How to Swagify Your STEM Curriculum

How to Swagify Your STEM Curriculum


I wrote this article for Flocabulary, you can see it on their Blog here!

I have the privilege of teaching adorable kiddos about STEM — specifically technology. Generally, they’re fans of it. There’s definitely more than one hopeful future SnapChat engineer in the midst.

However, sometimes even tech class isn’t a basket full of puppies in terms of student engagement. As a first grader innocently asked earlier this year, “But Mr. Mishleau, where’s the fun tech stuff?” That one evidence point told me it was time to turn the spiciness level up and pull out all the engagement stops!

Here are five strategies I’ve tried to get students excited about STEM:

1. Flocab
One of the most powerful tools I’ve leveraged First Five Image Flocabulary in my classroom for engaging kids in rigorous content has been Flocabulary’s suite of tools for STEM! Each technology class, we have a Tech Video of the Day, which offers a transition from our beginning of class procedures (“First 5”) into our lesson.
The Loops video was excellent at making repeat loops in computer programming much more “sticky” and fun. Since Flocabulary continues to add solid content (have you seen their video on Robots??), I have been able to bake more and more of it into my tech curriculum.

While all of that is great, Flocabulary offers so much more than videos. For example, instead of building my own quiz for the end-of-unit assessment on computer programming, I utilized Flocabulary’s quiz on the computer programming. Earlier in that unit, I also used Lyric Lab to challenge students to write their own rhymes as an independent check-for-understanding. These Computer Code raps had students pull in key vocabulary we had learned in a creative activity. I then shared out the strongest ones to students’ screens using Hapara’s Highlights tool. Students loved the opportunity to be creative, and I appreciated seeing how deeply they had internalized the content we had been learning.

2. Robot Time
It’s hard to be grumpy when you are wearing a robot hat.Robot Hat STEM Flocabulary These hats have been a super-popular incentive in my class.

Students know that when they are working hard, showing persistence and self-calming, that I might plop a little robot hat on their head.

Students know to yell out “It’s robot time!” when a peer is bestowed such an honor. They’re available on Amazon here, and they tie in nicely to a lot of the content we learn.

3. Can I Get a “What What”?!
Another tried-and-true product to the tune of $9.99? Mini-microphones. I’m pretty sure that students know they aren’t real, but that doesn’t keep 1st or 4th graders from shouting out loud and proud when I hold it up to them or pass it around when we’re reading from the board!

It’s a much more effective and fun way to ensure students are internalizing the material we are talking about, and it helps trigger me to pull in students’ voices that might not usually be heard.

4. Pillow Mode Activate!
As anyone who teaches from a cart will tell you, #CartLife can be hard! However, I’ve actually found it sometimes easier than having my own classroom (shhh, don’t tell anyone!). One reason is that my cart is smartly stacked with the things I might need. One of them is a plethora of pillows!

Okay, more like circular padded mats. But to kids, they are luxurious pillows that you must earn in class. They fit neatly into a few drawers of my cart, and they make technology class feel like an extra-special, different time. I mean…do you get to activate pillow mode in math class? Nope. I build on to the excitement by having students chant “pillow mode, activate!” before giving any out. It reminds kids that it’s fun to be good in technology class.

Mr. Mishleau’s tricked-out tech cart always includes:

Timers for friends who need scaffolding to build work stamina
Pillows, robot hats and microphones
Tech books for power outages and student work to give feedback on
Clorox wipes for sticky desks
Pens for days for days

5. @ Me, Bro
Traditions and routines have made my classroom a much happier and predictable space for kids. One of those traditions is the Tweeter of the Day. Every tech class, a student writes a Tweet to share via our school’s Twitter account. I use the class roster to make sure all students get the opportunity to Tweet their hearts out.

So much of teaching is communicating to kids: 1) I love you! 2) This is important! 3) You can do it if you work hard. To convey these messages, I think joy and challenge in the classroom are paramount. Some of the tools mentioned are definitely (intentionally!) a little silly, but they all drive at making students feel welcomed, seen, and making them think and talk about the technology content we are learning.

What do you use to drive engagement, culture and achievement in your classroom? Your tip might be my next Amazon educational splurge or a strategy I try to employ in my classroom. Share yours in the comments below!

5 Tips for the 2016 Education Innovation Fellows

The piece originally appeared on the CityBridge Foundation’s blog as a welcome to the 2016 Education Innovation Fellows. 

To the 2016 class of Education Innovation Fellows,

I’m going to assume that you applied for this fellowship because you’re not 100% happy with the way education is currently run and delivered in our country’s public school system. You’re in good company—I’ve met few educators who are wholly satisfied with it.

I’m also going to assume that you see some amount of promise and potential in technology and individualization as a lever to drive student achievement and teacher effectiveness/satisfaction. You’re in growing company there!

This fellowship was a life-changing experience for me.

Honestly. I have a feeling of restlessness around the learning I see happening at my school that keeps me up at night. I can’t stop looking at other schools, reading about innovation, and asking neat people for informational interviews. I have a sense of drive, an optimism, and an absolute obligation that was little more than a vague thought when I first applied for the fellowship.

So, with that, I have a few tips for you to get the most out of the fellowship:

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Educational Equity Is an LGBTQ Issue

This post was originally published on The Bilerico Project.

Earlier this month in Denver, at Creating Change: the 27th National Conference on LGBT Equality, I was on a panel titled “The State of Education in LGBTQ America,” sponsored by Teach For America’s LGBTQ Initiative. At this year’s conference, queer and transgender people of color were front and center. As a teacher, it made me think about the how people in spaces like Creating Change can have a positive impact on queer and transgender students of color.

LGBTQ students of color enrich their school communities every day. Living at the intersection of multiple identities can provide opportunities to develop critical thinking skills, empathy, and leadership for the individual student, and it can also draw out those things in other students and adults. Supporting these students contributes to a positive learning experience for all.

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5 Ways To Introduce Technology To Your Classroom Without Enough Technology

5 Ways To Introduce Technology To Your Classroom Without Enough Technology

This post was originally published on TeacherPop.

Student drawing paper keyboard
Photo by Blair Mishleau.


As the technology specialist at a school, I’m constantly running into issues (our computers haven’t arrived yet, the tech staff doesn’t have time to install them, my lab is being used for NWEA testing, etc.).

But, never fear. There are a lot of ways to get nerdy with kids without needing a laptop for everyone. Here are my tips – I’d love to hear some more, if you have them, in the comments!

1.) Live it. Love it. Code it.
This site is getting really well-known, but there’s a nice little niche that not everyone might know about. There are loads of “paper” activities that can teach little kiddos how to make a “program” and much more. It’s especially great as a primer before letting students use computers.

(Pro-tip: If you have even intermittent access to 3-10 computers, do stations. Have students who have mastered the paper activities move onto computers!)

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Institute Tips: Get SOM Love!

This post was originally published on TeacherPop.

The blessing and the curse of Institute is the sheer number of human beings whose job it is to help you in some way, shape, or form. It’s like acronym city and everyone has something to offer!

That being said, you’ve been around for a few weeks (which, in Institute time, is a few months) and it’s high time you get friendly with an awesome person: your SOM (School Operations Manager). (Note: If you’re not at a National/Centralized Institute, your SOM may have a variety of creative and unique terms, but this person essentially helps run operations at one or more school sites.)

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Institute Tips: Lesson-Planning Breakdown

Institute Tips: Lesson-Planning Breakdown

This post was originally published on TeacherPop.

Devil is in the Details
They say he’s in the details. (Photo credit: Hugh Gallagher)

So, you’re lesson-planning. Maybe you feel like you’re about to have a breakdown. Your Corps Member Advisor is there to help, of course, but if you want another way to have it explained or just need some sass in your life, read on!

First, some perspective on who the heck I am:

Hi, I’m Blair! I’m a Corps Member Advisor at the Tulsa Institute (woot!), and I finished up TFA in the Twin Cities region about a week ago (yup, I’m a newly minted alum… yikes!).

Now, let’s break down lesson-planning in three quick-and-dirty concepts:

1) Start your lesson plan by thinking about WHAT kiddos can DO and HOW they will explain your objective after you’ve taught them. If you’re teaching multiplication, what will it look like for your kiddos to DO the math, show their work, and explain their answer? This is why your exemplar response is so important. Side note: If YOU don’t know the skill, you’ll have the darndest time teaching it. Make sure you can explain the skill backwards and forwards. Try explaining it to your beau, your mom, or a friend via phone—if you can do it there, you can teach it!

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Institute Tips: Don’t Be Freaked Out

This post was originally published on TeacherPop.

It was the first day of teaching for all Tulsa Institute corps members. This day had been coming for many months, since the moment they were first accepted into the corps.

All of this time boiled down to their first hour in the classroom. It’s a lot of pressure.

As a School Operations Manager, I was doing my rounds (most likely re-taping signage or putting up a bulletin board) when I saw him. Ross. Sitting outside of his classroom, on the floor. He wasn’t crying, but the look on his face communicated his utter inner turmoil.

I sat down next to him and asked what was up. He candidly told me how absolutely awful his first lesson had gone.

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How Much Teachers Actually Work: A Not-So-Formal Case Study

How Much Teachers Actually Work: A Not-So-Formal Case Study

This post was originally published on Pass the Chalk.

A Time Clock
(Photo: Flickr)

I’ve always wondered how much I work a week as a teacher. Last week, I sat down with six other teachers (at different schools, different grade levels, etc.) and asked them to track their hours worked.

Two things shocked me.

First, out of the seven teachers surveyed, we spend only 42% of our time actually delivering content to students. That other 58% of the time is devoted to conferences, miscellaneous tasks, lesson planning, meetings, PD, and tracking (in that order).

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Institute Tips: How to Quickly and Authentically Build Relationships with Students

Institute Tips: How to Quickly and Authentically Build Relationships with Students

This post was originally published on TeacherPop.

(Photo credit: Alice Combes)
(Photo credit: Alice Combes)

“This is really important, so I want to be sure everyone is remaining engaged. I know we’re tired, but you’ll need this through your two years of teaching!”

During Institute (and Professional Saturdays), this phrase was invoked time and time again. Often, it cued a silent ugh in my head as I struggled to stay awake. The thing is, I didn’t think the session I was sitting through was unimportant, but I just struggled with the fact that everything was given A-level status. As hard as I wanted to be a great teacher, I couldn’t make all of the advice and strategies I got a priority.

But two years later, while reflecting on my time at Institute, there’s one thing that I do wish I had given A-level status. Interestingly enough, it was one thing that wasn’t given very much exposure during my two years as a CM:

Building relationships with students.

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