This year I have become a better teacher. It is because of you, my class. I would not be able to do half of the activities we do during the day if it wasn't for you. Each week I get excited and ask you to try new things and you go with the flow. I get excited about watching you embrace the challenges and changes to what school looks like. You are truly taking the motto "Try Everything" to heart.
This last week alone, you did two #MysterySkypes (one for which you were willing to take a late recess for), you helped young 5 year olds code and learn to use tech in school (Showing them computers are not just for playing games. Some of you even helped them practice their counting skills, which can be boring to someone in fourth or fifth grade!), and we were the "guinea pig" class for the new 360 Math Lab. When I asked you if you wanted to Skype with an author next week, even though it would once again affect recess time, you almost unanimously voted to do it.
The new 360 Math lab was what made my heart swell the most. This was something completely new to all of us. Not only did you do a problem solving activity that we had never discussed or previewed, but you did it with gusto. You embraced working as pairs and then as whole groups of students to figure out what you were doing right or what needed changing. You took a risk. Some of you "failed" at the challenge, but you never gave up. You were even willing to go back in the next day, knowing that it might be "hard" to figure out.
I do not tell you how often we get compliments from outside our classroom. You are great collaborators who work with others regularly. You bring creativity to what you do, often not wanting to do the same thing more than once or twice. I know you get frustrated when I limit what you can do, but you see that you are better for it when you are finished. Many of you bring ideas to the class to share, not because you want to be the expert, but because you want your friends to try something new.
I have had the honor to know many of you for more than a year. The growth in both academics and risk taking leaves me in awe. For those of you who have been with me for a shorter period I am even more impressed. You were put in a class that was anything but typical. You did so with little complaint and even some excitement. I can only hope that all of you continue on this path after you have left my classroom.
You are not a perfect class nor are any of you perfect yourselves. Nor would I want you to be. I am not perfect. Perfect is boring and can lead to stress you don’t need. You have taught me to take risks and that “failure” can lead to better, not make things worse.
A teacher becomes better when they are more than “I’m just doing my job” I am better because YOU deserve more than that. Thank you for making me better.
Note: I knew I was going to write this blog, just debated if I should do it now or wait until the end of the year. Cori Orlando's blog about change helped me to decide that now was the right time.
Last week my local chat focused on new beginnings to start the second half of the school year. One activity that came up several times was that teachers wanted to try BreakoutEdu boxes, but weren't sure what it was. As a avid fan who has done MANY in my class, I decided it was time to blog about it and how my class uses it to become better collaborators, communicators and critical thinkers.
First, a little background on what it is. Basically the students are solving puzzles while working in groups. Each puzzle answer leads to the ability to open a lock. The types of locks vary from word locks, key locks, number locks and the popular (but very challenging for the teacher!) directional locks. There is always some kind of backstory. Sometimes it is academic (like finding the solution to chemical formulas or based on the novel you are reading), fun (like Dr. Seuss or Rudolph's Reindeer Games) or can be an introduction to something in your school (like how to use the library). Students are allowed to ask for two hints from the teacher in order to solve the puzzle. Depending on the teacher and class, the hints can be specific or general in nature. All of the puzzles have to be solved in a certain amount of time, usually 45 minutes. There are even digital breakouts for the students to solve using only the computer.
With a class of 35, I usually try to do breakouts using at least 2 boxes, borrowed from our Makerspace. (See my post, adventures-in-creating-a-makerspace.html, about this wonderful addition to our school!) This allows me to break the students into groups of 7 or so. They still have to share time trying the locks, but it makes it easier. It is possible to do a breakout with a large class using only one box. Each group could complete one lock of the puzzle or every group solves one part but have to work together to complete the final part. I have done or two of these, but find that too many of my students end up sitting around waiting for the rest of the groups to finish.
There are many reasons I love using the breakout boxes in my classroom. Students collaborate with each other in order to solve the puzzles. Many times that shy, quiet one is the first to figure out the answer. These students are not always the one the other listen to in the beginning. This is where they end up becoming better communicators. The groups end up discovering how much time was wasted (sometimes not breaking out in time) because they didn't listen to ALL members of the group. Some groups divide up the puzzles and collaborate well. Others use the various strengths of the group to solve each part one at a time. Either way, they have to TALK to each other in order to solve the puzzles.
