Can You Digitally BreakoutEDU?

With many digital-based coding gaming tools in “pilot” mode throughout my district, it’s time to turn some attention on an educational game-based learning tool that can be used across the K-12 grade levels and subject areas. This hands-on tool is called BreakoutEDU and you can play the game with a set of boxes and locks or through a web-based version. Both options of this ultra-engaging gaming tool promote teamwork, problem-solving, critical thinking and troubleshooting by presenting learners with challenges to be solved. Although BreakoutEDU boxes are perhaps more “hip” and appealing, going digitally with BreakoutEDU is a quick and less expensive way to get started.


Let’s start with a quick overview on BreakoutEDU using Simon Sinek’s “Start with Why” philosophy to build a foundational footing:

WHY use the game-based learning tool BreakoutEDU in an educational setting?

10-reasons-breakoutedu-sylvia-duckworth

Image Source: @MariaGalanis & @sylviaduckworth


HOW to use BreakoutEDU digitally & in box and lock form?

Consider using BreakoutEDU to:

  • Welcome students to their new classroom in the fall or at each Semester/Trimester changeover to build student engagement, getting to know your peers activity or getting to know the classroom and how it will run
  • Connect BreakoutEDU to a curricular component or as an activity to practice 21st century skills of collaboration, critical thinking, creative problem-solving, etc.
  • Kick-off a Staff Professional Development session to build team capacity, practice communication strategies, learn new instructional content or even to learn a new building protocol
  • Want to know more? Check out these links: How to Get Started & Game Facilitation Slides

WHAT exactly is BreakoutEDU?

by James Sanders – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QWSoR-0DH8Q


Let’s dig a little deeper into the tech tool itself…consider me your “thinking aloud” tour guide. The best way to get started is to go to the www.breakoutedu.com/digitally landing page that provides a welcome message, access to featured games, FAQ’s, digital sandbox and more. From there, simply click on a featured game and begin to poke around. For example, I selected the “Trapped In Our Classroom” game to explore how this digital game works. The first thing that I notice right away is that a storyline appears at the top of the web page. This story seems to serve as the anchor for the BreakoutEDU experience. It’s interesting that there is a clickable link in the storyline called “abandoned classroom” that leads to some picture clues. Seeing that one clickable link, leads me to believe that there are other clickable links elsewhere on the web page, so I start hovering on images all over the page. I quickly discover that there are a series of book titles that all have individual links as well as images at the very bottom of the screen that also link to somewhere on the Internet. Probably one of the more noticeable items on a Digital BreakoutEDU web page is the digital locks section that must be “broken into” to successfully complete the game. I’m starting to put 2+2 together and realize that I have some investigative work to do on all of those clickable links. I’m thinking that they will produce the lock information indirectly and after a lot of collaboration and thinking power with a group of learners. Furthermore, I notice at the bottom of the game web page that I can email the game creator if students or I get stuck. That’s definitely comforting! Additionally below that email, I realize that I can get a “Hint” if I’m stuck. I’m feeling that this type of learning is a lot different than having scripted instructional materials with an answer key, and that’s a good thing.

As you can see from the brief “talking” tour above, a Digital BreakoutEDU game, that “breakouts” can be used to enhance or extend learning in a classroom or training setting for learners of all ages. In my mind, what makes BreakoutEDU a value-added learning tool is that it complements, is aligned with and really amplifies the ISTE Standards for Teachers & Students as highlighted below:

  • facilitates and inspires student learning, in particular the experience of breaking out amps up the innovative thinking and inventiveness that students must use to find some level of success through a variety of small failures to unlock the locks
  • fosters communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking because the random web links and hints in the game require constant thinking, discussing, testing, and retesting in a collaborative manner to succeed
  • models digital age work and empowers learners to take an active role in learning because the answers are not easily achieved, learners must navigate the digital resources and artifacts, curate their meaning and apply to the storyline to find success
  • allows learners to become innovative designers themselves through constructing their own BreakoutEDU digital game

