Friday, January 18, 2019

The Cogen: A First Meeting

Two days ago I sent a message to my partner, "3rd period didn't go well. I'm upset... with myself."

See, what had happened was we were reading a story and I was getting blank stares, mumbles, and I was losing kids who would rather stare at the wall than discuss with me in Latin. While this is not the norm, it has happened a few times in this particular class. I stopped my lesson and asked what was going on. They were silent. I was silent. Finally, they started to speak. What came about was that they didn't understand and I surmised that they were uncomfortable telling me that. What I said to them was, "this my fault." They didn't want to agree, but it's true. I wasn't making what we were doing comprehensible, compelling, or caring.

 My colleagues and I have been reading Christopher Emdin's For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood... and the Rest of Y'all Too. In one chapter, Emdin discusses lessons learned from a rap cypher and how one can use that in the classroom for reality pedagogy (Chapter 4). I will admit that I grew up in the 90s when rap cyphers became a part of the popular entertainment culture and I was already familiar with them in that context. What I found quite intriguing and compelling was translating that to the classroom.

I won't go into the basics, as Bob Patrick has already done a great job of that in his own blog series on the matter. I highly recommend you read it and follow it! He and I will be sharing our experience in this journey on these blogs. Instead, I will share my experience with our first meeting.

I had already been wanting to have a cogen with this particular class, but I had been nervous about the whole thing and doing it wrong, when this event happened two days ago. After class I immediately stopped what I was doing and picked out my four students for the first cogen. Following Emdin's recommendations and lessons I spent time considering which students I would ask and ultimately changed my list a few times before feeling like I had a group that represented the variety of the classroom.

The next day, (Thursday - yesterday), I quietly approached each student as they came in and asked them if they'd stay after class for a minute to talk. They weren't in trouble, and that I needed a favour. They all readily agreed.

Now, I must pause here and say, that I was still (and am still) incredibly nervous about doing this. I want to do it right and I have anxiety about messing things up, which often translates to my hiding away and being incredibly self critical. So, when I say I am "following [his] recommendations and lessons" I mean that literally. I have marked pages in the book where I have thoughts and took notes, as well as places where he discusses the cogen and how to have one. Before the end of class, I reviewed his "script" of what to say. When everyone had left, I asked if they'd be willing to meet with me in the morning or afternoon one day to discuss some things that I wanted their help with.

So, this morning I came in with some cinnamon rolls and muffins and I set up a circle of chairs. At 6:55 three of the four students rolled in and greeted me. I welcomed them and invited them to get some breakfast. The fourth arrived shortly after. We sat together and, at first, we just chatted. They talked about food and asked my opinions on coffee. We relished in the fact that we have a long weekend coming up. Once everyone was there and had food, I covered Emdin's three rules, which we all agreed to: (1) we are all equal. I am not above them because I'm a teacher. (2) One person speaks at a time. (3) This meeting was to enact real change in the classroom and that we would hold each other accountable (especially as we are all equal).

The question this morning was "What is something I can do in the first or last five minutes of class to make our experience better". What I found was that, much like Bob discusses, students wanted to continue a 5 minute check in every day and that brain breaks were important.

While nothing "new" came out of the meeting in actual practical practice, what did come out was an agreement that they would help hold me accountable and that I would trust them. Every day we'd continue to check in with each other and build community. Every day, when they said they needed a break, I'd trust them and follow through and they would be honest with what they needed.

To be honest, I really enjoyed this meeting. About 3/4 of the way through, Bob (who is also my department head) came into my room and welcomed them and congratulated them on being my advisers. I immediately saw their posture perk up a little. This was an important moment. We all shared excitement over this cogen and they've agreed to meet with me next week.

As I post about my experience, I will do my best to be honest and as detailed as is appropriate. That being said, there are some resources I also want to share each time:

  1. Christopher Emdin's Twitter
  2. Bob Patrick's Twitter
  3. Bob Patrick's first blog post in his series
  4. Bob Patrick's second blog post in his series

Monday, January 14, 2019

OWATP - a new take on OWATS

Recently, I decided that I wanted to give my students some extra practice with the new vocabulary. We were beginning new stories with new vocabulary and I wanted to vary what we were doing and
Latin I student work included words like: via, soror,
comedit, domus, silva, deus, mons, caelum, ursa, and terra
provide support in following days as well as feature some student work.

If you haven't checked out One Word at a Time Stories (OWATS), then I recommend you do. It's a great activity and something I find myself going back to over and over.

This new activity is based on OWATS, but provides some support and opportunity for students who do not feel confident in writing a story. I'm calling it One Word at a Time Pictures (OWATP).


