One thing I have been wanting to do for a while with the 4th grade classes I regularly work with is a Breakout EDU game. I was a bit hesitant to introduce a game with the boxes and locks as I anticipated there being a lot of playing around with them and not a whole lot of clue solving taking place. I know there are many ways to manage this, but at the end of the day, we know our students best and need to adapt lessons and activities to their needs. As I really wanted to focus on the content, I thought I would try something that I had seen some teachers on Instagram do and try the "Crack the Code" approach. With this, it is very similar to a Breakout EDU game (and pretty much any Breakout EDU game could be adapted to this style), but does not actually use any physical boxes or locks.
I created a game for introducing basic Earth Day concepts, basic math review, as well as my love for sloths. I really wanted the students to focus on the critical thinking and problem solving aspect as they persevered through difficult tasks. Each of the six groups started on Task 1 and as they completed a task, they moved their group sloth from the bottom of the tree to the top. This allowed me to easily see where each group was with a quick glance at the board and check in with groups who might be struggling a little. I also intentionally did not incorporate technology into this game as I wanted to eliminate as many potential distractions as I introduced this type of game.
After starting with this approach, feel confident that the students would be successful in participating in a regular Breakout EDU game. I felt it was necessary to scaffold the game structure, so that I was not setting groups up for frustration and confusion. Also, to be honest, this was less work (short of writing an original game) on the setup end of things for a teacher. I simply had to make sure there were enough copies of each clue for the number of groups that I had as well as the necessary materials for solving (scrap paper, dry erase markers, black lights, etc.).
This was the "Learner Profile" that I created for this activity. My district is working towards making the 5Cs outside of content part of how we assess our students, so I am trying to make sure I have ways of measuring the activities I am doing with students. In full disclosure, I made this after I had done the game with students because I wanted to do some observation of the students as they were working. I have done Breakout EDU games countless times before, but I hadn't sat down and put into words how I would show a growth progression for their participation in the game. These Learner Profile rubrics were created based on the book, Becoming Brilliant and the EdLeader21 4C Rubrics. I tried to make them so that they could be applied to any Breakout EDU/Crack the Code games for any grade level (as I do games for many grade levels).
I also made a student self-assessment version. These are both works in progress (and let's be honest, are probably about 20 revisions away from calling it "done"!), but help me when I am watching students complete the games to see how they are growing or developing in some of the other "C" skills outside of the content.
NOTE: I do not always do a reward for students with Breakout EDU games (I am a firm believer in high-fives as rewards!), but I saw the Trolli sour sloths when I was at the store and I just couldn't resist!
Back towards the end of September, one of our 6th grade teachers and I started talking about a book that she was going to be reading to her class. I am not even really sure how our conversation turned into a conversation about thematic learning, but it eventually started moving in that direction and we started brainstorming some ideas for different teaching approaches for the book she was going to be reading, Trash by Andy Mulligan with the theme of child labor. We were able to talk to some other teachers to be part of the unit and they were on board to try something new with us!
The involvement in the unit we did ended up including the following teachers:
At the beginning of the unit, we pre-assessed students on how they preferred to learn. We wanted to pre-assess more than just the content, but also the life skills that our students need to be successful in beyond the content (collaboration, communication, critical thinking, creative innovation, and confidence). We know the self-assessment was not the most accurate way of gauging growth, but we wanted to start somewhere (as the 6Cs are new to us as well as students!), and we felt seeing what the students preferred for learning would give us some good insight that might help us develop theme activities.
Below is a highlight video of our work within our thematic learning experience. Keep in mind, even doing video interviews was out of our comfort zones as staff, but was a great way to reflect on the experience. I have also outlined the elements of the theme that I was involved with in some way.
Sewing Wallets & Keychains
Without giving too much away, in the book, one of the characters finds a wallet. The contents of the wallet are critical to the remainder of the book and students understood the connections the wallet had to the bigger part of the story. So, as a STEAM component, we had the students create faux leather wallets and keychains. The idea stemmed from the ELA teacher's children's wallets and keychains they made at summer camp one year. We used those as a guide and created templates for the students to use in cutting out their leather.
For most students, this was their first time sewing anything. It was a great lesson in following a pattern/directions, measuring, and troubleshooting problems with their peers. So many truly enjoyed the experience! What was particularly surprising to me was that many of the boys were the first to comment on how fun it was to sew and how relaxing it was creating the wallets and keychains.
