Your PBL Checklist

Your PBL ChecklistProject Based Learning (PBL) has been touted as one (of many) cure-alls for education. It’s an elixir of academically challenging work mixed in with some social-emotional skill development, and a dash of innovation. Projects range in complexity and creativity, from designing a board game about the fall of the Roman Empire to building a sustainable urban garden. PBL can cultivate new skills for students, such as learning to tactfully work with group members who aren’t doing their parts, or standing up in front of a panel of community members to justify their urban garden.


But like a cross-country road trip in an aging RV (sound familiar?), PBL isn’t for the faint of heart. Not only do you have to develop and stick to a plan—you also need the flexibility to adjust as you and your class move along the project. And don’t forget helping students navigate the emotional demands of a project. If you’re ready for the journey, use the following checklist next time you embark on the PBL trek.


❏      A problem to solve

❏      Marketing skills to sell your students on the idea

❏      An audience with whom you can share students’ projects

❏      A way to evaluate group collaboration

❏      100 ways to give positive feedback (other than “good job”)

❏      An outline of content students will be learning

❏      A quality high five

❏      Teacher friends to bounce ideas off of

❏      An outline of skills students will be perfecting

❏      A student-constructed rubric to guide your evaluation

❏      A penciled-in calendar

❏      A giant pink eraser

❏      Time set aside to monitor project progress

❏      A flexible project timeline

❏      3 different ways students can share or present their projects

❏      A chance for students to explain the process and their learning

❏      A chance to reflect and adjust your project for next year

❏      An upbeat playlist while students loudly collaborate

❏      A portfolio to document students’ projects throughout the year

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Design Thinking: Ideas for the Classroom

We have a special treat this week on the blog! Our friend Stephanie over at the USC Rossier School of Education shares her tips and ideas for how to incorporate the concept of design thinking into your classroom. There’s some great information ahead!
Students are untapped experts in the field of education. They spend hundreds of hours every year in classrooms where their insights are rarely requested. Spend 10 minutes in a classroom and you’ll immediately notice areas that need improvement: That weird corner where students can’t really hear; The Friday dead zone where a change in routine would be welcome. That’s where design thinking comes in. Recognize a problem, design a solution, try it out, get feedback, improve and share.

Design Thinking


Design thinking is a great way to revitalize students’ learning experience and it allows students to participate and learn at their own pace. Here are the five phases of design thinking that can easily be applied in the classroom.


Discover: What do you (and your students) want to change? What’s the challenge? This can come in the form of a class prompt to solve a problem or students themselves can identify an area of need on their own. Before you can find solutions, make sure you thoroughly understand the problem. This might mean researching online or conducting interviews and looking at the issue from multiple points of view. For example, kids have lots of stuff at school. If the problem is: How might we better store and manage our school materials? Then the first step would be to ask how students are already managing it and assess the current situation.

Design Thinking

Here is a worksheet to help students find and understand a problem.


Interpretation: Knowing a lot about the problem can seem daunting, like trying to solve poverty or reform the entire tax code. Instead of becoming overwhelmed with a big issue, step back. Once students have done research on the problem, they will have a lot of information and will need to narrow it down to one aspect for their current focus. This can be the hardest step for kids to move through and it will require your guidance.  Narrow in on one specific problem you want to address first.


For example, in regards to the school storage issue, you could limit your worry to just papers—not lunch boxes, not backpacks or water bottles.


Here’s a worksheet to turn information about a problem into a statement of action.


Ideation: What can we do to address the specific issue we have decided to focus on? This step is essentially brainstorming — emphasize the importance of generating ideas and nothing more. If students get stuck or aren’t comfortable throwing out crazy ideas, a worksheet with prompts about different ways of thinking might help. Post-its are extremely helpful in this stage as they are easy to move around and will force students to write succinct ideas.  You could assign students in groups and give each a different color.


In the school storage example, students can write down any and all ideas about how they can store and manage their papers better, such as: include bins attached to the bottom of desks, folders on walls, or full digitization of the classroom.


