Digital Differentiation Toolbox

1Checks for Understanding

My key to success is frequent checks for understanding that can move students seamlessly from one group to another. I’ve had students move from the remediation group to the enrichment group after having an ah-ha moment where everything clicked. There are a variety of tools I use for pre-tests and formative assessments during a unit. My requirement is that student answers can be turned into a spreadsheet to be analyzed and potentially select data can be shared with the learning support teachers.

  • Google Forms: I do not know what I would do without Google Forms. I use the Add-On Flubaroo to grade and share results with students. I can also set conditions to answers to guide students or direct them to different pages of the form based on their response. That is really useful if I want to give them different instructions based on their answer to a specific question.
  • Quizizz: Multiple choice game for students to respond to questions. It can include images. The questions are displayed on the student device, so they are self-paced. It does include a time limit per question, but that can be set by the teacher creating the Quizizz set.
  • Socrative: I have used Socrative for years. It does not have the visual pizazz of some sights, but it does meet my requirements.
  • Formative:  There are so many options of what you can do with Formative. A student favorite is the draw feature. I can harness that interest into annotating on top of an image of text. Teachers can watch students respond in real time, so you don’t have to wait to see a spreadsheet to know which students need additional practice.
  • Nearpod: If I am already using Nearpods for the lessons, it is easy to incorporate a couple questions using the Quiz feature of Nearpod.

Kahoot is a student favorite, but it is not on my list as a formative assessment tool that drives instruction/groups. I find that the student desire to answer quickly ruins the honest snapshot of what they actually know. I do use it as a fun review game after we have done the hard part of actually learning.

2Student Paced

Student Paced is how I describe the group with general knowledge who can move at a faster pace for the lesson. They will have additional choices with practice options and application of the knowledge. I utilize a lot of resources that give the teacher the option to duplicate, so I can have two or more similar resources, customized for a portion of my class. In a given unit the digital resources will change, but there are some that are consistent for my student paced group. My requirement is that students will demonstrate their thinking in a way that is visible to the teacher through saved work/responses.

  • Nearpod: Lessons can be duplicated. With a code, students can go through the lesson at their own pace. Other websites can be included in the Nearpod presentation.
  • Google Docs / Google Classroom: Google Classroom automatically creates, names, shares, and organizes Google Docs through the assignment feature. I can have each student open the assignment. I can then customize the task, but adding some extra challenging prompts to select students. For the Map Challenges, I keep track of the different versions of the document by labeling them Challenge 3A, Challenge 3, and Challenge 3.0. To the causal observer, they look identical. For many activities the change to the assignment is just the expected outcome. Higher level students need to provide more than a single word answer; I prompt them through comments to add specific supporting details for their answer.
  • Quizlet: This study app and website has been in digital toolkit from the beginning. With my teacher account, I can see statistics for the students: what they did, how much they completed, which ones they most frequently missed.
  • EDpuzzle: Just because I have students working at their own pace does not mean they are not hearing the information from me. I use some flipped videos to explain key topics. With EDpuzzle I can embed questions to check for understanding. It also displays view statistics, so I can tell if someone skips part or if they go back to watch a part four times.
  • Flocabulary: Flocabulary is more than just videos. They have some new features that will allow students to enrich their learning and boost their creativity. I can’t wait to have students try the Lyric Lab. Writing lyrics is more challenging than it originally appears since they have to master the content and the beat. The Pause & Play feature asks probing questions to prompt discussion. Even working at a self-pace, the students could have a discussion through Google Classroom or respond in writing on a Google Doc.
  • Newsela:  An easy way to extend the learning is to ask students to find real life examples to apply the knowledge. I have them use Newsela to find articles that demonstrate their knowledge.

3Teacher Guided

Teacher guided are the students who will thrive with personal teacher attention. I am able to use duplicated and modified resources similar to the student paced group. With teacher guided there is an emphasis on images relating to the content as well as having students explain their thinking verbally. 360º images are great conversation inspirations. With only 5 or 6 students in the group, I am able to listen to everyone and no one can silently hide.

