Setting Up The Student Tracker System!

Plugged In HeartIf you’re already confused by the title, that’s OK. I wrote an article for edSurge about how I used Google Apps for Educaion to collect data on my students learning which I then used to drive my instruction and personalize their learning. Really powerful stuff. This is a companion piece to that article that will show you how to setup my Student Tracker System, or even better, give you the blueprint to create your own Student Tracker System! So, if you haven’t read Instead of Paying Thousands for Student Data Systems, Try This Free Option Instead read it, and then come on back! We’ll wait for you.



Welcome back! We missed you. Before you watch this setup video, a few things I want you to keep in mind if you decide to make your own version of the Tracker System (which I hope you do):

  1. The more you use the same rubric throughout the year, the more valuable this system becomes.
  2. The secret sauce is using the Student Tracker Formula to pull individual student data from the whole class data you collected with your Google Form rubric to their own, private sheet.
  3. Make your life easier by creating a Heat map on both the whole class database and the individual student sheets. Heat maps are a great way to get information at a glance. Use conditional formatting in Sheets to set the top of your grading scale to green and the bottom to red using Sheets (somewhat) new color scale formatting.
  4. Let the whole class database guide your instruction. If you see a whole lot of yellows and reds in a particular area, say thesis, you know what you need to teach next class. If you see all greens in an area, you know your students get it and you can move on.
  5. If you have older students, let the individual Student tracker sheet guide student-led conferences. I made time for my students by blending my classroom. Kids learned online, at their own pace, with me in the room for support. I took this time to work with every kid individually. I would talk to my kids at least once a week. Sometimes we’d start by pulling up the tracker and I’d ask a kid, what do you see? What do you need to work on? Keep notes about what your students say and revisit the conversation next week.
  6. If you have younger students, you can still let them lead conferences, but feel free to share the sheets with parents. As I mention in the video, with younger kids I’ve even used Form Mule to automatically generate an email home when a new piece of data, say daily behavior, was submitted to the student’s individual Student Tracker Sheet.
  7. Use the whole class data to assess yourself as a teacher. Could they all be doing so poorly in an area because I didn’t have the best lesson or explain a topic well enough? Absolutely. It’s happened to me and by assessing the whole class data, it made be a better teacher by forcing me to reexamine my lessons. Use the data as a reflective piece on your own teaching.
  8. This system is great for SGOs, PDPs, and all the other alphabet soup that requires us to show student growth over time.
  9. Pass this data on to your kids teacher next year, or at least write up a little report about what you learned from the data for their new teacher. This is super useful if you teach the little guys and are analyzing things like reading stamina or behavior. Share with guidance counselors, too, while you’re at it.
  10. Don’t just think you are the only one that can use the rubric. As mentioned in the edSurge article, I had Student Tracker Systems where I was filling out the rubric, students were filling out the rubric, and their peers were filling out the rubric about them. All these methods have their own value in helping students grow.

That’s it! Again, here is the link to the folder where you can play around and below is the video where I talk about the system and the power of data driven instruction. If you develop your own system, please tell me about it and share it with the world! I’ll even put it up on my blog so others can try your system, too!

Until then,

GLHF and love data.

How To Turn A Minecraft Map Into A Google Map!

Plugged In Heart<UPDATE> My proof of concept map is up and working perfectly! This is how students will receive quests in our new Innovation Labs: Sickles Studios and Knollwood Labs. Sickles Studios is under construction for a bit longer, but Knollwood Labs is pretty much ready for beta testing! Post explaining what makes our Innovation Labs groundbreaking is forth coming, but you can get a preview in this edsurge article!</UPDATE>

I have been hard at work creating Innovation Labs for my school district. I couldn’t be more excited! Our Innovation Labs are going to be a national model for student-centered learning. We’ll be learning all kinds of amazing stuff together in new and exciting ways. I’m working on a write up explaining our Innovation Lab and am designing it in a way that I can share it with anyone and they recreate or iterate on what we’ll be doing at Fair Haven. In the meantime, I wanted to check in and show you how to turn a Minecraft Map into a Google Map.

