Breakout EDU

Breakout EDU is like an Escape Room in a box. The players use teamwork and critical thinking to solve a series of challenging puzzles in order to open a locked box. The first time I experienced Breakout EDU with my students I was not the designer of the game.  Another teacher had designed the Breakouts and we were using it as a provocation for an inquiry on the Olympics.  I was amazed at how much I wanted to help my students.  It was difficult to watch them struggle and yet, that is where the learning happens.  We want our students to BE “gritty” and we need to provide opportunities for students to develop that grit.  Breakout EDU is a great way in which to have the students experience “the struggle”.  The kit looks like this:

The kit itself is quite pricey and unless your school already has one, it is quite an investment.  However, you can make your own with a tool box and locks purchased from a variety of stores.  You can also create online digital Breakouts that create the same kind of collaborative, problem solving activity just without the cool locks.  Here is the link to some curated online “digital” breakouts.   I haven’t looked at all of these for curriculum alignment, but it will give you some ideas to use to create your own digital breakouts.

“Breakout” is sort of a misnomer.  You are actually “breaking in” to the box using a number of clues students solve puzzles in order to open the various word, number and key locks.  This can connect to the curriculum in a number of different ways and can be used effectively as an introduction, provocation or summary for learning.  You aren’t going to get too terribly deep into content when students are busy trying to solve for clues.  For me, Breakout EDU is far more about developing the 6 C’s; collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, communication, citizenship and character building.   It is fascinating to have students work in groups to solve problems with a common goal.  Breakout EDUs provide opportunities for students to practice developing their learning skills and gives the teacher the opportunity to collect data as the learning is self-directed.  The activities lead easily into self-reflection of learning skills. Below are some of the questions that I find valuable for the consolidation portion of a lesson after a Breakout EDU activity:

Questions for Reflection

1.  How did you determine roles in your group?

2.  What did you find most difficult?

3.  What did your group do really well together?

4.  What would you do differently next time?

5.  How did you contribute to the group?

6.  How did you work to include everyone in your group?

Once students are familiar with the Breakout EDU format (depending on the age/grade level) they can then create their own Breakouts for their classmates.  The students interact with the learning from a different perspective and have to find the most important information to highlight for the clues in the development of the Breakout.

So what are the drawbacks?  Breakout EDU is competitive.  The students are working against each other and/or against the clock.  You have to know which students can handle that type of pressure. Working in groups on a common task may be difficult for some students with self-regulation issues so you have to know your students well and plan accordingly, as you would for any group activity.

Finally, Breakout EDU is also a great tool to use with your staff.  If you have a lot of information to get through and you want the participants to get to some salient points and the Google Slide presentation just isn’t cutting it, using a Breakout EDU will make for an interactive, team building staff meeting!  It is also great to have the adults experience the struggle that we all want students to go through to develop grit and resilience.

Like with any tool, it takes time and research to ensure that it is right for your classroom.  The more I use Breakout EDU in my teaching,  the more I think of ways to use it!

Collaborative Inquiry Celebration

The other day, many teachers from across my school board gathered together to share with other educators how their year long inquiry project went. As I have mentioned in previous posts, mine was about starting our own business as a class and inspiring my students through leadership. I shared with the other educators these successful stories from our project “8A TREATS”:

  • how many of my less successful students with traditional subjects have been excelling during this project
  • the success my students had with gathering data from classes around the school
  • collecting permission forms from the entire school
  • advertising by making imovies, posters and using a dinosaur mascot to travel around with a fake smoothie
  • tallying the smoothie results for flavours and sizes with spreadsheets
  • counting and tracking the money with spreadsheets
  • find and then order paper straws from Amazon to be environmentally friendly
  • working with a budget that was donated from the student success foundation
  • designing logos as a class, voting on the best one and then collaborating with a clothing design company to recreate this on their products
  • painting and creating a wall in our classroom that will be the location behind our brand
  • creating a video to explain the project as well as talk about our favourite parts

Image-21    (<<<our student create wall)


Our next steps with our project:

  • doing the math to find out how much of each ingredient we will now (plus extra) to make the smoothies
  • ordering the cups
  • setting up our classroom as a pop-up smoothie store
  • making 340+ smoothies on June 6th with our 22 students

It was very exciting sharing this project with my fellow educators. My students were very excited knowing that this project was shared with other teachers. They were proud when I told them how excited other teachers were to find out about this student centered initiative.

