Classic Cars and Classical Greece

One of Phil Schlechty's favorite stories was the metaphor of "Classic Cars and Classical Greece."

As a young teacher in the 1950's, Phil looked out across his classroom of teenagers, many of them boys, and wondered how he was going to generate any interest in teaching the history of Classical Greece.

Because he had gotten to know his student's interests and values, he was keenly aware that his class of teenage boys were interested in cars and driving, particularly old classic cars. An idea began to take shape. What if the students had to compare the concepts behind classic cars and Classical Greece? Questions began to surface like: What makes a car a classic? What made life in 4-5 B.C. Greece classical? The walls of Phil's classroom soon were covered with pictures of classic cars and Classical Greece. His students engaged and soon wanted to know more. They extended their learning deep into the history of Classical Greece.

Phil had leveraged the Design Quality of Authenticity. By linking content that was real and relevant to rigorous and challenging academic content, he got his students to commit their time and best efforts to learning about Classical Greece.

When a teacher decides to leverage Authenticity, it is important to remember that just picking three to four ideas that might be relevant to students is not going to generate authenticity. Teachers need to have hard evidence that ideas they choose to embed in classroom work are going to be authentic to the student. Such evidence be found out by listening, observing, and perhaps most important, asking. For example, a teacher listening to students talk excitedly before class about the weekend rides at the local theme park, has hard evidence that studying physics through roller coasters may genuinely engage students. Conversely, the teacher who simply decides all students like music and designs work that connects a sixties pop song to some academic content may find that the students don't like that particular musical genre and the hope for engagement will fade quickly. Many educators who have followed Phil Schlechty's work affectionately call this "knowing your who". It means a teacher has to truly know students values, likes and dislikes to leverage the Design Qualities.

"Classic Cars and Classical Greece" is an enduring metaphor from Phil Schlechty. In this simple story, the concepts of engaging students with Design Qualities comes front and center.

The Engagement People

Get Your Kahoot Jumble On

Kahoot may be the most popular quiz game platform used in schools today. In a nutshell, teachers sign-up for a free account and create quizzes at the Kahoot website. The quizzes are played live in the classroom when the teacher projects the quiz onto a classroom screen. Students go to on a laptop, Chromebook, tablet, or phone and they use that device to answer the quiz questions.  Kahoot adds a variety of music and sound possibilities that can really invoke Novelty and Variety if the app is not overused. Kahoot recently added a knew quiz type called Jumble that can add to the Novelty and Variety potential. In the past, Kahoot games were limited to multiple choice questions. Jumble allows the creation of questions based on proper sequencing. Teachers can, for example, create games that require sentence building and equation solving. In the video below, we demonstrate these features by playing the sample game from the Kahoot website.

Kahoot Jumble is a great addition to the Kahoot suite of games. Give it a try.

The Engagement People

Update: Virtual Reality Is Heating Up

When virtual reality first came on the scene (read 2015 blog), it was greeted with comments like, "Oh my gosh!" and "Unbelievable!" Educators in our workshops went scrambling back to their classrooms to unleash virtual reality (VR) experiences on their students, only to find that available content was, shall we say, somewhat lacking.

That has all changed as more and more content providers are offering VR experiences. One we particularly like is the free USA Today VR app. Some recent content examples from this app included a VR re-enactment of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, five VR experiences on the continent of Australia, and a VR experience covering NASA's Juno mission.

The cost and quality of VR viewers has also improved. Today, a viewer that will last a long time can be purchased on Amazon for as little as $15. These sets include head straps that allow the student to wear the headset.

Old cell phones are great for accessing VR apps and video. For example: An iPhone 5 that will no longer make phone calls still makes a powerful Internet browser and host for many apps. We continue to run USA Today VR and Aurasma on a decommissioned cell phone. Teachers might consider sending a letter home to parents asking them to donate old cell phones to the classroom.

