Game-Based Learning: More Tips for Teachers

With our last blog post, Game-Based Learning: Tips for Teachers we looked at the trend of teachers we talk to using game-based learning techniques in their classrooms.

game based learning tips
Engaging students with game-based learning


Here are a couple more tips we’ve come across that could be useful for educators as you do your lesson planning.



Tip #2: It’s all in the journey


Let the elements of your lesson plan emphasize the journey of discovery more than the end result, such as a project or test. Gamers are attracted to the journey: how to play the game holds as much interest as the result of the game. Game design has figured out how to let participants explore multiple angles and perspectives to see what the outcome would be. As an educator, consider how to make the figuring out a fun process, rather than just whether the end result is correct.


Let the students know what resources would be helpful on their journey of discovery and how to find them, just as collecting stars in a game can ‘power up’ their strength. Half the fun of the journey in a video game is searching for these guideposts. With this strategy, students develop the critical thinking skills that will lead them to find helpful answers and resources.



Tip #3: Level up


Think of the elements of your unit in terms of levels, with each level of knowledge or skills acquired ‘unlocking’ to the next level. Gamers always know what level they are on, and are motivated to level up. Most video game designs seem to understand the gamer’s drive to keep advancing. Why else would so many games unlock the next level only once certain challenges have been achieved? This building up to the next level works an inherent reward system into your plans, and motivates students to build on their expertise levels.


One way that teachers often check understanding along the way, long before test-time, is with personal whiteboard slates. Teachers can ask questions, to the students flash their answers on the whiteboard slates. This will give the teacher an adequate read on whether certain information or concepts need to be reviewed, or if it is time to move on to the next level.


Check back later this week and we’ll have the final installment of our blog posts focused on game-based learning.



Game-Based Learning: Tips for Teachers

How to use Gaming Principles in the classroom – even when you aren’t using technology! Game-based learning.

game based learning


Here at EcoSmart Products, not only do we get to talk to teachers every day about our refillable markers, but we’re parents of school children (ranging from grade three to grade 10), so needless to say a lot of conversation focuses on the classroom.


One of the recent topics was “game-based learning” and how many teachers we know are doing a great job of building gaming principles into lessons. Their students are benefiting from game dynamics without realizing how much they’re actually learning.


We thought it might be worthwhile to compile a list of “Game-Based Learning” tips some of our favorite teachers are using in their classrooms.


We have four tips in total.


Here is Tip #1 for game-based learning techniques in the classroom (check back throughout the week as we will have blog posts for Tips #2, #3 and #4).


Tip #1: Story of My Life


As sung by Harry from 1D in Story of my Life, “Written on these walls are the stories that I can’t explain


Which leads us, clumsily, to…using a story to engage and intrigue students.


Often students tune out of a lesson because they don’t see the relevance or importance of the subject to their own lives. Try and place them in a central role in the story, even if imaginary. If they were faced with the same choices, dilemmas and opportunities, what would they choose?


Teach the students to mind-map or draw out multiple pathways. Let the students loose on the whiteboard to brainstorm the pathways, actors and possible outcomes of the story.


Kids who play video games are used to flexible and multiple ways to win, or reach the end. The risk of having only one ‘correct’ way to solve the problem is that it rewards one type of learner, typically the most logical, linear thinkers. Look for opportunities to pose meaningful questions for the students to consider, from their point of view.


We’ll post up the rest of the tips throughout the week (and link them here as they go up).


Thanks for checking in.


Here’s another post you might be interested in:

Refillable Markers: The Quest for Less



Refillable Markers and the Quest for #Less



Often we hear about MORE: how to recycle more, how to commute more, repurpose more, compost more, buy organic/recycled/fair traded/local more. All good stuff, but can we assume that LESS naturally flows from the conversation about MORE? If we focus more on recycling efforts, do we naturally consume less? If we compost more, do we waste less food? Clearly not. How can LESS be the corollary of MORE when Target reminds us: Expect More. Pay Less? So let’s assume the conversation about LESS (not the Target concept of less) is something other than a nuance and doesn’t always result from our efforts to go green. Think of it: if the conversation in a school or office focused on how to increase recycling efforts, a blue box system soon be placed near every doorway and trash can. But if one looked around the office or classrooms to find the most wasteful products – ones that could be used less – one would easily identify products like the always-necessary, often-dead dry-erase marker. We don’t just want to recycle plastic disposable markers more (oops: they aren’t even recyclable), we actually want to consume them #less.