Design Thinking


Once you have generated many ideas, start narrowing them down to find one solution to try out. Sometimes this means combining a few ideas into one concept. If you are working in groups, you could have each group of students pick their own idea to try out, or simply have each student pick her/his own idea to work on. It’s nice to keep up the ideas that weren’t chosen as a reminder that one must be selective when problem solving, and if the first concept doesn’t work, you can go back to the drawing board and try a different idea.


Experimentation: Here’s where you get to be messy. Take the selected idea and put it into the three-dimensional universe. Make a model or prototype of your planned solution. Not every problem needs a physical solution, but it helps to make a design or model, so that the process is easier for students to see and understand. A wide variety of supplies can help guide creativity and encourage students to try something new.


In this phase of solving for the paper storage issue, students could draw out their idea and how it would work, create the idea in 3D form, or act out the idea by role-playing how it would work. The method is not as important as the ability to communicate the idea and how it could work so that others outside the group will be able to understand it.


Evolution: One try and you’re done, right? Isn’t that how real-life inventions work? Of course not. The evolution phase is when you show your product (what you created in your experimentation phase) and receive feedback from others to improve your original idea. In order to focus on constructive criticism in the classroom, you can use this handout to help students provide useful feedback. After getting feedback, students should go back to the ideation step and revise. Repeat until the best solution has been found for the problem!


Excited to try something new like design thinking in your classroom? Is your mind spinning with new ideas? The Big Ideas Fest coming up in December will be four days full of excitement. Hear from other educators about what has worked for them; mingle with innovators from all fields who want to get students thinking and dreaming big. You’ll come away energized with classroom-ready tools.


Related Resources + Activity ideas:


PBS Design Squad Nation provides training videos, lesson plans, and other materials at a basic level for anyone dipping their toes into the world of problem-based learning.


Tech Museum for Innovation. This plan is very structured and step-by-step, which is ideal for introducing these new concepts.


Classroom guide about design.


Middle school Design Thinking project in action.




Stephanie Echeveste used to teach English on the northern coast of Spain and now works in community relations for the University of Southern California Rossier School of Education’s online Master of Arts in Teaching. She loves #Edchat, cappuccinos and design thinking.


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Student Engagement: No Tricks, Only Treats!


“Because I said so.” Many parents have uttered these words in exasperation at their children, trying–usually in vain–to motivate obstinate offspring to perform some kind of mindless chore. This phrase rarely works for parents, yet for decades educators also tried to use this phrase to justify hours of homework, double-sided worksheets, and complicated projects. This approach may produce results, but it doesn’t foster a personal connection between a student’s experience in school and their own future aspirations. To connect the dots between school and life, educators have now begun take into consideration student engagement factors: the intellectual, emotional, behavioral , and physical factors that inspire students to pursue, persevere, and progress in their educational lives.


In the sea of professional development and educator blogs, many tools and strategies have been touted to increase student engagement. “If you’re looking for increased attendance, buy video games!” If increasing student engagement were that easy, then it would also be easy to pinpoint what student engagement looks like. Unfortunately, that’s up to the stakeholders of each education site. For some, it may be an increase in test scores, and for others it may mean persevering through an internship program.


We’ve put together a few pointers on how to develop student engagement, whether you’re looking to impact the smiles on your students’ faces or trim down the amount of students showing up for lunch detention.


  1. “Use It or Lose It”



For years, scientists have been scaring adults into crossword puzzles and brain teasers with the hopes of getting the most out of their brain capacity (and preventing it from going to mush). As an educator, you’re dishing out some high quality learning, but it only gets its value when you show students how to practically use that knowledge. Addition would fly out of the heads of every second grader if they didn’t see for themselves how it can be useful in real life—adding up all those quarters from selling lemonade. Go through your curriculum and “life lessons” you’re teaching this year and pick out the ones that you don’t want your students to lose. Use your creativity to create student-centered ways of demonstrating these lessons. I’ll never forget how my math teacher communicated the value of fractions by tapping into my love of baking. Instead of completing a bunch of word problems about Billy and how much flour he needed for a recipe, she actually had our class double a recipe, cook it according to our calculations, and serve it to the class. It was painfully obvious who knew the difference between ¼ and ½ of a cup.