To tie in a real-world experience into the thematic learning, we were able to find out that one of our School Community Coordinators (Miss Marie from Kent School Services Network) had visited a dump site in Guatemala when she was in college. She share pictures of her experience and how Safe Passages/ Camina Seguro (that is close in proximity to the dump) helps children receive an education and other social services while their parents and families are working at the dump site. At that time, Guatemala was coming off a 36-year civil war, so the country was in the process of starting to regroup and rebuild. The students were totally captivated by information and pictures she shared (some of the images she shared are below). It really helped them connect the story of Trash to a real-world situation.
Some facts she shared that surprised the students:
Each year our High School Spanish Club puts on a Spanish Market where students cook, create, and sell items to raise money for scholarships sponsored by the Spanish Club. These scholarships are in memory of Spanish teachers from the MS/HS who have passed away (Fred Solis - Solis Scholarship - and Elayna Durso -Elayna Durso Scholarship). Students take a lot of pride in this day and it is a culturally responsive teaching opportunity in our district.
During the Spanish Market, our 6th graders had a table set up where they were selling their wallets and keychains. They decided they wanted to set out a donation jar as well to raise money for Safe Passages/Camina Seguro. The students donated half of their proceeds to the Spanish Market for their scholarship fundraising and then the other half to Safe Passages. The remainder of the wallets and keychains were donated to our school fundraiser for Operation Christmas Child.
When the students came up to the Media Center for the Spanish Market, they beelined for their table and had to look and see if someone had purchased their creation. If they were still there, many purchased their own to give as gifts. When their wallet or keychain was not there, there was an initial look of disappointment, but that quickly faded to pride as they realized that someone had wanted to buy what they had personally made. One student even claimed she was "Gucci" after finding out her wallet sold (complete with a little celebratory dance).
At the end of the unit, students participated in a Breakout EDU game. I designed the game so that it not only covered key elements of the book, but also incorporated the vocabulary they used as part of their article exploration. Students were so excited when they walked in and saw the boxes! I love doing Breakout games when I get to see a different side of the students and how they work under a bit of pressure as well their innate competitive nature that comes out in wanting to be the first to solve all of the clues. We definitely learned that the students knew the content with no problem, but struggled with some of the critical thinking, collaboration, and communication skills that were necessary to solve the puzzles. And let's not forget about logic puzzles...oh the logic puzzles! One of the clues incorporated a logic puzzle and the ELA teacher and I quickly realized this was a skill that was not one of their strongest and we could definitely do more with logic puzzles in the future!
To my knowledge, this was the first time this group of students had participated in a thematic learning experience. We used the same scale for measurement, and my opinion for the decline in the averages was that students might not have known on the pre-assessment what a "Level 4" truly meant until they had an experience to connect it to (compared to the other levels). Interestingly, the "Content" area scored the lowest overall, with the other 5Cs being significantly higher - our students seemed to want and enjoy learning experiences that are beyond individual learning!
We also asked students in the post-assessment to rate how they felt about the activities that they completed as part of the unit. The thought was that this would give us insight not only to the activities that they enjoyed, but the skills that were incorporated into those activities.
Without a doubt, I would definitely encourage a thematic learning experience for teachers and students! It helped the students make deeper connections (have a conversation with any of them - they will tell you the entire book and how it related back to their learning experiences!) and provided them with different opportunities for learning. Yes, it definitely requires some additional time on the teacher's end to front-load work and activities, but the payoff is huge! Conversations from teachers that participated in this unit have already begun for things we want to build upon for next year - definitely a sign of a good experience on the teacher's end!
Each year, our senior class participates in a Senior Capstone project, culminating in an Senior Capstone Exhibition night. During the Capstone experience, students select a career/vocation of their interest and delve deep into what that might incorporate. They find a mentor, have hands experience in the field, write a research paper, and then have to give a presentation about their findings and experiences. It gives them great insight as well as some real world experience for life beyond high school.
Each year, Kelly McGee and I do a "presentation" about research. As the students are already seniors, the things we are sharing are not necessarily new, but often a refresher or a different way to do something that they already know how to do. Kelly and I like to put our own little twist on things, so last year we decided to share information through a Breakout EDU game we created (themed like the game Clue). As always, there were things that we loved about the game and some things that needed a bit of tweaking if we were going to use it again.
Day 1 - Breakout EDU Game
This year, we decided to use our Breakout EDU game again (with a few tweaks). It ran so much smoother this year with our changes and the students were totally into it! One thing about this game is that we set it up as small stations. We had 7 total stations, so we had 5 groups of students (always 2 less than the total number of stations). We do this so that they always have a place to rotate to once they complete a station. Inside the boxes we placed cards of either teachers in the building, items in the school, or places in the school. We drew cards at the beginning of the game (the "who dunnit" cards - "who dunnit" in terms of a staff member who took an item from the school and hid it somewhere else) and held on to those until the end. So far, I think this is my favorite way of running a Breakout EDU game as the students are totally into until the very end trying to figure out "who dunnit." It makes it fun that they are places, people, and items they would see at school so the conversation always carries beyond the class period. In between hours I also switch the cards around so I have different cards for the "who dunnit" possibilities.
