Thursday, September 21, 2017

8 Tips For a Successful Breakout

It's been ages since I've blogged (the whole having babies thing), but now that the oldest is off to kindergarten, I'm finally finding a little wiggle room in my daily schedule to do stuff I love. Like blogging.

My new adventure for this fall is trying the Breakout trend. Educational Breakouts have been popular for a few years, so I'm a little late to the game. Over the summer one of my very favorite English teachers decided they wanted to try something new to change up their teaching routine, and since Breakouts were filling my Pinterest feed, we collaborated on designing a Breakout for her classroom. After digging into the whole process with her, I decided I was grooving on the concept, and planned my own Breakout for my library orientation activity.

The results? Breakouts are awesome. This is the MOST engaged I've ever seen my students. I've had MANY of them tell me how much fun they had and ask if we could do it in other classes.

Above: I LOVE watching the "ah-ha!" moments when they finally get it. 

Above: Team celebrations were pretty common when kids cracked clues. 
Now that we're into the 3rd week of school, I've run the same Breakout almost 40 times, as I've done it with every 8th and 9th grade English class that comes to the library for orientation. I'm certainly not an expert, but I've noticed a few things that have improved the process:

1) To save money, build your own Breakout kits. I was able to put together 4 complete Breakout kits using Amazon and the Dollar Tree. For each kit I bought 1 letter lock, a 4 pack of combination locks, 1 keyed padlock, 1 hasp, 4 lockable toolboxes, and a blacklight. I also bought 1 pack of UV Pens. Altogether, 4 complete kits cost about $180.00



2) Develop a system for organizing your locks. I have around 30 different locks between all my kits, and I realized early on that I needed a way to keep them all straight. This required two things: 1) Labeling each lock (I started by writing on them with a Sharpie -- it rubbed off, so I switched to Sharpie on masking tape - still not ideal - I'm hoping I can talk the tech department into using their engraver) and 2) Keeping a record of the combo I had assigned to each lock.

Above: Labeling each lock is essential when you have multiple kits. This is my current method, Sharpie marker on masking tape, but I think I'll see if the Tech dept will engrave them for me.

Above: After labeling each lock, I made a little chart. Each time I changed the combo, I recorded on the chart. I also taped the directions for resetting each lock into the folder. 
3) Divide your class into teams (the smaller the better) and run multiple breakouts simultaneously. When first diving into this whole Breakout thing, the most difficult thing for me to wrap my head around was how to do a Breakout with a whole class. I still haven't quite figured out how classrooms can run only 1 game and have all students participate. Because I was able to buy purchase four kits, I was able to run 4 games simultaneously. For smaller classes, this allowed 3 or 4 kids in a group, but for larger classes, the group size was 7. I noticed that the larger groups (5+) were NOT ideal - when you have big groups, it inevitably allows some students to sit back and let others do the thinking - they never really engaged with the material. In contrast, the smaller groups of 3 and 4 required EVERYONE to participate, and I know the activity was much more meaningful academically.

4) When working with bigger groups, have students elect a reader and a wrangler. In smaller groups (4 or less), this doesn't seem to matter as much, but in the large groups, teams need to identify a person that will be responsible for reading each clue out loud (so all members of the team can participate). I also found the larger groups needed to identify a leader (I called it a "wrangler"), responsible for making sure the group travels as a pack, encouraging quieter kids to share ideas, and in general, keeping all team members on task.

5) Color code the clues and assign each team a color. Because I ran 4 games simultaneously, I wanted to make sure teams didn't take another group's clue. To do this, I broke the kids up into teams, and assigned each team a color. They sat began the activity at tables with large colored signs that indicated their color.
Above: Each box was tagged with team colors. I also wrote the location of each box on the back of the tag, so I could quickly replace the boxes between periods. 
Above: Each team started the Breakout at a table with a sign indicating their team color. 

Above: All the clues were color-coded -- teams could only use clues that matched their color. 

6) Do everything possible to make re-staging quick and efficient. I have 3 minutes between periods to re-stage the Breakouts, which means loading clues into boxes and locking boxes back up. I also structured my Breakout so that although I had 4 games running simultaneously, each group encountered clues in a different order. To make my life easier, I created a folder for each clue location. So, for example, each group got an envelope with their first clue. On the front of my folder was a little color-coded chart telling me which clue went in each group's envelope. If the clue location required a code, I also wrote that on my folder. Inside my folder were extra copies of each clue - enough to get me through a whole day.

Above: For each station, I had a folder filled with extra copies of each clue. I also made a little chart on the front of each folder that indicated what clue each team received at that station, along with the lock code, if necessary.

7) Don't set locks to combinations that are too easy to guess. To get into the final box, I originally had the word locks set to READ. It totally fit the activity, but it was so obvious for a library breakout that groups were able to guess the combination without doing ANY of the clues. This totally defeated the purpose of the activity. To make it more difficult, but without having to totally change the station, I switched the letter lock to DAER and added a line in the clue that said "Think you know the code? Sometimes people get things BACKWARDS." Stupidly, I also set one of the number lock combinations to "123" - also way too easy for a team to simply just guess. 



8) Build a debriefing into your Breakout that can be done independently. When students work in teams, they will inevitably finish the Breakouts at different times. When a group finishes early, they need a task to occupy their time. I created a survey - students scanned a QR code that they found inside their final box when they were finished with the activity. Part of the survey asked students to reflect on both the activity and the content. In this case, the Breakout content served as an introduction to Banned Books Week, so students were asked questions like "Should school libraries censor books that a parent finds objectionable?"
Above: Following the Breakout, each student independently completed a survey. 
There's my round up of tips. Got any more to add? What have YOU done to make your breakouts a success?



Thursday, January 30, 2014

January Bulletin Boards & Book Displays

I thought I'd share our January displays and bulletin board before the month is officially over. Luckily, this month's themes are pretty universal, so they'd work just as well any other time of the year.

In the library we went with a black and white color scheme and a "Get Inspired" theme. We hung white puff balls (snow?) leftover from a bridal shower and made large, over-sized silhouettes to define the book types at each display. This meant a jumbo chef's hat by the food books, a sled by the sports books, and a pair of scissors by the craft books.




Our bulletin board was inspired by this pin. I thought it was a great January idea as the board's title is "Happy New Beginnings." The board displays the first line from 12 different books. When students lift the flap, they see a photo of the book cover that corresponds to that quote. I tried to pick titles that had really great first lines -- it was harder than you'd think!

I'm especially drawn to boards like this with an interactive, game style component.




From left to right, starting with the top row, the books are:
  • Farhenheit 451- "It was a pleasure to burn."
  • Holes - "There is no lake at Camp Green Lake"
  • 1984 - "It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen."
  • Pride and Prejudice - "It is a truth universally acknowledge that a single man in possession of a good fortune must in want of a wife."
  • Chains - "The best time to talk to ghosts is just before the sun comes up."
  • Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants - "Once upon a time there was a pair of pants."
  • Uglies - "We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck."
  • Feed - "The early morning sky was the color of cat vomit."
  • The Fault in Our Stars - "Late in the winter of my seventeenth year, my mother decided I was depressed, presumably because I spent quite a lot of time in bed, read the same book over and over, ate infrequently, and devoted quite a bit of my abundant free time to thinking about death.”
  • Harry Potter - "Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal."
  • Stormbreaker - "When the doorbell rings at three in the morning, it's never good news."
  • Delirium - "It has been sixty-four years since the president and the Consortium identified love as a disease and forty-three since scientists perfected a cure."

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Nearpod love in the library

My new favorite app of the moment is Nearpod. In a nutshell, the app deploys interactive presentations and collects student assessment data.


Here's how it works (or at least how I've implemented it):
  1. I create a basic PowerPoint show for my topic. The slides only contain text and images (no animations or multimedia). The PowerPoint lays out the basic flow or structure of the lesson.
  2. I upload the basic PowerPoint to Nearpod.
  3. Using Nearpod on the web, I start adding interactive features to my basic presentations. These interactive features are slides that can be inserted in between my original PowerPoint slides. Interactive options include the following:
    • Slide shows
    • A blank drawing canvas (with a background of your choice)
    • Videos
    • Web browser displaying a site of your choice
    • Polls
    • Multiple choice quizzes
    • Short answer quizzes
4. I then "publish" the presentation on Nearpod.

Now you have two options for deploying the presentation. You can do one of the following:
  1. Start a "Live" session, generating a pin number. In this mode, every student needs a device (laptop, iOS device, desktop, etc.) in front of them during class (I guess you could also do one device per small group). Students open the Nearpod app and enter the PIN number provided. Once students have all entered the presentation, you begin presenting, advancing the slides on the teacher's view. As you advance the slides, the students' iPads screen automatically advance. On the interactive slides, students submit their answer, and it automatically collates and displays the data on the teacher's screen. If a teacher receives an especially good answer, they can then deploy it to students' screens.
  2. Deploy the presentation in homework mode, generating a pin number. Students can then access the presentation at their leisure. In this mode, the presentation is self-paced, so students are in charge of advancing each slide as they work through the lesson. This set-up is ideal for a flipped classroom environment or independent classroom work. 
A few notes:
  • Each time you launch a new presentation (not a new session), the presentation has to be downloaded to the device. If there's lots of network traffic on your wifi, this can be painfully slow (we've had it take 30+ minutes on especially bad days). In anticipation of this, we usually preload the presentations on all the devices the night before we're using them in class. 
  • Institutional subscriptions are ridiculously expensive (I think we were quoted something like $60K for our district). I've just purchased one Gold level personal subscription, and that's done everything I've needed it to do.
  • Inserting videos into presentations eats up a lot of storage space. So either compress the video as much as possible, or host it on a Web site and insert it as a browser page instead. 
In addition to seeing results in real-time, you can also generate reports after the lesson has finished.

Class summary for a quiz. I can tell which questions they struggled the most with and instantly know what concepts I need to re-teach.

A student's answer for a drawing question. I provided the background bridge image and they added the colored arrows.

So far we've covered the following topics with Nearpod:
  • Bridge design (the unit worked soooo well with this -- it's really an awesome presentation).  
  • Different kinds of irony
  • Website evaluation (using RADCAB)
I'd be happy to share my presentations -- just comment with your Nearpod user name and I'll send them your way. 

How are you using Nearpod?

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Selfies & Self-esteem

In honor of the OED's word of the year, this month's library bulletin board is devoted to selfies.


To be totally honest, the word of the year was just a lucky coincidence. The board was actually inspired by this Teen Vogue article, "The Good, the Bad and the Unexpected Consequences of Selfie Obsession." I know my kids are selfie obsessed, especially as they leave Facebook and flock to Instagram.

From everything I've read, selfies are a useful tool in developing adolescents' personal identity, so I didn't want a board with a strict "selfies are bad" message, but I do think there are potential consequences my kids need to consider when sharing selfies. Hence our bulletin board theme - "Don't let selfies dictate your self-esteem."

I think the Teen Vogue article does a great job explaining the issue, so it was easy to translate it into a bulletin board. The iPhone frames on the board address the following topics with excerpts from the article:
  • What is a selfie?
  • Why take selfies?
  • Sharing selfies
  • How do "likes" make you feel?
  • The bad side of selfies
  • Selfie alternatives
To catch students' attention, I included celebrity selfies (side note: it's REALLY DIFFICULT to find school appropriate selfies -- put some clothes on, people!).

Has your library done anything to address selfies (and the word of the year)?

Friday, November 8, 2013

The Instagram Carrot

As librarians, we're always encouraged to ensure student work is shared in the Real World. Recently, I started an Instagram feed for our library (follow us at DurgeeLibrary if you're curious). Students either directly share their work via the Library's Instagram account (the account information is saved to my carts of library iPads), or I photograph their work and share it myself. Sharing their work on Instagram helps accomplish our mission of Real World projects, but I didn't realize how it would positively impact student pride.



Our junior high kids, like yours, are slowly leaving Facebook and finding a new home on Instagram. I noticed this trend during orientation, so at beginning of the year I created our library's Instagram account, but I've been slow to utilize it. Side note: creating an school Instagram account is so much easier and less fraught with potential complications than a Facebook page.

I finally put it to work a few weeks ago so students could share posters they created using the PicCollage app. We were able to apply class period hashtags (search #Rolfe1 for examples) and topic hash tags to every poster, so it made it super easy to sort them for presentations and grading. I thought that'd be the end of it, but I was pumped when students started going home and using their personal Instagram accounts to like their work and their friends' work. 

Now, as a little added extra motivation, I'm using the Instagram account as a dangling carrot. Students LOVE the idea of seeing their work featured on the school's Instagram account, so I'm picking and choosing the best products to photograph and share. It's proven a free and easy way to increase engagement and motivation.

Do you use Instagram at school?

Friday, October 11, 2013

Attracting Parents to the Library During Open House - Locker Notes!

Most school libraries aren't overrun with visitors during Open House. In my school, parents follow their child's class schedule, and then spend any study halls or lunch periods munching on cookies and punch provided by the PTSA in the cafeteria. A few devotees usually stop by and say hello, but the traffic flow through our space has always been limited, even with my best efforts to engage visitors.

This year, our principal came up with a FANTASTIC idea. She asked us to host a "Locker Love Note" station in the library. During her opening speech and via announcements in between periods, she invited parents to stop by the library to write a note for their child's locker.

 A parents slips a note into their child's locker.

We set-up a little sign in the library explaining the process, and provided parents with index cards and markers. Once they wrote a note, parents were invited to stick it through the slot of their child's locker for them to find the next morning. Our parents were able to easily locate their child's locker because lockers numbers were pre-printed on their child's schedule (our student management system automatically includes this info), which they were given on arrival.

It was such a little thing and a very easy activity to set-up, but the number of parents in the library far surpassed any previous records. I got to introduce myself to many new faces, and even if we didn't have a conversation, they at least saw our set-up and hopefully got an idea of the things we valued.

If you want more bodies in your space, set-up and publicize a locker notes station!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Huggmee Chair Review

Fire codes required us to ditch our comfy lounge seating this spring, so we had to find new furniture that met regulations.

We searched high and low for an affordable option, and stumbled across the Huggmee Chair. They're produced in Arizona by a teeny tiny mom and pop company. Online, the chairs list for $887, but when we purchased 3, we paid significantly less. Fabric options varied - we ended up choosing a faux leather/heavy-duty vinyl that met fire code regulations.



The chairs are unique because they're designed to allow users to sit in the "sling-a-leg" position - reclining backwards and throwing their legs over the chair's arm. The chairs are quite comfortable this way, though the low back makes them slightly less comfortable if you sit in a more traditional position.


Three weeks into the school year, the chairs have gotten a super warm reception from both staff and students -- I haven't heard a single complaint. Multiple kids have asked how much the chairs cost and where they can buy one. :)

Because the chairs are vinyl, they are susceptible to punctures and rips, but the company claims the vinyl is heavy-duty and repairs easily. I'll keep you posted and let you know what we think of them in June after a full year of wear and tear.