# 3 Fun Inquiry Math Activities for the Last Week of School

Picture from Classroom 2.0.

One of the most endearing that my students are is when they are helping younger children. Preparing the classroom at the end of the year for the next group of students is considered a critical job for them, whether they are sharpening pencils or throwing out markers that no longer work. This year I decided to maximize this learning experience by having my students figure out how to prepare for the new class with some guided inquiry math.

1. Where will the new table groups go?

When I first posed this question, my students looked back at me with confusion before one of them replied, “wait, will you still have the same number of students?” The fun part of inquiry is that you don’t start out with all of the information that you need. Instead, you use your critical thinking skills to figure out what questions you have to ask to find that information before you can even begin to solve the problem.

The lesson went something like this:

• There will be 20 students next year (I know, working at a school with a 20 student limit is awesome!), meaning we don’t have enough tables.
• Where do we get tables? Exploration team to the school storage room
• Division to make equal groups puts the new class into 4 groups of 5…. But when we moved the tables – which sit 2 students at each – we found we need two extra tables to accommodate odd numbered groups.
• 5 groups of 4 means that students can’t push out their chairs without hitting each other
• 2 groups of 4 and 2 groups of 6 works perfectly

2. How should we organize our supplies?

We have tables, so students in my class store their books in these handy trays that pull all the way out. Most other supplies are also kept in the trays, including each table groups’ tray for colored pencils, crayons and markers that they can pull out and bring to their table to share.

Trays to organize school supplies found at Consortium

My students were already warmed up to inquiry by the time I began this next challenge, so I was able to start it off with a simple question. Do we need to change the trays for next year?

• Do we have 20 trays for them to keep their books in? They can just share! Placement of two students books into one tray shows that won’t work.
• We don’t have enough colored pencil trays for four groups either! What can we get rid of?
• Placement of 20 trays to one side to reserve for student book trays.
• Prioritization of trays for colored pencils first, then markers.
• Consolidation of math resources and extra paper/colored paper/graph paper into other storage areas.
• New labels made.

3. Do we have enough supplies?

One of the best teacher hacks for the last week of school is having your kids check the colored pencil/crayon/marker/highlighter conditions, sharpen what needs sharpening and throw away what needs throwing away. I started this off by asking the question: Do we have enough supplies for the kids next year? We had already set aside the correct number of trayss, so we were in good shape to begin the conversation.

• How many colored pencils/markers does each group need? Consensus that each student needs one pencil/marker of each color plus two extras per group.
• Well, how many good ones do we have now? Lots of pencil sharpening. Old markers/highlighters thrown out.
• Colored pencils and markers divided out among the groups.
• Shopping list made for me!

Have you used inquiry lessons to complete practical tasks? How have they worked?

Please comment below and enjoy your summer vacations, teachers!

By @SGroshell

# Teacher Gets Through Week of Fidget Spinners Alive

Last week, the writers here at educationrickshaw.com took our school’s swim team to Dubai to compete in a meet with over 800 participants. One of the highlights of the trip (for the kids) has been the visit to the Dubai mall, famous for the Burj Khalifa and its indoor aquarium. Many of the students that attended the meet were from my Year 5 class, and they had told me in the lead-up to the meet that they would all be purchasing fidget spinners, as these are not available yet in Sudan.

Not only did my kids buy a fidget spinner each, but they made sure to buy a supply of fidget spinners and fidget cubes for the whole year level, and all of their siblings. The fidget phenomenon has officially reached Khartoum.

Now, I feel that I am a pretty patient and tolerant teacher when it comes to students bringing things to school. I hated it when my teachers took my Pokemon cards that I had saved up for and carefully guarded in plastic sleeve protectors. I never wanted to become the teacher that took away toys simply because they distracted ME. Then came these freaking fidget spinners. Really quickly, let me tell you how the first week went with these things.

### Every few seconds they fly out of kids’ hands.

The addictive quality of these spinners is that they have the potential to deliver a satisfying spin between your index and forefingers. There is a bit of a risk though; they tend to fly out between a child’s clumsy grip just at the climax of a lesson sequence. Exactly when an “aha!” moment is about to occur, a pesky spinner will fly into the corner of the room, prompting the whole class to turn their heads towards the guilty butterfingers who did it.