All of this opens up opportunities to design VR student experiences that address multiple Design Qualities. A school could purchase a classroom set of five headsets for under $100. Using a station-to-station blended learning approach, a teacher could set up a VR experience as one station in a rotation of two to four connected experiences. Martha Lackey, a third grade teacher in Texas, blogs about this very activity using just ONE Google Cardboard device and one cell phone. Imagine the possibilities with four or five devices.

There are still some aspects of VR that need improvement. We found that cell phones often had to be removed from cases to fit into the viewer. This was slightly inconvenient but seems easily fixable.

If you haven't yet brought virtual reality to your classroom, the timing is right to dive in and give it a try. Related content is more readily available. The cost is coming down. New learning models make it easier than ever to create engaging experiences. With well-designed activities that use the Design Qualities to leverage engagement, you can be on your way in no time. Give it a try!

The Engagement People

Moving Engaging Work Forward With Trailblazers

This blog is for school administrators and teacher leaders who are passionate about creating engaging work for students. It is intended to share ideas about how to advance the capacity of educators to provide engaging work to students in this twenty-first-century digital world.

To begin, this post of the Engagement Connection blog assumes that readers understand the foundations of engaging work, including the following:

  • The definition of engagement: According to Phil Schlechty, students are engaged when they are attentive, persistent, and committed, and when they find meaning and value in the work.
  • The 10 Design Qualities of engaging schoolwork
  • The process of designing engaging schoolwork

But suppose you get all this and you want to see it move forward, catch on, and become a norm. What can you do? How can you lead this work?

A very easy next step is to use the power of Dr. Phil Schlechty's "Trailblazer Saga" and some commonsense sharing activities.

Dr. Schlechty believed that in any successful change process, there would be trailblazers who would take great risks to lead the work forward, pioneers who would follow the trailblazers, and settlers who would move forward when they felt safe because the pioneers had shown it was safe. Yes, there would be "stay-at-homes" and even saboteurs who would never change, but once the trailblazers, pioneers, and settlers were up and running, these naysayers would be minimized and unable to stop forward progress.

What does trailblazing look like in a school? It is not that hard to identify. Most often, it is YOU! You are the one who has studied engagement. You are implementing the frameworks in your classroom or in your school. You are the principal who is modeling design by using the Design Qualities in your school professional development sessions. You are the teacher who is thinking about engagement and taking the risk of creating work that leverages the Design Qualities. So now it's time to attract some pioneers and settlers!

If you're a principal or other leader, you can continue to model, but it is also time to showcase your teacher trailblazers. Here are some ways:

Identify your trailblazers through observation or, better yet, invitation. Encourage them to invite you to observe on those occasions when they have made the effort to design engaging work. Take pictures and video for them as you observe. Talk to students and ask why they are working so hard. Record them! Then take 20 minutes in faculty meetings to allow those (willing) trailblazing teachers to share an activity, overview of a unit, or lesson that you saw. Coach them to use photos, video, and engagement terminology when they present. Be part of the presentation yourself by sharing your reflections and your artifacts (pics and video). Be affirming! Repeat this process as often as you can. As the pioneers and settlers join in, you may need to add time on your professional development days for multiple teachers to present.

If you are a teacher leader, invite your fellow teachers to come to your room and observe those times when you have designed engaging work. Take pictures and video of the work. Then meet with your colleagues later and ask for feedback. Have a conversation about the work. The next thing you know, teachers all around the building will be inviting you to observe and give feedback! The result of this good work is that sooner or later your building leaders will hear about it. When they ask, offer to share in faculty meetings and on PD days.

Simply put, a school that is not sharing the good, engaging work going on in classrooms will find it very difficult to build success schoolwide. So think about it. Identify your trailblazers. Provide opportunities for sharing. Watch the pioneers and settlers move in. Watch engagement grow!

Good luck on the trail!


The Engagement People

P.S. The Trailblazer Saga appears in Phil Schlechty's Inventing Better Schools, pages 210–219.

