An Attempt to Make it Interesting…

In an attempt to break up the monotony of teaching a novel (Teachers, we have to admit that this can happen from time to time, even the best teachers.) my colleague Amy and I decided to create an escape room-like activity surrounding Lord of the Flies. Actually, we did two. One for the middle of the novel, and one for the end.

So, what is an escape room, exactly? Across the nation, businesses have sprung up that offer experiences where you and a handful of friends are locked in a room (or a couple rooms) and you have to solve puzzles and clues in order to get out. With most rooms you only have an hour. These are really fun to do with friends and even use for team building exercises with colleagues.

This seemed like an easy enough task. Until we had to set it up. Amy found both the escape rooms we conducted on Teachers Pay Teachers (links are below). We did adapt them just a bit to suit our needs, and Amy was a gracious guinea pig by testing them out with her own students first. For reference, Amy used it on her Regular 10 English class, and I used this for my Honors English 9 class.

The first escape room we did gave students slips of paper, each with a symbol and an event from chapters 1-3 of the novel. The first task was for students to put them in order, and the number of slips per chapter gave them a code to unlock the decoder. From there, they used the decoder to decipher a message. Once they cracked the first three chapters, they needed to complete chapters 4-6. This one seemed pretty easy for Amy’s students to complete, so when it was my turn, I wanted to spice it up a bit and make it more complicated. Instead of making it a break-out game within the classroom, I decided to use the library’s two identical production rooms and make it as much of an escape room as possible, without, you know, locking them in the room. Thanks to Amy, I was able to use fun distractors and places to hide clues inside a hollowed out bolt, which I hid in an already existing hole in the wall (yes, there was literally a hole in the wall); a fake thermometer, in which to hide a key; fake dictionaries, blacklight/invisible ink pen message written on a poster, lock boxes, using both word locks and number locks; and a puzzle saved on the desktop of the rooms’ computers.

The second escape room was something I conducted within the classroom and it had a total of 5 tasks to complete. In order to complete the final task, students needed to use all the clues from the first four. This one didn’t utilize any locks or hidden clues or anything, and I have to say the students seemed to enjoy this one more than the previous one. I thought the first room was cleverer, but one student said it really stressed her out. She is more the competitive type, though, so I didn’t worry too much about her stress level.


  1. The biggest difference I observed between how students worked through the first escape room and the second was that with the first, I didn’t control how they moved through the tasks. It was designed to be linear, with students completing one task to move to the next, but what ended up happening with each of the four groups is that they found all the cool and sneaky things first and then had to go back and put it all together. They actually went straight to the final clue and solved it before even trying to put the little slips in order and decode the message. I wouldn’t let them out of the room until they had completed all of the steps. If you’re a teacher, you know that frustration when students don’t read the directions. It can be maddening! With the second “escape room” I had more control of their pace and progress. In order to get the second task, students needed to solve the first one, and so on. What was really fun with the second escape room was the Oops! cards. When someone “let the fire out,” they were put in a “time out” for 3 minutes. I generally reserved these for those students who were more bossy or took control over the whole group.
  2. On three separate occasions, students assumed I had made an error in the design of the tasks, when in fact it was them not thinking through the activity or they had (two different groups) had dropped a piece of the puzzle underneath a chair. I don’t think this behavior is exclusive to this type of activity, however. Many times in my own classroom, students will assume they have turned in something and I have misplaced it before doing a thorough search of their own backpack only to reveal they never turned the assignment in in the first place. (Sound familiar, anyone?)
  3. It is key (pun intended) to keep a log of your locks and their combinations so you have an idea of what you have and how to use them again. I would strongly suggest you spend the extra money and purchase locks that have keys to reset them. It is worth the extra expense.
  4. If you anticipate doing a lot of walking/running between escape rooms, wear comfortable shoes!
  5. Make sure you have extra copies of everything you need. (I had to run and make copies during the first escape room and it was stressful!)
  6. Find a colleague to help you plan this. It was incredibly helpful to have someone to bounce ideas off of and to help troubleshoot and find holes in your puzzle sequences.
  7. Finally, I found that the natural helper/teacher in me wanted to offer hints to help groups solve their puzzles. This is something I really had to be cognizant of and keep myself in check. I wanted students to work and rely on each other, not me. I think both students and myself found this frustrating, but I saw this as a positive stressor.

You may be wondering: what does planning something like this look like? To answer this, I am going to take you through the first escape room activity.

1. Amy purchased the first escape room from Teachers Pay Teachers, but I tweaked it quite a bit to fit with what I


The sticky notes show the sequence of activities.

envisioned. This activity gave students slips of paper with events from chapters 1-6 and students were required to place them in order, and use a decoder (that they found from another clue) to identify the final message. So, taking this already created activity, I wanted the transitions between puzzles to be more challenging, so first we planned the transitions on my cubicle cabinet.


