Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Unlocking The 4Cs With Breakout EDU

How Breakout EDU is used to unlock one or more of the 4Cs

As an iCoach, I have the pleasure of working with teachers helping them integrate innovate learning experiences into their classroom. Bringing Breakout EDU into our classrooms has been a game-changer for us and has been integrated into our curriculum in social studies, language arts, math, science, Spanish, French, music, and physical education. We’ve also integrated it into staff meetings and professional development. In our world, it’s apparent more than ever that “soft skills” like listening, time-management, empathizing, communicating, teamwork are are crucial for people to have. We’ve seen from playing, that Breakout EDU is an amazing platform to help with these skills, especially when we talk about the 4Cs - creativity, collaboration, communication, and critical thinking. These skills can come through in Breakout EDU games while players play the game as well as in actual game creation. With CREATIVITY, you see how teams figure out ways for working together in order to solve the puzzles. You also see creativity come through in game creation. We have students and teachers inspired so much from playing games that they’re driven create games for their students and classes. Then, there’s CRITICAL THINKING which is an essential part of Breakout EDU. Critical-thinking, inference, and problem-solving are utilized by players for solving clues and puzzles as well as game creation. We’ve seen students who are often left out and disengaged be acknowledged as problem-solvers by their peers. What a great example of how students show leadership skills. Things like this boost student’s confidence. Breakout EDU has been a big boom to the COLLABORATION and COMMUNICATION in our classrooms. The “everyone is in charge yet no one is in charge” helps students work as a team and value contributions from all group members when working toward a common goal.

How Breakout EDU has boosted classroom engagement

It’s always fun to see the excitement students show when they see the Breakout EDU box coming their way... “Are we playing a Breakout!??”, “Is that for our class??!”. They look forward to it and are always asking when the next one will be. When we think about learning experiences, how many times have we heard students asking for more? This truly makes Breakout EDU a special thing.

"Breakout EDU has always proven to be one of the most engaging activities in our classrooms. Students are eager, excited, and barely able to be contained." Alex Rummelhart (6th grade ELA teacher)

They are constantly working hard to solve the goal in front of them and in the process using great learning skills like the 4Cs. Everyone loves solving puzzles, and the time-sensitivity to the game not only makes it fun and exciting, but also adds to importance of efficiently communicating and collaborating with one another. Hearing, “I’ve never seen such engagement and focus, ever” from observers of players never gets old.

Being in an environment where a teacher has several class periods, they get creative with how they have their classes play Breakout EDU games. Sometimes classes are mixed up across teams: two teachers who have the same subject and grade level will collaborate and mix their students up so that they can work with students they normally don’t see which brings a different level of engagement, motivation, and excitement.

"One of our favorite aspects of how Breakout EDU works is that it allows for the strengths of different levels of learners to shine through. Students who typically may not participate in a regular classroom setting have surprised us and really shine during Breakout EDU games. Each student has an opportunity to become fully engaged in learning."

How Breakout EDU has transformed your classroom

Student learning is always in the center of our world as educators. Seeing the excitement that Breakout EDU brings to educators who want to bring something different into their classroom to help impact and transform student learning is truly something special. One of our teachers, Dave Komie (8th grade Social Studies teacher), shared that prior to Breakout EDU, their lesson plan about the significance of cracking the German Enigma code in WWII was an average lesson. Now with integrating Breakout EDU’s “Decoding the War”, students are challenged, fully engaged on the topic, and comprehend what Alan Turing and the crew at Bletchley Park did for the world on a deeper level.

Another teacher, Shenach Cameron (7th grade ELA teacher), shared that one of the most impressive ways students have engaged their peers has been in their creation of Breakout EDU games as a Literature Circle extension in their language arts class. The teacher’s favorite example was when a student created a Breakout EDU game for the class directly related to the novel Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life. Then, the student wanted to build their own unique Breakout EDU box and used a woodworking tool and keys from the craft store to decorate it (which the student’s father helped with). What an amazing example of student choice and passion in their learning.