There were other educators who shared exciting inquiry projects:

  1. My colleague Lydia shared about her “Community Helpers” project where her grade one students inquired in various ways about the many community helpers in our neighbourhood. She had a guest police officer come by as well as had the students use their hands to explore various jobs. They were able to build, play with food as well as research all of the jobs available to them. The final touch was when my grade eight class came to help them put their thoughts together in an inquiry package. It was great to see her students so passionate about their future. To find out about her project, you can visit her twitter account @AppolonialydiaL. You can also view her project on this link <iframe class=”wp-block-mexp-vimeo hwdsb-tv” src=”//” width=”560″ height=”315″ frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe>
  2. Teachers used a choice board to give students options when creating or completing tasks. These boards are made in collaboration with the teacher at the beginning of the year to go over all of the ways that presenting or completing every day tasks can be done that year. Apps are explored and used in new and innovative ways. I cannot wait to create a choice board in my literacy class next year. There was also a SAMR model student choice matrix that was introduced to us. It’s not the app that makes the project/task, it is how it’s used.
  3. I also heard about makerspaces from one of my other colleagues Cara. She introduces these daily in her library and students are able to create very interesting projects from her instruction cards set up at the tables. They are always able to be creative, explore and build in her library. They also explore media literacy during these creative library sessions.

There were many other projects I could not get to since we only had a half hour to explore and the other half hour was to share about our own projects. Some other apps worth checking out are: seesaw, read&write, book creator, keynote, canva, geogebra, TC studio and pear deck.



The Gender Gap in Technology

Quote for blog

According to a recent report* by ICTC (the Information and Technology Information Council) Canadian women represent about 50% of the overall workforce but represent only 25% of the technology industry workforce.  Of the 100 major tech companies in Canada only 5 have female CEOs and 1 Co-CEO.   26% of the tech companies have no women in senior leadership at all.  There is a gender wage gap in the industry of $7,000-$20,00 per year.  When I read these statistics I wondered as educators, what can we do about the gender gap in technology?  This is not an exhaustive list, but it is a place to begin:

1.  Build her confidence in her abilities.

2. Cultivate a community of supportive peers.

3.  Provide a STEM/STEAM club for girls.

4. Ensure that access to technology and computer experiences is encouraged and inclusive.

5. Foster interest in computing careers.

6. Be a role model as a LEARNER.

May 11th is National Girls Learning Code Day.  If you are looking to encourage coders in your school, why not begin on May 11th?  Below you will find links to resources for beginning coding.  Many students code on their own at home and may appreciate the opportunity to mentor fellow students.  The resources attached will get you started.  There is no special equipment or robotics required.  Teachers do not have to be expert coders to encourage their students.  Teachers can be role models of resilience, risk taking and problem solving by learning alongside their students.  Teachers only need to open the door and expose their students to the opportunities.

Girls Who Code Canada

National Girls Learn Code Day

Canada Learning Code


Hour of Code


*Cutean, A., Ivus, M. (2017). The Digital Talent Dividend: Shifting Gears in a Changing Economy. Information and Communications Technology Council (ICTC). Ottawa, Canada.

Elaborated and written by Alexandra Cutean (Director, Digital Innovation Research and Policy). and Maryna Ivus (Senior Analyst, Research and Policy) with generous support from the ICTC Research and Policy Team.

Update: Inquiry project

An exciting update for my classes upcoming inquiry project, our board has funded the project for us! Students in my class will start to work with the supplied budget to help them start their treat company! This funding will make it possible for the students to make this project the best it can be.

