340+ Videos that will make you go Huh, Whoa, Wow, Ahhh, and Ha-ha

This is the fourth reincarnation of the post 99 videos that make you go hmmm, ah, and ah-ha.  The videos are very loosely grouped into categories based on how we have used them or the kids’ reaction.  

Not all videos are appropriate for elementary kids, there are a few edgy ones for middle school, and all should be ok for almost all high school kids.  I have re-checked some of the links from the last post, but if you find one that is a dead link or leads to the wrong video please let me know by leaving a comment.

If you have a video that should be included on the list, please leave a comment!

Videos that make us think:

Mankind is no Island



Brown Eyes/Blue Eyes

Did you Know?

Piano Stairs

Dove Evolution

Kaplan U Desks

Do Schools Kill Creativity?

Just One Girl

Micheal Jordon-Failure

The Deepest Garbage Can

The Years are Short

Stuck on an Elevator

The Money Tree

Dear 16 Year Old me

Staring Contest

Power of Words

Be a Follower


Instant Face Maker

Girl and the Fox

Butterfly Circus (if you are going to watch only one…)

I Can’t Read…

Knock Knock

Dear 16 Year Old Me

Why I Hate School but Love Education


I will not let an exam determine my fate

Children See, Children Do

Nahla~Muslima In High School (ChiefThePoet) Spoken Word

Photoshopping Real Women Into Cover Models

Ronan’s Escape

Teen Brain

Look Up

I Forgot My Phone

Who will be my hero

Dear Grade 8 Me

Words and their Consequences

Golf Ball Terminal Velocity

Introducing the Book

Everything is a Re-Mix


Biological Advantage of Being Awestruck

Day in the life of a rice farmer

School is Optional 

As If Principle

I Dare you to Watch this Entire Video

Being 12 — Year that changes everything

Dear Future Generations  

Discrepant Event

How Film Scores Mess with our Brains 

Videos that inspire us:

I Love Living Life

Try to Do

Be the Change You Want to See in the World

Together We Can Change the World

Blind Painter

Free Hugs


Dustin carter

Pep Talk from Kid President to You

Caines Arcade

K id Speech

Think Different

Everyone needs to wear sunscreen

I Hope You See This

Human Shadows



To This Day Project

On how I approach strangers in the street

Life Changing Play

This is your life

Take a seat, make a friend

Work as a Team

Kid President Pep Talk

I Shoulda Tried Harder

Harmonica Man

Light it up

Technology, Documentary, My Dad, Me

Wall of Words

Snap Your Joy

Heartwarming Ad

Porcelain Unicorn 

In Your Arms — Stop Action Music Video

Basketball Team gets amazing support

Kindness Boomerang

Watch People React to being Called Beautiful

Some people think technology alienates us from others… 

Videos that amaze us:

LED Sheep Herding

Time Warp

Paul the Opera Singer

Breaking Wine Glass

Boyanka Angelova

One in Million Chance

Human Shadow Puppets

Giant Water Slide


Dominoes in the Kitchen

Greatest Car Advertisement Ever

Test Your Awareness 1

Test Your Awareness 2

Test Your Awareness 3

Test Your Awareness 4

Bruce Lee Table Tennis

Golf Ball Reaches Terminal Velocity`

Optical Illusion Dance

Tractor Trailer Mishap

Largest Glacier Calving Ever

Grinding the Crack

Biggest Surf Wave Ever

Dubstep Beatboxer


Ball Camera

Stop Motion

Top Secret Drum Corp


One Man Band

VW Factory

Hearing for the First Time

Coke and Mentos Car

Time Warp Balloon

Breaking a wineglass

Inspired Bicycles


Free Style Football

Wolf’s Law

60 Seconds in a Skate Park

Chalk Art

Mind Blowing Dance

Painting Reality

Animation on a Bike

Evolution of Music

Sand Art

Google Street View Hyperlapse

View from ISS at night

Dream Music

Moon Walk


Tony vs Paul

Stop Motion

On Top of the Hood

I believe I can Fly

Experience Human Flight

Experience Scootering

I Believe I Can Fly 2


Live Augmented Reality

Tony vs Paul

Way Back Home

Throwable panoramic camera

Reverse Things

Ohio State Marching Band

Car vs Car

Bike Tricks

Optical Illusion Dance

Tractor Trailer Jackknife

Lock and Load

Tokyo Reverse

100 Riffs


Human Flight

Zero Gravity




Ok Go –Writing’s on the wall

Kutiman – Thru You Too 

The Ridge 

Dueling Piano and Drums

100 Years of Beauty in 1 Minute


Cardboard Guitar

Videos that make us ask questions:

Steven Levitt: Why do crack dealers still live with their moms?


Gever Tulley: 5 dangerous things you should let your kids do

Built to Last

What teachers make

Lost Generation

Don’t Eat the Marshmallow Yet

Vision of Students Today

Vision of K-12 Students Today

The Kid No One Wanted

Power of Simple Words

Behind the scenes at McDonalds Photo Shoot

Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us


Why you need to fail

The Majestic Plastic bag

Take My Ball and Go Home


When there is a correct answer

Be more Dog

Discrepant Event #2 — Candle

Magic for Dogs

How to talk to your ten year old self

Science of Happiness

How Wolves Change Rivers

Steve Jobs on Asking for help

Creativity Takes Time

Lost Generation

Chasing Ice

The Reflect Project

Peter’s Projection 

Lost Generation

Do What You Like, Like what You Do

Look Up

Can We Auto-Correct Humanity

10 Hours of walking as a woman in NYC

Overview Effect

Instagram Generation

Guy Walks into a Bear

Showing Ikea Art to Experts

School Without Rules

The Time You Have Left in Jellybeans

Man vs Earth

I am not black, you are not white

It’s Not About the Nail

Walking Contest

Portrait Session with a Twist 

The Settlers

Videos that get us to laugh together:

Cat Herding


Life after Death by Powerpoint

Food Fight

The Invisible Rope

Thou Shalt Laugh

Trouble in Paradise

Ron Lucas and Big Dummy

Electric face Stimulus

Basset Hound Beat Box

Martians Meet a Clock

Everything is Amazing and Nobodys Happy

Mr. Bean-Pool

Bill Cosby-Dentists

Five Minute University

Barking Fish

Football vs Baseball

Charlie the Unicorn


Rabbit (ok, maybe not funny but frightening)

We’re Sinking

Sneak Thief

Why you should think before you text

Pigeon Impossible

Entr Kazoo Man

Introducing the Book

Stupid Terrorist

Slinky on Treadmill

Dramatic Surprise 1

Dramatic Surprise 2

Evian Babies

Bulldog Snorting

Ojai Taxidermy

Lighthouse vs Ship

Gotta Share the Musical


Invisible Drumkit

Flying Fish

Marcel the Shell with shoes on

Worst Ice Skater

Funny Animals

Frozen Grand Central

Spy vs Guy

Kiss Cam

Safer in Groups

Inflated Animals

Baby and Me

Duck Heart

Mouth Open

Marcel with Shoes on Two

Fluffy McCloud


Cumulus and Nimbus

Give it a ponder 1

Give it a ponder 2

Give it a ponder 3

Give it a ponder 4


Parallel Parking

Bless You

Uncle Jack (not for all audiences)

Dumb Ways to Die (not for all audiences)

Are silent farts worse

The Graduation Song

Marcel the shell with shoes on

Llama Llama Duck

French Bulldog snoring

April Fools Joke

Rubber Band Babies

Elevator Joy Bomb

Gotta Be A Scholar

House of Scholars

Research Rescue

Study Like a Scholar

Ask a Librarian

Crazy Cart

Basketball Class


Make your day better in 64 seconds

Math Class

Cubicle Contagion

Wall of Boxes

Parent Rap

It’s Not About the Nail


Dragon Baby


Mighty Mites Crash into Banner

Paper is not Dead


Using Social Media To Cover For Lack Of Original Thought 

Things That Students Do That’d Be Creepy If Teachers Did Them

Man on the Moon

Star Wars without John Williams


The Putter

Passion for Sound

People are Awesome


Walking Contest

Snow Circles

Sound of Wood

Fifty People One Question 1

Fifty People One question 2

Secret of Toys

Planet Earth

Last Ice Merchant

The Puppet Man

Girl’s First Ski Jump 

Cool Videos From My Class

Lots of examples from some pretty cool middle school kids

What do you teach?

