South America Games: A Fun Way to Review

South America Games

As we were nearing the end of our unit on South America, I decide to spend a class period with my high schoolers doing review – game show style! As you can guess, playing South America games was a whole lot more popular than doing South America pop quizzes.

Here is a video I created with the Storie App that shows clips of each activity.

Dancing (with the stars)

As part of an assignment while they were studying Brazil, I had posted a video for them to learn to Samba at home. Now they got to show off how good they were. I first let them practice with this video

and then I used the music I downloaded here while they competed. Three did it really well and three others weren’t bad – so all six won candy.

South America Jeopardy

South America Jeopardy







The students always love playing Jeopardy. I have a buzzer system as I coach our quiz bowl team so it makes it easy to do. The clip in the video was actually taken after the event as I forgot to do it while we were playing. There were 16 in the class and they paired up to play.

I used one I found online instead of making my own. The one I used was on Central and South America. I love how easy it is to keep score like this! Just hook up a laptop to a screen and it feels like you are on the set of Jeopardy!

South America Kahoot






If you have never used Kahoot with your students, you should. They love it as you could tell in the video. While Kahoot is not an actual game show – it could be! Students do all need a device – anything works. They log in to your game room. Multiple choice questions appear on the screen and the select the shape that corresponds with their answer.

Immediately the time is up they can see if they were correct and where they stand on the leaderboard. At the end they were begging to play again but time had run out.

I adapted a public Kahoot – Features of South America – by removing the questions we hadn’t covered. I could also have added some of my own but as I had 16 questions I didn’t feel I needed to.

This was such a success that I plan to have a “Game Show” type review at the end of each continent we study. I have a few more game show ideas in mind to mix up the format.

Do you have any game shows you have used for Geography Review? Please share in the comments!

CSI Florence: A Renaissance Lesson Plan

Renaissance Lesson Plan


This semester I am teaching 16 classes on Criminals in History. Over the summer I was on vacation in Italy and went wine and olive-oil tasting at a villa just outside Florence. Part of the experience included a tour through the house which dated back to the 12th century. The house had belonged to the Pazzi family. On the tour we were taken into the Conspiracy Room. It was here, during the Renaissance, that a murder plot against the Medici family was hatched. As I heard the story I knew this would be great for my middle school class. The story would hold their interest and would be a fantastic way for them to learn about Renaissance Italy.

As I started mulling over how to make the lesson interactive and fun, I searched a bit online – and that’s when I found the fantastic lesson Mr Roughton created. I used it just as he suggested and it was a great success.

In a nutshell, students investigate 8 different pieces of evidence related to the murder of Giuliano de’ Medici and then come to their own conclusions about who was involved in the crime.

What to do before the lesson

1. I read through everything and researched more about the story of the murder and what happened afterwards.

2. If you don’t have good wifi (my problem) or your school blocks Youtube, be sure to download the 3 videos you will need.

3. Make copies of the documents the students have to look at. I just made them in black and white (color for some would have been nice – but that was beyond my budget). I made 4 copies of each evidence set as I have 30 students in my class so I wanted everyone to be able to have access to something at all times. I put each piece of evidence in a plastic sheet protector as I want to be able to re-use them.

4. I got a big roll of paper (from Office Depot) and lay face down on it and my daughter took a sharpie and outlined the “body”. (This was hard to do as our kittens wanted in on the fun! So the paper also ended up with multiple small claw holes!)

5. The Forensics teacher supplied me with police tape. You can buy it on Amazon.

6. I copied an Evidence booklet for each student.

Evidence booklet



How the lesson turned out

Fortunately I had the lunch break straight before this class, so I had time to set everything up. I happen to teach in the sanctuary of a church – and the murder took place in a church – so that was great! I put down the sheet with the body outlined and cordoned it off with police tape. Then I spread out the rest of the evidence around the room.

I made a Storie while the students were working. You can see how I turned off the lights at the start which is what Mr Roughton suggests – and I started the first video. The students were very quiet and engaged immediately!

