Hit, Stay, or Bust- What does it really mean to take risks in the classroom?

Should I hit or stay? These are questions that come to mind when playing Blackjack, a game that revolves around risk-taking. With that question comes the hopes of a big win, but at the cost of a potential big loss.

Recently, a colleague and I co-presented on risk-taking and decided to hook the audience from the get go with a quick, simple game of Blackjack. Like any good planner, we intentionally stacked the deck with cards that call for someone to hit, split, and stay. After one round, we paused and asked the players why they made the decision they did. Their responses could not have been better! First response, “I hit because of past experiences.” Bingo! That comment led us into asking her, “So you hit because you have played Blackjack before and you knew that the game called for you to hit on that particular hand? You knew that your chances were good?” “Yes!” “Would you say that students in our classrooms choose to take risks, or not to take risks for that matter, based on past experiences?” “Absolutely!” “So would you say they are more likely to take a risk again if the first time goes well?” “Yes.”

Player 2 had a perfect hand that called for them to split their cards, but they did not in fact split so we asked, “Why did you not split?! You had the perfect hand to split!” She responds with, “Well unlike player 1, I don’t have experience in Blackjack so I have no clue what I am doing,” insert a small giggle here. “Aha! So would you say that our students are less willing to take risks in the classroom if risks are not encouraged?” “Yes, I would agree with that!”

Naturally these conversations quickly led us into a debrief of why students are apprehensive to take risks inside of our classrooms and what must exist within a classroom for students to want to take risks.

Why are students afraid to take risks?

  • fear of failure
  • fear of not looking “perfect” on their resume for colleges
  • society (You get a trophy! You get a trophy!

Let’s talk about society. How many of you see this image and your blood boils a touch?


Over the past decade, society has begun to think that creating a life filled with bliss and no obstacles, is just what their child needs in order to succeed. Lawnmower parents, as they have been coined, mow down any obstacle, or struggle that stands in their child’s way thinking that they are providing a better life for their child. They take away any chance to teach grit, growth and learning from failure.

Failure. Let’s talk about that word. When a student fails a math test, fails at turning in an assignment on time, fails in the science lab, what is the outcome? Many times the outcome is that it was the teacher’s fault. “You gave my child an F!” When in fact, the outcome should be the opportunity for the student to rework the problem, to catch his/her mistake, to find the solution to the science lab and truly understand the concept behind it. Failure, I would argue, is truly when learning happens. When our brain absorbs the process and imprints it into our memory.

Safety, comfort, and space – 3 things that must exist in our classrooms in order for our students to not only feel encouraged and supported to take risks, but to then take the actual risk. Our students must know that when they fail we will respond with, “What do you think you could do differently next time?” Or, “Wow! I am so proud of your efforts and I can see your thinking. What can we change next time to have a better outcome?” Instead of, “You’re wrong! That is not how I showed you to solve this.” We, as their support system, must create an environment built around safety, comfort and provide space for them to fail forward.

What examples of risk-taking happen within your classroom?

Inspiring Inquiry with “Fakebook”

We have all heard of (and more than likely used) Facebook. Right? Well, why not adapt Facebook to the classroom in order to inspire students to inquire and think creatively in an authentic manner?

Our 6th grade World History teacher did just that. He was looking for a way to have his students research and share information about a well-known person from history in a truly authentic and higher level manner- something other than your typical history research paper. I shared with him a Fakebook template that was created in Google slides (note: I did not create this template.). Students simply make a copy of the template (pictured below) and input the information that goes along with the person they researched.

*Suggestion: Encourage students to delete one textbox/image at a time. If they delete all of the information at once then they will lose the skeleton of the template and it becomes very confusing. Our workflow looked like this: delete JKF’s image, insert new image. Delete JFK’s name and description, input new information. And so on until you have created your own fakebook.

Inspiring inquiry and creative thinking:

In your typical research project, students research and basically regurgitate the information in paper or presentation form. But, do they really think at a higher level? Do they understand why that person’s life occurred in the manner that it occurred? By having the students research and then create the Fakebook, they were forced to not only research, but to truly absorb and understand the information. How can you write a post about what that person is doing in real-time, or post a picture of that person’s group of friends if they did not absorb and understand that person’s life? The Fakebook project truly took learning to a higher level of learning in which the students truly had to own their learning.

To use the Fakebook template that we used (we did not create this template), click here. To then create your own fakebook, follow the steps below:

  1. Click file
  2. Click make a copy
  3. Rename the new copy with an appropriate name/title

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GarageBand in a Math Class


After completing my Apple Teacher Certification (you can read more about our school’s journey to becoming 100% Apple Teacher certified here), I quickly recognized how under utilized GarageBand is in classrooms. GarageBand is a great way to allow students a chance to be creative, have a voice, reflect, create projects, and so much more. As my teammate and I were prepping to teach fractions, percents, and decimals, we were discussing how we wanted to provide some type of experience for our students that would relate directly to the real-world. After all, fractions, percents and decimals are truly all around us. GarageBand came to mind as an interactive, fun, and most importantly, easy/not time consuming way to accomplish this.

Objective: For students to understand that fractions, percents, and decimals exist all around us and that converting from fractions, percents, and decimals is an important skill to master.

Project: Radio Advertisement

Students were asked to create a 15-30 second radio advertisement in which they persuaded listeners to shop at their store.  Below, you will see the directions we provided our students with in order to accomplish this task. (You can borrow our Google doc to use with your students by clicking here and making a copy.)


Radio Advertisement Template and Script

Calling all salespeople and shoppers! You are going to create and produce your own radio advertisement for a product that is on sale. Before you start recording, you must plan out what you are selling, how much it cost originally, what percent (%) the discount will be, and what you are going to say. Fill out the template below as your planning guide. Write your script on the back. Make sure it is written neatly and grammatically correct. We will review your template and script before you begin recording your advertisement on GarageBand.

Who are you in this advertisement and where do you work?

What product are you selling?

What is the original cost (the 100%) of this product?

What percent (%) discount are you taking off?

What is the final cost of the product after the discount has been applied? *You will NOT say this in your advertisement, but we want to make sure you know.

After the students answered the above questions and wrote out their script, we gave them a quick “How to use GarageBand voice recorder” tutorial.

*Helpful hint that we learned the hard way… Be sure to turn the metronome off when you record as it is distracting. Also, GarageBand voice recorder naturally restricts you to 8 bars. The students were getting very frustrated because it kept cutting them off only a few seconds into their recording. To change the bars, click the + sign in the top right corner within voice recorder, click Section A, and turn on Automatic. By turning on Automatic, it will record until you tell it to stop.

Before the students recorded, we listened to a few different radio ad commercials as inspiration and discussed the art of persuasion. When students recorded, we had them mention their name, store, product, original cost, and percent discount. We did not have them mention the final price of the item after the discount. Why? We wanted to take the project one step further and involve their classmates. After all recordings were completed, we listened to each student’s recordings (one per day until complete) and as the students listened, they had to take the original cost and percent discount and solve for the new price.

The project was a big hit! The students were creative and loved the freedom. They even mentioned how much more fun this was than a worksheet. Of course! And did I mention how much we loved it because of the simplicity of it? Projects can be daunting because they end up stealing so much time away from our classroom. We had the students write their script and complete the worksheet for homework one night. We spent about 30 minutes in class recording the ads and then about 5 minutes per day listening to each recording.

Here is a GarageBand sample from one of our students.

Here is a link to our rubric that we used when we graded the assignment.

Wonder Wall

How do we ensure that students are going beyond the “I need to learn this because my teacher told me to learn it,” and into the, “I want to learn how to do this because I can see how I will use this in everyday life,” mentality? One way to ensure that students are moving into the “I want to learn this stage,” or the “I need to learn this so that I can accomplish this specific task,” is to expose our students to as many authentic and real-world connections and experiences that relate to the objectives at hand, as possible. With that said, what does that look like in an elementary math class?
My teammate and I were brainstorming ideas on how we could truly get our 4th graders to see that percents, decimals, and fractions are around them constantly. We use the knowledge taught in our percents, decimals, and fractions units more often than they know, but they still seem to struggle with the concepts. We wanted a way to connect the real-world and everyday life to our classroom. We have had a wall up in our classroom titled “Wonder Wall” with each students’ picture and a speech bubble for some time now. But, as school began and lessons started pouring out, we struggled with how we wanted to utilize this wall. Finally, after digging around in our Everyday Math curriculum, we discovered the idea of creating a Living Museum in your classroom. Essentially the idea is that with each unit you ask your students to bring in examples of math around them that relates to the current unit of study. We decided to combine the Living Museum with our Wonder Wall. So far, it has not only been a hit, but a great way to connect our world with what is being taught within our classroom.

Creativity Takes Courage

A few years ago I joined the blogging nation by creating a blogger account. Visit my blog and read over 300 posts/ideas at www.riseandread.blogspot.com .

I have decided to move platforms from Blogger to Word Press in hopes of finding the best way to create resources for others.

Why blog?

I blog as a way to connect with the world and let others have a glimpse at many great things that are happening on our campus, as well as a way to, hopefully, inspire others to try new things.

As the former president to the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) discussed in one of his blogposts, there is a need to ensure that we, as educators, find ways to allow our students to act as 21st century learners by incorporating the 6 Cs into our classrooms:

  • Creativity
  • Character
  • Collaboration
  • Cosmopolitanism
  • Critical Thinking
  • Communication


As the image above states, “Creativity takes courage.” My hopes and dreams are that this website will inspire others to teach creatively and take risks alongside other educators. Steal our ideas, share them with the world, make them your own. I say steal “our” ideas and not “my” ideas because I will be the first to admit that many of the ideas that come to fruition within classrooms on our campus are ideas that came about due to a group of educators collaborating and creating. Just as we ask our students to take risks, we too must be willing to take risks. With great risks comes great success, and that is what this website is all about. So, I encourage you to read my posts and make these ideas your own by tweaking them to make them come to life and be a success in your own classroom. And speaking of success, are all of the ideas mentioned throughout this website success stories from the get go? No. That is why we speak honestly, reflect, and create solutions to grow. Join us on this journey of collaboration!



We Learn Best By Doing

Why do professional developments, in-services, conferences, you name it, tend to flop? What are they missing and what can we do as educators to better utilize our time during these gatherings?

It never fails. Leading up to an in-service day you hear grumblings of, “Ugh. I wish I could just have one more day off.” Or, “What I wouldn’t give to just work in my room all day instead of attend those dreaded meetings.” It always pains me to hear these comments, even though many times I completely relate. School leaders tend to spend their time pushing new initiatives, going over logistics, but very little time modeling the initiatives, or sharing best practices.

In A.J. Juliani’s “5 Reasons Why Teachers Learn Best From Other Teachers,” blogpost, Juliani states,

In fact, when I look back at my most valuable learning experiences as a teacher, they are almost always with colleagues and other teachers, instead of with an administrator or consultant or presenter.

I mentioned in an earlier post (read about it here) that our school hosted a conference recently. As we were planning for the conference, we knew that teachers learn best from other teachers, as Juliani discusses, so we knew it was imperative that we plan a conference that is centered around teachers leading other teachers. Hence why the idea of fishbowl style learning came about. At the conference, I co-presented with a fellow teacher on “Authentic Learning and Creating a Collaborative Culture” during one of our general sessions. You can read my blogpost about the conference itself by clicking here.

During our presentation, we knew the importance of not only sharing best practices, ideas, and tech uses in the classroom, but we knew we had to involve our audience from the get go. That is what we do in a classroom setting, right? So why not present the way we teach our students? To begin, we pulled the audience in right away by having them take a Socrative quiz in which we posed 3 scenario based true/false questions. For example, “In a 4th grade math class, the students are learning about perimeter and area. To demonstrate the students’ understanding of the concept, the children work in groups to construct a dog house using cardboard. True/False: This is an example of a truly authentic lesson.” (Looking back, we shouldn’t have made the questions true/false. We should have altered the options to a “strongly agree, disagree…” style question.) After the participants answered the questions, we then opened up a discussion on why we agreed or didn’t agree that the scenarios were or were not authentic. This then led into a discussion of professional developments and how they tend to not be led in authentic manners. Throughout the presentation, we continued to engage the audience, discussed how we took a traditional novel study and revamped it, and then ended with having the audience share ideas of how in the past they have revamped lessons to make them more authentic, and shared future ideas.

Upon reflecting on our presentation, where did we succeed?

  • involving the audience from the start and throughout the presentation 
  • sharing our ideas on how to build authentic lessons 
  • began a discussion on the best tech tools we utilize frequently when it comes to authenticity
  • candy – candy always works with kids or adults to get them join the conversation 🙂
What could we change for the future?
  • model a lesson rather than simply talk about it
Moving forward, I would like to focus on finding a way to have the audience actually “do” something/build something/create something in addition to them being a part of the conversation. Since our presentation was built around the novel unit that we revamped, could we have had the audience work on a part of that project so that they could have actually seen it in action? I will keep pondering this thought for now. 
If you would like to view our google slides presentation, feel free to click here