Maybe you want to design your town or school in Minecraft, then turn it into a Google Map and add historical Points of Interest. Maybe you want to import a heart into Minecraft using SketchUp then TinkerCAD, turn it into a map, and the label the parts of the heart using Python code to help develop your students STEM skills, or like me maybe you want to turn your curriculum map into an actual map and give students a years worth of quests that they can complete as part of a self-directed, self-paced gamified mastery learning classroom! Whatever the reason, the amazing things you can do when you build a world in Minecraft and then turn it into a Google Map, complete with points of interest, is only limited by your creativity.

In this video, I will show you how to do all of this using an amazing program called Overviewer and some Python code. Enjoy!

Here is a link to a .txt file that contains the Python code, or you can use this GitHub link. Whichever method you choose, you are going to have to write a little bit of code and probably fiddle with the code placement, but I believe in you.

I would say that I’m an above average coder. I’m self taught and still learning. If anyone has any feedback, thoughts, or ideas, I’d love to hear them. I’d also love to hear how you plan on using these goodies! If you need help, I’m happy to help to the best of my ability. I know just enough coding to be dangerous, which basically means I’m good enough to break things.


Until then




ISTE, A Reflection

2015-06-30 12.29.30With ISTE behind us, it’s fun to reflect on the event that was. I think my ISTE style is unique; I don’t attend sessions. The older I get, the less I can sit still. For me, ISTE is about making new connections or building on relationships with people I learn with online throughout the year. My PD comes form the conversations I get to have with these edu-rockstars. And while I was able to meet some amazing people at ISTE and have a ton of awesome experiences, my Poster session with my former students was something I’ll never forget. It was the highlight of my ISTE.

Paisley and Alanis killed it. They never cease to amaze me. I’ve become, over time, a staunch advocate for giving up control of the classroom to students. It wasn’t easy at first. It scared me, but it was the best thing I’ve ever done as an educator and our poster session reaffirmed that yet again.

Alanis, Paisley, and I met about three weeks before ISTE. We went over the topic we were to present on, Passion-Based Learning, but ultimately I left them in charge of everything; this was their chance to let teachers know why we need to level up the educational status quo. I didn’t know what our booth was going to look like, nor what they had prepared, until a few hours before we were set to present. When they unveiled their creation “The Death of Traditional Learning” and turned our booth into a crime scene…. wow. For two hours, our booth was packed with people who wanted to know what madness we were talking about. After, these people left fired up to bring Passion-Based Learning to their school. As the teacher, I told those who came by the booth: “I can tell how to implement Passion-Based Learning, but talk to my kids. They can tell you why you should implement it.”

So, in that spirit, I’ll let Alanis bring home our ISTE 2015 experience:


Early last spring, Mr. Aviles had approached me about presenting at ISTE 2015 during the summer. Seeing that the only thing I had planned for the summer was sleeping until noon, I said “why not?”. I visited the official ISTE website and scanned Google for information about the convention, yet, I still did not know what to fully expect. Sure, I knew that it was a meeting ground for teachers to connect and share ideas, but I did not really understand what that meant. How big would it be? What would these teachers be asking me? Is anyone famous going? What am I even supposed to be doing? All these questions clouded my mind as our presentation day (June 30th) grew closer.

Our presentation was titled “The Death of Traditional Learning” and we set it up as if it were a crime scene. Our whole scheme was to show the death of traditional learning and the birth of Passion-Based Learning. We wanted to show teachers that students can do amazing things if they are allowed to apply what they love to their education. Passion-Based Learning is about giving students control of their education and letting them succeed in their own way. During the presentation, we talked about our technology-based English class as well as the Be About It Projects that we completed sophomore year and the crowd funding campaign experience we had as we tried to redesign our classroom.

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The best things about ISTE was definitely how interested other teachers were in what we were doing. While Mr. Aviles would tell us that people would Tweet him about all the cool things we did, it never really set in how progressive we really were. Seeing real life people who wanted to emulate what we created was beyond awesome. It proved that we were making a loud change in the education world. I was being asked how others can recreate our Be About It Projects and how they can become more of a 21st Century teacher. Though I don’t really know if teachers are going to take the advice we gave them, it’s satisfying to know that someone, somewhere, might get a better educational experience because of what we preached. I mean, I had a gentleman from China ask to record me speaking about Passion-Based Learning in the hopes of convincing his school board to consider changing their curriculum. Another teacher took my picture and wanted to use it to show his all boys school that girls can use technology just as fluently as boys.