### They’re not great when you need kids to use their hands

Any time a student is using their iPad, writing with a pencil, or reading a book, these spinners get in the way. It is fun to watch a kid try to keep open a stiffly bound novel with one forearm and their chin as they try to spin a fidget spinner on their thumb, but only if you don’t care about that child’s reading goals. I’ve heard the crack of far too many spinners whacking against the screens of my students’ iPads as well, which goes to show that there may still be things out there more impressive to children than technology.

### Even though they can be annoying, they are kind of cool. .

I’m not going to lie. . it is fun to spin a spinner on your fingers, or even on your nose. They fit perfectly in your pocket, and they really don’t do much more damage than a cup and a ball would in a classroom setting. The multitude of colors, styles and types of these fidget devices makes them fun to collect and pass around, and it really made mark on our Dubai trip.

I, myself, am a very fidgety fella, so I was initially curious if somehow these toys could cure my constant need to fuss and fidget. Needless to say, I think I’ll be sticking to flipping pens and markers until this fad dies down. .

Have fidget spinners reached your classroom? How have they impacted learning? Please comment below, and be sure to keep coming back to educationrickshaw.com!

# 5 Easy Ways to Share Learning Experiences with Students

We’ve talked before about how to give your class back to your students. Today, I want to look at a similar idea of how we can create a shared learning environment where the teacher and students are partners in learning.

What the Research Says

We know that students are more successful when they aren’t just asked to absorb information from the teacher, but are a part of the learning process. I recently read an article written about 10 years ago that explained this idea really well. Andrew Metcalfe and Ann Game write in The Teacher’s Enthusiasm that

“A good teacher is not one who provides all the energy that a class needs; good teachers are those who allow the production of an energy that is not the teachers and not the students, but shared between them.” See article here.

In my own experience, I’ve found this to be true. When are my students most engaged? When do I see their eyes light up with excitement? It’s not when I’m just giving them the information, but during those times when they are actively sharing new information and creating new meaning by doing things themselves.

To promote this, here are 5 easy practices that you could implement to make learning a shared experience.

1. Read Alouds with Discussions

Students of every age love read alouds. How can we make students active participants in them? Pause in your reading to make time for think-pair-share discussions. First, give students a moment to think, have them share with a partner, and then have a few of the pairs share with everyone. This way, even though you don’t have time for everyone to share with the entire class, everyone still gets an opportunity to think through their ideas and to share with a partner (with the added pressure of not knowing if they’ll be called on or not after). I have two favorite ways of getting my students to really think.

• Close your eyes and visualize! After reading a particularly funny or thought provoking scene, I have my students visualize what it might have looked like or they would do if they were the character, before sharing with a partner and then the class (this gets lots of laughs).
• Cover your mouth with your hand and whisper the answer. For answers that require more vocabulary, I often have my students whisper the answer in their hand before sharing. This way, they get practice explaining their thinking twice. For ELL students, it gives them extra time to think of the vocabulary they’d like to use.

2. Let the Students Help Write Math Story Problems

When writing problems on the white board or even when typing up math problems, I love to ask my students for help. They generally make the story problems about themselves or their friends and relish in the idea of doing amazing or silly things. How many cookies did Talya bake in all if she made 7 per day for a week? suddenly makes them giggle and shake their heads as they solve and ask Talya for some cookies at the same time.

3. Let Students be the Teacher

There are so many fun ways to make your students the teacher. This is doubly effective, because they don’t realize how much work they’re doing to set up questions or learning experiences for their peers.

One way I’ve recently done this is on our school’s Moodle page. I set up a forum and had students post a question and then answer someone else’s. Once they saw that someone had answered their original question, they got to go back and see if it was right.

4. Jigsaw Activity

Jigsaw activities are very simple in design. Divide up whatever reading you want your students to learn into parts and give each of those parts to a different group. Then, like a jigsaw puzzle comes together, each group shares what they read to everyone else who was in a different group. The key here for young students is to provide support for them to make quality presentations.