Imagine if we had to label our classes with names other than “content” names. You could not call your class social studies, or Algebra II, or AP Physics…you had to call it what you really want the kids to get out of it, what values you would like kids to explore…Courage 101, Know When to Rebel, Innovation…Kindness. And maybe if we couldn’t settle on what to label our classes, we could agree that they could and should all be called one thing…life.

What do I teach? I teach Life.

Above is a comment I left on this post.

‘Twas the half day before winter break….

Here is something I posted on December 14, 2009.  Minor changes have been made.

+++Read the first part like the Grinch Who Stole Christmas, the middle like ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, and the end like the Grinch Who Stole Christmas+++

Every teacher down in Teacherville, liked always teaching the same way,
but the kids, who lived in Teacherville – well, they wanted them to change.
Some teachers hated change – the whole school season. Now, please don’t ask why; no one quite knows the reason.
It could be, perhaps, that their shoes were too tight. Or it could be that their heads weren’t screwed on just right.
But I think that if there was one thing that they would be willing to shout,
is that they are waiting for someone to reach out.

Twas the half-day before winter break and all through the school

The movies were playing, it was the half-day rule.

The gold stars were hung by the doors with care,

The chart was suppose to show, the students who cared.

The children were nestled all stuck in their chairs,

While visions of change brought their teacher much fear.

One teacher walked around, awoke students with a snap,

Trying to prevent them from taking a long winter nap.

When out in the hallway there arose such a clatter,

The teacher sprang to door to see what was the matter.

It was the class next door, that gave her alarm,

And she tore open the door and threw up her arms.

The faces she saw, smiled, giggled and glowed too,

In stark contrast to the classroom that she always knew.

When, what to her wondering eyes should appear,

She saw a miniature laptop, there were eight tiny Acers,

With little tiny students, so lively and quick,

She knew in a moment it must be a trick.

Six groups working hard, none of the topics were the same,

And as she paused returning to her class, she realized her video and worksheets were lame;

“Now, Davis! now Jenny,! now, Trin and Billy!

Stop what you’re doing Kenya, Nicole and Willy!

Tear up those papers! Turn off the TV!

Now! throw it away! throw it away, and destroy the D-V-D!”

Right then the teacher decided, to get off her kids backs,

But she was met with an obstacle, the mighty SBACs.

She then walked up, to the front, of the room that she led,

A room full of 504s, and six kids in special ed.

And then, in a twinkling, she heard a kid say,

So what are we doing, what will we do today.

As she took a deep breath, and wondered what to do with a frown,

When from the class next door came five little kids with a bound.

They were dressed all in costumes from their head to their feet,

And behind them their teacher appeared and looked at her kids in their seats,

A bundle of computers and cameras he had flung on his cart,

And the teacher just stopped and looked at Mr. Bart.

His eyes — how they twinkled! His dimples how merry!

His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!

His cute little students were active and learning,

And his test scores were soaring and he did not look worried;

The movie his kids were making needed a few actors more,

And so he decided to ask for help from the teacher next door;

She thought he had happy kids and a room full of laughter,

But clearly the kids needed more discipline to sit like hers were.

They did strange techy things, not like she did,

And he smiled as he approached her and surprised her with what he said.

“We need extras for our movies that we are going to publish on the web.”

She spoke not a word, she simply shook her head yes,

And then that old Mr. Bart came in and took care of the rest,

Laying a finger up into the air,

He added her kids into his groups with care;

They sprang from their seats like tiny little missiles,

And worked in groups until they heard the teacher’s whistle.

The kids then filmed and acted out their plays written on civil rights

And she sat back and watched and said “Now this is a beautiful site.”

And what happened then…?
Well in Teacherville they say,
That the teacher’s will to change
Grew three sizes that day.
And the minute her heart relaxed and did not feel so tight,
She knew that changing her class was the thing that was right.
After she threw out the worksheets! She could now clearly see…
That her students will be who you are,
Not who you want them to be.

During this holiday season give the gift of collaboration to your colleagues…
Ask them to participate in a big or small way,
They might be ready, ready to say yes today.
Because sometimes when people get stuck and just want to shout,
All they need is a helping hand…

Just one person to reach out.

57 ideas for making videos in your school

I was compiling examples of videos that I have made with my classes for an upcoming Digital Literacy course I am teaching that centers around digital story telling.  I wanted to share examples of what you can do if you learn the basics of video editing, and examples of possible stories that teachers and kids could tell. Not all are on this list as perfect digital story telling examples. Some I will use just to show examples of certain types of editing, sound, etc.   Others are examples of what certain levels of kids can do, or what different mics or editing software can do.    I am not going to write the oral commentary that would come with each during the course, but I hope there is something here that could spark an idea for you or your kids.

I would really appreciate it if you left examples of what your kids do in the comments. Thanks.