  1. It Takes a Village



School is more than just bricks and books—it’s also the smile from the security guard as you walk in the door, the high five from a friend in math class, and the “congrats” from the chemistry teacher. For a student, school is a social experiment, a place to practice the behaviors necessary to continue building relationships outside of school. As an educator, you play a vital role in this experiment. You are each student’s window into interacting with adults, as well as an integral part of their support network. Students who are truly engaged in school don’t just raise their hands in class, pass in homework, and head home. Engaged students attend basketball games, buy brownies at the school bake sale, and know how to utilize the human resources at their school. You don’t have to sponsor a school club to foster this type of engagement—although it doesn’t hurt. Checking in with students to see how they’re handling the stress of finals or making yourself present at extra-curricular events can make your students feel you—and the school—care about their well-being, not just their G.P.A.



  1. Set Up the Brass Ring, and let them reach for it

I’ll be revealing my literature-loving tendencies here, but bear with me. At the end of The Catcher in the Rye, the main character and narrator, Holden Caulfield—an apathetic and antagonistic teenager—finds himself at a carousel. Holden is the prime example of a disengaged student: he fails at school, is unconcerned about his future, and has no support network to draw on. At the carousel, however, he finds himself in awe of Phoebe, his little sister, reaching for a brass ring. He remarks, “The thing with kids is, if they want to grab for the gold ring, you have to let them do it, and not say anything. If they fall off, they fall off, but it is bad to say anything to them.” As an educator, it’s your job to set up a brass ring for each student, and let them reach. It’s not your job to get the ring for them, just like it’s not your job to get them into their favorite college or acing the calculus test. But you do need to take time to figure out what they would be willing to reach for, and create the opportunity to reach. On the carousel of school, every student is on a different horse going at a different pace, but to keep them along for the ride, give them something that they can sit up, reach out their hand, and take a swipe at.

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TED Talks: Three Talks to Get You and Your Students Asking #WhyNotUs


Sort of like road trip-happy parents of classic family-vacation lore, we spend the summer taking young people across the country on long road trips. Fortunately for us, our Roadtrippers are eager to jump on board the Green RV and don’t have to be plied with promises of in-car movie screenings or overpriced souvenirs. Our First-Gen Roadtrip, made up of four students who are the first in their families to attend college, recently wrapped up its cross-country journey.


According to standard Roadtrip Nation practice, the Roadtrippers came up with a team name–but didn’t reveal it until the end of their journey, as a culminating statement about their experience on the road: #WhyNotUs. #WhyNotUs reflects the sentiment voiced over and over again by the Leaders the team interviewed–all first-generation college graduates themselves. But it also serves as a reminder to the Roadtrippers–whenever they begin to feel self-doubt, or fear about college, or stumble a bit under the immense pressure of being first–of what they learned on the road.


But #WhyNotUs isn’t exclusively for first-generation students; it can be a reminder for all students and educators embarking on a new year. Who says you can’t change your students’ future paths? Who says you can’t try out a flipped classroom this year? Who says your students can’t be challenged to create a solution to a community problem?


If you or your students are looking for a dose of inspiration to start the new year, check out these TED Talks we’ve pulled to get you thinking #WhyNotUs.


(Friendly reminder: be sure to preview all video content, including TED Talks, to make sure they are appropriate for young eyes!)


Thomas Suarez: 12-Year-Old App Developer | TEDxManhattanBeach



You’ve probably come across stories of child geniuses building robots in their basement, but chalked up their uncommon innovation to overindulgent parents or too much Baby Einstein. It’s easy to pass these kids off as an anomaly–mythical creatures similar to the likes of the tooth fairy. But, in reality, you as an educator can be the spark for such a student–or any student–by providing a recipe of encouragement, inspiration, and education. Although Thomas does throw some shade at educators for their knowledge (or lack thereof) of all things tech, he credits his ability to create apps to the educators who weren’t afraid of his knowledge, but instead helped him harness it. Like Uncle Ben to Spider-Man, it’s up to you to help all students harness their creative potential.