Some examples of the cards we used:
Another thing that I love about doing a Breakout EDU game in small stations is that the students still have plenty of opportunities to move around, but are not spending time searching for clues and hints. Everything they need is provided on the table for them, and they need to figure out how to use it. I feel like I have more meaningful conversations with students about the content that I do with a large group Breakout game (don't get me wrong, I do love those kinds too!).
The way we counted out the clue cards, it was possible that someone could receive all the clues to correct guess "who dunnit." But based on the wild cards we placed in the boxes, it also made it so a group would have to guess on an item or too. It creates such energy and excitement as the game progresses. Over the course of the 2 days of leading this game (16 groups), only 1 group was able to correctly guess "who dunnit." Many of the others were off by just 1 thing of their 3-part guess, but it didn't really matter to the kids - they had so much fun in the whole process!
Day 2 - Debrief
We knew that just doing one day of a Breakout game would not necessarily be enough to present information and have them understand how the research tools function. So, for Day 2, we planned a little Research Debate. We had 4 different main topic areas that we broke apart into 8 groups. Each topic area had 2 different resources that students needed to present and defend. Groups were randomly assigned a topic area and resource and had 15 minutes to research all they could about that resource to be able debate why their resource/tool was the superior topic area tool (links to my resources below). We also placed a microphone into the equation in which they had to use when debating for a little bit of a different atmosphere.
The debates progressed in intensity throughout the day and I think this was a GREAT way to do a game debrief of the resources we shared in the game, students to have a chance to delve deep into 1 particular resource, and practice speaking to an audience. At the end of the hour, the students could share 2 citation tools, 2 databases, 2 plagiarism checkers, and 2 research sources.
At the end of the day, Kelly and I agreed this was one of the best Breakout games we have facilitated as well as an in-depth debrief. I know not everyone who does a Breakout game has an additional hour to do a debrief the way we did (as the game was kind of non-traditional as well), but highly recommend it! The students walked away with a better understanding of the information we were sharing, and hands-on practice with resources, tools, as well as presentation skills. I feel as though taking one day to do a Breakout game and then the next day doing a full hour debrief/debate really let us get deep with information as well as provide an engaging learning experience for the students. A win-win all around!
Recently I was asked to be a guest speaker for a college class about strategies to use with EL students. As my job is centered around educational technology, I started jotting down ideas for a presentation. As I am not one to fully embrace an hour long sit-and-get type of presentation/lecture, I decided to change up my speaking opportunity and turn it in to a Breakout EDU game. I felt that this approach would be more effective in communicating ideas, sharing tools, and modeling a specific method (Breakout EDU) that has been amazing for EL students.
Without disclosing too much information about the game (as it is still a work in progress and not a published game!), I decided to include a sketchnote as part the game. Sketchnotes have been amazing for many of the middle and high school students I have worked with as it allows them to bring their verbal and visual worlds together in a simple sketch. I thought I would share out the sketchnote, because I think the information is applicable to anyone (not just those playing the game).
To create the sketchnote, I consulted with the amazing Christi Gilbert, NBCT (http://teachlearnreflect.weebly.com/), who is an EL Instructional Specialist at our 3-5 elementary school. She provide ten different ways that teachers can support EL students in their classroom. I love the simple suggestions she offered and how they can be easily implemented right away. In addition to the suggestions, she also provided some links to resources that might be helpful and expand on the suggestions.
This past week, I attended the Podstock conference in Kansas with Kelly McGee and Dan Townsend. We attended Podstock for the first time last year and it was hands-down the best conference I have ever attended. The three of us knew that we had to come back again!
So, this year we submitted to present on Breakout EDU. Knowing that Breakout EDU is HOT right now, we kept our fingers crossed that we would be selected to present. Amazingly, we were! As the theme of Podstock this year was, "Back to theIR Future," we knew we wanted to do something different and create a new Breakout EDU game based on the movie, "Back to the Future." We thought this would tie in nicely to the theme of the conference as well as serve as a game that could be used for future professional developments, staff team building, or even with students.
After a movie-viewing session that included note-taking like I have never done before while watching a movie, we started out building our game. About a week(ish) later, we had put together a game we were pretty proud of! We beta-tested our game within our own district on teachers and high school students. We had to make some tweaks along the way, but we felt we had refined the game, our facilitation approach, and debrief to a point we were pretty happy with.
