Goosechase- An App that Gets Students Outside

This past spring, my friend Colby Sharp shared an article his wife, Alaina Sharp, wrote about an app called Goosechase.  Goosechase is a scavenger hunt platform that uses screenshots, photos, and videos in place of paper and pen. After reading Alaina’s article, I knew I had to try this app in my English class.  When I shared my idea with Mike, my biology colleague, he jumped on board, too.  So at the end of the year we found ourselves designing a biology and English exam review scavenger hunt.

Goosechase allows you to create missions and add them to a game.  They do have an educator platform, which I am a big fan of.  Mike and I looked through the mission bank and ended up editing a few of the missions.  Then we developed our own and added them.  In the end, we came up with 26 missions for students to complete, in teams, during a combined bio/English period (2 hours):

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This is just a portion of our final game.

Guys, it took a bit of advance set-up (the kids need to download the app and sign up for a free account), but the game was amazing.  I think it was one of the best activities we did all year.  The kids absolutely loved it! They were running around, submitting their missions through the app, and Mike and I kept track of everything via the app.  We could see each submission as it came in and determine if the students earned points for their submission.  The students could see their score and they could track their competitors via the leaderboard.  It was great!

Here’s an example of an English-related submission:

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It’s a poem, written by the students on the spot and posted in a public place on campus.  You can use the scavenger hunt to encourage students to write poetry or prose, find examples of vocabulary words, create art, and even draw connections between the natural world and the books they are reading.  I challenged students to find something in nature that could symbolize the theme of a work we read together and was blown away by what they came up with.  Competition breeds creativity, I guess!

I loved that the students were reviewing for our exam, thinking about science and English, and spending time outside.  And it was so easy to set up!  I highly recommend the app and I’d love to hear about your experiences using Goosechase.

Need some help?  I wrote up a lesson plan:

Goosechase: An Online, Outdoors Scavenger Hunt


The Science of a Fiction Picture Book (#STEAM) by Leslie Helakoski

I love using picture books with my high school students, so I am always on the lookout for new stories. Reading picture books to high school and middle school students has important implications. The use of picture books can increase student motivation, understanding of concepts, and build background and context for academic learning (Carr, Buchanan, Wentz, Weiss, & Brant, 2001). Plus, picture books are the perfect length for use in lesson plans. The story can be read and shared with students in a single class period with time left for independent practice.

Leslie Helakoski wrote a fantastic post for The Nerdy Book Club about her new picture book, Hoot & Honk Just Can’t Sleep. In the post linked below, she explains how the book can be used in classrooms. She includes ideas for covering English standards using the science topics in this fictional story.

Carr, K.S., Buchanan, D.L., Wentz, J.B., Weiss, M.L., Brant, K.J. (2001). Not Just for the Primary Grades: A Bibliography of Picture Books for Secondary Content Teachers. Journal Of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, (2), 146.

Nerdy Book Club

Even a fictional picture book can engage young minds in scientific thought. Comparing and contrasting are great tools for learning and what better way to explore this concept than a fun story?


HOOT & HONK Just Can’t Sleep began as an exploration of a nocturnal owlet, sleeping during the day and active at night, and a diurnal gosling, with the opposite schedule. But as the story developed, the chicks ended up in each other’s nest and I took comparing and contrasting to a new level. Beyond physical characteristics and sleep patterns, the story delves into the two birds’ activities and showcases the side-by-side patterns of the chicks’ days and nights.

This set-up allows for comparing several concepts: sunrise/sunset, nocturnal/diurnal, dark/light, sleep/wake, open/close, up/down, moon/sun and herbivore/carnivore all inside the lyrical story of two displaced chicks finding their way home.

The illustrations make the compare/contrast structure stronger. The reader sees…

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Happy 200th Birthday, Thoreau!

Henry David Thoreau was born on July 12, 1817.  Today we celebrate his 200th birthday! Walden Pond, the inspiration for one of his greatest works, will hold celebrations all week. You can find our more out the bicentennial celebrations here.   However, celebrating Thoreau shouldn’t be limited to one location or one day in 2017.  We can celebrate Thoreau in English class all year and follow in his footsteps by bringing our students outside.

In “Walking“, published in The Atlantic in May 1862, Thoreau established the importance of spending time outside.   He reminded readers that, “In wildness is the preservation of the world.” That wildness can be found anywhere that we find nature.  Wildness might be the soccer field next to the school or it could be the forest.  Regardless of how large the area is, it can be wild for your students!

Many American literature classes include Walden as part of the curriculum.  Personally, though, I think that Thoreau is more relatable when students read his essays.  “Walking” is accessible to most students and can be studied in a few class periods.  Why not read Thoreau’s essays, including “Walking“, outside with students this year?  There are many ways to approach this essay. I designed a lesson for the NYTimes Learning Network for the essay; it can be found here.

Bill Schecter, a teacher who created an elective called “Meet Mr. Thoreau”, reminds us that the leaves, trees, sky, rain, and dirt that Thoreau surrounded himself with at Walden can also be found in our school yards (2009). Thoreau said, “When we walk, we naturally go to the fields and woods: What would become of us, if we walked only in a garden or a mall?” What happens to our students when we keep them inside all day?  Instead of tying students to desks, why not bring them outside and challenge them to write about the grass?  The clouds?  The birds?