My purpose in using this activity is to see how students can use words with each other in new ways and also create materials I can use later to give input in new ways too. One of the things I really liked about this (much like with OWATS) is that I can pick words that don't really seem to go together and then kids get really creative to make it all work. 

Latin II student worked with words like faber, ignis, mater,
puella, flos, fortis, domus, magnus, and parvus

This is quite simple to set up:
  1. Have a list of words you want to use/target (for whatever reason)
  2. Type those words out, put the English (especially if they are new words), and make them nice and BIG :)
  3. Cut them out. 


  1. Students sit in groups (size of your choosing)
  2. each group gets one word
  3. They draw that word (and label it) in the center of their paper. 
  4. They draw a second word and add it to their image. 
  5. They continue until they have reached the amount of words you want them to OR have all the words in their image. 
  6. EVERY part of the image must be labeled. 
    1. if they add something not on your list, it still must be labeled. 
  7. Images must be coloured. 

Follow Up

I plan on using these for picture descriptions. You can use a few in one class, or as a warm up! I could also see some other activities as follow up for various levels and classes:
  • puzzles
  • match the word to the picture (re-label)
  • write a story that goes with the picture
  • picture discussions
  • assessment!  

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Gaming in the Latin Classroom: Heroes and Harpies™

When I was trying to figure out how to write this blog, I kept banging my head against the same wall: this particular game was based off of Dungeons and Dragons, a role play game that requires a lot of leadership by a central figure who runs the game and not only organizes play live but has to react to any eventualities that come up--and they come up--when players decide to act differently than you expect them to--which they do. All this to say, it's the type of game that is more difficult to run with no gaming experience.

And I've been trying to figure out how to write a guide for other teachers who may or may not be gamers.

So this post has been put off for over six months because I haven't been able to solve this puzzle.

I have finally come to the conclusion that either one of two things is happening: 1) I am blowing this way out of proportion and I can just give you guys the rules and it will be fine. 2) This is the type of game that gamers can play with students and non-gamers cannot. If that's true, and you are a non-gamer, but want to play an in-depth role-play game with your students, let me direct you instead to my post about last year's game: Bellum Civile: Gaming Caesar's Civil War. This is a much more accessible game with a lot of scaffolding and it was a lot of fun for me as a gamer.

But this time last year I really wanted to dive into a more collaborative, D&D like game, where students would create heroes and fight monsters and even save the world a little. I decided I wanted my heroes to be children of lesser-known Roman gods, and I enlisted my son to help me create the rules--he's great both at helping me brainstorm ideas and at figuring out ways to break the system so I could look for some holes ahead of time--and together we came up with sets of powers that students could buy over time with experience points they earned in encounters. He also helped me come up with some of the encounters and the overlying storyline, and then I created the materials for us to use in class.

I put students into small groups to create their characters; though an experienced gamer, I am a fairly inexperienced Dungeon Master, so running a game with 29 different characters was not going to happen. I ended up with nine characters with between 2 and 4 students running each, and a few half-siblings (I didn't require students to only pick gods no one else had picked).

The first encounter (i.e., fight or interaction) was slow because I had to teach them how to do things, but after a couple, they had things down and could move pretty quickly through the steps. Before each encounter, I wrote a reading, that we handled like any reading, with discussion, clarification, and review, and I gave them a visual reference for each encounter so they could use that to help them plan their moves.

So far, this doesn't seem too difficult. To some degree, this is something anyone can pick up. However, the encounters were designed to highlight the strengths of each character--some emphasized stealth for the son of Muta, and some were convenient to water for the daughter of Fons. Some were good old-fashioned fights to let the daughter of Victoria stand out, and some included large groups because I knew that the daughters of Feronia had both bought powers that would work especially well against a crowd and the daughters of Hecate had just earned their war dogs. Part of running a good game of this type is making sure that each character feels useful and special without being too obvious about it. And this is the part that gets difficult--the personalization.

SO... I am going to provide the materials I made, and the rules, and if you decide to run this game I would love to hear about it! OR if you run this game with adults, I'd love to hear about it, though it's really made for a class. I had exactly three experienced role-players in my class and one other student who had passing knowledge, so they were much less likely to abuse the rules, so they definitely need some serious play-testing before they are ready for that level of play, in my opinion, but I'd love for some beta-testing to happen and then, who knows, maybe I'd release an official version, with credit to any testers!

Below you'll find a link to the game handbook. At some point I'll work on creating a module (a baseline game for the uninitiated) out of the story I made for the class, but it's highly personalized to my students' characters, so I need to work on it a lot before it can become a good module.