I had 55 minutes for the lesson but as this was the first time I had seen these students this year I had to spend a few minutes at the start doing roll call and going over some things so that took some time away from the lesson. I gave the students about 20 minutes to work on their own investigating exhibits B through G and most of them didn’t get through everything. Quite a few got stuck on Exhibit D as they saw it was in Italian. I had to point out to them that many words were the same as the English words so they could actually figure it out.

The lesson was a success and it was so easy to do thanks to the work Mr Roughton put in to creating it. You can find everything you need here. Oh, and if you use it, drop him a note via his Contact form. I know he would appreciate that!

And come back and leave a comment here to let me know how it went!

** Disclaimer: some of the links are affiliate links. You don’t pay more, but I get a small percentage of any sales.


Fantasy Geopolitics: A unique way to learn about the world


Fantasy Geopolitics Review


I am always looking for ways to make learning real and relevant and fun – so I was thrilled when I learned about Fantasy Geopolitics.

Mashable described the game as “Fantasy Football” meets “Model United Nations”.

Students get the chance to decide which countries they want on their “team” – and this requires them to learn about what’s happening in the world if they want to be successful.

How does Fantasy Geopolitics work?


Teachers set up leagues for their classrooms and decide how many countries will be on each student’s team. On draft day students take it in turns to make their selection.

Then for the duration of the game (the teacher decides how long that will be) students are awarded points depending on how often their countries are mentioned in the news, and whether they are mentioned in a favorable light or not.

Students can trade with other students during that time, or drop countries and select ones that haven’t been drafted already.

Fantasy Geopolitics Leaderboard

Steps to take before the Fantasy Geopolitics draft

1. Give the students a few weeks to follow world news

2. Make sure all students have an email address they can use. This allows them to access the game outside of the classroom.

3. Get the students to write down a list of countries they would like to draft. Remind them the popular ones will be chosen quickly, so they need plenty of options. If they don’t have an extensive list to work through you will find yourself waiting while students try to decide on countries to select.

What students think about Fantasy Geopolitics

My students loved playing and the first thing they would ask to do when arriving in class was to check the leaderboard. Here’s what two of them told me after we had concluded the game:

Tyler said:

I thought it was great. It gave me a reason to look up and see what was happening around the world. I learned lots about the Middle East and I came in second place!
Chance said:
My experience in Fantasy Geopolitics was great. I spent time reading the news and learned many new things. It was so much fun.
Who should use Fantasy Geopolitics?

This is a great game to play with middle or high schoolers (or even college students!) who are taking classes in Geography or Economics or anything related to current affairs and world politics.

The game works on desktops, laptops, tablets and phones – which means it is accessible to almost everyone.

It does cost – but if you have a few classes it turns out to be $1 per student or even less. And that’s for a full year. They do have various plan options. You can sign up and get a free account that allows you to play with 5 people so that is a good way to try it out and see if it is right for your students.

So – go and check it out at and let me know in the comments if you are playing it with your classes.


12 Fun Ways to Prevent the Summer Slide

Fun Ways to prevent the summer slide

I grew up in a country where we didn’t have 3 months summer vacation so the “summer slide” wasn’t an issue. I hate the idea of my kids doing “school” in the vacation – but I also understand the problem of such a long break from academics.

But there are alternatives to worksheets and other boring ways to keep skills up. Here are 12 you can try.

1. Visit FUN and ENGAGING Museums.

There are museums … and museums. I grew up hating being dragged into museums by my parents but since becoming a parent myself, I have discovered not all museums are boring! So, how do  you pick a “good” museum?

See if the museum advertises hands on activities.

Do they have any scavenger hunts or similar activities for children to do while they go through the museum?  The Museum of Crime and Punishment in Washington D.C. has an extra activity you can purchase for a few dollars (you just need one per family so it is worth it) that gets you searching for answers as you view the exhibits. If you get everything correct you can solve the final puzzle and win some free merchandise. And Hampton Court Palace in London has a number of similar activities for children

Read review on places like TripAdvisor and see if other families with children give it a thumbs up.

2. Sign up for a Summer Reading Program

I think most local libraries have programs and then there is also Barnes and Noble’s one for children up to 6th grade where they win a free book after reading 8.