If I had the chance to refine the digital version of BreakoutEDU, I would first survey teachers and students that have used the website before. From a teacher perspective, I would look to find out what additional supports might be needed for successful implementation in a classroom setting, what hurdles teachers feel are preventing them from facilitating a digital BreakoutEDU experience, and any ideas to improve the current landing page. From a student perspective, I would look to gather open-ended feedback about the gaming experience and then share that data back with the teachers so that they can see the value of running this type of learning experience. Additionally, I would add a “cheats” web link that was password protected to hide important facilitator information that cannot be conveyed on the actual game pages. Doing the aforementioned refinements might bring about a higher comfort level to the facilitator. On a positive note, the user base for this type of learning has grown so dramatically that BreakoutEDU has created User Groups by teaching discipline on Facebook which allows for social and focused discussions on facilitation tips and much more. As BreakoutEDU suggests, “It’s time for something different“! Give it a try and you’ll not only like it, but find it’s more than just a game…it’s a new way of thinking!

Educators Microblogging Via Twitter

Carpenter, J. P., & Krutka, D. G. (2014). How and why educators use twitter: A survey of the field. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 46(4), 414-434.

Carpenter and Krutka offer a solid research article on the role Twitter plays in the field of education. Although usage of Twitter in the K-16 arena is often muddled and contradictory because some institutions block social media sites while others embrace these tools, the authors felt it was important to examine the “how” and “why” educators use Twitter. Their literature studies supported three key uses of Twitter in the classroom as of late including: 1) for communication purposes like events and deadlines, 2) for classroom activities like classroom happenings, subject matter questioning or to showcase finished projects, and 3) for teacher professional development. Most interestingly, to solicit survey respondents for their study, the authors disseminated their survey by tweeting an invitation and link and were able to get 755 K-16 educators to participate in their research.

The survey findings demonstrated that K-16 educators employed Twitter in diverse ways and that Twitter was most frequently used for professional development purposes to acquire and share resources and/or to connect with digital colleagues (p. 422). Additionally, the authors noted that many of the survey respondents prized Twitter as a valuable medium for its personalized and immediate nature as well as considered Twitter to be superior to traditional professional development (p. 422). Of special importance was how Twitter helped combat isolation in the classroom and connected educators with positive and creative colleagues and leaders. Although Carpenter and Krutka highlighted that their survey sample was not random and that the respondent population age was closer to 18-30, their research findings did align with other scholars’ assertions that participatory cultures thrive in online affinity spaces (Gee, 2004; Jenkins et al, 2009). Overall, their study findings have implications for educational institutions to consider the many reasons to tap into or leverage social media as a value-added professional development resource.

This study supports the great work that my district does with regard to social media usage for staff and students, yet reminds us of the work we still need to do to continue to refine and pinpoint best Twitter usage. Over two years ago, I offered virtual PD for staff to learn about Twitter through creating a Twitter account, finding colleagues to follow, finding a Twitter chat session to join and tweeting out lessons learned. I’ve also offered Twitter backchannel sessions for live PD as well as showcased the ways that Twitter can be used in the classroom to engage and extend student learning. Although there still is a level of enthusiasm for teachers using Twitter in the teaching and learning process, of late, it has felt more like a competition of what classrooms are doing, or better yet, “brag tweets”. It’s a great time to take stock of how teachers are using Twitter to communicate, interact with colleagues and showcase classroom happenings. Furthermore, it’s also a great time to figure out how teachers learn best using Twitter for PD and what Twitter activities most impact the teaching and learning process. #tweetwithpurpose and #tweetforeffectiveness

Works Cited:

Gee, J. P. (2004). Situated language and learning: A critique of traditional schooling. New York, NY: Routledge.

Jenkins, H., Purushotma, R., Weigel, M., Clinton, K., & Robison, A. J. (2009). Confronting the challenges of participatory culture: Media education for the 21st century. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Teacher Practice – The Fourth Space!

Calandra, B. & Puvirajah, A. (2014). Teacher practice in multi-user virtual environments: A fourth space. TechTrends, 58(6), 29-35.

