Roughton Recommends

Welcome to my blog. Anything that I can't find a place for elsewhere will end up here. My goal is to provide specific recommendations of lessons and products that I've found useful in my instruction.

The Haunted Classroom

posted Oct 31, 2018, 6:41 PM by Kevin Roughton   [ updated Oct 31, 2018, 6:49 PM ]

It's Halloween at my middle school. My kids are already loaded with sugar. Teachers are hiding in corners praying for the day to end. Yet, in my classroom students are engaged more deeply in a lesson than they have in been in weeks. What is going on..?

In my opinion The Haunted Mansion is Disneyland's most fully-realized attraction. It isn't my favorite (Space Mountain) but I am always amazed by how much there is to it. From beginning to end the guest is immersed in a very specific experience and it never deviates from that. This immersion turns what is a rather boring ride at it's core - sitting in a slow moving ride vehicle that doesn't really do anything more than follow a track - into an incredible experience.

It starts at a distance. Just seeing the old style mansion rising up above New Orleans Square starts the draw. While it doesn't outwardly look haunted it feels just old enough to tease that feeling out. The line for the attraction winds through the front yard leading you past a terrifying looking old carriage and through a graveyard. There's some fun Disney joy in the names on the tombstones that brings some levity but it still is building tension for the experience.

At the end of the line you enter a waiting room which is dark and mysterious - lit only by a few flickering lamps. The doors open and the ride soundtrack (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L2QLjmJsGhQ) begins with a slow, plodding, mysterious organ track. Your "ghost host" points out that in this chamber "there are no windows and no doors" as it begins to slowly stretch. This segment ends with the chilling "of course... there's always my way..." line followed by total darkness and a piercing scream.  It took me years to realize what the host was referring to. If you don't know, don't let me spoil it for you. Let me just tell you that next time you ride look up!

You then walk the hallway with the famous hologram heads that watch your every step before finally boarding your own "doom buggy" and the ride begins. The ride itself is a special effects showcase that hides an unbelievable level of depth. I see something new nearly every time I ride. It ends with a couple of "hitch hiking ghosts" and an eerie hologram crying out "hurry baaaaack." You finally exit after a 14 minute soundtrack and however long you were in the line and only then are you removed from the experience. 

When did the attraction actually begin? Was that the beginning of the ride or was the elevator? The waiting room? The cemetery? The magic of The Haunted Mansion is that the entire experience from beginning to end builds on itself. Yes, there is a "ride" portion but it truly is an attraction from beginning to end.

Being Halloween I wanted to bring a Haunted Mansion experience to my classroom. I've been doing my Black Death History Mystery on Halloween for about five years now. It seemed like a good fit. I've been adding to it annually to make it an attraction from start to finish. Like the Mansion is it hard to pinpoint exactly where the experience begins. My students first were introduced to it on Monday in their weekly calendar reflection. Today's entry reads:

*SPECIAL EVENT* History Mystery: The Black Death - You thought it was gone? Think again! Prepare for an incredible experience involving a tragic mystery of history.

I rarely use the SPECIAL EVENT tag and haven't yet this year so that stood out to them immediately. Then yesterday I reminded them that it was coming up and would be unlike anything they'd ever done in school. Today, they arrived to the find the front door marked with a red x, biohazard warnings and a label reading "QUARANTINE" in the door window. My kids learned about the quaratines a couple weeks ago when learning about the disease. 



I shut off all the lights and open the door to greet them. I am in full costume as a plague doctor - historical yet creepy! Their reactions are excellent. Some are scared, most say "that's so cool!" (On that note, thanks Fortnite for making plague doctors cool!) This isn't the first time they've seen me in costume so it doesn't have a sense of pure novelty but it again is adding layers to the experience. 

They come in and, for the first time this year, find the room surrounded in flickering LED candles. 


I bought a bunch on Amazon for like $10 and placed them at each of the exhibit stations around the room. It was a small, simple, cheap addition and it added a ton to the feeling of the activity. With the lights off the room is fairly dark but light enough for students to work. Still, nearly all of them picked up a candle at some point and used it to light their papers or exhibits. They didn't need it, they were just so immersed they wanted to experience every available option. 


That's when you know you've got them! Once they sit down and do their daily agenda a video begins on the screen. I show the first few minutes of the 2010 movie "Black Death." It shows a monk in a monastery who has been locked up after having been possible exposed to the Disease. It is tense and closing with a sharply rising musical stinger and a late title card that simply reads "Black Death." Perfect!

We review the instructions and I send them out to the exhibits. 20 minutes of calm working with no more surprises right? Wrong! Last year I played some scary music softly in the background. This year I created a video loop of Pieter Bruegel's The Triumph of Death to run in the background. I added some fog effects to make the painting a little more sinister (if that's possible.)  The soundtrack is a typical Halloween track of howling winds, thunder and the like. Then, after a couple minutes an eerie girl's voice comes on singing "Ring Around the Rosie" which always freaks the kids out.  One of the exhibits they examine discusses the origins of the rhyme and its possible connections to the Black Death so kids slowly get the connection as they go through the lab. 

When the exhibits close students write their evidence-based conclusions on the cause of the disease and we discuss the most recent findings. They ask all kinds of questions because they are truly locked into the subject. They are in!

I guarantee this is an experience my students will remember. If the lab were just the lab itself it would almost certainly get lost among the costumes, candy and general excitement of the holiday. Adding the extra touches of sound, anticipation and lighting really makes it unforgettable. Disney did it with the Haunted Mansion. I did it with the Haunted Classroom!

The Power (and joy) of Role Play

posted Oct 9, 2018, 6:44 PM by Kevin Roughton

On my last trip to Disneyland I had an experience I'd never had before. (As an aside, that's part of the magic of Disneyland. I've been dozens of times and always have something new to experience!) While exiting Space Mountain my group crossed paths with two Storm Troopers. Seeing characters in costume is nothing new at Disneyland but this time they stopped us. They pulled my brother aside and told him he was under arrest for supporting the enemy. They then pointed at his shirt. He was wearing a Buzz Lightyear shirt. (I, of course, was left alone as I was sporting my official Story Trooper Pew Pew shirt.) They pulled him aside for questioning as a crowd gathered as we laughed hysterically. My brother played right along defending himself from their accusations. 

We talked about that experience for the rest of the day and still now months later. It was such a small thing but by putting us all in the moment and letting us role play as citizens being accosted by Storm Troopers we were given an experience we will never forget.

Role play rules!