Diana Nyad: Never, ever give up |  TEDWomen 2013


We’re all fascinated by stories of those who embark on treacherous or transformative journeys, whether it’s climbing Mount Everest or trying to navigate life and academics as a first-generation college student. At the age of 64, Diana was the first person to successfully swim from the shores of Cuba to the lights of Florida. Diana didn’t embark on the quest alone–and no, the sharks and jellyfish don’t count as swimming mates–Diana was supported by a team of experts who kept her safe, guided her path, and helped her reach success on her own terms. As an educator, you have many “Dianas” to track and guide as they chart their course, but working together as a team with a common goal can alleviate some of your stress. Work with your students to establish a mutual “horizon,” but also understand that some will get there using different strokes, and some will need different mantras to keep them swimming.


Richard Turere: My invention that made peace with lions | TED2014



The need to solve a problem has led to many innovative, elegant solutions. Want to wear a blanket but keep your hands free? Grab a Snuggie. But Richard’s problems were a lot bigger: not only was he responsible for caring for his family’s livestock, he had to guard them from lions. Yes, lions–a far cry from the problem of how to wear a blanket. Instead of sticking to tried-and-true solutions, Richard sought to bring peace to his community, furry friends included. When inspiring innovation among your students, challenge them to take the same approach as Richard: create community through improved solutions, don’t just solve for x. By focusing on the “us,” and not just the “it,” students can see the ripple effect of their ideas and strengthen their bonds with the people (and animals) they live with.


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TEACH Roadtrip: Perspectives on Education

Our TEACH Roadtrip team is getting ready to hit the road in a few weeks! These road-trippers are all interested in pursuing paths in education, so we are collaborating with Participant Media’s TEACH Campaign to give them the opportunity to speak with folks working in the world of education.  Together, they’ll discover how teaching is changing the world.


While they’re eager to explore different educational models, the team  is also passionate about putting their own spin on schooling; seeking out what’s making school more personalized, fun, and engaging. Keep on reading to see what each road-tripper would like to bring to the table:




For me, the number one thing I would change about our school system would be our current form of accountability. Namely, I believe that the United State’s standardized testing does not truly reflect students’ abilities, and doesn’t help schools or teachers achieve holistic, long-lasting learning.


Testing can also be alienating to students who are in low-resource educational settings, and it makes unfair assumptions about student learning styles, imposing a blanket method of measurement that puts some students at a disadvantage. Obviously, there has to be some way of holding schools and teachers accountable for learning, but high stakes standardized testing mechanizes schools and hamstrings the potential of driven, creative teachers.





I would change the student-teacher relationship. I think that teachers are expected to be perfect, objective, and almost inhuman at all times. English teachers have especially tough demands, but all teachers are asked to be creative and engaging without “being themselves” or “letting slip” their opinions in the classroom.


Teachers give their time from 8-5 every weekday and then bring home grading and lesson plan preparation, yet there’s little support or respect for teachers except from other teachers. Teachers are expected to give all their love and passion to students but aren’t supposed to get close to students or to develop equally close relationships with all students—which is impossible. I think re-tooling this model would help with the problem of retaining good teachers and also keeping them motivated. I wish there was more support for teachers and more trust in good teachers.





I would change the rigid one-size-fits-all structure, allowing students the autonomy to arrive at the results in whichever way they wanted. This could include learning via any type of creative outlet. I would love to see a personalized approach encouraged in class, instead of taking a standardized exam, or an exam at all. To prove they’ve learned the material, students could put on a presentation, direct a movie, or communicate in whichever way makes sense to them. Elasticity, creativity, trust, autonomy, respect–these are basic needs human beings deserve in order to genuinely respond, and create a conversation in education, rather than a monologue and resistance. I am very opinionated, I know, but I believe in this 100 percent.