I had no idea what ISTE was going in, but coming out, I am so glad that I went. It was such a unique experience and I don’t think that I will ever do anything like it again. The teachers that I had the opportunity to speak with were so intriguing and it really gave me an insight on the educational status of the country. Some schools were struggling to afford textbooks while others had so much money they physically did not know what to do with it. It was a look at the world outside of New Jersey. If ISTE ever invited us back to speak again, I would do it in a heartbeat.


Until Next Time,

GLHF and let your kids lead the way.

The Impact of Passion-Based Learning A Year Later

IMG_0758This time last year, my students took the stage to talk about their yearlong Passion-Based Learning assignment: the Be About It project. In just a few weeks, some of those students will hit the stage to talk about their projects again, only this time it will be at ISTE and I’ll get to share the stage with them! Alanis reflected on her Be About It project experience for me last year and as we prepare for ISTE, I’ve asked her to do it again. From her fingers to your eyes, the importance of Passion-Based Learning:


I’ve forgotten most of the things that I learned last year. All those late nights of studying and memorizing pretty much went out the window. I probably couldn’t solve a piecewise function if my life depended on it. But the one thing I did remember from last year was the Be About It Project (BAI). The BAI was a project where we could do anything we wanted. We had no limits, no rules, and most importantly, no step-by-step direction. All we had was the end goal of producing something. Looking back, it was pretty intimidating. As an honors kid, everything in school has always been mapped out by very detailed and precise directions. Before this project, I was never given this type of absolute freedom. Now, I find myself thinking outside the box with projects. I search for loopholes in the directions in the hopes of making the project a more accurate reflection of me. Constantly, I am trying to find new ways to approach assignments that have most likely been given out for years. Some teachers love this creativity while others…well the others are not the biggest fans. But they’ll eventually come around.

My personal BAI was writing a short story and sending it out to free, online publishers. My short story, The Final Sunset, had received Best Sci-Fi/Fantasy and Editors Choice by Teen Ink magazine at the time of the project. I was completely content with that, seeing that it was the first story I had ever released to the public. But in November I received an email from Teen Ink with the subject line of “Congratulations!”. I opened it to find that they decided to publish my story in their print magazine! My little story was now being blasted to hundreds of schools and subscribers alike. Currently, the online version of the story has over 1,050 views.

I haven’t really stopped writing since the BAI. The project helped me to realize that writing is my one true passion. While I love drawing and graphic design, my heart belongs to the pen. Teen Ink recently awarded me with a VIP membership, which is only given to writers who provide them with consistently great pieces. My poem “third period physics” was also given the title of Editors Choice last month by the magazine. Stepping away from Teen Ink, I had won my town’s local VFW essay contest and placed third in Ocean County with it. I am also working on a chapter book of poetry, which will be completed by the beginning of July. It is around 21 pages and consists of over 15 poems. Hopefully, I’ll be chosen to have it published for free through Button Poetry’s annual publishing contest.

A year later, the BAI still proves to be the most influential project of my high school career. It helped me realize that writing is the thing that I want to do for the rest of my life. Without this project, I might be looking into law schools, getting ready to waste thousands of dollars on a degree that I am not passionate about. To any teachers who are considering doing a Be About It Project or something similar: please do it.  We students need to learn how to think for ourselves and find out who we are. Giving us numbered lists and directions will not help us to achieve that. Passion-Based Learning like the BAI is more than a project, it’s a life experience.



Come see me and Alanis and the rest of my crew at ISTE!

Until then,



The Skills to Pay the Bills

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Give the people contests they win by remembering the words to more popular songs or the names of state capitals or how much corn Iowa grew last year. Cram them full of non-combustible data, chock them so damned full of ‘facts’ they feel stuffed, but absolutely ‘brilliant’ with information. Then they’ll feel they’re thinking, they’ll get a sense of motion without moving. And they’ll be happy, because facts of that sort don’t change. -Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

I believe that the future our students will inhabit is going to look much different than it does today.

Consider This:


College is becoming an unsustainable business model. Students are taking out bigger and bigger loans to pay for inflated college tuitions in a world where it is getting harder and harder to pay them back. Recently, many like Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, U.S. News, and even Mark Cuban have been warning that the college bubble is set to burst like the housing market. When the college bubble bursts, the post-high school landscape will look much different. I think we’ll see fewer colleges (think about all the houses in foreclosure on your block) and fewer students attending them, as many colleges fail to prove they’re worth the price tag. Instead, we’ll see the rise of micro-credentials (badges), certifications, and endorsements.

