Exploring Blogs with Students

Note: This blog post is an assignment for TEC-950, an elective class as part of the CUE Innovative Educator Certificate. 

Blogs are an excellent tool for engaging students in critical thinking and sharing between peers and beyond the classroom. 
Blogging expectations created by my
AVID students
I have tried out blogging with students and been unsuccessful in maintaining the blogs due to technology and platform issues, as well as getting sidetracked with other assignments. I tried again in January of this year with my AVID classes, and had students successfully publish one post. However, we haven’t gotten around to publishing another post. I am thinking that next week we will write another post to reflect on what we have learned about kindness. I am hoping we can publish at least a few more posts, then share these posts with the digital word to get feedback on our work. 
Together with my students, we have explored multiple Common Sense Media lessons, including Trillion Dollar Footprint, Which Me Should I Be?, and Cyberbullying: Be Upstanding. My students also explored the Digital Compass games to extend their thinking about digital citizenship. It is essential to have these discussions because students will respond to each others’ blogs or even blogs of students outside our class, and they will need to represent themselves and our school in a respectable manner. Outside of my classroom, students are constantly on social media, both creating and commenting on posts, and need to understand the impact of creating a positive (or negative) digital footprint. We modeled and practiced appropriate behavior in structured class activities and discussions. 
According to the ISTE Standards for Students, students should be able to “use digital media and environments to communicate and work collaboratively, including at a distance, to support individual learning and contribute to the learning of others” (ISTE Standards for Students, Standard 2: Communication & Collaboration). I am excited because my AVID students have been collaborating on a collaborative essay with Rosy Burke‘s 5th grade students as part of a NASA competition. We are hoping to have our students blog about their Genius Hour projects, then use a Critical Friends-style format to share feedback and their projects with each other on their blogs. 
For me, blogging has been an excellent reflective practice, and reading others’ blogs and writing my own has made me a better teacher. I’m thankful for my blogging community, and I can’t wait to continue to empower my students through blogging. 

Teamwork and Problem Solving with Breakout EDU

Today I ran my first BreakoutEdu game. I’ve been wanting to try it for a while, and I finally got around to researching what the hype is all about. For those of you who don’t know, BreakoutEdu is based on breakout rooms where people are locked inside a room and must use teamwork and critical thinking skills to solve puzzles to break their way out. It’s taking education by storm; but instead of locking our kids in our classrooms, they are locked out of a mysterious box. You can read more about the overall set-up here.

I was so nervous to do this! There was so much set-up and so many interdependent parts. I was less concerned about things going wrong with students (mine are very flexible and work with me when I mess something up…which is frequently), and more anxious about forgetting a specific lock or making mistakes with the clues.

3 tables contained the locked breakout box
3 tables contained helpful materials

The Set-up
I’m not good at just taking things I find on the internet and implementing them–they never go as well as I’d like, and I never feel fully engaged. After taking a look at the BreakoutEdu Beta games available on the website, I started working on creating my own game. I designed my puzzles and challenges, then purchased all my locks and tool boxes on Amazon.

I teach 7th grade science, 30 students per class. As much as I would have loved the simplicity of setting up just one box, I knew it would lead to students sitting off to the side and/or goofing off. I decided to do almost identical 3 boxes with groups of 10.

We are studying ecology, so most of the puzzles related to basics of ecology.

Origami hearts to solve locked pencil box.

Here’s what I used and the puzzles to solve each:

Lock & key: Hid a key in an envelope in the supply area. Meant to be easy to build confidence.

Directional (speed dial): Picture of a food web with a story below about one of the animals visiting their friends in different locations (ex Sammy goes up to visit his friend Sandy). The directions corresponded to up-down-left-right on the lock.

Word lock: Crossword puzzle with 5 letters circled. Unscrambled to form a real word.

3 digit combo: I borrowed the RGB puzzle from Time Warp.

Working on the crossword

4 digit combo: Bumper sticker that says “Think global, act local.” Count up number of letters in each word to get combo (5636).

Hint card: Students also got one hint card in their original materials.

Locked pencil box: This was sort of a decoy. I printed instructions for folding origami hearts, and created flat originals for students to fold and discover a code once they put the papers together. Inside the box was a blacklight flashlight (I had a sign in my room with invisible ink that read “the key is to make a trade with Ms. V” so they could trade in their found keys for an extra hint), a 4-sided puzzle that contained a hint to the location of the key, and an extra hint card.


Love the teamwork!

I got to school at 6:30am this morning, school starts at 8:15. I had copies of puzzles to print, and most of the setup to complete. Luckily, I programmed all the locks earlier this week as they arrived from Amazon. I finished my setup at 8:11, just in time to take a few deep breaths before letting the fun begin. My classes quietly line up outside before class, and I usually like them to be inside and working on their warm-up before the bell rings; however, today I kept them outside until the bell. All I told them was “come in, your time starts now, good luck!” and let them figure everything else out for themselves.

Problem solving together

On their desks was an envelope that said “Open Me” which contained their instructions for combining table groups and the general rules and instructions. It was fun to listen to students react to the locked boxes on the tables and to get excited about the tasks. Most groups got right to work looking around the room for the hidden clues. Since I had three groups, I created a blue, green, and pink team, and all clues were color coded accordingly.