The authors presented an article on Multi User Virtual Environments (MUVEs) as a practicable, situated and embodied virtual space where novice teachers can work with other pre-service teachers to practice being a teacher without the constraints and risks related to practicing in actual schools. MUVEs, at their simplest form, are either two or three dimensional computer simulated graphical environments where real-world participants represent themselves through online persona or avatars to interact with various digital artifacts or other avatars (Dede et al., 2004). Regarding the need for MUVEs, several researchers have asserted that teacher education programs need to have a greater focus on clinical practice because the deliberate inclusion of practice prepares teachers to perform tasks and activities more skillfully and with greater confidence by the time they enter the profession (Ball & Forzani, 2009). Thus, Calandra & Puvirajah suggest that it would be ideal to provide pre-service teachers with actual classroom practice, but that it is not always feasible and offer their research on MUVEs as a “fourth space” as a part of or a near-real solution to this dilemma.

Calandra & Puvirajah offer four spaces for pre-service teachers to learn and hone their classroom practices: 1) traditional lecture-driven classroom, 2) microteaching and role-play, 3) practice teaching in actual schools, and 4) teacher practice takes place in MUVEs. The first space of learning, is about reading and listening to others or perhaps better described as canonical knowledge with learners being passive recipients. The second space, opens the door for microteaching and role-playing in contrived scenarios usually in a university classroom with peers and the result is a simple and/or obvious solution to a teaching problem without genuine classroom distractions and within an artificial time frame. The third space, is practicing teaching in an actual school and offers pre-service teachers the opportunity for situated, authentic and valuable learning. However, the authors note that actual pre-service teachers might not be able to handle the large sensory load and the high pressure that is inherent to physical world classrooms while also learning the essentials of teaching. That idea was supported by Korthagen & Lagerwerf (1995), when they posited that teachers in these (pre-service) situations might produce more visceral or instinctual responses to occurrences in the classroom rather than connect praxis decisions to theory via repeated practice and careful reflection. Thus, the fourth space was constructed by Calandra & Puvirajah, to include the ability to: 1) occupy a virtual persona within a near-real simulation, 2) work within a social, distributed environment, 3) fail in a low stakes setting, 4) repeat a given task many times, and 5) isolate a particular aspect of the experience for careful reflection (p. 32).

I think there is incredible value to constructing a MUVE for pre-service teachers to try out a variety of different classroom tasks such as lecturing, working in groups, practice questioning techniques, working on classroom management strategies, interacting with parents, etc. I think a classroom MUVE could provide a much more natural, organic and authentic space where learning would occur for pre-service teachers where they would have to think on their feet, react to the myriad of situations that occur and reflect on their actions. Speaking from experience, when newly minted teachers work in our district, I clearly see the struggles, large sensory loads that impact their classroom happenings and the general feelings of being overwhelmed. All new teachers want to be the best they can be, but in reality teaching is an unpredictable and highly variable endeavor. MUVEs might be the catalyst and fourth space needed to simulate the possible spectrum of classroom activities and best prepare new teachers for their first teaching job. At the least, MUVEs are worth additional studies to determine if they might be a viable option to complement existing pre-service teacher preparation programs.

Works Cited:

Ball, D. L., & Forzani, F. M. (2009). The work of teaching and the challenge for teacher education. Journal of Teacher Education, 60(5), 497-511.

Dede, C., Nelson, B., Ketelhut, D. J., Clark, J., & Bowman, C. (2004). Design-based research strategies for studying situated learning in a multi-user virtual environment. In Proceedings of the 6th international conference on Learning Sciences (pp. 158-165). International Society of the Learning Sciences.

Korthagen, F., & Lagerwerf, B. (1995). Levels of learning. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 32(10), 1001-1038.

Virtual Technology Coach

Sugar, W., Slagter van Tryon P. J. (2014). Development of a virtual technology coach to support technology integration for K-12 educators. TechTrends, 58(3), 54-62.