Breakout EDU has brought a new life to learning in so many ways and on so many levels for both students and teachers. Teachers have an incredible excitement and passion to bring a different kind of learning experience to their students. Some may use it as an introduction, midpoint, or review for their curriculum. With students, we see a level of excitement and engagement for learning that brings joy to us all. The skills that students show when they play continue to make us so proud. We learn from them just as much as they learn from us. Our students have now played several Breakout EDU games since first introducing this platform a few years back. We love to see what kind of skill growth they’ve seen in themselves from the first time they’ve ever played. We hear such great things like students noticing they’ve improved on how they communicate, on their teamwork, leadership, listening skills, and how they approach problems in different ways. They’ve also mentioned the importance of patience, grit and perseverance -- skills and characteristics we all strive to improve on. More than “just a game” Breakout EDU has proven to be a game changer for us.

This post was originally shared on the Breakout EDU Facebook Community. I'd like to thank the teachers at my school who helped contribute to it. It's the willingness by teachers like them to try different things in the classroom that truly make a difference in learning.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Mindset Innovator Visits #Engage109

When you haven’t blogged in awhile and the person who inspired you to start blogging visits your school district, you start writing.

George Couros, one of the most inspiring educators out there, visited my school district for our fall institute day. I'm so thankful for this opportunity my district created for all of us. Our day began by hearing George’s keynote. If you’ve never heard George speak in person, it is something I hope you can experience one day. It’s a very special thing. A form of “art”. There will be a roller coaster of thoughts and emotions while you hear him. Some highlights that come to mind from hearing George: fun, engagement, smiles, laughter, tears, thoughts of the past, the present, the future, thoughts of the children you teach inside your classroom, and your own children at home, thoughts of your life, their lives, inspiration to be better for yourself, better for your students, you feel empathy, you embrace who you are and you wonder what you’d like to see yourself attempt, and of course you ponder the notion of being innovative.
It touched my heart to see so many amazing educators in one place moved by George, whether it was their first time hearing him or not. The atmosphere was full of hope by people who care deeply about what they do.

I tried to capture some moments and was sharing them throughout the day on my Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat.

George beginning his keynote. 
The Innovator's Mindset (now signed my George). :)
George sharing stories of his beautiful family.
Learning is messy, embrace that!

"We need to make the positives so loud, that the negatives are almost impossible to hear."

Then, this happened...

A special moment for all. This was the first time I witnessed a standing ovation for a speaker in the 16 years I've been in my district. 

George is such a great role-model for innovation. In his book, The Innovator’s Mindset, he says, "education's "why" is to develop learners and leaders who will create a better present and future....and to develop these traits in our people, we must empower them; we must INSPIRE innovation". This, in my opinion, describes George. He inspires and empowers. He is someone who innovates by making you feel like you can do anything you want if you put your heart and mind in the right place. His amazing gift of storytelling and making connections go straight to the heart and mind. And that's why after hearing him speak you learn so much, and become so motivated, empowered, and inspired.

Our selfie with George (courtesy of his awesome selfie-taking skills)
preceding an awesome afternoon conversation with him and middle school colleagues.
I feel thankful to George Couros for inspiring us, for pushing our thinking, for stressing the power of having an “innovator’s mindset” to gain deeper learning and understanding, and for reminding us to help keep the light in our student’s eyes.

Monday, June 13, 2016

When Tech Connects - Breakout EDU Sketchnote

Technology connects us and brings us closer no matter where we are. Just another reason why I treasure being a connected learner. Because of technology and being connected, I was lucky enough to collaborate with one of my favorite educators, Sylvia DuckworthSylvia's sketchnote drawings are an inspiration to many educators all around the world. You can see all of Sylvia's beautiful artwork via her Flickr page. For more insight on sketchnotes, she has created this incredible Sketchnoting for Beginners presentation. The amazing collection of sketchnotes that Sylvia has range from so many different topics floating around the world of education. 

