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.

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Resolutions 2016

There are two inspirations for my New Year’s Reflections and Resolutions: the sketchnote from @SylviaDuckworth and the hashtag on Social Media for #OneWord.


Screen Shot 2016-01-01 at 6.33.10 PM.png Things I do well and will continue to do

  • Actively attending conferences. This means I go out of my way to make connections expanding my PLN and I submit proposals to present. It is not passive.
  • Create & Curate. I love creating resources for my classroom. I will continue to create and share my creations with the world and with my PLC (who benefit directly since we teach the same content). The only thing that would tempt me away from teaching would be to create digital teaching resources full time.

dont.jpg  Something I want to stop doing

  • Gossip. I have a strategic classroom location, so I hear rumors from all parts of the building. But I want to stop being part of the gossip mill. It will be hard to resist, but I realized that it is having a negative impact on the environment and the sense of community. Our building doesn’t feel like a family anymore.

Screen Shot 2016-01-01 at 6.33.19 PM.png Person you want to improve your relationship with

  • My childhood best friend. After working so hard for the past ten years, I realize the success I have had in education has come at the expense of some of my long lost friends. I want to reconnect with people who used to bring me such joy and laughter. I might be a teacher, but I am still allowed to have a life, if only on the weekends.

 Screen Shot 2016-01-01 at 6.33.26 PM.png Things you will do to set outside your comfort zone

  • Share more of my personal life. I have always tried to keep my personal life and my professional life completely separated. My students know very little about me outside of travel stories or educationally relevant content. However, the student demographics are changing, and I think they would benefit from knowing that other people survive struggles growing up and thrive. I might not have faced the same challenges as them, but life was not always easy for me, but it does improve with hard work and growing up. Dressing Up for a Good Cause.JPG
  • Be ridiculous for good causes. I have dressed up twice in the past month in ridiculous outfits: once as an incentive reward for students donating to the food drive (they brought in the accessories that I sported all day) and the other was for an Ugly Christmas Sweater contest. Students who rarely smile were very excited to contribute to my ugliness. It was almost team building. In February I will be going outside of my comfort zone and potentially letting them cut my hair for charity.
  • Stand up to adult bullies. There are many adults who have bullied their way through life. No matter how uncomfortable, at work and in my personal life, I need to stand up to them. This is especially true at school when students hear us telling them that bullying should not be tolerated, but they see the adults being cruel in a joking manner with each other. The xenophobic feelings that have increased in our country need people to stand against the targeted negativity towards people who are different.
  • Ask the students how they feel. This sort of connects with my first bullet. In the past I have wanted a division between personal and professional, but what if letting the two mix a little improves them both? I will ask students more about their lives to help them make personal connections to the lessons. I will listen to their random stories and genuinely care.
  • Publicly admit failure. I will blog more about the lessons that were a disaster and not just the ones that are brag worthy. For example, the week before winter break my students created a project. But one disaster led to another. The solution by the IT Department was to delete the app remotely and re-install it on all the student iPads. Of course, that means all my students lost their work. They still learned and created, there is just not evidence. This is why student choice is important in the medium for creation. If I didn’t tell them which app they had to use, the problem would have only affected a few of them. Also, backing up work is necessary.
  • Run in races. I run for fun, but this will challenge me outside of my comfort zone. It might also motivate me to take running and my health a little more serious for this year.

My #OneWord for 2016

Challenge. I want to challenge my students to achieve even more. All of the students will benefit from more challenge and less rote thinking, as long as I am there to support them when they might feel frustrated. I also want to teach them (by modeling myself) to challenge the assumptions and bias that is so prevalent in the media today and with stereotypes that have been ingrained in American thought. The world will be a better place with a little challenge.


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How students sold me on the joy of learning with Nearpod

nearpod logoI will admit that I knew about Nearpod for years (like four of them) before I had my ah-ha moment. This week provided multiple concrete examples of why I am thrilled that my district pays for my premium Nearpod account. So here is my Nearpod journey:

When I initially learned about Nearpod, I like the idea of guided presentations; however, lecture style presentations with PowerPoint are not something I do often. The Q&A and drawing answer feature was nice, but I was already using other tools successfully for formative assessment.

Earlier this year I had a series of images that I wanted to share with students. Just looking at the through the Apple TV would have worked, but it would have dulled the intricate details and discussion prompts. I quickly turned the images into slides on Nearpod. The students were able to view and zoom in on the parts of the map image that interested them most. The students drove the lesson discussion and I secretly accomplished all of my teaching objectives. This was done with the free version.

Then the school purchased the premium version for many teachers in our building. To encourage us to use Nearpod, they demonstrated the Note Feature for students. It allows students to save and annotate a PDF with each slide. This is perfect for any students who want to go back and review, especially the learning support students. Within a week of learning about the feature, students were taught how to do it and they were saving notes without being prompted. They took ownership of their learning.