  • Nearpod: Lessons can be duplicated. With a code, students go through the lesson at the pace set by the teacher. They can not skip ahead. 360º images are easy to incorporate with Nearpod Virtual Field Trips. The draw feature is also a student favorite. It is a good way to see student thinking and I can ask probing questions to get more information. The features do not have to be complex to be effective.
  • Google Docs / Google Classroom: Google Classroom helps with organization; there are no more excuses when the assignment is lost. Just like I can customize specific students’ documents with more challenges, I can also provide tips and hints for students who might struggle. I want them to try to solve the problems on their own, but I can anticipate the misconceptions.
  • Flocabulary: While I mentioned before that Flocabulary is more than just videos, the videos are what grab the attention of some struggling students. They like the mix of lyrics, beat, and images and they are willing to watch the videos over and over again. This helps them remember the content in the long run.
  • Tiny Cards: Study app that is similar to Quizlet, but this builds in what it expects in students. It also allows for slight misspellings of words, which is significant when working with struggling learners.

Breaking into Groups without Heartbreak

Grouping is about the perception. For the small group that is going to work with me, they sit in the back around a low coffee table while sitting on comfortable pillows. Students are often more excited about picking out the perfect pillows than being worried about being in the small group. My personal ah-ha moment came with review games last year. Why would I only have one version of the review game if the lesson was differentiated? It had to be disheartening for the students who were always on the bottom of the leaderboard. Now I use an old Windows Surface to run a second version of the Kahoot (or other review game) for the small group in the back. With only 5 or 6 people playing, they are frequently on the leaderboard. They are proud of themselves and smile a lot more.

Overall Reflections

a-personal-teaching-approach-mb46tln212070t84wegphyaqk8s1wwvuvp35rr13hqA tool that can visually connect the entire differentiated path is Symbaloo Lesson Plans. I just started playing with it this summer and like the potential, especially if a single question can function as a deciding point for what a student should learn next. Digital differentiation is not for the lecture lover or the lazy planner. This requires lots of work ahead of time to work smoothly in the classroom. I consider it a labor of love. I am willing to do it so more students love the content and are confident in their ability to learn.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

TDQ Professional Goal

TDQ CoverEach year we are asked to come with a problem of practice with actionable steps to improve. Last year wasn’t very inspiring, so I want to try something different this year. I’m going to base my goal on TDQ: Pathways to Close and Critical Reading (grades 6-12) by Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey. This book was recommended by one of my favorite ELA colleagues Renee @rowens1. The topic originally came up during a Professional Learning Committee meeting. The data, and thus the problem of practice, proves that on standardized tests and in everyday life students struggle with supporting claims with evidence. This blossomed into a session at our unconference about cross curricular literacy skills, but my goal is to move from discussion to action.

Non-fiction reading is integrally part of Social Studies and Science, so we are natural teachers and guides for the non-fiction ELA skills and standards. I embraced this concept last year; I used consistent language to ELA when the situation arose in reading passages, but I want to be more intentional. Besides being inspired by conversations with my ELA colleagues, I attended a surprisingly inspiring presentation at the Pennsylvania Council of Social Studies about making TDQ the SLO goal for an entire SS department. Normally that many acronyms in a sentence is an attention killer. But they provided evidence that students will grow if non-ELA teachers purposefully incorporate TDQ into lessons.

So now that I have a sizable goal for this year, what is my game plan? I will harness the power of technology to efficiently provide students with a variety of TDQs at their level. This game plan includes Newsela, Google Classroom/Google Docs duo, and Flocabulary.

NewselaLogo.jpgThe inclusion of Newsela is nothing new. The article selection is appreciated by students and teachers alike. This year I want students to learn how to track and monitor their own reading progress. This will be especially true for my higher level learners who need to be challenged in meaningful ways. The quizzes pull from ELA reading standards, so Newsela is an easy match to my professional goal.

Screen Shot 2016-08-18 at 4.49.41 PM

classroom logoGoogle Classroom / Google Docs is the easiest way for me to provide specific and ongoing feedback to students. The Google Doc is automatically created, named, and shared when the student opens the document. As the teacher I can observe the progress and leave comments in the margin with the first word typed… or encourage them to get started if their document is blank. There are Google Sheets Add-Ons that I love, like Goobric for adding a rubric to a Google Doc.

