Category Archives: awesome

Gamifying My Flipped Classroom

I have been doing reading on gamification and its impact in the classroom for a while. I have seen posts on Twitter and blogs from a variety of teachers who are making it work, but it just never seemed like it was a good fit for my classroom. How do you add games to Chemistry?!

I have been listening to Chris Aviles a lot recently and his system really seemed to make sense. Think of a typical role-playing game and you will see that the classroom isn’t much different. The student is the game’s main character with certain abilities. The people in your group are your guild that you compete with. The assessments are the Quests your character must go through and accomplish in order to “level up.” And the classroom is the world in which you are currently competing. When you look at it from this perspective, gamification of the classroom should be a piece of cake.

But here is the other problem my co-teacher and I were having with this idea when I presented it to her last year. Some kids just don’t like to play games. Whether that be an actual video game or the game of school, some just don’t have the personality or the abilities to compete. It would take the right combination of students with the right personalities and the right level of ambition/competitiveness to make this work.

And so entered my 6B class.

When we played Nomenclature Boggle a few weeks ago, this class was cut throat. They are yelling their scores to each other, racing to finish just one more word before the timer ran out, and did it all with smiles on their faces. Some of the students in the class had accrued more points in 2 rounds than one of the other classes did in 3. I knew that this class would be totally into a system that allowed them to compete against each other.

So here is how everything works (and this very much follows . The class still has all of the same assignments as it would have before: Tests, Quizzes, Labs, HW, Quarterly. The average a student has in each of these categories averages to give them their Experience Points (XP). The students can also earn Achievement Points (AP) for a variety of additional tasks, some earned by behavior in the class, some outside. For example, asking an Awesome Question earns 50 AP, wearing your school ID is 10 AP, getting your name on the morning announcements is 100 AP. AP combines with XP to form a student’s Level in the class. So, someone who is a C student when it comes to assessments can actual have a Character Level above someone who is an A student because of AP. I have published 5 of these AP Badge categories for the students and the remaining 10 I came up with are all hidden. Once any student in class achieves that Badge, I will then publish it for all to see. Why do I keep it hidden? I want the students to be themselves, not purposely do things just to earn points. Plus, as Chris mentions, it leaves me a way to reward something a student does without having to predict it in advance.

But, the real key to all of this is the spreadsheet that I got from Chris. Here is a screenshot of it.Gamification Leaderboard screenshot

This spreadsheet keeps track of all the points the students earn during the marking period from either XP or AP. I have hidden the names of the students so you can only see their Character Names and Guilds. But, the real genius of all this comes from the script that Chris and one of his students wrote to automate the entire process. Here is a shot of it:Gamification Points Site

This is a website created from the Leaderboard spreadsheet that allows me to check off any student (names were removed from screenshot), Guild, or even whole class, and assign AP to them. Only myself and my co-teacher can see this site so students never know the hidden Badges nor can they cheat and assign extra points themselves.

So, we are off on a new adventure in 6B (no pun intended). We are flipping, doing guided-inquiry, and now gamifying the classroom. From Day 1, I have told my students that this is a ‘Classroom in Beta’ and to expect crazy on any given day. Now let’s see how crazy this actually gets!

[The files created by Chris Aviles can be found at Chris’ Teachers Pay Teachers site. Please also reach out to him (@techedupteacher) for additional information and assistance in setting up your class]


Going on a #GoogleExpedition

My school had the unbelievable good fortune to get selected for the Google Expeditions Pioneer Program and it was AMAZING! Here is how our day went.

First, it can never be a bad day when you go out to the parking lot and there is a Google car waiting for you.


Natasha was our Google Expeditions Coordinator for the day and she was fantastic. Energetic and quick on her feet; she was able to solve any problem we had throughout the day. She brought with her 3 sets of 30 Google Cardboard along with Asus phones, and a teacher tablet pre-loaded with all of the Expeditions. I arranged for classes to rotate throughout the day into each of the classes in 30 minute sections. While all of the teachers picked their Expedition in advance, they were free to change as the need arose because all of the locations were pre-loaded and we didn’t need an wifi connection.


These 6 boys are all in the same location, but looking at totally different things based on what interests them the most.

