The Zombies of Room 207

I am NOT against play.

I wish there were more time for it. And, time is my enemy. I have a lot to teach in a very limited amount of time.

Time is against me in another way, as well: I constantly ask myself, “How will this learning stand the test of time? Why would my students remember any of this?”

One answer to this question:


It was the first day of ELA standardized testing. I still had several math concepts to teach IMG_4199before students took the Math PSSAs (Pennsylvania’s standardized tests for elementary schools).

How would I present math when students’ brains were fried?

Serve them up for Zombie hors devours!

I wonder, now, if it was the metaphor of brain-eating, zombie-creating testing that got me on this kick. Either way, everyone loves a good apocalypse theme… And, I delivered. As soon as I got rid of my PSSA tests and dropped my students off at lunch, I recovered my stowed away phone and went to work.

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Problem from ReadyMath that I revamped with zombie theme

Earlier in the year a student had shown me the app Chatterpix. I used this to snap a pic of our classroom spider and make it talk. This spider, EEKK, named after the way students are supposed to sit on the carpet while pair-sharing; Elbow, Elbow, Knee to Knee; has been hanging out in our third grade classroom since his introduction early in the year. I was moving him every now and again, suggesting that he wanted new vantage points from which to witness students’ good behavior/sharing skills. The students love pretending things are alive, and we had fun with it. When I wasn’t moving him for a while students began grumbling and commenting, so I hid him away. Now, 5 min. away from kids, I took a picture of EEKK who was in a cabinet next to the squirt bottle I use to mist the plants. When students watched the video, they exploded in predictions of where EEKK was hidden!

The message of the video was simple: There are zombies lurking, and we need to learn capacity.

Pic of 2nd day: Review Gallon Guy and workout perimeter problem

Just as I had predicted, my third grade students didn’t care that a toy spider wasn’t alive; that, if it were, it wouldn’t be able to handle a squirt bottle; or that a tiny squirt bottle of water wouldn’t be enough to fend off zombies! They were thrilled to learn about standard liquid measurement and copy my Gallon Guy drawing from the board. I got out containers, and we discussed capacity. 

The next day, was Tuesday, the second day of standardized ELA testing (PSSAs) in the morning. As per law, I put all electronic devices away, until I had rid my room of PSSA materials. While the students were at lunch, I made a new movie. This time, I got fancier. I took a snapshot of EEKK on red tile and used Apple’s Keynote App to erase all of the red background with Instant Alpha. Then I stuck him on top of a pic of a moat.

Chatterpix was used to make EEKK present a new problem of creating a perimeter to protect the classroom spider from zombies while he rested. He couldn’t be on guard 24/7!

With each passing day, I added increasingly difficult problems to EEKK’s predicament. After digging a moat, EEKK had to fill it with water. If it took him 5 minutes to get one gallon, and each linear foot of moat required two gallons, how long would it take to completely fill the moat? Was this question real-world? Well, minus the zombie theme, yeah, I think so;)

img_1572.jpgEEKK wasn’t completely secure, surrounded by only a moat. He decided to build a fort on

MW Teaching
I had to review this several times.

the land he had partitioned from the zombie-infected outside. Luckily Amazon was still going strong and available to drone-drop an order of lumber on EEKK’s land square. But, we needed to figure out how much it would cost us. While the outer perimeter of the moat was a 10′ X 10′ square, the moat took up some of the inside space. If the moat was exactly one foot wide all the way around, what would the perimeter of the inner square be? Students needed some perception help with this one. I even had to break out the clay and make a moat to demonstrate the inside square being smaller than the outside one.

Once we figured out the perimeter of the inner square, which would be the length of fence that EEKK would construct, we had to calculate how much this material would cost. Each foot of lumber was going to require $1.25.

The #ZombieApocalypseRoom207 was so much fun that more characters wanted in on the action! Enter the #PolitePirates. Now, #CaptainIronKnee, Mary (pronounced “muh-ree” for a different story), and Zeus want in on EEKK’s pristine perimeter project. They are a little picky, though. They each want their own space. Now, we must figure out how much more  lumber we will need in order to build walls within our fort to partition individual spaces for each of the four inhabitants. Plus, they need a “Common Place” for all of them to eat and converse together; a shared space.

For this part of the project, I had students use the geoboard app on their iPads. They had to make the perimeter of the fort, 8 units by 8 units, with one “rubber band”. Then they could create any size spaces within that for the four characters, leaving an additional, fifth space, for the common space. The only parameter was that all of the corners must

perimeter of 5 spaces
This clever student had the idea of drawing lines on each unit to keep track of counting.

be right angles. (This was so that the linear measurement of perimeter was more accurate. It was enough to figure out the cost and time to construct our forts. I didn’t need to teach the pythagorean theorem on top of everything else!)

Once they designed their fort interiors, they had to figure out how much the materials would cost. “Keeping linear units at the price of $1.25/each, how much money are we looking at spending for your fort?”

One thing that was very difficult to communicate clearly was the fact that you didn’t have to count a unit that functioned as two walls twice: If a room inside the fort shares a wall with the outer perimeter or another room, you only count that structure once. (It is tricky, even, to write about this.)