This week they will start planning for the supplies to make the smoothies and their advertising/media project will be made possible due to the funding that will allowed them to order stickers or other items to be introduced with their treats. We are excited to begin researching paper straws and look at why it will be better to purchase the paper straws vs. the plastic ones. We will also continue to look at the best combination of ingredients in order for our smoothies to taste as good as possible!

We will have to look for suppliers for all the products now that we have the funds to buy them. This project is so exciting and I look forward to updating you all on the steps we take.

A group of ten of my students (out of 22) have indicated they would like to be in charge of delegating tasks and headlining the operation. I am so excited for my students to take this project under their wing. It will be great for them to understand that in the future they can all run their own businesses with hard work and sound thinking.

On another exciting note, two of my students applied for a grant for a mental health day at our school with fun activities for students in grade JK-8 to participate in. This will be another fun venture for my students to plan! It is awesome to see so many opportunities available to kids in our board… hopefully the funding will always be there 🙂

Create Success in Intermediate Math through Play….

“What are you doing in Math today?” the VP inquires of my grade 5,6,7 and 8 students.

“We’re playing games.”

“You’re playing games?”

“Yes, we always play in math.”

The assessments gathered from these classes provide me insight of where everyone is in their learning. My experience with assessments are that individual conversations to understand the thinking process provides the most valuable information. The range of each of my classes is from a low elementary level to a low secondary level.  This is quite a span. As a school we have been, “Landscaping” these students using; Fosnots– Landscape of Learning. This provides an great snapshot of where your learners are on a continuum. Our board has developed some very specific assessment questions for all grade levels which include strategic numbers to help determine the strategies individuals use.

How do I managed this?

It took me a while with the continuous disruptions to the daily routine. The way, I have adopted my assessment sessions this year is similar to how a reading group would be managed.  Provide the lesson, give the class expectations, then work with a small group on a rotating basis. The entire class already understands the rules and class expectations which have been familiar routines followed to date.

Now what?

I find creating a growth mindset is most important. This is developed through creating a comfort zone for all, including the teacher. Each year I am challenged to ensure my learners grow and develop forward on the continuum. I use a variety of resources such as Sherry Parrish’s-Number Talks This is a great beginning to each class.

I resource Dr. Small’s-Big Ideas for different activities to compliment the concept of study.

Presently I am using, From Patterns to Algebra, by Dr. Beatty and Dr. Bruce

Play, yes these resources include play which I implement on a regular basis.  The students enjoy learning with and from each other while I guide them. During my classes, Play creates a class dynamic for success.

Non Fiction vs. Fiction?

The majority of what I read and write daily is non fiction.  If I were to attach a statistic to it, I would hazard to say that 95% of what I read and write on a daily basis is non fiction.  I like to write poetry and narratives too but I seldom have the time to do that and it is only for pleasure.  I read fiction daily too.  I read about 2 to 10 pages each night before falling asleep with my kindle on my chest.  Many years ago I was introduced to the work of Tony Stead at a Reading for the Love of It conference.  It changed my practice as a teacher forever.  Tony made me realize that almost all of my classroom library was filled with fiction, all of my class read alouds were fiction and the majority of the writing that my students were doing was fiction in some form or another.  I was not exposing them to enough non-fiction text and I was not preparing them for adult literacy.  Using “Is that a Fact?” by Tony Stead and “Reading with Meaning” by Debbie Miller I began to create a literacy program for my primary classroom that had a much stronger focus on non fiction.  I also began using my Scholastic book order money to augment my classroom library with nonfiction texts whenever possible.

