You Can Do This (hang in there until spring break, I mean)

The good news? The days are getting longer and the  weather is getting warmer. There are small green buds on some of the trees and a few early birds are tweeting again.The bad news? There are six more weeks before spring break.

Unless you’re one of the few schools that still have February break, it’s been 8 weeks since your last significant break  and you’re fried. What’s worse, the kids are fried. Bad combo to be sure.

What can you do to hang on to your sanity when the light at the end of the tunnel is still so far away? One of my favorite blog posts ever by Captain Awesome on WeAreTeachers has some hysterical ideas, but here are a few of my favorite ways to keep it together.

1. Take a mini vacation on a weekend. Escape somewhere exotic if you’ve got the cash  but even a one or two night getaway to a bed and breakfast an hour away can be rejuvenating and refreshing. 

2. If that’s out of the cards, build small breaks in to your life.  Instead of having your lunch at your desk, go out to the pizza place on the corner. Stop at a park on the way home from work and take a walk. Change of scenery is a change. 

3. Have more fun. Have a few friends over for game night. Go to the Friday happy hour after work. Call your college roommate and dish about your college crushes. Let your students run in the playground an extra 5 minutes if they’ve all done their homework. Sing a song. Do a deep dive on YouTube for videos of kittens or 80s rock bands or polar bears swimming in zoos.

4. Change something. Get a haircut. Rearrange the seating in your classroom. Buy a new outfit or pair of shoes. Monotony causes boredom and frustration. 

5. If all else fails, take a mental health day. Binge Netflix series and eat junk food. It’s only 1 day. A mentally well teacher is a better teacher. Your students will miss you (and you’ll miss them), and absence makes the heart grow fonder.

You can do this. (I really was saying that more for me than for you.) 

Creating a Digital Escape Room

Producing  college and career ready students who can think creatively, analyze critically, and make decisions based on data requires intellectual curiosity, a growth mindset, grit, and outside-the-box thinking.  Game based learning, including the spectrum of activities such as,, collaborative games, scenarios like Breakouts, and video games encourages students who are comfortable making mistakes and taking risks so that they can build the intellectual curiosity necessary to be independent thinkers and contributing members of society.  Creating a Digital Escape Room requires a few steps but pays off in student engagement and critical thinking.

There are Breakout kits you can buy, primarily from the website which has fantastic resources. But, with a little ingenuity and the Google suite of products, you can use the Escape the Classroom concept without physical locks and boxes.

If you’ve never tried an escape activity in your classroom, here is a link to try a free full length digital escape activity which reviews weather vocabulary.

A simple way of creating a digital escape room is to create a Google Form that contains either clues or links to clues. To advance in the form, students must enter the correct password which can be learned by completing the puzzles. After entering all of the correct passwords, students receive a message that they have won the breakout.

To force a password in Google Forms, follow these steps:

  1. Create a Google Form and create your first question. It can be something like “Enter the password” if you want students to learn the password through some other clue, or it can be a review question like “What’s the square root of 144?”
  2. Choose “Short answer” as the type of question
  3. Then, click the three dots in the lower right corner of the question and then select “Response Validation.” This means that students won’t be able to advance past this question without entering what you decide is the correct answer.
  4. You have multiple options for what format your answer should be. You can make the correct answer be a number greater than 7 or a number not between 45 and 120. You can make it a word or phrase, URL or email address. You can also only allow responses of a minimum or maximum size. When you decide what format your answer must be, enter it on the line.
  5. You can enter a custom error text such as “Try again” or “Use your notes packet.”
  6. Finally, to make the response to this question essential to moving on, slide the “Required” toggle to the right
  7. You can add additional questions to the same page so that all questions must be answered correctly before moving on, or you can add new pages so that each question must be answered in turn before moving on. Your game should be hard enough to keep it interesting but easy enough to prevent frustration.
  8. After students have completed all of the parts of your form and gotten all answers correct, set the Confirmation message to be either a clue to another puzzle or to a notification that “You’ve won!” To set the confirmation message, click on the Settings wheel on the top of the form.
  9. Then, click on “Presentation.” On the Presentation tab, you can customize your Confirmation message.