Lucidchart: Graphic Organizing

Digital graphic organizers are powerful tools for use in the classroom. Graphic organizers can address Clear and Compelling Product Standards. They can bring a sense of Product Focus to organizing ideas and data. In the initial stages of use, they will lead to a certain amount of Novelty

Lucidchart is an excellent tool for graphic organizing and can be a powerful tool in the designer's toolbox. Here are two reasons why:

  1. You get lots of options in the free version. Specifically, there are templates you can use. Plus, there are a variety of shapes that can be placed on the workspace. This is in contrast to some platforms that limit shapes to a rectangle, at least in their free versions.
  2. Lucidchart works seamlessly with your Google Drive. In fact, the easiest way to get it is to open your Google Drive, select "NEW," scroll down and choose "Connect more apps," and then search for and add Lucidchart. When you save your creations, they go directly to your Google Drive.

Here are a few tips to remember:

  1. The more you add to your Google Drive, the more space you will use. Eventually, you will get prompted to buy more space.
  2. We have been able to operate in the free domain in Lucidchart without issue. This is in contrast to the very nice Lucidpress which only comes with a seven-day free trial.
  3. You will need to stay within the three-document limit to use the platform for free. Do this by deleting old documents.

Enjoy this short video tutorial:

If you like Lucidchart, you might also try MindMeister. MindMeister works the same way and just has a different look and a few unique features. It can be accessed through your Google Drive just like Lucidchart, or directly at the MindMeister website. It has the same three-doc limit for the free package.

We hope you enjoy trying Lucidchart!

The Engagement People


Coding. The very word can strike fear in the heart of a classroom teacher: Isn't coding that funny-looking machine language I see right beside the sharing link of any YouTube video when I click "embed"? Well, yes, it is. So, on top of everything else I have to do, now I am supposed to teach computer coding?

First off, let's back up and take a deep breath. Coding presents a wonderful opportunity to engage students. And no, we are not talking about HTML coding. We are talking about the world of block coding. Block coding gives students an opportunity to grasp coding concepts well before they go into the formal world of Fortran, C++, or HTML coding. It is really a simple and elegant process that allows even the youngest elementary student a chance to learn the concepts of coding.

In block coding, the heavy-duty machine language is converted into blocks that are simple to organize and attach to one another in order to create programs.

But writing code, even block code, needs a purpose—one that a student can relate to.

Enter Dash, a robot.

For around $150, any classroom teacher can purchase Dash the robot from Wonder Workshop. Dash is a fully programmable and quite adorable robot that responds to block coding. Meet Dash!

To program Dash, all you need is the free app named Blockly. Blockly allows you to control Dash with block coding. Look at the picture below. Each of the color blocks represents a command.  For example, the green blocks tell Dash to move forward a certain amount of centimeters. The blue blocks tell Dash to look around.

When students assemble the blocks in a logical order, it looks like this:

And it will make Dash do this:

Here is what it can look like in a first-grade math classroom:

Block coding can be used in any classroom. All it takes is some imagination. In a language arts classroom, students might program Dash to complete a task, and then they might write an expository paragraph explaining what they did. In social studies, students might research the role of robots in economics and then demonstrate with Dash how a robot is used in a retail environment.

In the initial stages of use, the Design Quality of Novelty and Variety is going to drive engagement with this tool. However, over time, the novelty will wear off. When that happens, don't be surprised if Authenticity, Clear and Compelling Product Standards, or Organization of Knowledge take over!

Block coding is approachable by any age group. The example above is from a first-grade classroom. And this sixty-three-year-old writer is still coding with his Dash! Take a chance and dive into block coding. You won't regret it!