Working together as a team

After the timer went off at the end of 45 minutes (also borrowed Time Warp’s online timer with music in the background), we cleaned up and students helped me reset the classroom. We debriefed and discussed what went well, what didn’t go as well, and their favorite and most challenging parts. Since I had 3 classes participating today, we also talked about not spoiling the surprise for later classes. Unfortunately, one of my students overheard a few other students talking about the breakout box, and they already knew at least one of the combos. I told his group they had to show me the solution before I would allow them to unlock those specific locks.

Today’s breakout took

Through the course of the day, none of my groups successfully broke into the box. I had 3 groups down to the 3 digit combo lock (RGB puzzle), and one group got really close to solving it. Even though none were successful, all of my students were positive and excited about solving problems.

Things that went well
I had 100% engagement for the entire 45 minutes! All students were able to find puzzles that suited their strengths, and particular students emerged as leaders within their groups. I heard a lot of amazing discussions on leadership, delegating tasks, problem solving and encouraging each other, and a few references to growth mindset. It was amazing to watch my students problem solve together, and especially fun to not tell them anything! I recorded each Breakout session using Google Hangouts on Air and shared the recordings with our students’ parents. Already, I’ve gotten great feedback from parents!

I had a few students who were really persistent and
came in at lunch to try a puzzle they didn’t solve
in class!

Things that can be worked on
Next time I think I can tackled fitting in new content, rather than just reviewing what we already know. Additionally, set-up wont be nearly as tiring since I’ve done this now. As for students, some of the teams struggled with staying focused on efficiently finishing tasks, not jumping from one puzzle to another, or randomly trying combos. It was so hard for me not to jump in and redirect them! The only time I had to step in was a few instances when students were trying to pry open my boxes.

I’m excited to plan another Breakout, next time for my 7th grade AVID students. We were lucky to have our AVID tutors in to observe, and I could see how badly they wanted to jump in and work on the puzzles too. I’d love to do one that includes them. I’ll also plan another Breakout for my 7th grade science later this semester.

My kids are already bugging me asking when we can do this again! Success!! 


2016 Goals Update: Books & Being Intentional

My physical”to read” stack
in January 2016

Somewhere a while back I heard that if you can keep your New Year’s Resolution through Valentine’s Day, then you have a pretty good shot at making it stick. Well, Valentine’s Day is just 2 days away, and it’s time to reflect back on the first 6 weeks of 2016.

I didn’t set any formal New Year’s Resolutions this year; however, I did set two goals. Goal #1 is to read and/or listen to at least 100 books. (Past 3 years totals: 2013 = 54, 2014 = 84, 2015 = 57) Of the 100 books this year, my goal is to read at least 52, and fill in the rest with audiobooks. So far, I am at 11 books (6 books, 5 audiobooks), which according to Goodreads is on schedule. Success! My physical to-read shelf is huge, and I have an equal number of ebooks on hold or on my wishlist via the public library.

Goal #2 is my #OneWord2016, “Intentional.” I am striving “to be more intentional with how, why, and where I spend my time and energy.” (Read original blog post here) In the last 6 weeks, I have been keenly aware of my progress on this goal, although I haven’t been doing any formal monitoring (should I?). I find myself better able to prioritize tasks at home and at work to maximize my time. Energy is harder for me to regulate since I’m always “go go go!” and don’t stop to think often enough. Nonentheless, I’m proud of myself for sticking with my one word resolution beyond the initial hype in the first week of January.

#OneWord2016 goal: Intentional

Here’s how I’ve been more intentional: 

  • Less checking work email, grading, and lesson planning at home. When I do, I either set a timer  as a limit or mentally note that this is “work time” and when I’m done, it is no longer work time. And with that, not feeling guilty if I take a break from working, even when my to-do list is long. 
  • I’m addicted to my Passion Planner, in a good way (I have this one).  I have a full size one, and even though it is big, it’s perfect. I love starting my week by looking ahead at what is coming up, setting a focus for each day and a goal for the week. At the end of the week, I reflect back on what I accomplished, and use that to plan for the next week. 
  • Shutting off technology more frequently and enjoying time with my boyfriend and dog, or a book. 
  • Pouring time and energy into great projects with the one and only Justin Birckbichler, including #FlyHighFri (read blog post and Teacher2Teacher feature) and #Teach20s (read blog post). We’re also “well underway” with our EduRoadTrip podcast, featuring Justin, Greg Bagby, and myself. 
  • I have said “no” to some great opportunities, knowing I would not be able to give my full time and effort. As bummed as I feel/felt for not being a part of these things, deep down I know it was the best decision for me. 
Here’s what I am currently working on: 
  • Spending more time at home pursuing hobbies and things that make me happy! Including baking, playing piano, crocheting, and working on my scrapbooks. 
  • Not getting so distracted at work by other people and thi—ooh shiny! (As I was writing this, I got up to play with the dog for 5 minutes. Case in point) Really though, if I don’t number my to-do list, I end up doing half of every task, but not actually getting things done. 

I accept the fact that I am a work in progress, and 2016 has been a fun journey so far!