James Sturtevant
ABOUT THE AUTHOR

James Sturtevant

James Alan Sturtevant has taught in Delaware County, in Central Ohio, for over three decades. His first book, You’ve Gotta Connect, details how teachers can build essential relationships with students. He has appeared on many popular podcasts and authored guest posts on Edutopia, the Huffington Post, and Principal Leadership. Sturtevant remains committed to helping teachers forge strong relationships with kids, but his true passion is student engagement. With his new book and podcast, Hacking Engagement, he helps educators create classrooms and schools that captivate kids and empower them to learn.

Is your lesson relevant?

I get frustrated when I’m asked to do something irrelevant. Don’t you? And yet, many teachers dread when students ask, “When am I ever going to need to know this stuff?” It’s a rather obnoxious way of asking, “Is this lesson relevant?”

Now, picture this. You craft a lesson that is so relevant that you hope some kid inquires! This episode is designed to help you create such a lesson. To help in this mission is an awesome primary source.

Mitchell Charles

Mitchell Charles is an articulate young man destined for academic brilliance.

In World Civilization, we were meandering through a unit on the Industrial Revolution. This topic typically leaves some students cold. My challenge was to make it relevant.

I did this with the help of Elon Musk and Peergrade. Below is the lesson that Mitchell evaluates. Please feel free to commandeer some of it, or all of it!

Applying the Industrial Revolution via Elon Musk

History students often complain that what they study doesn’t seem relevant. You may have heard the cliche, History repeats itself. You may, or may not be persuaded by this idea, but hopefully you’ll concede that the study of history at least gives us templates through which we can better understand the present, making a lot of subject matter relevant.

Technological changes that are at work today have the potential of reshaping the world along the lines of the changes brought about by the Industrial Revolution. Studying how that unfolded has the potential to make a young person more adaptable.

Elon Musk is one of the world’s most interesting and perhaps most impactful citizens. Musk is determined to improve the way you live. He also is determined to help the USA win back it’s manufacturing advantage.

This man has the potential to create products and systems that are as impactful as anything we’ve studied so far. He was born under the yoke of Apartheid in South Africa and as soon as he was able, he migrated to Canada and then the USA. He’s now a US citizen.

I first became interested in Musk when I saw him appear on the Big Bang Theory years ago. 

We’ll focus on 4 of Musk’s objectives:

  1. SpaceX
  2. Tesla
  3. SolarCity
  4. The Boring Company

Job 1: Make it relevant: Become familiar with your topic by reviewing the links and conducting online research.

Job 2: Meet with other students who’ve been assigned the same focus. Dialogue about the company. You certainly don’t have to agree, but consider the views of your classmates.

Job 3: Individually, Respond to the prompts on the appropriate doc on Google Classroom.

Hacking Engagement Again

Click image to peek inside

Job 4: Upload your views to Peergrade.

Job 5: Evaluate your peer’s ideas via Peergrade.

Each student has been assigned a focus. Here are some links, but please don’t limit yourself to only the links I provide.

SpaceX

Start your research by visiting the company website. Then navigate to this objective article. Conduct research on this entity including a video search.

Tesla

Start your research by visiting the company website. Then, navigate to this objective article. Finally, conduct research on this entity including a video search.

SolarCity

Start your research by visiting the company website. Then, navigate to this objective article. Finally, conduct research on this entity including a video search.

The Boring Company

Start your research by visiting the company website. Then, navigate to this objective article. Finally, conduct research on this entity including a video search.

Elon Musk Reaction Prompt

Build your responses based on your research. Each prompt is worth 10 points. Elaborate on your ideas. Don’t just give 1 word, or 1 phrase answers. Compose a narrative for each prompt.

  • Pretend that you are Elon Musk. You’re appealing to a number of venture capitalists with the goal of having them invest. Provide your audience with a sales pitch. This has nothing to do whether you…as in you personally, not as in you pretending to be Elon Musk…think the venture will be successful.
  • Indicate whether you think this venture is feasible. Don’t just respond yes or no. Explain why, or why not, you think it’ll work.
  • The inventions of the Industrial Revolution changed people’s lives in fundamental ways. Do you believe this venture will change lives and if you do, in what way and if you don’t, why not?
  • Pretend that you’re in this class and it’s 200 years in the future. Your instructor, who is a remarkably improved version of yours truly, asks you to describe Elon Musk, place him in context, and describe his significance.
  • Indicate something that you would like to see invented. This needs to be an innovation that will dramatically improve life on earth. Describe it, explain how it works, and predict how it will improve life.