My next unit was on thematic maps. Each subtopic had a Nearpod (or plural). Initially it took some work to create the Nearpods, but I was selfishly motivated. It was flu and travel season; it felt like I was missing 15 students a day to either illness or vacation. It was much easier to give them a homework code for Nearpod instead of personally gathering work for each student. Even the class readings could be embedded on Nearpod as a PDF.

Nearpod FieldtripThematic Maps was when I started to use the FieldTrip feature, which are incredibly engaging 360° images that students explore by moving their device around. For physical features, there are many Field Trip choices for landforms and bodies of water. During the first Field Trip exploration, a student said “Whoa this is the most amazing lesson like ever.” The Body of Water Nearpod with the reef  Field Trip was the student favorite. I thought this would be the end of my Nearpod journey of discovery, but I was wrong.

This week I figured out how to create my own Field Trip experiences using and Nearpod. This gives me thousands of options; when you look at the world map more images appear every time you zoom in. So many amazing possibilities. My personalized Field Trips will be a great introduction when I am teaching new locations for geography, and so far each new Field Trip still produces student awe and wonder. Students do not have to just read a boring textbook passage about a place, they can visually explore it themselves.

Nearpod Fieldtrips

The final step in realizing the joy that Nearpod adds to the learning was yesterday. Students could choose whatever medium they wanted to present their project. Two students selected Nearpod. They not only like to learn with Nearpod, but they wanted to teach others through it. I can’t wait to see their final product next week.

For all these reasons, I will continue to invest the time to create engaging Nearpods that go way beyond being just a presentation.

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The Art of Sharing

This school year has been a year of sharing, even if I have been slacking with new blog posts. With so much negativity in the press about teachers and education in general, I feel like it is my responsibility to share the great things I know are happening in my classroom. Unless we as teachers share our stories, the world will only have a single-sided, negative narrative of public education.

Last year I favorited a tweet with powerful images to share at a faculty meeting. A quote from George Couros about teachers in a district sharing what happens in their classroom using a shared hashtag really stood out. I was proud this year when my district set up a school hashtag to share student learning #hmslearning. The lesson tidbits do not have to be life-changing, but honest insights into how the students really learn in my classroom. I have also enjoyed seeing what other teachers have posted to the hashtag, but I wish more people would participate and less pictures were staged … yes, I can tell when students were just told to randomly raise their hand.

Another hashtag I have been sharing my classroom lessons with is #tweetlesson. Alice Keeler originally came up with the idea for teachers to share their lesson plans with the shared hashtag. There are not many people who do it, but I have enjoyed sharing my weekly lesson plans. It is interesting that within minutes of posting the tweet I can see 10-15 people viewing the Google Doc. That is motivating for me to continue sharing and I hope other teachers find resources or learning activities that would benefit their students. I use the same GoogleDoc to post to a Google Calendar for my class, so students who are absent are able to see what they missed. Sharing the lesson plans has many benefits and I have nothing to hide.

I created a hashtag for my class that I also use whenever I share student learning, classroom finds, or things I create for my students. Parents have followed the hashtag and commented that they appreciate knowing what is going on in the classroom. It is vastly different than the classroom that they would have attended; without concrete evidence of how technology is used to enhance learning opportunities it can be confused with just fun. By using a consistent hashtag on Twitter and Diigo I am easily able to go back to see previous resources. In previous years it always felt like I rediscovered digital treasures the week after it would have been best.

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Responsibility of Learning

The first test of the school year did not go as smoothly as anticipated. The test answers were not completely wrong, they were often just missing the details to make them fully correct. Even though every class practice involved providing an answer, the text evidence to support it, and an explanation, when it came to the test they thought a single word would suffice.

I started to question my ability as an effective educator while writing copious feedback and probing questions on every single test. Somewhere between the panic and the frustration I realized I could not take full responsibility for them learning. The opportunities were available, encouraged, and occasionally forced down their throats, but that did not mean they were invested in learning. Mentally I envisioned the expression about leading a horse to water, but you can’t force him to drink.

For the Five Themes of Geography, there were a variety of activities:

  1. They had a teaser activity they worked on with a partner to infer as much about the themes as they could (without any prior knowledge).
  2. Flipped lesson homework assignment to hear the five themes.
  3. Cornell Notes, examples, and practice (x4)
  4. Scenarios involving the Five Themes
  5. Jigsaw activity to apply the Five Themes to our town. After each group finished, I left specific feedback on their GoogleDocs. There was also an answer guide posted on Google Classroom for groups who had questions.
  6. More scenarios, but done through Quizizz
  7. Projects to apply the Five Themes. The students really enjoyed the creative freedom of the project, but the content was sometimes overlooked with the project construction. It did not have the deeper level of learning that was hoped for.
  8. Formative assessment on Socrative with practice scenarios. The results shifted my lesson plans for the following two days.
  9. Focused practice on the definitions and core examples of the Five Themes with Quizlet.
  10. Optional scenarios on GoogleDocs with an answer guide/explanations.
  11. Study Group during Study Hall for the students identified as needing additional review from the formative assessment.
  12. Review games and videos posted on class website.

