A Good Class Discussion Is Just a Phone Call Away/The Smartphone and the Seismograph

“A Good Class Discussion Is Just a Phone Call Away/The Smartphone and the Seismograph” (originally published here on GettingSmart on 11.19.2014)

A Pessimistic Colleague: So, what ya got goin' on in class today, tech guy? Me: Oh, just facilitating an awesome, 100%-engaged class discussion about rhetorical strategies found in famous speeches. A Pessimistic Colleague: (sarcastically) Oh my, doesn't that sound riveting! (sipping his coffee) 100% engagement? Uh huh. And how ya gonna do that? (taking another drink of coffee). Me: Simple. They'll use their smartphones to call each other in class. A Pessimistic Colleague: (spitting out a bit of coffee due to pure astonishment) What? Ah, so you're one of those, huh? You allow smartphones in your class? Nah, I don't know... that to me is ridiculous, don't ya think? Me: (slowly and deliberately sipping my coffee to maintain my composure and to combat the thick, negative, and accusatory tone) Well... not really (pause). Now, you allow a watch on your wrist, right? A Pessimistic Colleague: (glancing down at his silver Seiko) Yeah, but... Me: (interrupting) And a car on the road to get you to work? A Pessimistic Colleague: Ah, come on. That's not... Me: (with a slight smirk) That's not what? Fair? Kind of like prohibiting the appropriate use of a valuable educational tool? A Pessimistic Colleague: Well, students and their darned smartphones are ruining the classrooms...and education. (a sense of anger about to boil over) And, to be honest, teachers like you aren't helpin' the matter none. Me: No. (pause) No, sir. I disagree. Quite vehemently, I might add. But if you'll suspend any premeditated and erroneously conceived condemnations of smartphones, and the multitudes of talented students who own them, I'll explain. You'll see. It goes like this...
Can't you imagine this activity working with nearly any assignment? Especially any assignment that involves, and demands, a collaborative discussion? And what if all of your students do not have smartphones and cannot participate? No worries. Simply have the would-be caller front his teammates in a blindfolded or closed-eyes manner while his opposite-facing assistant offers support by reading from the text and whispering suggestions. You may be wondering, what about the pessimistic colleague? Well, I went by after school to tell him of our successful learning activity in Studio 113, but my effervescent zeal was rudely met with a wagging finger that instructed me to come back another time. Embarrassingly unbeknownst to me, he had his Jitterbug flip phone glued to his ear. And he was definitely 100% engaged in a riveting conversation. For more blogs by John Hardison and Studio 113, check out:

The Perimeter, the Players, and the Offering

“The Perimeter, the Players, and the Offering” (originally published here on GettingSmart on 1.14.2014) I can easily remember being a teenager and watching Don Mattingly execute a flawless swing to produce a one-hop double off the right-center field wall in Yankee Stadium or witnessing Magic Johnson pick an opposing player’s pocket just before leading a fast break down court and earning an assist with a no-look, out-of-this-world pass to a teammate. Plays like this always bolted me from my seat and outside as I tried my best to emulate the perfection I just viewed. This same pattern applied to movies and books. I brought to life whatever I was studying. In fact, my best classes were the active ones. The ones where the entire class came together to enhance the overall understanding of the assigned lessons. Whether the teachers allowed collaboration, projects, or some type of competition to “spice up” the lessons, learning was so much easier with just a little bit of creativity injected into the standards. I was recently reminded of this truth just after I assigned a collaborative, multi-media project for my American Literature students that will culminate in a shared Widbook e-book that incorporates a literary analysis, a video summary, and a symbolic picture. However, the students quickly informed me that the rigor and complexity of the assigned text would be alleviated with a whole-class, interactive learning structure that guides them through the literature as all students contribute to the overall knowledge. Well, I agreed. My conversations with the students as I circulated the classroom revealed this truth. I looked over my fifty-plus learning structures to see which one fit best, and I discovered the need for a totally new structure, one that accommodated the literature and standards, the current students, and our classroom. So, out of necessity, “The Perimeter, the Players, and the Offering” was born. Here’s a run-down of this new interactive learning structure.

The Guidelines

Note: Teacher will guide teams through a segmented reading of the assigned literature. With each section read, the teacher will stop and give ample time to complete the following guidelines to ultimately enhance the comprehension of the studied literature. Timed rounds are suggested for organization, fairness, and fluidity of the lesson.
  1. Teams consist of 3 or 4 students.
  2. Each team designates one member as the actor/actress, also known as the “Player.” This person sits on the inside of the perimeter. The players are available for improvisational acting when selected.
  3. The remaining team members sit on the outer edge of the perimeter. These students, as well as the designated player, determine whether they will choose acting, literary analysis, or digital challenge as one of their offerings to contribute to the overall understanding of the literature currently studied.
  4. Each team will select just one offering per round.
  5. Teams will nonverbally announce their offerings in the following ways: acting-stand as a team, literary analysis-model Rodin’s “The Thinker” statue, digital challenge-hold up illuminated smartphones
  6. Each of the 3 offerings must be selected before beginning another cycle of selections.
  7. To begin the interactive structure/gamified lesson, the teacher will initiate “The Perimeter, the Players, and the Offering” by rolling the dice for the first time.
  8. After the initial round, the team located nearest the last chosen team in a clockwise manner will roll the dice.
  9. Teams will honor their offerings as it relates to the assigned section of literature. (i.e. If a team is chosen who offered acting, that team’s chosen “Player” will select as many other players to help him/her with the next assignment from the Acting card. However, if a team is chosen who offered a literary analysis, that team will accomplish the next task from the Literary Analysis card.)
  10. On even rounds, the selected team will perform its duties and then select another team.

