Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Breakout Edu Tips

I first learned about Breakout Edu at the Ed Tech Team's Google Apps Summit in July 2015.  I was excited to try it out with my own class, but I had just left the classroom.  I felt the idea of using Breakouts is such a great engaging way to provide content to students, as a intro to a unit or as a review, while also allowing students to practice communication, collaboration, and critical thinking skills.  I purchased a box, and decided to use it to train teachers in my district.  I set up a few games and tested it out with teachers, but they were always small groups.  Returning to the classroom this year, I finally got to run Breakouts in a real classroom full of high school students, and I learned a lot through trial and error about how to set things up to run with a larger class size.  I will share some of the things that I have found work for me.


  • I bought four kits, so I could break up my classes into groups of around 8-9 students.  I found that to keep the most students engaged, I need them to work in smaller groups.  I researched the ticket system, and it seemed a little to complicated for me.  
  • I color code EVERYTHING.  One kit and all of it's handouts and materials are all the same color.  Green, Red, Yellow, or Blue.  I bought reams of the four colors of cardstock.  
  • I laminate everything.  I could not live with out my laminator, card stock, and paper cutter.  Laminating protects it from students, and also allows me to easily reuse things in the future.
  • I give each group a set of wet erase markers, so they can write on the laminated papers.  They have to clean and dry them at the end of each period.  This saves me the time of having to replace papers each period if they just used pen/pencil.
  • All materials for a group are placed on a colored tray which goes on their table, inside of an envelope, with a label that includes their color and a list all the materials that should be returned to the envelope.  Sticker Dots make great labels for items too.
  • I create an envelope with all things that go into the locked boxes, and that envelope has a list of materials and other things I may need to set up.  There is another envelope with the answers to puzzles.  All of these envelopes for a game are kept together so I can reuse them in the future.
  • I create a new Lock Parking Lot for each game, displaying the locks used in each game.  It's color coded, laminated, and in the same color box.  When students open a lock, I have them put the lock on the tracker, still open, still on the combo.  They can turn the lock upside down, so other's can't peek.  This makes it way easier for me to put everything back together during the quick passing period between classes.  It also prevents some types of locks to being accidentally reset to an unknown combination.
  • I create a Lock Tracker Sheet (one of each color) that goes on a clipboard (matching color) for each team.  I make a new one for each game, that shows the locks that they will have to solve.  When they think they have solved a clue, they need to write the combo and reason for the combo on the tracker.  Then, they can go to the locks.  I had a problem of students just hanging out and trying random combinations.  The lock tracker helped.
  • I came up with a Locksmith role, with a name tag, on a lanyard (color coded, of
    course).  Each team chooses a locksmith, and they are the only student that can go to the lock and try to open it.  They must take the clipboard with them, and can only try that code.  I had too many students at the locks, trying random codes, and this has helped, in addition to using the lock tracker sheet.
  • When a team finishes, I reset all their materials and locks.  Resetting four boxes at once is hard, so I need to work quickly and take advantage of a team finishing early.
  • I like to mix students up, so I use little table cards at the center of each table.  I have

    four at a desk, and they each have a color or shape.  I split up those teams by color, and students go to the assigned color's box work area.  I can use it for other groupings or to assign roles using the color or shapes during other activities.  I made them using bamboo coasters, printed cardstock, mod podge and modpodge sealer,
    and velcro.
  • I create a "cheat sheet" for the lab using Google Drawings.  It shows all the boxes, where the locks are, and the clues/combos.  It helps me set up, and remember what everything is for when students ask for clues. It also helps me as I am making my own breakouts, or using and modifying ones I find online.   
  • I space out the four boxes at one side of my room, using a variety of things - Chromebook cart, rolling cart, teacher demo station, etc.  I want to easily monitor the locks, but space them out far enough so their aren't any wandering eyes.  This also helps me reset things between classes, because everything is on one side of the room.  
  • I need to have games where the clues aren't directly linear.  I need a bunch of "active clues" so groups can break up and tackle things in small sub groups.  If all 8 or 9 students were working on one clue at once, students can get bored or restless.  I have found some linear games that I modified so that my students had access to multiple puzzles at once.
  • Reset all of your locks after each game to a generic code.  Write it down somewhere safe.
My students have really enjoyed the Breakout activities we have done this school year.  It's so amazing to see so much creativity and critical thinking.  I am doing my last one for this school year tomorrow, and have so many ideas for how to incorporate more into my classes next year.  

Monday, August 15, 2016

My Classroom Vision and Mission Statements

At today’s welcome back staff meeting, my administrators asked the staff to think of our own personal vision and mission statement for our classroom.  After being out of the classroom for the past two years, and returning to teaching biology this year, I’ve really been thinking about my role in education and my goals for this year.  I’ve thought about what changes I want to make since I was last in the classroom and this was a great opportunity to really start formulating a plan.   


This is what I’ve come up with so far.  It is a work in progress.  I think the 21st Century Learner idea is getting a little old and overused, but these are skills I really want my students to leave my class with.



My Vision Statement: My students will be 21st Century learners.  They will be able to think critically about the curriculum and how it relates to their lives outside of the classroom. They will be able to communicate effectively with their peers, their teachers, the community, and the world.  They will be able to collaborate and work well with others.  And they will be creative in sharing what they have learned and their passions.


My Mission Statement:The mission of Ms. Hero’s classroom is to provide a learning environment where all students will succeed, are a valued part of the community, are prepared for their futures, and become lifelong learners.



You may have noticed that I didn’t specifically mention technology in my vision or mission. While I am a huge fan of integrating technology in my classroom, and have spent the last two years as an Instructional Technology Specialist, tech isn’t my main focus.  My focus in the classroom is and has always been the students and their learning and growth. Technology will be a big part of my classroom, but technology is just a tool that when used at the right time, can help students become 21st century learners.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Spotlight Apps: Point Students in the Right Direction

When projecting websites or slideshows to students, sometimes you need to make something stand out.  Some of you may have seen me use a spotlight tool to draw attention to specific parts of the screen in my PD Sessions or on screencasts.  I have been using Mouselight for my Mac for a few years and just finally found a PC version of a mouse pointer/spotlight.

Unfortunately, these tools are not free. I have found that spending that little amount out of my pocket has been worth it, for the amount of times I have used it, with students in class, as well as with teachers in PD workshops.  

Here are two different versions of a spotlight for each operating system.  (Sorry, there is nothing that I know of that works with Chromebooks, yet.)

Mac:  Mouselight $0.99  





PC:  Pointerfocus.com $9.95  (You'll get a free 10 minute trial to test it out)