The 2021 Kevie Awards - Part 2

Here's the second part of my annual reflection with awards for Best Jackbox Game, Font of the Year, Best Tech Tool and Comment of the Year! Be sure to check out part one.

Best Jackbox Game

Blather ‘Round - Jackbox was my go-to game this year with students. It worked great virtually. So much so that I made this spreadsheet to track the classroom effectiveness of each game. One that I quickly fell in love with was Blather ‘Round. It’s a bit like charades meets Taboo but without any acting or banned words (so, not at all like charades or taboo…) You choose a mystery word or phrase and then have to provide clues so the audience can guess it. Your clues come initially from a preset list so you end up with clues like, “It is the big fantastical area.” As players guess you can then use their guesses for further clues. It works great in the classroom as it helps teach kids to understand how to communicate ideas to others and it is just a lot of fun to boot.

Fibbage: Enough about You - Take 2 Truths and a Lie and expand it. You now have Fibbage: Enough about You. You are given a secret prompt which you answer such as, “Which Disney character would you marry?” (It’s Ursula.) Other players provide their guesses and the audience picks, multiple choice style from those guesses and your answer. It is a ton of fun and a great way to get to know the students in your class.

Bracketeering - Get a prompt, give an answer. Watch your answer compete against other answers for best answer. It’s stupidly simple but very fun. Most importantly it easily supports 16 active players and even audience members have a direct and frequent impact on the game (which isn’t the case in many other Jackbox games.) There are some great laughs when the game switches the prompt and sticks you with your original response, (No, Jaws would not be a great theme for a 5 year olds birthday party!) but the huge, basically full class, player numbers really set it apart.

Drawful 2 - Get a prompt, often a very strange one, and draw it. Other players guess what it is. Audience votes like they do in Fibbage. The drawings are often, well, awful given the small screen and limit of only two colors. So, my “Cactus shaped like a hand” was blue and became a “hairy fist” to the audience” - and that was one of the easiest ones! I’ve had prompts like “Vampire Vacation” and “Oh no he didn’t!” that are basically impossible. That’s the fun! This game often leads to some great inside jokes among classes as I can reference their particular drawings, like Eva’s amazing trampoline man, throughout the year. Easy game that anyone can play.

And the Kevie goes to…

Blather ‘Round - There are tons of other Jackbox games that we enjoyed from Push the Button (Among Us before Among Us existed) to Bomb Corps (a cooperative puzzle game that me and my 3 in-person students beat literally as the final bell rang for the year) but Blather ‘Round was my constant go-to. It was always fun but it was also really cool to see kids get better and better at their clues as the year went one. They began to see that something that is obvious in their head isn’t so obvious in the head of another!

Best Song (Brought to you by Hamilton)

You’ll Be Back - Teaching U.S. history again meant a return to Hamilton. With the movie version of the play coming out last Summer, more students were into it than two years ago. I played it as my pre-class music frequently for my US class. This song quickly became an early student favorite. The sing-songy da da da, da da part is just so catchy. It also helped that the visual performance of the song in the play is quite funny. It hit perfectly for middle school and kids loved it.

Yorktown (The World Turned Upside-Down) - My favorite song on the album wasn’t quite as popular with the students. Many still enjoyed it and one picked it as his favorite but the power of the story didn’t hit them as hard as it hit me. I made a version using video clips that helped bring home the incredible accomplishment of the rag-tag army in need of a shower which I also think I enjoyed more than they did!

The Schuyler Sisters - My elective (and thus my connected history courses) are always heavily female and they in particular loved this song. Also… AND PEGGY! What more needs to be said?

And the Kevie goes to…

Yorktown (The World Turned Upside-Down)! Do I have any reason to teach the battle of Yorktown next year? Nope, but I will anyway. I love this song. Plus, it has a special meaning to me as it is now immortalized in the opening chapter of my book! (Which should be ready literally any day. I’m just waiting on the proof… which I’m afraid isn’t going to look right leading to yet another delay but hey… it’s written!)

Worst Thing

No Meetings MOU - Everyone above me, including the local union, made really bad decisions this year. When we switched to very limited in-person learning part of the agreement made by the union was that we’d have no meeting for the next two weeks so teachers could prepare. Well, how on Earth are we supposed to prepare if we have no meetings? Getting teachers to meet voluntarily is like herding cats, assuming 75% of the cats will never join the herd. I managed to get a few colleagues together to meet but any time something bigger was proposed someone would jump in with, “that’s not what we agreed to.” Well, we didn’t agree to anything. At least, I didn’t. There was no membership vote. We went in woefully underprepared and it ruined the entire run of in-person learning. What a joke.

“We’re Doing Great!” - The number of times I heard from those same higher-ups that we were doing great was ridiculous. Every communication seemed to be steeped in toxic positivity. No, we weren’t doing great. Our kids were doing terribly. One of our district admins was even quoted in the local newspaper touting how well things were going. That was incredibly demoralizing when I knew it was simply not true. My kids suffered emotionally and academically. I suffered as well. Nobody was doing great. We should have admitted what wasn’t working and tried to do the work to fix it instead of pretending nothing was wrong. Of course, it would have been hard to fix them with no meetings but that’s besides the point… Maybe some people do well with blind praise - I don’t. I’m a fixer and it causes me endless stress to be denied that problems even exist.

Low Expectations - This could apply to students, teachers and parents. Our expectations in nearly every area (except posting that daily attendance and engagement!) were set woefully low before the year even started. We were told we could not require cameras or student interaction. We couldn’t assign projects. We knew there would be no real testing. One student told me she loved her science class because “my teachers gives us all the answers right before the test.” and another had literally 162% despite having below a C average on assessment. No wonder kids were checked out academically. However, as bad as that was, the lack of expectations on cameras and participation is what hurt the most. Kids easily checked out when they weren’t accountable to even look like they were paying attention. I heard all the reasons why kids shouldn’t be expected to have them on and I think they are all nonsense. Teaching to a living audience, even virtually, would have made the year a million times better.

And the winner is…

Low expectations. I truly believe all the other problems and difficulties this year stemmed from this one. It is a long running problem in my district (and state) and COVID provided an excuse to demand even less from students and families. It not only ruined this year but put our kids in a terrible position for the next couple years at least. Yes, you have to engage with your education in order to learn. We adults should be the ones pushing that idea, no matter the circumstances.

Best Tech Tool

Gimkit - Last year’s winner for best new thing returns! I just dabbled in Gimkit last year. This year, it was a regular part of my curriculum. Gimkit is Kahoot if Kahoot was awesome. It is designed in such a way that repeating questions is not just accepted but expected. Students get tons of repetition but since they are earning dollars to buy powerups the whole time, they absolutely welcome it. This year Gimkit made one major misstep (requiring a subscription to play full class live games) but made up for it by adding awesome new modes throughout the year. We played, and loved, all of them. It is well worth the $60 for the annual fee. So worth it that I bought my sister in law a subscription for Christmas.

Zoom - Last year’s winner in this category was Google Meet. I started working with Zoom over the Summer and was blown away how much more it could do. From green screens without green screens to direct PC audio, Zoom is an incredible presentation tool. It took attendance before Meet could. It has pre-built breakout groups. It has co-hosting abilities. It does everything better than Meet. Unfortunately, this apparently comes at a bandwidth cost as some of my students complained of lag issues while on Zoom. I switched back to Meet for them but it just isn’t the same. I continue to use Zoom whenever I host my own events as it is just that much better.

PearDeck - Nominated again this year because I continued to use it a ton. Many of our teachers used it literally every day. I used it when the activities called for it because I’m big on changing things up often but every time I did I was reminded how powerful of a tool it is. The ability to see student responses in real time allowed me to give a voice to students who otherwise never spoke or used in-class chat. We had great class discussions that otherwise would have been me silently speaking into the void of cyberspace. Plus, sharing their awful drawings was always a good time!

And the winner is…

Zoom - I think my second semester would have been much better had I been able to stick with Zoom. It just made for such a different presentation experience that felt more alive than Google Meet ever did. I’ve said many times over the years that presentation matters. We too often overlook it as teachers and apparently as Google engineers.

Font of the Year

Permanent Marker - With teaching history I often want a hand-written font to match historical documents. The problem is, my kids can’t read cursive very well. Additionally, cursive fonts are often very thin making them a pretty poor choice for display on a screen. Permanent Marker is a font that looks hand-written but is definitely not cursive. It is also an all caps font making it very readable in presentations. I wouldn’t do a whole show in it but it is great for displaying quotes!

Arial - Microsoft announced they are finally retiring Calibri as their default font. While I am still very much a Times New Roman fan (Microsoft’s previous default font), I never accepted Calibri. It is somewhat rounded evoking a sense of Comic Sans which disgusts me. Arial though. Now that’s a straight up font. Arial is probably the most boring sans serif font out there, but it works so well. It is very straight and very flat. It is simple and very readable. It is my go to font when I need to present lots of text.

Bebas Neue - Bebas Neue doesn’t look real. I can’t put my finger on it but, more than any other font I’ve used, it causes text to just blend in perfectly with a slide. It no longer looks like text plastered on top of a slide. It’s just insanely clean. It is an all caps font so it isn’t good for lots of text and it looks like a mess when you bold it so it doesn’t make for a great title font either. In any other situation like subtitles or short text it is absolutely beautiful.

And the Kevie goes to…

Bebas Neue - This was the first font I found in Google Slides that made me feel okay about using Google Slides. PowerPoint is just better as a presentation tool in every artistic aspect. This font single-handedly makes Slides look like a presentation and not just a technical document. I use it in nearly every Slides presentation I do now.

And yes, fonts are important enough to earn their own award category. Creators should spend more time thinking about them!

Comment of the Year

I close each year with a student survey and reflection. I love getting to read their responses. Here are some of my favorites.

My favorite activity was the time warp because it felt like I was the traveler and that I wasn't just reading a textbook. - Nathan

That was my goal. Time Warps have a ton of reading but so do many video games. For every ounce of treatment add a ton of fun!

What makes you great? First, obviously your blue eyes. Second, your humor. When I was sad or bored you would make jokes and make me smile. - Thais

Very early on in the year (usually Day 1) I start the running joke of bragging about my blue eyes. Kids absolutely love it and they start playing along as well. It's a silly thing but great for building a connection.

You are one of my favorite teachers I have ever had. I loved how you cared about all your students even if they did not participate. I also loved how you always made everything fun. -Jasmine

I'm honestly not sure how Jasmine knew I cared about non-participants but I'm glad that somehow it came across. I did care but not as much as I would have hoped.

Very great compared to my other teachers. You actually got me to pay attention. - Bernie

I don't know how kids paid attention to their worksheet and instructional video driven courses this year. I couldn't have.

You are an AMAZING teacher (er. . .scholar official). Very funny and I learned a lot. - Isabelle

Another running joke is that I start calling myself a scholar official after we learn about them. I love that it sticks with kids to the end.

I like History Mysteries because you have to actually think and how its not just handed to you, and it feels rewarding. - Yocelin

See? Kids do actually want to think for themselves. Well, at least one does.

100000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000/10 - Alyson

Your the best teacher in the world because you turn something that's simple and make it fun and extreme. - Nathan

Sometimes I lament that I can't just let something be simple. I put more time into tiny things that most do on full lessons. I'm glad Nathan picked up on it and made it worthwhile.

You are a great teacher and i am pretty sure every student you have there favorite teacher is you - Darril

Out of all the classes social studies was my favorite because he made the lessons actually enjoyable and fun because of how included you feel in the lesson instead of it being "Turn to page 472 in your history textbook and read that paragraph" - Adrian

I've said it many times. History is relevant, period. We don't have to make it relevant. We don't have to force connections to today. Human stories are relevant. Put your kids in those stories and the topic won't even matter.

You are really great I mean it. It might not seem like it but you helped me get through middle school. I liked all the talks you gave us in class and online. Thank you for an amazing year. - Leslie

I highlight this because it didn't seem like it. Leslie was quiet in 7th grade and even more so in 8th with virtual learning. It is an important reminder that what we do is impactful even if we don't see or hear it directly.

Mr. Roughton I just wanted to say that you are great, I really enjoyed being in your class, and how you were always teaching us not only stuff in school but different stuff that will stay with us forever. I also appreciate how when everything started you were doing everything possible so we can go back to school. - Jessica

I wish my voice had been heard. We should not have been full virtual all year. It was bad kids and terrible for me. I'm glad I was still able to get my life lessons through the screen to the kids but I'm afraid for many it just wasn't enough. I hope and pray they can recover quickly.

And the Kevie goes to…

Me! Once again, I am the winner since I’m the one who gets to experience the joy and love of my students. If I hadn’t yet made it clear, this year was awful. I feed off the energy of my audience and barely having one (if at all) made many days this year extremely challenging. Knowing that I still made a difference with many kids is important. This year was so hard that I’ve decided to start fresh next year. I am leaving middle school and graduating to high school. I will be teaching Government and Econ which I am very excited about!

I’m going to miss my loving 7th graders and the crazy weird fun I could get away with thanks to them. Here’s to hoping seniors are just as fun! Thank you for all your support this year. Whether it came from grateful emails, shared lessons or just asking about the status of my book I appreciate every interaction I get with my audience. Here's to hoping that all continues and 21-22 is a significantly better school year!

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