The students took to Cardboard very, very fast, as was to be expected.

IMG_20151109_075824 IMG_20151109_101127

Of course, our Principal and Superintendent needed to get in on the action, too.

I think the best part of Expeditions is the material that’s pre-loaded for each location. As you can see in the following photo, if the teacher was unsure of what she was looking at, she could swipe to the left and all the information was right in front of her.


Included was an overall description of the location and some guiding questions for the teacher to ask the class. The teacher could tap on the photos and arrow would appear on the screen of the students’ devices to direct their attention to something specific. Smiley faces were on the screen of the teacher’s tablet showing where each student was currently looking so she could tell who was engaged in the lesson. The students loved going into the rainforests and any Expedition that brought them underwater, especially swimming with the sharks. Some of my personal favorites were seeing Jane Goodall’s home in Gombe, following the Museum Photographer from the Museum of Natural History, and standing on top of a building in Rome.

I think the best comment of the day was from a senior who said, “We’re in the freakin’ Colosseum but we’re really in a library in NJ!” I think that was the best part of this experience: showing the kids parts of the world that they have never or may never experience. We spent more of the day just having fun than actually linking it back to the curriculum, but I think that’s ok since we gave them an experience they will never forget.

So, where do we go from here? Actually, anywhere our imagination can take us. My Principal and I were talking and just in a couple of minutes we said: have teachers record vacations or locations from around the world and develop lessons with them, video ours of our school, walking tours of colleges, and a Google Street View walkthrough of our Art Show. Once the video and sound capabilities are included, Google Expeditions will become an amazing learning opportunity for students all over the world.

My first #flipclass #flashblog

There is a Flipped Classroom chat going on every Monday from 8-9pm EST using the hashtag #flipclass. Like most chats, there is a topic and moderators and I am usually so busy doing other things I forget about it and miss the entire conversation. But, anyway.

Something unique that they do is ask all participants to stop what they are doing at that moment in the chat and write a blog post on the spot discussing their ideas. Then you need to post it back to the chat so everyone can read. As usual, I missed the entire chat, but I tuned it for the topic of the #flashblog: How do you experience community outside of your classroom or school?

Now I get to do what I love the most: talk about my amazing students.

I am the building advisor for the town’s Relay for Life event. This is event is community, not school, based. We have hundreds of attendees, all from the surrounding areas, and only about half of those present are students. This year, my school’s teams raised over $20,000!! That brings our 3 year total to just a hair over $60,000! I am so proud of my students. Most of them stay up with me all night long. We walk the track for hours, participate in all sorts of events throughout the night, gossip, each ridiculous amounts of junk food, and have a great time. Here are some pictures from this year’s event.


I love participating in this event. Not only does it raise money for an extremely worthy cause, it helps me build stronger relationships with my students.

PS: I have no idea why the photos formatted the way they did. I just inserted them and that’s how they came out.

Sometimes it’s the little things

I saw this pin on Pinterest last year about leaving words of encouragement on pencils for students during exams. I tried it for my Honors class and they really loved them. One student even made a Tweet about it a few months later when she found the pencil in the bottom of her backpack.
I wanted to do this again for all my classes for finals this past year but with 152 students there was no way that was going to happen. So, at the last minute, I decided to just take a whiteboard marker and write the message directly on the desk.  Here are some pictures of what I wrote:

I think my favorite part about the day was when some students came in early, noticed the messages, and went around the room trying to find the one they liked best.  I don’t know if it helped improved scores, but it definitely put a smile on their face.

One student told me at the end of the year that she feels so comfortable learning in my classroom.  I think I can call my year a success.

Going to the GTA!

One of my unwritten goals for the past year has been to make it into the Google Teacher Academy.  I missed the December deadline for NYC because I chickened out at the last minute over making my one minute video.  When the application opened this spring for Mountain View (Google HQ!) I knew I couldn’t wait another year.

To be honest, it was one of the most stressful things I have ever done, probably because I wanted it so badly.  Not only was the application stressful, but the day I knew I would be receiving my email of acceptance (or denial, but I was staying positive) was horrible.  I must checked my email at least 100 times even though my phone would have alerted me to the received message.  Everything stopped in my life whenever my pocket vibrated thinking that this could be it.

