Edgar Allan Poe Unit: technology style

I’m in the midst of teaching an Edgar Allan Poe unit focusing on the analysis of the features of mystery, horror, and suspense. It’s the first time I’ve taught the unit. Luckily, my colleagues before me made the unit with great bones. I’ve created the lessons using technology for a few reasons:

  • differentiation
  • gain student interest, and therefore engagement
  • allow students to work at their own pace
  • motivate students to work on extension activities

Feel free to copy any and all of the lessons below. They are using Google Docs and DocentEDU mainly.

1: Horror, mystery, suspense: terms and example clips with questions



2: Psychology of Fear Article



3: FEAR Article (5 basic fears)



4: “The Raven:



5: “The Tell-Tale Heart”


6: Sidequests (extension activities)



Side quests: Gamification of extension activities

The other day on a Twitter chat (where else do you get new ideas?!) I saw someone mention side quests. (And now I don’t remember who and I really wish I could remember who so I could credit them! If you know who then tell me so that I can!) Side quests would be a way to gamify the classroom. Students can gain points for completing quests that are connected to the curriculum being taught.

We are just starting a literature unit teaching horror, mystery, and suspense. The side quests are then centered around these concepts.

I am requiring that students complete one side quest during the unit. The gamification part comes in that, for every side quest students complete, they will receive one point. The student with the most points at the end of the unit (ie the one who has done the most side quests) will get a prize.

I have a list of side quests that they can complete. After completing a quest, I’ve made a pretty generic Google form with questions that they must fill out to connect the quest to our unit. They will then fill out the form every time they complete a quest to the same Google Classroom assignment. This will make it easy to keep track of–I can see who wins just based on the assignments turned in to that one assignment.

One class I use Classcraft with. I think that the next time I do side quests, I will integrate them into Classcraft as an assignment as well as XP. That will make the gamification come alive!

The side quests themselves were pretty easy to come up with. I have tons that are varied. They are as simple as reading a book to webquests (that I found already made) to online games that go along with our unit to watching documentaries.

After using this system for the unit, I have decided that I will use this as a complete system for next year. For each unit, I will have side quests that students can complete. These will be the extension activities that I’ve found. In addition, I will have side quests going for the entire school year for extension activities that can be completed independent of the unit that we’re on. I’m not sure how I’ll incentivize these year-round side quests. I’ll perhaps have them on a quarterly-basis. In addition, if I don’t use something like Classcraft for each class, I think I’ll have a leaderboard on a google sheet that is viewable by all the students.

If you’d like to see the docs, you can take a peek here.

Creating a model of your biggest fear

Today was a fun day in 8th grade dealing with our biggest fears. Which, at first listen, might sound a little strange: how can your biggest fear be fun? However, combining a makerspace and our biggest fears turns out to be a fun and creative day.

We are starting a new unit today where students will be reading and analyzing horror, mystery, and suspense stories. In order to get them excited about the unit and thinking about fear, I designed this day.

Students first thought about their biggest fear. I then unleashed them onto the makerspace. They had about 15 minutes to make their fear from the makerspace supplies. I got some really great creations (and some not so great). Students then reflected on and analyzed their fears.

Overall it was a great way to start the unit and students are excited to get to reading!

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Paper airplanes and Podcasts: demonstration writing

Today we had our intro to our demonstration writing unit. In this unit, students will be writing and recording a podcast that will give directions for someone to create something. Students will be creating something from our classroom makerspace, then other students will listen to the podcast and try to follow the directions in order to make the same product.

This should be really fun. Students are getting to use their creativity in the makerspace. They are practicing communication skills by having to write and then record clear directions. They are also learning how to make and share podcasts. We’ll be using clyp.it for the recording aspect and then just Google Classroom for sharing them.

As our intro for the unit today, students made paper airplanes and tried to write directions for other students to make the same airplane. These were the steps:

  • Students made their own airplane
  • They then wrote out directions for how to make the airplane
  • In pairs, students were only allowed to read the exact directions that they had written while another student tried to follow the directions and make the airplanes
  • Everyone then reflected and fixed their directions

Of course, there were many failures and many iterations of directions. We also ended the class period by having a contest to see whose airplane flew the farthest. It was a very fun day! Students really learned some valuable lessons about specificity, time order, as well as iteration and how failure can be helpful for success.


Update: End of the unit

We’ve had such a great time with this unit. Here were the rest of the steps we went through.