There were many opportunities to apply the learning. However, there were some disappointing statistics.

  • Only 1/3 of students completed the Learn Mode on Quizlet
  • About 1/2 the jigsaw groups fixed their answers based on the feedback I left them.
  • Only 1 out of 90 students completed the optional (but highly recommended) extra scenario practice. Not a typo, that says ONE.

Screen Shot 2015-10-12 at 4.38.07 PM

As I reflected on the test and the test responses, I had some ah-ha moments. There are a few minor tweaks to the directions for next year to clarify even further the answer expectations. I also did not write the grade on the test, just in my grade book. I did not want the percentage to be a distractor. So many times all the students check is the grade and do not process the comments and questions.

Right before I had the test back, I am going to hand them a self-reflection form for the test. The first portion they fill out without seeing my feedback.

Screen Shot 2015-10-12 at 4.47.09 PM

Once I had back their test, they will fill out the second side of the reflection form. At that point, they will also need to respond to any and all of the questions I wrote on their test. They will highlight their new responses so it is easy to read. My hope: do they see the connection between the classwork, studying, and success on a test?

Screen Shot 2015-10-12 at 4.47.27 PM

Re-Take Policy: There will be some students who are shocked by their grade. Our department has a re-take policy that puts the ownership back on the students. They need to develop a study plan, complete all of the optional assignments (or assigned work that they missed), and arrange a time to work 1:1 with the teacher. I would check their general level of understanding before allowing them to attempt a re-test, because if they are not prepared they will not be any more successful the second time.

So this entire test was a learning process for everyone. In the future, I will emphasize the importance of studying outside of class and provide some study strategies. The students do not have an innate study habits, but that does not give them an excuse not to study once they are modeled. Lessons learned for all of us, except not necessarily about the Five Themes.

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Create Your Own Zombie Adventure

Zombie Adventure Header

I was so inspired by last night’s #sstlap chat I couldn’t sleep much. Instead, I created my own adventure. Students will practice latitude and longitude while having to survive a zombie pandemic. The zombie idea was from Gerald Aungst, he has a conference session website with resources and other zombie lesson suggestions. I’m very grateful for the CDC resource, because that was the backbone of my story.

zombie foodThere were a plethora of digital resources that went into creating the Zombie Adventure:

  • Google Forms – For a guide to create your own using Google Forms, check out what was created by Sylvia Duckworth. I figured it out by playing with the options. Zombie 3 DaysAnother way to create a Choose Your Own Adventure is Quest.
  • Center for Disease Control Zombie Graphic Novel – This was really created by the CDC. It teaches how to be prepared for a natural disaster, but in an amusing way. It was a great storyline for my own story.
  • Breaking News Generator – This is a simple generator from There is a lot of potential for humor in a Social Studies class.
  • Google Maps – As a geography teacher, there are so many ways to use Google Maps.
  • Zombies are comingTOMORROWImgFlip – Memes make everything better. ImgFlip allows you to create your own. PvZ zombie was the winner for the ‘try again’ messages.
  • U.S. Census Bureau Maps – The maps were high quality, with county lines, and the latitude and longitude grid. It was necessary for the adventure to have something the students could easily read.
  • Canva – I’m a Canva addict. I created the header image with Canva. I also wanted a teaser image to share with the students through Instagram and with Remind the day before.

My big takeaway: when I did the linking/new pages I labeled the multiple choice answers either correct or incorrect. After everything was linked, I went back and put the names of the places as possible answers to the multiple choice questions. It was easier to keep straight and do correctly the first time. To make it easier on myself for future stories, I created a template that has all the pages linked with descriptions of what each page should include.

My Choose Your Own Ending has multiple interconnected parts: the Google Form, the Google Map, the CDC Graphic Novel, and the Google Doc with the writing assignment. But I’m not worried, it will be easy to share everything with students through Google Classroom. It will be a two day activity for students.

I am providing the link to the shared Google Drive folder with the resources I created for the Zombie Adventure, including the template for easily creating your own. Feel free to make copies and customize it. I would love your feedback and a shout out on Twitter if you find it useful.

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Twenty Edcamps

20 things edcamp

Yesterday I attended my 20th edcamp! I know this is not a world record, but it still feels like a monumental accomplishment based on what I have gained from the combined experiences. To justify to other teachers why I have given up so much of my free time since 2011 to attend edcamps, here are the twenty things (in alphabetic order) about the past twenty edcamps that I have loved … and the reason I am not stopping at twenty.