The Offering: Option #1

Screen Shot 2014-01-13 at 9.47.29 PM

The Offering: Option #2

Screen Shot 2014-01-13 at 9.47.01 PM

The Offering: Option #3

Screen Shot 2014-01-13 at 9.46.15 PM

This interactive learning structure will hopefully serve as a valuable tool to bring all students and their expertise together as we work through our assigned literature. After an engaging, informative, and creative "reading and working" of this short story, students will definitely have a solid foundation by which they can construct their multi-media project. Who knows. After such an active, inspiring, and collaborative learning session, maybe the students will jump up from their seats and create their own authentic representation of knowledge. Update: Check back in two weeks when our students reveal their Widbook e-book study guide.

The Literary Revolver

“The Literary Revolver” (originally published here on GettingSmart on 10.11.2014) Frankly speaking, interactive learning structures work. By merging standards-based prompts, random selectivity, a backchannel, improvisational acting, and overall creativity, Studio 113’s fairly new "Literary Revolver" places students on an engaging, challenging, and fun path to lesson mastery. Much like the “Voting Chips” and “Revolutionary Battle” structures that gamify lesson plans with out-of-the-box concepts, the “Literary Revolver” also injects a jolt of energy to any learning activity by gently tap-dancing on students’ nerves while maintaining a balance between unpredictability and rock-solid structure.

The Foundation

As with any good lesson plan, the standards and content come first. Then the question is: “How shall we explore and struggle with this lesson in a manner that promotes interest, forward thinking, and creativity?” Sometimes the answer provides our classroom learning community with a PBL solution, a personalized path, a somewhat traditional mode, or an interactive learning structure. To avoid any collegial accusations of hypocrisy, take a look below at the foundational prompts our students in Studio 113’s American Literature classes answered while participating in the “Literary Revolver.” In case you are wondering, this three-day lesson plan covered “Gate C22” from Ellen Bass, “Huswifery” from Edward Taylor, and “To My Dear and Loving Husband” by Anne Bradstreet.

The Video Tutorials

Let’s be honest. Sometimes we are just like our students. When words do nothing but muddy or convolute our attempts to understand, video tutorials work perfectly. Here are two fairly precise explanations of the Literary Revolver and a graphic of the structure.

[youtube http://youtu.be/pnv9T060cQE]

[youtube http://youtu.be/FkoBRI4J-Vs]

Literary Revolver Interactive Structure from Studio 113 and John Hardison

Classroom Examples

More in-action video examples of the “Literary Revolver” are in the works. Take a look at a few recent clips and some older clips from Studio 113. Sure. The examples here are from a Language Arts classroom. But can’t you imagine a “Math Revolver,” a “Science Revolver,” a "History Revolver," and a “_____________ Revolver”? Hey, you never know how cool it can be…unless you take a shot.

Bringing Literature to Life Can Be Square

“Bringing Literature to Life Can Be Square” (originally published here on GettingSmart on 12.17.2014) Literature is meant to be brought to life. Without musical, artistic, acting, and verbal connections, many students view literature as an endless flipping of pages full of meaningless words. They long to experience novels, short stories, poetry and other works of literary art by creating songs, drawing precise symbols, morphing into a character and dropping a few lines, and speaking in such an academic manner that demands the attention of their peers. Anything else can be, well, square.

How "The Square" Works

Musical Examples from "The Square"

Artistic Examples from "The Square"

Acting Examples from "The Square"

Speaking Examples from "The Square"

Preparation Time for "The Square"

So, remember. The next time you need to bring learning to life, try this interactive learning structure by adding music, art, acting, speaking, and...students' talents. Your students will quickly shape their own opinions and realize it is anything but square. For more blogs by John Hardison, check out:

90-Second Summary/Literature on a Football Field"

“90-Second Summary/Literature on a Football Field” (originally published here on GettingSmart on 8.24.2016)

I’ve always been fascinated by behind-the-scenes documentaries. Whether it’s a captivating musician on VH1’s Behind the Music, an eternal sport with Ken Burns’ Baseball, or some commonly used gadget on the Science Channel’s How It’s Made, I am constantly amazed by the underlying complexity of greatness. Take, for example, the iconic symbol in Forrest Gump…a meandering feather. Unless you watched this three-minute documentary, you would never imagine that something so seemingly simple demanded countless hours of digital rendering and choreographed acting. And this same attention to detail is precisely why the “90-Second Summary” is such an effective classroom assignment. The assignment goes something like this: After studying John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men through whole-class interactive learning structures and improvisational acting, I ask students for volunteer team leaders. For this particular literature, teams of 12-15 are just about perfect. Once the leaders have stepped forth, they both draft their teammates in an organized and anonymous fashion. Once the teams have been announced, the students get to work on the following assignment details:
Although the assignment may not seem daunting on paper, believe me, it is an arduous task for teams consisting entirely of energetic, talkative and headstrong students. Ultimately, the students must gel together to determine ways to organize their brilliant ideas, to assign team roles and to produce a polished product that exemplifies clarity, creativity and cohesive literary themes. Take a look at our students' products for yourself. Surely you can spare 90 seconds. Just remember, you will have to decide if you see greatness. However, if a behind-the-scenes documentary of this assignment were filmed, it would undoubtedly reveal detail and rigor. I even extended the offer to Ken Burns. Let's hope he returns my call with a favorable answer.
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Drop the Syllabus for No Dis Day on Day One"

“Drop the Syllabus for a No Dis Day on Day One” (first published here on GettingSmart on 7.27.2016)