I began explicitly teaching how to not only use, but to create non fiction text.  This focus engaged those readers who had struggled most.  There is far more information that can be read and synthesized through pictures in non fiction texts which enables all students, including the struggling readers, to contribute to discussions and make sense of text.  Curiosity drove students to have a purpose for reading and authentic purpose is everything.  We created “Wonderboxes”, an idea from Debbie Miller of small recipe boxes filled with index cards where students wrote down their questions and wonders.  It wasn’t labeled inquiry teaching at that point, but in retrospect it is what we were doing.  The students also created “Non Fiction Text Feature Notebooks” in which they designed illustrations that demonstrated the function of the various non fiction text features.  More recently my grade 4 and 5 students used a screen casting app called Explain Everything in order to create short videos explaining non fiction text features.  After learning what these text features were used for, students were able to interact with non fiction texts more efficiently to find what they needed.  In addition, they began using these text features in their own writing, especially when uploading to blogs and creating Google Slide presentations.

I still value the world of fiction-especially for read alouds. I know the magic of getting lost in a book or a better yet a book series and I want my students to have that experience too.  Being able to connect with another person over the topic of a book that has been thoroughly enjoyed is why book clubs and literature circles exist.  However, I am also aware that it isn’t for everyone.  A few years ago a colleague admitted to me that she had never enjoyed novel read alouds as a student because she just couldn’t visualize what was happening in the story in her own head.  For whatever reason she was unable to provide the running movie that went along with the narration from the teacher.  My first reaction was, “How sad!” but then I began to wonder just how many students I have taught over the years that felt exactly the same.  My literacy program became a more balanced diet of fiction and non fiction.  I encourage you to look through your own classroom library and review the read alouds that you have planned for the school year and take stock of how much of it is non fiction.  You just may want to augment your classroom literary diet with something that includes diagrams, labels and a glossary.

Inquiry Project

As part of a board focus group I am involved with, I am exploring along with a group of six other teachers, the inquiry model in the classroom. Each group that has gathered together to focus on inquiry looks at how it works in their classroom in a different way. My group has selected questioning. We are looking at how and if students select better questions, they will become more successful.

I just recently came back from Disney this Christmas break and I was overwhelmed with the many posts on instagram telling me what cool food I could find at literally every inch of the parks. There were so many options and I had to try them all and take pictures of them all. This has been an interest of mine for some time now, finding a really cool looking item of food and taking a picture with it. I came home from the trip feeling inspired and thinking, I can explore this phenomenon with my class of motivated grade eight students.

At first I posed it to them as a question, what are the most trending items right now on instagram. They came up with a huge list and then I made them create the questions. They came up with a few deep questions: Why do things trend? What makes an item trend-worthy? How can we explore a trending item in our classroom? What item could we produce as a class? It took us a while to get there but we figured out that it would be cool to market a food item as a class and then create it and sell it.

Since we were just finishing up our data management unit, we talked about how can we gather results from our student body about what item would be a hit in our school? First, we asked our office staff for advice about this exciting project. We were given the okay to market and sell an item as long as proper food handling techniques were followed. We then talked about what are the top six trending food items right now? We came up with six as a class: donuts, cookies, cupcakes, bubble tea, smoothies and the Harry Potter beverage. My students paired up, created a google survey and added all these options to the survey. They emailed every teacher in the school setting up meeting times to survey their class.

Before we analyzed our results, on our inquiry wall we came up with ways our project hits every subject we study. We talked about the literacy connections to marketing, advertisements, etc. We talked about art connections when designing logos, posters, maybe even creating a wall that would be a backdrop for a cool photo with our finished product. We talked about math connections when coming up with the cost of the item, the cost of ingredients, the profit calculations, etc. We made large lists for each subject so we can see how wide this one small question covers.

We have now gathered all our results and the top choice for our school was smoothies. We have now created a list of what to do next. It is on our inquiry wall along and our team leaders will check off our ideas as we complete them.

I would love to say we work on this six periods a day, which we very well could since it covers many expectations in each subject, however, grade eight is such a huge year that there is always so many other things that we have to be working on. Currently, we work on this project one period a day. We have 25 entries for logo ideas, 10 entries for company name and probably over 100 smoothie ideas. We will be narrowing down our choices on Monday.

