It’s Time to Breakout… in Elementary

Confession: I’ve been following the BreakoutEdu craze on social media.  Full Disclosure: I didn’t get it. I was skeptical. Locks?  Huh?

So I stuck with it.  I looked at challenges, I watched videos, and I joined the BreakoutEdu group on Facebook.  I saw someone write about using disappearing ink to reveal a clue.  That was it.  Something clicked and I became a huge fan. Teamwork? Critical thinking? Problem solving? Creativity?  Win, all the way around.  Give kids a chance to be a spy, or Inspector Gadget, or the problem solver you know they can be!

And then I read about Michael Medvinsky using the game with first graders to unlock an extra recess.  And I may have hugged my BreakoutEdu kit, right there at my desk.   Once again, I had underestimated the power of a tool to be integrated at the youngest levels of learners… of course! Imagination, play, and collaboration?  That screams elementary!

Challenges can be about anything. They can be imaginary, real, challenging, silly.  They’ll force that beautiful kind of collaboration because students are challenged to get the locks open and every lock counts.  For the youngest learners, I’d start out with something simple, involving simple challenges to solve to get codes.  Then? You could amp up the game by tying the challenge to something real, involving a suitcase full of artifacts about an author being studied or famous historical figures, like Lewis and Clark.

To get started, try a challenge, or “game” that’s already written.  Once you get a feel for the game, figure out how to make it fit for your own students.  Work in some authentic skills like these:

IMG_3153Measurement: Use math skills like measurement, area, and perimeter to lead to codes.  Finding the perimeter of a table in the classroom that is 46 might be the first two digits in the code.  Careful measuring would be a must!  And kids would have to rely on each other to check their work.   Find the average height of the drinking fountains in the school, the median number of blue chairs per classroom in your gradelevel. It could get really complicated… and that’s why I love it.

Scientific Discovery: Incorporate an experiment with data to collect or a concept you can put a number spin on.   What if you had a few substances that were numbered and you wanted students to determine their density in ranking order?  Give each substance a number and the density order could reveal a code.

Skype or Google Hangout: What if you have another class to connect with and students must call and ask about a clue?  Even better, have a few classes and make the students work together to figure out who to call.  This reminds me of the old “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego game?”  😉  What if your class’s ability to Breakout hinged upon getting clues from other classes?  Instant global collaboration!

Money:  What if students had to add up a pile of money to determine an amount and that was the combination. $12.34 could be 1234.  Fun way to practice and they could work in teams to check each other’s math.  Mix the coins up and make the challenge harder by saying, “Add the nickels.”

Maps / Google Earth: Creating a Map in Google Earth and hiding a clue or code on a pin somewhere on the Earth. Pin lots of things so the students will have to search the world via clues and work together.  You could even have different maps that have to be “unlocked” via a password.  Weebly or Blogger could be used to create a simple password protected post, and the link could be placed in the post.

There are locks that have letters, words, directional combinations, and easy websites to set up like Weebly and Blogger to get started if you want to have password protected pages.   QR codes could be hidden in places around the classroom and scanning the codes could reveal a clue or a combination.  Once you start thinking about it, there are lots of ways to turn your classroom into parts of the game.

As as I hum that 80s Breakout tune in my head one more time, I imagine that I’d really like to hide the code on top of a high shelf so that students have to use a camera drone to take a picture to recover it, and there would be some kind of lock on the box the drone is inside, because it’d be fun to watch them figure that out.  And I feel like I should end this post with an evil laugh.  And it makes me like this game even more.

Most of all?  It’s about struggle in learning.  Struggle is fun, exhausting, exhilarating, and it’s good practice for us to step out of kids way, allow them to rely on themselves and their classmates, and make things happen.  You might just break out of your teaching routine with this game… and that pun was completely intended.



To my daughter, on your birthday…

This week, my little girl is turning 13.  I don’t know how that happened.  There are days that it feels like she was born yesterday, and there are days that I remember the hills she’s climbed and the mountains she has scaled.  And through it, when I was supposed to be the mom teaching her, she was teaching me.  She’s made me a better teacher, and person.

So, to you, my sweet girl, on your birthday….

Thank you for teaching me that the sun can still shine, even when it’s raining.  996743_10151825469058325_1172097165_n

Thank for your teaching me what determination was whether you were learning to walk, talk, or waiting in line for an hour and a half, autograph book under your arm, insisting that we wait for Cinderella’s line to reopen.  And you waited. Patiently.  Because you had new shoes on, and you wanted her to see them.1456615_10151825469203325_1067777910_n

Thank you for teaching me to to grab a hold of moments and always celebrate the small stuff. Your curls were big, but your spirit was even bigger.   1455835_10151825469043325_582525931_n

Thank you for teaching me to slow down, listen to the butterfly’s wings as he lands, and watch him carefully.  You always help me see things I might miss.  There are details in the world that you notice that most others pass by, and in the lucky moments, you help us notice them. 993507_10151825469118325_2102268869_n
Thank for you reminding me of all the steps you have taken and just how far you have come.  It’s the reason I keep these little tiny rainbow sparkle shoes you wore hanging by my desk. Tiny steps of determination.