Critical thinking skills is another great reason to try a breakout in your room. The first time I tried a breakout last year, I had two boxes. Only one group ended up breaking out on time. There were several reasons for this. One was that the second group wasn't able to think through a problem that involved higher levels of thinking. It was more involved than solving a problem on a worksheet. Many in the group were my higher academic students. They weren't used to not being able to solve a problem quickly. Even this year, with the several breakouts we have done, we have only had one where every group was able to breakout on time. Their critical thinking skills have come a long way, but they still have more to grow.
The best part of the breakouts is the debrief after time is up. Whether the students were successful or not, it is important for them to talk about what happened. Here is another area for them to improve their communication skills. They hear from each other what they did well, what they can improve upon and how well they worked together. This can be hard for the students to do for the first several times. My students still have a difficult time not repeating the same things ("We need to listen better to the others in our group.", "We worked well as a team.", "The others didn't always listen to me.") We have talked about reasons why the answers in the debrief might be the same.
Breakouts are definitely an activity I suggest every classroom tries. You do not need to purchase the box from the site (but I highly recommend it for the first one!) If you have questions about getting started with Breakout Boxes or just want more information check out the Facebook groups or #breakoutedu on Twitter.
What I learned:
- BreakoutEdu is a great way to get the students collaborating and communicating!
- School should be fun!
- Critical thinking can't be done in the same way on a worksheet!
Each January we make resolutions at the beginning of the new year. Some will be kept, most will be long forgotten by the end of the first week. Last year @CoriOrlando challenged our staff to create one word to describe how we were going to get through 2016. My word was "willing". I think I more than lived up to that word. I was willing to try quite a few things both personally and professionally. I became a blogger and a presenter for people other than those I knew through my school or district. I ditched my desks and textbooks. I threw caution to the wind and went PBL for most topics. I tried (and loved) Breakout boxes. I thoroughly embraced tech and letting my students teach me a few new things. I gave up homework and some aspects of control in the classroom. (As a teacher, I can't give up total control!) Most of this was completely out of my comfort zone prior to the end of 2015/beginning of 2016.
After reading Cori's blog (leadinginlimbo.weebly.com) and watching the #DitchSummit by @MattMiller, I decided it was time to come up with a new word for 2017. So many different ideas came in such a rush that I needed to narrow down to what they all had in common: I want to inspire those around me. I don't want what I am doing to be limited to my classroom and friends. Becoming a blogger and a speaker helped start me on this journey. The class motto of "Try Everything" helped my students as well. However I feel like I have more to give.
There are a few students who I have not reached yet. They still struggle and don't like to go to school. Two come to mind. One I had last year. He was a strong student in a typical classroom. He was good at giving the information back to the teacher in the typical methods: essays, multiple choice tests, verbal answers. However, last year, he really struggled when I made him discover his own learning and create his own end products. Breakouts were horrible for him because he had to work with others that had a different way of thinking and problem solving skills. He wanted to be the first and best at everything we did, but didn't understand my classroom. This year he is embracing more of my style of teaching, but still gets frustrated with new situations. How do I inspire him to keep trying new?
The second student has attendance issues. His home life is not that easy and he brings the frustration into my class. (Unfortunately this is all too common in many classrooms.) His absences affect his understanding of much of the concepts, but I am blamed by both him and his mom for not spending enough time with him so he can get it. While I don't bring that blame on myself, I do need to figure out how to inspire him to do better when he is in school. I did a teacher report card where the students got to rate my teaching skills and style in both content and personal rapport. (Thanks @GeorgeCarganilla and The Classroom Chef for this idea!) I am pretty sure (even though it was completely anonymous) he was the student who remarked that I didn't understand him and don't show interest in the students. This I take blame for. I need to find what I can do to inspire him to try harder and find that school can be a safe/fun place to be.
Outside the classroom, I have reached out and shared with a few colleagues on a regular basis. I have presented at a few of our "trainings", which are voluntary on Monday afternoons so few people come. My blog is doing better than I ever hoped (see the last post). Presenting at the CETPA conference in November encouraged me even further. Hopefully I am inspiring others through these avenues to change up how they teach or what their classroom looks like. I want to take this further though, especially for those who I can make local contact with. How I go about this, other than continue to do what I am doing both in and out of the classroom, is not yet figured out, but is something for me to aspire to in the coming year.
Will 2017 allow me to reach the goal of "inspire" to the same degree that I did with "willing"? We'll have to see. That's the great thing about a goal. It doesn't have to be something done right away. It can be accomplished little by little, one student and one colleague at a time.
20+ year teacher, mother of 2 kids and 2 dogs, wife, lover of all things M&M, interested in tech in the classroom, and changing up my teaching