  • At about 4pm, the email telling me I was accepted arrived and I literally jumped up and down and started screaming.  Luckily I was alone in the school cafeteria waiting for my Relay For Life meeting to start so it wasn’t that embarrassing.  I wanted to share two things I learned from this experience.Make sure you read the directions!!  I was asked to answer 2 questions.  One on hardships that I have faced and how I overcame them.  The other on why I wanted to attend the GTA.  I read the question and noticed that underneath it said ‘Maximum 800 words.”  I remember thinking ‘wow, there are at least 1000 people going to apply and they are going to read all of these essays in a week.  That’s impressive!’  So I wrote out this page and half essay and when I was finally ready, pasted the text into the box on the Google form.  That’s when the little red error popped up and said “800 characters exceeded.”  You read that right:  CHARACTERS not WORDS.  I had to take an essay that was nearly 800 words (779 to be exact) and turn it into 800 characters including spaces!  On the day it was due!  While I was teaching classes!!  Here is my submission as to why I wanted to attend the GTA:

School needs to be transformed; GTA will lead to this. I long to be part of something transformative, something cutting edge, something elite, to be part of a community of educators redesigning education; the concept of GTA excites & energizes me. As a GCT, I will draw on connections to the people most passionate about achieving the best for students while I do the same for mine. I am excited about the opportunity to work closely with like-minded educators innovating, shaking up the system, daring to fail. Every teacher should be fighting for a chance to attend a GTA. I’m geeking out about the opportunity to just apply, that I stand a chance of getting to explore the Google offices & get to talk about the great things other excited educators are doing! Plus, I hear the food is awesome.

  • You need to create a one minute video about how you are innovating education and having an impact in your school.  A couple of students and I had worked on a project for the White House Film festival a few months ago so I tapped their talents to help me again.  We found clips I had recorded from various activities, filmed a short intro, and edited over the course of a couple of hours in the video production lab.  One of the students is very talented with Garage Band so while 2 of us were editing clips (and dealing with my OCD/perfectionist tendencies), he was creating an original score for the piece.  It is not the best video that I have seen submitted, but we were pretty proud of it when we were done.  Below is my video submission.
The students in the video were so embarrassed at first, but then were showing their friends that they made it in the video.  People from all over the world were seeing it and that gave them a sense of pride.  Plus my son loved being there at the end.
I think my biggest takeaway and best advice for anyone thinking of applying is to just go for it.  I panicked at the first one because I felt I wasn’t good enough.  But afterwards, and after watching a colleague get in, I realized I was selling myself short.  We all do awesome things in our classrooms.  We need to be positive and promote that.  Sell the the awesome however and wherever we can.  

I Am Awesome

Repeat after me…

Ok, one more time…
Last time, and with some feeling…
How often do you do this?  Just stop what you are doing and say, out loud, that you are awesome.  We just don’t do it.  Why?
Because someone might hear?
Because we don’t think we really are awesome?
Because someone might prove us wrong?
I have been developing this post for a couple of days and something happened in class today that made me sit down and finally put words to this.  I have a students who is an amazing artist.  I love everything that she sketches in her book.  She was working a drawing of a parrot and the eye on the parrot was so fantastically drawn that I actually touched the paper to make sure that she didn’t glue a picture on top of it to make it look better.  The shading, the colors.  I was blown away.  I told her work was amazing and she got embarrassed.  Not embarrassed like “Oh, you are just being kind.” but actually was on the verge of a panic attack because I was giving her compliments.  I told her that she is extremely gifted and she should be standing up in class showing her work to everyone.  That made it worse and she covered up her book with her arms so I couldn’t look anymore.
There is a ton of research out there on brain theory and the differences between men and women.  I have read that males are more likely to raise their hands and answer questions in class, but females will only answer after they have a thoughtful response and are confident in their answer.  I see this happen every day.  Typically guys will call out the first thing that pops in their head, but the girls are more likely to get the answer correct.
We tell people to have confidence in themselves, but if they were to go around proclaiming their awesomeness, we call them egotistical.
You were made to be awesome.  If you ever doubt yourself, just look in a mirror and say “Who’s Awesome? I’m Awesome!”
And don’t you ever forget it!!!