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. :)

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

My Rewind

Recently, I compiled an artifact file as part of my school's teacher evaluation process. To add a little fun component to my professional learning journey, I decided to create a video that includes moments I've had over the past year, or so. I also added quotes and sayings to the video that are meaningful to me. Most of these moments, are ones that I have also shared along the way through Twitter. (On a side-note, before making this video, I looked to see if there was a tool out there that would take the photos from my Twitter account and make a slideshow. I couldn't find anything, so I made my own video. Most of the pictures I already had saved either on my phone, or computer. If anyone knows of something like this, let me know!) Honestly though, I do love making these kinds of videos and feel happy seeing the finished product. That's what's great about creating something you're passionate about.

There was something special seeing all of my moments come together. Looking through my video made me appreciate capturing moments that were important to me and ones that I have shared with others. It also reminded me that making time to look back, to reflect, learn, and grow is something that makes me better.

One of my greatest joys is capturing moments. I almost always have my phone on me, and when I have the chance, I take a picture. It’s my way of remembering things that are meaningful to me and of what I’m experiencing at the moment. My photos can include ones from attending conferences, presenting at conferences, learning moments happening in the classrooms with students and teachers, cool objects or items that I find inspiring and photo-worthy, photos that I think will make people smile when they see them, photos of learning moments, and I especially love capturing moments with all the people I've had the pleasure of being with, along the way.

Making a “rewind” video can be a wonderful, creative, addition to your professional learning journey. Make it for yourself to learn and reflect from, but also share with others. This can be
 something fun to add to your blog or digital portfolio. It’s a special way to journal the moments you've created along the way, see them come together, and remind you of the special experiences you've had so you can learn and grow from them.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

My One Little Word: Enjoy

If I have to choose one word I want to live by in 2015, it will be: ENJOY.

Life is busy. There's no denying that. I don't see it slowing down anytime soon. That's ok. We're all busy for different reasons. It's all relative. 
When I'm doing something, I want to get better at not thinking of the next thing I have to do, or the next place I have to be. There's a time and a place for that. We can still ENJOY and not let the demands take over the things we do and the moments we have. Something my colleague and I love doing is standing in the hallway during passing periods and ENJOY seeing students, share a smile with them, whatever. Sure we have emails to check and things to do, but ENJOYing these moments are worth more. Or making more time to ENJOY a chat on the phone with my mom instead of hurrying because I have a million other things I could do. 

I want to ENJOY moments more. Any moment. Moments at work, at home, with colleagues, family, friends, inside, outside, on vacation, at a meeting, running errands, sitting, taking a walk..any moment. Little moments, big moments.


Happy and Healthy 2015!