  1. Students made something from the makerspace. They kept notes while they were making the project. We had some awesome things made out of everything.
  2. Students then wrote scripts for their podcasts in a Google Doc. We emphasized that they were making their own show. Kids really brought their personalities into it and had so much fun.
  3. We then had a recording day. Students used two websites, clyp.it and Audioboom to record the podcasts.
  4. After all the podcasts were recorded, students listened to at least 3 other podcasts and gave feedback to those peers using email. Students really enjoyed sending each other emails and receiving feedback that way.
  5. The next day was students actually creating at least one other project based on the podcasts. Students sent email feedback this time through email as well. They had so much fun and really learned how difficult the process could be.
  6. Lastly, students self-reflected in a rubric on Google Sheets.


Creating Interactive Content from Dusty Old Textbooks

So, I teach at a school with shared curriculum. Overall I really enjoy what I teach. However, the 6th grade hasn’t been 1:1 so sometimes there are great opportunities for improving the lessons via tech.

This last unit was a unit which covered teaching elements of fiction through short stories covering the topic of bullying. The stories themselves were great, but all the unit had was the textbook.

I took this as an opportunity to improve, and used DocentEDU to make the stories interactive and differentiated. I also added a nonfiction article dealing with the very relevant and timely topic of the election.

I made a lesson of this article from the AP about bullying speech in the election into an interactive lesson. It includes vocabulary, embedded questions, and live-updating class discussions. My students really enjoyed this lesson and the conversation was very lively.

Next, I made a lesson of the short story from the unit, “Tuesday of the Other June.” This text now included an audio book for differentiation for students of different reading levels and language abilities. It also included lively full-class discussions as well as embedded and interactive vocabulary. Finally, it also included embedded questions, allowing my students to more easily think on a higher-level and use textual evidence for their answers. I also had students interact with and annotate the text to show their understanding of the essential question of the unit.

None of these activities would have been possible in a textbook. My students enjoyed these lessons, I enjoyed the lessons, and I know that they learned more than they would have otherwise in the traditional manner.

Makerspace for Service Learning: Using Design Thinking to Impact the World

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Since my last time having a makerspace in my classroom, I’ve done some reflecting and planning and tweaking. One of my goals was to integrate the makerspace as a summative assessment in a traditional unit. I had that chance this week.

I teach at an International Baccalaureate school, and as part of that curriculum we encourage our students to engage in service learning. My grade level and content area was assigned a unit dealing with responding to bullying. The unit itself (which I didn’t help create) was pretty blah. There were stories to read from textbooks and just a project at the end which pretty much was a poster. I decided to spice it up with the makerspace. (I also used technology to make the stories much better, but I write about that in another post.)

So, I decided that a makerspace as our summative assessment/service learning creation would be awesome. Instead of just a poster as a choice, I engaged my students in design thinking where the end goal was to create something that would make maximum impact in our school community in regards to responding to and preventing bullying.

I started with explaining the design thinking process to them, and then we got started. Using a Google Presentation, we went through the first 3 stages of the process. They then wrote quick proposals for their creation idea. I approved proposals individually, and then they could start.

We’ve now just finished the creation and iteration stages. We only had 2 days in which to create, get feedback, and iterate. I wish we would have had more time. Students did have to make prototypes or rough drafts and receive feedback from other classmates. I also emphasized to students throughout the process that their job was to make sure every decision they made, including materials and design and even where they posted their products, were to be made following the problem they were trying to solve. Whenever students asked me what to do, I just responded with another question: “What would make maximum impact on your audience to solve your problem?”

We will be reflecting on the whole process tomorrow. I hope that, during this reflection, they will be able to think of better ways to design their solution and perhaps even some students will do this on their own. I wish we had more time to then actually iterate their ideas in class. However, as a public school, we must carry on and keep going in order to “finish” with all the assigned units we must get through. : (

Overall, this was such a great 3 days of class. Students created awesome things like:

  • anti-bullying bookmarks to hand out in the library
  • anti-bullying flags to hang up around school
  • 3-D posters to hang up in the commons
  • Jewelry to hand out to students who are standing up to bullying

I really think that this was a great way for students to learn more autonomy as well. So many times my students want step-by-step directions and feel so uncomfortable with almost any type of autonomy. Answering all their questions with a question and giving them almost complete freedom was such an amazing way for them to learn to be in control of their own learning. It was also a great way to teach the skills of how to target an audience.

Lastly, I really feel that the vast majority of my students enjoyed feeling like they were making an impact in their school community. Middle School can be such a bummer sometimes, and make kids feel so powerless. I think that this service learning project helped them empathize with others and feel like they have some real impact on the world.

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