March is Literacy Month

by KellyAnn Bonnell, MA

There are few characters in American Pop Culture as iconic as those created by Theodore Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss. From Horton to the Lorax, the characters and their stories, have captured the hearts and minds of children across many generations.

However Dr. Seuss books are more than simple entertainment. They introduce important concepts and phonics skills to early readers. This makes Dr. Seuss books a staple in almost every K-3 classroom in the country. Dr. Seuss is so beloved by teachers that the National Education Association chose his birthday, March 2 as Read Across America day and March is literacy month.

We at Pop Goes the Classroom take the celebration of all things Dr. Seuss very seriously. Last year we hosted the “Get Caught Reading After School Challenge”. We didn’t get as many pictures of reading with goats as we would have liked.

This year we took a little bit of a different tack and worked with kindergarten students at a Title 1 school to create mosiacs.

Thing Mosaic  Hat Mosiac

We used beans, rice and noodles to create images from the beloved children’s classic “The Cat in the Hat”.


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Popping in Kindergarten

By KellyAnn Bonnell, MA

It’s always a challenge to incorporate pop culture in meaningful ways in the Kindergarten and First Grade Classroom. The shows young kids identify with can lead to a whole host of behavior problems that can be eliminated by not introducing the characters in the classroom.

However, if used correctly, pop culture can become a powerful reward for kinder and first grade students.

I try to do this during phonics since we are able to access Youtube to play videos on the smart board. My typical morning playlist includes:

The Mission Impossible Countdown Clock – To gather them to the carpet

Head Shoulders Knees and Toes -Then I like to get them moving a little

Then we roll into Phonics

Right now I’m using the Jumping ABC Song to help them find steady beat.

From there we move into the Sight Word Rap

And on to a little Jack Harmann for the Letter of the Week

Now none of this is particularly pop culture related unless you count the idea of helping kids use Youtube for nonfiction explorations.

However if the kids remain on task and engaged they can earn one of the following:

Vowel Bat – vowel sound practice

Super Hero Phonics Song – this one is a little weak so check it out first

Batman Read Aloud – this is a batman story

Then we move into the regular lesson plans.

Using pop culture as a reward for being on task is a powerful incentive. It is something children look forward to and work toward and is a healthier option than a treasure box.

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Handling Holiday Break Camps

by KellyAnn Bonnell, MA

As teachers return to classrooms in January, OST professionals are brushing off the glitter from holiday break camps and shifting their thoughts to spring break camp and summer camp.

This winter break, we at Pop Goes the Classroom, went to Hogwarts for the Holidays and we had a great time. Wand making is such a great maker experience for kids who are neck deep in the Harry Potter stories. And with the help of our polymath Jenn Czepiel we’ve discovered that basic fencing stance and moves work well for wand techniques during defense against the dark arts classes.

These kinds of camps are all about the costumes and props. It’s about knowing who Headmaster Bonnell  is in the world of Harry Potter and understanding the easiest character to create is yourself. My wardrobe is carefully selected for days at Hogwarts camp. The right black dress, the right hood, the right hat. They lend to the experience for the kids.  It’s about the armor and the potions kit and the magical owl. It’s the movie soundtrack in the background.

The little things make such a difference.



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National Sesame Street Day

On November 10, 1969 Sesame Street premiered on American television. Its curriculum had been piloted right here in Phoenix at Arizona’s oldest child care center, Phoenix Day. It was an innovative idea that children could learn watching a television show. By the 1970’s 1/3 of America’s preschool children were watching the show and learning. They learned how to count. They learned the alphabet. They learned about friendship and tolerance. 2016 launched its 46th season.

In many ways, Sesame Street is the reason programs like Pop Goes the Classroom can and do exist.  Three generations have been raised learning through popular culture. Intentional high quality program that ensures that there is something to learn. It is a model that started with public television and transferred to children’s television channels like Disney, Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network during the hey day of cable television. Today we see the same approach being used across all media platforms.

Thank you to Joan Ganz Cooney. Thank you to Children’s Television Workshop. Thank you to Sesame Street and Phoenix Day. You’ve laid the foundation for the work. We are proud to take the torch and carry it forward.

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Kidscreen: Kids have a non-fiction addiction. Now what?

After discovering just how much kids are drawn to non-fiction digital content, research firm Insight Kids shows how marketers and content creators can get in on the action.
October 25, 2016


Lose track among the digits? That’s more than five billion, also known as the number of views, as of this writing, for tutorial videos posted by stampylonghead, YouTube’s reigning Minecraft monarch.