Small story: one of my favorite encounters was one of the encounters that went sideways--I'd planned for it to be a basic fight against a cyclops, and that was good, because I'd been out late to see Rent with my son the night before. I wasn't up to heavy thought and was looking forward to simply rolling dice. However my students had a different plan. They decided to negotiate with the cyclops. For the first time ever they didn't just attack. Suddenly I found myself making up rules for negotiating and holding a conversation with them in Latin while searching in my head a way to make sure the encounter would still be interesting and challenging. Luckily they tripped up by offering to prove their wish for friendship! I remembered that one of Hecate's daughters had recently bought an ability to transmute things and answered that the Cyclops always wanted to have a real, true pink sheep to breed with its flock. It took them some time to figure out how to do it; I found that my students often forgot their newest powers. Once they figured it out, they made friends with the Cyclops, who let them cross his island without trying to squish them like ants! It ended up being a really satisfying encounter and cute story, and even though I was totally thrown, barely able to think, and nursing a lack-of-sleep migraine, they never had to know I hadn't planned it the whole time.

Okay, for real now:

Heroes et Harpyriae

Thursday, December 6, 2018


This year I am working on my gifted certification. With that comes weekly classes and a requirement of outside hours that include case studies, lesson planning, and implementation of strategies and activities. Recently we had one that was very similar to something Rachel had done previously in the year with post its. I was already intrigued by what she did and so I decided to give this a try. I found that I was pleasantly surprised and the students really enjoyed it and found it helpful.

Intro and Purpose

The basic premise of this activity is that students get up and mark their level of agreement with certain sentences and questions. What you do with the information can lead to discussion or a follow up activity of sorts. 

The purpose of this activity is to get kids moving and thinking. It also serves as a formative assessment and a survey of students' thoughts an opinions. 

Set Up and Preparation

The set up for this can be quite simple, or, if you want to provide the students with stickers to mark their answers, it can take longer. I've done this activity 3 times now. The first time, I just asked kids to mark with markers. This was easy for me (set up took about 5 minutes). The second time, I wanted to give kids stickers to mark their answers. Stickers are fun and I also have a large collection. this took longer - about an hour to set up and cut out groups of stickers. 

Teacher Prep 

  1. Decide on an appropriate amount of sentences/questions. I would choose between 10-12.
  2. Write the sentences/questions. You could...
    1. ask survey style questions to gauge the pace, comfort, community of your class. 
    2. write vocab words for kids to tell you how well they know each word
    3. write true/false statements about a story and kids decided how true or how false
    4. write open ended statements/questions that students can agree or disagree with. 
  3. The design of the papers is up to you. you can see how I did it with the sample images on this post. I might design it a different way next time. 
  4. Post them on the room. You want to vary where they are so students have to walk around and look, rather than follow each other in a single line. I placed mine:
  5. 90 sets of 12 stickers each!
    1. on various bulletin boards
    2. on the back of the door
    3. on my cabinet
    4. on the white board
    5. on top of a bookshelf
    6. on my desk
    7. on my stool
    8. on the computer desk
  6. Decide how kids will mark their responses. If you choose with a pen or marker, set up is done here. If you choose stickers, you'll need to make enough sets of stickers for each student. I did this with 3 classes in one day, so I cut out 90 sets of 12 stickers each. It took me an hour, but was worth it in my opinion. 
    1. The plus to stickers is that kids have an easy way to tell if they are done... If they are out of stickers... they are done!

Student Prep

These are the instructions I gave the students:
A false statement that was made clear in the story.
  • Around the room are 12 statements
  • Read each and decide to what degree you agree/disagree with each statement based on our story.
  • Mark your agreement with your marker/sticker.
  • When you run out of stickers, sit down.
A true statement that was made clear in the story.

These two images (above and below) were not clear in the story.
Students had to make a judgement based on what
they understood.

Follow Up

So far, I used this information to inform a simple follow up discussion on an points in the story that were unclear. Other ways you might follow up 
Students were unclear on this one. 
  • create an "alternate universe" type activity or reading from the false statements to compare and contrast
  • use the survey responses to adapt and change your teaching
  • use the "unknown" vocab and sentences to frame review or other follow up activities. 
  • use the true statements to build a timeline
  • ask students to back up true statements with evidence
  • as students to prove false statements false with evidence

What other things can you do with this? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Read, DRAW, and Discuss: A New, Easy Classroom Discussion Starter

I thought I'd write this up because I've had great success in both Latin I and II with this and I honestly made it up on the fly one day when I simply wasn't sure what I wanted to do with my classes, didn't feel like I had enough planned, wanted to stretch the lesson out a bit, AND wanted to make sure we got more repetitions in without it feeling too forced.

