Breakout EDU

Student-Created Breakout EDU Games

I ran my first BreakoutEDU game with my 7th grade science students last February. It was an incredible experience for my students and me; even though they didn’t break out, we had a great debrief and were able to critically look at the skills needed for perseverance and problem solving.

In March, Justin Birckbichler and I started building digital versions of the breakouts, which ended up being quite the project. We found that many teachers struggle with the productive struggle just as much as our students, and we put great value on teachers modeling the critical thinking process alongside their students. In order to ensure more flexible and resilient adults in the future, we must explicitly teach and model these skills for our students. 

Double checking math clues.

Fast forward to now, my 8th grade AVID students just finished creating their own Breakout EDU games! They used what they learned in their career research project within their game. It was a very challenging process for both myself and my students–just like when I facilitate games, I did not step in to help them more than absolutely necessary. In other words, I allowed some of their clues to fail. Why? That’s where the learning takes place! 

Using emoji rebus to create a riddle

The setup
My students had already played a few physical and digital games, and were familiar with the skills needed to successfully play Breakout EDU games. They were excited about creating their own games, and we talked about what elements make a successful game (story hook, interesting topics, clues that are not too hard but not too easy), then they launched into their game building.

Brainstorming clues based on
available locks
Our creation process: 
1. I randomly divided students into groups of 4 or 5.
2. Students wrote their story in their group’s shared planning Doc (before they received their locks)
3. I gave each group a basket with 4-5 locks. Students decided who would create the clue for each lock.
4. Students created their clues on shared Slides.

5. I programmed all the locks and printed the clues.

Playing the games
I programmed the locks ahead of time based on students’ planning docs, and had each set of locks separated and ready to go.

Each team facilitated their own game. I had them fill out a reflection graphic organizer as their peers played their game. This served two purposes: it kept the facilitators busy so they didn’t become too vocal and it allowed students to reflect on the process of designing and facilitating their own game.

It was incredible to step back and watch my students play and facilitate their own groups. Some students tried to ask me about specific clues during the game, and I directed them to ask the game creators. It did not go perfectly, and some of the clues were confusing, but that’s all part of the learning process! 

Finding area of an shape to solve a clue
“I think I have it!”

One group particularly struggled with designing their game. They lacked teamwork and cohesion, and it showed in their final product. While playing, they realized that one of their clues made no sense to their participants: it was a math problem, but the resulting code was random numbers from that math problem. It was SO hard for me to not jump in and rework their clue to make sense. I had them go outside to discuss how they could change their clue on the fly, then come back in and give the participants a hint. They had to go back outside multiple times before they had a solution. The whole process took over 10 minutes, and many failed attempts of guiding questions from the facilitators to their peers. It stretched their brains, but it also taught my students how to think on their feet. 

The debrief
We had great discussions after playing the games. Students shared what they found was successful, challenging, and what they learned about themselves in the process. We focused on the positives and constructive feedback, and how we can learn from this.

Additionally, we used our school’s character qualities, the Vikings’ Code, to write blog posts on our experiences:
Use at least 3 characteristics from the Vikings’ Code to answer the following questions. Remember to use specific examples in your writing!
– Describe your experience designing your own Breakout EDU game.
– Describe your experience facilitating the game you created.
– Describe your experience playing your peers’ games.

Filling out facilitator feedback graphic organizer
while peers play.

What we learned
If I had a dollar for every time a student said “Ms. V, this is hard!” during the game creation process, I’d be rich! I knew this process would be tough, but I didn’t anticipate how much we would all learn. The formal and informal debrief conversations brought out many great ideas and learning opportunities.
– My students wished they had a chance to test out their games before their peers played. In the future, we will build in a peer review process within the game design.
– Students quickly realized that creating critical thinking opportunities is significantly more difficult than critically thinking itself. 

– As hard as it is to step back as a game facilitator, it’s even harder to step back while students are designing and facilitating their own games. They have to experience the highs and lows themselves, without me stepping in to fix everything.

Next steps
My students are excited to share their games via another teacher at the AVID National Conference in December. They are revising their games, testing them out on teachers and students at school, then submitting a final draft game.

Students will have another chance to build a game in the spring, and this time we’ll open it up to physical or digital games…content or purpose to be determined.


Strengths-Based Education

Strengths Lanyard

A year ago, my school decided that it would be a great idea to have all teachers, and eventually all students, trained in the Tom Rath StrengthFinders assessment. At first, I was hesitant. We did StrengthFinders as part of RA training in college, and I just didn’t connect with my strengths. Looking back, it might have been because we had an absurd amount of WOO on our staff, and as an introvert, I felt highly overpowered and frustrated by them (this brings up a great point, it is important to make sure a staff is balanced based on strengths or whatever other personal assessment tool is used). Slowly, I warmed up to the idea, and signed up for the 2-day workshop. 

Strengths Road Map

Let me say, I was blown away. Adrian Ruiz was our trainer, and he was an excellent guide and facilitator as we unpacked our strengths, and discussed how they can be beneficial to (balconies) or hinder our work (basements). Adrian is from an organization called the Youth Development Network, based in Sacramento, CA, which does primarily youth trainings around strengths education. We were so lucky to have Adrian work with us, and I hope we can get him back down to San Diego for additional trainings. 

On top of a great training, I also got to know many of my colleagues better, and I’m finding I’m having more intentional conversations with these people, beyond the usual “hey how are you!” we call down the hall. In fact, this focus on strengths and making meaningful connections inspired me to start FlyHighFri, which has turned into a hashtag on Twitter and newly a blog in conjunction with Justin Birckbichler.

Since the training last March, I have been thinking about how to better implement strengths into my classroom. We did a school-wide Strengths Day in August, and it was both empowering and refreshing to spend an entire day talking about strength. There were different activities for each period: for example, all students made their strength lanyard in period 1 (pictured top right), and their strengths road-map in period 3 (pictured top left). During 4th period, we took a school picture that spelled out #MVAstrong (right). I was so impressed at the cooperation from all students and staff to make this happen! The buzz in the air during and after the photo was electrifying, and felt amazing to be a teacher at Mar Vista Academy.

Since our Strengths Day, I honestly haven’t been doing enough with strengths in my classroom. I bring it up occasionally, and I am constantly reminded when I see my lanyard hanging off my whiteboard or the small section of upper cabinet I decorated with the brief explanations of each strength. My AVID class is the perfect place to have ongoing strengths discussions, and I have been doing my students a disservice by not bringing it up often enough. Perhaps I’ll do at least one short activity each week, even if it’s just a warm-up. It’s times like this that I wish I taught elementary, so I could have students’ desks or pencil boxes labeled with their name and their strengths. Or I need some augmented reality (Google Glass?) where their strengths hover over their heads. Lately I’ve buried in work and strengths were getting pushed to the back burner. I’m officially bringing it up on the priority list to make sure all strengths are supported and encouraged in my classroom.

I’d love any suggestions you all have to better integrate strengths into my classroom, send them my way!

I’ll leave you with this goofy video of staff musical chairs. Obviously, physical strength is not one of my strengths.

School assembly, staff musical chairs.