Saving the best for last: Flocabulary. I have been a Flocabulary fanatic for awhile, but some of their new features directly align with my professional goal. Last year they introduced a quiz feature that checks for content knowledge. This summer they released a Read & Respond feature, which is currently limited to mostly ELA videos and the new Week in Raps. Since the Week in Rap is 85% of my Flocabulary usage during the year, it works out perfectly. Have no fear, Flocabulary does plan on expanding the feature to other videos. So what is Read & Respond? It is short close reading passages based on the theme of a video. The Teacher’s Guide gives the grade alignment.

Screen Shot 2016-08-18 at 4.43.10 PM

Another new Flocabulary feature that I anticipate using is the Pause & Play feature. You guessed it, you play the video, and sometimes it pauses, prompting with discussion points for the class. Students could use those as the questions, then they would develop a claim and find evidence from the original article cited in the interactive lyrics.

If I wanted to get really crazy, I can mash up the resources. I envision creating a Google Doc with the Pause & Play questions, with links to the article from Flocabulary as well as a corresponding article on Newsela. The Google Doc can be distributed to each student with Google Classroom, so they can edit and respond to the questions. This is just the early stage of the brainstorm. Ideas might shift as I read through TDQ: Pathways to Close and Critical Reading. Since the school year will begin during the height of an intense presidential campaign, they really need critical reading skills … as do many adults of voting age.

Posted in Inspiration, Technology | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Is it a fad?

Breakout ToolboxRecently when I was excitedly explaining the newest BreakoutEDU I created to reinforce map reading skills, someone asked: “Aren’t you worried it [BreakoutEDU] is just a fad?” They of course were implying that the time and money I have spent developing breakouts to align with my curriculum and to engage my students was not well spent. Last year the students played two: one for Canadian Culture and another for Aztecs, Incas, and Mayas. They loved them. This summer I developed one for map skills, thematic maps, as well as one for teachers to preview the concept. I plan on creating one to go along with Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom, which we read in class during Black History Month.

IMG_3769.2015-11-16_205535Last year I also used a lot of Virtual Field Trips through Nearpod to take them to all the places we were talking about. They loved these too. It took time to develop a lesson that included strong content, formative assessment, and visual engagement in one. Students who would rarely talk would take screenshots of the interesting things they saw and ask about them later. Students would be out of their seats because they could not contain their excitement over some of the images they saw and wanted to share with someone at their table. Those were the best questions/discussions. Not bad for a fad.

This brings me back to the question: what if it is just a fad? I do not just duplicate my lesson plans every year. They are constantly evolving and changing to meet the needs of my current students. So what if BreakoutEDU or Virtual Reality or gamified learning or badges are just a fad? If it is something that has research supporting it is beneficial for student learning and I have seen positive student engagement in my own classroom, it is a trend I’m willing to buy into. Which includes dedicated both a reasonable amount of time and/or money. I have a Nearpod library filled with lessons incorporating the Virtual Field Trips that get students out of their seats because they are so excited to explore and a closet shelf full of boxes and locks for BreakoutEDU. I’m looking forward to another year of engaging and exciting fads. I feel better about this trend then the standardized testing I have to administer that does not bring any joy to learning. My students are worth it.JPEG image-6CC82217A144-1

And yes, there really is research that all of these work in education:

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Initial ISTE Reflection

Global Exchange

      Just like last year two of my favorite days are the pre-conference offerings of HackEd and the Global Education Day. The Global Ed day reaffirmed what I already knew, students need and want to make connections that extend way beyond the classroom. We have done random Great Mail Race letter exchanges in the United States, but students last year expressed interest in writing to students beyond our borders, especially since our class covers geography of the entire Western Hemisphere. It seemed so practical for me to utilize my time at ISTE to reach out to teachers around the world. I repurposed a Google Form to collect information from teachers I met from around the world while at ISTE. I have a group that my students will send letters to first. Instead of random questions, it will be connected to the five themes of geography. I’m still working out the details in my mind, but I’m confident it will work, which is thanks to the enthusiastic support of @JoAnn Jacobs from Hawaii. We talked for the entire hour of #coffeeEDU and she contributed some great ideas. I might have my students practice short geography writing prompts with the ‘Out My Window‘ project. I loved the round table discussion during the Global Education Day when people were able to describe their project creation process, which works out nicely since there will be a Great Global Project Challenge through the VIF. I have until September 15th to figure out all the details.