  1. Class Commercial https://vimeo.com/99952920
  2. Extended class commercial https://goo.gl/P15u9b
  3. Reverse Video https://goo.gl/VUySUf 
  4. Highlight Reel https://goo.gl/UwPy1l
  5. End of year https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o36BVMnDfA0 
  6. Field Trip https://goo.gl/pHE6qG 
  7. Staff fun https://goo.gl/7a7qnK
  8. Stop and Stare https://goo.gl/icuNL
  9. Breaking Up http://goo.gl/3U2rTb
  10. My Darling Wife https://vimeo.com/97481239
  11. Notecard confessions http://goo.gl/R9ndd
  12. Misc Vids https://goo.gl/csDjnI
  13. Crazy Ones https://goo.gl/UQ1OqZ
  14. Misc Videos 2 http://goo.gl/sjRqfm
  15. Hallo https://goo.gl/Vq7v3w
  16. Amazon https://goo.gl/Y4R716 (edit longer video to shorter one for class)
  17. Common Craft Style https://vimeo.com/61009199
  18. No sound https://goo.gl/nByZ1C
  19. Contest Girls https://goo.gl/veLc9B
  20. Passionate teachers https://vimeo.com/61320504
  21. P-Day Intro https://goo.gl/6j3FCS
  22. I’m So Proud https://goo.gl/8BMlrg
  23. Smiles https://goo.gl/aaNqWE
  24. First Day https://goo.gl/BkPQZ9
  25. Imaginary Friends https://goo.gl/8rfBaO
  26. Lessons with Heart https://goo.gl/PkMDNJ
  27. Field Trip https://goo.gl/pHE6qG
  28. Reverse Poem https://goo.gl/mT7do1
  29. RSA https://goo.gl/T5rZw3
  30. Career Day https://goo.gl/zD6fzG
  31. Monroe Doctrine https://goo.gl/ecvHuk
  32. Zombie After School CLub https://goo.gl/Xx6lYy
  33. Stop Action https://goo.gl/sFvFgo
  34. Song Parody Daniel Shays https://goo.gl/JCU6L9
  35. Shay’s Rebellion https://goo.gl/E06kdn
  36. Simple Stories https://goo.gl/pM4NoN
  37. Puppy Mills https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xuHvvnJQ9cQ
  38. Poetry Slam https://goo.gl/QsbBW7
  39. Oregon Trail https://goo.gl/S7xh8
  40. Star Spangled Banner https://goo.gl/ieR0Vg
  41. Lewis and Clark https://goo.gl/wjoM1c
  42. Behind the scenes Common Craft https://goo.gl/yC0STl
  43. Civil War Soldier https://goo.gl/al0eH
  44. Rosa Parks https://goo.gl/eQtZjg
  45. Oregon Trail https://goo.gl/LVDG4n
  46. Lewis and Clark https://goo.gl/0qp0cK
  47. Molly Pitcher https://goo.gl/X0I2Yr
  48. Native American Story https://goo.gl/tSFIEj
  49. Dance https://vimeo.com/130050455
  50. Civil War Self https://goo.gl/57KWo
  51. Trail of Tears https://goo.gl/qYJTrM
  52. Detectives https://goo.gl/4Bx8vU
  53. Oregon Trail https://goo.gl/RJoAIs
  54. Expectations https://vimeo.com/48926308
  55. National Anthem https://goo.gl/HYtRRl
  56. Board of Ed Preso https://goo.gl/1NOM61
  57. Music Maddness https://goo.gl/yC810L

It takes courage to play in a world that does not play.

Like most posts I write…this is somewhat of a stream of consciousness post that it is not meant to be a lesson to the reader, but a reminder to the writer.

Almost exactly one year ago I did an activity that did not go as planned…

I had a team of kids who did not do anything independently.  They only did exactly what was in the directions. They waited to be led.  They only wanted to do things that had very clear predictable results.  They relied on me for all directions.  I know this can sound normal, but this group stuck to the script with an unholy allegiance that I had never seen before.

“How do you want me to do this?” This was one of the most common questions during the first couple of months of school.

It actually frightened me.  All my normal “tricks” to get them to be more independent were not working.

I decided to get rid of the tech tools for a week and simply have them produce something simple that could be displayed in the hallway.  I called it language lockers.  We were on Europe and each kid was to pick a country and simply find out what the common greeting was in their country, a few common expressions a visitor should know, and something of interest currently happening in the country.  I developed directions on how to arrange all of this so that it would fit perfectly on their lockers.  I imagined a hallway of flags and greetings and kids walking down the hallways greeting one another in foreign tongues.  I hoped that some questions would be sparked during the research and we could use them to propel us into doing something more student driven the following week.

Then it happened…a kid who finished a part early tried to tape it to his locker and we learned that all the new tape I had been given would not stick to the lockers.  Our language lockers would not happen.  I was really frustrated and walked in the next day and said something along the lines of “do what you want, just have it handed in by Thursday.”  I had a ton of arts and crafty sort of material in my class and simply pointed to them…and the kids simply stared at them.  There was such great hesitation to go picking through the piles and transform neat stacks of paint, paper, and markers into something informative and creative.  One kid got up and picked up some paper, and then someone else did.  Another student grabbed some glue, another grabbed the glitter. Everyone just kind of sat and looked at random supplies they grabbed.  They did not know what to do. There was this huge pause in the action that day.  Everyone seemed unwilling to simply play with the material.  They took out the ribbon, but then hesitated to use it.  They grabbed scissors, but hesitated before cutting anything.

They seemed afraid to play.

An then it started…paint and glitter and ribbon started flying everywhere.  They started making some of the exact same products that I have banned from my class.  I have literally said to past students “focus on your claim and evidence and not the glitter and ribbons.”  For years I actually banned “posters” as final products feeling they were not complex or…rigorous enough.  What I saw that week were kids who needed to spill glue and take 15 minutes deciding what color paper to use. Kids who somehow missed the opportunity to throw glitter and experiment with scissors.  Kids spent so much time just figuring out how to weave ribbon onto the border of their poster, lots of time figuring out the best way to make glitter stick, and how to cut foam into shapes.  I had expected them to be powerful independent beings before they had powerful play experiences that would have embedded these traits at a much earlier age.  I realized how important play was to breaking down mental barriers that allowed them to be open to doing more complex things.

One just needs to walk into any kindergarten to realize that play has been removed from schools. I think that I am seeing the result of shifting away from a play based education to that of a rigorous early academic one.  I can remember a time when I was able to give kids the time to be playful and spend 2 weeks on something that now has to be completed in two days.

“For a small child there is no division between playing and learning; between the things he or she does ‘just for fun’ and things that are ‘educational.’ The child learns while living and any part of living that is enjoyable is also play.”
Penelope Leach

Play helps kids realize that they can control their environment and manipulate it to produce creative things independent of adult instruction.  They learn to take risks.  They learn to follow a path that they have constructed.

post flick

And then the week was over.  If you looked at the final products for their face value, they were not worthy of a re-tweet or a mention in a book chapter on creative assessments in schools.  My class looked like a storm hit and things got stuck all over the wall, and ceilings, and windows.  It was hard to walk down the hallway and not walk into something sticking off of a wall or hanging from the ceiling tiles…it was awesome 🙂

And then we moved on…with all we had to cover it was a hard year to simply give them time to play.  Ever since this activity ended I have felt guilty about that.  About not being able to simply give them lots of time to play and figure things out on their own.  It takes courage to let kids play in school.  After a certain age play is no longer seen as a valuable use of kids time in school, and who would pay me a professionals salary to simply let the kids play.  I am being paid to integrate all the latest technology, being paid to utilize all the latest brain research to make sure they achieve the highest scores on standardized tests, and to follow current trends to make sure they are career ready.  I am being paid to make sure kids will be able to succeed in jobs that adults have created and consider important.  I am not being paid to let kids play.  Just imagine what would happen if they did…

They fear children playing because in their hearts they know that if humans are allowed to freely engage with the world, outdoors, unsupervised, with few toys, lots of time, and in the company of other children, they will overturn the world order in a single generation. They fear that their precariously balanced apple cart of command and control will be toppled, that their profits will plummet, that their power will crumble, and that they won’t have anyone left to wield the guns and cudgels they need to keep us all in line. They fear that if children are allowed to play, they will grow up to both expect freedom and have the critical thinking and creative abilities to make it happen.

Thomas Hobson

What if we designed schools and classes to let kids be kids??


*title of this blog post is a quote from Fred Donaldson

How to make quick and easy RSA style videos

Three years ago I posted about making RSA style videos with my kids.  The method I used for those would work for many schools, each school would simply swap out different tech tools based on the technology available to them.

Last year I posted about making RSA style videos in less time with less technology available, and with kids/teachers who have little or no tech experience, and who might find doing anything different a daunting task.

Both of the above videos were done with a demographic that was not tech savy, used to traditional work, and with kids that were fearful of doing anything that would be considered “different.”

This year I moved to a new school.  I am the social studies teacher at the alternative high school.  It would not be fair to describe my kids here, but let’s just say it is a challenging environment.  I decided to try RSA style videos with them.  We watched a couple documentaries and they wrote down questions as we watched.  Then they researched one of their questions.  We are learning how to determine credible sources, but for many just having one question and using the first website they find to write down a couple facts is a win for the day.  I realized that adding the narration was going to be too much.  Instead of doing a classic RSA style video with narration we simply added captions.  We did the following:

  • Recorded video on whiteboards
  • Placed video in Movie Maker
  • Turned off volume for video
  • Sped up the video…most kids did 4x faster
  • Added the music (what we use for music)
  • Wrote the captions
  • Wrote the credits/title
    …and saved as a movie.

If you are new to Movie Maker it would look something like this (I just forgot to add the title, most kids wrote the title as part of their video).

If you have an extremely challenging group and think that RSA’s are too hard, I offer you evidence that it is possible…even though it might take two weeks 🙂  I will put the samples below.  You will see many spelling mistakes, some things written incorrectly, and some sources that you think would be sinful for a social studies teacher to allow.  As I look around the internet at teachers sharing projects, you see many coming from schools with lots of technology, kids who are used to doing project based products, and from teachers who share their best.  I think it’s important for teachers who feel like they can’t compete with all the exemplars being passed around twitter to share share share.  It is important for a teacher who is in a tough class with one chromebook to see what  is possible.

So I’d like to show you my kids “quick and easy RSA style videos” because I am proud of what they accomplished.  You may watch these videos and just see basic facts, bad sources, and spelling mistakes.  I see videos that represent products the kids did not know they were capable of making just a few weeks ago.  We had a film fest today and shared them.  Each got a round of applause, and no one even noticed the spelling mistakes 🙂

“Help Free Child Slaves in Ghana”

This is what we did in class today…

“Help Free Child Slaves in Ghana”

That was the subject line of an email yesterday.  It was from Tomnod.  Tomnod is a crowdsourcing site that uses folks around the world to identify objects and places on satellite images.  It has been used to look for Genghis Khan’s Tomb, and missing airlines.  The current campaign is focused on slavery in Ghana.  From the email:

The fishing industry on Lake Volta is a site of systemic modern slavery. Traffickers prey upon vulnerable families and tell parents that their children will get to attend school in exchange for a few hours of work. Instead they are sold into a life of misery and suffering; forced to work 19-hour days in deplorable conditions, likely never to see their real parents again.

Tomnod has teamed up with the Global Fund to End Slavery to track the location and number of boats used for fishing around Lake Volta, providing for the first time a reliable estimate of the extent of slavery in the region.

Read more about slavery on Lake Volta and how your contributions to this Tomnod campaign will help free modern-day slaves.

We started class reading about the situation, locating the lake on google earth, and comparing it to the size of places we already know.  Then we navigated over to the site (click right here to go there) and within minutes were plotting points on the maps.  This is very similar to using Missing Maps.  Click this line to read about my classes use of Missing Maps.

Here is a quick sample of what is looks like when the kids are mapping.

 Each kid can have a very different experience depending where they end up.  As you can see in the video above, it is not very clear and everything is grey.  Other kids ended up on much higher quality color images.

This year I am teaching in a new program where attention spans are short…very short.  I fully expected this to be just one piece of our Friday’s class but each class did not lose interest even after 20-25 minutes of mapping.

One kid leaving class said, “I hope I helped at least one kid.”

That is a pretty good vibe to have walking out of school on a Friday afternoon.



The most important one is always the one you are with…

I was sitting in a room with 100’s of people.

We were there for a panel discussion on digital citizenship.

The panelists brought up the increasing lack of empathy.

They brought up how technology is changing our life.

Some talked about how building things in an artificial digital world was just as impressive as building things in real life.

People cheered when it was announced that the hashtag was trending #2 on twitter.

The panelists continued…

I looked around the room and counted.

1,2,3,4…..35….45….I took a peak at what 50 random people in the room were doing.

Only five were looking up.  45 were looking at a device or typing.

At one point when a speaker paused to think, I thought I could hear the rain on the roof.

It was the sound of fingers on keyboards.

As the panelists talked about how technology can connect us, I am wondering if this is what they meant.


That dopamine rush that people get every time they tweet out something they are doing or hearing so that other people not present can feel as though they connected with those who are there, is resulting in an odd spirit in the room for many of the conferences I attend.

As someone who is a somewhat regular presenter, I know that I lose my spirit when I am looking at the tops of heads instead of into the eyes and hearts of those I am trying to connect with.  My presentations becomes a sharing of facts to be tweeted, instead of a personal journey for each of the audience members.

I do not have hard data to back up the importance of being present in the moment rather than focused on sharing it with outsiders….but, each session that I have led in which I have invited participants to just sit back, relax, and not worry about tweeting and taking notes seems to always result in more questions from the audience and more comments to me as people exit.

Jon Muth wrote a book for children that I often read to my kids entitled The Three Questions.  It is based on the Leo Tolstoy story of the same name.  The book ends with the following lines: 

Remember then that there is only one important time, and that time is now. The most important one is always the one you are with. And the most important thing is to do good for the one who is standing at your side. This is why we are here.


7 More Things the Best Teachers Will Regret Doing this Year

A couple weeks ago Mark Barnes wrote a blog post entitled, “7 Things the Best Teachers Will Regret Doing this Year.” It included a list of things like “assigning traditional homework” and “embarrassing your students.”  Items that most people who read it would agree with, but inevitably they are things we need to be reminded of again, and again, and again.  Also included were items that might push teachers to think about their current practice such as “emphasizing rules and consequences” and “banning mobile devices.”

After reading it I instantly found my mind wandering and creating a list of my own…here it is:

7 More Things Great Teachers Will Regret Doing This Year

Regret thinking that their kids knowing the content is more important than knowing their kids.

One of the realities of teaching that took me years and years to figure out is that 10 minutes of preaching on my part to get kids motivated will never be more powerful than 10 minutes of listening.  It is something I constantly forget.  Every time I ask a kid to stay behind for “the talk” or I stand up in front of the room and ask the kids for their attention to talk about some problem, I always regret not taking that time to listen to them.  Of course before they will talk, you must establish their trust, have their faith, and they need to know they have yours.

Next time you have a conversation with a kid give control of it to them.  Asking what you can do differently will always be more effective than telling them what they should do differently.

Regret not asking why a kid was absent.

One day many years ago my kids were taking a “health” inventory.  It included questions about everything from alcohol use to how many times they eat each day.  I noticed that one question was marked “no” on almost everyone’s paper.  “Does anyone at school notice if you are absent?”  From that day I have tried to talk to each kid who was absent the next day…I am not completely successful.  But when I am you can see a look on the kids face that says “Thanks for noticing, I didn’t know you thought I was that important.”

Tomorrow write the names of the kids who are out on a sticky and the next day use it to make sure you acknowledge each kid when they come into your class.  Just a simple “how are you feeling today?” will work wonders.

Regret not having a discussion with a kid about something they love.

Let’s face it, most kids rank teachers right up there with aliens.  People who are from some foreign adult world who are very difficult to connect with.  I think that with kids who are loved at home it is very easy to “teach” them without ever connecting with them on a personal level.  But for those classes, and especially individuals who come across as apathetic, lazy, and present behavioral problems connecting with something they love is vital to their success.  This is especially true with kids who have passions that are not common with other kids.  In the past, I have come home and learned about anime, Minecraft, football trades, rap artists, and ballet.

Tomorrow do a little snooping.  Listen in on a conversation, check out the name of a band written on a kid’s notebook, or check out the title of a book they were reading.  Spend 60 seconds reading a wikipedia article on what you found and come back they next day mention a few things you learned like you have always known them…it’s that easy 🙂  Of course you don’t have to snoop and can pass out something like this.

Regret believing that just because they tell a kid to change their behavior it should happen immediately.

You can’t expect a kid who took years to develop a habit to change it overnight.  Whether it is not doing their work, talking in class, or even being mean to other kids.  Think of a habit that you have that you would like to change…now stop doing it tomorrow.  If you can’t stop doing something tomorrow with all your adult skills how do you expect a kid to stop?  A few years ago I read a book on habits and it made me realize that asking a kid to simply stop doing something and expecting instant change was silly.  Most of their habits are influenced by things not necessarily under their control.  Find something that they can totally control and build from there.

Over the last couple years, I have experimented with letting kids turn in 14 consecutive pictures of their bed being made and counting it as a “grade.”  While I don’t have solid data, I am pretty sure that each kid who started off each day getting something finished also finished more of their school work.  Starting with “small” habits often leads to bigger changes.  After re-reading my example, I realize how crazy it sounds, but it has worked 🙂

Regret teaching the same lessons they did last year and the year before that.

I won’t go too much into this one.  You have different kids this year.  Enough said.

Regret not spending as much time with the kids who don’t struggle.

In this era of test-driven classrooms, it is so easy to take a look at the data and focus 90% of our effort on lifting the bottom 10% of our scores.  It is so easy to spend 90% of our time on the 10% of the kids who create 100% of the behavior problems.  Sometimes we love the kids who find school “easy” because that allow us to ignore them and spend our time on all of the kids who struggle.  We implement so many programs and special assignments to help kids “catch-up” but rarely create any programs and assignments for the kids who are already “ahead.”

This week, take one or more of your high achievers aside and give them something special that will allow them to take off from the class.  Or give them a challenge to accomplish and a team from the class to do it with.

Regret not doing the same work as their kids.

I have a policy.  I do not let my kids do anything I have not done recently.  If my kids are doing a poetry slam, I do it with them.  If they are making a video, I make one too.  If they are doing a research-based project or even “Genius Hour” I research along with them.  I learn where my directions are awful.  Seriously, how can you write directions for something you will never have done yourself.  I learn when my due dates are unfair, and when the choices I give them are the wrong choices for the purpose of the project.  I have also learned that when I don’t want to do the work I have assigned and I have two history degrees, why would some kid who walks in with no interest in history want to do it?

I challenge you to do the next assignment you give your kids alongside them from start to finish.  No shortcuts.  Do it in plain sight of them, no making an exemplar beforehand.  While you are working think out loud.  Ask students for help.  Ask them questions on how to complete things.  Be the student you want your kids to be.


5 fabulous tools that will make your class immediately student centered

My last post was June 30.  Today is August 24.  That might be the longest stretch since I started blogging without a new post!  I figured I would do something simple…you know, one of those straight forward posts with a number in the title that would cover some of the best tools you should consider using in your class this year.  I decided to start with the number five.  If you make a list it should be an odd number.  I am not sure why it has to be odd, but I know I have read numerous times that odd numbered lists are better.  I used a “5” instead of “five” because your brain processed the “5” faster and that makes you want to read more. I included the word fabulous because when you couple an odd number with a powerful adjective readers are more likely to engage with the content.  It also begins with “F” and so does five…not sure if that messed with your brain or not.  The rest of the title tells you what will happen when you use the tools, what they will do, and when you will see the results. That’s supposed to really make you want to read what I have to say.  So there you go, next time you see a title in a blog post like “5 fabulous tools that will make your class immediately student centered” you know someone is really just messing with your head leaving you unable to look away.  Try it, look away from this post.  I dare you to not read about the 5 fabulous tools that will make your class immediately student centered.


Couldn’t do it…that’s ok.  Here is tool number one.

1st tool is a Flickr

It does’t have to be Flickr, but get a place to dump all your photos.  Of course, first you have to take photos.  Take your phone out every day and snap some pictures.  Leave a camera out for the kids to grab and take pictures.  Place an app for your site on your phone and upload them regularly.  Go easy on the posed pretty photos. Just snap away without waiting for the “right” time.  In the instagram/selfie era we are going to have a treasure trove of posed pictures but few that show events and people for who they really are.  At my school’s 50th Anniversary Celebration I realized that we had almost no record of what occurred in the school in the last ten years because photos and videos went digital and digital things disappear every time a phone drops into a toilet or a hard-drive fails.  Be the historian for your class, your school.  Snap away and upload regularly.  You can even give the kids an email address that will upload directly to your account.  When you snap lots of pictures or take lots of video, you start to see your kids in a whole new light.  Remember…no posing…just snap a picture of your class or take a video.  You will see who is bored.  You will see who is alone.  You will see who is always leading.  Teachers like to think that we have eyes in the back of our head.  We do not.  We miss most of what occurs in our classroom.  The pictures and video remind me each year who the class should be centered around…and it is not me.  If you end a day or week and use the excuse that you did not have time to take any photos, I can almost guarantee it is because class was centered around you.  Move your focus back to the kids.

Here is our flickr account.
Here is a link to an older post with examples of what you can do with the photos and videos you take.

Take more pictures and video this year.  Upload them regularly.  You will not regret it.

2nd tool is a High Five

Most teachers have this tool already but I rarely see it used.  Part of the problem is that because there is no alert to help you remember to use the High five so most of us forget about it availability.  It is also bulky.  Many teachers in the morning just leave it in their pocket.  Some, realizing that they have two available, cross their arms and hide each one so that no one will notice that they are not using it.  There are teachers that do use it but only as a last resort, usually in response to a students use of their High Five.  Last year I finally decided to use mine every morning.  There was no charge for the download, I just took my High Five out of my pocket and gave one to each kid every morning.  Every kid.  The happy ones, the grumpy ones, and the sad ones. I even gave one to the kids who did not yet have a smart hand and were unable to download one of their own.  That left me just looking silly the first few days.  But by the end of last year 129 out of 130 kids had downloaded their High Five and shared it with me each morning.  It is the equivalent of a middle school hug.  And it will make you smile.  Did I mention it’s free?  There is also a Fist Bump but should only be used by those with the Pro version.  I have seen many inexperienced teachers try to use the free version of Fist Bump and it just gets ugly fast.  Never, ever, use Chest Bump.

I recommend High Five for elementary school, middle school, and even high school.

And if you need a High-Five tutorial, here is one from the Daring Dolphins.


3rd tool is Surprise

I have shared how to use this tool with other teachers at conferences and I always amazed at how many are scared to use it.  I think it is because they feel like using this tool might make them vulnerable, because you cannot predict the results, and because very few districts offer training for it.  Surprise, like the High Five, is a free tool that is easy to get hooked on.  After using it for a few weeks, most people are happy to use it in place of other classroom tools like Predictability, Standardization, and Boredom.  The Surprise tool allows teachers to break patterns and expectations.  I have found that in 8th grade, after years of being in classes that use other tools, it sometimes takes a few weeks before Surprise has any visible impact.   The funny thing is, the more I use Surprise, the more I think of what the kids want, instead of what I need.

Sometimes the surprise is simply doing an activity that they have never done before.
Sometimes it’s declaring a new unexpected tradition.
Sometimes it’s making them do something just a little crazy.
And sometimes it’s just providing a simple unexpected message to greet them each morning

4th Tool is Tape

I know, this tool has been around for awhile since the Web 1.0 days.  Unlike Flickr, High Five, and Surprise, Tape is not free.  The good news is that if you can get a roll from a friend you do not need to purchase a license for it.  The type of tape you choose is probably dependent on your subject area.  Drama teachers usually stick to masking tape, geography teachers find Scotch tape to their liking, and science teachers use a lot of electrical tape, and Food Science teachers get cooking with Duct tape.  The tape can serve a few uses.  First, put a big hunking wad on your seat before you start class and then sit down.  This will make it hard for you to get up and be the center of attention.  I recommend that you do this especially before having a “discussion” and show the kids what you are doing.  Let it be a reminder to you and them that you are not going to be getting up to direct the conversation, ask the questions, and have follow-up comments.  Another place to use this tool is over your mouth.  I DARE you to try this one!  Introduce the assignment and then tape your mouth closed.  You can’t answer any questions, but you will be working along with the kids.  Anyone can come on over and see your work, but they have to figure things out on their own…and it will be ok…eventually.  Not only is this use painful for you when you remove the tape, but it is painful to watch them squirm the first few days as they figure out that they can direct their own learning, rely on their fellow classmates for help, and figure out that all learning does not revolve around their teacher.  There are many other uses but I will leave you with just one more that you have to do in order to believe it’s power.  When kids are giving presentations place a five pieces of tape around the room numbered 1-5.  As they present they have to walk around the room they have to touch each one and make a point at each one.  Two things happen, one is that the class focuses on the presentation and information in a way that they usually don’t.  They listen to see what they points will be and listen to how the student will get from one to another.  For the speaker, it relaxes them because they have to worry about walking around and not tripping 🙂  It is much harder to be scared of speaking when you are moving and your brain is processing where the next mark is.  When we are doing something quick we will put tape on the floor in front of the room where they will stand.  Two pieces, slightly wider than their shoulders.  They come up and put their toes on the mark.  It gives a bit more comfort to an uncomfortable act.  When you know exactly where to stand you simply feel a bit more confident.  When you stand with your feet slightly wider than your shoulders it make you feel more powerful.  Go ahead, stand up right now.  Stand with your feet together.  Now spread them wider than your shoulders.  You’re feeling it eh? I am not sure if the last use exactly fits the definition of student-centered, but it helps build more powerful kids, and the more powerful the kid is the more likely they are to fight back at you when you try to take control.

If you need help in figuring out how to have a discussion with your seat and mouth taped try a fish bowl.
And a little bit about the importance of doing things with the kids and not doing things to them.

5th Tool is Story

This is a tool that most people would agree is important to use, but most of the Story tools that get downloaded and used in class are used to tell unemotional stories about strangers!  There are all sorts of storytelling tools out there to help your kids tell stories from Animoto to Toontastic.  The tool that I recommend you use with the kids to first introduce storytelling to them is your Mouth.  When you share stories you give an authentic bit of yourself to the audience, and once the audience has shared that bit of authenticity they are permanently linked together by it.  Usually, a story includes some kind of emotion.  Once  that emotion is shared with the group a bond is formed.  Start class with stories.  Usually at the beginning of the year they are my stories, but slowly the kids realize that if I feel safe to share a bit of myself with them, it is ok to do the same and they take over.  Each Monday we do an official “How was your weekend?”  Each kid gives a bit of themselves to the group.  Eventually, kids expect that we will start class with a story and they will come in eager to share.  When you start the class talking about homework or the test results, that shows that content comes first.  When kids get to share a bit of themselves at the start of each class, your class immediately starts off student centered.

Here are some other posts you might enjoy 🙂

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How to make RSA style videos with your class — part 2

A few years ago I published a post on “How to make RSA style videos with your class” and it was a monster of a post.  It wasn’t until I shared the process with other teachers at conferences that I realized what a big process it was.  If a teacher was new to doing projecty techy things it was a project that seemed simply just too big to try–I could see it in their eyes 🙂

This year with our new curriculum we are told what our “performance tasks” will be so I could not pull off doing RSA style videos with the kids like we have in the past…but I decided to go ahead and do them anyway–shhhhh.  Since I would have to squeeze them in I decided to approach it like a teacher who might find the regular RSA style videos daunting, and as a teacher who has little or no technology available in class, and like a teacher like me this year that simply had no extra time.

I would recommend looking back at my first post if you don’t know what an RSA style video is.

If I can summarize RSA style videos in school friendly words, it would be “the visualization of an essay.”  It is great at any point in a unit, or to use to introduce a unit.  It is a MUST MUST MUST that you do one with or before the kids.  Not just because you will be able to better coach them through the process, but because you will learn what a valuable learning experience it is.  You will realize that it is more than just drawing pictures to match words.  In my grad class I have the students make them (please check them out here, you might find something to use in your class).  As one student said something along the lines of, “I found my writing improving because as I was drawing the pictures I was going back to make the writing flow more smoothly, and  each time I attempted it I went back to make my writing more precise and clear.  Drawing the pictures made me really consider what was most important and having to explain them to an audience made me develop a better understanding of what my main point was.”

The videos that we made were a part of a unit on South America, and the Amazon rainforest.  We did a classic sort of “What should be done?” to the Amazon from a few different perspectives and then the kids gave their answer at the end.  We watched a few different videos and used only a couple text sources.

Just to touch on the content a bit….we watched this, then this, and finally this.  I spent a lot of time previewing videos and have to say that I think I nailed the order they were shown 🙂  I think too often videos are shown in class just because they are “on the topic” and with no real thought given to anything other than just show it to deliver content.  In short, the first video made kids fall in love with the Amazon, the second video made kids realize that there are more than animals trying to live in the Amazon, and the third simply put a human face to the struggle.  The first we watched straight through over a few days, the second we watched one of three edited versions I made, and the third we only watch about 30 minute.  At 30 minutes they “got-it,” were asking questions, wanted to know more, and any more of that video would have bored them 🙂  With all the videos we stopped them a lot to talk about what was happening, and all kids have the power to stop the videos at any time.

Throughout the videos and text I decided to experiment and the kids were not allowed to take notes.  All they were able to do was to write down questions, doodle, and draw pictures.  Each video and text I tried something a little different.  For example after one reading the kids had to summarize each paragraph in a doodle and write the domain specific vocab words in a circle around their images.  While it might not look like much to you, each picture was worth a 1,000 words to the artist.