3. Travel

I wrote a whole blog post on that topic so if you think you can’t do it with children or can’t afford it – go read it! Even a few days road trip in your area exposes your children to new and interesting things. And if you get your children to help plan they learn research and planning skills too.

4. Computer  and Video Games!

There are many games that are surprisingly educational. Treat your children and buy them one or two new ones – but be sure they have educational value. Civilization was one of my boys’ favorite games growing up and they learned a lot of history without even trying.  Games like Nancy Drew and Myst encourage thinking skills. 

5. Sign them up for summer camps and classes

There are a plethora of summer classes in our city. The local university provides a number and so do many individuals and organizations. But another option is online classes. We offer a number of online computer classes, and DIY clubs has a host on a variety of topics.

6. Learn a new hobby

Quilling, photography, calligraphy, playing a musical instrument, cake decorating, wood carving – with the host of online resources it is easy to learn anything you want to. Obviously you will need to buy supplies but most kids should be able to at least get started by watching Youtube videos.

7. Start a business

Encourage your children to brainstorm and think of ways to make money. In our neighborhood we still have one family who runs a traditional lemonade stand for a few days each summer. We have others who offer pet sitting and lawn cutting services. If they have become skilled in some hobby they can try and use that in their business. My own children ran computer camps, built websites, fixed computers and did photography to make extra money.

8. Go Geocaching or Letterboxing.

This is a fun way to enjoy beautiful summer weather and keep those grey cells working at the same time. There are now geocaches and letterbox hidden all over the world just waiting to be found!  I have also just discovered Munzees which is an app and looks similar but I haven’t tried it yet. All of these are free.

9. Play board and card games

Just about any one of these has some educational value. They also serve as fantastic family activities. Settlers of Catan is one I know many families with older children enjoy (mine too!). All strategy games give the brain a good workout. Games like Bananagrams are small enough to take on vacation too – that’s the one we always throw in to take with us!

10. Apps

As most teens have smart phones and many homes have tablets or iPads apps children are likely to be on them anyway. Invest in a few apps that will have them hooked – but will be beneficial too. Here are some you can try: 

11. Do Logic Puzzles

These are great to do on car trips or while waiting in airports or dentist offices or anywhere you need to amuse yourselves for a few minutes. You can find them online, or buy books. You can also play online games that involve logic. And if you really want to treat yourselves, look for an Escape Game near you and do that as a family.

12. Jigsaw puzzles

When it’s too hot or too wet, this is another good family activity that is quietly exercising your kids’ brains. Some of our favorites were ones where you have to make a jigsaw puzzle to solve a mystery. My brother’s family have enjoyed 3D puzzles too.

Any more ideas on ways to keep kids’ brains active – without them feeling like it is just more “school”? Please leave a comment!

**Photo Credit: Thanks Adam Whitescarver for letting us use your photo!

**Some of the above links are affiliate links.

FundaFunda’s Online Spanish 1 Class

Online Spanish Class Homeschool


Our high school Spanish 1 online class is designed to give students a rich and engaging experience. It is taught by a native Spanish teacher, Suzette LaPorte-Ayo, and incorporates many different teaching tools.

We don’t use a text book but rather specially created videos – developed after many years of teaching experience.

The concepts taught are then practiced in a variety of ways including

  • websites like StudySpanish and Duolingo
  • watching shows like Sesame Street and cooking shows in Spanish
  • exploring Spanish speaking countries with Google Earth
  • playing online games
  • “shopping” on Spanish sites
  • using Pinterest in innovative ways

Once a week there will be  a live discussion time online. Students will need to attend a certain number of these each semester as we believe speaking the language is a vital part of learning it.

With the wide variety of resources used in this class it will be fun! And students will learn to speak Spanish.

Next year we will add a level 2 class so students can continue with the same teacher.

All our classes are listed here. Scroll down for the Spanish one.

FundaFunda’s Computer Fundamentals Class

Computer Fundamentals

Over the years of a teaching a variety of subjects, I often ask students to do assignments that involve them using a computer. And so often I am astounded at how much they don’t know how to do!

In an age where even young children often have smart phones, and students seem to spend so much of their time using technology – they still often have a very limited understanding of computers work and the many resources they can access via their computers.