You know what I am talking about. That “hand-out-the-syllabus, set-the-tone, and establish-all-rules” practice that more than likely catapults students into a coma-like state of boredom and renders them disengaged, disillusioned and disconcerted. Yep, I guess it’s safe to say that students are “dissed” at the end of this type of first day of school. Heck, the facts are right there on social media, too. Sure enough, two years ago, I waited until the end of the first day of school to check my Studio 113 Twitter account. While perusing the new followers, I stumbled on a hashtag that contained students’ opinions about all of their classes from day one. To say the least, it was a “no-holds-barred” forum. Students were openly discussing the pros and cons of all their classes and, quite honestly, the comments weren’t too optimistic. In fact, probably 90% of what I read was flat out negative. They were even sharing predictions of which classes would be positively unique and which ones would be a waste of their time. I was mesmerized by their postings. Now, before you throw the book at me, I must admit that I subscribe to a belief that a solid classroom foundation begins with clear expectations, mutual respect, a positive tone, and efficient and necessary procedures and guidelines. For the last 18 years (and as long as I continue teaching), I have merged some of Harry Wong’s concepts with my own in order to establish a creative, collaborative and caring learning environment that students would never forget. By blending curriculum, interactive learning structures, collaborative assignments, and improvisational acting with the implementation of classroom procedures and guidelines, the students are introduced to the vision that drives Studio 113. In essence, these first 4-5 days are what we call “Training Camp.” However, if I am truly being transparent, I must admit that many of my first days have been too sedentary. If I would have checked Twitter on day one years ago, I may have discovered students who were disconnected, disheartened and just flat-out displeased. And, Lord knows I don’t want a student like Student X writing about me. No, sir. No, ma’am. So, what was my solution last year? Well, I asked the students to speak…without saying a word. Yep. You got it. I asked them to use our “Wax Museum” structure to answer two thought-provoking questions:
  1. What kind of class do you want to create this school year?
  2. What needs to change in some of today's classrooms?
Here’s the run-down of last year’s Day 1 (50-minute classes):
  • Explain the reason for the thematic song that played as students entered the class. Last year’s thematic song was “Am I Wrong?” by Nico and Vinz (5 minutes).
  • Introduce myself and establish rudimentary classroom procedures (i.e. whole class discussion procedures, the traffic light system for technology integration and BYOD; 5 minutes).
  • Clarify the vision behind our interactive Language Arts classroom, Studio 113 (5 minutes).
  • Present guidelines and essential questions for a successful “Wax Museum” structure (5 minutes).
  • Assign teams and allow brainstorming (15 minutes).
  • Encourage students to start preparing for their silent pose (Note: students may use classroom-appropriate items from their personal belongings and/or our classroom as props; 5-7 minutes).
  • Freeze and be silent…students “answer” the assigned questions via the “Wax Museum” (remaining time).
Curious about what our students had to say last year? Go ahead. Click “play,” listen really closely, and allow the stillness and silence to speak volumes. I’m sure you’ll discover no dishonesty, no disorder and no disguise in their motionless poses. Only distinct voices.
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The Front Porch: A Rockin' Interactive Learning Structure

“The Front Porch” (first published here on GettingSmart on 9.10.2015)

There is so much about a comfortable front porch that is absolutely irresistible. The smooth, back-and-forth creaking of wooden rocking chairs. The rhythmic and melodic squeaks of a hanging porch swing. The clanking of ice against a glass of sweet tea that is topped off with a wedge of lemon. The sounds of a lazy afternoon highlighted by a gentle mixture of leisurely neighborhood activities and the busy-ness of nature. And, without a doubt, the most important sound of all… A fluid, relaxed, and honest conversation. Assuming the above comments are indeed true of the quintessential, down home front porch, shouldn’t the same sounds be heard from the front porch of, say, a classroom? Exactly. Introducing Studio 113’s “The Front Porch,” an interactive structure that is discussion-based learning where improvisational acting meets a flowing and focused conversation. On this front porch, you will be sure to hear the sounds of excellent character entrances, revealed student talent, relative current events, and thematic discourse. Yep. Just lend your ears to sounds as sweet as Southern iced tea. So, step on up to the front porch and sit a spell. A great conversation awaits.
Y'all come back now. Ya hear? For more blogs by John check out:

Ahh Yeah! The Slow Jams Are Back

 “Ah, yeah! The Slow Jams are Back” (Part 2) (originally published here on GettingSmart on 8.3.2016)

Ahhhh yeeeeeahhh! It's that time again, my brothers and sisters. Time to kick back and show the world how to rock out poetry the Jimmy Fallon way. Yep, it's time to "Slow Jam the Poem." And everything you need to create an awesome classroom experience is right here.

Step-by-Step Video Tutorial

The Cue Cards

A Behind-the-Scenes Look

Example #1: In the Style of Jimmy Fallon

Example #2: A Father Teaches His Son

Example #3: With Katy Perry, Hailee Steinfeld and Pharrell Williams

Example #4: The President and a Guitar

Example #5: With Keyboard and Saxophone

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Slow Jam the Poem: A Jimmy Fallon Inspired Lesson

“Slow Jam the Poem: A Jimmy Fallon Inspired Lesson” (originally published here on GettingSmart on 3.20.2015)

Jimmy Fallon is just too talented. In fact, I believe he could do just about anything sometimes. Now, I don’t want to step out on a limb here, but I bet he could even be a high school educator. Think about it. With awesome ideas like “Thank You Notes,” “Hashtags,” “Wheel of Impressions,” “Catchphrase,” “Box of Lies,” and “Evolution of Hip Hop,” Jimmy Fallon and his team at The Tonight Show could surely energize and challenge a class of fun-seeking and knowledge-hungry students. But of all the aforementioned skits, there is one that has already been proven to be a hit in a Language Arts classroom. “Slow Jam the News.” So, before we dive in and take a look at the awesomeness created this week by Studio 113, an innovative American Literature class at East Hall High School, let’s watch the inspiration for the first-ever “Slow Jam the Poem” presentations.