Self-Reflection: What I would do differently

The apocalypse began in fantastic form. The students loved it. The theme was fun and the problems were challenging and engaging. They quickly became overwhelming, however. There needed to be more teaching. I sat with some struggling students and walked them through the use of geoboard. I had them make the same exact shapes as me, and we figured out the perimeters together. This worked well.

Also, the idea of shared walls was very tricky. Two things could remedy this confusion. Make the parameters so that not walls would be shared, or have kids use popsicle sticks to actually build model forts. I wanted to do this last idea, but Wegmans didn’t have any sticks, and I was out of time. Teams could use clay bases and even fill the moat with water. Manipulative money could be used to “buy” the materials from a Zombie store. Students could earn the money by doing chores or figuring out other problems.

Another lesson-learned: Don’t overdo the theme. I am guilty of this. I tried doing a data lesson using the zombies, and not only did everyone grown, but it didn’t even make that much sense without teaching data-analysis, first. The video is cute, and I’ll use it in the future. Plus, students did love the game of throwing zombies at the school.

Self-Reflection: AWESOMENESS and things to grow

Even though the data lesson was not perfect, it gave us Zombie puppets. I had the students use the puppets for an ELA lesson. They made their own Chatterpix videos where their zombies told stories.

The creativity and open-ended practice was unparalleled.

tricky perimeter
The teaching and creativity seemed endless!

The teaching moments were limitless. I never even got into the cost of carpeting the inside of the fort with different flooring styles! We discussed and figured out area, but it was enough to reteach/learn fractions with four quarters equaling one dollar and division with 12 being broken up into groups of four (quarters) to see the money problem different ways.

This student began erasing her art because she thought she was in trouble. “NOOOOOOOO!!!” I shouted. She had drawn the Polite Pirates talking over their fort fence with the misunderstood zombies.

And then there is the artwork. In addition to coloring in the zombie puppets, some students drew illustrations for their videos. I had given the class the premise for their zombie stories: The zombies didn’t really want to eat brains. They just wanted to be smart, and they thought that eating brains would help them. The Polite Pirates explained the problem of this misperception to the zombies and everything was fixed. Each student made up his/her own rendition of the story.

The Future of #ZombieApocalypseRoom207

In the future I’d like to incorporate some supplemental reading and ELA components. My friend, Julia Dweck has written a couple of cute kid books about zombies that I would love to incorporate.

Can you recommend others in the comments?

Any other zombie must-dos?

Constructing Classy Introductory Sentences to tap Memories

  • IMG_5105
    Students take notes about bats while reading an informational text.

    Have you ever had something that you really wanted to remember, but couldn’t? What did you do to try to remember it?

  • Did you know beforehand that this was something you were going to want to remember?
  • Have you ever had information that you wanted to help someone else remember?
  • What did you do to help them remember the information?
  • How did it work?
  • What do you think you could have done differently that would have helped the person more?

[These questions were posed to and answered by my class after participating in the following exercise.]

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This slide was projected onto the board, and the following questions were asked.

What are neurons?

And, what do they have to do with you?

What connections can you make?

What do you already know about this subject?

I did not have a lot of hope that my students would be able to provide stellar answers to those questions. In fact, I was hoping that they wouldn’t be able to provide any cognizance on the concept! –Not because I was hoping that they were ignorant, but because I wanted to illustrate the need for an opening sentence that would help a reader tap already existing information from their memories. My aim was to provide a text that my students couldn’t use… yet. With a different opening sentence; however; they might be able to open a prefrontal pathway to a mental folder that holds related information. Then my students would be able to both use existing knowledge to build upon and store this new information with related knowledge.

Now that my class was primed to try to understand where I was going with the original exercise, I asked, “What would be a good opening sentence for the paragraph about neurons that would help a third grader understand what they were about to read?” What ideas might stimulate thinking about related topics?

Post reading and taking notes, students composed paragraphs in Kidblog.

The idea here is to write an opening sentence that gets your reader to think about your topic. In the same way you try to “actively read”, using strategies that help you get the most out of a text, you should hope that the reader of your writing is doing the same thing. You should write in such a way as to help your reader get the most out of his/her experience.

  • If you want your reader to infer things, don’t write every single detail.
  • If you want your reader to establish cause & effect relationships between things, make sure those connections are clear. (This is what I am trying to do write now–I intentionally misspelled “right” to hopefully pun you into remembering this tidbit of a thought.)
  • If you want your reader to question, present information that is so interesting that your reader wants to know more.
  • If you want your reader to make predictions, give her just enough information, but not too much. Stretch out your text so that the reader has some time to think about what will happen next. Don’t just dump information onto the reader. Spoon it out a little at a time, so that she can come up with her own ideas of what might be next. (Did you notice that I tried to do that… spread out the ideas through writing a few unnecessary sentences, before getting to the next point? I did that to try to illustrate how a writer–in this case, me, but soon to be you–could produce this trick. Good luck!)
  • There are more reading strategies, of course, but I will end this short list with making connections. If you want your reader to make good, strong connections to your text, you must help him through introducing your topic in such a way that the reader is open to receiving the information.