Podstock, watch out because we had Breakout EDU fever! We became even more excited when we heard that Breakout EDU was going to be part of the pre-conference we were attending. It is always so refreshing and exciting to gain new perspective and insight on something you are so passionate about! Russ Kahle, Rachel McClaran, and Micah Brown were amazing and I took some many new things and ideas away from their session and open sharing.
The first day of Podstock, we presented our session on Breakout EDU, entitled, "Epic Escape or Elaborate Fail: Breaking Out of the EdTech Box." Our session began by asking attendees to complete a Google Form in which we collected a bit of information about them to connect after the session, but also divide them into groups for the game. We used Flippity to randomly divide people into teams (an Add On for Google Forms). This worked perfectly for dividing 55 people into 4 groups very quickly! We then jumped right into to playing the game, taking team pictures, and debriefing.
I have included our presentation we used below. If you are unable to view the presentation, please click here.
About Our Session Attendees
I am a self-admitted computer and math nerd. There is something exciting about looking at data about something we did that gets me giddy with excitement. I have presented before, had great sessions, but sometimes feel disconnected from the INDIVIDUALS that are part of the big GROUP. In addition to allowing us divide people into teams, having our participants fill out a quick form helps me feel more connected to each person in the room because now I know a little more about them.
One thing that was really exciting to find out was how many people in our session were experiencing Breakout EDU for the very first time. WOO-HOO!!!! I hope that what we had to share was engaging form them and is something that inspires them to try something new in their classroom.
We had two out of our four teams "breakout." One team was able to breakout just a few minutes after the 45 minutes were done (it is so hard to stop when you are so close to finishing!). Regardless of how many teams broke out of the box, we saw SUCCESS in each in every group in so many ways!
If you are like me and like looking at some pretty charts and numbers, or were just curious about who attended our session, take a look at these awesome charts!
Not too long ago, I wrote a post about how our administrators participated in a Breakout EDU game as part of a professional development day. Since then, I feel I have become a little obsessed, I mean, uh, captivated, with the concept of how this content presentation style really brings the content to life and ups the engagement factor to a whole new level. Some of my observations:
These are all great things to observe and notice, but what does this really mean to me in regards to student learning and teacher professional development?
Now that you have read all of my ramblings, feel free to check out some pictures below of how Breakout EDU has been observed throughout my district. It is so exciting to see this grow among our staff and students!
A couple of months ago, I learned about Breakout EDU from one of the most awesome EdTechies I know - Ron Houtman. I was totally intrigued with the concept and knew I wanted to find a way to work it in to a professional learning opportunity. The door opened itself when our Tech & Media Team was provided a full day to work with administrators to work on identifying ways technology is currently being used in buildings, building a vision for moving forward, and developing an action plan for success. Our team works hard to provide relevant learning opportunities in all of our professional development opportunities, and Breakout EDU fit the mold in driving home our point of how the content should drive the learning, not technology (and how the 5 C's - Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, Creativity, and Caring are also driving forces in student learning and success).
As our Activator/Introductory Activity for the day, we had our 7 administrators (5 building Principals, Superintendent, and Assistant Superintendent) participate in the Time Warp activity. Our team was nervous about facilitating our first Breakout EDU activity and we really weren't sure what to expect. In hindsight, I don't think that any amount of pre-planning could have fully prepared us for how the the activity would play out.
As we had a whole day to work with administrators, we decided to put their lunch menu inside the Breakout box. We wanted to provide them with a meaningful incentive for the activity (we were still planning on providing them with lunch, but it made for a nice competitive environment!). It was interesting to see adults struggle through an activity (that was designed for students as young as 14), struggle, fail, demonstrate perseverance, and achieve success. The great thing the the concept of Breakout EDU or other escape games provide is that in order to achieve success, you need to not only have some prior knowledge, but more importantly, problem solving and and critical thinking skills. I believe those are two very important skills that can be best be "taught" through experience. This activity cannot be completed through a simple Google search, nor was it designed to be...which begs the question - "Do we want to provide our students with Google-able learning experiences?".
In the end, our administrative team broke out with 11 seconds left (they may or may not have received a hint towards the end!). Did they understand what it meant to work collaboratively towards a goal? Were they forced to communicate with one another to achieve success? Did they experience frustration? Did they employ the 5 C's to ultimately earn their lunch? Yes, yes, yes, and yes.
In our discussion after the activity, we had a great conversation about what they learned from the activity and how this translates to what we want to see in teacher exploration and student learning in our district. It was fascinating to hear their feedback, thoughts, and experience reflection. Our Superintendent shared some of the group discussion thoughts on Twitter (shared below).
So, would we do Breakout EDU again? WITHOUT A DOUBT! Within days of sharing our experience with some teachers, we already have a PD for Breakout EDU on the calendar!
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