I think the job market will look different as well. Consider this:

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The  above graph comes to us from a study done by Oxford University on the Future of Employment which says almost half of all jobs are in great danger of becoming computerized or automated in the next decade or so. For fun, check this out to see what may be coming to a job near you.

Of the jobs that are left, I think many of them will look much different than they do today because businesses are changing, too. Businesses are starting to realize that to attract the best and brightest, those who will be working the jobs that can’t be automated, they need to offer a work/life balance, perks, and other benefits. This is becoming a business’ culture and using this culture is how business will train employees to do things their way.

Take Google. Google has concluded what many in education refuse to acknowledge: GPAs and test scores are not an indicator of how successful a person is going to be. Instead Google finds driven, skilled people and teaches them to be “Googley” and embrace the Google culture. Many companies on Fortune’s list of best places to work offer their own version of culture to engage, train, and retain employees.

So if the future of college and jobs is uncertain at best and companies will put less and less stock in test scores and GPAs, instead looking for talented people they can train to do things their way, how can we better meet the needs of our students today so they’re ready for the world of tomorrow?


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Skills, like those above, never go out of style and are only going to become more important as the job market becomes more competitive and businesses, rather than colleges, choose to train employees to do things their way.

So how do we help children improve their skill-set in the classroom?

The first step is for we teachers to accept the fact that we are no longer the only vessels of knowledge out there. People used to have to go to the schoolhouse or college to learn because that’s where all the information was stored. In our brave, new world the entire body of human knowledge is accessible to anyone with a cellphone and an internet connection. Teaching facts is of little importance today when students can just look things up (teaching how to separate good sources from bad is an important skill to teach, though).

What more, in this connected world, anyone can be a teacher. If anything breaks in my house, I go to YouTube and internet forums and teach myself how to fix it. I’ve fixed everything from my sink, to my car, to my hot water heater, every time being taught by classroom-less teachers I’ve never met. These teachers have helped me save thousands of dollars all because they felt compelled to share their expertise, for free, out of the kindness of their heart. Beyond fixing things, with the help of these classroom-less teachers, I’ve taught myself things like coding, website building, and video editing which I’ve used to improve my classroom and my skill-set.

So, accepting the fact that we, the teachers are no longer the smartest person in the room and that a classroom is no longer defined by four solid walls will hopefully motivate us to rethink our fact-based curriculums and replaced it, or at least infuse it, with a skill-driven curriculum.

How can we create a skill-driven curriculum?

The future of education (and most things) is experiential. A skill-driven curriculum is one that provides genuine learning experiences, full of agency and reflection, for students. The best ways I’ve been able to create experiences to help my students to improve their skills is to ask them these two questions:

What problem do you want to solve? Problem-Based learning is the best type of teaching that we can do in our classroom. Tackling problems in the community or in the world is in itself engaging and taps into so many skills and tangential learning opportunities. Some of the most rewarding learning experiences I’ve helped create for my kids were times when I supported them as they tried to change a school or town policy, improve school lunches, or help solve global warming or animal abuse. In every instance, my students failed, but with Problem-Based Learning failure is reframed as iteration. If it doesn’t work the first time, you don’t fail. You do things like reflect, rethink, adapt, analyze, all skills that are important to their future success, and re-attack the problem until it’s solved.

To really take Problem-Based Learning to the next level we need to get better at helping students not to be problem solvers, but problem finders. This will involve helping students curate and understand big data. We must also embrace games and gaming as a serious way to provide engaging learning experiences that can help tackle big problems like, say, a Global Pandemic.

What do you want to do? For years, I ran a year long, self-directed Passion-Based Learning project called the Be About It project. During this project students could choose to work on whatever they wanted, with whoever they wanted. All I asked was that they get up on stage at the end of the year and tell people what they did, why they did it, and what they learned. My kids did all kinds of cool things, as you can see in the link. If you listen to the videos, especially when they explained what they learned, many of their takeaways are about the importance of skills, overcoming adversity, planning, failure, and realizing that most things in life are not a sprint, but a marathon.

