The escape room craze has found its way in to education. Actually, if found its way in about a year ago - at least that is when it happened in our district. Seriously, think about all of the important things this type of learning experiences has to offer students.
Often BreakoutEDU activities that blend digital and the physical components catch - and keep - the attention of the learners. And let's face it - students aren't the only ones loving these learning activities - they are fun to CREATE! BreakoutEDU is a breakthrough and is leading to innovative instructional methods in classrooms across our district.
Breakout activites create opportunities for learners to connect with content on a deeper level. Yes, sometimes students only scan and skim the text passages, but hey - those are reading skills, too! Carefully crafted activities can direct the participants to really go back and read certain resources that are included in order to break a lock..
These activities break through the perceptions that learning is a sit and get event. They allow learners to engage with resources on a topic of study in multiple ways - visual, auditory and kinesthetically. All activities are designed to help them scaffold their learning. The focus shifts from being first to finish, to being first to be correct - a key component of many Breakout activities.
Through our district's Be Awesome badge program, we have seen teachers at all grade levels creating and using breakout activities to unlock students' potential, not just locks! We see high school math teachers proving math isn't all about scratching out computations on paper. They've created Breakout activities that set a scenario and then they set the timer. Their students have to work through problems and apply knowledge of mathematics in order to breakout! The activities are super engaging and guaranteed to break through the mindset that math is boring.
We have also seen school leaders explore inspiring resources related to school transformation that might not get a careful read by participating in Breakout activities designed to make them examine the resources carefully to breakout. Breakout activities are not just for children in classrooms - they are great for learners of ALL ages!
In planning these learning events - they are so much more than lessons - no detail is overlooked! Sometimes the groups are carefully orchestrated - this was the case in a teacher created breakout in a high school math class. When students broke out, they got their recent tests back for a correct and review session. The students were grouped based on common errors. They then had to work through the problems collectively to review the content. Genius!
Sometimes they end with an activity that forces the groups back together. The final component is something that will take whole group collaboration. In this picture, it is a map with a printed message AND a hidden message. The printed message gave them instructions about how to find the hidden message. Each group had one piece of the map in their group's final locked container.
One thing we offer in our district is support in the creation and implementation of these activities. We brainstorm ideas for the process with teachers as they build the activity. They do all of the hard stuff, We set the locks and get the physical components to them based on their requests. If they need us there the day they lead the activity - we attend!
Some schools have purchased the official kits - the lock options are more aligned with the pre-made versions at the BreakoutEDU website. Locks can be the most expensive part if you try to build your own set - office supply stores typically have them for around $10 each depending on the type of lock. And plan to mess up a few - we certainly did when we were getting started. Some of the locks you get with the kit are a little more forgiving. We also purchased the Locks app that the BreakoutEDU folks created - this app is totally worth the cost. At $1.99, it is the cheapest, most versatile lock you can add to your toolbox.
The BreakoutEDU creators also have a digital breakout site - that is a GREAT place to look for ideas and inspiration if you want to create your own. They use GSuite Tools for the bulk of these digital activities and include resources for how to do it! I love it when the digital and physical components work in harmony, so those hybrid activities are what I prefer to create.
.Along the way, we have had to improvise...we have made breakthroughs of our own. One being the multiple physically locked components. A visit to a dollar store was quite inspiring - lockable tool boxes, cheap key locks, and pencil pouches! This Pencil Pouch hack was inspired by a planning meeting with some of our school administrators that were creating an activity on The Artisan Teacher. Props go to them for this ingenious idea! Here are some directions for the Pencil Pouch hack that I created for the teachers to use when they put these events together.
This is yet ANOTHER phenomenon fueled by my experiences with NCDLCN and at the GSUITE EdTEchSummit - these events inspired us to bring BreakoutEDU: the hybrid edition to NHCS.
At the end of last school year, I was introduced to the possibilities of virtual reality in education through an experience at NCDLCN led by Jeff Crews and Dean Phillips of Beyond the Chalk. I need to add here, that these were the two who introduced me to the Sphero. (You can read all about what THAT did for our district in this blog post.) I immediately knew that this would be another avenue to make the abstract more concrete for learners in our district, but I needed to learn more. And I needed investors.
I'm not talking about financial backers, here. Fortunately, after the campaign to get Spheros in the district proved to be a worthwhile investment, I was given a small budget - a terrifying and truly amazing thing. I just needed a few visionary educators who saw the potential impact this technology could have to transform learning experiences for their students - those are the investors I'm talking about.
In the fall of 2016, The William & Ida Friday Institute for Educational Innovation offered a Digital Learning Series. Dozens of teachers from schools across our district, with the encouragement of their building administrators, applied for the handful of seats we reserved for two of the two-day workshops: Google Tools for Today's Schools and Digital+Physical Learning = ENGAGEMENT. If selected, we would cover the cost of the workshop and their sub on the days that they would miss school. In exchange, they would offer PD for teachers to share what they learned.
I clearly underestimated the return on this investment.