“Slow Jam the News” with President Obama, Jimmy Fallon & The Roots

The Lesson Plan

Teams of three-to-five students were assigned either a Walt Whitman or Emily Dickinson poem to analyze with the help of this TP-FASTT guide. After dissecting their assigned poems, students were shown the above version of “Slow Jam the News,” and they were instructed to use these guidelines to construct cue cards that would help them present an authentic interpretation of their poems in “Slow Jam the Poem” style. Of course, like always in Studio 113, students were encouraged to put their own unique touches on the final project. For a thorough “Slow Jam the Poem” how-to-guide, please view the video at the bottom of this blog post. Let's take a look at some "Slow Jam the Poem" presentations from Studio 113.

An Acoustic Guitar and Authentic Song

A Military Version

A Poetic Version

A Blues Version

A Green Screen Version

A Country Version

Care to see some more? Feel free to choose from the following versions or just visit our YouTube channel: a 3-song mix, a rapping version, and an artistic version. A “Slow Jam the Poem” How-to-Guide
If you are interested in the work involved in "putting the class back together," click here to watch a time-lapsed video that proves that teaching can be physically stressful. And that...is how...you rock out the class. Thanks, Jimmy Fallon. For more blogs by John, check out:

Is 100% Student Engagement Possible? You Bet It Is

“The Voting Chips” (originally published here on GettingSmart on 5.1.2017)

As I understand it, everything we humans do represents a vote of confidence and faith or a vote of insecurity and trepidation. I mean, everything is an investment, right? Whether it's trying out for a team, earning a degree, buying a vehicle, inking a 30-year mortgage, or saying "I do" (GULP!) to a soulmate, we must learn to give it our all and move forward with courage and boldness. Of course, doing so demands the following: fully understanding the situation, assessing the options, eliminating any distractions and inessentials, determining the most accurate and beneficial solution and accepting the results with complete mindfulness and understanding of all that is invested and all that may be affected. Yep! In a nutshell, that is life. However, it also happens to apply to today's classrooms and students' learning. In fact, if you were to ask me, "Hey, you bald-headed, teaching version of a Mr. Clean, is it possible to teach these concepts with 100% student engagement for five days straight?" My knee-jerk response would be, "You bet it is!" To be perfectly honest, I would say it with 100% confidence and faith due to the engagement that I know comes with rocking the class with the "Voting Chips Interactive Learning Structure" from Studio 113. First, check out the Voting Chips yourself. Then decide if you're all in.

Students' Excitement and Engagement

The Voting Chips Video Tutorial


Additional / Optional Resources

Want to rock it out with more interactive learning structures from Studio 113? Try these ten:

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"The Trifecta" Interactive Learning Structure

“The Trifecta” (first published here on GettingSmart on 12.27.2016)

Have you ever seen an interactive learning structure that fosters academic debates, encourages a deeper analysis of the standards, and challenges students with seemingly insurmountable team tasks? A “triple-threat” structure this strong warrants the perfect name. Introducing “The Trifecta.” A new learning design from Studio 113, “The Trifecta” guides student teams through three rigorous rounds that demand participation, require upper-level thinking skills, and reinvigorate students’ often dormant creativity. Just take a look at some of the highlights from our recent study of Charlie Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator” speech or dive on into the video tutorials below. Either way, you’ll see that awesomeness comes in threes.

An Introduction and How-To Video Tutorial

Need any pertinent copies? Feel free to download the overview slideshow and the scoresheet.

Round 1 Examples: The Debate: Agree or Disagree

Round 2 Examples: Strictly-Standards Round

For these particular examples, students discuss rhetorical strategies found in Charlie Chaplin's "The Great Dictator" speech. Feel free to adjust this round to suit the needs of your classroom, whether it be art, physical education, math, history, science, language arts or absolutely any other content area that warrants a jam-up learning structure.

Round 3 Examples: The Challenge

For this round, not only should the students be creative, but the teachers should show their creative abilities, too. By proposing challenging (and often wacky) assignments, teachers will lead the way and inspire students to return the originality with enthusiasm and engagement. What are some of the things we do in Studio 113? Rap songs, movie trailers, Nerfball discussions, putter challenges, the speaker/the whisperer/the visual re-enactments, and a number of improvisational games from Whose Line Is It Anyway? Go ahead. Create something awesome that will make your students' eyes resemble a deer in headlights. Yep! YOU have been challenged. Now challenge your students.

The Judges In-Action

Teamwork and Collaboration

Best of the Trifecta

A 360° Video Gallery in ThingLink

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Need to Energize Your Class? Just Add Wax and Be Still

First published here on GettingSmart on 11.6.2012

There are many ways to mix things up in a classroom and inject enthusiasm. From blended learning to project-based learning to time-tested traditional methods, teachers today have nearly unlimited resources and ways of livening up a stagnant classroom. These stagnant classrooms, indicated by boredom-induced silence, constant class disruptions, or mediocre student work examples, benefit greatly from the implementation of interactive learning structures. One such learning model that is sure to invigorate any lesson is the "Wax Museum" learning structure created in Studio 113. It may sound a bit odd, but the main ingredients needed to jumpstart a group of uninterested students with this learning activity is a bit of wax and stillness. Please take a look at this example, and I'll explain.

