Sidewalk Chalk!

Creative Start of the Year Ideas from Play Like a Pirate author, Quinn Rollins

Play Like a Pirate author, Quinn Rollins, is a master of bringing fun and creativity to the curriculum. He recently posted on his fantastic website some great start of the year ideas using sidewalk chalk and he has been gracious enough to allow me to re-post it here.

I love ideas that incorporate multiple #tlap hooks. I notice the Picasso Hook, The Craft Store Hook, The Safari Hook, and the Kinesthetic Hook just to name a few. Enjoy Quinn’s guest post…then go straight to Amazon or Barnes & Noble and get his book for even more amazing ways to bring fun and creativity into education.

Here’s Quinn:

School has either just started for you or is about to start soon and the planning for the new year has ramped up. One of the great things about fall is that for a lot of us, fall is a last respite of good weather before snow comes in. Something I always try to do is find a way to use the outdoors while you’ve got it. And while the P.E. teacher in your building is probably doing that, there’s no reason that you as a history, math, language arts, or music teacher can’t use your school grounds, too.

One of the easiest and cheapest and funnest (yeah, funnest) things to break out in the first weeks of school is some sidewalk chalk. This isn’t a new or unique idea. There are a million ideas on Pinterest and edu-sites and even Crayola has a step-by-step lesson plan on Outdoor Geography. That’s a good one to look at for some best practices before you take kids outside and turn them loose. I love the idea of doing this in the first few days of the school year, when you’re setting the tone not just for your classes, but for the entire campus. Decorating the pavement outside your building is a bold way of doing that. We see this often with elementary schools…but if you’re a secondary teacher who just wants to spring your kids from the 7 hours in their desks they’re going to have in that first week of school, do it. Middle school and high school kids love doing this, too.
Some of my favorite ideas for some core subjects:
Social Studies
Have students create a timeline of the span of what you’ll be teaching in a history class this year. Break them up into groups, with each group finding the five most important events in that period.
Language Arts
Students create an alternate cover for their favorite book.
Have students choose a favorite scientist or invention, and not just illustrate it, but include their feelings about that invention in visual form. Be prepared for a lot of heart-eyed emojis.
For elementary kids this one is easy — anything from simple number lines to basic arithmetic to fractions. For middle school and high school…well…that’s all on y’all. My math kind of fell apart after counting mittens and slices of pie.
Have students illustrate their favorite song, or write out and decorate a favorite lyric.
You guys should have better ideas than anything I could come up with. Ya hippies.
Foreign Language
Have kids find the happiest word they can, and make word art out of it. For German (my personal favorite and most beautiful of languages) I’d go for SCHMETTERLING (butterfly). 

Why not start the school year with communicable diseas–yeah, okay. That’s a terrible idea. I’d start with healthy habits, and go from there.


Start the school year with positivity. With messages that welcome kids back,
and get them in the mindset that it’s going to be a great school year, that have some pieces of content, that are something better and more exciting than reading your class disclosure and syllabus that first day.


Principals — most of us have those (often terrible)(not yours, if you’re reading this) pre-first day of school faculty meetings. Take a 30 minute break from the paperwork and have your faculty write messages of positivity and hope and welcome. What’s the thing they’re most excited about this year? Have them get it on the school grounds. Remind us all that we have the best job in the world. Because we do. And it’s starting up again.

Quinn’s Amazon Picks
It’s Dave again! Thanks to Quinn for the guest post. Follow him on Twitter at @jedikermit and tweet your ideas and thoughts to the #PlayLAP hashtag.
I wrote a blog, The Reese’s Effect, about Quinn’s book. Check it out!

What Will Students Remember?

Powerful guest post & challenge from Shattering the Perfect #TeacherMyth author, Aaron Hogan

As we get ready to head into this coming school year, it is so critical to keep our mightier purpose as educators in the forefront of our minds. It’s so easy to get distracted and overwhelmed by everything that competes for our attention in the hustle and bustle and sometimes sheer chaos of kicking off a year. That’s why I’m excited to share this post by Aaron Hogan that will help us keep our eyes on the prize…this business is about having a positive long-term impact on students’ lives and on building powerful relationships with kids. We are honored to have published Aaron’s wonderful book, Shattering the Perfect Teacher Myth: 6 Truths That Will Help You Thrive as an Educator. It has already received rave reviews from all corners and has dispelled many of the false beliefs about our profession that hold so many of us back.

