all of these devices and how regions have been devastated due to mass consumerism.  They also were made aware of the social impact and how poorer countries tend to get our used junk.

One of many photos and videos we saw about this issue

Students were divided into five groups and assigned a specific type of electronic: computers, monitors, phones, printers, and televisions.  Each group did research about their specific device and the dangers presented by recycling, trashing, or burning it.  Students came up with amazing facts to help quantify the amount of e-waste generated each year.  For instance, did you know that about 150 million mobile devices will be disposed of this year?  This means that if you placed the disposed phones down end to end, they would stretch almost half way around Earth!

Facts like that really got the adults' attention.

The presentation was set up in a what - so what - now what format.  Students explained what e-waste was, used facts like the ones above to explain why we should care, and then described a plan that their group designed to help impact the problem.

Only one group would be able to move on.

Originally the students plan was just"recycle" their items, but they found two major problems with that.  First, it didn't take into consideration the consumerism issue.  Recycling is great, but buying less will vastly reduce the amount of e-waste being produced.  Secondly, we found that recycling doesn't always mean what we think it means. We learned is that even when you "recycle" electronics, there is about an 80% chance that the device will be shipped overseas where it will be dismantled and burned for precious metals.  Places like Ghana, China, and Indonesia have areas that have become e-wastelands, and their proposals had to make sure this wouldn't happen.

That is when they learned about recycling certification, and found different locations that have one of the two major certifications: R2 certified, or E-steward certified.  They decided any proposal that used recycling had to include places that were certified.

The big night came - parents were given score sheets and were asked to evaluate each group's project.  We explained that the group with the highest overall score would come to life.  Our class wasn't just going to come up with ideas - we were going to take action!

Five groups - five proposals - one winner.  Here is an outline of all five:

Delete E-waste: Students in this group want to write the Ohio Senate and House to pass legislation to require citizens to bring electronics to certified e-waste facilities.  This proposal includes ideas such as tax incentives for bringing items to certified locations, or for locations to become e-waste certified.

Time to Monitor Our E-waste: This group decided to create a teen-friendly PSA which will inform people about the dangers and causes of e-waste.  Specifically they would talk to the audience about "do you REALLY NEED a new phone? why not hold off..." to try and target a reduction in consumerism. They would post this on social media as well as the school website.

Earth's Last Call: Earth's Last Call want to go right to the source - talk to CEOs and designers about using sustainable materials in the production stage.  Their angle: sustainability is the new buzz word - just like organic was once only available at specialty stores, but now available everywhere, consumers are starting to become more aware of their impact.  As such, designers and companies should corner the market on sustainable equipment because this is the future of technology!

Running Low on Resources: Students in this group want to do a social media blitz to encourage recycling all of the old electronics that are sitting around their homes.  Their plan - take a selfie of yourself recycling an electronic at a certified e-waste location (such as Staples).  Then upload the picture on social media with the hashtag #SaveTheBigBlueMarble.  From there, tag three people and challenge them to recycle at least one item at a certified location!

E-Waste Channel: This group wanted to create a video and post it on social media.  The idea behind this video would be educating people on what e-waste is and why it is a growing problem, focusing on sustainability.  The video would be presented to students at our school as well as posted on social media.

The adults voted, tabulated, and checked for accuracy.  I will announce the winner this week!  In the mean time, which group would you vote for?

Place votes in the CD-ROM slot, please