Allow Students to View a "Wax Museum" Example

I understand the argument stating the most effective strategy for implementing this structure would be to present the students with their learning tasks before mentioning the end result, which is a symbolic and frozen pose that serves as the summation of the students’ understanding. However, since attempting our first "Wax Museum" structures in American Literature years ago, I have witnessed a profound enthusiasm from the students for any class assignment when they are shown a video example of a past class performing the learning model. Being such visual learners, they understand immediately where they are headed before determining how they will get there. Hence, a flame will be lit.

Assign the Lesson

After viewing an example of the “Wax Museum” from their peers, students should then be given the learning prompt. For the video shown above and the one immediately below, students used a Venn diagram to note similarities and differences in Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Self-Reliance” and Thomas Jefferson’s “Declaration of Independence.” Working in teams of three and totally aware of the required, kinesthetic outcome, students worked for two class periods to extract the essentials from these two famous documents. It was amazing to see such intense and engaged reading. The same enthusiasm is easily generated with any prompts. Whether it is from a math, science, history, art, physical education, or band class, the only limiting aspect of the “Wax Museum” is a non-challenging prompt or learning assignment. Make no mistake about it, however, the beauty of this structure is actually not the end product. Instead, it is the collaboration and heavy-duty thinking beforehand that is so impressive.

Discuss the Parameters of the “Wax Museum”

Inform the students of the following guidelines:
  • Each team’s symbolic pose must be class appropriate.
  • Each “Wax Museum” pose must be representative of the team’s synthesized learning. Depending on the prompt, students may illustrate a theme, a direct quotation, an essential question, a real-world connection, and just about anything imaginable that demonstrates mastery of the assignment. If appropriate, allow the students to co-create the prompt. Enlisting their help allows the students to amaze you at the beginning, the middle, and the end.
  • Students may use any appropriate props that will add to the symbolism and overall, intended message. For the first two videos shown on this post, I allowed students to use any of my classroom objects and bring any appropriate props from their homes.
  • Each team will be still, as if sculpted from wax, and hold the symbolic pose for the duration of two rounds.
  • The first round requires the students to be quiet (with the exception of thematic music) while the teacher uses a video recorder to capture the learning activity. Students are made aware of the various camera angles and close-ups.
  • The second round requires the students to remain still while adding verbal comments that shed light on the overall purpose of the team’s pose. Again, examples of these comments range from a simple theme to the relationship between the prompt and a current event. The only moving parts during the “Wax Museum” structure are the students’ lips and eyelids.
  • All students will remain still until given the cue to break out of the “Wax Museum” poses.

Share Video with Students and the World

Obviously, students will be ecstatic to see the video of their creations as soon as possible. This is perfect. How fitting is it that the enthusiasm beginning with the introduction of this interactive structure carries into the viewing of the students’ own “Wax Museum” statues? But don’t let the enthusiasm end there. In fact, share it with others via YouTube and watch the excitement cross into other schools and states. Take a look at this example from my colleague and good friend, Dave Guymon, an innovative educator in Idaho Falls.
In fact, my students were so proud of his students that we put together a congratulatory video to show our appreciation.
Asking students to move not at all for close to ten minutes sounds like a ridiculous demand, but with the right prompt and the freedom to create, these energetic learners can and will melt their understanding down to a brilliantly created, symbolic statue of wax. Just don’t be worried if their energy sparks a flame of excitement. The stillness will contain it.

Hut 1, Hut 2: Literature on a Football Field

First published here on GettingSmart on 2.1.2015

To me, it is indisputable that literature is meant to be brought to life. Easier said than done, though. Such organic rendering of the written word involves courage in the shape of improvisational and planned acting. That is enough to make teenaged students as nervous as Tom Brady and Bill Belichick in a room full of NFL wonks and football pumps. In fact, when faced with a case of the jitter fingers just before turning literature into lifelike visuals, our students attempt to deflate any nervous pressure by responding with the class motto: "<a title="Studio 113's motto &quot;Life is a stage. Step UP.&quot;" href="https://twitter.com/JohnHardison1/status/543156745712197632" target="_blank">Life is a stage. Step UP.</a>"

However, sometimes a stage does not suffice for such an arduous task. A location that combines necessary guidelines, exudes toughness, and provides the freedom of a wall-less classroom seems to set the tone for any literature and acting assignment that demands rigor. And one such taxing activity would surely involve demonstrating mastery of the literature by merging collaboration and creativity in a timely manner.

Yep. If you are carrying what I am handing off, you guessed it.

A football field is the perfect space to tackle a gargantuan opponent, such as the <a title="Forrest Gump in 1 Minute and 1 Take" href="http://youtu.be/nOvgJ0TxdfI" target="_blank">1-to-2 minute summary</a>.

Quick. You go long and dive into this blog, and I will pass you the notes.

<h2><strong>Hut 1: The Assignment</strong></h2>
No need to scream and holler about snappy details like the Dolphins' field goal kicker in <a title="Ace Ventura on Wikipedia" href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ace_Ventura:_Pet_Detective" target="_blank">Ace Ventura</a> who cries "Laces out!" However, it is definitely a sane practice to put the purpose of the lesson before the activity. What were my intentions with <a title="Studio 113 at East Hall High School in Gainesville, GA" href="http://teacherpages.hallco.org/webpages/jhardison/index.cfm" target="_blank">Studio 113</a>'s latest assignment in American Literature? To study Dark Romanticism by analyzing the symbolism and numerous themes in Nathaniel Hawthorne's "<a title="&quot;The Minister's Black Veil&quot; on Wikipedia" href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Minister%27s_Black_Veil" target="_blank">The Minister's Black Veil</a>." <a title="60 Seconds &amp; a Camera: Essentials for a Culminating Activity" href="https://www.gettingsmart.com/2013/04/60-seconds-a-camera-essentials-for-a-culminating-activity/" target="_blank">Two years ago</a>, the class challenge was the same but involved Bret Harte's "<a title="&quot;The Outcasts of Poker Flat&quot; on Wikipedia" href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Outcasts_of_Poker_Flat" target="_blank">The Outcasts of Poker Flat</a>," a story of Realism and Naturalism set in the Sierra-Nevada Mountains.

