Monday, February 8, 2016

BreakoutEDU in Minnetonka for Adult (and Student) Learning

Photo by Andrea Hoffmann

Last week our elementary technology instructional coaches, Andrea Hoffmann and Jeremy Engebretson, began introducing a new learning platform to our teachers called BreakoutEDU. I hadn't heard of this until December when Andrea attended a session at the Minnesota TIES technology conference in Minneapolis where she learned about it. She liked it so much she went out and bought the equipment necessary for using it in training and even had her family try it out over Christmas. Recently she and Jeremy designed an hour long professional development training session for our fifth grade teachers. The teachers loved it and are excited to bring it back to their own classrooms to use this technique with students.

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Here's how it works: basically one or more groups of students in a room are given the task of unlocking a mystery box to discover what is inside. This box has a variety of padlocks on it which require numbers, keys, codes and more to open. There are some clues that are put in the room where the group is working. They must figure out what these clues mean, how they fit together, and what information in/about these clues will help them decipher the lock combinations or perhaps locations of other clues. The clues and tasks are not random by any means, they actually are carefully selected around a theme by the instructor, such as a history topic or math problem. A countdown timer is set and the group needs to solve these puzzles before the buzzer goes off, or... they don't succeed. Really, it is about the fun of the task itself that motivates the group to work together to solve the puzzle and the timer is just an extra challenge to beat.

Photo by Andrea Hoffmann
Since fifth grade teachers were attending this training session to learn more about how to integrate the iPad into their instruction in their 1:1 classrooms, Andrea and Jeremy specifically designed tasks which required teachers to use a variety of tools and apps on their iPad. One of the tasks was to create video using the Do Ink Green Screen app which we just purchased. This BreakoutEDU exercise was a fun way for teachers to learn how to use that application hands-on without Andrea and Jeremy doing any sort of direct training or instruction on it. Teachers then submitted their green screen video to Schoology, just as they will have their students do in the future.

The theme of the quest was not technology itself, but was our Minnetonka Teaching and Learning Instructional Framework. Teachers had to reflect on topics of Real World Problems, Collaboration, Communication, Creativity, Critical Thinking, Global Learning, Personalized Learning, and Use of Technology. There were various clues which used curricular content from fifth grade and with which the teachers were familiar. The teachers used information from this content to find patterns and discover clues within it which helped them unlock the various padlocks on the mystery box. Overall, it was a great professional development activity in which the teachers collaborated and communicated with one another, thinking critically and creatively to problem solve and open the box, all the while learning content along the way. It definitely would have been a less memorable training session for the teachers had it been in a traditional sit and get format.

Photo by Andrea Hoffmann
After the group solved the final puzzle and excitedly open the box to discover what was inside, they debriefed and discussed what they had learned. They also talked through many ways they could use this technique in their own classrooms. Many teachers signed up right away for account, where they can access many pre-made activities to use with their students. Andrea explained that you can also submit your own games. If you submit three of your own games you can get a BreakoutEDU box and locks for free instead of $99. 

Participating in the test group doing this a few weeks ago, as well as watching our teachers go through it last week, reminded me of how important the "hook" in teaching is. The anticipatory set--creating a reason for the students to want to learn the material and content--is so critical. I was reminded of my own classroom 20 years ago when I used some of the InterAct curriculum to do simulations with my students, such as when we were studying about the 13 colonies in fifth grade social studies. Students were so excited about the activities they didn't question of why they had to know the material and instead learned it better than they ever would have in a traditional textbook lesson format. When designing professional development for teachers, it is important we remember that this need for a hook doesn't end when our students are adults. I know we will be incorporating more BreakoutEDU sessions into our future trainings.

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