If you want to let your students have their own Walden Pond experience- take them outside.  Let them see, feel, hear, and taste nature! In the meantime, peruse Thoreau’s writings and pull out essays or excerpts that fit in your curriculum.  Celebrate Thoreau to the fullest!




Schecter, B. (2009). On Teaching Thoreau. The Thoreau Society Bulletin, (265), 1.

Moellering, K. (2013). Metaphysical Dirt: Teaching Thoreau Outside. The Thoreau Society Bulletin, (282), 5.








Bill, S. (2009). On Teaching Thoreau. The Thoreau Society Bulletin, (265), 1.


A Great Resource for Lesson Plans

Are you familiar with The New York Times Learning Network blog? Since 1998 they posted lesson plans, writing prompts, student contests, news quizzes, and much more based on articles and multimedia from The New York Times. All articles referenced on the blog are free, not behind a pay wall, and new content is added daily during the school year.  I am a freelance contributor to the blog but I am also an avid user of the blog.

The blog contributors and editors do a great job developing lesson plans and they are often interdisciplinary.  I love that they are simple and easy to present.  I love to use the lesson plans as my emergency sub plans because they are high quality and can be led by someone who does not have a lot of background knowledge.

I’ve used many of the lessons on the blog so I can recommend the following for use in secondary classrooms looking to bring science topics into the English classroom:

These are just a few of the many, many lesson plans available from The Learning Network.  The resources available through the blog are practically endless and each lesson plan has many extensions and cross-curricular ideas.  Spend some time this summer browsing the site!

The Poetry Friday Anthology for Science

51VP9aDb4SL._SX348_BO1,204,203,200_The Poetry Friday Anthology for Science: Poems for the School Year Integrating Science, Reading, and Language Arts by Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong is aimed at grades K-5 but can definitely be adapted for secondary students, too.  Available in a student and teacher edition, The Poetry Friday Anthology for Science includes poems by 78 poets about topics in science. Topics range from science fairs to biology to physics to chemistry and everything in between.

While the book is aimed at K-5 students and teachers I have used the poems as mentor texts for my high school students.  Poetry is often intimidating for my students as they believe it must be deep and life-changing.  Sometimes, poetry is just a great way to stretch your brain and think about topics in a new way.  The poems in this collection do just that!  I’ve shared poems with students and then challenged them to write poems about what they are currently studying in science.  One student now writes rhymes to help himself study for science tests!

The teacher’s edition includes lesson plan ideas in the form of Take 5!

The “Take 5” Mini-lesson for every poem includes 5 steps:
#1: Here you will find an easy suggestion for how to make the poem come alive as
you read it aloud by pairing the poem with a prop, adding gestures or movement, trying
out specific dramatic reading techniques, adding multi-media, and so on.
#2: This tip suggests how to engage students in participating with you in reading the
poem aloud again. For example, look for any repeated words, phrases, lines, or stanzas
in the poem and invite students to chime in on those words as you read the rest of the
poem aloud.
#3: You’ll find a fun discussion prompt here, tailored to Nit the poem. It’s usually an
open- ended question with no single, correct answer. Encourage diversity in responses!
#4: Here we connect the poem to a specific science skill or concept offering a
targeted focus for quick explanation,simple demonstration, or a multi-media connection.
#5: We share related poem titles and book titles that connect well with the featured
poem based on the poem content or science topic.
This PDF from the publisher includes more information.

I highly recommend this book for students and teachers of all grade levels. The poems can be used in science or English class and because they support the Common Core Standards and Next Generation Science Standards they are easy to adapt to the curriculum in any class.


The Nerdy Book Club is a must-read blog for teachers. They are always sharing information about amazing books and ideas for literacy across the content areas.

Earlier this week author Patricia Newman posted an entry about her new book, Sea Otter Heroes, that would be great for students to read. She talks about why she writes about science and the process of writing a book about a conservation issue.

Nerdy Book Club

When I was a kid, I loved science. It was so relevant. It helped me make connections to the rest of the world, like the time my second-grade class designed an experiment to understand the concept of one million by making Xs on graph paper during our free time. (It took us forever!) Or when my biology class injected chicks with hormones. The testosterone chick grew larger and developed an aggressive personality. A light bulb went on about why boys do the things they do.

I’m also a nature-lover. I remember our warm-up run for field hockey practice on the cross-country course that took us through the woods. The crunch of fall leaves beneath my sneakers, the earthy smell, the bird song, the peacefulness. I loved that run. And today, my ideal vacation takes me back to nature.

I think that’s why I gravitate toward life science topics—and specifically…

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Slice of Life #2- Field Guide to NJ Species

Yesterday I shared an assignment that my students just completed that I think could be adapted to English classes at any grade level. Feel free to steal!

The Reading Zone

Last week I tried a new assignment with my 9th graders and I’m so proud of how it turned out! Our current unit is called Literature and the Land and we are focusing on nature writing.  Specifically, we began by studying writers like Edward Abbey and John Muir and moved to writers who focus on New Jersey.  Right now the students are reading excerpts from John McPhee’s The Pine Barrens. I’ve also been sharing picture books like Coyote Moon, Finding Wild, and Faraway Fox.

It’s too cold to go outside most days so I wanted to come up with a way for my students to learn about species found in NJ without forcing them to freeze.  I’ve always loved field guides so I decided to challenge them to create a field guide to NJ species. I borrowed a bunch of field guides from the biology teacher to use as mentor…

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