Day 2–For the love of the game: Breakout EDU

I love games. Growing up, my family’s summer beach trips were spent playing in the ocean all day and then playing games all night back at the house.   The games were often card based. My family had an affinity to “Spoons” where you pass cards around from person to person and then someone stealthily (or not so) takes a spoon from the middle of the table. Once a spoon has been taken, it is important to quickly grab a spoon before everyone else. It’s almost a card version of musical chairs. The last person without a spoon gets a letter. Once a person has spelled the word SPOONS, that person is out of the game.

Family beach week was also when I learned how to play Rook. Rook involves bidding on hands, relying on partners, and winning rounds. It’s important to win the points you need but not to carry around points you don’t. Much like Spades or Hearts, Rook involves trump cards with the ultimate trump card of the Rook itself. It is fun. It is strategic. And at midnight, it can be downright funny.

As a fan of games, especially those that involve strategy, solving puzzles, and unraveling mysteries, I have always wanted to participate in a “break out room.” Getting locked in a giant puzzle room, working with others to solve the mystery to get out, sounds like the geeky, crazy fun that I would enjoy and probably laugh until I spewed Diet Dr. Pepper or hyperventilate (whichever comes first). So when I first started noticing so many teachers Tweeting about Breakout EDU boxes, I was immediately intrigued.

Breakout EDU is a boxed version of break out rooms. There are a series of locks—some keyed, some combination—to unlock. Finding the clues to the combinations is the trick to breaking out of, or in reality breaking into, the box. On the welcome page to their website, Breakout EDU states:

Breakout EDU games teach critical thinking, teamwork, complex problem solving, and can be used in all content areas. We created this Breakout EDU Kit to get you going and hopefully answer questions you might have.

Over the past year, I have read about the box, watched videos of teachers setting up their rooms, and followed teachers Tweeting about their experiences. Recently, I asked my principal if we could purchase a few boxes for our school. The awesome administrator she is not only responded with a “Yes!” but upped my request by many more boxes!

The boxes arrived just after Winter Break. I dug through the website, found a scenario I wanted to try with my 4th grade students and set to work. So far, I am halfway through using this scenario with all 4th grade classes and I’ve learned a lot from just two experiences. First, I learned that while some puzzles seem easy to me because I have all the knowledge, even if the solution is blatantly obvious, the locks themselves could be tricky for students to navigate. Due to my class schedule, I have attempted to teach about the box and run a breakout within one 45-minute session. Having no prior experience with Breakout EDU or other break out games is the first real hurdle students must overcome. Thus secondly, I have learned to adapt some puzzles to make them easier for students. Understanding your students is essential when using a set of banked games and scenarios.

Most importantly, I learned that it really does work best when the groups are smaller but not too small. So far, all the groups that have successfully broken out have been comprised of 5 members. My four member groups seem to get stuck at the beginning seemingly overwhelmed where to start. My six, seven, and eight person groups have all spiraled into battles for control struggling to listen or not listen to all members’ viewpoints. But the 5 member groups rarely breakdown. When they have, it’s been quick. Maybe it is because there are short balances of power. Even with human nature wanting to break into dyads, there is a middle person swinging back and forth serving as fulcrum for groupthink.

But based on my very limited experience with Breakout EDU so far, the best part is witnessing students take control of their learning. I set up the scenario, stage the room, and assemble the locks. But once the box and materials are in their hands, they literally control their destiny. I walk around listening and observing. I offer a hint when the group unanimously agrees to hand in a “Hint Card”. But the teaching and learning is all theirs.   The most significant piece is observing groups that did not successfully break out still talking afterwards about the scenario and stating facts discovered and learned. Even today, one student made a connection between the scenario used for Breakout EDU over a week ago and a television show he watched last night. He sought me out today to share with me his connection. I have not been as successful building a relationship with this student as I have with many of his classmates. His excitement today was infectious and I feel like he and I will have a better relationship going forward. I know he is a leader and has great potential. I was trying to find a common connection between us. Now, I see that Breakout EDU has laid the groundwork for our connection.

The 30-day blog challenge recommends day two’s blog posting focus on technology I hope to incorporate into my teaching. Some people may not view Breakout EDU as technology because it’s not a computer or digital. However, it can incorporate devices and it can easily be used online in digital Breakout EDU format.

