Thursday, May 31, 2012

Why Bother?

For the past year I've been trying to get past the surface issues of low test scores, poor attendance and behavior problems.  I want to look at the culture of the schools in our district.  I want to identify and put into words the many tiny forces that, over a period of 13 years, add up to the atmosphere in a building or a classroom.  By the last four years that we're with the students, we try to control this force with rules and requirements, but by all indications students are missing the point.

I haven't been great at this yet, but I think I'm asking better questions.  Here's how I am phrasing it now.  Consider two groups of students in the secondary buildings--those who are learning what we'd like them to learn (group I) and those that aren't (group II).  This includes learning the content to a high standard, plus any of the other important things we want to see in young people such as responsibility, punctuality and so on.  In the other group we have everyone from the struggling learner to the talented but lazy to the outright resistant.  

Now, my question is this:  What do the students in group II see regularly that will encourage them to make the changes necessary to move into group I?  On an emotional and rational level, what is set before them throughout their waking hours that says it is urgent and worth the effort?

I think the time at home might outweigh what we can accomplish at school in this regard, but leaving that aside, I tried to answer this question from the students' point of view.  I thought of a school day, the teachers and classrooms that they will see.  I thought of the messages they get through words and actions.  I don't yet know what the solution is, but as I considered this, the frustrations I hear from the staff in the high school suddenly made more sense.  There's just not much reason to aim high.  

I don't know if this is obvious and I can't say it's a problem anywhere other than in the buildings where I work.  I do know it doesn't get asked in this way in the meetings I attend.  I'm going to start asking it more of others and of myself.  I'm going to propose some answers and put them into practice.

Monday, May 28, 2012

What's It To Ya? Game

My Oh, Really! game is present throughout this blog, but before it was Oh, Really! it was What's It To Ya?. It is a fun game that is useful for initiating discussion about values and opinions.

My friend who published that older version of the game is now blowing that inventory out for only $2.39 per copy.  Check it out here at Fair Play Games.  (Note that I am no longer getting royalties from the sale of this edition of the game, so sales do not benefit me directly.)

Each copy will allow up to eight players to play, so four copies will probably be enough for most classrooms.  But beyond the K - 12 classroom, the game has entertained everyone from couples and families to Sunday school classes and college students.  This is probably the best price you'll find on the game, so consider ordering a few.

And here's a rules explanation you could use in class or anywhere else to teach everyone how to play in about four minutes.  (And after watching you can see it's pretty easy to make your own set of the game with note cards.)

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Saturday, May 26, 2012

Creativity and Games - Classroom Presentation

This post about my highly entertaining classroom creativity games (which some refer to as class presentation games) has been one of my most popular. There are two parts here. First are links to the games, then I have a related presentation that introduces the exercises and the games.

Recent Updates 2/2016: I created this updated creativity game using Google Slides and these tutorials showing how to play any of these games using Google tools. The Google Apps make it much easier to enjoy these games with your class!

The Two Classroom Creativity Games

My generic creativity game system can be found here:  The Classroom Creativity Game

More recently I finished this creativity game about the important elements of a great story:  Coming Soon.  In it students compete to create the best ideas for a movie trailer.  It's part of a larger work I'm developing based on Donald Miller's Storyline book and process.

If you're interested in more information on these and other styles of games I have posted on this blog, see these pages. (They are also accessible from the top menu.)

The Presentation

When I began posting about my creativity exercises and games I also started developing the presentation I use in class to introduce them.

If you want to use (or deliver your own version of) this presentation, here's the outline:
  • Define creativity.
  • Offer practice with specific exercises.
  • Give an opportunity to play fun games related to the lesson.
Effectively presenting and practicing the exercises before playing the games will greatly enhance the students' enjoyment of the games.  Written feedback from students has been positive with many expressing how fun it is to practice creativity.

Students learn that they can improve creativity by practicing certain skills.

This has been very encouraging to me and I am continuing to develop this into a unit of study or possibly a 10-week course on the subject.

The video presentation and tips for modifying it

I created two videos below that can be played for the students in class.  Normally the outline would be:
  1. Watch the first video.
  2. Play the example games I refer to.
  3. Watch the second video.
  4. Play the creativity games while they practice the skills.
Alternatively, a teacher could use my presentations as an example, but presentation the information and exercises in her own way.  If you're thinking of adapting it, here's a more detailed flow of the presentation:
  • Examples from my creative pursuits in game design - A teacher would want to substitute his or her personal examples here.
  • A working definition of creativity - "Making connections to find new, good ideas"
  • The distinction between an idea and a final product
  • Some questions for classroom response systems to measure students' own perceptions of their creativity
  • Examples that allow students to practice the skills of brainstorming and evaluating ideas and making connections
  • Sample games - Two are just examples of my own work.  The third is Why Did the Chicken...? which allows some students to compete to write the funniest answers to random riddles.
Here is the first video of the presentation. It covers the purpose of the activity and provides the definition of creativity used throughout.

