Boomerangs, Inspiration Boards and Seven More Simple Solutions for Teachers and Leaders

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James Sturtevant's celebrity nickname game

Students love nicknames

Last summer, my good friend Jennifer Gonzalez, who produces the Cult of Pedagogy blog, invited me to be a guest on her popular podcast. Gonzalez and I co-authored Hacking Education: 10 Quick Fixes for Every School, the first book in the Hack Learning Series, and she wanted to talk about the series and some of my favorite “hacks” for teachers and leaders.

We talked about boomerangs, inspiration boards and these other cool hacks.

Hacking Education

Student Tech Gurus — With mobile learning and 1-to-1 models on the rise, teachers need more help than ever with technology. A team of tech-savvy students can solve this problem without draining school funds.

In Hacking Education, we suggest on-the-spot, show-and-tell training sessions, in which student tech gurus can quickly share a website or app that can be easily integrated into teaching and learning.

Make Writing

Inspiration Board — Educator, consultant, and writing studio owner Angela Stockman combines writer’s workshop and the maker space. This involves combining brainstorming and physical activity with writing. The Inspiration Board — any wall or poster in your class — houses quotes, images, prompts, cartoons and ideas that motivate and entertain writers.

Stockman says that any artifact on the wall is a small piece of its contributor, which fosters a connection between the makers and writers and entices reluctant contributors to participate. You can easily launch an Inspiration Board with a blank space and a few student ideas. Then, allow the students to build the ideas into stories.

Hacking Assessment

Tracking Progress Transparently — Starr Sackstein recommends a 4-column chart to make tracking assessment transparent. The columns are “Assignment”, “Feedback”, “Standards Addressed”, “Strategy”. These column labels can vary, depending on your needs. While this record can be maintained in a notebook or even a Google Doc, if it is kept in the cloud, students can review it anytime from anywhere and it can be shared with parents too.

Listen to my interview with Jennifer Gonzalez here

You can start tomorrow by building your 4-column chart in class and discussing what to write. Once students understand how to maintain this document, recording these personal reflections can become a regular routine.

Hacking the Common Core

Morecabulary — Mike Fisher tackles one of our biggest issues — vocabulary. He explains how to avoid boring dictionary work and end-of-week vocabulary tests. He also provides actionable steps for helping kids practice new words in ways they’ll love and will help them internalize vocabulary. For example, Fisher recommends unwrapping vocabulary by constructing meaning socially with tech tools and games.

Students might, for instance, virtually contribute images and videos about words with a tool like Padlet. This sparks collaboration and ownership of new words.

Hacking Leadership

Broadcasting Student Voices — School leaders Joe Sanfelippo and Tony Sinanis put the focus of education where it belongs — on students. They demonstrate how to amplify student voices through podcasting and live streaming video.

Lead from the middle - Brilliant or Insane

Learn how to lead from the middle

Kids and parents love this, and Hacking Leadership shows how teachers can start tomorrow.

Hacking Literacy

OPB (Other People’s Books) — Classroom teacher, presenter, and literacy expert Gerard Dawson knows that the most important ingredient in any successful classroom is reading. The best way to inspire even reluctant learners to read, Dawson says, is to expose them to books. Hundreds, even thousands of books. He explains how teachers can effectively approach libraries, your own PTA, and other community members to contribute books to your classroom.

Hacking Engagement

Celebrity Couple Nickname Game — You won’t find many teachers who are great at remembering student’s names, especially teachers who see 100 or more kids each day. Veteran teacher and student engagement expert James Sturtevant developed the Celebrity Couple Nickname Game to help him get to know each of his students. The strategy is so simple, yet so effective.

Take part of a student’s first name and part of her last name and merge them. For example, if you can’t remember Jennifer Gonzalez, you might call her JGo (sort of like pop icon Jennifer Lopez, aka JLo). Sturtevant encourages teachers to involve students in the process. You and your students will really internalize names, when you turn it into a game. Place the nicknames on a whiteboard or poster and ask kids to figure out which name matches which student.

When learn kids’ names quickly, you build rapport immediately, and this truly is Hacking Engagement.

Hacking Homework

Boomerang Model — Boomerangs come back to you. Starr Sackstein and Connie Hamilton suggest teaching parents and students to use the boomerang model when students are stuck on something at home. Kids are quick to say “I don’t get this; can you help me” to both teachers in class and parents at home. The boomerang model insists that adults “boomerang” the question right back to the kids.

Learn more

A few “boomerang” questions to ask stuck students are: “How can you help yourself? What strategy can you use? Where should you start? What evidence do you have?” Another option is to add these and other helpful questions to a classroom website or digital portfolio, so students and parents have a bank of questions they can always refer to.

Teaching this in class, the authors say, reinforces the boomerang concept, so students eventually are less inclined to default to asking for help when they are struggling.

Hacking Project Based Learning

Question CarouselPBL veterans Ross Cooper and Erin Murphy provide many ways to engage students in ongoing projects that include a wide array of learning outcomes. One is the Question Carousel, in which students work in groups to select a problem they would like to solve or an idea they would like to explore.

They record their idea either digitally or on chart paper. Then the groups rotate so they are viewing another group’s problem or idea, and they pose questions about the problem or idea in front of them. This is phenomenal for inspiring collaboration and something any teacher could try tomorrow.

What’s your hack?

Be sure and let us know which of these hacks you’re using. Comment below or tweet about it at #HackLearning.

Hack Learning Series

More Hack Learning books

A version of this post first appeared on Cult of Pedagogy

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Mark Barnes is the Founder and CEO of Times 10 Publications, which produces the popular Hack Learning Series -- books that provide right-now solutions for teachers and learners. Mark is the author or publisher of dozens of books, including Bestseller Hacking Education: 10 Quick Fixes for Every School. Barnes presents internationally on assessment, connected education, and Hack Learning. Join more than 115,000 interested educators who follow @markbarnes19 on Twitter.