We look forward to seeing how their interviews shape their perspectives on education this summer!

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Prep with Pinterest

7-22-2014_FB_ORG_PinterestEvery educator, in one form or another, is a graphic designer, DIY crafter, and life-hacker all rolled into one. Educators were the maker movement before it was a movement. With limited budgets and a bundle of supplies, they can craft learning experiences and organized education environments with grandma’s leftover yarn and some elbow grease.


Pinterest has become one of the many ways educators share how they create the classrooms of their dreams, from curriculum to name tags. What makes “pinning” addicting is that it can be done with a quick flick of your finger—and it’s a visually appealing way to organize your (P)inspiration. But it’s easy to feel like Alice in Wonderland falling down the rabbit hole of pictures, worksheets, and videos—so let us be your Cheshire Cat and help you use Pinterest to prep for the new school year!


What should you pin?

Some pinners keep their boards as organized as their cubbies and create boards for a variety of topics. Others just pin, pin, pin everything they can find. Try having at least three distinct boards to organize your pins—and guide your creativity. 



1. Décor 


Educators are some of the greatest interior designers around. Not only can they stick to a budget, but they can turn four walls and some desks into a hub of learning and community. HGTV would be proud. But don’t just pin the latest craft fad (yarn wreaths, anyone?); choose pins that inspire you to become an innovative, student-centered educator.


Pin samples:







2. Teacher Juju 


To stay motivated, teachers used to turn to books like Chicken Soup for the Teacher’s Soul to keep their healthy educator glow. Nowadays, Pinterest can fill the same role, with tear-jerking stories and spirit-calming images to keep you motivated. For daily inspiration, print out and display your pins in areas that you and your coworkers frequent, like the faculty lounge; keep your favorite pins ever-present by setting them as your desktop background; or update a coffee mug with some pics and Mod Podge for a little boost when you sip your coffee. You can also share the stories or videos you’ve gathered with your class to show them the power of education.


Pin samples:








3. Get the Giggles


Humor is the best medicine, especially after three parent-teacher conferences, grading a set of essays, and re-teaching the difference between transitive and intransitive verbs.  There’s nothing wrong with keeping a light-hearted spirit about your adventures as an educator, especially when you can warm up a staff meeting with some laughter.


Pin samples:







4. Fine-Tune Your Graphic Art Skills


Some teachers spend hours getting the right worksheet design drafted, and others keep it to a simple question-and-blank-space layout. Pinterest has both of these options and everything in between, as well as infographics so you can condense a ton of information into one easy-on-the-eyes image.  Be warned, though, some pins may link to pay-per-lesson sites—but at least you can get a few ideas on how to refresh those old worksheets!


Pin samples:







5. Find Teacher Hacks


Necessity is the mother of invention, but Pinterest is the mother of reinvention. If you’re trying to find new ways to use clothespins or 100 strategies for using Twitter, Pinterest is your source. To stop yourself from going hack-crazy, think about what your educator needs are…before pinning how to turn mousetraps into wall clips.


Pin samples:




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‘Tis the season…

…for commencement speeches! It’s that time of year when we sit on bleachers under the beating hot sun for an average of four hours watching processions of graduates. It’s also the time of year when actors, comedians, CEOs, and changemakers dole out impactful words of wisdom so cleverly crafted that they inspire tears and determination in the graduating class as they prepare to enter the ominous “real world.” Here at Roadtrip Nation Education, commencement speech themes usually feel pretty familiar: anecdotes about taking risks, fables recounting hard lessons learned about failure, and how to persist in an environment of naysayers and turn the bad vibes into fuel for defining your own Road. Check out some of our favorites from this year’s crop of commencement speeches below!



Jim Carrey at Maharishi University of Management on taking chances and discovering what you love:





Shonda Rhimes, creator of Grey’s Anatomy, at Dartmouth College on the difference between dreaming and doing:





Jennifer Lee, director of Frozen, at University of New Hampshire on casting self-doubt aside:






Daniel Pink, bestselling author of five business and management books, at Northwestern University on taking risks and the fear of failure:





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4 Summer Must-Reads for Educators

One little-known secret about teaching is how educators spend their summers. Some assume it’s spent lounging by the pool, drink in hand, without a care in the world (except for the weather forecast for the next few days). Reality is, great educators spend the summer hitting the reset button and preparing their minds for the next school year. Summer is a time for educators to condense their professional development, conferences, and article skimming into a refreshed and updated plan for the coming year; it may be a new project for students, or a commitment to blog once a week about their teaching experience. Educators never stop educating themselves, whether through travel, collaboration, tweeting, or reading. To help that process along, we’ve fished out a few summer reads that go beyond education theory and best practices to help develop your educator’s soul. Share your recs, or your review of any of the page-turners we’ve mentioned, with our educator community!







The One With Buzz: The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer


It’s hard to resist getting sucked into The Interestings, not only for its reliving of recent pop-culture history, but also to watch the dynamic between a group of friends unfold. A great read if you want to be transported out of the current decade (and your own life), The Interestings will bring you in like a voyeur, watching how friendship can grow and change with the backdrop of the ever-evolving art world. If you’re looking to justify this as an “educator” read, this novel depicts how it’s not only books and tests that shape us, but how major events and the smallest human interactions can change the course of one’s life in an instant.


The One to Share in the Faculty Lounge: Opening Minds: Using Language to Change Lives by Peter H. Johnston


There’s been a lot of hype around growth mindset and how educators can use the principles of Carol Dweck and other educational researchers to develop students who are “gritty,” and therefore motivated to succeed in school. It’s easy to get sucked into reading the research and let your mind fall down the rabbit hole of cognitive research, but how do you translate that to the classroom in a tangible but impactful way? That’s where Opening Minds comes in. Any person who works with children understands the power of words, and has seen words used by adults and children to lift up–or, sadly, tear down–the self-concept of a young person. Based on the concept of fixed versus growth mindset, Johnston explains how educators can use language and specific word choice to shift the mindset of students. Instead of a collection of worksheets, tips, and statistics, Opening Minds weaves together classroom interactions with prolific quotes and concise tables to inspire–not demand–educators to become aware of their use of language in the classroom. If you really fall in love with the ideas in Opening Minds, you may find yourself crafting questions and responses to help students shift their mindset, and maybe even change the language they use with each other.



The Summer Blockbuster Movie: The Giver by Lois Lowry


When Meryl gives it her stamp of approval, you know you’re in for a good story. Many teachers have come across this book, but probably haven’t truly read it through the eyes of an educator (isn’t it great how books can morph based on your own life?). Addressing issues like conformity, the power of knowledge, and the role of an educator, The Giver is bound to give you new insights into how education reflects societal values. The Giver shows us what a society would look like if all students followed the one-size-fits-all model (you were designed for A, not B), and how true educators give young people like Jonah more than just a bank of knowledge and skills to use.



The One to Make You Rethink the World: Made to Stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath


Educators are some of the greatest storytellers, crafting tales that make splitting atoms sound like the saga of Romeo and Juliet. With standardized tests and the push for new standards at the top of the classroom to-do list, the art of storytelling is getting lost. Made to Stick gives any reader–from businessperson to cynical 16-year-old–a framework for understanding the stories that have stuck in our cultural conscience. Leveraging a spectrum of tales, like business case studies and personal success stories, Made to Stick can help educators make the content they love more memorable, and give students a way to analyze ideas for “stickiness.”


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Tools We Love: Mystery Skype!

Here at Roadtrip Nation Education, we’re all about connecting people through storytelling. We love seeing young people collaborate to find others in the world they can listen to, learn from, and ask a couple hard-hitting questions. That’s why when I stumbled upon Mystery Skype, I was oohing and awing at how a collaborative technology tool was so seamlessly integrated into a collaborative learning experience.