You can share the Google Form with your students by writing the URL of the form on the board (Hint: Use to create a short and easy URL). Alternately, you can link it to Google Classroom or email it to students. You can add another level of challenge to the escape room activity by hiding the URL in another puzzle that students need to solve before they get the URL.

If you’re ready to try creating your own breakout for your classroom, I’ve compiled a pretty exhaustive list of resources, tips, and tricks for designing classroom breakouts here


Escape rooms in the Classroom

Have you ever been to an escape room? Escape rooms are great addition in your classroom.

What is an escape room?

If you’ve never been to an escape room, they are an entertainment experience in which you and your team of people, somewhere between 2 and 6 is appropriate, solve puzzles in order to escape from a locked room. The puzzles are typically based around a theme and the entire room is decorated to support that theme. Usually the challenge is related to the theme. For example, one I’ve loved is a train ride in which a passenger was found dead and the clues to who-done-it are hidden in the suitcases around the room. Another theme I’ve loved is a submarine on which the captain is missing and you have to solve puzzles to figure out how to surface the submarine before you run out of oxygen. The things I love about them is that they are time limited – you have to solve it in an hour or you fail – and they are usually hard enough to be interesting but not too hard to get the participants frustrated.

The first time I was in an escape room, my first thought was “This is so much fun!” and my second thought was, “I have to adapt this to my classroom!” Adding escape rooms in my classroom helps engage students and lets them practice their learning in a new way.

Adapting Escape Rooms to your classroomescape activities for the classroom

Of course, it’s illegal to lock students in a room, so I bought lockable boxes and locks that the students need to break in to. Turns out, there is an entire company who developed this idea. They are called and they sell kits with multiple locks and boxes. Teachers can design their own games, which I usually do, or they can use the games that are available on the site. I’ve used breakouts for review activities before assessments in which the puzzles are all practice questions related to their assessment. I’ve also used breakouts for odd calendar days – times when there is only 1 day before a long break and I don’t want to start something new, or days when most of my classes drop and I don’t want to get ahead in the other classes.After I introduced the first breakout, my students were hooked. They begged for more breakouts and I happily complied.  The trick is to make the puzzles connected to the material you want them to learn. It’s best if the puzzles are hard enough to be challenging without also being too hard and making them frustrated.

Why use escape rooms in your classroom?

Producing  college and career ready students who can think creatively, analyze critically, and make decisions based on data requires intellectual curiosity, a growth mindset, grit, and outside-the-box thinking.  Game based learning, including the spectrum of activities such asescape activities for the classroom,, collaborative games, scenarios like Breakouts, and video games encourages students who are comfortable making mistakes and taking risks so that they can build the intellectual curiosity necessary to be independent thinkers and contributing members of society.  

The research on Breakouts and escape activities is overwhelming. Using Breakout or escape rooms in the classroom, students are “immediately curious”  and they use problem-solving skills as they “made mistakes, backtracked, and tried again, moving from one clue to the next” (Goerner,  2016). Breakout activities make learning “more problem-based, more social, more interactive and more physical” (Toppo, 2016). When students must work in cooperative groups,  “even the initially reluctant students gained confidence and began taking active roles in the quest for solutions” (Goerner, 2016). Activities that are appropriately challenging without being too difficult are more engaging for students in much the same way that playing slot machines is engaging – you’re never quite sure if this time is going to get you the prize (McBride & Derevensky, 2016).escape activities for the classroom  “Breakout creates a real sense of excitement with the students and staff. They have to collaborate as a team to solve problems, use logic and communication skills and they need to have fun to solve the breakout games” (Dutton, 2016). 