The angle of this photo makes it hard to see, but the tasks are all lined up in order.


2. Once the sequences seemed logical and were planned, then we put all the items (lock boxes, false dictionaries, fake bolts, blacklight pens, etc.) in order.





3. After going through the escape room several times ourselves and practicing it, I was then ready to set it aside, but didn’t want to lose the order.


And here it is, all ready to go! If I’m honest, when I see it like this, I am disappointed because it took a lot more time and effort to condense it all into these neat little piles.


If you’ve made it all the way to the end of this post, thank you for taking the time to read about an idea that worked really well for my students, and one I’ll definitely be doing more of in the future! If you have questions, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment or email me at




The Power of Multimodal Feedback

I am extremely excited to announce my first published manuscript: “The Power of Multimodal Feedback.”  The very talented Ann Feldmann and I have had a mutual interest in improving and advancing how we reach students and how we encourage them to improve their writing. We have been toying with the idea of making the feedback students receive more dense and accessible to them so they don’t just throw our feedback in the trash the minute the bell rings. We want students to see writing as a process and be able to provide them feedback in a way, and medium, in which they can find value. This manuscript is the result of six years of practice and playing around with different tools and finding which ones work best for certain tasks. We are very proud of our work and we are excited for research projects to grow out of this work.

Abstract: Feedback to students is most effective when it is timely, relevant and meaningful. English teachers spend many hours providing feedback on student writing and are disheartened as students disregard it. An English teacher and a technology specialist, while using available technology, set out to find a way to make the feedback process more streamlined, efficient, and something students would actually employ in the writing process. We discovered that utilizing technology tools available to provide on demand and archivable audio and visual feedback transforms the writing process and student responses are favorable.

We welcome your feedback and ideas!

Happy Reading!


What Do We Do With Resistance?

As my new district is preparing to go 1:1 with HP 360s in January, and I begin my 5th year teaching Teaching and Learning in Digital Environments at the university, Prensky is on my mind again.(Still haven’t figured out what a “thought leader” is by the way…) My point once again is that students rarely are all “native” or all “immigrant,” and to plan our instruction and assessment assuming our students now are all native is short sighted and we run the risk of unintentionally disengaging some students all in the name of educational reform and forward thinking.

This past Saturday, I led our TLDE students through a discussion on the definitions of what a digital native and digital immigrant are and we discussed what can be problematic if we put students into either binary. Some interesting conversations arose, such as, are natives better at multitasking (even when research says we are actually task switching), or are they just better at managing the distractions? We spent time discussing levels of comfort, and that it seems that natives are a little more comfortable learning new technology, and perhaps even prefer to use technology to learn?

The very next day, I took my 11-year-old niece out to dinner and a movie last night and we got to talking about school and how 6th grade was different than 5th grade. My niece is a very hard worker, and genuinely cares about her education. She knows the value of education and that it will be an essential path for her to pursue her dreams of being a farm veterinarian, or brain surgeon. However, she is also a pre-teen, which is accompanied with a whole lot of new phrases like, “That is so stupid.” or “That is so dumb.” with an eye roll or two on the side.

Then the conversation turned into talk about technology in her classes. To say she is not a fan would be an understatement. Her school issued Chrome books to students last year. She didn’t go into too much detail about how her other teachers incorporated the device into their instruction and student learning, but she paid particular attention to talking about her Literacy class, which is another fancy word for English class. Her teacher has them work on spelling words using an annotation software (I cannot remember the name, it was something I had never heard of), and she prefers to use paper instead to complete her spelling work. I asked her if she had asked her teacher if she could do it how she preferred, and she said yes, she asked and her teacher said no because this is how she will learn in the future. (Again, please note, this is coming from a pre-teen.) Overall, I got the sense that she strongly dislikes using her Chrome book for school, or anything else, really.

I’m wondering a few things:

  1. Is she resisting learning with this device because she isn’t a fan of her new English teacher and maybe a couple others?
  2. Does she, a “digital native,” just genuinely not like using technology to learn?
  3. If she were asked to do more creation on the device, like create movies or other multimodal compositions, would she be more engaged, and perhaps roll her eyes less?

If it were in my classroom, and that of many of my colleagues, I would have let her choose how she wants to demonstrate her learning, as long as it wasn’t a strict requirement that she use a certain mode or medium, such as typing a literary analysis on Lord of the Flies or something, even if it meant that she just completes it on paper and hands it in the old fashion way.

But does the English teacher have a point? Should we require students to use the device in front of them because technology will be an essential part of their adult lives, and they must be digital citizens and communicators, just as they are in “real life?” I brought this up with my husband, the wannabe Luddite, and his reply was, “Kids also like sugar, doesn’t mean it’s good for them.” Meaning, using technology may be beneficial to a student’s learning, whether they recognize it or not.