Recently, my students did a jigsaw activity where each group read about a different step archaeologists take to do research. They then made posters and shared their findings and new vocabulary with the class.

5. Impromptu sharing

Not all sharing needs to be planned out. When I see a student do something great, I try like to give them an opportunity to share it – giving them confidence and their peers some great tips/knowledge. Sometimes this sharing is by simply writing a new word they learned on the word wall, or sometimes I have everyone stop what they’re doing and freeze so the student can share right then and there.

How do you create opportunities for students to be leaders their learning? Please comment and share below.

By @SGroshell

# How Teachers Can Prioritize Building Confidence and Risk-Taking

Growing up, I was painfully shy. If I ever dared to raise my hand (or got called on without doing so) all of the other students would immediately ask me, “Why is your face so red?” This created a vicious cycle of not wanting to raise my hand because I didn’t want my face to turn red, to loosing confidence because I didn’t have practice speaking up, to turning even more red when I was called on, and so on and so forth.

All of my conferences from elementary through high school were pretty much the same. “Stephanie is always listening, always does her work carefully and on time, but she needs to participate.” Or “I know Stephanie has great ideas in her head, why won’t she share them?”

And (no surprise) although I was slightly better in university, I still rarely shared my thoughts when I wasn’t forced to. As an adult, I am much less withdrawn, but still wonder at my seven-year-old students’ confidence in trying out new ideas, failing, and putting themselves right back out there.

How is it that my school builds confidence so well?

I was chatting with a parent earlier this week who was like me as a student. She is both shocked and incredibly pleased to see her son initiating projects and answering questions in assemblies in front of the entire school. The confidence that our students have is not only going to help them in the future, but makes it so that their self-esteem is through the roof.

Here are the things our school does really well that I think all schools should do (when possible).

1. Have small class sizes

Our school caps classes at 20 students. This not only allows teachers to get more time with each student, but it gives students more opportunities to speak, share, and lead their class members. Allowing students to have so many opportunities to put themselves out there makes it so that what would have petrified me as a child becomes completely normal.

In my class, a math leader leads the rest of the students in correcting the problem of the day every morning. With my tiny class of 12 students, each one gets to be the teacher and call on their peers twice a month. At the beginning of the year, I had a few who were still quite shy, but now they all absolutely love taking the lead!

2. Give students leadership opportunities

In addition to opportunities for students to be the teacher, our school puts an emphasis on allowing students to take ownership of their learning through

• group projects and presentations
• sharing learning by inviting other classes/parents to come see a project they’ve done
• having classes lead every assembly

3. Praise students for confidence and risk-taking

One of my favorite parts of the PYP curriculum is the PYP Attitudes and the IB Learner Profile, which are presented to the students as important parts of what makes a good student. One of the PYP Attitudes is “confidence” and one of the IB Learner Profile traits is being a “risk-taker.”

Everyone in the school, then, uses these two words as positive goals to work toward. In fact, when a student shows hesitation to try something new, you’ll hear their friends say, “Just try it! Be a risk-taker.” Or “Be confident, you can do it!”

Although obviously I have no way of knowing what kind of a student I would have been had I attended a school that prioritized confidence as much as the one I teach at today, I can see the amazing benefits of it in all of my students and hope to see more schools do exactly this.

How do you build confidence in your students? Please share below!

By @SGroshell

# A Different Kind of Student-Led Conference

Student-led conferences are all the rage right now, and rightfully so. They provide another opportunity for students to take control of their learning. The thing is, before public, shared, nonlinear digital portfolios, it made a ton of sense to bring parents into the classroom just so they could flip through the pages of their child’s paper portfolio. However, when this model began to be applied to digital portfolios (we use Seesaw), which constantly update parents on new submissions and comments via their phones, I started wondering why we were having these student-led conferences in the first place. After all, the parents had already viewed all of their child’s selected pieces!

This year, I wanted to help the students to make the most out of their student-led conference experience. Here’s what I did.