Breakout EDU looks like a game. And maybe it really is just a game at its core. But it is much more. It is engaging. It is challenging. It is rooted in communication, collaboration, and critical thinking. It is any curriculum you need it to be. But mostly, it is fun.

Does My Library Program Model Global Literacy? (repost from 2016)

It is a snow day (or more specifically an ice day) for my district.  Which means, I am home, planning lessons, cleaning out email, learning from #ncsnowchat, and reflecting on my teaching.  I’m in the process of putting together a large research process unit and activity for 4th and 5th grade.  While I should spend my afternoon delving in the curriculum and ensuring standards are in the project, I am reflecting on my library program and it’s importance to the school.  In particular, I am thinking about a question posed by one of our district library coordinators.  Just as I sitting down to eat lunch, I looked at my phone.  There in my Twitter feed was this profound question:  How does your school library program model global literacy at your school?  So much for digestion and a quality nap I had planned.   Work on my unit has also ceased.  My mind is swirling with am I doing enough and have I designed my library program to model global literacy?

In order to quiet my mind, I need research.  Off to ALA’s (American Library globelightAssociation) website I go.  There I find two articles that have begun to frame this question for me:  The ParentAdvocate Toolkit and Who School Librarians Are and Learning4Life.  According to the former, school librarians empower students to become:

  • Critical thinkers
  • Enthusiastic readers
  • Skillful researchers
  • Ethical users of information

It is easy for me to check off each one saying of course I do that but do I really?  I need to further examine my instruction.  At staff meetings, teachers in my building are presenting how they infuse the 4Cs (Collaboration, Communication, Creativity, and Critical Thinking) into instruction.  When I look at my instruction, I easily can see how I’ve embedded the first 3 Cs.  But I need to better target critical thinking not just relying that it comes as a byproduct from higher order questioning or a particular research project.  The unit I am currently designing focuses on helping students to better evaluate research tools, hone research skills, determine appropriateness and application of information, and teaches ethical use.  Therefore it does hit on Critical Thinking.  But as I build the unit’s mini-lessons and formative assessments, I need to ensure I am targeting critical thinking.  My previous school had created definitions and posters for each of the 4Cs as applied to our school’s STEM focus.  Pointing to the posters helped me remind students and myself the importance of thinking critically.  While I cannot use those posters, I can create a visual to help me to teach the 4Cs—especially critical thinking—as I go through this research unit.

As already mentioned, this new unit hits squarely into cultivating skillful researchers and ethically using information.  I believe these are strengths within my typical instruction and can often be found infused within my lessons.

That leaves enthusiastic readers.  While I have not ventured to genre-fying the library and I am not sure if I agree with the process, I do have some special collections.  Certainly, Mr. Dewey would be unhappy with my library shelves and design.  The shelves are messy because I am a “close enough” shelver.  This means weather is in the “weather section” but believe when I tell you 551.5 and 551.6 are completely mixed and I am embarrassed to discuss the 560s.  But Dewey would not like my “popular series” or “graphic novels” sections.  I have pulled particular and more popular books for these sections.  Yes, I have heard they are “gateways” to more enriching literature but who is to say these books are not already enriching?  I want my students to have quick and easy access to books they want.  This is an on demand generation.  My library needs to help and it does.  But I know I need to help students find the other 80% of the collection more easily.  I need to create better signage and teach browsing.  But in the meantime, I know they are reading and using the library.

So I realize that I can technically check off each of the four areas but I know that I have more work in each area.  As a teacher-librarian, I know we never stop learning, growing, improving and I have much to learn, grow, and improve.  This is certainly true when I broaden the term “literacy” to go beyond books.  There are so many tools and resources online.  The amount is suffocating if I were to constantly jump from one to another to the next new thing.  But I know that I have developed patterns and habits.  Even with this unit I am currently creating.  As I build it and find resources to introduce to students, I need to remember to not rely on my “old standbys” but look for something that helps me grow and learn as well.  I need to think about what skills my students already have and what skills I want to cultivate.  So they will not receive paper for this unit.  All handouts will be Google Docs, their work will also be in Google Docs.  Students will use my website to find all web resources and library catalog.  And as I write this reflection, I realize I need to allow time for creative expression.  At the end of the unit, I want student groups to indicate which resource they found to be most useful and why it is to them.  I now envision students using an online tool to create a visual or presentation to share with the class and beyond.  While I am globally connected, I want to give my students the opportunity to be as well.  This unit might be the first step.OK, so I am inspired!  A spark is lit to ensure this unit hits the 4 areas ALA and incorporates communication literacy and visual literacy in a presentation.  I need to plan.