I can’t shake this feeling that we are doing a disservice to our students by focusing more on facts than skills. I challenge you kind reader, to consider shaking up your curriculum. Find ways to infuse genuine learning experiences by incorporating Problem-Based and Passion-Based learning into your curriculum. Rethink the importance of facts and grades and instead focus on helping students grow the skills and attitude it will take to be successful in the world of tomorrow since a skill-driven curriculum is the best way that we can prepare our students for an uncertain future.

Until Next Time,



Of PARCC and Pivot Tables

Unnamed image (3)PARCC is finished in my district! It couldn’t have gone better. My Central PARCC team did a great job running the tests, the teachers were amazing, and the kids were fantastic. It was a total team effort and a smooth event from start to finish.

Now, to me, the fun starts. If you’re an avid reader of my site, you know I have a small obsession with data. So, after the first part of PARCC (PBA for those in the know), we made sure we surveyed all of our kids. It was important to me and my district to survey our kids because 1) we worried that the PARCC-peeps may not share their end of the year survey data with districts and 2) we wanted to make the best decisions we could for our kids as soon as possible.

The spreadsheet of responses for our Post-PARCC survey is 20 columns wide and 600 rows deep. Sheets like this use to scare me. Now, I love them. Why? Pivot Tables!

A Pivot Table is a data summarization tool found in most commercial spreadsheets (Google Sheets, Excel, etc.). I love Pivot Tables because it allows me to drill down into data and find meaningful takeaways to share with my school and community. With this PARCC data, I’m looking for takeaways that can improve the PARCC experience and instruction for my district.

Here’s an example of how I used Pivot Tables recently that will highlight their power:

One of our survey questions asked kids if they preferred to take the PARCC online or on paper. Here’s a pie chart of their responses:

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Without using a Pivot Table, I’d have to take this information for what it is, but what if I wanted to break this data down even further, say by grade, to see if I can glean anything that might make kids more comfortable with online testing. With Pivot Tables this is a breeze! Here’s how I setup a Pivot Table for a deep dive into this pie chart.

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First, Data -> Pivot Table. Then I set the row’s value to Grade and the Column’s value to the question I wanted to dive into. Next, I filled the Pivot Table with the answers to the question I wanted to dissect, and finally set it to summarize the values by COUNTA which is how you turn written feedback into numerical data.

Now, my Pivot Table looks like this:

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3rd and 4th graders favored online testing. 5th, 6th, and 7th graders were split. 8th graders preferred paper-based testing by a wide margin.

Now, conjecture! I wondered if 3rd and 4th graders preferred online testing because, for lack of a better way to say it, they don’t know any better. In New Jersey, until this year, they’ve been testing everyone on paper starting in 3rd grade. This is the first year that everyone has taken an online standardized test. Most people don’t like change, so maybe it wasn’t the online nature of the test 5th-8th graders didn’t like, but the fact that they weren’t use to it. I mean, 8th graders, who were the least into online testing, were the most use to paper testing. 3rd and 4th graders who preferred online testing have had the least experience with paper-based standardized testing.

I won’t be able to test this familiarity hypothesis until/unless PARCC releases the end of the year data, then I can look at change over time in test preference.

But as they often do, this hypothesis led to another. I started to wonder if student preference for paper testing had anything to do with a lack of device use. I mean, I would think that a student who was unfamiliar with how to use a device in an academic setting would prefer paper-based testing.

Luckily, with the help of a Pivot Table, I can dive even deeper into this question. Check it out:

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By adding the question and data, “How often do you use a computer or Chromebook in school” to the row section of my Pivot Table, I can make a Pivot Table that not only breaks students down by grade and shows me if they prefer online testing over paper, but also juxtaposes that with how often they self-reported using devices in school.

Here’s what the Pivot Table looks like now:

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Looking at the original Pivot Table of 5th, 6th, and 7th graders ambivalence toward online testing, and knowing that my students in those grades share Chromebooks, my original recommendation to my district probably would have been to get them more Chromebooks. Thanks to the Pivot Table, I can see that would have been a bad call. The new Pivot Table clearly shows my district does a fantastic job getting devices into the hands of our students. I may still recommend getting more devices for other reasons, but device use and preference for online testing don’t seem to be correlated.