Why We Love It



1.  Makes maps fun




As a former history teacher, I struggled to make maps relevant. With new technology, it was much easier for students to figure out directions to Barbados without knowing the difference between north and south. I didn’t want to be that teacher who made students memorize states and capitals, but I also wanted them to have an awareness of the world, including geography, culture, and beliefs.


Mystery Skype wraps up all the joys of discovery into a competitive game based on geography. Students use any geographic resource, including maps, to help identify where the other class lives. Instead of being just a page of lines, dots, stars, and colors, maps are transformed into a tool to help identify new people with unique cultures.




2.  Gets students out of the classroom



It’s safe to say that only a select few field trips are worth the hassle of parent chaperones, arranging a bus, and making sure no one knocks down the T-Rex bones at the museum. Mystery Skype takes kids out of the classroom by using what they use best: their imaginations. If you’ve ever had a chat with a three-year-old, you know they’re a bundle of questions and creativity. With Mystery Skype, students can tap back into that inquisitive spirit by asking questions of the other students. More importantly, they get to use their imaginations to think beyond the boundaries of the school walls, and start conceptualizing a world they haven’t even seen yet.




3.  Tailored to your resources



Laptop cart already taken by another teacher? Only have five working computers? The only connection to the digital world is through your own laptop? Mystery Skype has few requirements, mainly, working Internet, a webcam, and a computer. The more computers, the merrier! If you have a few computers available, you can put students in groups and use the computer along with other resources, likes maps or atlases. If you love handouts and pride yourself on the neatness of your file cabinet, use extra informational handouts about the host country so students can get to know the other class. What sparks the creative teacher in me is how I could possibly incorporate my classroom resources, digital and non-digital, into a Mystery Skype session.


If you’ve used Mystery Skype, let us know how the experience was for you. And if watching kids having fun learning is your thing (duh, we know it’s your thing), then watch the video on the Mystery Skype website.


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5 Things to Help You Survive Finals

Ok, we know it’s all about the kids, but sometimes teachers need a little love, too, and finals time is no exception. While the days of chugging energy drinks and staring blankly at a textbook are probably long past you, finals probably have you feeling equally as frazzled as your students. So stock up on these necessities to jam some fun into those finals.



1.  A fancy set of correcting pens.


We all know teachers secretly enjoy opening a fresh pack of pens. The rip of the cardboard, the first click of the pen, the bright ink across the white page. Beauty in its simplest form. So treat yourself! The year is almost done; you’re one assignment away from filling in those report cards. Go for the gel pens!


2.  A playlist of zen, alternative, classical, or whatever music suits your fancy – even dubstep (#nojudgment).


There have been a million studies from smarties around the world telling us the benefits of music on students’ learning and study habits, but the same can be said for teachers. I usually preferred to brew up a playlist that included my favorite music—whatever I could listen to on repeat a million times and still have a smile on my face. If you’re a workout buff, throw in some tunes from your playlist to keep you in the zone and motivated to reach the finish line.


3.  A box of your favorite tea to keep a steady buzz.


In my history of grading piles of finals, I’ve experimented with the many offerings of the caffeine and energy drink gods, including but not limited to dirty chais, energy drinks catered to a woman’s metabolism, and straight up black coffee. What this taught me was that with that hand-shaking high that powered me through fifty finals also came a headache and crash that made me want to burn all those finals and give everyone A’s. Stick to tea—slow and steady wins the race.


4.  Your answer key…with the right answers.


If Santa can find the time to check his list twice, so can you. You’d hate to have to go back and give credit for mismarked answers because you were too lazy to double-check your answer key. So double—shoot, triple—check your list so you know your anger at students for missing the easy question is not in vain.


5.  A dose of humor.


It’s easy to fall down the “don’t these kids know anything?!” rabbit hole while you mark answer after answer wrong, so keeping a positive attitude mixed with a few giggles can help keep you sane. Some teachers include silly questions to see what students will come up with, or even encourage students to get doodling on the backs of tests. Not only can this make browsing through short answers on the Constitution much more entertaining, it’ll give your students an anxiety break in between scribbling their answers.


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Buckets: Educator Spotlight
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