I was curious if Sylvia had made a sketchnote on Breakout EDU. This school year, I was fortunate to introduce Breakout EDU in my district and with the support of my team, Nikki and Andrea, it has taken off not only in our school, but in other schools across the district as well. It's an exciting time! So, I reached out to Sylvia through Twitter and asked her if she had made a sketchnote on Breakout EDU yet, since it's something so many educators are extremely passionate about right now. She hadn't yet, so we worked together and came up with reasons to play Breakout EDU. After coming up with reasons, Sylvia worked her magic and created her work-of-art sketchnote. All of this happened because of our connection on Twitter and the ease of collaborating using a shared Google Document. When tech connects, so much is possible. I'm in Chicago and Sylvia is in Toronto and that didn't stop us from connecting, collaborating, and creating something pretty awesome. That's the power of connection. 

In what ways do you think being connected has made a difference for you? I'd love to hear.

Here is the sketchnote for 10 Reasons to Play Breakout EDU:

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

FOMO To The Side

Definition via Google Search
I decided to write a quick post about what’s been going on with me the last few months. On November 10th, my family grew when my baby boy, Leo, was born. Leo is my second baby following his big sister Gia, who is 3 ½ years old. My due date for Leo was on Halloween, but he must have liked it in there because he stayed in 10 extra days. I was able to work leading up to Leo being born. After the actual due date came and still no baby, it was fun seeing people’s reactions at work when they’d see me walk in the door, day after day. I got lots of, “you’re still here?” and “when’s that baby coming?”. Although I was a bit anxious with the thought that Leo might want to come while I was at work, I was lucky nothing crazy happened. No one had to rush me to the hospital, or anything like that. 

On the 9th day past my due date, I went to work like usual, and when I got home, I posted this picture:

Later that night, we would leave for the hospital.

And, the next morning, I posted this ❤:

I felt very grateful I was able to work up to the very last days before Leo came. I know I felt this because I love what I do and the people I work with. Because I know myself pretty well, I also knew I would miss the people and moments that would be going on while I’d be on my maternity leave. When you care about things, the potential of that good old FOMO bug, aka "Fear Of Missing Out", hits more than ever.

But, I’ve been good about pushing that FOMO to the side. Last year, I decided to choose #oneword I wanted to focus on throughout the year. My #oneword was “Enjoy”, and I’ve carried that word over with me into 2016. I’m glad I wrote and reflected about “Enjoy” because having that word lingering in the back of my head helps me stop things like the FOMO bug and enjoy the moments in life.

Life with a newborn and a toddler is….hold on, I forgot what I wanted to say (that’s what lack of sleep does to your brain). Where was I? :) Things are becoming a little easier (a little) with time. But then, they gaze into your eyes like a puppy or you can't stop watching them sleep so peacefully and all the tired and stress can fade away. Getting things done (like writing this blog post) are more challenging and take a little longer, for sure. What’s been the most amazing thing, though, is seeing how much room the heart has to love. Just when I thought I couldn’t love anything as much as my toddler, this baby boy came and the love my heart has to share is immeasurable. Being able to have this time with my little guy is a treasure. I may not be able to do everything I want to and be everywhere I want to be, and that’s ok.   
❤ Leo and Gia 

Luckily, in this technologically connected world we live in, it’s pretty easy to enjoy different places, events, and especially people when you can’t physically be somewhere. Social media and technology have been my connection to the outside world. The FOMO isn't so bad. All you need is the internet and some taps, clicks, and swipes. And although it may not be the same as actually being there physically, it’s something. We’re lucky to have even that.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Breakout EDU -- You Had Me At Breakout!

Back in March of this year at the Future Ready Schools Summit at Leyden High School, I attended one of the featured speaker sessions led by James Sanders. It was a great session with lots of takeaways about meaningful digital learning. My biggest takeaway though, was one of the last things he mentioned in the session. 

I looked back at my notes and this is the last thing I typed... “Breakout room idea”.

James shared with us this breakout room idea and gave us a little background about how this all came about. He went on to explain to us that there are these escape rooms around the world where you pay to get “locked in” a room with friends and try to escape by solving puzzles and unlocking codes. He was in Edmonton, Canada, with some high school students playing one of these escape games and he was amazed at how hard these students were working during this game. James wanted to turn this incredible learning experience of problem solving and fun and into something that can be used in the classroom. I left there super excited about this.
"You had me at Breakout!"

