Archive for Teaching Methods

Election Challenge: Can your students correctly predict what will happen?

Election Challenge Contest


An election year is a great time to get students involved in learning about government and politics. But as they can’t vote, you need to find creative ways to engage them in the whole election process.

This is why Election Challenge is such a great tool to use with students. It is an online contest created by which gets students to predict how think each state will vote. It also requires them to estimate voter turnout.

Election Challenge is free for anyone to use and provides links to resources to help students make their predictions. It is extremely simple – students just go through 3 rounds and select which way they think each state will vote. In the first round, they are presented with “solid” states that everyone expects to vote a certain way. Then things get a bit trickier as they predict the states “leaning” to one side. And, in the final round, they are presented with the battleground states.

After making these predictions they finish up by making predictions about voter turnout and the margin of victory percentage.

They can change their minds until November 1 – but must submit their maps by then. The maps can easily be shared on social media which also provides a great talking point as students will naturally argue about whose predictions are more correct.

Here’s a video overview

You can view the prizes as well as lesson plans teachers can use here.

Election Challenge can be used with middle or high schoolers, in class, at home or at after school clubs. It is a really fun engaging way to get students to get involved in the election this year.


Creating a Digital Student Newspaper

Digital Student Newspaper


For a number of years now I have had the students in my media class produce a student newspaper. But until now it has always been a paper and ink one. This year I knew it was time to make the transition to digital student newspaper and it was actually a LOT easier than I expected.

Here’s exactly what we did:

1. Brainstormed ideas for the name of our newspaper. We persevered until we found one with an available domain name.

2. Bought the domain name on – I bought their special deal that included a Managed WordPress set up. Total cost was $13.17 for one year. Using this option means you don’t have to worry about the technical stuff and you just follow their really easy instructions to get started. I was so glad I had done this as I was worried this part would be hard to do as my husband had set up this blog and I had no prior experience.

3. Found a theme that looked like a newspaper. This took a bit of time and we eventually settled on Graphene which was free.

4. Downloaded a few plug ins:

Jetpack – this gives us stats on number of visitors and we are also using their subscription form

Advanced Ads


All-in-One Event Calendar by

Akismet – to prevent spam


NextGen Gallery

WordPress SEO

5. For the article writing  / editing process we are using Google Drive. I set up folders for “Drafts”, “Edited”, “Approved” and “Published”. Students upload their articles into “Drafts”. One of the editors edits it and moves it to the “Edited” folder. I then make sure no one has written something that will get me fired or them expelled and I move it into “Approved”. Finally our Layout Editor takes the article and puts it on the website and moves it to “Published”. This system is very easy to use.

newspaper google drive

We don’t have editions of the newspaper but just constantly update with new articles. We are trying to make this a business venture but so far the students haven’t managed to sell any advertising or classifieds but hopefully that will change soon.

I was really very surprised at how much easier it has been to “go digital” with the paper. I think one of the reasons has been that our Layout Editor learned to use WordPress very quickly and has been diligent about keeping the paper looking fresh all the time.

If you are reading this before June 2015 – take a look at Connexion. After that I am not sure if we will continue so if the link is dead, that is why (I don’t teach Media every year).


How is Education doing in the US?

I found this infographic a few days ago and it sadly confirmed my own suspicions and other similar posts I have read. What worries me most of all is that US students don’t understand how far behind they are falling in comparison to the rest of the world.

I had a discussion with my programming class just last week and they were surprised when I told them that in a few years time there wouldn’t be enough programmers to fill programming positions here in America. And that so few students in our State even take the AP Computer Science Exam. In fact in 2013 in 17 States, less than 100 students took the exam and 13 states had a decrease in the number of students taking it!!

And it is not just in the Math and Science fields we are having problems!

This infographic explores the relationship between these trends and the way we educate – with out taking the differences of students’ learning styles into account. Of course, if one homeschools this is easier to deal with – but how do you do it in a classroom setting?

Would love ideas and comments!


How Personality Affects Learning

Learning by Doing: A website that makes it fun

Imagine a site where kids can have fun. Imagine a site where kids can learn skills. Imagine a site that encourages creativity. Imagine a social site where kids can interact with other kids. Imagine a site where kids earn points and win cool badges. is all these things and more.


In fact, is one of the most innovative sites I have seen. A friend told me about it a while ago, and today I was reminded of it on a forum I am on and I went to take another look. And I am excited!!

In a nutshell, is a ‘social’ site (ie the kind kids and teens love) which encourages students to create and innovate and learn new skills. Once they have mastered a skill, they post a video or photo to prove it which earns them points towards the skill badge. And of course, they get to share their achievement with the rest of the children on the site.


Parents have to sign up alongside their children so they can monitor what they are doing online. In addition, parents will probably need to get involved buying supplies, and giving some help.

It is exciting to look through the different skills featured on their site. I really can’t believe any child would not find something to like. Here are some of them: Fashion Designer, Chef, Detective, Fort Builder, Zoologist, Bike Mechanic and Animator. But there are many more.