This class is a full year credit designed for homeschoolers (but anyone is welcome to enroll). In states that require a Computer Applications class, this will meet that requirement. But our class will go far beyond what is typically taught.

Our aim is that students will acquire a better understanding of how computers can be used. They will be introduced to a wide variety of online sites (all free) and ways of doing things.

Here are some things we will be covering:

  • the internet and copyright
  • internet and computer terminology
  • website creation (using a variety of different website builders)
  • graphic creation
  • spreadsheets
  • online research and citations
  • editing photographs
  • bookmarking
  • document creation
  • video production (just on a very basic level)
  • working collaboratively on projects over the internet
  • task management
  • slideshows (once again they will learn a variety of tools)
  • creating a digital portfolio
  • making money with their computers

Each week will focus on one main topic (though we introduce some secondary ones as well). Typically they will view a video with one of our instructors giving them a brief tour of the website for that week, with examples from how they are using it themselves. Then students will be given links to other videos, training manuals etc that they can use to learn more. To test mastery, students will then turn in assignments using the tool.

The course spans both semesters and will take about 4 hours each week.


Escape Game Rooms: Who Thought Critical Thinking Could Be So Much Fun!



I never imagined getting hooked on anything … but that was before my first Escape Game experience. In my defense, as I walked out of the first game with my two daughters, one of them turned to me and said: “When can we do the next one?”.

It turned out, we could do another one just over a week later, when my son was home from college. We felt we needed to let him in on the fun. And once he played, well, he felt he needed to play again – two days later.

So, all in all, I have played 4 different Escape Games in 4 different cities. 3 in Tennessee and 1 in Florence, Italy.

Each experience was similar – but also entirely unique.

So .. let me tell you what I can. It will become obvious why I can’t tell you much at all :)

The premise of all Escape Games is that you are locked in a room for 60 minutes and need to solve various puzzles in order to escape. The rooms we played allowed 6 – 8 to be in a room at a time but that can differ. You don’t want too few or it becomes very hard to get through everything.

It is not scary and there is always a way out so no need to feel claustrophobic. They do not require any physical skills. Just mental ones. If you like whodunnits and spy stuff – you will LOVE this!

Each room has a backstory. You learn this story as you start and then the clock starts ticking down …. you have NO idea how that gets the adrenalin going!! The games we played all allowed us 3 free clues. And we used all 3 clues in each game :)

Did we escape? The first time we did – even though our room only had a 27% success rate. It was 3 of us and 4 strangers at 8:30am and let’s just admit it – we were AWESOME!

Escape Game

But not so awesome on the next two occasions … though both times we were solving the final clue when the time ran out, so we were super super close to escaping!

We enjoyed each experience – even when we failed. And each time we talked for hours about it. And told everyone we saw how cool it was.

Trapped Escape Game

We have discovered that you can find Escape Rooms in most cities around the world. They are pretty new in the US but springing up fast. Different franchises have different names but if you google “escape rooms + {your city}”, you will find them. Check the ratings on Tripadvisor or Yelp. All the ones we did have 5 stars.

We did this when we were in Florence and loved the one we played there. We were thrilled to not only get out in time, but do in the best time in the past 3 months! This one was much more high-tech than the others with some cool gadgets we got to use – and we had to perform science experiments to solve clues.

Escape games are a really fun activity to do as a family. And what better way to get kids using their minds during the vacation? Kids from 10 years old should enjoy themselves and be able to contribute. It’s definitely great for teens and my 15 year old daughter has proved herself a very valuable asset each time.

It is not a cheap activity – one reason for that is every room is monitored while you are in it – the clues they give you are tailored specially for you! All the ones we did also provided occasional hints (they provide them on screens or via walkie talkie). Doing one would make a great birthday activity or special vacation treat.

Here are links to the four we have done:

Escape Game Nashville – we did The Heist

Trapped Escape Game – we did Capone

Which Way Out – we did Casino Heist

Adventure Rooms – we did the Original Challenge

So what are you waiting for? Go find one you can do this summer – then come back and tell us in the comments what it was like!