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Apply the Hack Learning Formula

The Problem:

Students often feel lessons are not relevant.

The Solution:

Craft lessons where kids are challenged to apply what you’re teaching to their lives.

What you can do Tomorrow:

  • Brainstorm real world applications for tomorrow’s lesson
  • Break your students into 4 topics or problems and then challenge them to respond to provocative prompts
  • Have kids submit their work to Peergrade and then watch a virtual Socratic Seminar unfold before your eyes

Teaching relevance is the responsibility of every educator. Teaching relevance will empower you to embrace the question, “Why do we have to learn this?”

Listen to “94-Usher in Relevance Courtesy of Elon Musk and Peergrade…Starring Mitchell Charles” on Spreaker

 

A version of this first appeared at JamesAlanSturtevant.com

Can Your Students Spot a Fascist?

Listen to “James Sturtevant Hacking Engagement” on Spreaker.

If you’ve taught a humanities class, you’ve probably recognized how frequently Adolf Hitler comes up. Unfortunately, many kid’s understanding of Hitler and Fascism doesn’t expand much past the Holocaust, and some students can’t spot a Fascist from across the room.

In fairness to kids, though, lots of adults also struggle with this, because, like students, they haven’t been exposed to the characteristics of a Fascist (see list below).

Scott Elliott teaches 9th Grade World History with me. Right before Christmas Break, we were yakking about how we could teach Fascism, our first unit in January, in a more engaging and impactful way.

Scott found a wonderful resource which formed the backbone of the assignment. The article is by Laurence W. Britt and is entitled Fascism Anyone.

The assignment we created challenged kids to rate WWII leaders on the 14 Characteristics Britt articulates and also to apply them to current leaders with authoritarian traits. Here’s a link to the Hyperdoc we posted on Google Classroom.

Britt’s list of 14 Fascist Characteristics

  1. Powerful and continuing expressions of nationalism
  2. Disdain for the importance of human rights
  3. Identification of enemies/scapegoats as a unifying cause
  4. The supremacy of the military/avid militarism
  5. Rampant sexism
  6. A controlled mass media
  7. Obsession with national security. Inevitably, a national security apparatus was under direct control of the ruling elite
  8. Religion and ruling elite tied together
  9. Power of corporations protected
  10. Power of labor suppressed or eliminated
  11. Disdain and suppression of intellectuals and the arts
  12. Obsession with crime and punishment
  13. Rampant cronyism and corruption
  14. Fraudulent elections

This turned into a solid activity in our World History class, but the lesson can be applied outside of the humanities.

Perhaps, there are misunderstandings about important concepts in other subjects. I can certainly think of examples in science.

Applying the Hack Learning model

The Problem

Students freely use words like Fascist, Nazi, and Hitler with limited knowledge of these label’s broader meanings.

The Solution

Expose kids to what Fascism is and then challenge them to apply it, and challenge them to apply agreed-upon standards to a set of contentious circumstances.

What you can do Tomorrow

  • If you teach a humanities course and Fascism is a topic, please steal our lesson and morph it to fit your needs.
  • If you teach a non-humanities class, take a controversial or misunderstood topic, expose students to some agreed-upon standards and then challenge them to apply that knowledge.

Please inspire your kids to pursue objective truth relentlessly. Assignments such as this will nurture this essential disposition!

How to Make Your Students Flip in Minutes

Listen to “77-Flipgrid is a Powerful Little Tool that’s a Blast…Starring Aharon Rockwell.output” on Spreaker.

When evaluating a new tech tool, I must be able to use it within five minutes, or I just bag it.

If I can’t figure it out by then, my students will be lost.

I was conducting a PD session in Ft. Worth this past summer. A young lady called me over and said, Have you heard of Flipgrid and if so, have you used it? My answer was, No and No.