Soon after the summit, BreakoutEDU launched!

General info about BreakoutEDU:

  • How does it work? These are challenge escape games. Players solve clues in order to open locks and "breakout" of a room. Watch this quick video from the BreakoutEDU site to learn more: How BreakoutEDU Works
  • Why play? BreakoutEDU offers players a fun and exciting way to strengthen skills such as problem-solving, critical thinking, logic, creativity, communication, collaboration... so many skills necessary to for us to have. Did I mention fun? Playing a challenging BreakoutEDU game is such a fun and exciting way to strengthen skills without even realizing learning is happening. 
  • Who can play? BreakoutEDU games can be played by adults for team-building and collaboration or in class with students. Playing with adults is not only so much fun, but also a great way to have them experience it first hand so if they want to have students play, they understand exactly what it entails. And, giving students this fun learning experience which can be so different from what they’re used to, sparks a new energy and excitement for them. 
  • What subjects can you use these games in? Although many of the games available on BreakoutEDU are linked to a specific content area, they can be played by any subject. The beauty of these challenge games are the higher-order thinking skills involved and because of this they can be integrated in many ways. 
Over the summer, I purchased a BreakoutEDU kit. School started up again and it was time to decide when to give this a try. Each month in my district, the iCoaches get together to collaborate. I thought our first meeting together would be a perfect opportunity to play BreakoutEDU. Once we set the date, my fellow iCoach, Nikki Tye and I, started planning away.

How we planned:

  1. First, we searched for the right game to use. On the BreakoutEDU site you’ll find the games available now. New games will be added as they are developed. We decided on using “Time Warp” a game where players are lost in time and need to navigate the history of communication in order to return to the present. 
  2. Next, we started organizing the materials needed for the game. Each kit comes standard with items in it such as locks, a black flashlight, an invisible pen, hint cards, and more. All of these items can be used with each of the different challenge games. In addition to the items in the kit, the game instructed us to print out various digital items that we’d use. 
  3. Finally, to make things fun, we made some big bright signs for the players to hold up afterwards. Signs were made for a successful escape and unsuccessful escape. 
The day came to play BreakoutEDU with the iCoaches! Nikki and I, as the facilitators, introduced the game to the group and explained the objective which was to solve the clues in order to unlock the BreakoutEDU box so they could escape. We started the game timer and let them go. It was fascinating to see how things rolled out. Their energy and dedication to succeed was exciting to witness. What a fantastic way to use logic and higher-order thinking and such a great way to work as a team. 

With 24 seconds left on the clock, they opened the final lock. They escaped!
After having the iCoaches play, our mission was to get BreakoutEDU into a classroom with students. We reached out to a teacher and immediately after hearing about it, he was sold and couldn’t wait to try BreakoutEDU with his students! 

Our first group of students to try this were a group of 7th grade social studies students in Tom Samorian’s class. We split one class into two smaller groups and each group played Time Warp.
As facilitators, we didn’t give any clues away, but we did monitor the students' progress in order to help guide them. The students in each group escaped (and both student groups finished faster than the adult iCoaches). 

The feedback we heard from students was so positive. We heard they couldn’t wait to do this again, that it was so much fun doing something different like this, they loved that they had to “think out-of-the-box”, and they were so intrigued after solving one clue that they couldn’t wait to try solving the next. We debriefed with the teacher as well about how everything went. One exciting take-away was that he wants to design his own game to use in his future lessons. At some point our hope is to give students an option to design their own game to put the learning in their own hands. The wonderful thing about this is that when we give students chances like this, what they show us in return can be pretty amazing. 

We are already planning our next lesson with an 8th grade science teacher and her classes. And, coming soon, our principal is letting us take over one of our staff meetings for all staff to play. We cannot wait for that!

Hearing and seeing the student and adult reactions reinforced that playing BreakoutEDU escape games could bring so much to learning. How great it is to be given an opportunity to apply past knowledge and make connections in order to solve new problems. Using problem-solving, critical thinking, logic, creativity, communication, collaboration...these are the skills we strive to have in our lives!