I find that many times third graders assume that their readers already know what they are writing about. This is probably do to a natural level of narcissism that 8- and 9-year olds still possess. Also, they are mostly correct, because what they are often writing about was assigned, everyone who will be reading the produced text (their peers) already knows the assignment, and they are writing for me, the person who assigned it!

This blog and lesson is meant to help students write in such a way as to pretend the reader does not already know the assignment. If an author is writing for an audience ignorant of the assignment, how would he or she begin the paragraph? If you want the reader of your writing to get something from the experience of looking at your text, it will be helpful to know what the reader is doing while reading. In this way you can steer the reader toward your goal of gaining new knowledge that can be retrieved later. If you want your reader to remember any of your text, it helps to understand how remembering works.


Remembering things can be broken into a three-step process. First, you take in new information. I was tempted to write learn instead of “take in”, but before you understand information, you first literally absorb it through your senses. You hear words and sounds; see images, colors, and light; touch/feel manipulatives, textures, and temperatures; smell; and sometimes taste. This is called encoding.

After your brain gets the information, it looks for a place to store it. This is the second stage of memory. The place and way that the information is stored will depend on how useful your brain decides it is. Are you going to need to know this again, soon? Perhaps, not, but the information would be very useful in a particular circumstance, so it shouldn’t be lost. Some information is interesting, but not very useful. This could get pushed out of your thinking like pictures you delete from your iPad. The information may go to a “recently deleted” file in the brain, awaiting total forgetting when too many new thoughts push the information out of the way.

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“Cognitive Constipation”–1st Usage;)

The last part of remembering involves retrieving memories. This is the part where you try to recall information that you know you know, but can’t quite find it in your brain. Some people who try to remember something that they know they learned, but can’t recall the exact information refer to this as a “brain fart”. Just last night, I may have coined a new term on Twitter: “Cognitive Constipation”. Rather than your brain farting, it is more like it gets all backed up with un-useful information that blocks your thoughts from landing on what you want to remember. A successful memory, though, is easy to recall or comes to mind quickly whenever you want it to.


A writer (you… and me) wants his readers to remember the ideas that are presented. We want our readers to be able to recall the concepts that we have presented. This will make the ideas valuable. There are a couple of ways that can help writers do this.

Lets begin with encoding. This is the first step of building a memory. Your readers are taking in tons of sensory information all day long. How will your writing stimulate the senses in such a way that it will stand out? One of the things that I try to do during teaching and in this blog is provide visuals. I try to tap more than just the imagination. Also, when teaching (This is virtually impossible through a blog post.), I try to create “experiences” during my lessons. A lesson on narratives will involve smoke machines, giant hairy spiders, and loud noises. Writers will want to make information appealing to readers. But, in order for readers to remember it, authors will need to make the information useful.

IMG_1631When new information comes into your brain, your mind tries to make sense of it.  Your brain looks for information that is related to the new senses being stimulated. It is sort of like looking for a code or translation that can make sense of the new information. If no translator or decoder is found, the information will most likely be deemed useless and get deleted. It may even be found incompatible immediately. This could have happened with the neuron information that I presented to my students at the beginning of this lesson. If I hadn’t talked to them a little about cells and brains, they wouldn’t have anywhere to put this information. I may as well have been speaking Greek to them. This is probably how many people feel when reading or listening to specialized scientific texts and talks.

It is our job, as authors, to help our readers make connections. We must provide the code to our text right at the beginning of our writing. The translator needs to be set up and ready to go before any information is conveyed, or it will be lost. The opening sentence should present this code. It should tell the reader what folder in the brain she will need to access to find related information. This will empower the reader to make sense of what she is reading. Not doing this is like throwing the reader into the middle of the ocean without a lifejacket.

Opening Sentence
I’ll be opening the “Bat File” for this one.


BBC Earth Lab (Producer), & Head Squeeze (Director). (2014, February 20). How Does Your Memory Work?[Video file]. Retrieved February 6, 2019, from https://youtu.be/TUoJc0NPajQ

Cherry, K. (2018, August 3). What Is Memory and How Does It Work? An Overview of Memory and How it Works. Retrieved February 4, 2019, from https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-memory-2795006

Craig Freudenrich, Ph.D. & Robynne Boyd “How Your Brain Works” 6 June 2001.

HowStuffWorks.com. <https://science.howstuffworks.com/life/inside-the-mind/human-brain/brain.htm> 5 February 2019

Richard C. Mohs “How Human Memory Works” 8 May 2007. HowStuffWorks.com. <https://science.howstuffworks.com/life/inside-the-mind/human-brain/human-memory.htm> 6 February 2019

Schwartz, K. (2016, November 21). What Neuroscience Can Tell Us About Making Fractions Stick. Retrieved January 16, 2019, from https://www.kqed.org/mindshift/46865/what-neuroscience-can-tell-us-about-making-fractions-stick

Texas A&M University. (2016, May 17). How does memory work?. ScienceDaily. Retrieved February 4, 2019 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/05/160517131928.htm