Teaching Tools, Videos

TikTok Thoughts?

As some of you may know from my weekly-ish newsletter, I’ve begun to understand why TikTok fascinates so many people. I’ve got quite a few TikTok videos bookmarked that show teachers sharing fabulous ideas for engaging lessons, organization ideas, and tech tool “hacks.” I honestly thought TikTok was mostly people showing off goofy dance routines, and didn’t think I could learn much from it. But I was wrong.

For today’s post, I wanted to get a better understanding of the people who read this blog so I can figure out if there is any desire on your end for me to share this knowledge or even begin to create my own. Here’s an informal poll that will give me a snapshot of your feelings about TikTok, and I would really appreciate it if you take a minute to fill it out. No personal information will be gathered.

picture of hand taking notes on a piece of paper
Critical Thinking, Depth and Complexity, K-12

+1 Routine for Retrieval Practice

Are you ready to try something that requires ZERO preparation in your classroom, something that scientific studies have shown will help your students to retain information? It’s called, “Retrieval Practice,” and you can read a fascinating article about it on Cult of Pedagogy, or listen to the podcast also linked on that page. Dr. Pooja Agarwal explains how retrieval practice works and its benefits. You can also go to Dr. Agarwal’s website for more resources here.

Here’s the thing: you’re probably already doing retrieval practice in your classroom. Quizzes, flashcards, study guides, etc… are all ways we ask students to remember something they learned. One problem is that we are usually using these as assessments (retrieval practice should never be graded, but feedback is good) instead of learning strategies. Another issue is that we are often “feeding” students the information instead of asking them to produce it. Also, we don’t do enough of it in spaced out intervals to help solidify the learning.

Here is the key reason effective retrieval practice works, according to the Retrieval Practice Guide which you can download from Dr. Agarwal’s site: “Struggling to learn – through the act of ‘practicing’ what you know and recalling information – is much more effective than re-reading, taking notes, or listening to lectures. Slower, effortful retrieval leads to long-term learning. In contrast, fast, easy strategies only lead to short-term learning.”

So, today I wanted to share one Visible Thinking Routine that will help you to do retrieval practice. It’s called the +1 Routine, and appears in The Power of Making Thinking Visible, by Ron Ritchhart and Mark Church.

Next time you are showing a video, giving a presentation, or just delivering a lesson, refrain from asking the students to take notes during that time. Instead, ask your students to do the following steps afterward. All they need is a blank piece of paper (or notebook page) and a writing utensil. Have them write their name at the top.

This routine has several benefits. First, students are encouraged to be present during the video, lesson, etc… instead of trying to multi-task by listening and writing at the same time. Second, this is a “slower” and “more effortful” way to recall information, so it has a better chance of ending up in their long-term memory. Third, they are collaborating, so they can take advantage of the “hive mind.” And finally, this is an opportunity to clear up misconceptions.

You can use this as an exit ticket (no grade, though) after the lesson, but it’s also important to space it out, repeating the exercise a few times over the next month or so leading to a summative assessment.

I recently tried this routine at a teacher workshop, and several teachers said they plan to use it with their own students. (By the way, sketch notes are encouraged, which really appeals to some of the creative students.) We giggled (in a nice, supportive way — let’s just say that I introduced the SDG’s, not STD’s) at some of the misconceptions, and it was such a great way, that took 15 minutes max, to close out the session.

For more on Visible Thinking Routines, I highly encourage you to purchase The Power of Making Thinking Visible, visit the Toolbox from Harvard’s Project Zero, and/or visit my Wakelet Collection of other blog posts and free templates.

selective focus photography of piled pumpkins

October and Halloween Wakelets

I’ve been working on my Wakelet collections so that I’ll eventually have one for every month. To be consistent, I split my Halloween/October collection into two different collections. So, there is now a Halloween one and an October one (which contains a link to the Halloween one as well.)

Some upcoming October holidays/celebrations that you can really have fun with in the classroom are Powers of 10 Day (10/10 of course!) and Global Maker Day on 10/18. I’m still adding resources as they show up on social media, so keep on the lookout for more ideas for those.

In the meantime, the Halloween Wakelet is loaded with lots of math, literature, and science ideas. Many of them can be modified easily to use for a fall theme if you are in a school where Halloween lessons are discouraged. There are free digital breakouts in the collection, a slow reveal graph about candy sales, and tons of puzzles. One of my favorite lessons that I used to do with my primary students was Monster Box, and you will find an updated link to that with a free link to a Google Slides presentation from SlidesMania with cute monsters. It uses the Visible Thinking Routine, “Step Inside,” and I am sure you can find other ways to adapt it.

Of course, don’t forget that September still has a few more fun days left, including International Podcasting Day. If you want to get a head start on October and celebrate International Podcasting Day at the same time, here is a wonderful list from @GladeJeff of Halloween Podcasts for grades PK-12.

jellyfish floating
3-12, Independent Study, Math, Research, Science, Websites

The Deep Sea

The Deep Sea is a fascinating website designed by Neal Agarwal (@NealAgarwal). Neal has placed the creatures of the ocean at their typical depths, and you can scroll down from 18 meters at which you find Atlantic salmon and manatees all the way to the deepest part of the ocean at 10,901 meters deep. Little pieces of trivia are interspersed here and there, such as when you reach the point that is equal to the distance to the height of Mount Everest.