## Students Shared Their Digital Portfolios

Even though presenting the portfolio isn’t what it used to be due to the fact that every parent has seen almost every piece on their phones, it was still valuable to have parents and students sitting down and talking about the process that went into these learning experiences. My class labeled their portfolio work with a special tab in Seesaw (See 5 Ways to Get the Most Out of Seesaw) so that they could filter out pieces that they didn’t want to share, and choose what was most important to share during the student-led conferences.

## Students Shared Their Goals

After students sketchnoted two short term goals for the rest of this year, they did a live drawing of their sketchnotes by recording them into stop motion videos using imotion. These were then shared onto their portfolios, but they were also displayed on an “Our Goals” display during the student-led conferences. Since the conferences, we’ve spread out the sketchnotes a bit on this “Idea Wall” (made from chart paper and plywood to cover the windows), and students have been reflecting on their goals with marker. This has led to some glorious conversations about goal-setting, the most interesting of which has been with my student that chose to give up all unhealthy foods for the rest of the school year!

## Students Shared Their Peers’ Compliments

On their desks (mine are all against the walls to make room for learning) students taped a poster with all of the compliments that their classmates had given them just a few days prior. Revisiting these with the parents was one of the joys of this year’s student-led conferences. I’ve written before about this activity, which I call “Cannon Ball”, where students choose their favorite compliment and shout it as loud as they can outside in “private” as the rest of us listen in.

## Students Took Pictures of Their Families in a Green Screen Photobooth

While student-led conferences are ultimately about learning, that doesn’t mean that they have to be boring. Our students set up a green screen (all it takes is green chart paper) and showed their parents how it worked before snapping a quick pic in front of their chosen background. They made sure to raid the drama room’s stash of costumes before the event!

## Students Live-Tweeted the Event

In my class, we mostly use Seesaw as our main social media platform, but we also use Twitter to connect with a global audience. Afterall, it’s how we found and connected our pen pals to our Seesaw blogs! For the student-led conferences, I borrowed another projector (my first was used to display our Moodle-based BLE) and used Wallrus, a nifty Twitter wall tool that shows all of the tweets as they come in during your event. While my students are not allowed their own Twitter accounts, their iPads are connected to our class Twitter account, and they were able to easily tweet their photos from the camera app and see them appear on this screen. All of the photos in this educationrickshaw.com post were tweeted by students to our school’s hashtag during student-led conferences.

What do you think? Could you use some of these ideas for your next conferences? Please feel free to comment below and keep coming back to educationrickshaw.com!

# “The What” vs. “The How” of Education

After reading the above tweet, I’ve been thinking a lot about this idea that we may very well spend too much time talking about what we should teach rather than how we should teach. And the more I think about it, the more I crave conversations that concern the how of educationLearning-focused conversation is learner and pedagogy focused – The how not the what. If I had the power to singlehandedly change the conversation in education, I’d ask that we make a shift in the following ways:

## Stop Talking So Much About What Curriculum We Should Be Using, and Start Talking About How to Facilitate Learning in the 21st Century.

Since I began teaching only a short time ago, I have seen schools go from local standards, to national standards, to international standards. Never during these changes was I privy to training on how to implement these standards with the best 21C teaching practices. It was always more important to document what I was doing, than how I was doing it. Even the Common Core website seemed to foresee this implementation strategy:

“. . these standards establish what students need to learn but do not dictate how teachers should teach. Instead, schools and teachers will decide how best to help students reach the standards.”

How different things might have been in terms of buy-in by teachers for Common Core if we had known the strategies to implement these standards in the most research-based and pedagogically sound ways?

## Stop Talking So Much About What Learning Platform We Should Be Using, and Start Talking About How We Can Redefine the Learning Environment.

I’ve written before about different tech tools that I have found useful, such as Seesaw for portfolios, and Moodle as a learning platform for my elementary class. But I’ve found that most any tool can be tweaked and modified to fit any purpose; To use some SAMR-speak for a moment, teachers can Substitute with Edmodo just as they can Redefine with Edmodo. It is precisely for this reason that I get so tired of conversations over which learning platform is best. Rather than looking at How blended learning can take place, we are focused on the new-kid technology on the block. Changing from Schoology to Google Classroom will not solve any of a school’s problems, because the entire premise of the conversation is based around what is best rather than how is best.