Click <a title="&quot;The Minister's Black Veil&quot; 1-2 Minute/1-Take Summary Assignment" href="https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1lB_nRJcUHF1uo0M57IJsFx9f9ljGoyEgDkzMjVx00PQ/edit?pli=1#slide=id.g5cb2964df_085" target="_blank">here</a> to see the most recent assignment details. Want to see the video that inspired this project? Click <a title="Forrest Gump in 1 minute and 1 take" href="http://youtu.be/nOvgJ0TxdfI" target="_blank">here</a>. Also, make sure you visit the <a title="60 Second Recap YouTube Channel" href="https://www.youtube.com/user/60SECONDRECAPcom" target="_blank">60 Second Recap YouTube Channel</a>. It rocks.
<h2><strong>Hut 2: The Goal</strong></h2>
After it is all said and done, the students should create 1-to-2 minute summaries that condense their teams' collective analysis of the prescribed literature. To show the students what a glorious score looks and sounds like, I have them view this 1-minute, 1-take summary of <a title="Forrest Gump in One Minute, One Take" href="http://youtu.be/nOvgJ0TxdfI" target="_blank">Forrest Gump</a>. Of course, if you want to really get their attention, witnessing a successful completion from <a title="&quot;The Outcasts of Poker Flat&quot; in Roughly 90 Seconds" href="http://youtu.be/TlnuMfUsZCo" target="_blank">their own peers</a> and their own <a title="East Hall High School in Gainesville, GA" href="http://ehhs.hallco.org/web/" target="_blank">school</a> is the ultimate motivation.
<h2><strong>Hut 3: The Process</strong></h2>
Before the students begin reading the assigned literature, class volunteers are asked to huddle up and participate in a private draft. Of course, it depends on the specifics of the task, but I usually ask the team leaders to select a diverse team of ten to twelve students. I always remind the leaders to pick peers, not just friends, who can build a well-rounded team that is capable of completing a 60 to 120 second analysis. Before wrapping up the drafting procedures, I ask the students to take an oath that all drafting details will remain in the drafting room.

After all teams have been chosen, I give the class some relevant background notes and a few pointers. Then, I turn over the entire process to the team leaders. It is a blast to stand back and watch how each team leader approaches such an intimidating <a title="The 1 to 2 Minute/1 Take Summary Assignment" href="https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1lB_nRJcUHF1uo0M57IJsFx9f9ljGoyEgDkzMjVx00PQ/edit?pli=1#slide=id.g5cb2964df_085" target="_blank">assignment</a>. Whether all leaders start out loose or too controlling, they all eventually realize that organization, flexibility, and collaboration are the keys to success.

I marvel as students' personalities and talents collide as they follow their peer leaders through the reading, analysis, brainstorming, rehearsal, and eventually, the performance. Talk about a mature and tough assignment. It is a wonder they do not ask for helmets and pads.
<h2><strong>Touchdown: The Examples</strong></h2>
<center><iframe src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/TXjCfF7Jm9g" width="640" height="360" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen"></iframe></center><center><iframe src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/ane6QhdCR1k" width="640" height="360" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen"></iframe></center><center><iframe src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/tI6M1t6aFjk" width="640" height="360" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen"></iframe></center><center><iframe src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/CeYChqXNIAs" width="640" height="360" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen"></iframe></center><center><iframe src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/O9x25L8NgRA" width="640" height="360" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen"></iframe></center><center><iframe src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/iNssDozHYSs" width="640" height="360" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen"></iframe></center>
<h2><strong>The Point After: Pros and Cons</strong></h2>
Creativity takes time. I guess that is why no standardized test ever spawned a major invention. Honestly speaking, if you are concerned with how much you cover in class versus the depth of knowledge and creativity, this assignment should probably be removed from your playbook. But if offering real-world challenges that transcend the "A, B, C, D" multiple-choice bubbles sounds like a game plan, you should call an audible and pass off a 1-minute analysis to your students.

Believe me, it is sure to be an <a title="The NFL and the Pittsburgh Steelers: Naming the Immaculate Reception" href="http://www.nfl.com/videos/pittsburgh-steelers/0ap2000000113831/A-Football-Life-Naming-the-Immaculate-Reception" target="_blank">immaculate reception</a>.

For more blogs by John Hardison, check out:
<li><a href="https://www.gettingsmart.com/2015/01/students-spoken-will-listen/" target="_blank"> The Students Have Spoken: Will You Listen?</a></li>
<li><a href="https://www.gettingsmart.com/2014/12/bringing-literature-life-can-square/" target="_blank">Bringing Literature to Life Can Be Square</a></li>
<li><a href="https://www.gettingsmart.com/2014/12/todays-educator-jack-trades-master-one/" target="_blank">Today's Educator: A Jack of All Trades and Master of One</a></li>

Do You Know Me? The Voice of a Disgruntled Student in a Boring Class

First published here on GettingSmart on 3.26.2014

Dear Boring Teacher,

Do you know me? I’m the sixteen year-old bedecked in hand-me-down Nikes, baggy jeans that reveal a little too much of my Hanes boxers, and a faded t-shirt that says something borderline rebellious to bolster my cool points but under the radar just enough to avoid trouble in school. My name might be Juan, David, Sebastian, Terrance, Niran, or Abdul. Doesn’t matter. Totally irrelevant. But for the sake of moving forward here, let’s just call me Student X. Heck, I feel like a data entry most days anyway.