I will keep you all posted on our progress! It is turning out to be a great project and the engagement level is incredibly high. We all sit around the back inquiry board and the hands that go up for ideas during this project are not up for any other time of day. My students are excited about the possibilities that this project presents. It is fun turning over everything to the kids and seeing how it all ends up!

Coding with Microbits

Twice I have attended the Ontario Teachers’ Federation “Pedagogy before Technology” conference in the summer.  This year I attended a design workshop that the InkSmith company provided and would never have been able to predict the chain of events that would follow.  In the workshop we were grouped with people at our table to come up with a design concept and present it in the manner of a “Dragon’s Den” pitch.  As we discussed the concept and made diagrams on chart paper, I put the visuals together in a small Google Slide presentation and added an entertaining video.  I have my drama specialist and I’m not afraid to ham it up in front of a crowd.  When it came time for the presentation we wowed the InkSmith team and ended up presenting to the entire group.  We then went to lunch and I didn’t really think too much more about it.  However, because I had so loudly and visibly put myself out there in an entertaining way, I was contacted by the team at InkSmith and then connected with kidscodejeunesse team.  Kids Code is a federally funded program that helps students learn to code.  They provide free workshops to classrooms across the country using handheld, programmable micro-computers called micro:bits. The coding program is web based and is in the blockly format but can also be switched to html for more advanced coders.  When a workshop is provided to a classroom, the teacher is provided with ten microbits for the class to use and keep.  You can visit the website kidscodejeunesse to sign up for a workshop for your classroom.


                                                                                                                                 This is the microbit connected to a battery pack.

Kids Code Jeunesse provided me with training and as part of my job as an innovations consultant, I now go into classrooms within my school board to deliver workshops to students.  The only coding that I had done up to this point was with Spheros and Ozobots which was quite rudimentary.  I am now immersed into the coding culture. Which means that sometimes my kitchen counter looks like this:

IMG_6320 It was a little out of my comfort zone to be sure.  As I have gone into classrooms I have admitted to students that I’m not an expert on microbit   technology and I have learned from some of the students that have been engaged in complex coding on their own time.  With a quick conversation with   the classroom teacher I can usually make some decisions around differentiating the program to keep students engaged.

 You might be wondering what it is these little computers can do.  The LED lights on the front can be programmed to light up in patterns which create   animations.  Students can create dice or rock, paper, scissors games and with a few alligator clips and a small speaker or headphones, microbits can be   programmed to create music. With a little innovation and some adaptation it can be programmed to water plants automatically or become a pedometer.   It can also be paired with a robot called K8 which can be purchased from Inksmith and assembled.  The microbit website itself is where the coding takes   place and it has easy to follow tutorials and ideas for projects to code.

The initial workshop is only the beginning.  The only limit to these little computers is the limits of your student’s imagination.  Microbits would be incredibly useful in a maker space or genius hour environment.  The students develop design and critical thinking skills and problem solving techniques as they create and de-bug programs.  It is an amazing way to introduce coding to students-especially if you are a teacher who is brand new to coding.  Be warned: coding is extremely engaging and you and your students may have an inordinate amount of fun while learning.


Innovation Collaborative Inquiry

I am currently starting a really exciting journey which involves myself and a group of 10 teachers. We are choosing a topic that interests us and going on a year long journey to discover the answers to this question. We are currently thinking about our question having to do with student led learning and how can we get students to take the lead with their learning and how to make meaningful tasks that will inspire action.

We are meeting 3.5 days this year and we are able to work alongside these other teachers to discuss our findings and see how we can put this plan into action in the classroom.

The first meeting involved getting to know all the teachers. We did this by mingling with the crowd based on which card in the deck we had (all sixes went together, the tens went together..) and then we met up with the same suit cards and then we had a few different challenges after that. When we met with our random groups, we answered the question how have we seen or used innovation in our classroom. It was amazing the chats that we had when this question was posed to us. I felt happy explaining my students current inquiry projects where they research a question of their choice which they will then present to the group it relates to. I also shared about selecting meaningful projects that will somehow create change or an action in our school. We discussed all of our innovation ideas and then we were asked to go back to our seats.