The presentation leads into two free classroom games I created.  You can find information about those here:

And here is the second video.  In this part I lead a couple of brainstorming activities and I show what it means to make connections.  After those practice exercises the teacher could lead the class in one to three games, which are listed below.

Games for this part of the presentation are here, along with the rules:

Again, if you don't have ActivInspire, these generic creativity games can be played in a variety of ways on many more computer systems than the versions above:

Other things I've learned from using this in class:

  • Have a backup plan in case the riddle game is not going over well.  Other creativity games or activities can be found through the related pages linked from the header of this blog.
  • Pick yourself or another teacher as one of the nouns for the first riddle of Why Did the Chicken...?  It makes it much easier for them.
  • The games and presentation does not have to be completed in one sitting.  Break up the elements of the presentation over several days or throughout the semester.  Most of the games I have created would work well as a prompt for the end of class.  Homework could be to turn in one or more answers to a riddle.  Votes for the best one could be done the next day or even later after the teacher has narrowed it down to some possibilities.
If you're interested in the previous version of my videos, they are here:

These videos are notes to a teacher rather than the presentation that could be played in class for students.

Part 1:  Definitions, examples of my work and the questions for the class

Note:  I neglected to mention in this recording that I also talk about the need for more creativity in school and how creativity enhances one's life.  I never present these activities as a way to convince students their ideas will make them rich.

Click here to view Part 1 at

Part 2:  Examples from a game of Why Did the Chicken...? and some practice exercises for brainstorming and evaluation

Note:  In this clip I'm not sure I brought out the purpose of the brainstorming practice very well.  The end result is to find connections between the two lists.  I purposely did not have students turn those possibly good ideas into answers to the riddle.  In other words, I asked them to find the first good idea, but they did not necessarily turn it into a finished product.  Some naturally went further and made a funny joke.

I tried this activity last week without the creativity exercises before the game and the responses were much more interesting from the class that did the exercises.  Based on their answers in the game and written responses after we played there is no doubt they were thinking more and they better grasped the point of the activity.

Click here to view Part 2 at

Wednesday, May 23, 2012 - Online Lessons for flipped teaching or just learning on your own

I was surprised that no one at a recent flipped teaching workshop had heard of  I came across the site at least a year ago and I've put a few lessons there myself.  I hope to do more in the weeks ahead.

Sophia is a combination of a social network and a lesson repository.  The learning "packets" are categorized and rated by users, so ideally you'd be able to search for any topic and find a variety lessons for it.

I suggest any teachers who are flipping their classroom should put their lessons on Sophia in addition to where they post them for their classes.  It could be a great place to develop a following or to get feedback from other teachers and learners.

My few tutorials are posted on this page at the site.  I tried to break free from the very academic lessons I was finding by posting my lessons from here on how to make games.

When I first stumbled on Sophia I thought it sounded exactly like the vision of learning described in Disrupting Class.  I loved the book and was excited to see the predictions in it coming to life.  I soon learned it was created by one of the authors of that book, making it a little less surprising.  I have remained hopeful nonetheless.  (Though I'm never motivated by accumulating little icons.)  The fact that no one had heard of it at the workshop wasn't encouraging, but I still think it has potential and I will continue to support it.

Check it out first by searching for something you'd like to learn.  I would love to hear if you find it useful.  Next, think of how you could present your favorite thing to teach.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

iMovie for Digital Stories and Flipped Teaching

In the past I made a few suggestions for using iPad apps for digital storytelling and flipped teaching.  I also have been trying to squeeze the most out of a few free video editors.  Then someone finally convinced me to spend the $4.99 on iMovie.  I'm very impressed with it so far.

I made the short video slideshow below that describes an experience* I had with some creativity games at the middle school level.  I love how intuitive is to arrange the pictures, set the length and adjust the pan/zoom settings.  Narration is equally as simple--just talk while the pictures go by.  Keep what worked and do the other parts over.