Please share any thoughts or ways in which your library is a model for global literacy at your school?

Image from wikimedia commons

Snow Day Questions…So Many Questions (repost from 2016)

pic0035I need to be upfront at the beginning of this post.  I do not have answers or solutions.  I have questions—and lots of them.  By the end of this reflection, I doubt I will have answered my questions.  Rather, I need your insights.  Please comment and email your perspectives and experiences.  My blog is about learning after all.

So what are my questions?  They are about the virtual learning on snow days.  In mid-January 2016, the eastern portion of the United States experienced a massive snowstorm that left many school systems closed for upwards of a week.  Luckily, we were on the southern end of the storm and were only out of school for two days.  However, those two days hit right during the middle of the year and only three weeks after returning from winter break.  Teachers know how crucial this time is.  Students are showing growth and many formative assessments indicate directions for the 2nd half of the school year.  But this is winter after all, and El Nino or not, winter storms cut into learning.

School districts across the United States are embracing technology and finding ways to lessen the impact of school closings.  Many districts have begun to institute snow-learning days at home through “virtual school days” and snow day packets.  My questions relate to using online resources to continue learning outside of school.

Is it beneficial?  Truthfully, I cannot believe I am asking this question.  Yes, it’s beneficial.  Further exploratory learning, allowing students to be masters of their learning in a virtual setting, flipping the classroom, and online classrooms are trends that I believe are not only improving education but also teaching lifelong skills of collaboration and critical thinking.  Students are learning about life in the “real world”.  After all, I continue my work on snow days by sitting at the kitchen counter planning lessons, creating book lists, and participating in Twitter chats to just name a few. (As an aside, I want to give a quick shout out to #ncsnowchat for awesome pop-up professional development on snow days.) But for students who are excited about their snow day, are we taking away the “joy” of snow days to put focus on nonstop schooling?  Is that a bad thing or another way we are improving as a society embracing curiosity, exploration, and home:school connected learning?

So, if we embrace snow day “e-learning”, how do we proceed?  Many districts have taken to Twitter as a means.  Within my previous district, Arlington Public Schools in Virginia, many librarians have effectively utilized Twitter to sponsor snow day Twitter chats, virtual librarian access, and encouraging reading from their e-book collections.  During this past snow storm, APS teachers participated in a #APSchats focused on how teachers have continued students’ virtual learning during their extended snow days. This is certainly one way to go.  But can this be measured and are students able to show progress when participation is voluntary?

What about the great economic divide?  Who does virtual learning positively impact and are students most in need of continued growth able to participate in virtual learning.  I’ve only begun a cursory search—this is a topic that could be and is well studied—but I found a 2013report showing that in 2011, roughly 70% of the U.S. homes have Internet access with the Asian and Non-Hispanic White households having the greatest Internet access.  Only 58.3 and 56.9 of Hispanic and Black households respectively have Internet access.  Simple Internet searches reflect positive aspects to household Internet access.  So if we are offering virtual school on snow days those benefiting are the ones who already have benefit from Internet access.  Are we furthering the space between the have and have-nots?

What if we provide the technology?  In North Carolina, Transylvania County School System has given all 6th-12th graders laptops.  Teachers have set up continuous work, even on snow days.  The thought is school is still “in session” although at home therefore no make up days needed.  Teachers hold online hours when they are available through email, phone, and other means to help students with their work.  This is amazing! Much like the online professional development teachers participate, students are learning from a truly blended environment.

Snow days are great even if I complain about not wanting snow or a day out of school.  Encouraging virtual education is one of my passions.  Then, why am I pondering this virtual snow day trend?  Shouldn’t I be showcasing its boldness and need?  Maybe I am doing just that.

