Technology Pursuit

Blending Technology Into the Language Arts Classroom

Month: July 2018

When Students Make the Games

I’ve written before about students making games to cement their learning, but I want to show off Andrew Arevalo’s project, Top-Middle-Bottom, a math game his fourth grade students designed.

Top-Middle-Bottom is a card game, where students play cards to either grow their points or to reduce other players’ points. One player serves as the “banker,” which is the scorekeeper of the game. This role is central to gameplay; with the constant change of the scoreboard, the banker gets significant practice in arithmetic, plus the other players are constantly monitoring the scoreboard to double-check the math.

This game has brought not only great content practice to students but a much higher engagement and interest in math. And as we all know, when students are having fun and enjoying what they’re learning, their commitment and willingness to be challenged rises.

What makes this game doubly powerful is that the students designed it. Teacher-designed games or commercial games can be great for student learning, but when students experience the design, iteration, and thinking behind the game, their understanding grows.

My own kids and I have been really lucky to play Top-Middle-Bottom. Beautiful high-quality cards and lots of strategy and opportunities to win. In all, Andrew’s students have designed 22 cards (currently), but even playing with the first 8 is a big plenty for a challenging game. This game certainly has potential to grow and expand as you bring in new cards or take out others.  All my kids–14 yo daughter and 10 & 12 yo sons–enjoyed playing!

To check out more about Top-Middle Bottom, go here.  And check out a student journalism piece about the game below:


Go-To Resources for Teaching Fake News


I’ve been hard at work upgrading our fake news unit for next year. It’s been a couple years since I first created the unit–long before the infamous 2016 presidential election! Since then, the internet has exploded with resources, lesson plans, and games to teach fake news. Let me show off some of my favorite, best-of-the-best selections that I’ll be using!

  1. iCivics News Literacy Unit: Great resources available for teaching journalism, bias, satire, and misinformation. Both web-based and PDF activities are available. I love some of the depth in these lessons, such as studying the word choice used by The Hill v Washington Post, or CNN v FoxNews. The unit doesn’t have a lot of collaboration, but it has solid information and activities that you could use as is or modify to be more interactive.

2. NewseumEd: This website was new to me, and man, am I glad I stumbled across it. Let me tell you, there are some jewels of lessons and materials in here. I especially love the ESCAPE acronym they introduce for analyzing a suspicious source and the lesson about “Is it Shareworthy”–(I actually might enroll some of my extended family enroll in that lesson).

3. Factitious: I started using this game last year. It’s a basic game that presents the player with an article, and the player simply decides whether it’s real news or fake news. Factitious is a quick and fun way for students to get a baseline of their “fake news” sniffing abilities at the beginning of the unit and then return to the game at the end for another round.

Bad News

Fake It to Make It

4. Fake It to Make It and Bad News Game: These two games put you in the seat of a fake news mogul. What’s the benefit of that? Students get a feel for WHY people do this, what decisions they make, and THAT gives them a deeper understanding of what signs to look for when evaluating news. The Bad News Game is simpler and quicker, while Fake It to Make It is much more robust with more choices and strategy. Both are good, all depending on the time and depth you want your students to get.

Welcome to the CIA: Cicada Induced Anxiety

It starts in early July every year. The cicadas sing their long strained songs, and I know that summer is past its peak and on the downhill slide. In 4-5 weeks, I’ll be back in school for teacher in-services, and in six weeks, I’ll be welcoming students in my classroom again.

Usually, my CIA is a mix of excitement and anxiety. There’s so much I want to do each July, but I’m excited to get back to school.

This year, I’m not ready.

June has been crazy good. I danced until my feet blistered in Chicago, acted like a robot to get into a Safehouse bar in Milwaukee, and finished my oral exams here in Nebraska. I caught up with teacher friends I only see in the summer, met new colleagues that I can’t wait to know better, and enjoyed workshops and sessions that will make me a better teacher. I’ve gone down some rabbit holes with new tech tools that might fit well with my classroom goals.

But I’m also juggling six hours of classes. I’ve watched a colleague and a great uncle laid to rest in the same week. I’ve started studying for my GRE. And when I was driving the other day, I counted up at least 40 hours behind the wheel during June–not counting the hours I’ve spent on planes, shuttle buses, and subways.

And now, the cicadas are mocking me.

I have so much I want to tweak and improve for next year, and I feel so behind. Going to conferences makes me compare myself to the amazing teachers I meet–a dangerous thing to do.

Maybe some of you feel this way, too. This anxiety, this need to make this year the best ever, the unattainable desire to get it right this year. To be organized. In control. And if you’re like me, the desire to be less stressed during the school year only leads to more stress during the summer.

The past few days I’ve been feeling better. I don’t have all the answers to make anyone with CIA feel better, but here’s what works for me.

  1. The list. I took this idea from Mel Robbins, motivational speaker and author of the 5-Second Rule. Write down everything you need to do in one big list. It took me a while. I keep returning to my list days later and adding more. Then Robbins says highlight the ones that need done today–3 or 4 at most. Do those. Don’t worry about the rest today. Each day, I take on a few things on the list. Many of those things can’t be done in a day, but I can work on them for a little while.  (And some of them I have to accept may not get done this summer, like deep cleaning my carpets. The world will continue.)

2. Stop waiting for the time to make it perfect. Even writing this post, I wrote sentences in my head for days. I thought about what I would do for images. Finally, I had to tell myself just start. Don’t even worry about finishing. Just start it. Write down some ideas. And here I am, already over 500 words in a mere 20-30 minutes. Even if I only work for 5-10 minutes writing down ideas or an outline for a project, I can rely on my subconscious to start doing more work on it, especially if the ideas swirling around in my mind are finally out on paper and I don’t have to worry about them anymore.

3. Stop and breathe. Easier said than done, but I hadn’t done much yoga in the past month except for a little stretching here and there before workouts or in my hotel rooms. I hadn’t really sat down with a yoga video, which is what makes me slow down, focus, and just breathe. After just a couple sessions, I already feel calmer and more in control.

4. Stop comparing. If I get caught up in what other amazing teachers are doing, I start to feel lacking. I’m not creating enough amazing looking games, or I’m not connecting my kids enough to other classrooms, or I’m not personalizing or creating enough learning paths. I can get to the point where I look at social media and think, Wow, that’s such an amazing teacher. I wish I could be as amazing. I forget that social media isn’t real life. How often have I posted about a bombed lesson or a student project that fell far short of standards? Rarely (though maybe we should…) All teachers have areas to improve. No one has got this occupation figured out and in the bag. The best we can do is own where we are, focus where we want to go next, and accept that we can’t do every fantastic idea that we see.

And don’t be afraid to talk to someone. Find colleagues who can remind you how awesome you are. Or if you need to, find a professional. It took me months to get up the courage to talk to a doctor about my anxiety, but after doing so a few years ago and being more conscious about my anxiety, I’ve learned how to recognize my signs of increasing anxiety and what steps to take to slowly reduce it. (Plus, full disclosure here, Lexapro helps me out, too!)

Whether you can relate to any of this or not, enjoy this summer, embrace your own cicadas (well, not literally), and don’t forget how awesome an educator you are.

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