This article attempts to offer a possible non-traditional solution to meeting the needs of K-12 districts in their quest to provide ongoing technology integration professional development. The authors explored the development of a virtual technology coach position to help teachers incorporate new knowledge and skills related to technology integration into classroom practice both short and long term. According to Sugar and Slagter, a coach creates a non-confrontational environment where teachers can share their thoughts, instructional practices, and generally learn from one another. Additionally, the article highlights how important continual professional development as opposed to a one-time workshop has been deemed more effective in supporting teachers’ abilities to learn about new teaching strategies, new technologies and other ways to change their classrooms. For the study, the authors created and issued a survey to sixty teachers to find out what benefits and services a virtual technology coach could provide in an online setting. Additionally, the research included teacher prototyping sessions to develop an initial set of virtual assistant qualities and resources. The study analysis yielded seven main themes of need for a virtual assistant support including: collaboration, discussion, learning, news, profile, sharing and technical.

As K-12 school systems continue to purchase large quantities of technology for teaching and learning as well as reshaping/updating instructional strategies, there is definitely a need to develop a learning community for collaboration, sharing, teaching, tech integration, etc. Sugar and Slagter’s thinking about a virtual technology coach is in alignment with the International Society for Training and Education (ISTE) white paper on Technology, Coaching and Community as well as the NETS-C (coach) standards. The authors work does bring value and vision to the possibility of what a next-generation school employee might look like – possibly virtual! The real question becomes, should this new job position be an online tool called a virtual technology coach or an actual person acting as a virtual technology coach on call or facilitating learning communities from a remote location?

The district I work in does not have any instructional coaches. Teachers collaborate, provide training and generally support one another during school hours. The district does provide teachers leadership opportunities and curriculum days to learn or train others, but overall our school system is considered a flat organization structurally. The district maintains a lean organizational structure so that the high-quality and cutting-edge student programming can be offered at the highest possible level. This article really accentuates a potential new future for how to best support teachers in their transformational teaching and learning practices. I feel this concept of virtual technology assistant is just another lever of Clay Christensen’s Disruptive Education framework. Only time will tell if this non-traditional solution can become a reality in a K-12 setting!

TPACK: A Framework for Teacher Knowledge

Misha, P., Koehler, M.J. (2006). Technology pedagogical content knowledge: A framework for integrating technology in teacher knowledge. Teachers College Record, 108(6), 1017-1054.

The authors proposed a conceptual framework as a way of thinking about effective technology integration and specifically the knowledge associated with integrating technology effectively into learning environments. Constructed as an extension of Shulman’s (1986) formulation of “pedagogical content knowledge”, the Mishra and Koehler framework is known as Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge or TPACK. This model showcases the interweaving of all three key sources of knowledge: technology, pedagogy, and content. As highlighted in the article, there is a critical need to have a conceptually based theoretical framework about the relationship between technology and teaching that can transform the conceptualization and practice of teacher education, teacher training and teacher professional development (p. 1019). Especially so, since teaching is a complex cognitive skill occurring in a dynamic, interrelated and sometimes ill-structured environment.

This model has revolutionized how some teachers, districts and higher-education organizations view, support and justify technology integration. High-quality teaching requires a deep understanding of the complex relationship that exists between pedagogy, content and technology. Also, there is no one-size-fits-all with regard to technology solutions for classroom teaching and learning. Mishra and Koehler suggest that TPACK serves as a great resource to guide the design of curriculum in an approach they call learning technology by design. The authors suggest that this framework allows teachers to tease apart some of the key issues that are necessary for scholarly dialogue about educational technology classroom integration (p.1046). Having a better handle on how technology supports the learning environment can afford students better opportunities to transcend the passive learner role and instead take control of learning through authentic and engaging ill-structured problems that reflect a complexity of the real world (p. 1035).

Personally, I have been training teachers on integrating technology into their classrooms for over nine years. My first year in the position, I continued the district-driven, skills-based approach to teacher technology training. In year two, I quickly realized that teaching just the technology tool skills had little to no impact back in the classroom even though that’s exactly what the teachers wanted. Through a variety of learning frameworks including TPACK, the district moved to a messy professional development model that is content-driven, pedagogically supported and technologically enhanced. Teachers come to training to have the tough conversations, work on their perceptions and/or fears, developed sound instructional units and “play” around with the content-pedagogy-technology relationship. We still have a long way to go as a district, but we are having the best and deepest conversations about effective technology integration these past couple of years. TPACK is a great conceptual framework that our teachers can reference, easily relate to and work through to construct new ways to teach and learn.