That may not sound sexy, since I didn’t figure out why our middle grades weren’t thrilled with online testing, but not knowing the cause of something is just as important as knowing the cause. Instead of making the wrong recommendation, I can continue to explore the reason, if any, our middle grades were neutral toward online testing with the hopes of making the experience better for them.

This is just one recent way I’ve used Pivot Tables, but I encourage everyone to constantly survey students. Before I left the classroom, I surveyed my students every two weeks on a variety of things. I then used Pivot Tables to dive deep into their responses to refine my teaching practices. Now, out of the classroom, I’m using them to help my leadership team make the best decisions we can for our staff and students.

I’m an English teacher, so if I can do it, anyone can do it. Give Pivot Tables a try, they’re amazing.

Until Next Time,





The Future of Education?

New_Games_for_Change_logoI was fortunate enough to be invited to the Games For Learning Summit on April 21st at NYU. The Summit, hosted by the U.S. Department of Education and the non-profit Games for Change,  was a … day-long summit to identify strategies for the broader creation, dissemination, and use of quality games in classrooms and beyond. Leading developers, producers, publishers, educators, students, and other stakeholders [were] brought together to break down barriers and have meaningful dialogues about what each party wants and needs so we can make progress in games for education together. The Games for Learning Summit was awesome. It was a great day of dialogueing and collaborating especially for someone like me who believes that games are a big part of education’s future.

One of the keynotes was Jesse Schell. His keynote focused on making bold predictions, as he often does on his YouTube channel, about what education will look like in the near future. I’m a big fan of Schell, so in the spirit of his keynote, I’m going to make a bold prediction about the future of education:

By 2030, I believe games in education will be everywhere and used in three distinct ways: games will be played to help teach and assess students, students will create their own games (think coding and STEM) with a focus on solving important problems, and students will actually be the games. That last part, students being the games, will be the most transformative of them all.

What I’m talking about when I say students being the game are Alternate Reality Games (ARGs). In an ARG, the game happens in the real world, in real time, with real people. I’ve run 4 ARGs in the classroom. The last ARG I ran was extra special, and I’m finally allowed to talk about it! This last ARG went global and my students and I were lucky to have survived. Behold: Scorch!

Last October, my Public Speaking class and I teamed up with Pearson and classes around the world to play Scorch. In this six week experiment, students across the globe, acting as important corporations and agencies, had to work together to stop a global pandemic. There was a government strand responsible for making decisions about the pandemic, a Biology strand responsible for trying to stop the pandemic, a business strand responsible for the economy during the pandemic, and a communication strand, my class, who played the role of a news company and had to report on the pandemic and the activities of the other strands.

Everyday, students received pieces of transmedia storytelling as part of a networked narrative that told them about the pandemic that was ravaging their world. Each week the transmedia storytelling would reflect students actions or inactions as part of the story. My students produced a weekly news show that helped keep the other strands informed. It was a living, breathing story that was taking place in the real world and my students were the main characters, not some pixels on the screen.

The strands interacted daily and the decisions they made impacted the others; every action (or inaction) caused a reaction. For instance, when the government strand imposed a curfew and quarantine on its citizens, my students, as the news organization, criticized the government for curtailing civil liberties which nearly incited a riot.

Another time, when the Biology strand asked the government strand to hand out the vaccine to the most vulnerable citizens, elderly and children, first, rather than the lottery the government was thinking about holding, my students came out in support of the biology strand which we believed played a part in the eventual adoption of children and elderly first distribution process.

My students also had to decide what pieces of transmedia to report on. Reporting on the Presidential address was easy, but my students had a hard time deciding whether to put the conspiracy nut, who claimed the pandemic was a false flag operation by the U.S., on the news or to focus on the former Surgeon General’s warning that countries need to take the fledgling pandemic more seriously.

While it wasn’t my class, I heard the business strand had quite a battle over the ethics of price gouging on things like Tamiflu, water, and gasoline during the pandemic.

I know Alternate Reality Games may seem hard to wrap your head around, but if you’re interested do some research to learn more. ARGs have a rich history in the business world where they’re used to generate engagement from consumers. The Beast was the first major ARG, while I Love Bees! is still my favorite ARG ever (Call me, Jane!). But, ARGs are creeping closer to the mainstream acceptance with shows like Lost, Movies like Cloverfield, games like Ingress (Bold prediction: the future of gaming will look a lot like Ingress), and even in music like Year Zero and books like James Frey’s Alternate Reality book series EndgameI mean how cool is this:

The future is in experientials; people want experiences. Students, who are in fact people, are no different. With Scorch, and all the ARGs I’ve run, my kids were active in the story, were given voice and choice that made a difference, the learning was authentic, and the engagement was unbelievable.