Once students select a skill they would like to master, they start working through challenges. Sometimes challenges have extra info to help students on their way. They also post videos of some ways to solve the challenge. But the challenges are open-ended encouraging students to try whatever they think might work.

This is an example of a project that would solve one of the Circuit Bender challenges

If your kids are bored this summer – they won’t be once they sign up here. But the people behind obviously want this to be more than just some summer fun. They encourage parents, teachers and interested adults to start DIY clubs to encourage hands on learning.

As a 4-H  volunteer leader, it immediately struck me how perfect it would be to incorporate these skills in many of the 4-H projects. And I am sure you can think of other ways to use this site in classrooms, after school centers and more. Read their Guide page to get a complete overview.

If any of your kids have already been on, please share their experiences in the comments.

Fun Classroom Exercises For A Quick Energy Boost

This is a guest post by Rachel Jacquest

Image by Earl53

Every teacher has, at some point, stood up in front of a class and been greeted with a plethora of sighs, but that doesn’t mean you’re boring your pupils! School is very demanding, and children do not have the stamina of adults, so they may well flag. If you see this happen to your students, don’t panic! Their attention can easily be brought back with a few short exercises to get them energised. Here are some examples: 

Copying Games

There are two basic forms of copying games. One is to do an action and ask your pupils to repeat it back to you; it works well to go around the class asking everyone to come up with an action to be repeated, making sure everyone has a go. Try to use actions that involve the whole body.

The other is a classic: Simon Says. The leader (I would suggest the teacher leads, as you will judge fairly) states, “Simon says sit down”, and the children sit. But if a command is given without saying “Simon says”, for example, “stand up”, pupils must ignore the command. If anyone stands up, they’re out! This is great for getting children to concentrate and obey your commands.

Stretches and Jumps

When anyone has been sitting in the same position for too long, they get very uncomfortable and stiff, so some jumps and stretches will loosen up your students. Full body stretches are great, starting with the neck and stretching each part of the body individually down to the ankles. If you want a quicker version, get your pupils to do some star jumps, and then do a concentration exercise, so that they don’t get silly. Perhaps ask them to try to pat their heads and rub their stomachs at the same time – it is really quite tricky!

Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes

A quick game of heads, shoulders, knees and toes will energise your class and increase their concentration. It can also be used for educational purposes, which is a massive bonus! Try translating the lyrics to a foreign language (if your pupils are learning one), or use medical terminology like “cranium, scapula, patella, phalanges” for a fun way to teach. Make sure you don’t try to teach your students anything above their skill level, though, as it will confuse them and they may well lose focus.

Heads Down, Thumbs Up

This game is a bit of fun and is great for stress relief if pupils have been working hard. Pick a few people from the class to stand at the front and ask the remaining children to close their eyes, put their heads on the desk and place their hands by their sides, thumbs up. The students at the front each have to put down the thumbs of one person, as quietly as possible. When everyone has finished, the people who had their thumbs moved must guess who it was who did it. After a couple of rounds of this, your class should be relaxed and ready to work again!

Keep these exercises in mind – when you see your students starting to struggle, you know what to do! The most important thing is to keep them motivated, perhaps with some pupil rewards, and maintain their concentration levels so that they learn loads! Do you have any exercises that work well with your class? Go ahead and leave a comment!


Rachel Jacquest is a blogger who has a lot of experience in the education of children and plans to become a teacher. She hates nothing more than seeing a struggling pupil! She writes for School Stickers.

Will Knowing Become Obsolete?

The man who dreamed up the Hole in the Wall project

Image courtesy of Campuspartybrasil.

When you think about the future of education, have you ever considered that ‘knowing’ could become obsolete? This is one of the startling statements Dr. Sugata Mitra makes in his riveting TED talk.

Dr. Sugata Mitra won the TED2013 TED Prize of the year because of his vision for a new type of learning – one where teachers ‘let learning happen’ and then stand back and encourage and praise as it does. This vision was born out of Hole-in-the-Wall experiments he did with children in the slums and rural areas of India – children who could not speak English and had never seen a computer. He left them with a computer (built as a kiosk into a wall) for a few months and on returning discovered they had achieved what most of us would think was impossible. They learned English in order to operate the computer and through trial and error learned how it worked.

He also learned the importance of ‘grannies’ in education – they don’t need to be literal grannies, though those are very successful, but they do need to apply the ‘granny’ technique of admiring and encouraging the work of children as the children teach themselves.

This is a video you need to watch – it will probably be the most exciting 15 minutes of your day. My daughter sent me the link and called it ‘incredible’. She was right. So here it is. I look forward to hearing what you think about it in the comments below.

So, what do you think? I am excited and definitely plan on implementing the SOLE system both in my home and in the classroom. Will you try it? You can download the SOLE Toolkit here.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

10 New Year’s Resolutions for Teachers

New Years Day

These resolutions are for each and every person who has the privilege of being a teacher in some way – whether you are a teacher in a school, or at a club for kids or a ’24/7 teacher’ i.e. a parent.

1. Make Education Fun

Need ideas? Well, that’s what this blog is for. In my years of teaching both my own kids and groups of kids and have noticed that when they are enjoying themselves they remember what they are taught without even trying. And, I like having fun and I like watching kids having fun. Works all round!

2. Make Education Relevant

How often did you sit in class wondering why on earth you had to learn something? Make sure your students know why you are teaching them what you are. Make it applicable.

3. Teach children to teach themselves

This is a biggie! Don’t spoon feed.Yes, I know it is quicker but if you keep providing all the answers, how will children ever develop into lifelong learners? Don’t be afraid you will make yourself redundant – they will still need advice and someone to bounce ideas off of.

4. Challenge your students

I see mediocrity in most students I come into contact with. And it makes me sad. I know each child has so much potential but they need someone to nurture it and encourage it. On the other hand I have seen ‘average’ students achieve amazing things when their teacher, coaches or parents believed in them.

5. Be passionate about what you teach

Recently I watched a 60 Minutes segment where author David McCullough suggested people who want to be teachers should rather study the subjects they are passionate about than study how to teach. And I agree. If you love a subject you will most probably convey your excitement to your students. I won’t teach anything I can’t get excited about.

6. Allow each child to be an individual

A 17 year old student, Nikhil Goyal, has just published a book titled “One Size Does Not Fit All” about how the American education system is churning out ‘cogs’ to fit into the ‘machine’ of our society. I haven’t read the book yet, but I do agree with his premise that we should see the uniqueness in each student and encourage each one to walk their own path.

7. Encourage creativity

This takes time. It is far quicker to just tell kids exactly what to do. And some students will be scared to break away from the mold and do something different from their peers. So you will need to encourage and praise and foster each little spark. But do it. It is so worth it.

8. Remember – what we are doing matters

New Year’s Day is a good day to reflect on the fact that what we are doing is very very important. We are not teaching so that students can pass a test and move on to the next grade. We are preparing them for life. And the future. Do your best so that they will be the best they can be.

9. Keep learning yourself

It is so important that you both keep up to date with what is new in your field, and also that you get re-inspired on a regular basis. I know this is hard to do. But make the time and your students will benefit.

10. Have fun!

I know this was also number 1 on my list … but to me this is such a key concept that I need to be doubly resolved to be sure teaching and learning is as much fun as it can be!


I didn’t include ‘love your students’ on this list as I hope that everyone who does teach, really does love their students. If you don’t, none of the above will be easy to do because your heart won’t be in it.

Any extra resolutions you can add to this list?

What’s Katniss got to do with College Prep?

Engaging students in the classroom is a number one priority to me. A bored student is not learning. I believe we should do everything in our power to make our lessons fabulous.

And that’s where The Hunger Games comes in. I needed a way to add that extra ingredient of fun into a college prep class. Although my class incorporates SAT test prep, I am trying to prepare students for college in a far broader way. I want to be sure they know

  • how to write an analytical essay
  • how to write a thesis statement
  • how to do research
  • how to produce a bibliography
  • how to make a Powerpoint presentation

All these things can be taught with popular literature just as easily as with the classics – and the students will definitely enjoy it more. My class’s first research assignment was to read up on the legend of Theseus and see how that related to The Hunger Games. Not only did they learn research skills, but they also learned how much literature is influenced by ancient myths and legends. This week we are looking at the significance of the names of the characters.

In a broader way, I will use The Hunger Games to teach the students to think. The themes in this trilogy lend themselves to discussions of politics, loyalty, ethics, psychology and much more.

I also found a way to link The Hunger Games to how to write the college essay. After Katniss and Peeta finish their training they have to perform in front of the judges to receive a score. This score affects the sponsorship they could receive – and that might just keep them alive longer in the arena. Katniss is the last person to show off her skills – number 24. She uses her bow and arrow and gets a bulls-eye. But the judges are bored and not paying attention. Desperate to catch their attention as she knows how important a good score is – she turns suddenly and shoots the next arrow into the mouth of the pig lying on the food table where the judges are clustered around.

Each college essay needs to have the same effect. The admissions counselors read so many, they need to be wowed out of their lethargy. Hopefully, each of my students will remember this scene as they come to write their essays!

Using popular culture helps bridge the gap between students and subjects they may not be interested in learning. You can use it for practically any subject. For geography, how about comparing the map of Panem to the map of the USA at present as suggested in History Tech’s blog post? In biology you could look at the significance of the names for the characters in District 12, and the concept of mutations. History – compare President Snow with other dictators. Government and Civics – look at the freedoms we possess in the USA today and compare them to life in the various districts of Panem.

No matter what age you teach, try to stay abreast of what is popular with your students and use that as a way to capture their attention and make your lessons memorable.


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