So instead of doing a basic Read, Discuss, and Draw (you can see a quick overview of that activity here), I did choral reading (I read a sentence or clause in Latin, then we translate together as a class) with students over small sections of the stories we were focusing on. Then I had them draw on white boards to represent the scenes. The goal was to have them show the entire section of the story in one scene, throwing in as much detail as possible. If they were too stressed by this, of course, I allowed students to break up their drawings into multiple panels.

Then I asked students to volunteer to let me show their pictures to the class. You'd be surprised how many students are willing to do this, and which students are willing to do this. I accept any and all pictures, and do my best to interpret them well. I point at the images and use this as a means of getting more repetitions. Students are eager to see each others' art, so the activity is naturally compelling (as long as you don't do it too often) and so if I show 3 or so pictures with each section of the story, I can easily get a good amount of repetition in without sounding repetitious, which is important, because sounding repetitious is death to student attention spans.

After showing the pictures and discussing them, we move on to the next section of the story!

This keeps everything broken down and comprehensible to the students as well. It's a great way to find out who knows the story, via the reading out loud and by then watching what they draw and whether they capture the entire section of the story. It also lets you focus in on anything they struggled with afterward when you are discussing the drawings.

So, tl/dr:
1. Read a section of story together
2. Students draw the section
3. You use some student drawings to spark discussion and repetition

One of the best things is that this activity doesn't require any preparation and has a fairly high yield in terms of engagement and repetitions!

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

The New Kid in Town: Gimkit instead of Kahoot

This is really not the post I was planning to write this week--hopefully I'll write that one later--but I was inspired because of something Miriam did yesterday to try the same thing today, and it's gone over really well with my students, so I thought I'd write it up and share it. It's especially good this time of year when we and the kids are all exhausted and maybe just need a low-energy activity that the kids can enjoy and we can run without tiring ourselves even further.

Gimkit is produced by the same people as Kahoot, but it brings a lot more to the table. Many thanks to Keith Toda (@silvius_toda) for introducing us to this new and amazing resource, because Kahoot is played out. The kids have played it with all of their teachers in all of their classes, and it's not new anymore.

Plus it takes forever to write a Kahoot game. It's tedious.

Thank you, Gimkit, for solving both of those problems! Gimkit is awesome in that it allows you to upload a .cvs file (which you can turn any excel or spreadsheet file into) of questions and answers and it will create the game from that file. That means that something that used to take 30-45 min to make now takes me around 5 min!

It also has changed the way quiz games are played. Students earn "money" when they answer questions right. Once they earn enough ($10), they can buy their first enhancement, which improves how much money they earn per question. There are multiple enhancements as well as attacks students can buy (though if you are worried about negative feelings, you can turn off the ability to use attacks). So players can work their way up to earning $200,000 per question or more, from a beginning of $1 per question. When they first play, you'll have to help them see this option, because they'll go into automatic question-answering mode and not look at the button that says "shop," but once they see there's strategy involved, they really get into it. This has enhanced online quiz play in my classes in a huge way and students are much more interested than they have been in almost three years.

Additionally, you can input classes and assign the quizzes as homework, just like you can in other online quiz programs.

So yay, Gimkit, in general! if you are interested.

The only con I have is that you are only allowed five trial "kits," or must pay the annual fee of $60.00. It's worth it in my opinion. Not only does this have less stress on kids to be the quickest (because often it's more about the strategy), but the questions are on students' phones instead of on the board, so there are less mistakes, and those students who struggle are often able to interface with this a lot better than even paper and pencil. Miriam has even had success using Gimkit in a very controlled manner to test a student with severe test anxiety.

So.... on to the actual thing she did yesterday and I did today with Gimkit!

Taking it to the next level
Once in a while on Kahoot I like to join in just to mess with students. The problem is that aside from speed there is nothing to keep me from winning the game. However, in Gimkit, there are several ways to attack other players, and this makes it much more fun to join in, because students have a fighting chance to take me out.

So Miriam upped the ante yesterday, and I followed suit. After doing a warm-up round to give students a chance to settle into the the questions on the game, we both offered a trade: if students could keep us out of the top five of the leaderboard then we would give them a 100% on an equivalent assignment. Otherwise, they would have to do the assignment for the grade.

Students really got into the idea. And it was a fight. And I got "pied" a lot (pies take you out of the game for 15 seconds). And they got 100%!

This was a great, fun break for them and me to beat the doldrums that always set in right before Thanksgiving break, when most teachers are testing like crazy and they are usually really stressed out. We all had a good time, and they loved it when I groaned about a "reducer" or a pie and had to work harder to try to keep up on the leaderboard.

Even if you're not ready to challenge your students yourself, I recommend Gimkit as a new and much improved online quizzing option!