Here is Aaron’s post…and please take on the challenge he throws down at the end!!


What do you want students to remember after their time in your classroom when they leave?

Not at finals. 

Not in June when the year is over.

Think further down the road.


You’ve poured your heart into the school year week in and week out (including plenty of weekends and likely even a few personal days off) to grade and provide feedback, create unforgettable experiences for kids, and do everything you can to make school amazing in your classroom. In three or four years, what do you really want them to remember about their time in your classroom that makes it all worth it?

Take a minute and write down your answer. Seriously. Take a few seconds to think about it. What will matter from the time you have invested in your students in 3-4 years? Don’t keep going until you’ve thought about this and written something down.



I’ve really enjoyed asking teachers this question lately. I love hearing what they say about this. It’s still just so encouraging to hear teacher share what they ultimately want their students to have learned. Here’s what some have said:

I want my students to leave with an increased love for learning.

I want my students to leave confident that they have learned how to learn.

I want my students to leave knowing they are readers and they are writers.

I want my students to leave knowing they can change the world.

I could go all day listening to teachers answer this question.

Unfortunately, this perspective can get lost in our day to day work. All educators know we have little choice about many of the constraints that are put on us. I’ve yet to come across a teacher who is asking for a standardized test, a finite budget, only so much time, and a limited amount of energy. And that’s only the start of it. I get it, and I can’t solve that.

What I do know it that those constraints aren’t stopping many amazing educators from still accomplishing their ultimate goals for their students.

Even the elimination of all of those constraints–a world with no standardized tests, all the dollars, all the time, and unlimited energy–would still leave us with the need to address one other issue. It doesn’t cost you anything to solve it other than time, and you do it all during school hours.

When you start in with a lofty goal like “I want my students to leave with an increased love for learning,” the toughest part isn’t getting the majority of your class across it. It’s not getting the ones you naturally connect with there. It’s probably not getting the kid who needs the greatest amount of your time there either. My suspicion is that it is the quiet ones–the one who are nearly invisible in your classroom–who are the toughest. They’re probably compliant, competent, and just under the radar enough that you don’t have to notice them a lot. These kids who seem almost invisible in your classroom, they’re the last ones we connect with.

When I think back to my initial question, my favorite things teachers consistently shared aligned with Maya Angelou’s assertion: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”


Students want to be known. All people do. It’s a little scary to be known sometimes, but we all still have that desire. Ithelps us know that we’re safe, that we’re not alone. When we send students out with a certain feeling about our class, it’s nearly always rooted in how they felt when they were learning with us.

It is our great privilege to serve a great number of students (sometimes more than we think we can even handle), so it is our responsibility to get to know those students.

By no means does that excuse us from those constraints that we mentioned earlier. But what this does do is clarify a purpose for the margin that we do have at school.

Here’s my challenge: During the first month of school, learn three things about each and every one of your students that have absolutely nothing to do with their academic abilities.

Spend a little time getting to know each and every student you will serve this year. Yes, it will be easier for some educators than others. But if you have to make a concession, learn less about each student or give yourself more time to pull this off. (Whatever you do, please do not simply opt to just learn about a smaller percentage of your students.)

Think back to the last students you served: What do you know about the quietest kid in the room?

When I ask myself that question, I always knew at least something about the student, but it was always less than I wish I knew. I wish I had done something different.

I’m a big believer in the idea that change comes from action. With that in mind, before you leave this post, do three things for me:

1) Tweet out your answer to the “What do you want students to remember…” question with the #TeacherMyth and #TLAP hashtags. Educators need to see what you really want your students to remember in a few years. (Yes, YOU!)

2) Put a reminder in your phone for the day you go back to school that says, “It’s time to make a plan to learn three things about each student you serve.” (Put another one on October 1st that says, “How much do you know about the quietest kid in class?”)

3) Identify two people on your campus who you can bring into this little project. It’s not always easy to find ways to connect. Don’t plan to go the journey alone.

Most of all, thanks for serving students so faithfully. That’s the work that is truly going to make students remember what matters from their time with you. If you’ve made it this far into this post, my best is that you are the kind of educator who makes an incredible impact on students. That is work that literally changes the world. Thanks so much for giving of yourself to make school amazing for students! Good luck getting to know them all!

Aaron Hogan

Thank you, Aaron!! The challenge has been set!! I hope you enjoyed Aaron’s post and if you did…I know you’ll
absolutely love his new book, Shattering the Perfect Teacher Myth. you can find it right here on Amazon or right here at Barnes & Noble. Let us know if you pick it up and join the conversation at #TeacherMyth!

Create A School-Wide COMIC-CON

A Cross-Age,Cross-Curricular Extravaganza!

As a San Diego resident, it is impossible to escape the incredible force of nature that is COMIC-CON. Each year the downtown area comes alive with super heroes, villains, zombies, comic book aficionados, and some of the strangest (read that as awesome) cast of characters you could possibly imagine. It is spectacular. Getting tickets? Not so easy! It sells out in literally seconds.

One of the essential questions of Teach Like a Pirate is, “Do you have any lessons you could sell tickets to?” I always encourage educators to look at events like COMIC-CON with the mindset of “How can I use that?” I was blown away by some Twitter posts I saw from Barbara Deeley, a 4th grade teacher from Massachusetts, and I asked her if she would write a guest-post for my blog. She graciously agreed and I am including it below. I love how she has taken something that she is passionate about, and that many students are passionate about, and woven it into a school-wide, cross-age, cross-curricular experience. Notice the great connections to character building, writing, reading, speaking, creativity, math, collaboration…and more! I think it is spectacular.

Here is Barbara…enjoy!

Somewhere around year 23 of teaching literacy to my fourth grade students, I finally began to follow my own advice: Write what you know; draw upon what you love. Keeping kids engaged all the way through day 180, particularly in writing, was growing increasingly difficult.  We wrote memory books and survival guides for the upcoming classes, but neither really captivated or motivated the students. They still groaned when it came time to work on their projects.

The conversation around what to do began, as it usually does, with some questions:

What did I love as a 10 year old?

What do I love now?

And then most importantlyWhat if?

The answers were simple: I loved comics when I was a kid. I’d go to the newsstand every Saturday to get Sixlets and comic books. I would watch Batman and Robin every day after school and spun around in my backyard screaming, “Oh, mighty Isis!”  I still love any superhero themed comic or movie, and I regularly grumble that I have never been to Comic Con. What if we built on our existing fantasy writing unit (already a kid favorite) and created our own Comic Con?

We begin in late May, reading and analyzing comic books. We look for the language, the format, characters, how the writing is different from what we have done so far in class. We watch episodes of the 1966 Batman and Robin series for plot examples, onomatopoeia, and dramatic language. We gather lists of possible superpowers and watch the series of You Tube videos by Bruce Blitz in which he documents the steps to creating a comic book.

Additionally, the comic theme extends into reading and math. Students create scale drawings of superheroes, which are used to decorate the gym. Reading classes are spent meeting in book clubs reading superhero themed books. (I highly recommend Powerless by Matthew Cody)

During this week of research, we are also brainstorming using guiding questions: Who is your hero? What powers does he/she have? Sidekick? Kryptonite factor? etc. When we have a rough idea of our story based on the answers to those questions, we create the cover. Students are anxious to see their heroes on paper.This year I brought in my daughter, an aspiring comic author/artist. She showed the class some basics about how shapes can evoke heroic or villainous traits, and she helped them refine their sketches.

The next step is to write the narrative. This year was the first time we put the drafting slides on Google Classroom. When the pages are complete, we print them out, illustrate, add speech and thought bubbles (another mini lesson), ink, color, and bind.



While all of this is happening in class, I meet with my former 6th grade student volunteers a few mornings a week. They help create all of the photo booths for Comic Con.


Former fifth grade students also get involved as peer editors.


The day of Comic Con each student dresses as the hero he/she has created. They stand behind their chairs, preferably in a heroic pose, and wait until someone pushes the red button.

Each superhero prepares a speech about his/her identity, powers, archenemy, and the crime that took place.Comic books are on the seat of the chair.

Classes are rotated through the photo booths, which are staffed by the sixth grade volunteers who distribute and collect the props  and take the pictures.

This event has become tradition at our school; this year marked our seventh Comic Con.  It not only helps the kids stay engaged throughout those difficult last days, but it helps keep me motivated as well!

Barbara Deeley

Grade 4

Howe Manning School

Middleton, MA

So what do you think? How can you take inspiration from this post to create something amazing at your school? We would love it if you would add your thoughts on what Barbara and her friends have created in the comments below and/or tweet to us using the #tlap hashtag and mention @burgessdave and @deeleygrade4

Thank you!