Three teachers went to the Digital+Physical Learning = ENGAGEMENT workshop. After day one, I know I had found my investors. They were on fire to bring what they had learned back to their classrooms - a pretty normal side effect of professional development at the Friday Institute. Teachers know that when you bring movement into a lesson, the concepts "stick" with students. This is nothing new. But this workshop made them feel like they could really do what they learned - we already had the Spheros that were part of the workshop, but how could they take students on virtual field trips? And how could they share this with others in the district? This workshop started the conversation.
We immediately began collaborating in a shared Google Doc - we added resources we found about devices, viewers, and apps. Google Expeditions was a high priority. We knew that Google Expeditions could not be facilitated on our BYOD network, so we searched for viable alternatives. We have iPads in the district and a management system in place for those devices so we opted for iPod touch devices - twelve of them. We also knew that the traditional Cardboard viewers had a few downfalls. Then there was the process for checkout and use - so many pieces of the Virtual Reality (VR) puzzle to fit together. Let me break it all down...
Devices: We selected the 6th generation, 32 GB iPod touch. In conversation, we discussed the possibility of creating content with these, not just consuming it. Content creation is phase two of this virtual reality vision, but we needed to plan for it from the outset. Also, some of the apps require tours to be downloaded. We needed space for the content. We ordered a simple and relatively inexpensive high impact armor case for each to help protect the devices and keep them securely in the viewers. For each device, that put us around $260.00.
Viewers: We tried a few on for size. We had STUDENTS try them out. That is how we landed on the ones we did. Too often we forget that students are our ultimate investors - we can't overlook their input on their learning experiences. The Cardboard viewers we are used to seeing are made of paper or plastic coated paper. They are usually an adventure in origami. But to us, the down side we were most concerned with was clean-ability. As these would be shared, we needed to disinfect between uses to try and cut down on the spread of germs - especially since this was rolled out at the height of cold and flu season! We found a relatively inexpensive viewer on Amazon for $16.00. It also had a head strap - we removed those. Why? Let's be honest here: lice can be a problem. While the head strap can be a fun addition, I have yet to encounter a single teacher to complain about their removal as it was intended to prevent the spread of lice. We do have the head straps stored and available upon request when hands-free is a necessity due to special needs. Also in that vein, we also have a couple of open viewers and even one with adjustable lenses that could accommodate needs should they arise.
Process: We have had requests for "PD on VR" - well, that PD turns into a conversation and time spent plearning (playing+learning). Our emphasis is on the process. How will you use this to enhance the content of your lesson? We ask questions. We weigh the pros and cons of different apps. We share what has worked for other classrooms. Each VR set is in its own box (from the Dollar Tree) - headset, iPod and charger. The only guideline sheet we have now is a set of suggestions like
Our guidelines are about the equipment - the teachers are the content experts!
The first professional development to include our Virtual Reality sets was at the end of January. There were two on the same day. The facilitators shared the checkout information with participants and the requests have come almost non stop since then! We have a Google form on our website next to the equipment availability calendar. Teachers simply fill it out and tell us about how they hope to use virtual reality as part of their instruction and we do our best to accommodate their requests. Most days, we pick up the devices and take them straight to another school.
This is a new adventure for us. These VR pioneers are leading the way for others. At the moment, most that are using VR with students are doing so in small groups using a rotation model to make sure all students get the experience. I'm eager to see how this evolves Will teachers step back and have directions and expectations posted at the station to guide students? Will students be creating their own 360° videos to demonstrate their learning and to teach others?
NC Governor Roy Cooper recently visited one of our schools and spent some time with these students who were exploring a volcano that day. Looks like they were all engaged! Who knows what the third graders in the image below will be doing with VR (or more advanced technology for that matter) in a few years. I look forward to finding out what the real return on this investment will be.
The North Carolina Digital Leaders Coaching Network, or NCDLCN, is a group of educators from various roles in districts all across North Carolina who gather to explore new opportunities and strategies for leading the digital learning transformation in our state. We are School Library Media Coordinators, Instructional Technology Facilitators, Instructional Coaches both at the school and district level. Despite our diverse roles and job descriptions, we are ALL committed to the vision of future ready learning environments for all students.
Last year, I participated as a 2015-2016 cohort member. I wrote about our districts efforts to bring Spheros to schools in this blog post...after our first meeting that year. I can honestly say that that experience marked a significant change in the direction of coding instruction in our schools. So many ideas from being a part of NCDLCN that year impacted classrooms around the district. This group is a catalyst for innovative thoughts and ideas...I KNEW I had to be a part of this group again.
This year, I am a mentor for NCDLCN.
Through this experience, I have had the honor of sharing ideas with some enthusiastic digital leaders from around our state while we help each other grow. Being a part of this dynamic experience has added a multitude of perspectives and voices to my PLN. As instructional leaders from across the state, we have different issues impacting our schools, yet we all have the same "why" - student learning.
At times, we feel like there isn't much we can really do as individuals, but we are ever hopeful that together we can make an impact that will be felt across the state. NCDLCN lets me know that there are others out there who share my vision of innovative instruction as a game changer for students of North Carolina and ultimately, the world. I have found my tribe.