I haven't used the app to record any lessons for flipped teaching yet, but it makes a portable recording studio and I can't see why it wouldn't be perfect.  Cutting out a part of a clip is a swipe down to split it and a hold and drag to remove or rearrange it.  Prop the iPad up to record you presentation at the board, edit and upload to YouTube.  I am amazed at the power and creativity that this app allows.

I also love that songs from GarageBand (another $4.99 app that still fascinates me) are easily exported directly into iMovie.  I put a simple loop in the background of the video below just to try it out.

*Two notes about the classroom experience:

  • My designated camera person did a good job, but she missed all the opportunities showing the class laughed A LOT as we played!
  • I will have a followup post soon about the creativity exercises I mention in the video.

Fraction Estimator - Visualizing Conversion

When I was in the math classroom I was continually aware that students' problem solving skills were hindered by their inability to visualize concepts.  Proportions and multiple representations of values were simply steps the students tried to remember for a quiz rather than a concept that would come in handy (and often was absolutely necessary) for solving a variety of real world problems.

Approaching problem solving with steps instead of a conceptual understanding is like trying to get from my home in Michigan to my in-laws' house in Florida by memorizing every turn.  Even if I can remember the list, let's hope there's no unexpected construction along the way.  A conceptual understanding would be like having a map.  It's the big picture and it comes in handy even when the unexpected comes along.

When our district purchased Promethean Boards and I started experimenting with ActivInspire I realized I finally had a tool that would let me show students some of the ways I visualized concepts.  One such tool I created is a fraction estimator.

With all the multiplying and dividing going on in a typical conversion problem, most students never stop to consider we are always talking about the same value.  One-fourth is exactly the same amount as 0.25 or 25%.  This fraction estimator provides a good visual for explaining this.  When I used it with students they picked up on the concept quickly.  While it does not provide exact answers in conversions, it gives students the conceptual tool that will help them make connections when solving problems that require such understanding.

The flipchart version for ActivInspire is here.  I also have a single slide in Google Docs that can be used if you don't want to download ActivInspire*.

This video shows how to use it:

*The Google Docs version is limited in a few ways.
  • You can't write the numbers on the slide without using other software.
  • You won't be able to fill the sections of the bars with another color.
  • It's not as easy to line up the bar with the scale because the bar is not displayed as you move it.
  • If it's too small, go to the View menu and pick Full Screen.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

More Thoughts on Flipped Teaching

A couple months ago I attended a workshop at our ISD on flipped teaching and I wrote a post about it and featured some relevant iPad apps.  This past week I attended the second half of the training.  I am also working closely with two high school math teachers from our district that plan to flip a couple classes next year, so it has consumed a lot of my attention.

After spending all these hours exploring the topic, I don’t have much more to add than what I said before.  It has been very effective because it transforms the role of the teacher in the best ways.  All the time spent on a subject, whether at home or at school, is used more efficiently and the goal of learning takes center stage.

We know that time spent on traditional homework is often not used efficiently.  As so many frustrated parents and students have discovered, there are countless ways to complete assignments without actually learning the important concepts.  There are also a lot of ways to get stuck and not know how to properly finish an assignment.  But by having students watch videos and participate in online discussion the teacher can better guide the use of time even though he or she is not physically there in the room with the student.  In short, work at home becomes effective, so students and parents see the value.

Some teachers are quick to point out reasons that flipped teaching won’t work, but there are some simple facts that we hear repeatedly for those who try it:

  • Students like it.  
  • Teachers like it.  
  • Grades are improving.  

When I look over the trends that have come and gone in the past 18 years of my career, I can’t think of any others that get such high marks in those three areas.

The only downside I see is that getting started is a huge job.  Teachers essentially have to guide the learning in class at school and at home.  The good news is the time making videos or compiling existing ones is an investment and many teachers are choosing to make it.

Here are some resources I have come across in the past few months since my initial post.  I recommend them to anyone considering making the investment of time over the summer:

First, here are two articles from Alan November's work:

Here's an active Facebook group for teaching in a flipped classroom.

And to wrap up, I liked what Sal Khan had to say about flipped teaching in a segment on 60 Minutes.  Let's not think it's about watching videos at home.  It's really about making learning fit the learner.

“I kind of view that as a step in the direction. The ideal direction is using something like Khan Academy for every student to work at their own pace, to master concepts before moving on, and then the teacher using Khan Academy as a tool so that you can have a room of 20 or 30 kids all working on different things, but you can still kind of administrate that chaos.” (Taken from the transcript.)