The Engagement People

Newsela: A Reading Tool with Engagement Possibilities

Newsela is an important tool for classroom teachers. On the surface, it is a newspaper with current events articles written to be read by school students. But Newsela has some very important tools to go along with it:

  • Teachers control reading levels. A class can read the same content, but reading lexiles can be set to accommodate different levels of reading.
  • There are filters to organize articles by subject area or standards.
  • Each article comes with a thoughtful reading prompt and an optional quiz.
  • Students do not have to divulge any personal information to access assigned articles.
  • The site is free. Additional features can be purchased. We like the amount of free content provided.

When used in conjunction with the 10 Design Qualities of Schoolwork, Newsela can be an important tool that can address Authenticity and Organization of Knowledge.

The following video is a demonstration of how to access and use Newsela.
A Newsela Tutorial from Ron Wright on Vimeo

We hope you enjoy interacting with Newsela!

The Engagement People

Math Snacks: Stunning Math Games

Every now and then a piece of technology comes along that really grabs our attention. Such is the case with Math Snacks, a math gaming site from New Mexico State University. There are a variety of games to choose from.

Right away we were taken in by the ethics of this site. First, it is totally free. There is NO paid option that we could find. Second, there is NO REQUIRED LOG-IN. Students simply go to the website and play. Third, the site remembers players by device. If a student returns to a game on the same device he or she used earlier, Math Snacks will pick up where the student left off! In other words, NMSU has provided a quality game site free for students, and it is clear that the university's only motivation is to improve the educational experience for students.

We're gonna pause while you soak that in, clap, scream "Bravo," etc.!


Currently, there are five games: Gate, Game Over Gopher, Monster School Bus, Pearl Diver, and Ratio Rumble. These games can be played on any laptop or Chromebook. Pearl Diver and Ratio Rumble are also available as iOS apps. The games utilize excellent gaming components. They are based on stories that draw in the learner. They have superb graphics. They will come across as authentic games to students. They may initially grab the learner with Novelty. Like many digital games, they leverage Affirmation and Clear and Compelling Product Standards.

In this example, we are playing Gate. This is an entry-level example. The math gets harder quickly and the time constraints tighten.

We really like that these games have teacher guides. The guides contain shortcut keys that enable teachers to focus students on specific content.

Thanks to Tammy Poplin from Dalton Public Schools for introducing us to this excellent digital tool.

It's free. The games are cool. The content is rich. The possibilities for engagement are strong. What more could you ask for? Math Snacks!

The Engagement People

Augmented Reality with Aurasma

The world of augmented reality is exploding right before our very eyes. As this platform expands its capabilities, teachers are asking a number of great questions:

  • Is this going to be expensive to bring to my classroom?
  • Are there lessons I can draw from, to incorporate into my own classroom designs?
  • Can I create my own augmented reality designs for my students?

As usual, in the technology world, the answers are a resounding...maybe.

When it comes to augmented reality, we are in luck—thanks to the good folks at Aurasma. With Aurasma, teachers can create augmented reality experiences FOR FREE. Auras can be shared with others. And yes, teachers can most definitely create their own experiences for students. We can't write a better preview of Aurasma than the one created by a team of educators from Hillsboro ISD, Texas, at one of our ENG2: Engaging the Next Generation conferences. Check it out below.

Aurasma gives teachers a world of possibilities for creating engaging classroom resources using augmented reality. See below an example of how augmented reality can be used to solve a math problem.

The possibilities really are endless. Imagine a teacher creates a picture wall in a classroom. Using Aruasma, every picture can come alive with a video story, web links, etc. Another teacher visits a local state park that commemorates a historical event. The teacher takes pictures of all the descriptive plaques and associates vivid video with each. The following week, as students visit the park, every plaque comes alive with a descriptive video courtesy of an iPad and Aurasma. A third teacher has students research each plaque in the park and use their iPads to create their own videos at each station. This teacher uses those videos to create an augmented reality experience for future trips.

How does a teacher create augmented reality experiences? To help, we have linked a series of videos from Aurasma. But these videos don't always give the detail needed when you are new to creating augmented reality experiences. So we are also providing a very detailed step-by-step guide that will help. Remember to use the 10 Design Qualities of Student Work when designing resources for students. Addressing student needs, motives, and values will create the best possibility for student engagement.