  1. Books and Blogs – Some edcamps I have walked away with impressive reading lists for professional literature based on powerful conversations. Edcamps are informal presentations, so people do not have the research visually disseminated through PowerPoint. I don’t need that anyway; I like being able to read deeper for the topics that truly interest me.  
  2. Classroom Design – This is an accidental take away. There are often cute bulletin boards I snap a picture of or seating arrangements I like in a school that is hosting the edcamp. They didn’t set it up for us, but that does not mean I don’t learn from it.
  3. Comaraderie – I have gotten closer to some of the people I work with through edcamp. It is not forced like normal professional development, so we get to be ourselves. The real us have a feeling of friendship, the work us tend to be stressed about something.
  4. Fame – I’m not exactly famous (yet), but I like to think of it as the Seven Degrees of Separation from edcampers. I can often make connections to people from either previous edcamps we both attended or by knowing a colleague of theirs.  
  5. Food – This is not a pre-req for me loving an event, but food and coffee never hurt the learning. There have been some stand out breakfast/lunches/desserts. Edcamp Seacoast had the most delicious food options for meals. I am proud of our cupcake bar at Edcamp Harrisburg.
  6. Growth MindsetCarol Dweck’s definition of growth vs fixed has really taken off in education recently. As was pointed out yesterday, we are surrounded by the growth mindset at edcamp. I pregame my teaching with learning.It is a positive learning environment.
  7. Humor – Some edcamps take learning seriously, but often there is fun and laughter. The evidence of this is pictures that get posted to event hashtags, like the Photo Wall with props at Edcamp Hershey.
  8. Memories – I remember specific moments at each edcamp foundly. I have become that person who always has a story: “this one time at edcamp…”
  9. Monday Mornings – Yes, you read that correctly. I am excited to try things Monday morning. That excitement had been lost until I found edcamps.
  10. People – The people make the event by being willing to attend and have conversations. I am always happy to meet people of diverse education backgrounds to get unique ideas for the same situation. I have attended edcamps with teachers, private school teachers, multiple disability teachers, administrators, aides, outside service providers, parents, and a few students. Everyone is welcome to attend edcamp and everyone is acknowledged as possessing important knowledge. There is no social stratification. We learn together. This is a major different to a traditional conference.   
  11. Planning Events – It is awesome when people are so excited about their edcamp experience that they want to plan their own. I love providing my insight and resources I found helpful (including other blog posts about edcamp). It made a good session yesterday but sometimes it is just an informal conversation over coffee about the first steps to take.
  12. PLN – While this sounds like cheating/repeating people, I consider this the continued connection and sharing with the same people I valued meeting face-to-face. Edcamp does not lead to one and done learning opportunities.
  13. Questions – The status quo is comfortable, but sometimes I needed to ask myself ‘why do I do it that way?’ Often my status quo matches those teaching around me, so they would not have made me realize there were other considerations. Edcamps inspire questions because of the diverse people in attendance.
  14. Reminders – Frequently at edcamp I hear something and realize, oh yeah, I’ve heard of that before and never checked it out. The reaffirmation of it’s awesomeness is normally a sign it’s worthy of the time to explore.
  15. Strategies – I don’t always think in terms of labeled strategies; personally I know what works and does not in my classroom, but it is good to hear new strategies to try. Every year the students are unique, so you might need that new strategy. I have found great inspiration for strategies to support less traditional students, like ones way below grade level or with definiance issues. Luckily I do not have endless personal wisdom to draw from, so I needed a support system that edcamp provided.
  16. Swag – Someone at an edcamp said “FREE is a teacher’s favorite F word.” I have walked away with great swag and door prizes I have won. I would not have realized how valuable Flocabulary was in my classroom without winning the free subscription at my first Edcamp Philly.
  17. Teacher Leaders – I absolutely consider myself a teacher leader, and when at edcamp, my voice is appreciated and heard. The majority of edcamps are not planned by administrators, but by teachers. Edcamp is teacher driven professional development.
  18. Tech Smackdown – The tech smackdown can even be appreciated when stalking an edcamp hashtag. Often the list is shared on Twitter. I have found so many great resources through tech smackdowns.
  19. Travel – I love any excuse to travel, and edcamps provide that. I have road tripped to many destinations with friends and we bonded in the car and got to spend the drive home reflecting and sharing great ideas. Yesterday I shared the Edcamp Calendar with another group of teachers; they were planning their next road trip together, and for my guidance I was rewarded with an invitation to be part of their bus.
  20. Value – not only do I find the events valuable, but I leave the event feeling valued. Other educators made the effort to plan the day and sponsors believed in education enough to provide goodies for us to enjoy. A free bagel and a smile in the morning can go a long way. When I feel valued I do not hesitate to put in the extra time at school or to create the individualized resources to help students.
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