WWI Alliance Simulation

Today, my students participated in a WWI alliance simulation created by @TeachitHist

You can find it here

It’s REALLY great! This is the 2nd year I’ve done it with my 8th grade students at the start of our WWI unit. They really get into the simulation and carry their discussions out into the hallways and cafeteria for the rest of the day. Additionally, it’s a great thing to be able to refer back to during other lessons in the unit. It perfectly shows the chaos happening at the start of the war.

Here’s how I set the class up:


Each desk has a name plate for the country and a stack of blank notes. When students come in they are assigned their station and the directions are explained.


I also have them color their country on a map that they tape to the front of their desk. Then, I pass out the first notes to each group. Notice that I color-coded my notes to make it easier to keep organized in between classes.



These are some of my more favorite notes from today’s session:

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This is a GREAT lesson, that takes a little bit to set up but will pay dividends for the years to come!

Jamming Jenga

Tumbling Tower

I need to first start off and say that this game was NOT my idea. I got it from my amazing Twitter PLN. Specifically @MrHebertPE – It’s a game that totally jams the classic Jenga game into something super engaging for everyone. Scott shows the basics of the game in this great YouTube video:



I wasn’t sure at first if this game would hold the attention of ALL students, but I am happy to report that it did. Groups were eager to steal questions from other groups if they didn’t know the answer, so they were listening intently to the questions. Everyone was also on the edge of their seats as students went up to pull the Jenga blocks. You could hear a pin drop in that dramatic moment right before the student flipped the block over to reveal their fate. It was jamming at it’s very best. It was also great motivation for getting the assignment done. You need to know this information in order to play the game!

This game could be used to review any subject and with any grade level that’s capable of pulling out Jenga blocks. I also typed out the directions to help myself, and you, to play this game. Good luck and I’d love to hear about your experience!

Tumbling Tower Directions

Incentive Jam

I’m sure I’m not the only one who finds that classes can run a little more smoothly with incentives. I know they are controversial and that students should want to learn just for learning’s sake, and that’s fine in some classes. But there are some other classes, where a little incentive just makes the day (and year) go by a little more smoothly and peacefully for everyone involved. Students who aren’t intrinsically motivated to always do their best, can often become motivated extrinsically. In the past I had used candy. Turn in your signed report card, here’s a piece of gum. Have a great insight to share with the class about the reading, how about a mint? Willing to answer during a class discussion when no one else is? Heads up for a Dum-Dum! But then we got an email about a year ago that changed all that. No. More. Candy.

Now what? Luckily, a few months after this email, I learned about gamification and I was able to add incentives back into my classroom in the form of game items. Here’s how it works. I create one super-rare item for each unit of study. By super-rare, I mean only one available per class. At the start of each unit, I tell the students what they will be competing for and what the powers of the item are. Here’s a couple examples:

Teddy Roosevelt Item
Teddy Roosevelt Item
Sewing Machine
Sewing Machine Item

Then, the competition begins! Students start earning tickets for any manner of things:

  • Great contribution to class discussion
  • Using historical thinking language during small group work
  • Turning in an important document
  • Staying focused during an activity
  • The sky is the limit!

At the end of the unit, I pull one ticket from each class bucket and read the name.

Ticket buckets for each class

The item goes to that student and the rest of the tickets remain in the bucket until the next time. Students have really bought into this and go out of their way to try to earn tickets. When items are pulled they get very excited and even break out into applause for each other. To me, this is WAY easier (and cheaper) than buying candy. It’s also a lot more meaningful because they are actually competing for something inside of our game.

I hope you find this helpful and please share your incentive ideas in the comments. I’d love to hear from you!

Guest Vlog Post: Gratitude Changes Everything

Almost a year ago, I first heard Michael Matera speak as part of the Ditch Summit put on my Matt Miller. During the other sessions of the Ditch summit, I folded laundry, cooked dinner, cleaned the cupboards, and all those other chores that you put off until it’s February in Maine and there’s nothing else to do. When Michael started speaking though, I found I couldn’t multi-task. I was so intrigued by what he was talking about, I had to give him my full attention. Immediately after the session, I went and bought his book – Explore Like a Pirate – and ever since my classroom has been transformed.

I immediately started a Battle of the Bands themed game when I returned to school and started winging it from there. I’m now into my second game with a time travel theme and am loving what gamification has done for my class. Michael’s vlogs and podcasts even inspired this very blog. I preach the benefits of gamification to anyone that will listen and am happy to say that the ideas are starting to spread. Professionally, when I think of things I’m grateful for, Michael Matera would be high on the list. Here’s his guest post about gratitude…

Gratitude Changes Everything by Michael Matera

In this short video I explore the power of gratitude. At first I thought I would talk about being grateful for things like my daughter or my family… But then I thought of taking it from a different angle. Have a listen and watch all the way to the end for some questions for you to share you thoughts on. Thank you for being part of my PLN and for watching, sharing, and subscribing.

Be sure to check out the rest of Mr Matera’s YouTube videos and WellPlayed Podcasts! His website is MrMatera.com where you can see his classroom, buy his book, and order some cool merch too!

Guest Blogging: Gratitude

A few weeks ago I was approached by Adam Powley on Twitter (@MrPowley ) about participating in a guest blogging challenge with the topic being ‘Gratitude’. I have never been a ‘guest blogger’ before and didn’t know how to do it. I still don’t really know what I’m doing, but if you want to read the back story, check out his original blog post here.

From there, you will be able to view all the other guest blogging entries. I hope you have a Happy Thanksgiving and that you find something to be grateful about. I am grateful that I’ve found an amazing PLN on Twitter and that I can connect with other passionate educators who aren’t afraid to think outside the box and try new things. Thank you to everyone I have met since joining this amazing network!


Challenge: Gratitude

November is the month of gratitude. We have an entire day dedicated to sitting around a table with friends and family and actually telling each other what we are grateful for. Forget about the food coma that comes afterwards, and the rush to head out to the Best Buy line, that five minutes around the table is one of the best parts of my year and something we should all be doing more than once.


So that’s gotten me to thinking about how we could jam this once yearly tradition in our own classrooms. What if we took 5 minutes at the end of class every Friday to just share with each other something we are grateful for or appreciative of? It could be related to something in class or not. Think of the possibilities. “I’m grateful you didn’t give us a lot of homework this week.” “I appreciate that Johnny helped me pick up my papers when they fell out of my binder.” “I’m grateful that I made it to the front of the lunch line yesterday.” Whatever it is, teaching students to take a minute out of their lives and stop and show appreciation for something could be a powerful mind shift for them, especially in these times, where our students are bombarded with negativity.


So I challenge you to take this gratitude challenge. Try it once and see what happens. And don’t forget to let me know.

Jammin’ on the Venn

The Venn Diagram. The old standby. Who of us hasn’t given one of these out in our class? The beautiful thing about the Venn Diagram is its simplicity, and its diversity. You can pull one of these out in any class. So, how can you jam something so simple? Easy. Gamification.


Here’s how I did it with a unit on The Outsiders, and how you can do it too with any topic.

First, hand out a blank Venn Diagram (on paper or digitally, you do you) and give students a set amount of time to compare the two things. In my case, it was five minutes to evaluate how Harry Potter and Cinderella were viewed as ‘Outsiders’ based on two short stories that we read. Obviously, you can adjust the time as makes sense to your students.

Secondly, break the class into small groups and reset the clock. Now your students will have five minutes to work together to combine their individual lists into a team list. They can choose to add on to someone’s existing Venn Diagram or start with a fresh one.

Once time is out, recreate the diagram on the board and get ready for the game to begin! Figure out which team will go first and have them state something for you to add to the diagram. If they give you a response that is a difference, award one point. If they give you a similarity, award two points. Go back and forth between the teams until a team runs out of responses or you run out of time. Other teams are encouraged to try to refute answers by using text evidence.

IMG_0360This was our completed diagram today. (Forgive my crude drawings. The students told me that my glass slipper looked like a water gun. Kids are nothing if not honest). The class that did this never raises their hands during regular discussions. Ever. It’s actually disconcerting. By the end of this game they were out of their seats and yelling at each other, wanting to prove that they were right with evidence from the stories. It was astonishing and so easy!

If you decide to give this a try, I’d love to hear about it. Please leave a comment below.

Jamming Groups

Groups have taken up a lot of time and space in my teacher world. Who can I pair with who? Should I let them choose their own this time even after ‘LAST TIME’? What if I spend time putting them into groups and then half the kids are absent and I have to regroup them anyway? Should I use popsicle sticks? Is there an app? Why is this so hard!?

I thought gamifying my class would help because there would just be built in groupings, but that didn’t quite work either. We have so much absenteeism that the groups were always lopsided with one kid by themselves. Popsicle sticks have been my go-to for many years, but this year I’m trying something new.

I decided to ‘jam’ up my old Total Participation Technique folders. If you haven’t read that book, you should. Like, right now. It has many practical and engaging techniques for all ages and content areas. My folders are for what they call ‘Hold-ups’.IMG_0037


On days where I am presenting information or after a video, I stop and gauge their understanding with these beauties. The blue cards always lead to the most interesting class discussions. I found color coding them helps because you can tell them to, “take out the two yellow and the two blue.” Believe it or not, my students love these things. So low-tech but such high engagement. Everyone is waving their answer in the air. The best is when you have a couple that go against the rest of the class and they are right! You should see the pride on their face. Side note: to gamify these, I assign point values to each correct answer. They try to outscore the other classes. Easy, and a way to rack up a lot of points in a short time.

So, before this year, these ‘hold-ups’ just lived in whatever spare folders I had kicking around underneath each desk. This year I decided to ‘jam’ it with a grouping idea! So, I went to Walmart and bought new folders (only 15 cents a piece right now) in 6 different colors. I bought 4 of orange, yellow, blue, purple and black and one red. The one red is a ‘wild card’.


I will put these under the desks and when I need to create 5 groups quickly I will just tell them to find the people with the same folder color. The wild card goes to the group that is uneven or if no groups are uneven they can choose their group. BAM! 5 groups were made in 10 seconds time.

But, I didn’t stop there! I had an idea to open the folders and add more classifications. I added washi tape, letters, and shapes.


There are 4 different washi tape groups and one wild card. There are 6 different letter groups and one wild card. There are an even 5 shape groups. It took a little time to make sure there weren’t any overlaps, but not nearly the time I normally spend in the year trying to group them myself.


I created a key for myself and that is it! Groupings are handled for the year (I hope).



I will re-visit and tell you how this goes. If you use something similar or have other grouping ideas, please share with us so we can learn from each other!

Ready to Jam!

It’s been on my list of things to do for so long that everything else around it had already been crossed off and I needed to move onto a new piece of paper, so here it is…a blog. This is more of a working project to help me get better at teaching, but maybe you’ll find something useful here too. I’ve spent too long taking from a wonderful and talented community of teachers so now I want to create something of my own to give back.

So that leads me to “Class Jam”. I’ve been thinking about this idea for a while on the way to and from work on my long commute. I tried a “Game Jam” for the first time this year, where students were given really open parameters and told to create a game out of the stuff lying around my room. It was so epic and powerful. As I walked around my classroom surrounded by kids laughing, debating, creating, and of course, listening to music, it occurred to me that “Game Jam” is what educators do on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis, except not always with a game. “Jamming” is taking what you have around you: curriculum, texts, background knowledge, laptop, index cards, some dice and a handful of paperclips, and making a meaningful, memorable, and sometimes AWESOME lesson plan out of it. Educators ARE jammers!

So this blog is my way of showing the backstage area of the jam and celebrating other jammers so we can jam from each other’s jams. As Bob Marley sang, “I wanna jam it with you!”