What about you?  What are your thoughts and experiences?  What resources are available to support this trend?

Snowflake image created by:
Moulton, Jim. pic0035.jpg. February 1, 2009. Pics4Learning. 11 Jan 2017

Why I Did Away with the Circ Desk (repost from 2016)

Like all Smart Phone users, I have a camera at my disposal every minute of the day.  But unlike the selfie-consumed generation, I forget there is a camera in my pocket and rarely take pictures of what is important.  I miss out on commemorating sunsets, birds in flight, and more importantly where I spend my working hours.  My library is brand new and I only took a few photos at the beginning of the year.  When I decided to begin moving shelves and the circulation desk around, I forgot to take before and after pictures.  Alas, I am unable to show you how it all looked at the beginning and how it looks now.  Trust me, it was beautiful then and now.

So why did I get rid of the big, beautiful, and amazing honey-colored circulation desk?  It comes down to feel. How do I feel when observing my students check out?  How do I feel when moving around the library?  The answers to these questions are more nuanced than a few words can capture.  But I will do my best.

Opening up a new library has huge advantages! Everything is spotless.  Everything is brand new.  All the books are in order!  When I accepted the position, I was told not worry about anything because the district does the heavy lifting for opening libraries. Our district library supervisor is awesome!  He does his research, knows trends in librarianship and collection.  He purchased the opening day collection and oversaw library design and build.  On my first day of walking into my library, everything was set up!  Imagine it…walking into a library where all the books have been unboxed, shelved, and meticulously placed to bring students’ eyes and excitement to where they should be.  All, I had to do was inventory and manage circulation.

When I left my previous school district, they were in the process of opening its first brand new school in many, many years.  True to that district’s nature, everything was transparent.   So I knew how that school’s library (or learning commons, I think they called it?) had been designed:  lots of glass, rounded shelves, kiosks, modular and comfortable seating.    Doing my own reading about new library design and trends, I imagined how my new library would look.

Day one in my library, I was surprised to see a large circulation desk greeting me.  This impressive piece of furniture was full of storage, hid electrical cords, and had plenty of space to house two circulation stations, printers, and book return bin.  Truly it was a remarkable piece of furniture!  In my previous librarian life, I would have coveted that desk—designed as a perfect place to sit and oversee circulation.  However, there is no library assistant who mans the desk and I usually stand while checking email and planning lessons.  This piece of furniture was becoming a catchall rather than living to it’s fullest potential.  I felt uneasy about its presence from the onset.

Then I watched as students used the circulation desk.  When an entire class checked out at a time, students formed lines in front of each circulation computer blocking traffic flow into and out of the library doors.  If I was behind the circulation desk, it was hard for me to easily navigate and help students find books or assist students using the circulation computers.  If I was directly in front of the desk, I felt in my students’ way or boxed in by the classes as they used the circulation computers.  As impressive as this piece of furniture was, I felt it weighed upon the library in an intrusive manner.  However, it was brand new.  I was brand new.  How could I do anything about it?  I certainly did not complain about it because how can I complain about something so amazing in the best-designed library I have ever worked?  That would be rude.

But its fate was sealed when I attended a conference in November.  Our district hosts a library and technology conference for all media and technology teachers.  It’s a great opportunity to learn from and alongside each other.  As individuals in our buildings, we yearn for learning from likeminded peers.  This conference provides that opportunity.  At the conference, our district library supervisor presented about future trends.  He mentioned circulation desks going by the wayside for smaller circulation kiosks.  The next day, I walked into the library with hex screwdriver in hand and began taking apart the circulation desk.

What I have now is five new stations:  two circulation kiosks and three areas for library centers.  The pieces are throughout the library rather than at the entrance.   Students now check out more easily and freely.  No longer is there a long line blocking the entrance while a whole class is checking out.  Plus, I have place for the brand new globe I have ordered and a computer station for students to search CultureGrams and Google Maps.  I am happy.  The library feels more open and free.

 

But is it perfect?  No.  The book return bin no longer works.  Students are returning books to empty shelves right beside the entrance.  This is new to them and new to me; and I am not sure about it.  I promise to remember my phone has a camera and take pictures.  The return shelves need further thought and I need others’ perspectives.  Thus, this adventure continues…