Video tutorials explained:

Create an Aura in under one minute. This video shows the three basic steps to create an Aura. It assumes you can take pictures and video and transfer these to your laptop. It does not show you how to share and view an Aura.

How to create an Aura. This video is just like the first video but it has spoken instructions. It assumes you can take pictures and video and transfer these to your laptop. It does not show you how to share and view an Aura.

Share an Aura. If you want students to see your Auras on a mobile device like a smartphone or iPad, you have to share. This video shows you how. Note: In our user guide, we suggest you complete this step as you finalize your Aura.

Again, our detailed user guide walks you through every step.

Good luck, and enjoy the world of augmented reality.

The Engagement People

Free Digital Tools That Don't Require a Log-In

The truth about digital tools is that there aren't many that are really free. Most "free" tools have some catch. The best tools give you a liberal amount of usage for free and then you can elect to buy more features. The animation program Plotagon is a good example of this. When a teacher or student joins the site, Plotagon gives to him or her a lot of scenes and characters to use for free. Anyone can use Plotagon for free for a long time. There are no time limits or expiration dates for free use. Go to the Plotagon store to add characters and scenes, and you will see that many are still free. However, some are for sale; this is where Plotagon makes its money. It's a nice arrangement.

Most free digital tools have one seemingly insurmountable roadblock for educators: They require the user to establish a log-in and password. While many school systems permit users to do this, some do not...especially when it comes to younger students. What follows here is a review of five excellent, free, digital tools that can be used online without a log-in or password or the divulging of any personal information.

A Schlechty Center favorite is Padlet. Padlet gives students an online canvas that can be used to brainstorm ideas and create projects. To create a canvas, or wall as it is called, students or teachers need only go to and click "Create a padlet." The screen will transform into a creation canvas, and creativity can begin. While many free programs require a log-in to save work, Padlet allows users to bookmark a page and return to it at any time. In other words, Padlet will save the work at the established address forever! In addition, the student or teacher who creates the canvas can control many options for free. Finally, the canvas can be shared and edited by anyone with whom the teacher or student shares the URL. Depending on how it is used, Padlet can leverage the Design Qualities of Organization of Knowledge, Product Focus, and Novelty and Variety.  Here is a short video that shows all the wonders of Padlet.

Another digital tool that can be used without sharing personal information is TodaysMeet. TodaysMeet is a text-sharing tool that allows users to post short text statements. Teachers can require that students use their actual names or create an anonymous nickname. It can be used for brainstorming, checking for understanding, and even sharing links. TodaysMeet can be used in the Organization of Knowledge Design Quality. Here is a short tutorial.

My Storybook is a great tool for letting young writers create e-books. Participants who go to the website can create books for free without creating a log-in or password. The trick with My Storybook comes with saving and sharing the book. To stay in the free, no-log-in mode, participants will need to take screenshots of their work. That's easy enough, though. My Storybook can be a great way to build Novelty and Variety into schoolwork or create a Product Focus. Here is a short tutorial.

Another tool, very popular with middle grade students, is Marvel's Create Your Own Comic. In this program, students can practice their writing skills by creating actual comics using Marvel characters. With Marvel Comics, students can actually download their work in PDF format without logging in. Create Your Own Comic will be a hit with some students who seek Authenticity, Novelty and Variety, and Product Focus. Here is a short tutorial.

Our fifth and final tool is a video conferencing tool. can be used to create video conferences without any log-in or password. Video conferencing can be a powerful tool in the classroom and can be used to leverage Organization of Knowledge, Affirmation, Authenticity, and other Design Qualities. Here is a short tutorial.

If finding digital tools that can be used without divulging personal information is a challenge you face in your classroom, perhaps these five tools will help. All of them are listed on the SC Web Resources for Schoolwork site.

The Engagement People