Enter the solution of EcoSmart’s refillable dry-erase markers. Made of a recycled aluminum, these markers can be topped up and refilled over and over again without the need to buy more markers. Even when the tips get frayed or smushed, they can be replaced for a minimal cost. As a great illustration of a product that is based on the mindset of LESS, EcoSmart markers cost significantly less than disposables, as a refilled marker costs approximately 23 cents compared to $1+ for a new regular marker.

Often the overlooked R of the 3Rs, ‘reduce’ asks us to think of ways to consume and discard less. In the age of more, EcoSmart markers draw a greener pasture in the landscape of going green.


EcoSmart's markers are refillable, made of recycled aluminum and use non-toxic ink at a fraction of the cost compared to disposable markers.
EcoSmart’s markers are refillable, made of recycled aluminum and use non-toxic ink at a fraction of the cost compared to disposable markers.





Do you doodle? And other ways to help you think.

Refillable Markers DoodleThe humble doodle may have gotten you in trouble at school for not paying attention to the teacher. Maybe you’re a teacher now and find yourself annoyed by doodling students. Is it not enough that students are preoccupied with their laps (i.e. phones)? Is there no one left who will look you in the eye as you teach? But studies have shown that doodling can help the thinking process by increasing memory retention, boosting creativity and enhancing problem solving. Companies and schools on the cutting edge are embracing the art of doodling and non-linear drawings as a way to enhance performance, unleash innovation and tap into all types of learners. Many have blanketed their walls and desks with whiteboards. Of course, using EcoSmart’s refillable markers makes the possibilities endless, with no getting funny in the head from the vapors of regular, toxic markers. Here are some top tips for dry-erase doodling.

The headquarters of Beats by Dre feature whiteboard walls.
The headquarters of Beats by Dre feature whiteboard walls.

1. The Office Whiteboard Wall.

While technology is certainly stealing the thunder from the pen and paper (millennials think ‘laptop’ when you are looking for your notebook), we are seeing that whiteboards and dry-erase markers are on the rise in office spaces. Idea Paint and other whiteboard products have made it possible for whiteboard spaces to go big, allowing for group brainstorming sessions and expansive mind mapping. We hate to say that all the cool kids are doing it, but they are. These collaborative thinking spaces are driving innovation as different employees add to a diagram, storyboard, flow chart or visual landscaping of a problem or vision for the company. Pictured here, the headquarters of Beats by Dre features a whiteboard zone. Google Ventures proved that they mean business with their whiteboard room by naming it the war room.


2. The Whiteboard Table.

Whiteboard tables at NASA's Johnson Space Center
Whiteboard tables at NASA’s Johnson Space Center

Now that we know the hip kids are using whiteboard walls, we also need to know that the geeks are decking out in whiteboard surfaces too. At NASA, tabletops are surfaced with whiteboards so scientists at the Johnson Space Center can jot down their ideas and notes. They gather here, in their sp.ace room to ‘connect, collide, and coalesce’. (It’s all rocket science, even their vocabulary.)

Schools are also decentralizing their use of the front board with individual whiteboard desks and slates. Students can work out their math problems at their desk without having to appear in front of the class. This way, teachers can check student understanding along the way, well before test-time. And if students are just doodling on their desk, one only has to remember JFK who was well known for doodling his way through his presidency.


JFK would often doodle the same word over and over again (first image), but he also doodled images to overcome the Cuban Missile Crisis (second image).
JFK would often doodle the same word over and over again (first image), but he also doodled images to think through the Cuban Missile Crisis (second image).

3. Kids Quarters

Drawing with dry-erase markers is safest with non-toxic markers.
Drawing with dry-erase markers is safest with non-toxic markers.

The whiteboard wall is now a common feature in home decor magazines, as parents have decided it’s ok to actually write on the wall. While this opens up opportunity for young minds to connect visual and kinesthetic aspects of learning, it becomes problematic if they are using heavily scented or toxic markers. Brain fog, dizziness, triggered asthma, headaches and nausea are some symptoms that can be triggered with regular dry-erase markers in an enclosed space. A truly non-toxic marker (not just ‘AP approved’) is a healthier option.

Pinterest is teeming with ideas for how to think outside the box with dry-ease markers. Check out EcoSmart’s curated list of 50 Things to Do with Dry-Erase Markers. You just may want to make sure that your markers are refillable first!