I see a future where we teach not with subjects or even topics (I see you, Finland), but through experiences. ARGs provide amazing experiences. In the future, students will be placed in an experience, role play the experience out, and then reflect and dissect how it went and what they can do better next time. Soft skills like collaboration, curation, leadership, and creativity will become the focus of schools and the subjects we teach now will be learned tangentially to these soft skills because in 2030 we will have finally realized that any job you get is going to teach you to do it their way anyway. ARGs and the learning experiences they provide are just the thing we need to reengage our students and prepare them with the skills they need for the future.

…Or I could be totally wrong.

Until then,


TLDR: Dungeons & Dragons, bro.

Game-changing Grading Changes

lightgrenadeNo one will argue that your classroom should be a positive place for students to learn. However, I feel that the way we grade and give feedback to students is often at odds with the positive classroom climate we desire. Below are some things I changed about the way I graded that made a positive difference in my classroom.

Read more

Gamify Your Class Level IV: The Item Shop

lightgrenadeThis is the longest I’ve gone without posting. I’m sorry. My plate is full of PARCC, but I found some time to wrap up my series on Gamifying Your Classroom! Before we get to that, though, if you are in Jersey or up for a road trip, we’d like to invite you to Ednado. Ednado will be a great day of learning and we’d love to have you attend or present!

Without further adieu:

To many students, an engaging Gamified classroom comes down to the rewards. The problem is, to some teachers, coming up to the bucket and picking out a prize or giving out a homework pass or stickers constitutes an engaging reward. These types of rewards are quickly forgotten and over time become less and less engaging. We can do better.

In previous posts, I’ve talked about how the most motivating rewards provide a student with Status, Access, and/or Power and we should be giving them very little Stuff. Leaderboard’s provide most of the Status in my Gamified classroom, so my Item Shop, the place where students cash in class currency (called Achievements Points (ap) in my class) for rewards, houses my Access and Power based goodies.

Before I talk about some of my rewards, I wanted to share a few lessons I’ve learned after three years of Gamification. I’ve learned that a good reward doesn’t just engage students, but also benefits the teacher. You’ll notice on top of granting Access/Power to students, I designed a lot of the Items in my Item Shop to solve problems, either mine or theirs. Next, Price your Items appropriately. You can control the frequency with which an Item is purchased by how much it costs and/or by how much currency you reward students. For me, I prefer to put students in a situation where they really have to think about what they buy and when. I do this by keeping class currency low and items expensive. Don’t be afraid to adjust the price of your rewards until you find your sweet spot. Finally, guess what! You’re giving things away for free that you should be charging students for:

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PARCC: Won’t Somebody Please Think Of The Teachers

Those poor teachersI’ve made videos to help students better understand what to expect from the online nature of PARCC, but what about the teachers who will administer the test?

Teachers everywhere have a ton on their plate, but administering the PARCC shouldn’t be something that you worry about. It’s not bad. To prove it, I’ve made a new video to show teachers who are “lucky” enough to administer PARCC what to expect.

In the video, I walk through the responsibilities of a PARCC teacher aka Test Administrator and what a testing day will look like. The good news: 95% of your day is the same as when you’ve administered paper-based state tests. The only thing that changes is a few, new online responsibilities that I go over.

Now, I do want to be clear: I don’t work for PARCC, Pearson, the government, or anyone else. I’m just a teacher trying to make my teachers less anxious. As my school’s District Test Coordinator, I’ve read everything out there on PARCC and talked to a lot of people about it both in the Department of Ed. and Pearson so everything in the video, at this time and to my knowledge, is correct and accurate. I, however, reserve the right to be wrong. If I screwed something up, was unclear, or you have a question, feel free to let me know and I’ll fix or update the video.

Enjoy the video and feel free to use it in your training with your district or however else you want. Most of all, teachers, I want you to know you are going to be fine.

*Note: I may or may not have gone overboard with the whole “Mark Complete” thing…



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