Students who are intrigued by the ocean and/or unique animals would love this site, and you can also integrate math with comparisons to other distances. For example the world’s current highest building, the Burj Khalifa, is 828 meters high. When you get to around that depth, you can find Giant Oarfish, which can grow to 11 meters long. Have students brainstorm ocean creatures they know and estimate where they might be found in “The Deep Sea.” To learn more about deep sea creatures that may or may not be on The Deep Sea site, check out this slideshow from the Smithsonian Institute that includes the frightening-but-cute yeti crab.

exotic reef manta ray swimming undersea in sunlight
Photo by Svetlana Obysova on

By the way, Neal Agarwal has a variety of other interactive sites that might interest you here. There’s a 3d “Design the Next iPhone” where you can not only drag and drop components that you want to had, but you can also create a video where your phone is “announced.” If you like the philosophical discussions generated by the classic “Trolley Problem,” try “Absurd Trolley Problems” for some macabre humor. And there’s more! I’m definitely adding his site to my “Fun Stuff” Wakelet. Although I must admit, comparing my hourly wage to other on the “Printing Money” site was not quite as fun…

wildlife of flock of penguins gathering together
Independent Study, K-12, Science, Websites


Zooniverse bills itself as the “largest platform for people-powered research.” It hosts a multitude of projects to which volunteers can contribute data that will help researchers in various fields. You may have heard of citizen science. Zooniverse takes this concept, and extends it to literature, art, and other areas of study as well.

Many of the resources are targeted toward college students, but there are several projects that would be suitable for younger children and a wonderful way to encourage them to learn more while feeling like their actions have a purpose. For example, the first project that I investigated was “Penguin Watch.” The goal is to identify Rockhopper adults, chickens, and eggs, as well as any other animals that may appear in the images that you are shown. Once students understand the task, it is just a matter of clicking on the right color and then the animal in the image to make the count. It’s actually slightly addictive and strangely therapeutic.

Screenshot from Penguin Watch Project on Zooniverse

One incredible second grade teacher, Fran Wilson, developed an entire unit for her students around another project, “Floating Forests.” In a science lesson on habitats, she began by sparking the children’s interest in sea otters. As the students learned more and became more invested in the preservation of this delightful creatures, they did research and other hands-on projects before the teacher eventually introduced them to a way that they could help by counting kelp forests on satellite images. Her blog post is an excellent blueprint for a way to engage students in something that they find meaningful and relevant. She provides many links as well as examples of student work along the way.

In 2020, Zooniverse provided this blog post of online learning resources that they had curated from their site, including a list of age-appropriate projects for 5-12 year olds. Please be aware of their note, “there is no age limit for participating in Zooniverse projects, but children under the age of 16 need parent or guardian approval before creating their own Zooniverse account.” I was able to participate in the Penguin Watch project without an account, so it is possible to use the site without signing in.

If you are a secondary teacher, there are also ideas for you in the blog post of online learning resources. In addition, I found this Edutopia article describing a lesson that high school biology teacher, Robin Dawson, did with the Snapshot Ruaha Project.

You may decide that Zooniverse won’t work as a class activity, but keep it in mind for independent projects, such as Genius Hour. Also, explore the project types as they are not all science — and not all based on imagery. For example, I found a fascinating one on the “Maturity of Baby Sounds.” I would even suggest, in some instances, having Zooniverse as an option in a calming area in your classroom where students can go if they are feeling like they need to cool down or are over-stimulated.

black and white penguin
Photo by Jack Salen on
K-12, Philosophy

Philosophy Toolkit

One of the resources that I have linked in my Philosophy for Kids Wakelet collection is Philosophy Toolkit from Plato. You can search for philosophy lessons by grade level or topic. The lesson quality is inconsistent, as some are basically just suggestions for discussion, while other provide more resources. However, at the very least you will get ideas for engaging questions and recommendations for related activities.

Why bother with teaching philosophy at all? Obviously it’s not on any elementary report cards. But the word itself means “love of wisdom.” And, of course we want our students to love learning and to seek out knowledge. According to the Department of Philosophy at Florida State University, “In a broad sense, philosophy is an activity people undertake when they seek to understand fundamental truths about themselves, the world in which they live, and their relationships to the world and to each other.”

Chances are that you are already engaging in philosophical discussions in your classroom without formally calling them that. Team-building activities, conversations about literature, news, non-fiction materials, and social studies lessons all lend themselves easily to philosophy. If you use Kaplan’s Depth and Complexity, the multiple perspectives and ethics icons also prompt philosophical dialogues.

Since the toolkit can be a bit overwhelming, I thought I’d recommend one of the suggestions, “Joy and Heron.” It includes a 4-minute animation that’s adorable, and would be good to show students of any age, ask them to retell the story, and then discuss the ethics of what the dog chooses to do once it realizes the heron needs food. Right from wrong, empathy, and friendship are all potential topics to cover. If you print the PDF, related lessons in the toolkit will also be recommended.

I know that time is at a premium for teachers, but if you have a moment to explore this toolkit, I think that you will find some real gems.