EcoSmart's markers are refillable, made of recycled aluminum and use non-toxic ink at a fraction of the cost compared to disposable markers.
EcoSmart’s markers are refillable, made of recycled aluminum and use non-toxic ink at a fraction of the cost compared to disposable markers.

Summer Calls: The Whiteboard Goes Blank

Refill ThanksAs the school year winds down, and teachers wipe clean their whiteboard for the final time of the year, we wanted to extend a big thank you to all the teachers and staff who are using EcoSmart Markers! By using refillable markers, you are cutting down not only on the cost of disposable markers, but also on all that waste that ends up in the landfill. It doesn’t seem like much waste when you toss one marker in the garbage, but you know more than anyone else, how those dead markers add up through the year. We look forward to stocking your classroom, supply room and office next year… after you’ve had a little refill of your own.

“The markers are tough as nails and they last for years.”

-Instructor, Canadian Forces Naval Engineering School


“I continue to be convinced of the effectiveness of these markers.  Janitors tell me that they clean off whiteboards easier than other types of dry-erase markers, and I love that they are essentially odourless.”

-J Hardy, teacher at Cardston


“…to paraphrase a well known advertisement – It just keeps on writing and writing and writing…”

-G. Spears, High School Teacher

We love to hear from you and your experiences with EcoSmart Markers.

Happy summer holidays from the EcoSmart team!

EcoSmart's non-toxic, refillable markers and refill ink.
EcoSmart’s non-toxic, refillable markers and refill ink.



New Law In France Forces Grocery Stores to Reduce Food Waste

food wasteFranceToday a headline really grabbed our attention in the EcoSmart office: France Makes it Illegal for Supermarkets to Destroy Edible Food. Wow. In attempt to reduce food waste in that country, the government unanimously passed a new law stating that large supermarkets must sign a contract to donate edible products to a local charity. This development is coming at a time when food waste is at a high, and incidentally, so is the number of families turning to a food bank. Recently there have been several prosecutions in the UK against individuals (parents, students) who have taken discarded food from grocery store garbage bins. How very ‘Les Miserables’! It is an interesting example of governance taking responsibility to help address the growing crisis of waste, landfills and wasteful products and practices.

Consider this. In the UK, 4.3 million tonnes of surplus food is produced each year, with only 2 per cent of that going to charities to feed the hungry, and the vast majority ending up in landfills. Meanwhile, reports show a 19% rise year-on-year in use of food banks, described by experts as the ‘tip of the iceberg’ of food poverty in the UK. When you read through the accounts of the waste, you realize the ridiculous proportion of the situation. One food store rejected almost 10,000 Cornish pastries because the food truck showed up 17 minutes late. Another store turned away 10 tonnes of tomatoes because they were too big. The tomatoes were subsequently offered to a food bank, but the food bank manager couldn’t take them because he didn’t have room for such a supply of fresh produce. If this situation were made into a movie script, it would read like a futuristic dystopia, on the shelves next to The Hunger Games, Divergent, and The Giver.

At EcoSmart Products, we are all too familiar with unnecessary waste. The waste within the food industry is a particular problem that needs to be addressed at all levels of society: individuals, community, corporate and government. We say to France: Allez, Allez, Allez!


Original article France Makes it Illegal for Supermarkets to Destroy Edible Food found here.

EcoSmart Markers are refillable, recyclable and made of recycled aluminum, significantly reduce waste in offices and schools
EcoSmart Markers are refillable, recyclable and made of recycled aluminum, significantly reducing waste in offices and schools



A Teacher Gift that Teachers Will Actually Love

Gift CertificatesAt the end of the school year, are you often wondering what kind of gift to give to your child’s teacher? I ask teachers all the time what they really like to receive as a year-end present. Invariably, they say that they love gifts that they can actually use, like generic gift cards. Starbucks and Chapters cards are clear winners. But if you’re like me, I want to get something that is both practical and something a little different. Something that says I put some thought into this gift. At EcoSmart Products, it’s the time of year when we receive orders for refillable markers and refill inks as teacher gifts. It is truly a great gift – a product that the teacher uses constantly, but one that is unique and has a wow factor. Teachers love our non-toxic, refillable dry-erase markers! So this year, EcoSmart Products is making it even easier for you to purchase a year-end gift that the teacher will actually love. Gift certificates are now available for purchase so your teacher can select his or her own combination of dry-erase markers and inks and have them shipped to their home! Here are 3 great reasons to consider an EcoSmart gift certificate as a teacher gift:

Reason #1: Teachers are often required to pay for school supplies out of their own pocket. Owning their own set of refillable dry-erase markers means that they can avoid purchasing expensive single-use disposable markers. EcoSmart markers can be refilled over and over again, and the Refill Ink bottles are only $6.75 for at least 30 refills! It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

Many different combinations of EcoSmart Markers and Refill Inks
Many different combinations of EcoSmart Markers and Refill Inks

Reason #2: Regular markers are not only smelly, but they can lead to feelings of unwellness in a classroom. Teachers and students are complaining of headaches, dizziness, nausea and ‘brain fog’ as well as triggered asthma, caused by marker-smelly rooms. EcoSmart markers are non-toxic, and will leave the teacher feeling healthier and the students able to think clearer. That makes a teacher’s job just a bit easier.

Reason #3: Most teachers have an eco-sensibility and are searching for ways to lighten their environmental impact in the classroom. Teachers tell us at EcoSmart Products that using a refillable marker that is made of recycled and recyclable aluminum is a great example for their students. Constantly throwing away plastic markers gives the wrong message to students. Many teachers will have the students top up their refillable markers as part of the classroom chores.

How to order an EcoSmart Products Gift Certificate?

Simply call or email the EcoSmart Office and we can send you a certificate to print and give to your teacher. Gift Certificates can be purchased in any dollar amount and are good for 6 months.

Call us toll-free at: 1 866 328-7736

or email:


The Greenest School On Earth: How did they do it?

dunbartonEvery year People magazine’s ‘Sexiest Man Alive’ issue sparks conversation and controversy. Not surprisingly, not everyone agrees on who should be awarded the title. But this past week, the Global Coalition for Green Schools, an initiative of the U.S. Green Building Council, found consensus on the ‘Greenest School on Earth’. That’s quite the accomplishment, especially given how many schools are making efforts to go green and follow best sustainable practices. It intrigued us at EcoSmart Products, and we set out to learn exactly it takes to be the best eco school on the planet. How did Dunbarton High School, a public school in Pickering, Ontario, Canada, became the ‘greenest school on the planet’ – despite being in a 50 year old building? Their efforts are certainly comprehensive and diverse. But after examining their efforts and reading their testimonies, we have narrowed it down to one important condition that the school achieved over and over again. This one condition was present in all their activities and is something that every school and organization can achieve to varying degrees.

First, let’s take a look at the criteria that won Dunbarton High School the greenest school on earth. Their impressive list includes:

  • Energy efficient windows throughout the school
  • A rooftop solar hot water system
  • A 40-seat outdoor classroom
  • A 500-square meter pollinator garden. Garden vegetables are donated to the local food bank.
  • Bee condos
  • Low-wattage fluorescent lighting
  • More than 70 shade trees to help keep the building cool (planted by the students)
  • Reusable water bottles for every student
  • A compost program that sees green bin waste set out at neighbours’ homes near the school
  • A regular curriculum that integrates sustainability and environmental education
  • A specialist major focusing on the environment
  • Opportunity for students to participate in the Atlantic Salmon Restoration Program, research Rouge National Urban Park, monitor the school’s air quality, audit its electricity use, research trees planted on campus, and take on climate change civic action projects

At the outset, we said that Dunbarton’s achievements essentially comes down to one condition. That condition is capacity building. In all accounts, we read how the staff and students themselves saw a vision and contributed to the goals: planting trees, helping in the gardens, taking specialized courses, involving their families and community, and becoming part of the school’s culture. This has been a hugely coordinated effort, one which did not devolve onto the shoulders of a few passionate champions. This was a collective effort, which through consultation and collaboration has seen the capacity of the whole school community grow and grow.

There’s no doubt that individual initiative and a few passionate champions got the ball rolling at Dunbarton. But where the school really built momentum was when collective efforts began to surge, creating synergy, a school-wide eco culture, and an unstoppable Greenest School on Earth. It’s like the Chinese proverb:

“When a true leader has finished his or her work, the people say: Look what we ourselves have done!”


See the Center for Green Schools site for more information and for past winners.