Screen Shot 2016-07-01 at 3.48.18 PMEdcamp Mentality (rule of two feet and vendor-free*)

This is almost a lie. This year I presented for Amazon Inspire (right after the article was published in the NYTimes announcing Amazon Inspire, no pressure or anything) and Flocabulary, so I did spend time at their booths. So much time with Flocabulary that the song Types of Rocks Flocabulary has been playing in my head on repeat. I learned much more about all the features, especially new ones to be released in the near future.

*compared to the average person in the vendor hall.


However, I probably only stopped by 10ish vendors. I don’t have purchasing power or influence and I don’t need random objects that wouldn’t fit in my suitcase. I did visit: Amazon Inspire, Flocabulary, Nearpod, Minecraft Edu, Canvas (still don’t get the costly appeal), Edmodo (just to say hi to Liz and Kate), Google, Net Smartz, and Remind. There might have been something else, but it wasn’t memorable. I do not go to conferences to spend hours talking to vendors. I go to learn.  I get much more out of talking to actual teachers during the poster session. Which I did more than anything else; I would guesstimate that I saw over 200 posters over the three days. I’m still trying to dig through all of the specific resources that were shared. That will be a separate post, with an annotated list. I originally was hoping to get random stuff in the Expo Hall to give away at Edcamp Hershey, but it was not even worth the time for that. Instead, I’m just asking the edtech companies I have a meaningful relationships with.


Professionally Developing

     I did approach ISTE knowing that I’m on the Professional Learning committee again next year. Sometimes I feel like we have stagnated with offerings since our district was innovating years ago, yet the PD hasn’t kept up. The middle school teachers were fairly active for the different Twitter chats and Twitter challenges throughout the year. A tool that could help with #dtsdchat is The website organizes resources shared in a chat as well as easily curates the conversation and participants.

     I found the next books I want to read for professional development, and thanks to the Corwin Focus group they will be free for me. I wish the district would bring back the robust professional development library we used to have. It was interesting to see what other people wrote, since writing in the margins was not frowned upon. Maybe we can do something similar at Edcamp Hershey.

     One of the best ideas was using students for professional development. The school had a Mouse Squad made up of students that would not only troubleshoot, but come in during teacher in-service to run trainings based on teacher surveys of what they wanted to learn. It started as a middle school group and morphed into a high school class.

     Students can also be used to get teacher buy in. At HackEd someone shared the idea of giving badges to an entire class. Teachers would learn something then actually apply it to their classroom. It would not have to be perfect or complex, but they would need to try. It would be presented to the entire student body so they could encourage their teachers and even plan some things. Ideas for badges: contacting a content area expert with social media, global collaboration, digital story, publishing a collaborative eBook, digital test, creating a formative assessment game online, posting on an online forum (like padlet), using an LMS, sharing student work with parents digitally, etc. The options are endless – and they could be general or specific. I have not discovered a platform for digital badging that I like best yet.

     IMG_5068Almost related to this is parental involvement. There was a great presentation from a school district in Maryland about how they get parents involved and train them. They hold a student technology competition in the middle. They offer short sessions providing tech help. They also have outside agencies that provide free services for students, like summer camps, clubs, library, etc. An idea for the competition is a digital creation mash up challenge, which was inspired by the Apple Playground and the PD dice. There would be two dice that have 12 different apps that are commonly used in class. The third dice would have the subject area. Each student would roll the dice and take a picture. They have to create a mash up about something related to the subject using a mix of both apps. This would get the students excited to share what they are using with parents and get the parents in the door to learn more.

Posted in Changes for Future, Geography, Reflection, Technology | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

ISTE GlobalEd

Just like yesterday, these are the highlights of Global Education Day, not the detailed reflection. At the end of the day I presented a poster session.

General Information about Global Education

– #globaled16
– Global Education Project
– VIF will give prizes for best in categories
– Global Collaboration Day Sept 15th
– Global Education Forum Oct 13-15, 2016
– What global events and experiences have shaped our lives?

– Google Research for skills that students need
– The presentation has link to full report from Google
– Education majors tend to study abroad in the smallest numbers
– VIF offers professional development online
– How do you make global studies scalable?
– VIF acquired @participatelrn
– After school program that focuses on global connections
– David Young @dyvif talked from VIF

– TabLab helping transform rural education.
– Box with iPads or Android tablets that are pre-loaded with apps that do NOT need the Internet to use.
– Big focus of TabLab is also providing tech training since they haven’t been exposed to technology themselves.

