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.
As I was perusing resources on jobs that don't exist yet, I came across a SlideShare by Sparks & Honey. There are a few that I feel epitomize future educators.
The job description reads: A personal advisor in flaneuring; an advisor that not only provides inspiration and content to spark curiousity, but one that teaches the art of discovery.
I had to know more...the word flaneuring was fascinating. I discovered that its literal translation is a one who strolls; a lounger or saunterer. One who goes about. However, as I investigated more, I found that a flâneur has become an important symbol for scholars, artists and writers thanks to Charles Baudelaire, a French poet, and Walter Benjamin, a German philosopher. The word morphed into something like an observer and guide that reflects on the the surroundings to gain perspective.
So why do future educators need to align themselves with a Curiosity Tutor? The educator of the future needs to be reflective and observant. Able to prepare and guide learners through an ever changing world while providing foundational instruction. Setting the floors, not the ceilings. The educator of the future encourages creativity and exploration and provides opportunities for learners to create, explore and grow.
But in reality, this is one part of the job of a future educator and today's teachers know this! In fact, a great many present day educators work hard to be Curiosity Tutors now. Here are a few more careers from that SlideShare.
Cultural Skill Sherpa
This "pivot professional" helps clients develop and acquire the skills to prepare for positions that are one of a kind, emergent or newly relevant.
This counselor encourages students to hack the real world and experiment with life rather that only pursuing traditional education paths.
Spark and support curiosity, help learners acquire skills for jobs that don't exist yet, encourage learners to experiment and pursue their individual paths for learning - today's educators do all of this!
But, it sounds like teaching in the future will be three different jobs. Maybe the pay will be three times greater, too.
One thing I find myself emphasizing frequently is that today's students often need access to a different learning paths than what is the daily reality in some classrooms. Compounding matters is that Generation Z (those born between 1996 and 2010) is hot on the heels of the Millennials - and many classrooms never changed their approach for THAT group! And Generation Z...well, they bring some great reasons to shake up the status quo.
The video above is the creative rendering that came out of an experience of Paige and Frankie, the two main characters of Bizaardvark. Trapped in the back of an ice cream truck, they have just enough battery life left to send one text message. Instead of sending "Help" or another string of text, an emoji was sent...and it was the wrong emoji - inspiring the creative duo to pen the tune "Oops, Wrong Emoji" in the video above. As I watched this episode with my resident member of Generation Z, I noted the conversation between the chartacters as they discussed the choice to use emojis over words. It made me think...
In an earlier post, I referenced the book Brain Rules. As I watched this episode of Bizaardvark, I thought about the rules regarding gender, attention and most significantly, vision. In this section of the book, Media explains the value of using pictures to help with information retention. Text alone is less effiicient than pictures. To our brains, there are no words. The brain sees words as tiny pictures. This explains why some of us get stuck when a word is misspelled - it just looks wrong....and our brains struggle.
"Words are only postage stamps delivering the object for you to unwrap"
Information communicated via pictures is not only the preferred means of comminication by Generation Z, it has been proven to be "superior in capturing attention" (Brain Rules 196)
So what are we, as educators, doing about it?
Traditional methods of pedagogy often fall short when it comes to educating those in Generation Z.
This generation is about doing and creating. Are we embedding enough of these opportunities into our classrooms? They are civic minded entreprenuers who, believe it or not, do think about global issues. Are we creating classrooms that allow them to explore these issues and solve real-world problems? As I started this post with, they send and receive information with pictures. Are we allowing them the chances to illustrate their mastery of the content and take visual notes or are we forcing them to copy copius amounts of words? There are still classrooms where teachers complain when students doodle...a practice that is sometimes forbidden - even punished!
There is so much about the way Generation Z learns that is supported by neuroscience, and I do see many educators in our district making strides to account for the different learning styles of their students as they plan activities and content delivery. As of late, those I see making the most pronounced effort to change (based on both observation and our district's Be Awesome applications) are secondary teachers - and that is a great thing for Generation Z.
As a district level Digital Teaching and Learning Specialist who coaches others, I try to always remember the days in my middle school classroom. Those years gave me so much insight into learning differences for students AND adults. While subtle differences occur as we age, there are some similar, fundamental things we need to remember when planning learning opportunities for students and adults.
Just like our students, teachers learn in different ways. We need to allow them options on HOW to learn and WHAT to learn. Then, we need to support them while they use what they have learned...not just "turn 'em loose" when the hour-long professional development is over. WHY? It's ultimately best for the students.
Giving teachers choice and control of when, what, and how they learn will better enable them to bring learning choice to their classrooms - putting students in charge of their own learning and growth. If we allow teachers to experience the power in this type of learning, they will hopefully see the value in bringing it to their classrooms.
The impact of the type of one to one support for teachers that Daniels explains in the video is powerful. This is what will inspire other teachers to want to make a change - even if they simply observe what is going on in the classroom across the hall.. As educators, we know that strategies are more successful when modeled and actively supported - not just thrown out into the wind with the hope it lands where it is needed.
I know what some of coaches might be thinking - I don't have time to give everyone individual attention. I hear you, but guess what - that's what we expect teachers to do for their students...we coaches are teachers, too.
Everyone's ideas seem obvious to them. Often we hesitate to share them with others because we are sure that our idea isn't anything special. I know I am guilty of this.
In The Innovator's Mindset, George Couros talks about helping teachers see that what they are doing - even if it seems commonplace and routine to them - could be quite helpful to someone else. I marked that passage. This is what I try to do in my work every day. Because I am not in one particular school in the district, my perspective is more broad. I can connect educators that want to try something new with another that is doing it. Another who probably thinks that what they're doing isn't that special, but it IS!!