A teacher across the room shared about something that someone had said to her that will change and solve all problems involving math: going gradeless. She mentioned there would be various levels in math like when children go to swimming lessons and they wouldn’t be able to move onto math level two until they finish level one. In a way it sounds like an IEP but it would be in place for all students.

The rest of the morning we had to find a group of people that had a common area of focus as us and that is how I ended up in the student led learning group where students guide themselves to tasks that they find to be meaningful and essentially are 21st century learning tasks. This group will meet next week to discuss our plans.

After going to this exciting learning opportunity, I went back to my class and made a self reflection for our drama haunted house that the students had just finished planning, creating, presenting and then cleaning up. I had them assess themselves using four words: not engaged, somewhat engaged, engaged and very engaged. I told them to circle which word best described their involvement before, during and after the haunted house. It was incredible to see that the word they had circled lined up with the way I would assess them. If they had done this same self assessment and I had put marks or levels on the page, I am not so sure they would have been as successful with their assessment.

I am excited to continue learning with my inquiry group and keep trying out things that we learn as a group. The gradeless self assessment was just one small thing that I know will come of this exciting learning opportunity. It is very fun being apart of a group of like minded people that are really hoping to see a positive change in our classrooms.

More to come!

Education Acronyms

PLC, IEP, TPA,…. Just a few acronyms in the world of Ontario education. I managed to complete the expectations of those three letter words, this month.

WOW! Some may say, “What are you talking about?”, others may say,” HOW?!”

As a person who is a futuristic thinker, I am continuously planning, creating lists and maximizing my energy.  I plan each weekend to complete a portion of the upcoming expectations for the month. This past month, I spent time creating unit plans to ensure a smooth sail through the four Junior and intermediate Math classes I teach.  While knowing that IEP’s (Individual Education Plans), are due in early October and help me understand my students. I reviewed and updated these a few at a time.

Yes of course this is my TPA (Teacher Performance Appraisal) year. Things have changed since I graduated from Teachers College.  I was just as nervous as my first evaluation.  This one was much different because I have learned many new teaching strategies, and ways to interact with all the people we come in contact within our profession.  I look at each year with a lens of the time. October, pumpkins are in season.  Pumpkins are a great way to create a hands on unit in Math for all grades. If you are still learning about making the many connections to the Big Ideas, there are many units on the web.  This is a perfect topic to bring excitement into the class, being aware of all the variables from cleanliness, to the use of sharp objects, and social skill development for group work.  This TPA in my umpteenth year of teaching was successful. After I reviewed my assessment, I realized some things still need work.  I need to clearly connect to daily learning goals to guide the directions of my students and their exploration. I also want to find a way to create easily displayed information charts/word walls that can travel from class to class? Keeping abreast of recent research and data helps.  A specific focus is important  so ideas don’t become lost in the many theories of our closely connected world (www).

This year I’ve noticed my board is using Monthly meetings and PD (Professional Development) days to facilitate PLC’s (Professional Learning Communities).  To my advantage, our focus is on math.  The discussion and connections for all help create a purposeful direction in our teaching and learning.  The superintendents and lead teachers carefully create PD to learn from and directly effect board and school goals. As a team, we have each other to support our teaching and direction.  If communication is continuously supported in meetings, this assists in sharing and supporting each other and the growth of our students and programs. Some of my observations from these meetings are: Don’t get rid of the old…some strategies are still good. Things are changing quickly. It’s admirable to see colleagues rise to new and connected positions while keeping valuable connections.

At the beginning of the month, I was apprehensive about completing these monthly tasks.  Tah Dah…another successful month as an educator.


Learning for All:

Planning for Learning:

TPA: links

Pumpkin Unit Ideas:

Ultimate Collection of Pumpkin Math Ideas for K-12