– Books of positive words about classmates. Write compliment and find image. Send it to the student: they can add it to their book of nice using Book Creator.
– Have a lone nut free environment

– micro-credentials with digital badges, will have 8 global competence badges

Round Table One – the Great Global Project Challenge
– How do we hook other teachers into doing things with global Ed?
– “If you learned here” Project. It was simple and multiple steps. After they learned about each other, they created pages in book creator. The lead teacher combined it then sent the completed books back to all the contributors.
– “Out My Window Project” take a picture and create art or poetry based on picture. It gets posted online with hashtag. #ccsshare
– Buy journals. Have students share addresses of family and friends around the world. Ask people to write a letter, pictures, etc and then mail it forward. Teacher who does this: Thomas Keene.

  • I’m developing the Global Geography Exchange to have students share the Five Themes of Geography for where ever they live. I already had some teachers sign up on a Google Form at my poster session.

Round Table Two – Environment Issues
PenPal Schools and Time for Kids collaboration (topics: poaching, ocean, ecotourism, etc) for a new free course, it will run 6 weeks. August 8th is the goal date for them to complete the module, so it will be available for the upcoming school year
– There are also courses that match Spanish and English students learning the other language. There are multiple levels, so it would be appropriate at a beginner level.
– Complex matching algorithm for matching students based on things like age, gender, sign up activity, etc.

  • There are more resources and notes posted on the Google Doc.

Poster Session: Not Your Grandma’s Maps, Refreshing Geography so Students Crave World Knowledge.

Posted in Geography, Inspiration, Technology | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Pre-ISTE Learning

These blog posts are not going to be long, thoughtful reflections. Instead they are the quick snapshots of the sessions/resources so that I can remember them later. Saturday included #HackEd16 and the Mobile Learning Mega Share, as well as casual conversations in the hallway that also resulted in some ah-ha moments. Since I was up by 4am, I figured ‘why not?’ be part of the HackEd/ISTE unplugged planning crew, aka scheduling guru or happy minion.


  • Personalized, voice and choice, true passion based projects
  • Differentiated, different pathway to same goal
  • Individualized learning, student choice to hit standards, like freedom in project
  • Students don’t know what they don’t know. Hard to give them complete freedom for personalized learning, especially if you are also required to hit all the standards.
  • Misnomer that personalized means you can do anything. Still have to hit standards.
  • Students don’t have agency to know what to expect. They are used to being told exactly what to do.
  • “Teacher for Hire” based on a pre-test, some students will be the ones students go to for help, not just the teacher.
  • “What are your options?” Don’t just give them the answer.
  • Teach them that failure is an option.
  • The behavior issues go away as the learning was personalized.
  • learning badges – using it in Chicago and Philly. Makes learning transparent even when students move frequently.
  • Karen Lirenman teaches at an AWESOME personalized learning environment that spans multiple grades. She will be presenting more about the experience on Wednesday from 11:45-12:45.


  • Post positive messages around the school. Failure is not the end.
  • It’s not about fitting in, but moving beyond to be successful.
  • Admin need to give teachers permission to do things, remove barriers. Teachers need to model it for students.
  • Two year study/classes on innovating and coaching led to a successful growth mindset culture, but it took ten years for the pockets of innovators and people with the fail forward mindset to transform the entire district.
  • How can we inspire teachers to try? Set up badging system for class goals that require teacher advancement (like trying a new tools/strategy), sell it to the students instead of the teachers alone. You will know who to ask. Don’t just check off boxes, you are really changing the experience for the students. This is something they are developing at Excelsior Springs School District. Christy Harris (@teacherharris), it sounds like it has amazing potential.
  • Lubbock Texas SD has been doing badging for professional development. Everyone earns them and displays them, even the superintendent.
  • Do we make too many assumptions? Are we willing to dive deeper and see if it works even if we think it will fail? Do our assumptions prevent students from being able to try on their own?
  • How do you get a cultural change where you can celebrate failure?
  • We need to empower students to have a growth mindset.