To learn even more about BreakoutEdu watch this: BreakoutEDU Interview - EdWeek Teaching Toward Tomorrow

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Glass Half Full

This week is Teacher Appreciation Week. In my heart, I know I appreciate our teachers everyday, but I do like these kinds of special recognition times because they tend to “force” me to think about things a little deeper. So, when I was thinking of a teacher I’ve had in the past who has made an impact on me, I thought of my 4th grade elementary school teacher. The thing I remember was what she taught us one particular day. The lesson I fondly remember, and treasure to this day, was about the way we look at things, our “outlook”. My teacher explained the expression “glass half full or half empty”. When you see a glass of water that is filled halfway, do you think it is half empty or half full? She told us to think about it. Then she explained that when we see the glass as half full we have an optimistic outlook vs. half empty we have a pessimistic outlook. I remember I felt proud because I thought the glass was half full. From that point on, it is something that has been ingrained in my mind.

Something else about this story that I fondly remember was being at my dad’s restaurant later that day. I was sitting at the counter on a stool and asked my dad to fill a glass of water half way. I wanted to give my dad the test. I asked him if he thought the glass was half full or empty. He answered, “half empty”. Right when he said that, I remember feeling the immediate need to explain to him why it’s important to think of the glass as half full instead. He smiled at me and said, "OK". It was so cool to me that I taught my dad something that was meaningful to me.

This little lesson from elementary school is one that to this day, I cherish and remember. To me, it’s just another confirmation that the impact that teachers have on their students is great. We as teachers have opportunities to inspire our students and make a difference for them. Some of the lessons in the classroom that are meaningful to students may not be covered in standards and assessments, but they still signify a lot. Things that we say to our students matter. How we make them feel matters. It all counts. What we do as teachers has an effect, and it may not be apparent today, but the effect is there.

“A teacher takes a hand, opens a mind, and touches a heart.”~Author Unknown

Friday, March 27, 2015

A Place Where Everyone Knows Your Name

Last year in February, my district had a Teaching & Learning conference during one of our in-service days. It was a great event with sessions led by teachers as well sessions led by guest presenters. One of the sessions I attended was led by guest presenter, Jimmy Casas. In his session, Jimmy talked about teacher leadership, building community and culture, and so many other inspiring things. A few days after the conference, I was chatting with one of my coworkers, Steve Brown, who had been in Jimmy’s session as well, and we were both reflecting on it and talking about how all the things Jimmy had said really left an impact on us. He had really inspired us. So, we wanted to do something with this inspiration.

We decided what we wanted to do was a little something to help strengthen the climate and culture in our school. Life at work gets so busy, teachers can go days/weeks/months without seeing each other. And, everyone’s schedules are different, planning times are not the same, there just aren't enough opportunities for all of us to see each other, consistently. We wanted to find a way to help this. Just an extra way to supplement how and when we can all connect. 
We decided to turn to our friend technology, and start a Google+ community for our school. This wouldn't be the only way to communicate of course, because we also treasure opportunities for face-to-face interactions. Just an extra way so anyone can access it anytime from their phone, computer, tablet, wherever. We wanted this to be a place to share aspects about our lives that people may never hear about, otherwise. Our new online community would include every staff member in our school and we decided to name it: These are the Days of Our Shepard Lives.

We did a short presentation to announce our new online community at one of our staff meetings. Here is some of the info we shared during our presentation:

Why Are We Doing This:

  • Connections -- Learning things about each other
  • Community -- Where everyone knows your name, new staff & veteran staff
  • Culture -- Everyone is included
  • Family -- We are family here
  • Changes -- Keeping it together
  • Acknowledgement -- Your way of being recognized in your terms
Ideas For What To Share:
  • Personal accomplishments (marathon, house projects, new pet, national boards, kids graduation...things that not everyone knows about, house repair help referrals/assistance/tips)
  • Things you've done in class that worked, not worked, want to learn more about
  • Outside of school events/conferences you hear about that maybe others don’t
  • Anything you want basically!
Our online community is now an extra little way for us to stay connected. It's a place where everyone knows your name. :)