We bring our school library media coordinators together periodically. We bring our elementary digital teaching and learning contacts and secondary instructional technology facilitators together quarterly. They share ideas and lessons from their schools with each other. These meetings can be empowering. As a result of them, I've seen some truly innovative things taking place in classrooms across grade levels in our district. On days when I wonder if anything I do matters, I remember those moments.
Don't be afraid to share your ideas. You have them. Someone else doesn't. They might need to hear yours.
I just finished reading The Innovator's Mindset by George Couros. If you haven't read it - you need to. So many good points that I plan to write about in future posts. Above is a rendering of the 8 Characteristics of the Innovator's Mindset - I have had this on my office door for all to see for over a year now. I even shared it during our monthly #NHCSchat some time ago. All before I really read the book. I'm so glad I finally read it. It was validating and empowering.
In my last blog post, I wrote about empathy. As I read this book, I realized that empathy is one of the eight characteristics of the Innovator's Mindset. I have that! Go me! ☺
But this quote also resonated with me:
If we are going to be effective leaders, we must model the behavior and attitudes we seek in our learners - be they students or educators.
Maybe it was because the next sentence says it's more powerful and persuasive to say "Let's do this together" than to tell folks to do something we ourselves aren't willing to do. I LIVE this. That is item three of the Innovator's Mindset - in the book, not on the image above. Again, I have that! Go me! ☺
Take a look at the whole list. I have a couple that I want to develop more and some that are definitely my strengths. Here are the 8 characteristics from the book:
How many do you posses? How do these impact your teaching...and learning?
I once worked for a principal who always said,
"They don't care how much you know, until they know how much you care."
Do your students know how much you care?
As I read this post over at Four o'Clock Faculty, I realized that I am not alone in this struggle to make everyone remember that empathy is important in this business. The post uses John Acuff's explanation of empathy as “understanding someone else’s needs and acting on them.”
These past few weeks have been tumultuous around here. In a week and a half, this community has experienced a multitude of shootings, three murders, and a child abduction. As adults, we have been shocked. Has anyone asked how all of this impacts our students?
When that five-year old girl girl was snatched from her driveway and found chained to a tree the next day, I heard adults discussing what happened that morning as the authorities were searching for this girl. I asked them, "What about her classmates?" No one had thought about how this might be impacting their performance in a classroom. WE WORK IN EDUCATION - yet no one thought about this.
I ran into an old friend the other morning as we both dropped our kids off at school. She also happens to be a teacher - a GREAT teacher. She's the teacher that other teachers send kids to when they need a "change of scenery" for behavior reasons. She was commenting about how difficult the last few days had been. Her students were acting out more than usual and she even had to send some to the office - which she almost NEVER has to do. I casually remarked, "I wonder if it has anything to do with the two murders in their community this week." It was like a light bulb turned on. She hadn't made the connection. The gang violence in her school community had reached an all time high recently which was adding to the unrest and resulting in these shootings. In her defense, things had been busy at her school as they were busy preparing for intersession and then there is the fact that she doesn't live in the community.
How did I know all of this was going on? No, I don't live in the community affected by the violence and gang activity, but the father of my children is a law enforcement officer. Every night my daughter asks, "Is dad safe?" before she goes to bed. Some nights she insists on calling or texting him. Her father is gone a lot. Some nights, the only time the kids see their dad is on the news in the background as the violence is covered by the media. Some nights, they can't sleep, which means I can't either. News coverage of violence against law enforcement officers has us on edge, too. Does this impact their performance at school? Absolutely! Does anyone that teaches them (this year) think about that? I can't say that they do, but it's likely that they don't.
Perhaps it's because they don't act out at school and they still manage to get their work done. Or is it because they are white. Maybe it's because they don't live in a community in turmoil. Or it might just be that we, as educators, don't always stop and ask ourselves why a kid - ANY kid - might be sullen, angry, or not doing their work. In retrospect, I probably was guilty of this, too.
We as educators are in the best place to make a difference in a student's life. At any stage of their education. It's never "too late" and no student is incapable of learning. We just need to take the time - which I know we don't have a lot of - and try to understand them and help them learn where they are.
We can make a difference.
As I was catching up on The Twitters while waiting on my youngest to finish softball practice, I saw this post:
When we got home, I sharedthis Google Doc with her and her brother - both teenagers. They were on board before I could even finish talking about it! We took turns manning the stove top dinner prep and making our personalized game cards. Sounds like nothing special, but it was.
You see, as they build their cards, they analyzed the terms that Dave Burgess included in the word bank. I heard them asking what some of the terms had to do with the election...and then they looked them up! I was so proud of them for instinctively investigating and arming themselves with more information.
With dinner finished and homework done, we popped some popcorn, got in our PJs and piled on my bed to watch the debate. The youngest, also pen hoarder, passed out highlighters. Finally - it was showtime!
As we watched, I was impressed with how they really listened. They were engaged and learning - not just playing a game.
This morning, I captured this image of our cards from last night. While her brother and I made notes in the margins and wrote additional words - some that one candidate seems to have made up entirely - my daughter turned hers into an art project.
This was another insight into how they learn and process information.
On the way to school, I asked them who they felt "won" the debate. Each gave a different answer. I will also add that I didn't expect the answers they gave, but their justifications helped us understand each other, even if we didn't agree.
I so want this type of learning experience to become the norm for all students - not just the ones I am raising. Following all of the posts on Twitter in response to one tweet by Dave Burgess, I predict that with the next debate, there will be more teachers making this a homework assignment.