How to create an escape activity for your classroom

If you’re ready to try a breakout in your classroom, I’ve compiled a pretty exhaustive list of resources, tips, and tricks for designing classroom breakouts here. If you’ve never tried an escape activity in your classroom, here is a link to try a free full length digital escape activity which reviews weather vocabulary.

Digital escape activities are great additions in your classroom. Here’s how to make your own. If you prefer to use a template, here’s a free template for you to try.

escape activities for your classroom


Dutton, L. (2016). Breakout Edu: School Librarian, (2). 83.

Goerner, P. (2016). SLJ reviews breakout EDU: puzzle-based challenges are the name of the game in these versatile kits. School Library Journal, (10). 10.

McBride, J., & Derevensky, J. (2016). Gambling and Video Game Playing Among Youth. Journal Of Gambling Issues, (34), 156-178. doi:10.4309/jgi.2016.34.9

Toppo, G. (2016). ‘Breakout EDU’ looks to invigorate education. USA Today.July 6, 2016

What Makes a Well Designed Classroom Game?

About 2 years ago, a video game called Fortnite was hugely popular. Students were clamoring to spend every possible second on their devices playing this game. They spent hours watching videos of other people playing #Fortnite so that they could learn how to get a higher score, and every conversation included references about who had achieved what level of game play. It was a viral sensation that many students, in their words and in the words of their parents, felt addicted to. The first real sign of Fortnite’s popularity is “how much it annoyed schools.” (Tsukayama, H. 2018) Schools  held parent meetings to discuss the dangers of letting your child play Fortnite for seven or eight hours a night. There were staff meetings to brainstorm ways to block devices from connecting to the game during school hours. Teachers were trained to recognize the game on a screen so that misbehaving students could be reprimanded.Let’s look at the characteristics of Fortnite that made it so successful.

Fortnite is:

  • Free
  • Fun
  • Simple to learn
  • Fast

A game lasts about 20 minutes, so the commitment is low. It allows for collaborative play but can also be played alone. Part of what makes Fortnite so addictive is how easy it is to learn to play. After playing only a few games, players get much better at scoring very quickly. It’s also easy to advance in the game but it is highly competitive, leading players to imagine that if only they played one more time, they might be at a higher level than this friend, then play another game and be at an even higher level, and so on. 

The final component of Fortnite that makes it so addictive is that it’s easy but not too easy. There’s just enough of a challenge to keep it interesting, but not so much of a challenge that players get frustrated. Rewards such as boxes of supplies are given only randomly to the players. The rewards work as reinforcement to encourage players to continue playing and, because the rate of reinforcement is variable, extinction of the reinforced behavior is slow.

And that’s the sweet spot in game design – making it easy, but not too easy. Reward sometimes but not every time. Using game based learning, teachers can direct students as they solve problems and receive incremental intrinsic rewards like stars. As students advance in knowledge and skill application, they advance to higher levels of the game.  A well designed game increases engagement because it responds to player input by rewarding small victories and self-adjusting for learning differences (Felicia, P., & Mallon, B. 2014).  

References and further reading

Felicia, P., & Mallon, B. (2014). Game-based learning : challenges and opportunities. Newcastle upon Tyne, [England] : Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2014.

Ohio Teacher Will Use ‘Fortnite’ Video Game in Final Exam. (2018, April 10). Morning Edition. 

Riedel, C. (2013, February 7). Game Design: The Key to Education? Retrieved April 16, 2018, from The Journal website:

Stoll, D. (2018, April 4). Why Fortnite is so addictive. UWIRE Text, p. 1. 

Tsukayama, H. (2018, April 3). Everything you need to know about Fortnite and why it’s so popular. Washington Post.

Why Should You Gamify Your Classroom

I work very hard to engage my students. I create meaningful, relevant lessons. I differentiate, adapt, and align everything.

Despite my best attempts to engage students, many students will simply pick apart the information they’re exposed to in order to identify what’s going to be “on the test.”

The culture of standardized testing has created a generation of students who can memorize facts and regurgitate information for assessments but have very little higher order thinking skills.

Recently, I was planning to attend a workshop so I created a video of myself teaching the topic of the day so that students wouldn’t miss a day of instruction. Included in that video were a clip of a Newton’s cradle demonstrating the law of conservation of momentum and a few short clips placing the information in a historical context. I imagined the video would encourage great discussion among the students, who, I was sure, would debate how Newton’s cradle worked and analyzing the images with respect to momentum.

Of course that’s not what happened.

My students hadn’t watched the video but simply skipped ahead to the parts of the video that told them the answers to the cloze notes. They had no concept of what the notes or video were about, but they had filled in the notes and that was good enough for them. There was no curiosity about why the Newton’s cradle video had been included or even what a Newton’s cradle was. As engaging as I thought my video was, my students simply had no #intellectualcuriosity.

Producing  college and career ready students who can think creatively, analyze critically, and make decisions based on data requires intellectual curiosity, a growth mindset, grit, and outside-the-box thinking.  Game based learning, including the spectrum of activities such as,, collaborative games, scenarios like Breakouts, and video games encourages students who are comfortable making mistakes and taking risks so that they can build the intellectual curiosity necessary to be independent thinkers and contributing members of society. 

When a Colleague is Absent….

There are 3 kinds of coworkers……

  1. The ones who largely ignore it when you are absent. “Oh, you were sick?”
  2. The ones who resent your absence. They are actively rude to your sub. “I don’t know what she wants you to do with her classes. You should call her.” They refuse to help your students. “You’ll have to wait until she’s back.” They complain about your absence to administration or to the association or both. “You should really monitor so-and-so’s attendance more closely.” These people are evil. If you have one of these people in your life, avoid them.
  3. The ones who circle the wagons, reassure you by text that everything’s fine, make copies for your sub, and give your students extra help during their lunch periods. These people are angels on Earth. If you have even one of them, buy them coffee this morning.

Top 11 Ways to Build Student Engagement in Weather


How to build engagement in your weather unit:

  1. Build your own weather tools. It’s easy to build an anemometer, barometer, wind vane, and rain gauge. Find the directions to build these weather tools here.
  2. Have students collect their own weather data. Use your bulletin board space to create a place where students can record temperature, humidity, precipitation, cloud cover, and so on every day during the unit.
  3. Photograph weather events to create a bulletin board. If your students have cell phones or access to cell phones, challenge them to take a picture of each type of cloud before the unit is over. Have a photo contest to see who can represent the most kinds of weather in a collage.
  4. Learn how scientists record weather. Historical weather data is abundant and easily downloaded. Use weather data to teach graphing skills and make this a cross curricular project.
  5. Learn about dramatic weather. Hurricanes, hailstorms, blizzards and tornadoes are fascinating. Play videos of thunderbolts and have students research how often a person is struck by lightning in your state.
  6. Have students research weather phenomena. Most students will know how rainbows are formed, but do they know about sun dogs or lenticular clouds or dust devils? Ask students to find an image and create a slide show. Use this opportunity to teach citation skills and check two things off your list!
  7. Teach students how to read a weather map. Once students learn what an air mass is and how fronts are represented on maps, they’ll be able to make their own forecasts.
  8. Competition is good for the soul. Have students enter their weather predictions for the next day and keep track of how often they are correct on a class thermometer.
  9. As a culminating project, have students create their own weather report using actual data. Have them create slide shows or videos to play while they are reading their forecast.
  10. Make the project even more engaging by filming the weather reports using green screen technology. is one inexpensive digital editing tool students can easily learn to use. There’s even a free version.
  11. Try this free digital escape activity. Students practice and review weather vocabulary to find clues and solve puzzles.

Many of these ideas are taken from my weather bundle which includes worksheets and hands on activities about weather graphs, maps, and tools.

Please let me know you’re here and leave me a comment to say hi!


Late days & Getting Dinner Done

I worked late today.

There was an assembly today and students came during my lunch for extra help so I wound up not having any prep time today. I had a ton of papers to grade and hadn’t done any planning or setting up for tomorrow yet. The sun was setting when I left work – about 3 hours after everybody else.

I find that I have to do that at least once a month and sometimes as often as once a week, just to stay on top of it all. The paper landslide sometimes overtakes me and I have to put in a few extra hours. I’m adamantly opposed to bringing work home – after this many years, I shouldn’t “have to,” although I sometimes break that rule, too.

But then I walk in to a hungry house and nothing is cooked.

Voila – the Instant Pot!

If you don’t have one, please go get one. I can whip up chicken and dumplings from frozen chicken in about 20 minutes. Even something as complicated as ribs takes less than an hour. And the bolognese I made today – out of this world. I’m happy to share recipes if you want – LMK!

Floating – a density experiment

Remember, a dead fish can float downstream, but it takes a live one to swim upstream.

W.C. Fields

Why do some things float and some things sink?

The simplest answer is density. Things that are more dense than water will sink and things that are less dense will float.

It’s phenomenal! Aspartame found in diet soda is less dense than sugar found in regular soda. The density of diet soda is around 0.97 g/mL and the density of full sugar soda is around 1.02 g/mL. If you have a bucket of water, floating a can of diet soda in the same water that regular soda sinks is a great phenomenon to introduce density.

There isn’t a student alive who doesn’t love the density column experiment. You find 3 or 4 or 5 or 6 liquids of different densities and pour them into a graduated cylinder, one at a time, densest liquid first. If you’re smart, you’ll be sure the liquids have different colors to make the effect more dramatic.

I’ve been successful using these liquids:

  • pancake syrup (density = 1.37 g/mL)
  • antifreeze (density = 1.11 g/mL)
  • salt water (density = 1.03 g/mL, add food coloring for more fun)
  • canola oil (density = 0.92 g/mL)
  • isopropyl alcohol (density = 0.786 g/mL)

I suppose you could substitute tap water for the salt water, but that’s less fun. The cool thing about this is that the densities of the layers are different enough that they won’t mix. Of course, each layer is a different color which is even cooler.

Did you know that diet soda floats annd regular soda doesn't? It's all because of density which you can explore by making this density column.

A more challenging density column includes liquids that will mix next to each other such as isopropyl and water. A little food dye in one or both of the layers will show them mixing at the surface.

I wrote a density workbook for a fifth grade class including the density column lab and lots of worksheets to practice D=M/V. I think it could be used for older students also.

Of course, in order to measure density, students have to first know how to measure mass and volume. I included a review of mass and volume in the packet, but there are other resources to teach mass and volume that you should check out.

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Stay Home!

Dear Parents,

Please don’t send your children to school sick.

We know that you don’t want them to miss any school. We know it’s hard to find child care for sick children.

And that’s why we want you to keep them home. Please.

If they have a fever that you’re hiding with Tylenol “just so they can make it through the day,” then they need to stay home. If they come to school and ask to see the nurse before 8 am, they should have stayed home.

If you send your sick kid to school, 23 other students in his class are now going to catch his cold. And so will I.

So for the next 3 weeks, I’ll be dealing with my own cold (don’t get me started on how hard it is to make meaningful sub plans) and dealing with 23 students who should be staying home but aren’t, all in various stages of a cold. All with a cold of my own.

In some circles, saying this is forbidden. Somehow, teachers aren’t supposed to think about their own health and welfare, just the educational needs of their students and the day care needs of their students’ parents.

But hear this. Teacher welfare IS important to your children’s educational needs. If I’m out sick for 2 days, that’s a lot of busy work your child is doing instead of actually learning something. That’s 2 days less of extra help learning to read or do long division or balance chemical equations.

I’d love to know your thoughts.