SMACKDOWN (many of these I already use, some I heard about at last year’s ISTE but forgot about it in the craziness, and some are new hold potential to explore)

  • Write Our World, multicultural ebook library of stories written by students. Awesome idea! Another resource I will be sharing with colleagues.
  • Formative… The teacher explained his process “inspect, redirect, and reflect”
  • The Wonderment – how could I forget about this since last year?
  • questily – team based quests in small groups to further understanding
  • Google street view app, +, create own 360° image, can toggle over to Google Cardboard
  • Quizizz
  •  open source social annotation. Share an article and read together. Similar to Diigo. “Annotation flash mobs”
  • Voxer, text or voice conversations, on either phone or laptop
  • Pobble 365, daily photos with writing prompt inspiration
  • free video conference, don’t even need to sign up
  • CS unplugged
  • Write About
  • Switcher Studio, free version gives you four iPads to record together. Fifth iPad is the director mixing the videos into one.
  • Peekapak – social and emotional learning


  • Organizing Flow Chart Template via @DenverUbow
  • Virtual BreakoutEDU puzzles 
  • After you have done some Breakouts in class, have students demonstrate mastery of content by creating a couple of their own clues.



  • @ProfeEdTech and @JenWilliamsEdu
  • Virtual Handshake, create padlet and have people add their names, faces, etc.
  • Padlet has a built in QR code creator on the website to easily have people find the Padlet you want them to add to.
  • EDpuzzle + YouTube
  • Symbaloo curation device
  • Feedly + blogging = collections of topics for blogs, shows source and title of new blog posts
  • In Feedly you can create your homepage and people can follow you and your followers
  • One hundred day challenge on Twitter #100days
  • TEDed + sketch notes. Initially just write major concepts. Afterwards she draws the images and adds colors. By having them sketch note it is reflective and demonstrates understanding. @edtechamber 
  • Paper 53, drawing app
  • Apple Pencil, only available for the iPad Pro, something to check out for the future. The fact that it will recognize handwriting and turn it into text could be huge for some of the learning support students who are better writing on paper but need the supports offered by editing with technology.
  • Participate Learning, like a Pinterest for education topics.
  • Participate Learning curates all Twitter chat content. This looks awesome!
  • Canva has a digital “design school”. On the home page, scroll down to ‘learn to design’
  • Take quotes from sessions and find an image to capture. Combine on Canva.
  • Adobe Spark 
  • Buncee – they are really cute when emailed, the animations
  • It would be cute to have an invite with RSVP for ice cream social or back to school night, which can easily be emailed to homeroom families
  • Buncee now has an iPad app
  • SoundTrap gives lots of collaboration options to create music. Paid website, but cheap for teacher account for a year. Must share with my music colleagues! 
  • Bubbli takes 360° images. You create a bubble.
  • Pixel Press Floors allows you to draw a video game on graphic paper and the free app turns it into an actual game.
  • Bloxels – Love this! Also from Pixel Press, but there are physical colored boxes that added to the grid to build the game and the graphics.

Today brings the Global Education Day, so there are sure to be many more resources.

Posted in Geography, Inspiration, Technology | Tagged , , | Leave a comment


My favorite discovery at PETE&C was BreakoutEDU. I heard two different educators talk about them and how it works for their age groups, both late elementary and high school students. There is a great Sketchnote from @SylviaDuckworth describing the greatness of breakoutEDU. The concept of BreakoutEDU:

Creates ultra-engaging learning games for people of all ages. Games (Breakouts) teach teamwork, problem solving, critical thinking, and troubleshooting by presenting participants with challenges that ignite their natural drive to problem-solve.

There are pre-created games to teach those skills. Or you can create your own. At PETE&C Traci (@tci_traci) shared how she created her own version based on content in her curriculum that she wanted students to explore more deeply on their own. The BreakoutEDU website offers either a kit to purchase or links to Amazon to buy each of the pieces yourself. I thought I ordered the exact items from the ‘Do It Yourself’ kit, but I got creative with colors. I would have just ordered the full kit, but my enthusiasm did not allow me to wait the full 6-8 weeks. So while my locks initially looked like twins, they are closer to cousins. One of the locks is not reprogrammable, so I had to get creative with the predetermined combo. Another lock is changeable, but the letter options are different, which also changes all the clues available.

It’s ok. I wanted to get creative anyway. The presentation by Traci demonstrated how she created her own BreakoutEDU experience for students that mixed content with the problem solving challenges. She incorporated things through QR Codes, Aurasma, SoundHound, as well as locks and invisible ink. I was inspired to present Canadian culture in a self-created BreakoutEDU scenario.