You make me a better teacher and person because your heart is so big and the way you take in the world reminds me to find joy in each day.   Your story isn’t one that we could have written, but you took big diagnoses and over the years, you showed us how small and insignificant they would become, because your spirit is bigger.   You led us to our home in Texas, and we’ve watched you flourish every step of the way. We don’t see acronyms or labels, we see you. Your huge heart, your big smile, and your joy.10857891_10152544176268325_9061339620068962682_n


And at the end of the day, even if it’s freezing out, you put the window down and feel the wind in your hair.  Because joy is what you make of it.  And you make our lives full of it.

Happy Birthday, sweets.


Be the Learner Your Kids Need

Either way you look at it, teachers are learners and when we let our students know that, we empower them to be learners, too. When we are the “deliverers of all information” we steal something special. Learning is connections that we make with the world, and that is something that can’t be delivered. It has to be discovered. Uncovered. Found. Like a gem mined from the dirt. We can hand a kid a different pick axe to try… but the uncovering must be theirs. If being all-knowing-deliverers-of-information worked, then we would tell babies how to walk by showing them a PowerPoint. We’d lecture to kindergarteners to teach them how to write their name. But we know it doesn’t work. Play. Exploration. Facilitation of discovery. We bring the world into our classrooms with technology, and we allow kids to uncover the gems.


Thinking Beyond the Furniture, Making the “Making” Shift

All the furniture in the world won’t matter if there’s not real change in the learning environment, the opportunities for kids, and the style of inquiry offered…ultmatethemepark-768x1024

We can set up awesome spaces in our schools, but it’s really about what we share with each other.


It’s about the play our kids will experience in these spaces, in one room, in two rooms, hopefully in our entire schools.


It’s about moving beyond the “technology integration events” we once knew and making learning about so much more than a device.


It’s about empowering kids to learn, their way, and to teach us what that means.


It’s about honoring their minds, their hearts, and their souls… because after all, it IS about them.


It’s about knowing that the very thing that makes us all human is that we are unique individuals, and embracing that, even if it challenges us to think differently, change ourselves… no especially if it challenges us to change ourselves.


And then to share what we change, because we have the tools to help each other, through sharing.


While we share,we must also never forget… there is a kid wanting to share with us. And we need to provide the room, space, and opportunity for that to happen.


Because then it won’t be about a room in the school, it will be about what pours from within our kids, and what’s been waiting to pour from kids all along.  Together, we can make that happen.  And then some.



The Things That Matter Cannot Be Bought or Sold

IMG_6975Every time I got to a maker faire, I get fired up. It makes me want to make something.  It makes me look around my house and redecorate, repurpose, dig in my art closet, look through my junk drawer, and create.  Today while I was sketching on notebook paper with a Sharpie, I thought… this.  This is what cannot be bought.  With all of the products being advertised to bring a “makerspace” to your school, it’s easy to get caught up.  Who doesn’t love gadgets?

But, the feeling of inspiration to create cannot be bought. Found materials.  Being turned loose to just go create.  Interacting with the world around you to get ideas from the clouds, from art, from your favorite book. An assortment of cardboard ready to build with.

You can’t put a price on…

The value in connecting with others.

Open sharing.

The reward of sharing an idea that inspires someone else.

Having fun… hard fun.

Overcoming a challenge when you are designing something.

Making a mistake and then fixing it, and liking your new way even better.

Real change. The kind that happens from trying something new.

It’s all about things that can’t be bought or sold.  Making has to start inside your mind, not with a shopping trip. It is far more about how we see, interact with, and interpret the world than it is about “stuff.” It’s about the things that matter most.



The Gift of STEM In #STEMChat This Week!


Laser Maze Jr. by ThinkFunSince #STEMChat is once again partnering with ThinkFun and will be giving away these two awesome games above, including a Holiday Hoopla Pack, they’re also giving away the awesome rocket inspired Laser Maze™ Jr, and a twist on a classic favorite in Rush Hour Shift.

STEMchat with ThinkFun. Gifts that Keeping on Giving (Knowledge)Join us for #STEMchat on Thursday, 11/12, from 8-9 PM Central.

Joining in the chat with me will be  @ThinkFun,  @SelfishMom,  @TeachMama,  @ThienKim, and the fabulous  @KimMoldofsky, also known as The Maker Mom and founder of #STEMchat.