I made a mental note to try it when the school year started, but I remember thinking, It has to pass my ease of use test. Eight weeks into the school year, I finally got around to it. I’m glad I did!

Flipgrid is a cool way to encourage student’s voice. You record a video question and then kids record a 1 to 90-second video on their smartphones or Chromebooks in response.

Learn about more digital learning strategies

I mastered this cool new tech tool in about three minutes. My students figured it out in two.

This tool is great in terms of providing a creative vehicle for student expression. My friend Chrissy Romano warned that ostentatious presentation tools like Flipgrid might unravel introverted kids.

My response, which Chrissy liked, by the way, was to take anxiety away by permitting students who were uncomfortable to interview someone.

My first Flipgrid was pure practice. The students were prompted to ask Mr. Sturtevant a question.

This accomplished two objectives: It got them accustomed to the platform and they learned a lot about their teacher, which makes me more approachable.

My second Flipgrid was powerful. I challenged students to interview a friend, family member, coworker, or classmate. They asked their subject if they knew a Muslim and is Islam a religion of peace.

Aharon Rockwell

Aharon Rockwell is a freshman and in my Global Studies class. He knew I had a podcast and approached me about being a guest. I jumped at his offer and I’m glad I did. He’s a great guest, who explains the power of this tool, in the episode embedded above.

The Problem

Student are limited in terms of expression.

The Solution

Flipgrid will give your kids a new expressive canvas to paint upon…and it’s a lot of fun.

What you can do Tomorrow

  • Watch this brief tutorial from Tina Zita.

  • To become familiar with this tool, create your own grid and coerce your family and friends into posting.
  • Prompt your students to use Flipgrid in a trial by challenging them to ask you a basic question…see my first Flipgrid.
  • Prompt students with a question that gauges community attitudes. This will be an interview where introverted students can breathe a sigh of relief. Check out this Flipgrid for ideas.

Flipgrid is a cool tool that’s easy for kids to master. It’s also a lot of fun!

Battlevant and Sturtevingo

Your Students Will Love Battlevant and Sturtevingo

Listen to “68-BattleVant and SturteVingo…Two Zero Tech Ways to Engage Kids” on Spreaker.

A great way to engage students is to just have some fun with content. Accomplish this by mimicking two iconic American board games…Battleship and Bingo.

Certainly, most of your kids have played, or at least are familiar with both. I reworked both games for my classroom. Of course, I renamed them Battlevant and Sturtevingo. I encourage you to create your own labels for your versions of these activities.

Any time there’s material you’d like to review, Sturtevingo and Battlevant are wonderful engaging options that can be employed frequently. Battlevant is a team game.

I’ll demonstrate it as a two team contest, but it could be used with multiple teams. In Sturtevingo, every man and woman is on their own.

Two team Battlevant is played in the following way:

  • Divide the class into 2 teams
  • Secretly assign students in Team 1 a number from 1-20. Select 5 numbers as misses and assign the other 15 numbers. If there are less than 15 students in Team 1, you can award extra numbers to various kids. Repeat the same process for Team 2 with numbers 21-40.
  • Prior to the contest, project the game board.

Battlevant Game Board

Team 1 Team 2
1 2 3 4 5

6 7 8 9 10

11 12 13 14 15

16 17 18 19 20

21 22 23 24 25

26 27 28 29 30

31 32 33 34 35

36 37 38 39 40

  • Ask individual students questions about the material. If they get it right, they can select a number from the other team’s range of numbers. (Team 1 kids will select numbers from 21 to 40)
  • If they successfully uncover a student’s number, you cheerfully announce that Johnny or Janey has been sunk and put an X through their number. If a student guesses a number that is a miss, circle that number.
  • Johnny or Janey, if sunk, must then slightly turn their desks to demonstrate their damaged status. They may not answer general questions, but I like to issue “Back from the Dead” questions periodically to keep the sunk students engaged.
  • The contest ends when the questions are exhausted, or all the kids on one side are sunk.
Hacking Engagement Again

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Sturtevingo is a game that takes a bit more prep, but is easy to execute. Create at least 25 matching questions. I like to create 30 because it makes obtaining Sturtevingos even more challenging. The first portion of the period, students are working individually, or in small groups, matching concepts with descriptions like below:

  1. ______ Karma
  2. ______ Dharma
  3. ______ Khyber Pass
  4. ______ Aryans
  5. ______ Bhagavad Gita

a. Northwestern passageway for invasion and migration

b. The Hindu concept of duty

c. The law of action and reaction

d. The Hindu scripture that describes and promotes Dharma and Karma

e. Invaders, or migrants, from the west that transformed the culture of the Subcontinent

After kids have answered as many as they can, or the allotted time has expired, handout a blank Sturtevingo board:

Students will then populate the board with number letter matches. Encourage students to place the matches in a random fashion. That way, each student’s Sturtevingo board will be unique.

The matches must be accurate to count. If a student put the letter A with number 1 when the answer should be C, they cannot be awarded the square if “1C” is called. Once kids have their game boards arranged, play commences in the following fashion:

  • The teacher asks a question from the list. If a student guesses correctly, “I think letter C goes with question 1” all the students that have the 1C match on their board can place an X on that square. You write 1C on the board.
  • The student that answered correctly then walks up to the teacher and subtly points to the next question they want asked. I frequently limit the number of times any student can answer to share the wealth.
  • Play continues till a student get 5 Xs in a row.

  • Unlike regular bingo however, don’t instruct kids to clear the board after the first Sturtevingo. Just keep asking questions and announcing number letter matches. It’s even okay if some kids get 2 Sturtevingos.
  • I like to up the intensity by rewarding Sturtevingo winners. It could be classroom privileges, a free homework coupon, or any coveted reward you can think of.

The Problem:

Teachers struggle making dull content engaging.

The Solution:

Play Battlevant, or Sturtevingo.

What you can do Tomorrow:

  • Create a number of questions based on the content. If you’re going to play Sturtevingo, make the questions matching.
  • Decide if you want teams…Battlevant, or all men and women for themselves…Sturtevingo.
  • Craft some additional questions (trivial and or interesting) that can be thrown out to supplement the material. These could be used to engage students sunk in Battlevant, or could spice up the competition of either game.
Hack Learning Series on Amazon

Click image to look inside every Hack Learning Series book

These games are a way to take dull content and make it fun and engaging.

Why Context Is Key to Engagement

Listen to “67-Context is Key to Engagement…let ReadWriteThink Help” on Spreaker.

I teach history. Even as a boy, I was a history nerd. Recently, I was enjoying the company of friends at a party. My buddies all have college degrees and are successful in their chosen professions. A historical topic surfaced.

I decided to conduct a little wine-inspired experiment. I just listened to them pontificate about a subject I knew a lot about. This is generally not my disposition when vino veritas is factored in. What took place was fascinating.

While my friends had a working understanding of the topic, their background chronology was out of whack which, of course, did a serious number on their understanding.

If intelligent adults struggle with context on what would seem common historical knowledge, it would be foolhardy to assume that k-12 students, aside from the budding history nerds, would have a clue about the order of events.

Contextual ignorance does not just apply to events, but also processes.

Students in math, science, and language arts must understand many processes like the quadratic equation, the scientific method, and MLA citation. Chronological awareness with such concepts breeds confidence, which is crucial to engagement.

Let’s inspire some of that awareness with a cool virtual timeline builder.

Hacking Engagement Again

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Last semester, my World Civ class was embarking on a unit addressing 20th Century Chinese history. My kids knew virtually nothing about this important topic. I decided the first step in this academic journey would be for my kids to create virtual timelines.

Here’s the prompt I gave students, which can easily be altered to match concepts or processes in other subjects:

  • I gave them a starting point (The Boxer Rebellion 1899) and an ending point (The Communist Victory 1949).
  • I challenged them to plot seven important events in between.
  • I required that each event include a title, the year it took place, an explanation as to why the event was important, and a public domain or creative commons image. Imagine some of the cool imagery students could find for quadratic equations and the scientific method!

The Problem

Contextual ignorance undermines engagement.

The Solution

Challenge students to build virtual timelines with ReadWriteThink.

What you can do Tomorrow

  • Create your own timeline on ReadWriteThink
  • Select an important topic
  • Formulate small discussion groups

When students are able to place events or processes in context, they become confident and engaged academic explorers.