FundaFunda’s Online High School Geography Class

Online high school geography class

As our world becomes more and more connected through the internet and the ability to travel easily, it is more and more important for students to understand the world they are part of. Fundafunda’s online high school Geography Class aims to help them do just that.

Many jobs have people all over the world working together on projects, many involve travel and many require interaction with other cultures.

All this means Geography is a very exciting and relevant subject to study – but all the excitement can so easily be destroyed by a dull text book and worksheets.

But you won’t find any of those in our online course! This course is intended for high school homeschoolers and after the completion of both semesters they will have earned one full credit. Younger students may take it – but bear in mind the course load is high school level. And of course non-homeschoolers can enroll too. Any students are welcome – but there will be about 4 hours work each week.

How will the content be delivered?

1. Video

Video allows students to actually “see” the place they are studying. They can hear the sounds and watch the people. You may occasionally need to rent videos though we will try and use free material. We even have videos that people around the world are creating just for this class. I have asked international users of the Storie app, to create short videos of a day in their lives. Here is one of them from Martina who lives in Bern.

2. Research

Students will be assigned various topics to research – and their research will then be shared with their classmates in creative ways. They definitely won’t be completing worksheets! It is important that students are “active” learners. Benjamin Franklin said

Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.

3. Websites

The websites won’t be ones that are just “textbook clones”. They might be games, or scavenger hunts, or Google earth! There are so many really engaging websites that take “experiencing” Geography to a whole new level. Webcams and 3D technology can help students feel like they are really there!

4. Interactions with locals

Students will each have a penpal in another country to interact with and I will also organize live video sessions with internationals (these will be recorded for those unable to attend live).

How will the students’ understanding of the work be assessed?

Our aim is to achieve a broad knowledge of world geography, and that students will retain much of this knowledge well after the class has ended. We are not huge fans of tests as a means of assessment but will rather use:

* Quizzes – these will be short and taken during or straight after instruction to check students are paying attention :) They will be able to re-take them if they realized they had been daydreaming.

* Online games are a great way for students to learn where countries are, their capitals etc. Some of these have dashboards for teachers, but in other cases we will require a screen shot as proof of mastery

* Game creation – students will need to research and create games. And then of course they will play each others games.

* Presentation of their research – this will take different forms but will include short paragraphs, videos, posters, websites and itinerary planning.

The work will take students about 4 hours each week. They will be able to work anytime they want to – but there will be deadlines and they will have to keep up. On occasions they will be working with classmates collaboratively and they will be doing peer assessments and interacting with each other in the virtual classroom. So it will be like a regular classroom – just online!

WARNING: Your children may enjoy this so much that they will be begging you to travel. Or maybe FundaFunda should just plan a round-the-world field trip for us all at the end of the course!

Ready to sign up? All are courses are here. Just scroll down to the Geography one.

Feel free to leave questions in the comments.


Strategy Board Games for Kids and Teens

Strategy Board Games


My son-in-law, Josh Watson, loves strategy board games. And he plays them. A lot!  I don’t have the patience for most of them but some of my children love them and as I am sure many of your children do too,  I decided to interview him.

Meryl – How long have you been playing strategy board games?

Josh – About four or five years –  only seriously for one or two years.

Meryl – Apart from the fun, do you think this has any educational benefits?

Josh – Yes, although I would say that is not why I do it. I do it because I am interested in it. But I think there are a lot of things it has helped me out with. From some historical board games I have gained a sense of history; others have given me a mind for problem solving. There are some that teach you how to manage finances, which is a good skill to have. For instance,  in Age of Steam  you take out loans and try to pay back as little interest as possible on the loans,  and you repeat that process and try not to go bankrupt.

Meryl – If people wanted to get started in strategy games what game would you suggest?

Josh – Games like “Settlers of Catan” because it’s very popular and there are games like “Ticket to Ride” that are also popular. Those are the mainstream ones that are gaining in popularity.

Meryl – If somebody liked “Settlers of Catan”, what would you would suggest if they were ready to move on to the next stage and become a bit more “serious”?

Josh – Games like Puerto Rico, Carcassonne, Dominion, and El Grande.

Meryl – How long do most of them take to play?

Josh – It depends but for most of them you are looking at two to four hours at most.