The idea of resistance to technology in the classroom is a very interesting to me, and I welcome your thoughts on these questions I have posed. Thank you in advance!

Substitution or Redefinition?

To take a break from reading To Kill A Mockingbird, I led my students in a critical thinking activity I’ve executed in a variety of different ways in the past. Essentially, students were assigned to read chapters 14 and 15 of the novel on their own and write down three separate passages that resonated with them. Passages that seemed significant to the larger workings of the novel. Passages that made them stop– even for a second– and think.

When they came back to class the next day, they separated those passages and we made three large piles. After that, I arranged them into three larger groups each group getting a stack of passages. For time’s sake, I asked them to pick 10. Students were asked to glue the ten passages to the butcher paper in any random order, the organization didn’t matter. They could either do this randomly (which they did because of time) or by the ones that were juicy. Hindsight: Probably should have had them do the latter because two groups had repeats and a couple times there wasn’t an actual quote (meaning a student must not have understood the assignment) and some of the quotes were too short and the significance didn’t seem as obvious.

From there, students were asked to work together as a group to identify the connections between the quotes. They all inherently connect because they are from the same novel, it is just up to the students to make the connection. Some students identified cause and effect relationships, and others identified what we called “common denominator” relationships. For example, there were two separate instances where Jem and Atticus were trying to temper Scout’s passionate wonderings, and students had a discussion that if two people were saying the same thing to Scout that it was likely they were accurate.

I’ve led this activity before, mostly with Romeo and Juliet, and I picked the quotes. What I like about this activity is it is always pretty challenging, but so worthwhile. It helped them summarize the piece, and use critical thinking skills to analyze the relationships between the quotes. This forced them to fill in the blanks and really consider the context surrounding the quotes.

Each of the three groups worked together differently, and their spatial arrangement


Group #1


Group #2

played a pretty big role in that. Two groups taped their poster to the wall and gathered around it, one of them had a table in the middle of the group edged right up against the wall. The other group (group #1) pushed two tables together and everyone stood around the table. This third group seemed to work more cohesively together, I observed everyone gluing, discussing, and writing. Group #2, whose poster was on the wall above the table, had all of the female students doing the work, while the boys stood by the wayside and chatted. The other group (Group #3)in the back with the poster taped to the wall worked a little more cohesively. One student, however, was sort of isolated to the left and didn’t really offer much to the group. Eventually, when I required each student to write something on the poster, she did participate and the group worked with her.


Group #3


After reflecting on this, I went back to a question I’ve asked myself so many times this year I lost count, “How would I do this in a digital environment?”

Here are some tools I think I may use: Lucid Chart (Google Chrome extension), Popplet (the online version), or Paddlet. I don’t have much experience with Lucid Chart, and I haven’t ever asked students to collaborate using Popplet, but Padlet would be a really good tool and could perhaps be a great platform to get each student in the group involved.
As I type this, I am reminded of the SAMR model of tech integration.





I think this image better represents SAMR than the typical sequential diagram most of you have probably seen. This one represents the idea of the SAMR glove. I like this because it shows how messy it can get (even in a good way), and how SAMR is best described as a reflective tool of pedagogy

Mind you, the goal is Redefinition in which the learning task is enhanced and was previously inconceivable before technology. While on the outset, it seems as if the use of these digital tools in this literacy activity is mere substitution, I have to imagine that IF (and I really mean WHEN) students become more engaged, then how is that not transforming it into something that wasn’t possible before? Am I reaching here?


Low-Tech Options for Teaching Multiliteracies

Not every school has 1:1 access; but soon, I imagine they will. According to a 2014 National Study on Mobile Technology, 71% of districts surveyed reported that at least a quarter of their schools had adopted technology. Additionally, 82% of school districts were highly interested in implementing or expanding a district-wide 1:1 program within the next 2 years (it’s 2016 now, so I wonder what percentage actually were able to implement one?

My point is that not every kid has the access we wish they did. That’s okay, because we as teachers already know how important it is to be flexible and troubleshoot. IMG_5575 (1)

I am finishing my unit on reading graphic novels with American Born Chinese and wanted my students to apply their technical knowledge of graphic novels while sharing their classmates’ stories of being an “other.” Once the graphic stories were told and designed, I posted several throughout the room, asked students to pair up and identify the following
elements on their classmate’s poster.

  • emanata
  • gutter
  • splash
  • panel
  • voice over
  • speech bubbles
  • panel transitions
  • non-linear time sequence
  • camera angles
    • long shot
    • close up
    • birds eye
    • eye level
  • foreground ,midground, and background

This was a fantastic activity to review what they have learned throughout this unit, not only the technical elements, but also elements of narrative writing (in various mediums).