Stampy’s videos are funny, informative, and comprehensive. They give kids everything they need to become experts in an area that they are passionate about.

Yet Stampy’s videos are only one infinitesimal speck in the non-fiction video universe online, a universe very much fueled by the curiosity of kids worldwide. Because kids are in the throes of a non-fiction addiction right now.

What is non-fiction addiction?

In a nutshell, it’s child-directed learning, where kids are in control of the pace, content and format of their explorations. Building on the school-based trend of child-centered learning, kids fully take the reins outside the classroom via their personal laptops, tablets and phones. The interfaces are simple to use, and parents generally let kids roam and choose as they please, within basic parameters of appropriateness and safety.

To a large extent, kids are choosing non-fiction. According to the data from Insight Kids’ recent survey, Kids of Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow:


So what does this non-fiction look like?

Non-fiction that kids engage with takes many forms, going beyond watching YouTube videos to searching on Google Maps and Google Earth, exploring Wikipedia, and asking Siri the answers to questions that come up at the family dinner table. Common video formats offered up by companies include tutorials, reality programs, ads/trailers, behind-the-scenes footage, music videos, “making of” content and cast interviews.

In addition, much of the non-fiction kids seek and consume is user-generated. And new, user-generated sub-genres emerge constantly. Here are a few examples of the often extremely low-budget content that is captivating today’s youth:

  • What’s on My iPhone? – These are people literally showing what’s on their phones, including cases, background images, photos and apps. Variations include “What’s in my purse?” and “What’s in my backpack?” Product-makers benefit from this user-generated marketing.

Model Amanda Steele declares this her “most requested video ever.” Like, wow.

  • Unboxing videos – Hugely popular, these videos typically simply show a pair of disembodied hands, often with elaborately fun nail polish, opening a toy package and displaying and describing the contents.

This video from FunToyzCollector has more than 37 million views.

  • Surprise eggs – Related to unboxing videos, these tend to focus less on the details of the toys and instead on just seeing the toy itself. They also tend to feature kids. They show homemade, large, wrapped “eggs,” kind of like piñatas, that have packaged toys hidden inside.


This is a Star Wars surprise egg video from Awesome Toys Collectors. May the force be with the parents who let their kids keep all the toys from the videos they make.

  • Pranks – These take two main forms: (1) instructional and (2) observational. Kids can learn how to do basic pranks. And they can also see the (arguably hilarious) results of pranks. Many of these are inappropriate for kids.


“Little super g gives a tutorial for 10 pranks”

  • Try not to laugh – These are compilations of Vines or other short videos challenging people to watch without laughing. They often feature kids or pets. Test yourself here. (I suspect you’ll do okay.)


Test yourself with this video. (I suspect you’ll do okay.)

In exploring these sub-genres, many adults are hard-pressed to understand why kids like them. They certainly help illuminate the differences in sensibilities between today’s kids and grown-ups.

Continue with this article here.

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Preparing for All Hallow’s Read!

This year Halloween is on a Monday. This means we need to find appropriate ways of allowing our classroom communities to engage in festivities that are age appropriate and sensitive to the needs of the community. A family literacy night on Halloween is one excellent idea. All Hallow’s Read is one fun way.

All Hallow’s Read was started by author Neil Gaiman several years ago to promote literacy and the reading of awesome and scary books.

Here is a link to Neil Gaiman explaining All Hallow’s Read


It’s a good fit for older youth who wouldn’t necessarily be interested in a traditional family literacy night but might be open to reading scary stories as part of a family friendly “haunted” house.

Need ideas for age appropriate scary stories? Check out

For older teens you might consider short stories by Edgar Allen Poe or H.P. Lovecraft, both great American authors.


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Creating a STEAM integrated Environment


What does STEAM integration actually look like? Well, an example would be a science class studying Darwin who takes time to explore  Darwin’s sketches.  When Darwin was studying birds on the Galapagos Islands, he sketched them. Today Darwin’s Finches are part of both the science world and the art world. Perhaps the next step might be to encourage students to participate in some urban bird watching and sketching of the birds they find. We’ve mentioned in the past that the Cornell School of Ornithology is a great resources for urban bird watching lesson plans.

At Pop Goes the Classroom we often do an ice breaker called the Polymath Polyhedron. As you can tell from the name one of the goals of this exercise is to increase scientific vocabulary, specifically the term “poly”. In this exercise youth are challenged to create a list of personal talents. They are then challenged to create a polyhedron with as many sides as the number of talents listed. They then decorate their polyhedron with art that represents their talents. Polyhedrons can be grouped together to form kinetic mobile sculptures. For younger students we change the lesson to have the children create two dimensional polygons and we challenge them to label the sides and to decorate the center with a repeating pattern.


This activity fully encompasses the integration of art into STEM learning. It allows a student to build a representation of themselves through a mathematical medium that when decorated and hung in mobiles becomes an art experience.




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The String Maze for Critical Thinking

There is something elegant about string mazes. Boys in 4th-6th grade really love the challenge. This summer we used a string maze as a daily challenge for our Super Hero Summer Camp. Now many staff do not like string mazes. They take time to set up and about twice as long to take down. However when you use them intentionally to support critical thinking, they can be a worthwhile experience.

What do you need?  Cotton or Nylon string and upturned chairs.

For the first couple of days of Super Hero Summer Camp, staff set up and took down the mazes. Kids were simply challenged to navigate the string. On the third day, a team of two was asked to be the maze designer. We did student created designs daily until everyone had participated on a team to design a maze. During this part of the learning process, youth were able to observe how mazes were constructed. We reflected this process in our routine daily activities by providing experiences with specific Skill Building activities.

String Maze 1 string maze 2

As youth navigated the string maze, peers were encouraged to time them. Often the maze designers would go through the maze first to “demonstrate” their vision of how to navigate it and then act as timers for their peers. Some youth created elaborate rules about touching the string. Others simply wanted to see how quickly they could get through the maze without worrying about touching string.

The next stage of the string maze was to challenge the maze designers to take apart their own mazes. This takes a significant amount of time and the intervention of scissors as they start following the string backward. That being said, Over the course of two weeks we retained more string without knots than pieces that needed to be knotted together. It is vital that this be a part of the process. Youth need to understand that what they put together can be reversed. A continuous line of string provides an elegant experience. We reflected this learning in the classroom by have youth reverse engineer kites.

String mazes are worth the time when you are focused on teaching critical thinking skills. The deconstruction becomes quite important. In the last days we began to have one team set up the maze and another team take it down. We ran out of time before we were able to have all the youth have this experience and will definitely make time for next time we do mazes for critical thinking.



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Going Deep in After School

By KellyAnn Bonnell, MA

When was the first time you “went deep” on a subject? I was about ten years old. I had just learned that April 15, my mother’s birthday, was the date the Titanic sunk. For some reason the fact that these two events shared the same date struck a cord in me. I wanted to learn everything I could about the Titanic. I spent hours in the library, going through the card catalog, finding anything I could on the great ship. At ten, I wasn’t particularly discriminating about what I read so. It wasn’t real research. I read news articles, scientific journals, and I read fiction. So much fiction. If the story had the titanic in it, I read it. I would go on to explore other topics in a similar fashion. King Arthur, the Middle Ages, Queen Elizabeth I, Catherine the Great – the list goes on and on. These were topics not addressed in school. Topics that had caught my interest.

In today’s world, our youth have the internet at their fingertips. They are “going deep” into a variety of topics. The quest then is how do we get them to share their learning?

One idea is to incorporate a weekly “Learning Circle” into your routine. Youth come together and share what they’ve been exploring. Sharing is not mandatory. Consider adding a learning circle to your routine.


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New Training Topics

by KellyAnn Bonnell, MA


We are pleased to announce new training topics for the 2016-17 Academic Year tailored specifically to foster healthy positive youth development. Start the year out with the skills and tools necessary to building lasting relationships with your kids.

Understanding Today’s Youth: Going Beyond Child Development into Market Research

Let’s face it, no one knows American youth better than the entertainment companies that develop games and programs for them. We’ve established a great relationship with the researches at Cartoon Network and they have shared some amazing insights with us that we’ll share with your team.

Weathering the Storm: Trauma Informed Practice is the Pop Culture Classroom

The youth we serve come from a diversity of backgrounds and experiences. When we allow them to be their true unique selves by celebrating their interests and passions we become valuable resources to support resiliency against adverse childhood experiences. Learn about these experiences and the ways we can help build resiliency in our youth.

Using Pop Culture to Teach Healthy Relationship Skills

From Tris to Katniss, Harry Potter to Jacob Portman, beloved characters in our favorite books and movies are often have to deal with all sorts of relationships, both positive and negative. Learn to use these powerful role models to discuss the development of healthy relationships.

To book workshops email us at


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