This week in my class we're doing two big role play activities. My 8th graders are living out the Constitutional Convention while my 7th graders are experiencing the first Crusade. The Constitutional Convention sim is modeled after one from TCI and is the highlight of my Constitution unit - if not the entire year. Students are each assigned a delegate to the convention that they must represent throughout the 3-day activity. They read background information on their person and the state which they represent. They are told throughout that if the final results of the convention match their character's true wants then they will earn extra points. My kids this year in particular have really gotten into it. 

The lab opens with a meet and greet where they go around introducing themselves to the other delegates. I require them to bow to one another in greeting and to speak very formally and properly. It's fun. It's silly. It's a joy! I play the role of George Washington and go WAY over the top in my greetings to really set the stage. Like with those Storm Troopers, if the person you're playing with goes all in it encourages you to do so the same. My kids start to amp up as I do. By the end of these few minutes they are into their character. It really helps set them up to want to live out their character. 

In the next phase the students, acting as their assigned delegates, debate the options for representation in the new government. My kids this year really grappled with what the various options meant for themselves and their home states. It was awesome. The small state delegates passionately argued that their rights would be trampled while the large state delegates argued just as passionately that the government existed for the people not the states. They really got it. When Mr. Sherman introduced his compromise they understood exactly why the government needed two separate houses. The debates were intense, but respectful. They loved it. 

For the Crusades role play I play the monk leading a village of peasants on a journey to the Holy Land. It begins with me dramatically unrolling a scroll and reading it in my best (worst) British monk voice. I have an Applause sign that I hold up at dramatic moments (unannounced of course) which the kids absolutely eat up. We set up the rules for our adventure (no talking, St. Benedict wouldn't approve!) and we head out. We travel the school with me leading them around in circles (bad maps after all) until we arrive in Jerusalem where... nothing happens. We were too late! The battle already occurred. We return to Europe and each students reads an individual fate letter that determines their ultimate fate. 

Both activities are exhausting for me - much like I imagine it is for character actors at Disneyland. Staying in character all day long isn't easy. The engagement and learning though are well worth it. Allowing students to play a role engages them in deep, meaningful ways that build historical empathy and understanding at a tremendous rate. 

Designing such a lesson isn't easy either but here's a few tips that may help.

3 Tips for Successful Role Play

1) Make it Real
Disney character actors look the part from beginning to end. The costumes, obviously, are key but they learn the mannerisms of their character as well. For the princesses that means even mimicking their voice. Using costumes and voice in your simulation can add a layer of realism that really sets it apart. For the ConCon sim I dress as George Washington, complete with an over-the-top colonial wig. For the Crusades I dress as a monk. When I greet students at the door dressed that way they are already in. Speaking in an over the top accent only makes them feel even more like they can be someone else as well.

Rearranging your room (or leaving it like with the Crusade sim) can also help add to the realism. For the ConCon I make small adjustments like arranging the desks into small groups based around the state delegations. I also cover the windows add put up a sign that says "Do not disturb, Constitutional Convention in progress." Adding music or murmuring voices as audio backing is also an easy and cheap way to make the room feel different. Those little touches that students experience before the lesson even begins go a long way.

2) Make it Fun
Fun doesn't have to mean a game but fun has to be present for a good role play. Debate can be fun. Reading extremely over-the-top situations that happen to your character can be fun. Having to bow to your fellow classmates to show your etiquette can definitely be fun. Find the fun in your story. It's always there, we just have to look and make sure it fits.

3) Make it Meaningful
Debriefing your role play is a necessity. I love how TCI debriefs with a 2-column chart. In the left side they list the various aspects of the simulation and on the right students write how those aspects represent events or ideas from history. With the Crusades role play, for example, one thing we write is "Walked all over school." In the represents column students would write "the very long journey to Jerusalem." Having students make these connections is vital in turning these experiences from simple fun games into true learning opportunities. It also helps these ideas stick in a way they simply don't in a traditional lesson.

I will have kids referencing back to these lessons all year long. They will remember them when we do our end of the year class evaluations. Role Play is simply powerful and joyful and we should try to find as many ways as possible to fit them into our curriculum.

The Power of Fun

posted Sep 7, 2018, 6:53 AM by Kevin Roughton

I think my favorite of Mickey's 10 Commandments is "For every ounce of treatment, add a ton of fun." As I pointed out in my end of the the reflections I lost a lot of that last year. I was so focused on getting my kids to perform up to my vision that I kind of forgot what my vision really is. What I really want kids to leave my class with is an appreciation of history - the deep understanding will come in time. Fun is a way to bring that appreciation.

Today we did my barbarian ordeals lab. I honestly do not remember the origin of this activity - only that I made it over 10 years ago. It was one of the first "fun" activities I made for 7th grade. The goal of the activity is to get students to truly appreciate the importance of a legal system based on laws like the Romans had. At their age they really can't even comprehend another system existing. I explain that all cultures have had to figure out who was telling the truth.

The lab begins simply with a reading. 


There's nothing flashy about it. It is a reading about barbarian ordeals and how they work. It is fairly high-interest as it talks about wonderful things like boiling people's arms and throwing them into rivers to see if they float. Immediately, without discussion, they complete a 10 question "quiz" about the material. 


A few of the questions are absurd but most are straight up comprehension questions from the passage. It ends with: "True or False: Mr. Roughton is the amazing."

The reading and quiz take about 10 minutes - then the fun begins!

I show a short video clip about ordeals from History Channels The Dark Ages and then talk about how the ordeals worked. The clip is only about a minute long and is definitely not necessary. I do like the visual it provides but I did the lab for years without it just fine.  I announce it is time the grade the quiz. I read question 1 aloud and leave it hanging with that oh-so-powerful teacher skill of raising my voice slightly at the end so they know I want them to volunteer to answer.  I choose a student who I know will be comfortable in front of the class, they answer confidently, and then I get pensive. I ponder with a nice "Hmmm..." then sheepishly wonder aloud "...how can I know if he's telling the truth with this answer..." Then it hits me! "Ah! We'll appeal to the gods!" I call the student up to the front and announce their ordeal.

Here's a list I've built up over the years:

-Stand holding a book in each hand

-Speak the alphabet backwards

-Push ups

-Balance a pencil

-Stand without blinking

-Balance a book on your head

-Juggle

-Spin around then walk down the aisle without touching another desk

-Count by X to 100

-With eyes closed name 15 people in the classroom

-Tear paper in half with one hand

-Fold a paper in half 7 times

-Hum a song with nose plugged (impossible!)

-bottle flip x times


If they complete it successfully whatever answer they said becomes the right answer (even if it is technically wrong.)  Alternately, if they are not successful their answer is wrong.  It doesn't take long for the sense of injustice to kick in. "But A is right Mr. Roughton, it says it right here!" "But the gods clearly have shown us A is wrong. That's why he failed the ordeal."

This continues and, invariably, more and more hands go up. Kids want to try to pass the ordeal.  Some get wise and they'll purposefully pick a wrong answer and try to fail the ordeal on purpose. I'm fine with that. It helps teach the absurdity of the system.

The capper is the final question. If the volunteer says "True" (which they usually do) I make it seem like the gods have given me an incredibly arduous ordeal for them. I say "You will have 2 minutes, and only 2 minutes, to blink at least one time. You may blink more but if you can blink at least one time in 2 minutes we'll know the gods have determined that I am amazing."  If they false I say they cannot blink for 2 minutes. In each case, hilarity ensues. We close with a brief discussion of why the Roman system of courts and judges was superior.

The whole thing takes 30 minutes. I could easily cut it down to 20 if I needed to do something else. In that time students are reading a fairly complex text, answering text based questions and experiencing the value of a Roman system of laws. None of those things are easy and none of them are necessarily fun. By adding this small touch of fun to the end it completely flips the lesson and makes it one of the highlights of the year. The students have a blast. I have a blast. They truly come away understanding the value of a system of laws (which, in our modern culture is a miracle.)

Once again, it looks like those Disney Imagineers are on to something...

Imagination Rocks!

posted Aug 18, 2018, 11:33 AM by Kevin Roughton   [ updated Aug 18, 2018, 11:33 AM ]

I was considering writing a post about how powerful and joyful imagination can be in the classroom after doing my In The Clouds lab yesterday.  Then I woke up to this in my news feed:


It's a short clip of Inside Out (The Greatest Movie Ever Made) with Riley as a kid playing music with her imaginary friend Bing Bong. I guess it was meant to be. So, here we go!

Imagination Rocks!

One of the things I realized I was missing last year after some reflection was simple joy. I focused so hard on reading strategies, vocabulary and rigorous writing tasks that I let some of the fun activities go. I had to make room somewhere and they made the most sense, at least at the time. I want to make a concerted effort to bring as much of that joy back this year as possible. So, I decided to bring back In the Clouds. This is a very simple activity to get students to form a mental picture of the shape of the continents. Most of my students can't even name them coming into 7th grade let alone recognize them visually. I'm not big on maps but I think there is value in having a general picture of what the world looks like.


In the activity students imagine the continents are clouds floating in the sky. They then imagine what they would see in them if they were clouds. Europe, for example, looks strikingly like a baby dinosaur drinking water and being picked up by his mother's very large claw. You see it right?

No? 

That's where the joy begins. There is something truly magical about imagination. When I tell students that's what I see they start turning their heads in all sorts of directions trying to see it themselves. They audibly gasp in excitement when they do. "OOOOHH I SEE IT!" "I don't...

When they come up with their own ideas they can't wait (often literally) to tell everyone what they see. I first have them share with their shoulder partner so I know everyone got a chance to talk. They all want to. At this point a few brave kids will come up to the screen to point to what they see specifically for their partner. I then call out for a few to share with the class and a ton of hands always shoot up. Kids really want to be the one that sees something nobody else does. Then, when they point it out, they get that feeling of excitement when they hear "OOOOHH I SEE IT!" from their classmates.  For such a simple, silly activity it is amazing how much energy and excitement builds in the classroom. 

It also works academically. After we've gone through the 5 largely-populated continents (sorry Antarctica and Australia, we're busy) I do a lightning round where I flash the continents up on the screen and have kids yell them out by sight. What they absolutely could not have done 15 minutes ago they now cannot only do but cannot wait to do it. 

We can't always create a game or simulation for everything we do but imagination is easy. We often lament how kids lose their creativity and imagination as they get old. Maybe we're to blame. We'd do an activity like In the Clouds in a heartbeat in elementary school but somehow in secondary it feels cheap and not rigorous enough. It shouldn't though. Kids are learning to communicate abstract thoughts with one another and forming a visual picture of the world. There's great value in that.

Also, there is incredible value in having fun and we should never forget that. Disney thrives on it! Walt was fond of saying entertainment is not the enemy of education and little activities like this are a perfect example.

Imagination rocks!

Courageous Creativity Conference Report

posted Jun 23, 2018, 7:07 AM by Kevin Roughton

I'm freshly home from my second big conference this year and I can't wait to talk about it! 

Courageous Creativity is a conference put on by The California Arts Project. It was largely the brain child of Disney Legend Marty Sklar who left us last year. I learned about it from Marty's book Dream It, Do It! and, despite not being an art teacher of any sort, was very eager to attend. (Come on, I teach the Renaissance for 3 weeks, I'm qualified.) It was held at the Disney Paradise Pier hotel so, worth case scenario, I'm at the Disney Paradise Pier hotel. Just like with the earlier social studies conference I paid my own way. I'll leave you to mull over what that says.

The conference began with a mad rush to sign up for the desired tours. Multiple tours of Disneyland were offered ranging from tours of the Hyperion Theater to a new Horticulture tour of the parks.  They all sounded amazing but I honestly didn't read any of the descriptions as soon as I saw the tour that took us behind the scenes (quite literally) of Soarin' Over the World - the best attraction on the planet. I could not pass that up. We also signed up for our breakout sessions where I chose The Art of Movie Trailers and Art as Civic Engagement.

That evening began with dinner - which was delicious. The Disney service staff was prompt and courteous. The meal was so fancy that I figured this was the main event. Any food from here would be day old pastries and boxed sandwich lunches. We heard the keynote speaker which I already wrote about. I picked up so many great, inspirational nuggets and plenty of great Disney insights to annoy my family with when we visit the parks. Still, the line that sticks with me most is "No experience is too small to be excellent."

I went up to my room which overlooked Disney California Adventure and watched the fireworks show (complete with audio track from the TV - Disney just does things so right) from my window. Great start!

The next morning we started at 7:00 AM with breakfast. It was a full buffet spread with eggs, sausage, bacon, potatoes, pastries and fruit. Honestly, I'm shocked this was included in our registration. It definitely made me feel appreciated and cared for (Disney just does things so right.)

My 1st breakout session followed. We heard from Garrett Lambert, the senior trailer editor at Universal Pictures. My first major takeaway: there is a senior trailer editor at Universal pictures. This was a huge "ah ha!" for me as an AVID teacher. We always do a big careers unit with our AVID kids and I'm going to really focus on the "unseen" jobs next year. There's so many awesome jobs out there that I know my kids have never thought of. This was a great example.

The second takeaway was Garrett's own story and journey. He was a great student, football player, ASB president and came from a great family. He seemed to have it all together. As he said though "I had no clue what I was doing."  Garrett was largely left to his own devices in terms of figuring out life after high school because he seemed to know his path. This really stuck with me because I share a similar story (minus the football and ASB part of course...) I remember, vividly, the last day of high school and how terrified I was. I chose my college because my friend was going there - I hadn't ever even seen the campus. I had no idea what I was doing and most of my teachers just assumed I did because I did well in school. Now I look back over my recent students and wonder how many Garretts I've let slip by because I could. I need to give those kids just as much of my time and effort as those who are struggling.

Next was my tour of Soarin'. It began with a presentation by Mark Sumner - one of the head engineers on the attraction. He explained how it was made and the challenge of integrating show with engineering. We went backstage on the ride (where we saw Mickey walking to his break trailer, still "on stage" for his guests!) and learned a bit more about it. We then were taken the load area for the ride (no lines for us!) and I had the surreal moment of standing there, surrounded by other park guests, with Mr. Sumner standing right there with us. Aside from his Imagineering name badge he looked like any other guest. Nobody in line had a clue who was standing there with them. 

After riding we were taken back behind the projection screen to watch the engineering of the attraction. It was incredible to see how deep the screen truly is (it's basically a hemisphere) and watch all the parts in motion. We finished by heading down into the bowels of the attraction where we saw Mark's picture posted on the wall. We were given miniature copies of the Soarin' itinerary which I will be turning into a lesson on Latitude and Longitude for next year.  Amazing experience all around.

Lunch was next, which again was provided (and delicious.)

That was followed by a presentation from a game designer. It was the first presentation to use bullet points which really stood out (more on this later.) It was fine but for someone like me who follows the game industry to an unhealthy degree there wasn't much new. Many of the people in the room with less experience loved it. 

My 2nd breakout was next and let's just say I didn't make it. I did however take a great nap!

That night we gathered and were taken into Disneyland to see the new fireworks spectacular (it's not just a show!) We were taken to a VIP viewing area and left to enjoy it. Our tour guides left after leaving us there which allowed us to remain in the park until closing. I, of course, took full advantage of my "free" time in the park by immediately getting on the Monorail to return to the hotel to sleep.

I wanted to get to sleep because the next morning we started at 6:45 for "light breakfast and an adventure." The light breakfast appeared to be coffee and juice. We were led as a group again back to Disneyland - well before park opening. We got to see the horticulture team replacing plants that had been damaged the day before (which they apparently do every single night.) We saw the cleaning teams and delivery teams working frantically. For a Disney nut like myself this was magic. I took pictures of Main Street without a single person in it. Just think about that for a minute...

They took us to the French Market for our actual "light breakfast" which included burritos, fruit, pastries, yogurt and cereal. Light indeed. We then were taken on the newly updated Pirates of the Caribbean attraction (which has more updates than Redd!) As we were led out of the park we were given some time to take pictures in front of the still-empty Castle. We saw the crowds lined up at the ropes ready to get in. We were on the IN side of the ropes already. Teachers being treated like VIPS? What a world!

We returned to the hotel for a panel discussion with a group of imagineers. They focused on their varying stories of how they ended up at Imagineering. Most were artists but one came up through a temp agency as an administrator - so there's still hope for me. The highlight for me was Amber Samdahl who talked about the value of play. I'll write more about this panel on it's own soon. There was just so much said that was memorable and inspirational.

We then had yet another meal (southwest salad, carnitas, carne asada, and a ridiculous tres leches cake) that left me more than satisfied. We closed with a discussion among the participants of our big takeaways from the event. I was reminded of many of the great things that I didn't have time to write down throughout the conference. This was a great recap of the event and I'm glad I stayed for it (even if it meant an ugly drive home in Friday afternoon traffic.)

I left the event feeling more appreciated in those 3 days than I have in my 15 year career. Disney applied their magic of guest relations on us for 3 straight days and it was wonderful. As one participant noted "we're all leaving ready to go back to work tomorrow with all these ideas and inspiration, it's a shame we have to wait 2 months!" You know the conference was effective when it left us wishing Summer was already over. 

Thank you to the entire Disney staff who treated us like VIPs. Thank you to the TCAP team who planned the whole event. It was truly magical.

I leave you with this little comparison of conferences.
                       

  AVID Summer Institute Courageous Creativity
 Cost $675 $525
 Days 3 3
 Meals Provided .5 (one boxed lunch) 5
 Ridiculous Mandates 3-5 per year 0
 Trips to Disneyland 0 3
Imagineers 0 8
 Disney Magic 0 Tons

Hopefully it will be clear why I've stopped going to the AVID conference...

The Art of Teaching: Live Entertainment

posted Jun 20, 2018, 8:53 PM by Kevin Roughton

I just heard the opening keynote of the Courageous Creativity Conference at Disneyland by Matt Conover. Matt is the VP in charge of live entertainment at Disneyland (theater, music, parades, etc.) It was a wonderful keynote with a ton to take away for all of us as teachers - not just those teaching art.


I was reminded of my first keynote I delivered nearly 5 years ago. I entitled it: “I’m Not an Entertainer! (But I should be.)” I was asked to speak to the a bunch of social studies teachers - admittedly not always the most forward thinking bunch (You can’t blame us, looking back is kind of our responsibility!)  I figured this might be the only time I asked to do a keynote so why pull punches? The speech was very well received but I still regularly come across the “I’m not an entertainer!” mentality. I even often fell into myself this last year as I struggled to get my students to do ANY work.


Tonight’s keynote reminded me of just how important the entertainment piece is to what we do. Matt’s presentation contained zero words on screen outside of a couple signs. Still, with the use of story he held my attention for over an hour. He wasn’t doing flips or using crazy voices. He just told stories. It is so important for us to remember that we may not be actors, comedians or singers but that doesn’t mean we can’t entertain. We are gifted with the best stories the world has ever known (literally!) and we just need to share them and share them often. How can we ensure that we are delivering these stories in the best way possible? Matt gave us 8 guiding principles to Disney live entertainment that I think are largely applicable to us.


1) It must be safe.

Of course we want physical safety in our classrooms but we need our shows (teaching) to be emotionally safe as well. How are we making sure everyone is included? How are we making sure that failure is okay?


2) It must be unique.

What is it that only you (or our subject) can do? If our class feels just like English our show and our stories aren’t going stick. We can do emotion and real life better than anyone else. Let’s take advantage.


3) It must be based on story.

EVERYTHING. If an activity isn’t fitting a unit’s story why are you doing it? Yes, I’m talking to myself.


4) It must be the best.

I love this! As Matt put it, “No experience is too small to be excellent.” That was kind of a punch in the gut. My bellwork isn’t usually excellent. It’s small so I let it slide. I shouldn’t. It should be the best. That will be a much longer post in the future I’m sure!


5) It must fit the environment.

Does the experience fit in the classroom walls? Perhaps more aptly, does it fit in the tech tool we’ve set it in?


6) It must be built for the audience.

“Your audience’s tastes might not be the same as your own.” Ouch. I’ll need to reflect on that more for sure.


7) It must garner emotion.

Emotions connect very strongly to memories. If we want our kids to remember our lessons we should make sure they are emotional. Any emotion will do!


8) It must create value.

In terms of a theater production it has to sell tickets. For us it has to lead to learning. “It’s not called Showshow it’s called Showbusiness!”


Entertainment is important. Our brains work better when they are, well, awake. Let’s not hide behind the excuse of “not being an entertainer” any more. We have the most amazing stories to tell and it is our responsibility to do them justice. I’m excited to learn more over the next two days and share what I can.


For now I’ll leave with one thought that really hit me from his speech. Matt mentioned a live theater show created for the Disney Cruise Line. I’m not a theater guy so I have little reference outside of loving the Hamilton soundtrack. He mentioned that one of the shows “basically produced itself” and that the first performed version of it was only version 3.


Only version 3?! I asked him to elaborate and he explained that the show was so well conceived that it only took 3 iterations to get direction, production, set design, music, lighting and every other single group involved on board. That’s crazy to think that version 3 being good to go is considered almost magic in the theater business. I’m usually happy to throw out a version that isn’t even version 1!  Maybe that’s why I’m not quite up to Disney standards! Yet. Now, if you'll excuse me, there's about to be a fireworks show out my window. Tough conference huh?


The Kevies: Part 2

posted Jun 12, 2018, 8:42 AM by Kevin Roughton   [ updated Jun 12, 2018, 8:44 AM ]

Welcome back to the Kevies! A fun way to do an end of the year reflection.  If you missed Part 1 go back and check it out!

Today's awards include:
-Board Game of the Year
-Activity of the Year
-Book of the Year
-Event of the Year
-Class of the Year



Board Game of the Year


Go Nuts for Donuts! - An easy to play, hard to master auction/draft game themed around anthropomorphic donuts. If that sounds just about perfect that’s because it is. I already wrote about the game here if you want to know more.


Love Letter - An easy to play, easy to master Go Fish like game themed around trying to woo a princess. Not exactly the easy sell that Go Nuts is but the game is fantastic. It plays fast and is very easily learned but holds interest for a long, long time. No two games play out quite the same despite the simplicity. My students love this one and so do I.


Apples to Apples - The classic classroom game remained at the top of our play rotation this year. It is hard for this game to get old. I did get a bit tired of the Disney version as it has fewer cards and we played it A TON but the students like having the pictures on the cards. It is the perfect classroom game as it can handle a bunch of players and definitely leads to deeper relationships among the players.


And the winner is… Go Nuts for Donuts! - I may one day get bored of this game but it hasn’t happened yet. When a game inspires me to immediately go home and figure out to modify it to fit my content I know it is doing something very right.


Activity of the Year (As chosen by the audience)


Notes - I finished the process of updating all my presentations this year - all bullet points are gone! I added in the animated paintings that I did over the summer and, once again, cut a bunch of stuff. I will definitely be shifting some of the cuts back in and some material back out but, for the most part, the presentations are solid. Kids liked them, I liked them - not much more to ask for (okay, students, can you please stop copying from the screen?)


Choose Your Own Adventure - I did fewer CYOAs this year with my on-level kids as they independence just didn’t suit them well. My AVID kids did just as much and continued to create some cool projects. I didn’t make any changes and didn’t even add any new options. I’ve got some new ideas I’m working on but nothing in finished form yet.


Culture Shocks - Again, nothing new here. I made some minor adjustments to some of them throughout the year but for the most part they remained the same - a bunch of mini-activities, mostly fun ones, that help students to experience some of the more unique aspects of a civilization.


And the winner is… a tie! Seriously, my end of the year surveys showed a near even split between these three as the favorite activities of my students. This was a big jump for CYOA. I don’t know what accounts for it but I’m glad.


Book of the Year


The Imagineer’s Field Guide to Disneyland - You might sense a theme in my reading material this year. The Field Guides were recommended in another book I read this year - The Imagineering Pyramid - and turned out to be amazing. They are just little behind-the-scenes guides to the Disney parks, written by Imagineers. I learned a bunch of new little tidbits about design and attention to detail that will surely influence my creations from here on.


Creating Magic - This book is a must read. It is another book by a Disney employee. This one focuses on leadership and is as insightful and useful as any I’ve read. It rivals even classics like Carnegie’s How to Make Friends and Influence People. It surely helped me to identify holes in my leadership style. Further, it helped me clarify why I’ve often felt frustrated working in education. Judged by Lee Cockrell’s standards education is very poorly led. The lack of communication at all levels (which nearly made my most frustrating list) is highlighted here as a problem in many organizations. I hope I can avoid many of the mistakes described and instead stick to the recommendations!


One Little Spark: Mickey’s 10 Commandments - This is slightly unfair as this was a re-read for me. Spoiler alert: it is still amazing. As I look to write my own book I keep coming back to this one as my lens. Seeing the design process through the eyes of the best designers in the world gives a fresh perspective on how we can make our classrooms amazing. (And, in fact, the format for this very blog is borrowed from the book.)


And the winner is… Creating Magic. I did not expect this book to hit me the way it did. I read a ton about leadership and always have. This is the first book to be inspirational enough to make me actually consider going for my admin credential. Thankfully, that whim passed within a week. Still, it makes me want to be a better leader in the positions I already hold and makes me wish to be led, truly led, in the ways Lee describes.


Event of the Year


CCSS State Conference - An amazing conference throughout topped off by my hotel room being comped and upgraded to a suite for no charge. I got a bunch of great ideas that I’m excited to explore. My own session could not have gone better. It was well attended, all the tech worked and people left joyful and inspired. I got to meet some people I’ve only known through Twitter and make contacts that will last a lifetime. Thumbs up all around.


AVID Parent Showcase - My 7th grade showcase night went well despite having low attendance. Those who attended had a great time going through their projects with their students and enjoying our class videos. I wish more parents had a chance to see it. I look forward to continuing the tradition next year.


IECSS Awards - One of my colleagues (Scott Hill) was recognized this year as an IECSS Outstanding Educator and I attended the banquet. It was great to see all those recognized and see Scott get some long overdue recognition for his work. He was my master teacher 16 years ago and continues to do amazing work in the classroom. (Bonus points for the keynote speaker talking a ton about AVID for no reason!)


And the winner is… CCSS State Conference. I feel like this conference was another step in my life journey. I presented as CCSS two years ago and my session was packed. It should have been, I was winning an award that year and that should have helped drive traffic. This time I was presenting in a rough timeslot (8 AM, Saturday) and didn’t have any additional advertising. Still, my session was packed again. I heard so many positive comments afterwards that I left thinking I was really onto something. Now if I could just turn Design Like Disney into a book...



Class of the Year (As chosen by the audience)

PE - A few votes out there for PE, mostly from the boys, but from a few girls who noted that they appreciated how their coaches challenged them to keep doing better. Good to hear!


Mine - Many of my students noted that they appreciated that my class was fun and I was funny (and a few mentioned my stunning blue eyes.) A few had recommendations for improvements like “give less tests” (No. I give one every 6 weeks, come on.) and “explain CYOA better” (Fair.) but most couldn’t offer anything to improve.


ELA - Mrs. Shaffer - Mrs. Shaffer is an awesome teacher and kids love her. She is challenging but helps kids reach those challenges. She, most importantly, is real with the kids. Many noted that the way she brought her life and theirs into their classroom was much appreciated.


And the winner is… Mine! Though I didn’t feel it much this year my students still overwhelmingly chose my class as their favorite. Maybe they thought they had to since it was my class survey but I don’t think so. I think my kids see my heart even when I’m not feeling it. This year many commented that they recognized and appreciated how much work I put into making the class presentations entertaining. Quite a few really liked the gamification layer (even though very few ever collected their rewards - again) and the general game-like feel of so much of it. It was my toughest year by far but they still found joy in it. I need to count that as some kind of success!





I hope you had fun reading through this with me. Reflecting back, especially using student feedback, is vitally important to what we do. I hope this inspires you to reflect and award yourself in a similar fashion.

Want another game to check out? I'll be writing about Timeline soon - it is surprisingly great!

The Kevies

posted Jun 7, 2018, 4:43 PM by Kevin Roughton   [ updated Jun 12, 2018, 8:45 AM ]

I wanted to do something fun with my end of the year reflection (Everything starts with a story!) so I present the first annual Kevies! These awards all relate to things that happen in room 110 this year.


This ended up being longer than planned so it will come in two parts. Enjoy part 1!


Today’s Kevies:

Biggest Frustration

Best Song

Best “Anime”

Best Comeback

Best New Thing


Biggest Frustration


New District Tardy Policy - At our first staff meeting this year we were shown a new district-wide tardy policy. It required 2 warnings before you could even report a tardy and 3 before any discipline. By 7 a parent was supposed to walk their student to class. In that meeting I asked who I contact at the district when the policy inevitably fails. I did not get an answer. It failed in about 2 weeks. I had more tardies than ever before and never saw a single parent. I had kids up in the 20s and little was done. I later found out that we were the only school who even used the so-called district policy. It was a constant source of frustration.


Classroom Levels - My favorite thing about honors classes is that the kids are all relatively at the same academic level. I had the same positive experience teaching our former EL1/2 Social Studies. This year I had no such classes. Even my AVID class ranged from kids in reading intervention up to GATE. I had the same splits in my 3 on-level courses with the added layer of multiple special ed kids. It was a nightmare all year long. My high achievers missed out on many of my usual inquiry activities and my lower kids still struggled to keep up. While I learned to work with it there’s no question it led me to my most intense frustrations of the year.


Kaiser Permanente - Not so much related to work but it made work harder. I’ve been dealing with two medical issue over the last 18 months. I’ve got some sort of nerve problem in my left foot that has led to multiple visits and multiple tests. The ultimate answer from Kaiser: “We have no idea.” That led me to favoring my right leg heavily when walking or standing (which teachers tend to do quite a bit.) After a full month of unending knee pain I visited Kaiser again. The doctor, who ordered no tests of any kind, said I was getting old (37!) and suffering from arthritis so there was nothing to be done. Apparently I deal with daily pain for the remainder of my life. Thanks Kaiser for your intense care for my well being.


And the winner is… Classroom Levels. I never lost sleep over the tardy policy so it doesn’t win.  The medical issues are just part of life so being constantly frustrated by it seems pointless. Trying to teach kids ranging in ability from 1st grade to 10th grade wins!


Best Song


Let it Go - Leo (https://youtu.be/so49WpSj9bo?t=25s) - I don’t even remember how I ended up playing this in class. I think someone asked me to play Let it Go and I decided to indulge them with this version. It became our go to song. Fun, silly and familiar it was the tune that everyone kept asking for.


Gundam Build Fighters Opening Theme 1 - (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_6Kq1UcFPyc) - Sometimes, you don’t know how much you love something until it is gone. My anime club kids have always liked J-pop though this year was all about K-pop. I generally dislike both. The GBF opening them is J-pop in its purest form and it is catchy as can be. Then, it disappeared! They changed the song halfway through season 1 and the rest of the year was just not the same. We still played the original opening each week for anime club!


Gundam Build Fighters Closing Theme - (https://youtu.be/i4-txHzY4ew?t=22m24s) - Along with the new opener came a new closing song - and it is absolutely awful in the best way possible. The song makes the nominees due to its opening line of “potato chips” and for introducing my class to the idea of having a “short pants spirit!” which became a running joke all year long.


And the winner is… Let it Go - Leo. I love both GBF songs but Leo’s Let it Go has made it into my regular personal playlist and not just for ironic reasons.


Best “Anime”


RWBY Vol. 5 - The hardest part about sponsoring a middle school anime club is finding shows that are school appropriate. Most anime is either rated Y7 for little kids or 17+ for adults - there’s little in between. RWBY falls in between but isn’t really anime. It’s English and made in America. Still, it is very much anime in style and story. Volume 5 was my least favorite of the show so far and I really didn’t like 4 at all. It just didn’t go anywhere. Still, I’ll watch 6 when it comes out.


Gundam Build Fighters - I found this on Youtube over the Summer and fell in love with it. Iori and Reiji make a great team and Reiji is one of my favorite characters in anime so far. The show is fun and innocent but still has some powerful themes. It is perfect for middle school.


Spirited Away - I’ve wanted to see this movie for years and finally did. The whole time watching it - both times - I had little idea what was going on. Still, it is endlessly compelling. Were I an English teacher I’d use it in any study of poetry or symbolism I could. The voice work, particularly of the main character Sen, is perfect. We cheated and watched it in English but both I and the kids loved it (even if we had no idea why.)


And the winner is… Gundam Build Fighters. Exactly what I’ve been looking for since anime club started. It feels very anime but plays well for a tween audience. Great characters, great music and a fine story that ends with real emotion. I’m very excited to watch the follow up series next year.


Best Comeback


Boys - The continuous dropping achievement of boys across the nation has been discussed for years. At JMS this year boys made a big comeback. Our winners for our top students of the year were both boys. We often struggle to find even one. In my own classroom my two most improved students were boys as was my top performer.   Of course, then Fortnite happened so...


Multiple Choice - Late in the year we started remaking our assessments to combine inquiry with multiple choice. I’ve been trying to square this circle since we started Common Core with mixed results. I finally feel pretty good about where we landed. The questions are still hard (in fact, possibly too hard) but are less intimidating for our students. Providing them with answer choices helps them to see how a complete analysis of a document should look. Doing this from the get to next year should be a big help.


Jeopardy - I cut way back on classroom review games the last couple years. I just couldn’t justify them in a world that put such little value on facts and trivia. While I still support that outcome giving up the games was a mistake. I played Jeopardy (one of my oldest and least interesting games) late in the year and the kids ate it up. “Can we play this every day?!” Well, no, but I’m glad it is back.


And the winner is… Jeopardy. I’m still not certain multiple choice is here to stay and I think the boys were an anomaly this year (though I’d love to be wrong!).  Fun and games though are going to come back to my classroom in a big, big way.


Best New Thing


Final Mission Intro (https://vimeo.com/267343717) - You don’t have to do much to make middle schoolers interested in pirates. That’s why, in some ways, I’m disappointed that my pirate unit has 3 incredible intros to build interest. Some of my units barely have one. Oh well. The latest one is a hi-tech, spy style intro to their final mission. It really helped set the tone for the entire  unit and the kids loved it. Supporting actor credit to Fiverr.com for making projects like this possible.


Conversion Factor - One of my very few new activities this year. This one is similar to my other “A Day In…” labs but has a specific learning goal. I wanted to teach students the various ways the Islamic Empire grew and expanded their faith. By taking on the role of a traveler in the empire they were able to logically experience many different methods. It didn’t work exactly as planned. It was originally a lesson to showcase Nearpod but I ran into conflicts with my own artistic visions and Nearpod’s inability to autoplay videos. Someday.


Renaissance Puppet Shows - Another new one but one I was only willing to try with my AVID class. I wrote 4 scripts covering major areas of the Renaissance and assigned them to 4 groups. Those groups created the actors (paper bag puppets) and the props to act out their scene. They kids did an amazing job and performance day was an absolute blast. I still don’t know if I’d trust the activity to an on-level class I only see once a day but I’m certainly tempted to try.


And the winner is… Renaissance Puppet Shows. Most new activities I do require significant rebuilding. Conversion Factor is a perfect example. I was making adjustments immediately to the script and presentation. It worked well enough but still clearly had work to be done. The puppet shows really didn’t. With the right group of kids I would do it again exactly as I did. No changes to scripts, instructions or anything. It just worked and the students did a tremendous job with it.



On to part 2!

Get on their Level

posted Jun 5, 2018, 9:10 AM by Kevin Roughton   [ updated Jun 5, 2018, 9:18 AM ]

I had an aide in my classroom this year who helped one of my students. The student wrote her a letter at the end of the year thanking her for the dedication. The aide remarked "It was touching but she made me sound so unprofessional!" I told her to treasure that compliment. Similarly, I had one of my students write on her end of year reflection: "Don't take this the wrong way Mr. Roughton but you're like a big kid." I always love this type of comment. I'll never forget when Desire Romero said "Mr. Roughton, you're such a dork!" to me. I love every time Raelene says "Mr. Roughton!" in her sing-songy "I can't believe you right now" tone. It takes quite a level of comfort to talk like that to your teacher! In each case it is done with love and respect reserved only for someone you count as family.

I've come across a story about Walt Disney three times now in the last couple months - which must mean it is worth reflecting on. The story goes that Walt was walking down Main Street during the initial construction phase of Disneyland. As he walked by the huge store display windows he'd get down on his knees and look up. Walt was placing himself in the shoes of his smallest guests - the children. He required the builders to remake the windows putting them down at eye level for kids - not for adults. Walt regularly walked the park interacting with cast members, riding the rides and sharing the experience of the guests was trying to engage. It shows.

How can we do more of this in our classrooms?

One thing I highly encourage every teacher to try at least once is a narrative observation. I had to do this for my Master's degree and it has proven incredibly value. In a narrative observation you choose one student and write everything you observe about them in a given lesson. I did mine on a mid-level EL student during one of my history mystery labs. She did not know I was watching and listening to her exclusively. I ended up writing nearly 4 pages. It showed me, more clearly than ever, where the hiccups in the lab were. I remember seeing her pick up one of the exhibits, a reading page, and put it back down immediately. She went to another exhibit instead. The station had no appeal at best and negative appeal at worth. It was simply too much boring text. That can't compete with a chalk outline of a body on the floor! I realized I had to spice that exhibit up.

This can, of course, be difficult to do in a classroom with 30+ kids. The history mystery lab was the perfect opportunity since it is largely independent. I don't know how one could do this on a more teacher-directed activity but it is well worth trying out.

A second thing I recommend, which I'm now realizing I did not do at all this year, is to literally become of your students. I'll never forget filling in for Daisy in a group assignment two years ago. I sat in her chair, did the worksheet along with her group, and even had fun mimicking her mannerisms. It was a late in the year dossiers assignment that the rest of the group could have done without me but Catherine asked me to fill in and I figured why not? This was like a narrative observation on steroids. Now I was not only a passive observer but an active participant. I got to be the one who felt the "I don't want to read another one of these sheets..." feeling. It was also unique to literally be on their level. I often stoop down when working with students because I am tall and don't like towering over them. Sitting there for an extended period of time really put me on par with the kids. I built more relational capacity with those three kids in that 25 minute activity than in the rest of the year.

I didn't even have to ignore the rest of the class while I was doing it. Since I worked more quickly than the group every few minutes I used the extra time to get up and check in on the rest of the students. The experience was so awesome that I made it one of the power ups in my class game. Students who reach the highest levels can use a power up to "force" me to be their partner on any group activity. None of this year's kids go that far in time to use it. I'll have to lower it a level or two to further encourage it next year.

Another thing I do to get on their level is to spend extra time with my students. My room is open early, during lunch and after school. Sometimes students use it to work. Sometimes they use it to talk. And often we use it to play board games together. (As my principal commented the other day "I can't ever tell if kids are working or playing in here..." There's something powerful about sitting with someone and sharing a board game experience. It lets me interact with my students as real people as Walt did with his employees. They are much more open and honest with you when in these types of settings.

Doing these things regularly will help you see your classroom from their level just as Walt did. It will help you better anticipate where certain students will disengage. Imagine the child walking hand in hand with their parents down Main Street. As their parents gawk and fawn over the beautiful window displays the child is starting at... a wall. Not only do they miss out on the spectacle they are left with the even worse feeling of "everyone else is enjoying this!" As we have more and more special ed kids in our classrooms we can be more sympathetic to their similar feelings. I don't know what it's like to read at a 1st grade level. I don't know what that does to a student who is given a history mystery with pages and pages of text. I have to imagine it is much like the child starring into the wall while everyone around them is enjoying themselves.

Can we lower our windows? Sure we can! We can alter our reading levels. We can chunk our passages. We can use more graphics.  At the very least we can show them that we value their input and position by spending time with them. Walt didn't need to ask his minimum-wage cast members their opinions but he did - all the time - and it made them better employees. He was accessible - we can be too. We just need to get on their level! 

17-18: Year in Review

posted Jun 1, 2018, 1:15 PM by Kevin Roughton

I've never been so ready for a Summer break. This year was difficult - really difficult. I made more adjustments more often than ever before to try to make it work for my kids. I didn't. It didn't work. I've had endless conversations with my colleagues about how to reach them and teach them and while I think it got better throughout the year the results simply weren't there. So, this won't be the most inspiring of reflections but there is value in reviewing your failures (and admitting to them) in order to move forward.

If nothing else this should be helpful to those who email me and say "I wish I could do what you do!" Believe me, you can! I'm not a magician by any stretch. 

So, what went wrong?

Class Make Ups

Due to issues out of my control I had no GATE classes this year and, apparently, will not next year either. I'm a GATE kid myself. I know how they think and many of my lessons, jokes and strategies serve them best. I've always had more on-level kids than GATE but having that outlet for my creativity and personality was a huge uplift every day. Not having that at all this year was draining. Many of my favorite activities such as my History Mysteries work far better with GATE kids. This year I ended up skipping many of them because my kids simply were not ready for the amount of reading required. 

I had more kids in reading intervention this year than ever before. I had more kids on IEPs than ever before. It is simply not fair to those kids to expect them to handle the independent nature of many of my "big" activities. As a result, my few high achieving kids missed out as well. 

I'll avoid a rant here but "Inclusion" is a failed experiment already. It was awful for my SPED kids and it was awful for my high achievers. Throwing them all into one class - even one like mine where differentiation is built in to the core with CYOA - doesn't work. By serving all we are serving none. Unfortunately, I expect more of this next year.


Skipping Steps

My class assumes, at this point, that students have had instruction in writing with evidence. It is a core tenet of Common Core. I don't expect my kids to know anything about history but I expect them to be able to read and write with at least a basic level of ability. I can't assume that any more. Our schoolwide average reading level was at 4th grade (we are a 7/8 school mind you.) This includes all of our GATE kids. I realized very early on this year that my kids simply were not prepared to handle even the simple, sentence-framed version of our historical argument paragraphs. I had to take things down to a far more basic level than in past years. 

That meant more basic vocabulary (not even subject-specific) and WAY more reading practice. While this definitely helped as the year went on it was too late. Many of kids had settled into their own low expectations by then and I saw no change in my overall grades from 1st to 2nd semester. I plan to start much more slowly next year - especially when it comes to assessments and make sure to build my kids up.



So, what am I planning to do to fix it?

Refocus on Fun

"When the subject permits, we let fly with all the satire and gags at our command. Laughter is no enemy to learning." - Walt Disney

I didn't lose all the fun in my class this year - and certainly not all the laughter. A vast majority of my kids picked my class as their favorite on their end of year survey and the most common reasons were "it was fun" and "you were funny." I'm glad they still felt it - but I didn't. At least, not to the level of past years. Due to the academic challenges of my kids we spent a ton of time and energy on reading practice this year. While some of those activities had some fun in them (still love the Charlemagne bias reading!) most of them just came so fast and furious that we didn't have time to unpack the fun that could be there.

Given that whenever I present to other teachers it is about the importance of fun in education I should probably not lose sight of it myself. When I played Jeopardy late in the year my kids absolutely LOVED it. I haven't played Jeopardy in years. I have made much more involved games and found it hard to justify the amount of time the game took to play. It quickly reminded though that time is very well spent. Sure, I took an extra 20 minutes over a shorter game but I bought well more than 20 minutes worth of future motivation and engagement. I need to play more games like that early in the year even if they have limited, or no, academic value. 

Build More Connections

I've always been a "relationships first" proponent when it comes to teaching. This year for reasons ranging from issues with my own health to frustrations with lacking rigor across my district I just didn't engage as deeply with my students as I usually do. I still had kids in my room all the time but my lunch group was smaller than it has been in years. 

Still, I had enough evidence of the importance of those connections to make it a goal to get back to it next year. I had one student who I kind of took under my wing second semester. She failed my class 1st semester and was failing again. I had a heart to heart with her and encouraged her to start coming in before school and at lunch to get caught up. She did. Then she kept coming. It allowed me time to get to know her and see her slowly - very slowly - open up. She's still not quite there yet. She finished with a good grade in my class and very poor ones in her others. The relationship I built with her was the motivation she needed to perform. I'm excited to work with her again from the jump next year and help her to break further out of her shell and get on track with all her classes. 

Another student of mine was facing bullying issues early in the year. I told my kids early on that no matter how many adults ignored their issues I never would. She put me to the test. After another of teachers told her "that's just how middle school is, you'll be fine." she came to me. I didn't have to do much. I talked to her counselor and her homeroom teacher. I checked in with her a couple times and she said all was fixed and I and didn't hear (or think) about it much more. As the year went on she went through a very typical "I just turned 13" phase where her whole look started to change. She started to slip, just a bit, as a student as well. I was able to talk to her about it and she very quickly returned to her old self. She ended up being one of my top students after that. I showed her that I cared and she returned the favor by doing her very best work for me. 

I plan to find, no, make more time for these connections next year. 

Find the Big Ideas

The weekly reading sheets seemed to stretch the amount of information I was delivering to students this year. Many topics that got skipped over in the past we got to cover through reading. It ended up being way too much. Too many topics means no topic really gets to stick. This Summer my big project is to find those big ideas I wanted out of each unit and make sure they are embedded into nearly everything in the unit. Telling one story at a time is one of Mickey's Ten Commandments for Disney Imagineers so I should know this already. I've always struggled with this because there is just so much stuff in the 7th grade CA standards. Teaching it all doesn't work anyway so why bother?

I want them walking out with a few big key ideas that will carry them into future history classes.


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