Last year the students loved writing the Canada Letter, but they felt the cultural components were stifling. I want students to be interested in the culture and to search for deeper understanding on their own. So my breakoutEDU is a hybrid: scavenger hunt, webquest, and breakoutEDU. I utilized locks, song lyrics, invisible ink on maps, Aurasma Screen Shot 2016-02-27 at 8.49.13 AMAugmented Reality, QR codes, physical puzzles,  brainteasers, quotes, cryptic hockey schedules. There are also red herring QR codes on other cultural topics around the room that I want them to learn about, like food and holidays. Some of the ones that look obvious require students to read the entire thing because the clue is hidden at the bottom, so if they dismiss it as non-important, they risk missing the clue.

Another untraditional element of my breakoutEDU: team contract and extended game play. I know my students. I knew they would get frustrated by the complexity of the task, but if they persevered, they would learn a lot. I wrote a team contract that would set the expectations:Screen Shot 2016-03-19 at 10.01.50 AM


  • A good backstory sets the stage for buy in or failure. My Canada backstory earned giggles and a willingness to try to save the Liberty Bell. To really, really sell the story, I purchased a small metal replica on Amazon that is now hidden in my room. Locked Backpack copy


  • A book bag is a great alternative to a lockbox as log as the item inside is not too small. A sixth grade hand can bypass the double lock on the zipper and sneak their hand inside. They accidentally discovered what I was using to weigh down the bookbag, so I had to modify the ending to include the random plastic dinosaur. Luckily Alberta, Canada has one of the best dinosaur finds in the world.
  • Augmented Reality might be more of a headache than it is worth. The Aura worked fine one week but stopped working when students actually got to that clue. Even using the exact trigger image did not work for me. Instead the students showed me the trigger image and I AirDropped the next clue to their iPad.
  • I added a couple clues as the students have been working, especially when their search for ‘Fake NYC’ only brought back search results for buying a fake ID to get into New York clubs. If you mentioned Canada and films you get the correct answer.
  • StaplerStudents are missing some of the obvious clues. Some of them notice the clue but do not act on it, like seeing a note that says ‘This stapler is not filled with staples.’ My natural curiosity would force me to open the stapler, but less than 5% of my students feel compelled.
  • Initially some of the groups struggled with the unstructured nature of the breakOUT and group collaboration/problem-solving. They asked more than once what they were supposed to do. One group even asked what the learning objective was hoping I wouldn’t have an answer and they could get out of it. However, their attitudes have changed. They were upset the days they did not have any time to work on it.
  • My homeroom students start trying to figure out clues as soon as they arrive and want to use the study hall time too. I like them during study hall because it only includes a portion of the group, which takes away from the group collaboration aspect. Obviously they are further along than the other groups, but it is nice to have a beta test group. I can fix some common errors or issues without it negatively affecting all the classes. Like a misunderstanding with the lyrics of the first song or the Aura not recognizing with Aurasma.


  • By putting many of the clues on my website (named randomly and hidden), they can be updated on the fly to help students be successful. My website isn’t blocked, but for some of the students was, which takes away from the lesson if they can’t learn about random Canadian celebrities.

QR Puzzle


  • If there is a hint that requires students to put it together, like a puzzle involving parts of QR codes, you need more than one set. I have six groups in each class, so I have three sets of the puzzles. Twice there were four groups ready for the clues, but the one group just had to wait until the first group finished. Luckily I have a parallel clue set, so I sent them to try to find the second path while they waited.
  • One thing that I will definitely change next time: expose them to the apps ahead of time. They are very comfortable with a QR code reader, but they have never seen Aurasma nor SoundHound. While having a description on the back of the contract is good, it does not guarantee that they will take advantage of the app during a time sensitive window, like using SoundHound during the normal duration of a song.

When I have explained my lesson concept, the first question people ask is how long it took to set up; honestly, I don’t want to be honest. There were many, many mornings I drove to school and brainstormed some of the clues. Once I had the series of clues, it still took at least 20 hours to create everything, both the online hints, the QR codes, the culture matching game, adding hints to the maps in invisible ink. With all the work, is it worth it? Absolutely. I will not create a breakoutEDU for every unit, but I’m already brainstorming where to add another one next year.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment