Tuesday, January 17, 2017

You've done mystery location, now what?

I've had the lucky opportunity to plan and coordinate Mystery Location calls for all of our sixth grade social studies teachers in my school. It is so fun to help arrange their line ups and to co-teach the lessons as often as I can. I love watching the students try to solve the puzzle of where the other school can be from and the level of collaboration that is necessary for success. If you haven't done a Mystery Location call yet - definitely try it out. You'll be hooked. Want to know more? Check out Who Doesn't Love a Mystery?

Because of our success with sixth grade social studies, I had a few other teachers approach me and ask what kinds of global connections they could make. We also had a lot of fun with some Mystery Calls and wanted an excuse to call those same classes back. So I poked around and read about Mystery Number.

Mystery Number follows the same premise as a Mystery Location call. This time each class picks a number. The range of numbers can match the level of students. For very young classes you might limit it to 0 through 20. For our self-contained Special Education class we did whole numbers between 1 and 100. This year we are hoping to do 1 through 100 but to the hundredths decimal place.

Once each class has picked their number, each side asks a yes or no question. We tried questions like "Is the number even?" "Is the number prime?" "Is the number greater than 50?" We practiced the day ahead by having small groups pick numbers and ask each other questions. It was a great way to review academic vocabulary like even/odd, greater than/less than, and prime. Some of our students even tried using multiples and factors which was excellent. I'm looking forward to the questions our decimals class will ask.

Our students found it very helpful to have number charts that they could mark up. The classroom teacher I worked with had clear folders that we could slide the number chart into and then mark up with dry erase markers. This was definitely ideal.

I also found it helpful to have one class ask questions until they guessed and then switch and have the other class ask until they guessed. When we do Mystery Location we always alternate questions but with Mystery Number that transition seemed harder for the students. Play around with it to find a format that works for your students.

There are several reasons to try out a Mystery Number call. First of all, it is so important for students to have the ability to reach beyond their classroom. There is something about communicating with a class in a different part of the country that slowly opens their eyes to the world beyond them. Mystery call have sparked political, social, cultural, and economic conversations in our classes. Secondly, it is an authentic opportunity to put into practice something they've been learning. Suddenly there is a reason to know which numbers are prime beyond that "it will be on the test." Now knowing which numbers are prime helps you narrow down your choices, plan your next question and accurately answer questions from the other class. Thirdly, Mystery Calls give all students a place in the classroom. Students that I've never seen speak up in class have a chance to get in front of the web cam and ask a question to a class across state boundaries. Students that are careful note takers become invaluable because their number chart is the reference point. Each time I do a call there is a least one student who surprises the classroom teachers with their interest and level of participation. So, give Mystery Number a try. And if you are looking for a partner class please leave a comment below so we can get in touch!

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Increasing Student Engagement with Nearpod

Can it really be three years since I first wrote about Nearpod on this blog? I just read through what I wrote back in the fall of 2013 and the tool is still holding up! Since then, my school division has purchased teacher licenses and the middle school where I work now has a 1:1 chromebook program making Nearpod more relevant than ever.

Why should you use Nearpod?

The number one reason is to increase student engagement in your classroom. 

Nearpod is a presentation tool that allows you to add interactive tools frequently throughout your presentation. Students can respond to a multiple choice question, give their opinion in a poll, draw a response or answer an open-ended question. Instead of having one or two students answer your questions, now all students can answer. Used well, these tools can access background knowledge, promote critical thinking, and show their thinking in multiple modalities. There are actually many tools a teacher could use to do these same things, but Nearpod allows you to do it smoothly as part of a presentation AND to share student responses back out to the class easily. Which brings me to the second reason you should use Nearpod.

Nearpod gives all students a voice and provides modelling.


Imagine you are trying to spark a class discussion in a strictly no-tech atmosphere. You ask a question, a few students respond. Now, with Nearpod, you can ask the question, give all students a chance to respond (in a written format) and then you can share out a few key examples for the rest of the class, anonymously. You can now provide a model (see how this student cited text in their response?) or provoke more discussion with out singling out a student (how many of you agree with this response?). Students who might never have raised their hand, or been able to express themselves in front of their peers, now have the opportunity to see their work shared with the class. Students that really don't yet know how to write a supported response to a question can see examples of what their peers are doing. We can not underestimate how important it is for students to see modeling from their peers or to be selected as the model.

Nearpod can be used in small groups or in stations.


Nearpod now has a student-paced option with each presentation. Teachers at my school love this as a tool for station work or literature circles. Students can work through the content and interactive tools in Nearpod at their own pace in a station. Here you lose a bit of the peer modeling but you gain the different pacing that some students need. Teachers have found that students are more accountable for completing Nearpod assignments than they are to complete other kind of station work. They like the opportunity to share their responses frequently throughout an activity and teachers like that they can add web content, audio and video.

Nearpod presentation can easily be duplicated, shared and adapted.


We have a high number of English Language Learners in our school. Nearpod allows teachers to add audio to a slide so that teachers can read the text aloud. In addition to providing this scaffold, teachers can easily change slides to add definitions to words or provide sentence starters to open-ended questions when needed. Furthermore, teachers could add extension slides into presentation for students that are ready to take their knowledge in a new direction. Working with a co-teacher? Share your presentation with them and they can make modifications for their students.

But, like all tools and all technology. Just using Nearpod does not mean all your students will be engaged. Teachers still need to be intentional and thoughtful in how they use Nearpod. To get the most out of a Nearpod lesson be sure to keep the following in mind:

1) Use a variety of interactive tools. Vary the kinds of questions you are asking. A multiple choice question after each slide will begin to get dull and students will begin to click on anything to get it over with. Use all the tools - especially open-ended questions, draw it and polls to keep students thinking and to promote conversation.

2) Pair up students. Having two students per device is a great way to add a new layer to Think-Pair-Share. In this format, students should discuss the questions before agreeing on the response they will enter into Nearpod.

3) Unplug! Unlike SMART Notebook or PowerPoint, there is no reason to project what you are seeing as the teacher. If you have a wireless device, go ahead and walk around the room as you are moving through the presentation. Kids have the slides on the screen in front of them, they don't have to look to the front of the room. This gives you the opportunity to manage by proximity (my favorite method!). You'll be surprise how this small change shifts the dynamics of your classroom.

4) Personalize. Nearpod has a wonderful library of presentations that are already made. As teachers we often reinvent the wheel when there is already a great presentation out there. Nearpod awesomely lets you edit any presentation that is already in their library. Kids really appreciate seeing content that reflect their class or interests, so go ahead and change some slides to include details from your own class. Also, be sure the content connects to your school and state curriculum. While it is great to have some of the content already made, go ahead and edit any slides that don't match up with your own learning objectives.

5) Share. Nearpod makes it so easy to share presentations with colleagues. If you've made a great presentations that all the 7th grade teachers in your building could use, go ahead and send them a copy. Teachers can then save to their own library and edit it for themselves. Professional generosity is a treasured characteristic. Who knows, if you share with them, they might share with you!

If you haven't checked out Nearpod yet, it is time. You can easily bring in slides from SMART Notebook, PowerPoint or Google Slides, you won't have to start over! Nearpod is a great tool to have in your toolbox and will quickly become one of your go to tech tools for assessment, direct instruction and station work!