Do you know me? I sit in the back left corner of your classroom of thirty-five teenagers. If you look beyond my embarrassing acne and disheveled hair, you’ll surely get a glimpse of my zombie eyes. But don’t mistake them. It’s not that I’m geekin’ on some drug of the week. No. Far from it. In fact, if you knew me, my true character, you would know that I detest those poisons. Nah, the glazed-over trance as evidenced by my eyes is strictly boredom induced. You see, it’s simple. I hate your class.

Do you know me? You may find it hard to believe, but I’m quite the creative talent. Rather secretly, of course. It’s not like I get the chance to show it in your classroom. Bet you didn’t know I have my own studio at home, did you? I’m not trying to tell any lies ‘cause you know the truth is that my studio isn’t much to look at. An old Lowe’s outdoor shed the previous renters used to store their lawnmower and yard gear. Well, you know what I did? I ran some extension cords and lights out to my musical get-a-way. Later on, I scored big on a hoard of cupholders from Mickey D’s and tacked those cheap acoustic pieces all over my studio. With help from my more affluent friends, we added the essentials: a laptop with Mixcraft, a couple of old mics, and whatever else we could squeeze into that tiny shack. Even a couple of guitars. Honestly, you might be surprised by my talent. Not to brag, but I play with figures of speech like Kevin Durant toys with opponents with the orange rock in his hand. No matter how you look at it, we both drop it like it’s hot and create the thunder.

Do you know me? Chances are….no. You see, when my afternoons are filled loading our own YouTube channel with jams written and performed by me and my friends, those dang worksheets you drop on my desk every day don’t inspire me too much. Nope! Probably won’t ever hear me say, “That worksheet really changed my life.” Truthfully speaking, I stare back at those sheets with enough anger and frustration that it’s a darn miracle they don’t spontaneously combust. Be kind of funny if they did catch fire, though. Maybe I’d get a little attention while sparking some interest in the class.

Do you know me? I don’t think so. Just curious, though. Why can’t we be creative in your class? Why can’t we take the assigned standards, get with some of our peers, and create to show you what we know? Never can tell. We may just blow your mind. Think about it. Wouldn’t it be awesome to sit back with your grading rubrics and listen and watch as your students amaze you with authentic projects that tap into their own personal interests while mastering the learning concepts? It would be like an educational party. You might even hop out of bed the morning of the presentations with a rekindled spirit for teaching. Lord knows, any flash of excitement or energy would be an improvement from your normal lethargic, I-don’t-want-to-be-here-but-I-have-to persona. Just sayin’. If you need any help getting over your self-imposed impediment for allowing students to be creative, just pretend there is a universal standard that reads like this: “Ignited by the opportunity for creative expression and fueled by talent-based, intrinsic motivation, students will relentlessly pursue higher truths and knowledge to create lives replete with challenges, service, integrity, happiness, fulfillment, and success.” We can call this standard TSBR-US1 (“This Should Be Reality-Universal Standard #1). It may not be too common in many classes, but I promise it will go right to the core of all students’ learning spirits.

Do you know me? I’m a social being. I’m on Twitter, SnapChat, and Instagram. Of course, my favorite form of socializing is simply talking to my friends…face-to-face. You might never know any of this ‘cause I’m quiet as a mouse in your class. I tried the first week to collaborate across the aisle, but my will and the will of my peers was broken by the threat of being written up. Some things just aren’t worth fighting for. Especially if it awards me I.S.S., in-school-suspension, where I will undoubtedly be quiet for at least eight hours. But I get it. I guess you don’t want to lose control of the class. Control...hmmm. What an illusion. The interesting thing is, however, that a class of engaged and excited learners would probably run through a brick wall to prove to you how well they can communicate with their peers and prove their mastery of the standards. That sounds like control to me.

Do you know me? I love technology. Especially my smartphone. In fact, I call it a palmtop. Yep. It can do just about everything I need a laptop to do. There’s just one problem. Rule #1 posted on your classroom wall states, “Absolutely no smartphones allowed. Any visible smartphones will be confiscated and delivered to the office.” I’m quite sure I understand the reasoning behind this rule. I wonder, are you aware of the gazillion apps that could help me organize my thoughts and interact with the assigned content? I mean, Evernote and the Google Drive apps alone could revolutionize my experience at school. If nothing else, they would at least get this backpack full of heavy-as-lead textbooks off my back. But, I know, I know. I hear it all the time. Teachers keep thinking this technology fad will blow over. Maybe you think the same. I’m sure when the automobile was created there were many people unwilling to give up their horses. I can hear them now: “I don’t need no darned auto-mo-bile when I got my trusty horse. Why would I need to get anywhere in an efficient manner?” Yep. They probably thought the new technology-on-wheels would fizzle out. You know…kind of like the light bulb did. Well, since the world now has more smartphones than toilets, perhaps it is time to flush that notion down the drain. Sorry this letter wasn't written a bit better. It would certainly be a stronger composition if I were allowed to learn my way. You know, brainstorm with my peers, look up resources on the internet, speak my essay into my phone using Dragon Dictation, and ultimately create a heartfelt essay that would jolt you back into the year 2014. But instead, I simply completed my assigned worksheet in a matter of minutes and spent the remaining class time scratching this out. Bet you didn't know that.

