Lighting My Hair on Fire!

I know many of you have probably already read Rafe Esquith's fantastic book, Teach Like Your Hair's on Fire, but until last week, I had not.

Some of my take-aways from this engaging read about Rafe and his fantastic Room 56:
  • Although I don't assign the traditional book report, I do like my students to blog about the books they read. Occasionally they use a template as we learn how to write a good book summary. This powerpoint is the one the kids liked and used most successfully. I really like the structure Rafe has his kids use when writing about a fiction novel. It includes the headings of: Protagonist, Antagonist, Conflict, Setting, Plot, Climax, Denouement, and Theme. Although I don't want to bog the kids down with having to use it often, it would be good for them to practice!
  • Similar to what Rafe does, I have a classroom economy in which the Cove Kids earn and spend Cove Cash. I LOVE the way Rafe instills the concept of rent versus ownership. His kids have to pay rent for their desks, keep their own ledger sheets of their accounts, and if they save triple their rent, they can purchase their seat (at which point it becomes a "condo"). Thrifty students begin buying up property, further learning the lesson that their disposable income increases as a result!
  • I also love the way Rafe has his kids prepare for standardized multiple choice math tests (something we all hate to do, but is a skill our kids will need at least for the near future). He provides a computation problem such as 63 + 28, and lists the letters A, B, C, D under it. He then asks the kids what answers the test makers might offer as choices and has them explain why. I like the way this strategy gets the kids really thinking about common misconceptions concerning math problems, so they will more likely avoid them when they sit down to take the test!
  • Rafe's thoughts on failure are so spot-on! "It's important to remember that we teachers individually define the word failure. In Room 56, a rocket that doesn't fly is not a failure. Failure happens only when students stop trying to solve a problem." (p.103) Love that!!
Rafe's passion for education is contagious! I love the summer break so that I can take the time to read motivational books and "light my hair on fire" again for the coming year!

Wowzers Day 1 Teacher Perspective!

Today my 5th graders embarked on a math journey using the math program found at To say they liked it would be a large understatement. After 25 minutes of letting them know we were working past break time, I finally had to make them stop! Stop working math problems? What a wonderful dilemma!

You can check out my students' reactions to their first day with Wowzers on their blogs at You'll see that they enjoyed the gaming atmosphere, quick pace, and often challenging pieces.

Here are just some of the reasons I am impressed from a teaching perspective:
  • The site starts the kids off with a 60 problem placement quiz, which immediately, at each question, lets them know if they were right or wrong. My students thrive on immediate feedback like that. This also allows them to be placed at the point in the curriculum where they need more practice. Very individualized!
  • The use of an avatar and a vehicle called a Buzzpod that they get to "buy" items for with their coins is extremely motivational and allows them to maintain their own unique style while learning.
  • The program uses interactive tutorials throughout each new step so the kids aren't just running haphazardly through the materials. There are also built in character avatars who give advice and navigation tips which encourages the collaborative spirit.
  • All directions are dialogue that is spoken by a character in the program. The OK button to move on does not become active until the entire direction is given. I like this because kids tend to click past important directions just to get to the next part quickly and then don't know what to do once there.
  • Once the kids get into the actual sessions they take a five question pretest. Upon completion they are immediately rewarded with a handful of coins. In my teacher control panel I have set it so that if students master the pretest they are automatically taken to the game section, bypassing the lesson and practice (why waste time practicing a skill if you've already mastered it?).
  • The game and quest sections of the day's session require the kids to use the math skills from that session to be successful. The other thing I REALLY like about these two components is that they are timed (the game section plays for 7 minutes, and the career-oriented quest lasts for 13 minutes). This way kids don't spend an overabundance of time playing a game at the cost of moving forward, like so often happens in other math gaming sites.
  • The quest portion of the daily activities are career-oriented and the ones I saw today integrated science facts seemlessly! The kids really liked that part.
  • The final portion of the daily session is the quiz. I really like that, since this program was built on the Common Core standards, some of the final questions are multiple choice, while others are fill in the blank.
  • After all the work is completed for the "day", the teacher has the option of setting a certain amount of time for "Free Time". This allows the kids to spend their earned coins at the "mall" to buy items for their avatars. Very motivational for upper elementary kids!
Our first day using Wowzers was really awesome! I am looking forward to using the very detailed Teacher Dashboard to create some small groups according to the needs I see from their work in the program. Wowzers also has so many supplemental materials (that take the math off-line) you could never use them all!