Forbidden Desert Board Game

Meryl – Are there any shorter ones you can play?

Josh – Yes! Like Hanabi, and Kemet.  I would suggest going on It’s the number one board gaming website.  Take a look at their extensive list of top games – they have all sorts of genres. One that won the educational award is “Forbidden Desert

Meryl – Are there any that are suited to children, say upper elementary/middle school?

Josh – Yeah! I’d say “Forbidden Desert”.  I’d say there is a whole genre out there of kids’ games. You can even get people to play Werewolf which is kind of a version of “Mafia”. Games like Resistance, are a little lighter, more “party” game for the kids.

Forbidden Desert Board Game

Meryl – You mentioned earlier that some games gave you a feel for history. Can you mention a few of those?

Josh – One is Twilight Struggle. In fact, most strategy board games are rooted in history. Sekigahara is another. And games like Combat Commander are WWII history games. It depends on what you’re looking for. There are also ones like Manhattan Project. It’s a little more whimsical but still rooted in history.

Meryl– -The final question:  What is your top favorite? Why?

JoshWar of the Ring, it’s artistically beautiful and compelling in the game and replicates the book in a very real way. You are forced to make decisions that the characters in the book were forced to make and it feels real.


I am sure some of you have favorite strategy board games you play as a family. Please share in the comments.

Photo of Twilight Struggle used in main image is CC BY-SA 2.0 from Nacho Facello

What 90% of schools don’t teach – but should

The subject 90% of schools don't teachDo you know that 90% of schools in the US don’t teach computer programming? This statistic blows my mind, particularly in light of the fact that jobs requiring coding skills are growing at two times the national average and they are some of the highest paying jobs.

Less than 2.4% of college students graduate with a degree in Computer Science, and of those only 12% are women!  (Stats are from

I am sure that one of the reasons so few take Computer Science courses at college is that they really don’t know what programming is all about, and many think it is something only geeks study.

And while the 39 000 students who took the AP Computer Science Exam in 2014 was an increase of 26% from the previous year, the number was still low compared to subjects like AP US History which had 460 000 students take it.

One of the reasons for the lack of teaching in schools is the lack of teachers who can code. “We need to train students today to have the skills that we don’t have,” says Ravi Gupta, founder of RePublic Charter Schools in Nashville in an article on “But we don’t have enough people who have the skills to teach it .”

More and more people are realizing that something needs to be done to get children programming. has done a wonderful job with the annual Hour of Code and I have watched students write their first lines of code – and get so excited about what they have achieved.

England and Estonia have added programming to the elementary curriculum and Finland, Singapore and Italy are following suit in 2016 (article about it is here)

Tom Cortina, assistant dean at Carnegie Mellon’s School of Computer Science has this to say about why programming should be taught at school:

Early exposure brings benefits. When younger kids learn computer science, they learn that it’s not just a confusing, endless string of letters and numbers, but a tool to build apps, or create artwork, or test hypotheses. It’s not as hard for them to transform their thought processes as it is for older students. Breaking down problems into bite-sized chunks and using code to solve them becomes normal. Giving more children this training could increase the number of people interested in the field and help fill the jobs gap.

And Maria Klawe, President of Harvey Mudd College says

Coding is today’s language of creativity. All our children deserve a chance to become creators instead consumers of computer science.

So what can you do if your child is at a school that is one of the 90%? What can you do if you don’t know how to code?

Fortunately there are ways for students to fill in the gaps themselves. For the self motivated ones who don’t need much assistance there are free sites like and where students can work at their own pace.

For those who need more structure and someone to be there to answer questions, there are now a number of online courses they can enroll in. We have a $9.95 4 week one that just introduces the elements of game programming (design, graphics and logic) in a gentle fashion to students. And then we have 5 week (or full semester) classes in Scratch and Python which both focus on game creation which most students really enjoy doing.

And you will probably find your local university offers classes to school students in the summer as well. I know ours does.

But whatever you do, find a way for your children to learn to code. Even if they never become programmers, most jobs in the future will require at least an understanding of it. In addition, the critical thinking and problem solving skills learned along the way are invaluable.



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