 But maybe you know me by now.

 The funny thing is... I'll never forget you.


 Student X

6 Steps Taken by an Indecisive Squirrel and a Creative Teacher

First published here on GettingSmart on 4.15.2015

Perhaps it sounds a bit nutty, but I believe two of the most mesmerizing sights are that of an indecisive squirrel scurrying to cross a street and a passionately creative teacher immersed in her craft. In fact, I believe these two actions are nearly identical in nature. Throw out, of course, the furry tail and rodent-like incisors, and a shell of curiosity is cracked to reveal a common pattern of fearless originality. Let’s take a look at the six steps taken by an indecisive squirrel and a creative teacher.

The Impetus

“Think left and think right and think low and think high. Oh, the thinks you can think up if only you try!” –Dr. Seuss What is the impetus for a squirrel’s gutsy and multi-directional traversing of a road? Who the heck knows. One thing is for sure. A seeming impulsivity to act on an idea or thought is shared by both an indecisive squirrel and an innovative educator. The ignition point for a teacher’s creativity can stem from nearly anything. A commercial. A song. A movie. A late night talk show. A novel. A vehicle. A sport. A website. A board game. An app. A night out with friends. A theme park. A camping trip. A workout. An impromptu conversation. A student’s comment. A “just about anything” can serve as the impetus to classroom creativity if an educator remains open to the possibilities. Like Dr. Seuss says, just think.

The First Steps

“You have to be burning with an idea, or a problem, or a wrong that you want to right. If you’re not passionate enough from the start, you’ll never stick it out.” –Steve Jobs Have you ever been traveling down a two-lane road only to witness a squirrel nervously and sporadically take its first steps to cross a road? It’s almost as if you are a rolling audience to a furry version of a James Brown or M.C. Hammer dance. If so, then surely you appreciate the energy and lack of complete confidence it exhibits as it musters up the courage to continue the journey. Most teachers act the same when embarking on a creative endeavor. In the beginning, the self-checking questions abound. “Do we have time to implement this creative activity in class?” “Will students be engaged and learn with this lesson?” “Will students rock out the lesson plan only to be assessed in a totally different (and boring) manner by a standardized test?” “Will my administrators think my cheese has slid off its cracker if they walk in to witness such ‘learning noise’ and excitement for an assignment that does not stem from a worksheet and textbook?” As Mr. Jobs so clearly states above, if the fire is present during the first few steps, all these potentially stifling questions will turn to ashes as your creative classroom adventures ignite with passion.

The Point-of-No-Return

“Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties.” –Erich Fromm Just like the squirrel who is already too far in the road to turn back and risk the danger of being flattened or nearly worse than that… returning to the same stagnant place, the creative teacher must recognize the point-of-no-return with any imaginative projects. Abort after too much time invested, and the students will resent your decision. Make large, rash and assignment-altering changes after the point-of-no-return, and you risk losing the students’ trust the rest of the school year. Let Fromm’s comment push you forward as you ultimately break free and let go of all but one certainty…knowing your students will complete a lesson worth remembering.

The Dance

“Creativity is an act of defiance.” –Twyla Tharp Okay, surely you have seen “The Dance” performed by the road-crossing squirrel. If so, you are giggling to yourself already. You know what I mean. That little herky-jerky, side-to-side choreography of moves enacted by the squirrel somewhere around the center line of the road. To be honest, no one knows what the squirrel is experiencing at that time, but one can imagine long enough a squirrel so exuberant at having survived the temptations of the point-of-no-return that the only form of expression worthy of such liberation is that of a traffic-dodging, look-at-me-working-it-on-the-double-solid-center-lines asphalt disco. Pretty nutty, huh? The innovative teacher, also having broken free of any doubts, performs “The Dance” too. Sure, these spirited moves might not take place in the middle of the road (if they do, I’m not judging), but they do take place. Think more of a classroom “dance” in which the teacher, wide-eyed and full of smiles, appears to glide from station to station, student to student, and team to team as she does her best to guide her pupils’ inventive concepts and to manage the good stress of facilitating such an enthusiastic classroom. As Twyla intimates in her quotation above, the creative teacher defies the traffic of standardized, multiple-choice testing and a “teach-as-I-was-taught” mentality by dancing right in the center of where all action originates. The heart.

The Mad Dash

“Anxiety is the handmaiden of creativity.” –T.S. Eliot The mad dash occurs near the very end. And anxiety is its theme. Just like the squirrel who only has a few feet left to safety, the creative and risk-taking teacher feels one last rush of “What ifs.” “What if all this time has been wasted under the guise of fun and busy-ness?” “What if the discouraging and negative comments from my colleagues were right?” “What if clueless parents attack this innovative process?” “What if…” “What if…” But, what if the resourceful educator has an understanding that anxiety is actually serving and assisting creativity? You know, kind of like that final rush of adrenaline in the squirrel as it dashes to the other side knowing all too well that another predator of rolling rubber is just feet away. Doesn’t that make adrenaline its temporary friend? It’s no different with anxiety and creativity. They go hand-in-hand.

The Finish

“It is, in fact, nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry.” –Albert Einstein Ahh, thank goodness. Finally, the finish line and all its rewards. Peace. Contentment. Celebration. Validation. All justified by the students’ projects, presentations, and personal representations of knowledge acquired. Of course, there will be more roads to cross. More traffic to dodge. More tough nuts to crack. That’s okay, though. Just like a squirrel whose nest resides in a tree, the creative teacher rests high above all others and has a vantage point that many may never try to imagine. For more blogs by John, check out: