Super Reading World

Some of the first video game adventures that I can vividly recall were around the original, 8-bit Nintendo game system that showcased a mere 5 button controller. The star of this system took center stage in our living room, and ruled for many years after his debut to my brother, sister, and I. We formed a tight bond with Mario, his sidekick Luigi, and fought off his villains like they were our own enemies down the block. The writer, Shiguro Miyamato, created a story line that wove its way into everyone’s homes like Grimm’s fairytales, that stood the test of time. Mario is still reigning in the living rooms of children across America to this day, holding its ground while new platforms emerge and children seem less and less reminiscent of the generation they replaced, Mario threads them together.

When I came across Mario’s suit, at a thrift store outing with my friend and my sister, classroom transformation ideas started buzzing through my mind. I did not have the hat, gloves, or even a lesson to go with it yet, but I knew I had to bring Mario’s world to life in my classroom. I found the hat and gloves as a combo on Amazon. To create the backdrop, I hung blue butcher paper, and cut white butcher paper clouds that I hung from my ceiling tiles using binding clips. Two strips of green butcher paper were all I needed to crate the warping tunnels. (My students have already given me feedback that I need to make tunnels they could really travel through for next year’s version).

I purchased a birthday party kit of decorations and cut off the “Happy Birthday” phrase from the top, and this became the backdrop for the scene of characters that surrounded the QR code responses with rationales for one passage.

To start the challenge, I jumped out in full Mario costume, and shared the tragic news that Princess Peach had been captured, and it was their job to find her. They would only be able to find her by destroying the villains within this world. (I realize the mystery boxes aren’t a villain, so I plan to find another use for them next year). Copying the Benchmark that we had just completed the week prior, students had to find where their thinking had gone wrong, and correct any missteps in their thinking to destroy the villains. In order to protect their dignity, I did not return their actual Benchmarks to them with the answers they had chosen. Rather, their were unmarked passages at each station, and players had to think together to get to the answers. My objective was not for them to all get to the same answers, but to think about their thinking and share their reasoning with each other.

Each passage was housed inside of a large manila envelope with the villain or mystery box that went with the passage. This helped me keep the passages and answers sorted as players made their way through the game.

The flytraps were created by spray painting PVC pipes and three Dollar Tree Trash cans green . The flower of the flytrap was created (thanks Babe) by attaching three red colanders (also from the Dollar Tree) to the PVC pipes using 2 part epoxy. Side Note: These ended up needing some repairs before the transformation had wrapped up, and we added sand to the bottom of the trash cans to stabilize the stems. I velcroed the answers to the passage that went with the Flytrap to the teeth of the plant.

They mystery boxes were just boxes wrapped in yellow butcher paper, and I attached a large question mark to the face of them, which I cut out of white vinyl using my Cricut Die-Cutting machine. Each mystery box had answer keys to the passage that correlated with it, and players got to punch through the boxes to secure the answers. The part they punched through was the open end of the box, which I covered with yellow tissue paper, and taped it closed. They loved punching through the mystery boxes!

When I was reviewing the students Benchmarks, I noticed that a lot of my students had not taken many notes or highlighted as they read. I was hoping to redirect this pattern, and get the idea in their heads that they should leave evidence of their thinking as they read through a passage. This led me to create this prompt by Princess Peach.

I created dozens of Boo Ghosts by filling white trash bags with scraps of Butcher paper, and stuffing them with answer keys to the passage that went with these villains. I will probably hang the ghosts in some fashion, next year.

Bombs set the scene as a villain the students needed to destroy by blowing up black balloons, which held answer keys inside of them, and affixing two vinyl ovals about 3″ in length to the front of the balloons to create the eyes of the bombs. Using cardstock, I cut out a heart shape to create feet for the bombs, which I adhered to the balloons with double-sided tape. This also served to keep the bombs from rolling about “Mario’s World”.

The “game” took place across two days, and students were on point the whole time. I had to redirect behavior twice across two days THE WEEK BEFORE CHRISTMAS BREAK! This had to have been my most successful classroom transformation to date. I sought feedback from my students at the end of the lesson, and they provided dozens of ideas for next year that I CANNOT wait to implement. In addition to their suggestions, I already decided I needed to end the game as Princess Peach, herself, so I have added to my many costumes!

Come Back Next Year for more adventures in Mario’s World!


Are Leaders Born? Are Leaders Made?

Are leaders born, or are they made?   Yes, and Yes. Leaders are born, AND leaders are made, is my response. Some believe that only some of us are made to be leaders.  I would argue, that we are ALL made to be leaders.

I had the privilege of working underAmy Erb, an amazing leader, at my last school, who was working to transform our school into a Leader In Me Lighthouse School. She threw up a bulletin board at the beginning of a school year, reminding her students and staff of this design for leadership with the saying displayed, “Mirror, Mirror on the Wall – There’s a Leader in Us All.”  The truth of this saying resonates with me, because I believe each one of us is a leader by design as we are leading our own lives. It’s from this position of self-empowerment, that I can encourage my students to take charge of their learning, as they rise up and lead their lives past their current circumstances. If left uncultivated, it’s like a seed unplanted, or planted and not watered.  My friend, Don Sturm, described leadership as a seed that we water and nourish. Education, he likens, is the way of nurturing that seed for our students. This leaves me to wonder, am I keeping the weeds out of my classroom? Am I providing ample light to shine on the seeds I am charged to nurture? How can I move beyond being a watering can for my students, to setting my students up for success in an Artesian aquifer system, where they are not dependent on me for their sustenance? Educators, like parents, are trying to work ourselves out of a job. We want students to step into the highest level of leadership for themselves, as self-actualized humans. The only way they can get there, is if we help them find their leadership capacity to begin. This is my desire. I want every student to leave my classroom family believing in their leadership over their own life, which will change the world.

We don’t have to have a line of people following us or a microphone in our hand to be a leader.  Sometimes leadership is just the quiet kindness in sitting next to a heart who felt lonely and invisible, as Trudy Ludwig described in The Invisible Boy.  The motive for leadership should not be in getting others to follow us.  The motive should be in leading our lives to pursue what is right for us, and realizing that the world will be better if we act beyond our own desire for comfort.  This is what Jen Betton touched on when she wrote Hedgehog Needs a Hug.  

To me, this looks like kindness.  Kindness is not something we are born leading in, but its capacity IS within each of us.  We are not born thinking of others, and leading with empathy, like a muscle, it must be trained, but nonetheless, the muscle is there.  We all are capable of leading with more kindness, empathy, and helping others to find their voice. If I hold the notion that it’s someone else’s job to be a leader, and it’s someone else’s calling to call out the best in others, I will miss my impact on this world.  Yes, some of us may have a greater level of influence, with a larger following, or a louder microphone, so to speak; this should not stop any of us from finding our own seed to nurture, and just watch as the buds of leadership bloom from our lives. How will you call out the leaders around you today?

Leading with love,