## Stop Talking So Much About What is the Best Device, and Start Talking About How We Can Best Integrate Technology.

It is true that there are downsides to tablets – no keyboard, low memory, etc – but the minute you want kids to take pictures and video you’ll find that there are also downsides to laptops. The same goes for IOS vs. Windows vs. Chrome, and mobile vs. desktop vs. wearables. Next year, it’s entirely possible that the coolest new gadget will come out and completely change the face of education as we know it.

Rather than focus on the barriers inherent in any one school-adopted device, I’d like to concentrate more on ways to maximize learning in my classroom. How can we change the relationship between the teacher, the student, and their devices? How do we improve outcomes while promoting 21C skills and attitudes? How can I get the most out of my students and the resources that my school has?

***

What do you think? The irony is not lost on me that I have just written an entire post which focuses largely on what we should be talking about as educators, and not as much on how we should be talking about it. . .

Keep coming back to educationrickshaw.com, and please leave a comment or question in the section below!

# How to Set Up a Week of Free Inquiry for Anywhere, Anytime Learning

When I was just a first year teacher, I placed a lot of value on my ability to control student behaviors. While students were quiet and well-behaved to the passing observer, I could sense that I was not facilitating the kind of learning experiences that I wanted from my teachers during my own education. The relationship between the teacher, the students, and the learning was traditional and strained, and everyday felt like a battle for points and rewards. I felt like I was part drill sergeant, part cheerleader, part disciplinarian, but not at all a teacher.

As my teaching became more and more inquiry based, and more and more student-focused instead of teacher-driven, I began to see that the increased trust that I had for my students did not result in a dramatic increase in unwanted behaviors. In fact, quite the opposite. This year, for the first time, I felt that I had finally built up the structure necessary to facilitate a Week of Free Inquiry, aka a Week Without Walls, or, as my students put it, “College”. For the first time in my career, I had to give up control of movement and control of content as students pursued their own interests wherever and whenever they wanted. Here’s how I did it:

## I Organized a Legit Online Learning Environment

When I say legit, I mean legit. There’s no way that you are going to get students to perform at the highest levels in a wall-less physical environment without a dynamic and organized online environment. When my students started the week, they knew how to contact me (e-mail, instant messaging, commenting on assignments) and they knew where and when to find me (in the cafeteria, by online appointment). For weeks I had to build up a wealth of knowledge and skill surrounding the apps on their devices, and I had to foster IT-specific problem-solving skills so that students were able to figure out their IT issues on their own.

I am sure that any robust LMS could be used for a project like this, but I used my class Moodle page (See Moodle in elementary), and students were working on their own school issued iPad throughout the week. Assignments were turned in for review onto their online portfolio (we use Seesaw) and students had their own e-mail addresses. I wish that I had added instant messaging, like WhatsApp or something, to their iPads before the week began, but we communicated fine with just e-mail, Seesaw (see Using Seesaw to Teach Social Media), and the class chat activity on Moodle.

## Students Put Together a Game Plan

As the above sketchnote by @trev_mackenzie suggests, there is indeed a lot of autonomy and independence that comes from true free inquiry. However, even in the illustration we see that there isn’t total, complete freedom. To continue with the pool analogy, the above students may have increased freedom of movement, but they do have to remain in the pool at all times; they are not free to leave the complex without permission. Similarly, they are not allowed to make choices that put others’ safety at risk, or ruin the experience for themselves or others. At all times there is a “guide on the side”, but this guide is much more hands-off than during Guided Inquiry.

To structure the inquiry I used both of these sketchnotes by @trev_mackenzie. The goal setting (#4) and the calendar (#6) were particularly important in organizing the project.

As students neared their final days of preparation, I had a litany of questions from students to go through, but the main question that kept coming up from my 10 year olds was: Can we do whatever we want?

I tried to answer this question about the same way every time: This school is a learning space. You can learn whatever you want, however you want, and with whom you want, but you may not choose NO learning. You may take a break whenever you want, but in the end, this project is all about what we can accomplish in one week when we put our minds to it. I think you’ll realize quickly that you’ll need and want every minute that you are given during this special week.

## I Started the Year with a Plan for Gradual Release of Responsibility

There’s no way that a form of learning like this can be possible the first day of school. There are a lot of discussions, mini-lessons and student reflections about how we learn that must take place before a class is ready to embark on a solo journey of this magnitude. Gradual release does ultimately mean giving up the responsibility to the students. I knew my class was ready to take on this project when I felt that they had proven mastery of certain skills at least a few times before in a variety of guided inquiry sequences.

This one pic says it all about how my class has developed. Idea wall and green screen in the back, flexible seating, blended learning, conferencing, and engagement, engagement, engagement. The students pursuing their own learning is at the center of every experience, not me.

You also have to accept that some students may take longer during the year to get to a point of independence where they will get anything out of a week of free inquiry. For those students, I put them with partners that I knew I could trust to move them along, and I checked in on them more frequently than I did other students. I tried to make sure that their failures at the end were limited to the product rather than the process, i.e. a bad final project, but abundant learning nonetheless.

## I Proceeded with the Mantra of “Never Work Harder than Your Students”

After taking attending a workshop at the 2016 Africa Ed Conference in Johannesburg, South Africa by Karen Boyes called Never Work Harder Than Your Students, Let Them Do the Thinking, I began to see how the onus has to be on the student to take responsibility for their learning. When my teaching was teacher-directed, I was doing all of the work, and the students were merely passive consumers of information.

Why do a song and dance and waste all of your energy while students passively watch the show? Let them do the thinking. Let them plan their path forward. We teachers sometimes just need to get out of the way.

After the workshop, I was very clear with my students about my new expectations: I should never be working harder than any of you! And if I am, then you’re not doing your job right and I’m not doing my job right. This idea of never working harder than your students was critical when I began the Week of Free Inquiry because I had to come to grips with what it meant to release all responsibility to the students as I sat back with a cup of coffee while waiting for my next appointment with a student group.

## I Trusted and They Pulled Through

Our class culture is built around mutual admiration and respect between learning partners. The traditional top-down relationship between teacher and student is virtually gone, replaced with a “learning partnership” model.

In the end of the day, building relationships with students to make them better people is why I became a teacher. I wouldn’t expect a teacher that feels differently and puts less of a value on relationship building to be able to pull off the Week of Free Inquiry. It takes really getting to know your students’ strengths and weaknesses, and really building a culture of trust and a love of learning. Because I trusted them, and they respect me to the point that they will go to the ends of the earth to impress me, they were able to accomplish amazing things during this highly unstructured time.

What do you think? Could your kids pull off a Week of Free Inquiry? Are you ready to tear down the walls and let them be free? Be sure to follow me on Twitter and check out @SGroshell’s Teachers Pay Teachers account.

# A Letter to My Student About Goal Setting, Body Image, and Healthy Living

Students set their goals this year by creating sketchnotes and then recoding them as stop motion videos with audio.

I’ve talked about goal-setting before on educationrickshaw.com, including the SMART model. As my school nears Student Led Conferences, using Seesaw as our digital portfolio, my students have all set goals to achieve during the remainder of their time under my care. While most of my students chose goals centered on improving in a particular academic subject or skill, one athletic student set the goal to completely eliminate unhealthy foods from his diet. The following is a letter I sent to to this student and his family after he had just resisted the temptation to eat junk food during a class party.

March 28, 2017

Dear S,

I’m writing you tonight to tell you how proud I was when I saw you pass up the opportunity for sweets and junk food during the class party. It was your first big test that you faced since you set the ambitious goal to completely eliminate unhealthy foods from your diet. I was even more amazed when you looked ahead to your birthday and considered not having any sweets at your own birthday party! Since we are partners in this goal-setting process, I thought I’d e-mail you to talk more about the subject of body image and healthy living before student-led conferences.

The most important message that I want to communicate is that you must make sure that you are choosing to eat healthier not because you want to “lose weight”, but because you truly want to lead a healthier lifestyle. Losing weight and healthy living are two different things. There is no reason that you should be thinking about weight loss at your age. As you grow, sometimes you may gain weight because you are gaining muscle, or because you are growing taller, or for reasons that have nothing to do with being healthy. As small changes in weight happen throughout your life, you must always remember that you have an amazing body that is unique and special. Healthy living means maintaining positive feelings towards your body. You are perfectly YOU, and you should be proud of the body you were given.