Next year when my district goes 1:1, I will do this same activity, but use the technology available. Instead of using poster paper, they will use a digital comic creator app such as Comic Life, Bitstrips, StoryboardThat, ToonDoo, or PowToon (I am sure there are others, these are just ones I am familiar with.).

Then, they will import that image into ThingLink, an interactive image creator, share their image with their classmates, and create targets to identify the different elements.

Each activity, whether the low-tech option or the “high”-tech one, will take about the same amount of time for students to complete, which is also an important consideration to make.

Just wanted to share how I can turn something low-tech into a “high”-tech version utilizing the digital learning tools available to me. I would love to hear your thoughts on this, or any other activity you do to transition from low-tech to “high”-tech!

Phases, Stages, and Labels: Who Am I?

I’m sitting at a district training event, one which I initially missed because I was attending an important family event, and on today’s agenda is “Digital Learning.”

Marzano’s  Stages of Learning a New Strategy was used to take inventory on the audience members’ level of experience and comfort with incorporating digital learning  into their individual classrooms.

  • Cognitive Phrase (I’ve heard of this concept, haven’t explored much about it yet.)
  • Shaping Phase (I’ve done some reading on the concept, explored it in my classroom a little.)
  • Autonomous Phase (I’m well versed in this concept. I use it often. It’s almost second nature to meFullSizeRender (3)

I was asked at what phase am I with “Digital Learning.” My first reaction is, how in the world can I answer this? My actual response is, “All of them, of course.” IMG_5310

Engaging students in academic content within digital environments is a messy endeavor, and each learning experience is different, every time. Whenever I go to a professional development session focused on “digital learning,” I hear a lot of talk about “the stages of ___________.” It is natural for us to label, categorize, and compartmentalize our world because it helps us to better comprehend its complexities, but there are complications in doing so. This is about as simplistic as Prensky’s (2001) dichotomous characterization of learners from “Digital Natives vs. Digital Immigrants.” (Seriously, I could go on about Prensky…)

If we think of students as being either a “native” or an “immigrant,” or our teachers as being in the thinking phase, the shaping phase, or the autonomous phase, then we are not explicitly making room for dialogue of the various messy gray areas of teaching and learning in a digital environment.

However, it’s a good place to start the conversation. I’m curious about your thoughts on digital learning. What does it mean to you? What is important for us to keep in mind?

Taking Care of Ourselves

IMG_3690After submitting my third (and hopefully my final) draft of my dissertation, I am exhausted, yet energized. In two weeks, I will defend the last three years of my studies and work. They don’t tell you the two hardest parts of writing a dissertation is writing the dedication and formatting the table of contents. The latter being the most frustrating and mind-numbing part. The former being the most emotion-filled, yet rewarding part (besides hitting “Send”, of course).

As I sat at my desk yesterday trying to find the right words to thank everyone who has supported me along the way, I found myself and my vocabulary inept. And I wept. For the emotion swirling inside me, and also for my inability to properly acknowledge the people in my life for their sacrifice in helping me get to the end. Make no mistake, people have sacrificed for me to be here, mostly their time and patience. Nevertheless, it is done, and I am proud and humbled at the same time.

In May of this year, all at once, my husband and I decided to move into his childhood home, sell our home by owner, have a baby (well, that was decided approximately 9.5 months prior…), and find a new job for me. For quite some time, I had been feeling despair at my previous school, a despair that grew in size, and one I could no longer ignore. There are myriad reasons why I was unhappy at that job, and it was time for a change. In all honestly, I was questioning my future in teaching. Not many people will say this out loud because it is scary to admit, and risky at the same time. But, I was unhappy. I knew that other schools and districts struggle with similar issues, but it had to be better somewhere else, even just a little bit. I haven’t written about this yet because I was not sure how to articulate it. This is not meant to disparage my previous employer, but to express and make sense of how a teacher’s workplace profoundly affects every other aspect of her life.

I did not realize how my professional life as a teacher, and my unhappiness, was impacting my own mental well being, until I started in my new position across town. I want to come to school everyday– I abhor having to take a sick day and miss class. I feel respected and supported. I feel included. I want to come in early and stay late. But all of those I noticed right away. The biggest change I have noticed (and I just noticed this yesterday), is that I care about how I physically appear to others.

Now, I’m not one to put much thought and care into my looks on a philosophical level, but I do care about how I feel. I wake up in the morning and care that I look professional. Before, I wouldn’t even look at myself in the mirror before leaving for work because I knew it didn’t matter, to my supervisors, and myself. I hope I am expressing this in a way that helps others understand. This matters to me, and it makes me somewhat sad that I didn’t understand, nor recognize this until just now. I suppose what I’m saying comes down to this: It is important– nay, necessary– to take notice of ourselves as whole individuals and recognize  when we need to take care of ourselves.