Photo credit: Huffington Post



Earth Hour Efforts Earn School Non-Toxic, Refillable Markers

St Peters 2Last week we took a look into the true impact of Earth Hour and the year-round events that are inspired by the global movement, headed up by WWF. The scope of the worldwide impact is matched only by the diversity of actions that are taken from country to country. Today we look back at Earth Hour last year, and an initiative that EcoSmart Products proudly helped to sponsor. The organization Act for Antarctica inspired many people, especially youth, to carry out an act for the health of the planet and the preservation of Antarctica.

Act for Antarctica is a global youth-driven campaign that aims to educate high school and elementary school students about the significance of the polar regions. We want young people to learn about Antarctica, one of the areas most affected by global warming (we’ll even send you a free book!), and then take action to protect this vulnerable ecosystem. 

Check out more information on Act for Antarctica here.

As part of the challenge, Act for Antarctica drew prizes for schools that participated in their campaign. EcoSmart Products donated its Non-Toxic, Refillable Markers and Refill Inks to St Peter’s School in Philadelphia for their action on Earth Hour. Here is an excerpt from one of the teachers about the presentation from Leah Davidson, one of the main collaborators of Act for Antarctica:


It was an awesome opportunity to collaborate across divisions in our school, and it provided wonderful leadership and public speaking experience for my students. They are now super committed to solving the energy crisis (and also insisted that we go the entire day Friday without turning on any lights!) Thank you very much for sharing your experience with our students. It has inspired them without a doubt.

St Peter’s , Philadelphia


They even sent us pictures of their students with EcoSmart’s markers and some sweet messages. Well done St Peter’s!

St Peters 2

St Peters 1St Peters 3St Peters 4St Peters 5St Peters 6


Earth Hour: Is it doing anything?

Earth Hour logo created in Iran in a dried-up river bed
Earth Hour logo created in Iran in a dried-up river bed

Earth Hour, the annual power-down event, is next weekend, Saturday March 28 at 8:30-9:30pm local time. The global environmental movement began in 2007 in Australia by WWF and has been gaining traction every year since. We thought we’d take a look into whether this awareness-raising event is having any impact on reducing global use of energy. Can one hour a year make a difference? Is there any evidence that we are taking Earth Hour to heart and taking action beyond the hour? Let’s take a look.

  • Over 162 countries and territories have participated in Earth Hour
  • Over 7000 cities and towns have participated
  • 60 countries are going ‘beyond the hour’ (see some examples below)
  • 1.2 billion tweets about #EarthHour were sent for 2014
  • $61,487 was crowdfunded for Earth Hour in 2014

Many countries took Earth Hour as an opportunity to focus on their particular environmental challenge:

  • In 2014 Australia focused on saving the Great Barrier Reef with a documentary called “Lights out for the Reef”
  • China focused on smog and air pollution, with a Blue Sky campaign that reached hundreds of millions of people through corporate involvement
  • Pandas received some love when The Amazing Spiderman 2 in collaboration with Earth Hour raised $42,439 USD to help protect the endangered species
  • In Singapore, crowdfunding focused on ‘Stop the Killing’ to address wildlife crime in South East Asia. The effort raised $20,000
  • Indonesia tracked 1.5 million pledges from individuals (mostly youth) to reduce their carbon footprint
  • Madagascar ran a ‘Saving Forests and Families’ crowdfunding campaign and has been delivering thousands of high-efficiency stoves to families as a WWF ‘beyond Earth Hour’ initiative. They also launched a reforestation plan with schools planting 4,500 trees.
  • Russia raised $106,000 to help save the following critical species: Amur Leopard, Snow Leopard, Bison, Polar Bear, Siberian Tiger.
  • Greece collected 15,500 signatures to protest the construction of a new coal plant (Ptolemaida V) and to develop a vision for clean energy in Greece.
  • In Ecuador, plans were launched to reduce certain key plastic products in order to protect marine conservation, including the Galapagos Islands.

And the list goes on! There were music festivals, documentaries, tree-planting campaigns, educational programs, clean-up campaigns, and hashtag campaigns (#maketheswitch). Countries also focused on their dried-up river beds, disappearing ice, and switch to energy-efficient light bulbs. One can easily see that the diversity and effort linked to Earth Hour (mostly through the on-going efforts of WWF) has caused grassroots efforts to address critical issues worldwide. We didn’t even find the estimated energy savings from the one-hour power down from homes and industry across the globe. But the list of on-going efforts is enough for us to say: Lights Out! Bring on #EarthHour!


Watch this:

Earth Hour 2015 Official Video, featuring ‘Pompeii’ by Bastille