I found that they wanted to talk a lot more about each text and movie doing it this way.  When we shared pictures they were more likely to want to explain to the class why they doodled what they did.  When we watched the movie there was drawing involved, but also they were only able to write questions, not classic “notes.”  What this lead to each day is a natural class discussion and kids wanting to know more about the content rather than just reporting back facts about the movie.  Unfortunately I just can’t locate the images of the other ways we took “notes” with drawings and questions!  The results were shocking though.  For years I have included drawing and doodling in units, but never to this extent.  The kids never complained about “taking notes” and at the end of class or the beginning of the next they were more than happy to share what they had, and each conversation we had as a class covered and had them recalling the content that I would have included in a classic “watch the movie and answer the questions.”  Problem with that method is that kids game the process and only watch for the answers on the paper and ignore everything else!

The power of drawing and doodling is a great summer research project 🙂  After doing this I stumbled onto an article about doodling in schools and I never realized that it was something that many have researched and it is a “proven” method of note taking.

At the end of the videos and text the kids all had to do the classic school essay on what they would do to the Amazon as dictated by our school system, and then they formed groups to make the RSA style videos.

They first got together to finalize their claim (yes, we no longer call it a thesis) for the group armed with their essays which lead to some neat conversations.  Everyone did not have to necessarily agree, because if there was one kid who disagreed with everyone their view could simply be brought into the video as an alternative perspective.

(Click on images to enlarge)

Then they started writing their script, first on regular paper with images doodled under their writing.

RSA style videos 2015

Great discussions ensued on how to best visualize what they had written, and you have to remember that if I told them to discuss the content I would have gotten very schooly sort of responses and enthusiasm.  When they were discussing the drawings they naturally had to discuss the content and the larger points they wanted to make.

RSA style videos 2015

One group has someone out sick but they were still excited enough by what we were doing to find a way to come to class 🙂

RSA style videos 2015

The kids had to take their doodles under the written words and do them “big” on paper first before they filmed.  Absolutely necessary step, and this is not the “dress rehearsal.”

RSA style videos 2015

It really forces them to see the “whole story” and see how one image flows from one to another.  By doing it on paper they also have a record of the entire thing so when they are done and they want to talk about a certain problem it wasn’t erased as it would have been on a whiteboard.

RSA style videos 2015

The kids have the option of doing it on a whiteboard or big chart paper.  We have a big whiteboard in class, and I have smaller whiteboards.  You can buy a 4’x8′ shower board for around $12 and have them cut in half twice and you get four 2’x4′ whiteboards. I just went to look for a link to one and see that even home depot is calling it “marker board.”

I left out something key…these were supposed to be RSA-lite style videos right?  The videos the kids were going to take of themselves drawing were going to have zero editing.  Zilch.  That means that narration gets put in while filming, and that the film would not get speed up like in real RSA videos so all drawing would have to be done at the speed of narration.  This meant that the kids had to choreograph their hands and markers to match the speed of the narration.

RSA videos

No music would get added, and the kids would film and then upload to out youtube channel directly from their phone, no transferring of files to me.  This was made possible by the fact that we have enough kids in each class this year who have smartphones.

We had one day of dress rehearsal, and then one day to film.  A reminder sheet given to them on the day we filmed.

We have become very creative in how we support the phones.

Notice below the paper folded up and placed at the edge of the desk, that allows the phone to not record the legs of the desk.  A stapler is on the other end and then it is all strapped down with tape.


This was a great $10 investment.  A cellphone holder than mounts on any tripod.

RSA style videos 2015

Not everyone wanted to be on the floor.

RSA videos

There was some great use of duct tape.

RSA videos

Some kids did get fancy with lighting–notice their drawings hanging from the desk used to guide them.

RSA style videos 2015

And this group had their script with images right above their whitreboard

RSA videos

And of course there was the classic phone in book on chair method.

RSA videos

When the kids were done filming they did just upload their files to YouTube and we were done–it was that easy.  Some kids had to upload to google drive first, download on another computer, and then upload.

Finished products were not fancy 🙂 but they worked.  As you watch these you have to remember that I am happy with these for the 7th grade kids that I have.  Results will vary based on your demographics, and what the final video looks like is not the most important thing.

You can do this with chart paper, big construction paper, crayons, regular markers, etc.  You can even do one video for the class and just give each kid a different part and film it all at once with one single camera.

RSA style videos 2015

With RSA-lite videos the final product is not fancy, but the learning is.

RSA style videos….more than just a school projects 🙂

Story behind video above is here…great to share with class to give an example about how RSA style videos are not just “silly” class projects, some people have made them a career!

The latest posts on Blogush:

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P-Day 2015

One of the current buzz words in education is Genius Hour…aka 20% Time…aka Fed Ex Day…etc.

If you were doing some kind of self-directed learning in your classroom before the buzzwords hit twitter you might feel some pressure to give your “normal” class time a new name to fit in!  I admit, a couple years ago we did do “20% Time” and then went back to what we originally called it — P-Day, the P stands for Passion.  I know, there are classes know doing Passion Projects, but ours follows a few different “rules.”

Links to other posts I have written on P-Day:

P-Day Pitches

P-Day 2014

P-Day Intro for students 

Way back when, I had a day before vacation and I had nothing planned for it.  We decided to do what we dubbed a 45/45 day.  The kids researched anything they wanted for 45 minutes and had 45 seconds to share what they learned.  From there it just grew bigger and bigger until it was every Friday of a five day week and we picked a day near the end of the year to share.  At some point someone dubbed the day P-Day.  I know there are now books being published about Genius Hour, there are flow charts, check lists, and even rubrics being shared to “guide” the students.  We could never write a book because we have no rules.

Kind of…

Maybe one….”share something you are passionate about with the class in June.”

They are guided along the way, but each kid is so different and their interests and levels of independence are so different that there are very few blanket policies that we follow.  We do at some point all make hands!




All the pictures in this post will enlarge when you click on them.

Sometimes kids pick a topic right away in the fall and stick with it right through to June.  Sometimes they explore 50 different things and don’t pick one until a couple weeks before we share.  It is the scariest thing I do as a teacher.  It is the one thing that I do that makes me feel most like a failure…and a minute later it is my most successful thing I have ever done.  There used to be more rules, and I see some of the same rules that we had cropping up in other teachers’ versions of Genius Hour.  It used to be centered around some grand question,  have to be shared with the world, have an impact on the community, etc…  I dropped all of those simply because I thought of what moves me.  What moves me is doing something for me first.  Changing myself first.  Diving into something just because I think it’s cool and not because I am trying to contribute something to the world.  I think if your learning follows a natural process it automatically will turn into something that is centered around a deep question and the results will impact the world.  It just might not happen he first time a kid is ever given the chance to explore anything they want and I am ok with that. They are 12 and 13 and have never been given the opportunity to self-direct their learning.  They have never been trusted.  Learning is personal first, global second.  I don’t know what the subliminal message is when we teach that we should only be doing things for a greater good.  It’s right up there with people bragging about how many hours a week the work instead of bragging about how many days of vacation they take 🙂

This year the other team on the 7th grade also decided to join us.  What that meant is that for 48 hours 250 seventh graders would take over an entire floor in the school.  They planned the schedule, what sessions would be presented, organize the technology….everything for 48 hours was out of the teachers hands.  The teachers were simply told to sit back and do nothing.  Honestly, I was a lot more worried about the teachers than I was the students 🙂 After months of prep the kids were able to pick a 10, 20, or 45 minute session.  They wrote their name and session on an appropriately sized card and stuck it to a blank session board “edcamp” style filling up each 45 minute period block.



Eventually the board fills up.  This year we had 193 student led sessions.