As you go forward, I also want to make sure that you are taking care of yourself. As you continue your regimen, remember that eating less is not your goal. You still need to consume the amount of calories necessary to keep your body active and healthy. This will require plenty of fruits and vegetables, and reasonable portions of whole grains, meat, and dairy. When you are playing sports, monitor your energy. If you are feeling light headed and dizzy, it might mean that you need to be eating more healthy foods and drinking more water to make up for the lost calories in your diet.

I look forward to hearing how it goes throughout this year!

Sincerely,

Mr. Zach

If you would like to give me some tips or just your reaction, please feel free to leave a comment. For more about teaching and learning, keep coming back to educationrickshaw.com, follow me on Twitter, and check out @SGroshell’s resources on Teacher’s Pay Teachers.

# Kids should read a book and build a freaking fort

Motivating kids to become lifelong readers is every teacher’s goal, but I’ll be the first to admit to having to resort to crummy prizes and rewards, including candy and toys, to get kids to read a book. In this short post, I want to offer a fun alternative: The blanket fort.

Set a goal with your readers to read a certain amount, and if they do, they can build a freaking fort.

The blanket fort is an incentive that links closely to reading (when they build it, they will read in it), and it costs you no money. Just send home a letter and collect blankets and sheets for a week. Once they design it and build it, have them read in it.

If your maintenance team is cool, have them string up some wires or ropes or something to hang the blankets and sheets. Push the desks together and make tunnels. During breaks, invite other classes in for a tour and read them a story. Who cares? It’s a fort!

At the end of the day, what students need from their teacher is someone that models their love of reading. Don’t take reading so seriously in elementary that you disenfranchise your base. Inject a shot of adrenaline into your reading program and let kids build a freaking fort.

# Compliments During Times of Hardship

By: @MrZachG

Most teachers have experienced a week where the students feel down in the dumps. This could be due to a number of factors, sometimes out of the teacher’s control. You can’t always have the best week of your life.

When I was in 3rd grade, my teacher must have sensed that we were having one such week and he busted out an activity that I have done every year since I began teaching.

What this 3rd Grade (me middle right)? Who knows, but that mullet!

### Compliment Collage

How to do it? You basically hastily cut up a bunch of strips of paper and give enough to each student so that they can give one compliment to each of their peers. I try to give them some guidelines:

I always find it interesting that there is some kid that immediately starts saying, “I can’t think of any for so-and-so”. This is a great teachable moment. There is always something we can say nice about even the people we get along with the least.

Once the compliments are completed for all of the students, they are destined to be consolidated onto one piece of paper or poster. My teacher just typed them up for us and put them up in the room. We then had a museum walk where we looked at each others’ compliments. This is great but you can add one more part that students just love, and your neighboring teachers will just hate.

### Cannon Ball

When I worked at camp, we had this tradition of giving compliments to each other as we sat in our cabins during the final moments of the day. We called this time “embers”, a name I quite enjoy. Once the compliments were given, one by one each camper would exit the cabin and scream out their compliment as loud as they could.

Ex: “I am FUNNY, SMART and GOOD AT ART!”

This was inevitably followed by a huge round of applause from the group, and the cathartic feeling you get from such a “Cannon Ball” is out of this world. The Cannon Balls would persist until the Camp Director’s dog made such a fuss that he’d have to drag him up to prove to him that nothing was the matter.

In the quiet of some schools, this might seem like a challenge, but I’ve always been able to get away with it, usually by having students go into a closet/link room/office and shutting the door. They feel alone enough that every student will participate, but we can hear them just the same. And the noise is muffled so that Mr. Smith across the hall doesn’t get too mad when a kid screams, “I have beautiful eyelashes!” during his math lesson.

#### Try out the Compliment Collage and Cannon Ball when your kids know each other well and they’re just not feeling it that week. And keep complimenting your kids as much as possible.

Lesson plan Here

Video about how to teach kids to compliment