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


Posted in Educator Resources | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment Why Should I Go See It?

by Erin Deer

I am seven years old and I am standing in the shade of our playground out in the school yard, holding a fat, rainbow colored pen. You know, those chunky plastic pens that were really popular in the 90’s, the ones that had 6 different color ballpoint tips inside. I am standing in the shade and it is hot and I am bored, so I click through the colors really quickly, and practice tucking it in the waistband of my shorts like it’s my secret weapon, but I don’t dare leave my post.

Because I have a very important job, you see. Or so they tell me… the crew of boys running around the open field in front of me, while I wait. We are playing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and I am “April”. I’m actually not allowed to watch Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, so I have no idea who April is, but the boys fill me in. There are four turtles, and a rat, and everyone lives in a sewer, and fights warthogs. I’m not really sure, exactly. I don’t care. April is the only girl in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and she delivers important messages to the turtles, so they need a girl to play with them today, and I consider myself lucky.

Second grade is a weird time, suddenly full of strange paper things called “fortune tellers” and frequent cootie outbreaks, and it is suddenly harder for me, a tomboy, to find my place in the school yard at recess. I do not want to trade Lisa Frank stickers by the monkey bars with the girls, and I am not welcome on the jungle gym half dome where the boys play army base. There are two rare times I get to play with the boys, and that is when we are playing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, or when we are playing Ghostbusters (another movie I have never actually seen).

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is the best, because April has a name. Nobody cared to remember the name of the receptionist in Ghostbusters, so I just get called “Hey!”. It doesn’t matter. Both roles are the same. I wait under this playground structure, holding my prized possession — — the rainbow pen I snuck outside to make myself feel cooler — — til I get a “message” I can deliver. I pretend to scrawl the message on my hand, then I run across the playground to the intended turtle/ghostbuster, and frantically shout my message before the bad guys get there, when I usually am captured and spend the rest of recess under another yet playground structure, in “jail”.

Sometime during the school year we had all been invited to a birthday party at a roller rink. There’s not a lot of things I can say this about in my life, but I can remember the first time I heard the Ghostbusters theme song. Kids started screaming and clamoring to get in the rink as soon as they heard the opening bars. The exhilaration was palpable. The overhead lights went down and neon laser lights were shooting all around us as we rocketed faster and faster around the rink, hopped up on pixie sticks and pop rocks and pizza, my hair blowing out behind me and my face flushed as we all screamed “WHO YOU GONNA CALL?!” and the triumphant answer: “GHOSTBUSTERS!”.

continue reading Erin’s blog post here

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TSO: Responding to Reviews

This weekend the Pop Goes the Classroom Team was out in force at Leprecon-the annual science fiction/fantasy convention. We got to see some of our favorite people. One panel KellyAnn sat in on was for creators on responding to reviews. The insights are valuable for educators as well. Check it out.

Responding to Reviews

by David Lee Summers

This past weekend, I was at LepreCon in Phoenix, Arizona. On Saturday, I was on a panel called “Responding to Reviews.” The authors and artists gave some great advice and I thought it was worth sharing some highlights. The panel is below. In the photo below you see Educator KellyAnn Bonnell, yours truly, writer and game designer Shanna Germain, Jennie Breeden, writer and artist of The Devil’s Panties, and game designer Ben Woerner.


Of course, as an author or artist, when you get a review, positive or negative, it can be problematic to respond with much more than a very polite, “thanks for sharing your opinion.” This is pretty common advice and the panel generally agreed with it.

The panel moved on to discuss what constitutes the most helpful reviews. The panelists cited reviews that give clear examples of what worked for them and didn’t work for them in a book. Also helpful is when the reviewer can cite why something worked or didn’t work. I noted an example of a reviewer mentioning an element of my novelChildren of the Old Stars that didn’t work for her. That inspired me to create an important plot point in Heirs of the New Earth that addressed the issue.

Continue reading David’s Blog post here.

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Get to Know Your Universe with :01(First Second)

by KellyAnn Bonnell

Our friends at First Second publishing sent over a couple new books for us to look over and I have to say they are pretty cool. I’d like to introduce you to to Science Comics.


These books are beautifully illustrated and well organized for visual learning.

Maris Wicks brings the world of Coral Reefs to vivid life in Coral Reefs: Cities of the Ocean. The book has a strong introduction, is organized in chapters and provides an excellent bibliography and additional resources for the student passionate about the topic. The sequential art is simple and easy for those unfamiliar with graphic novels to navigate. This is an excellent nonfiction addition to any classroom or school library.

MK Reed and Joe Flood bring us Dinosaurs: Fossils and Feathers. The basic structure of this graphic novel is reflective of the Science Comics brand and includes a well written introduction, bibliography and additional resources. This graphic novel is more demonstrates a more evolved approach to sequential art that will appeal to older youth. This book has a great story telling approach that will appeal to young readers.

The books being published by First Second always seem to excite me and this series has several more to come. I’m looking forward to giving the kids in our after school programs access to the entire library.

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Shield Theory

One of our colleagues shared this post with us and we felt, with all the conversations we’ve been having lately about trauma informed practice, it was an excellent tool to add to your toolboxes. Thanks Jim for such a great perspective.

by Jim C. Hines

Shield Theory

My son and I both had rough days yesterday, and right before bedtime, my wife and I were talking to him about good days and bad days, limits, and why at a certain point we all start to feel overwhelmed and fall apart. I considered bringing up spoon theory, but thought it would be a bit too abstract for him. So instead, I started talking about about Captain America’s shield.

Captain America's Shield

Because in general, every day has good stuff and bad stuff. And just like Cap, we all have a shield we can use to deflect some of the bad stuff and keep it from getting to us. But sometimes there’s too much stuff to block it all, and Cap gets hurt. We all have bad days like that sometimes, where there’s just too much.

What makes life trickier is that your shield can change size. If you’re hungry or overtired, your shield might shrink down to the size of a saucer, which makes it harder to deflect anything. On the other hand, if you’ve had a good night’s sleep, gotten some good exercise, and had fun with your friends, you could end up with a super-shield that’s as big as you are. (Or even a full suit of Iron Man armor. We went off on a tangent at this point, wondering why Tony doesn’t go to Wakanda and make an Iron Man suit out of vibranium.)

As a metaphor, Cap’s shield worked well. We talked about why something might not bother you one day, but the same thing might really get to you on another, depending on how big your shield is that day, and how much else you’ve been trying to deflect. It also seemed to be a good way of talking about self-care, and ways to strengthen your shield so it wouldn’t shrink or crack.

Don’t know if it will be helpful to anyone else, but it was a good conversation with my son, so I figured I’d put it out there.

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NYT Magazine: The Minecraft Generation

Our friend Dave Bolman over at the University of Advancing Technology turned us on to this great piece in the New York Times Magazine. Thanks Dave!


How a clunky Swedish computer game is teaching
millions of children to master the digital world.

Jordan wanted to build an unpredictable trap.

An 11-year-old in dark horn-­rimmed glasses, Jordan is a devotee of Minecraft, the computer game in which you make things out of virtual blocks, from dizzying towers to entire cities. He recently read “The Maze Runner,” a sci-fi thriller in which teenagers live inside a booby-­trapped labyrinth, and was inspired to concoct his own version — something he then would challenge his friends to navigate.

Jordan built a variety of obstacles, including a deluge of water and walls that collapsed inward, Indiana Jones-style. But what he really wanted was a trap that behaved unpredictably. That would really throw his friends off guard. How to do it, though? He obsessed over the problem.

Then it hit him: the animals! Minecraft contains a menagerie of virtual creatures, some of which players can kill and eat (or tame, if they want pets). One, a red-and-white cowlike critter called a mooshroom, is known for moseying about aimlessly. Jordan realized he could harness the animal’s movement to produce randomness. He built a pen out of gray stones and installed “pressure plates” on the floor that triggered a trap inside the maze. He stuck the mooshroom inside, where it would totter on and off the plates in an irregular pattern.

Presto: Jordan had used the cow’s weird behavior to create, in effect, a random-­number generator inside Minecraft. It was an ingenious bit of problem-­solving, something most computer engineers I know would regard as a great hack — a way of coaxing a computer system to do something new and clever.

When I visited Jordan at his home in New Jersey, he sat in his family’s living room at dusk, lit by a glowing iMac screen, and mused on Minecraft’s appeal. “It’s like the earth, the world, and you’re the creator of it,” he said. On-screen, he steered us over to the entrance to the maze, and I peered in at the contraptions chugging away. “My art teacher always says, ‘No games are creative, except for the people who create them.’ But she said, ‘The only exception that I have for that is Minecraft.’ ” He floated over to the maze’s exit, where he had posted a sign for the survivors: The journey matters more than what you get in the end.

Finish the article here

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