And then the fun starts…the board comes down and volunteers start ripping the puzzle apart and rebuild as necessary.  This is a small group of very trusted kids who look at all the nuances of the board.  Everything from types of sessions being offered in each room, to across periods, to personalities of presenters together in a room, to type of audience each presenter might draw, to a 100 other things.   A simple example is in a 45 minute block they would not put a confident presenter who is doing a topic that will attract a huge number of kids in the same room with a kid who is nervous and would crumble in front of more than 5 kids.  They slowly re-build the ultimate schedule that allows for the best audience experience.  This process takes about 3-5 hours from beginning to end and then lots of little switches in the days leading up to the sessions.



The finished board included the following sessions.

The kids then created a quick elevator pitch for their session.  I have to just add in their defense that we simply ran out of time at the end of the year.  The pitches were recorded on a day that went something like “AAHHHHH we need the pitches quick! Go into the hall and record them now!!!”

The sessions included every type of “teaching style” that you could imagine.  There were baking demos.


Lots of props brought in.


And while it’s not obvious in these images, lots of kids took huge risks.  For example this session was on music and the session leader decided to actually sing some of the pieces that were examined.


I walked into some in which I really had no idea what was going on 🙂


Some sessions had packed rooms of 50, and some like “Are you the next Michelangelo?” were small and cozy.


While it easy find teacher testimonials on why you should take a leap and try a version of Geniuspassion20%  hour/time/day I think there is nothing more powerful than hearing what the kids thought about it.  Here are just some of the comments from the kids on what they got out of the day…

That it is a day to forget your friends and come out of you shell and present your passion whatever silly or wacky thing it might be.

You shouldn’t be afraid to do what you want, be who you want to be.

I got out of P-day that its okay to share what you love with people and show them how much you like your topic.

I also learned how hard it is to be a teacher!

I got to know more about team work. My partner and I hit a lot of bumps in the road in the making of this presentation, we didn’t know how to make it fun and interesting, we didn’t know how people were going to like it. So we kind of just came up with a bunch of things and presented it to our parents and looked for which one they looked most interested in. The thing that really helped us most was teamwork.

I didn’t just receive education on the topic I love, but I also learned a lot more. What I got out of P-Day is that if you truly like to do something, it is a lot easier to show to the world.

I got a chance to do what I wanted for once! I was not being told what to research, and I love being able to do what I am interested in! Thank you for giving me that opportunity!

Everybody is not the same, they are different in their own unique way.

It was a fun and exciting way to share with other people what you are passionate about.

During the experience of P-Day I learned a lot about myself and how I “work”.

I liked that there wasn’t any judgement, and nobody cared about anything else cause we were in the moment and having fun.

I learned some interesting new things that you wouldn’t really learn on a normal school day.

That classes are a lot more fun when you don’t just have to sit there listening to teachers and doing work for the entire period.

Kids in school could be very creative if they just got a chance to show it.

I learned that if you love what you do than it’s never work and that it doesn’t matter how many people share the same interest it matters that you love what you’re doing and if you love what your doing those people will love it too.

I learned to do what you love, because when you love something, you will ALWAYS do good on it. Trust me.

That a passion isn’t something you can make up. A passion is something that comes from enjoyment that you want to learn more about.

I also learned that there are more people who are passionate about the things I am.

I learn to be open to people, and just be yourself. I got to know other people better, and make new friends with similar passions.

I know that we all have a different spark in them, and they all shine bright.

I learned that if we could all just take our time to work on something that we actually care a lot about, then people could end up doing some really cool things.

Also, since I was passion it about my topic I was not nervous to go up and present because I was passion it about it.

I don’t think that i got anything out of p-day because i saw the whole project as stress, stress, and more stress.

I thought P-day was an amazing experience where students got the opportunity to learn and teach about something that they love.

I also learned to never ever put a lacrosse stick in Nate’s hands again.

I knew that I had the freedom to do what I wanted to do and that made me feel very confident about my topic.

Think about the endless topics that can be learned through this amazing assignment. Thank you.

It was amazing to hear what other people had to say about their own, unique topic.

To me at first pday was very nerve racking. Once you get up there though and see all the people that are truly interested in what you’re talking about it’s not so bad.

Singing a song in front of a whole crowd of people for me was honestly very hard to do. It helped me get over some of the stage fright. Instead of being tense and nervous up there like I usually am for presentations, I was very loose and relaxed. I definitely got something out of pday. (I also might of gotten a slight concussion from one of the presentations, but its okay because I learned something new.)

P-day helped me realize that hard work comes with a reward, even if it is a small but reassuring reward of feeling good about what you did. Or after you are done, looking back and saying, I did that.

I think P day really made a mark on my year ( a good mark) it showed me not to be embarrassed about what I love, and not to fake my way through it.

I got to try new things. It made me not do sports and to pick something else that I would be interested in researching about. It was a great new experience for me and I liked doing something that I liked doing.

I learned how to do things on my own and without any rules to follow.

I learned how easily it is for people to just sneak through everyday life, and that this is not just a project in school, but a perspective on the real world. Like how if you work hard and enjoy what you do. Even if it is something weird. But the people who just sneak by and hate what they do and don’t try because of that reason.

What i got out of p-day was that everyone is different…

It also taught us to be independent because in the real world were not always going to be guided through everything.

I got a sense of kind of how not everything is going to go our way and we have to deal with that. This sounds weird because it was talking about what we like but when you got up there and something went wrong it wasn’t like we could wine about it we had to deal with it ourselves.

I learned that when you give a student the freedom to make a class on what they love they will be exited and teach others new material in a fun way.

Something I got out of P-Day is that if you love something you should share it and not only to your friends but to people around you.

I realized how hard it is for a teacher to make a full class period that is still engaging.

In this box you would probably put something you learned from another students presentation, but the main thing I learned from p day is to be more independent and not worry so much about the outcome grade, but if you are proud of which you handed in.

I got a learning experience. I have never done anything close to P-day. Normally, the teachers choose the topic and the students follow the instructions.

This time, the students got to choose whatever they desired. We also got a chance to be the teacher, teaching what we wanted to.

Even though I cried because of my stage fright I’m still very proud of myself because in a way I faced my fear and presented in front of my friends.

I learned a lot about people that i didnt know before and watched a lot of pretty cool things.

I definitely got over my fear of presenting. There were so many people at my presentation and them watching me and actually appreciating what i had to say really helped. If i had to present in the future i definitely wont be nervous anymore.

Pday taught most of us to do what we want and allowed us to express ourselves during school which is pretty cool because normally we sit around and do what were told.

I learned how much more I would love to go to school if I got to do what I loved to do more often.

If you would like to learn more about our P-Day you can read more about it here, here, and here.  If you are on twitter follow #geniushour.  If you wait a year I am sure the name will be different, I am sure people will start writing about how we should not be focusing on being a “genius” and life is more about just following a passion…some folks need to lighten up 🙂

I would like to end with simply stating the reality that you don’t need a day with a funky title to give your kids the chance to have some degree of self-directed learning.  You can inject a bit of freedom into each unit that you do.  Our P-Day fits into a class in which the kids are already doing some kooky things and so for many P-Day is just the natural culmination of what we have been leading up to all year.  It is a bit scary that we celebrate something like Genius Hour as a special project within the school year when instead of having Genius Hours we should be having Genius Years.  Someday I hope we can trust the kids enough to do just that.

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