Monday, May 7, 2012

Why Did the Chicken...? - Exercise for Creativity for the Classroom

My recent posts about creativity games have drawn a good amount of attention, so I contacted Kory Heath about the game that sort of started it all.  He gave his hearty approval of a classroom version of Why Did the Chicken...?, the hilarious game of answering random riddles.  Two versions of the game are available for download from Promethean Planet:

Donations are definitely accepted!
These flipcharts (especially the Mythology edition) have been popular this summer. If you find them or any other resources on the blog useful, please consider donating $1 to $3.  Any money I receive this way will be used in my district to purchase resources for technology integration. I and my students greatly appreciate your support!  I would love to hear how you use the resources too.

Here are the rules as they appear in the flipchart, along with additional clarification and suggestions.  The couple changes or considerations for the mythology version are addressed below as well.

How to Play the Why Did the Chicken...? Classroom Game

Pick 3 - 5 "contestants" who will compete to write the funniest riddles.  They should sit at the front of the classroom.  Each contestant needs a piece of paper with his or her name on top.

To start a round, draw 1 Question prompt from the Question cards and 2 Nouns from the box of Noun cards.  (For the mythology edition, pick 1 of these Nouns from the Questions card and the other from Pandora's box.  The mythology words come from Pandora's box and it's best to have a real world noun combined with the mythology words.)  Put these items on the cards at the top of the screen.  Here's an example of how this might look:

So in the example, we get the riddle "Why is a tiger afraid of a rockstar?"

Note:  When it makes a difference, the teacher (with input from the class) may choose to change the order of the nouns to make the most interesting riddle.  As the example above illustrates, if "tiger" and "rockstar" are reversed the riddle lends itself to dull answers.

The contestants get 2 minutes to write a funny answer to the random riddle.  When finished, they hand their papers to the teacher.  Note that you can be as flexible as you want on this time limit.

Note:  Contestants might choose to write several answers in those two minutes, then pick one or possibly the teacher can just pick one.  It all depends on how much time the teacher wants to take in reading them.

The teacher reads the answers in a random order and writes them (possibly summarized) on the
board, one per sticky note.  Since the answers might be wordy, the key words can be written on the sticky notes just so the class can remember which is which.  If some answers are the same or similar, the teacher can have them submit another response.

The class should not know who wrote which answer.  In other words, don't always have the same student's answer end up on the same letter.

Using the Expressions (if available) have the class vote for their favorite answer.  After the vote, the contestants or teacher can indicate who wrote which response.  The player whose answer received the most votes gets 2 points for the round.  The player whose answer received the second most votes gets 1 point.

Keep score on the Score page.  Repeat for 5 - 7 rounds.  At the end, the contestant with the most points wins.

Students in the class (non-contestants) can play for points just for fun.  Any student who votes for the most popular answer gets a point.  These are tracked by the students themselves based on their honor.  They can compare points at the end of the game just to see who picked the winning answers the most.

Other details and suggestions:
  • Before you play, have the class submit names of people, places or other familiar nouns that will make the game personal.  This lends itself to hilarious inside jokes, but some students will need to be reminded to keep it appropriate for school!
  • In this version of the game there are five question formats, each repeated twice.  You might prefer to just choose them rather than randomly draw them, as some make easier riddles than others.
  • If students are having a hard time coming up with answers encourage them to brainstorm more than one and just pick the one they like best for the official submission.  The game is an exercise in creativity and they need to feel comfortable failing.  Anonymity in answers is sometimes necessary to encourage continued participation.
  • See this post about how I use creativity exercises before we play.
  • Nouns from any content area can be substituted to make the game fit the course subject.  See the mythology edition as an example.  
  • Instead of playing as a game, this can be used as an ongoing activity.  Riddles can be assigned to the entire class at the end of the hour.  All students would turn in answers the next day.  At an appropriate time the teacher could post five for a vote.  

Friday, May 4, 2012

Video for Creativity Games - Rules for Abe & Einstein

My recent post on games based on creativity exercises has been popular, so I made a short video explaining the game system in general.  As an example, I also explained how to play my creativity game, Abe & Einstein, in more detail.  It is definitely one of the most fun games a group can play with nothing more than some paper and pencils.

I used this definition of creativity in the video and I think the game models that perfectly:
Creativity - Coming up with new ideas that have value*

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I neglected to mention in the video that the game can be modified to fit content areas easily.  For example, in a literature class the teacher could create half of the names for each group drawing from stories the students read in class.

*In the future I will probably include the expression of the ideas in the definition of creativity.