20 September 2016

How To Make A Great Lesson in 2 Hours After Midnight - My First #BreakoutEdu Game

I've known about BreakoutEdu for almost a year and a half. I've facilitated the "Decoding the War" game a couple different times at events with Connected Learning, and I've had a few different conversations about the game with other educators, but I would not have called myself really enthusiastic about the experience. Truthfully, the thought of playing the game myself made me a little nervous - having the answer key always makes the game seem easier. :)

Fast forward to last night - a combination of feeling a little under-inspired for the week on Sunday afternoon, randomly jumping into the #tlap chat on Twitter (Teach Like a Pirate) where one of the questions challenged us to "wow" one of our lessons this week, and a cup of coffee I drank to late led me down a rabbit hole.

Before I get into the nitty gritty, let me give you dessert - photos of kids in action, having a GREAT time at school!

Having a student take charge as the "write everything we know on the board" kid is important to a team's success

Step One: The Lock
I've had a rifle lock from my summer at Marine Corps Officer Candidate School hanging on the pegboard in my basement for 10 years with nothing to do with it. I'd forgotten the combination. Somewhere along the way of going to bed, that lock caught my eye last night and beckoned me to crack it. After spending 10-15 minutes trying to crack the combination the "right" way, I found the tutorial for drilling into the back. Bingo. I had a combo lock for a BreakoutEdu game.

The one lock in the center is my model. It ended up being great for wrapping around a duffel bag!

Step Two: Setting Up the Game
The first decision was on content for the game. I'm in a linear equations unit, so I knew that I wanted to throw some equation writing and solving at the kids. Next I planned out the puzzles/activities of the game.

Step Three: Generating QR Codes (Beware, they all look the same!)
To get a QR code, I did a Google search for "qr code generator" and found several options. All of your choices basically all do the same thing - they give a text box for inserting text or a link, you click on "generate code," and then you download your image file. Here's where you need to be careful - notate somewhere on paper or in another file what each QR code file name points to aid in sorting them out when it comes time to print or embed them somewhere. The quickest way to ruin your game could be a QR code that points to the wrong source. I made a separate code for my X and Y values (but didn't say what the numbers were for), and one that pointed to a file with equations to solve that would reveal the combination to the lock.

Step Four: Learning More Stuff (How Can I Password Protect a File?)
One of the things I like best about the Decoding the War game on the BreakoutEdu website is when you have to enter a password to open a spreadsheet for the next puzzle. I imagine this was done with some CSS or Javascript, but as the title suggests, I didn't have time to figure all of that out. I found this Google Apps script and tutorial and ran my information on an encrypted spreadsheet. In looking for the link to the script I used today, I found DocSend, which seems like a better solution, actually.
I also found this tutorial, that utilizes Google Forms and data validation!

Step Five: Gather All Your Materials
Given that it was now after 1 in the morning, I didn't want to leave any of my memory to chance, so I made a Google Slides deck of things I needed to do to set up the game in the morning, a few notes for myself, and a backup copy of the QR codes so I could print them quickly if they weren't scanning from my SMARTboard. In between my sections of this class, I also added a slide for explaining the game. 

Step Six: Advertise!
The best way for others to "get" what a BreakoutEdu game is all about is to see one in action, so I sent an email to all my colleagues this morning letting them know that my 2nd and 5th hour classes were going to breakout of the room. That's really all I said, because I wanted them to come with their curiousity. As an added bonus, my principal came and threw in an informal observation. :) (Kudos to my student who perfectly articulated what was going on).

What Will YOU Learn?
One of my classes worked really well together on attempting to breakout, the other did not, and it was completely emblematic of the dynamics of each group during "regular" class days. My morning class trusts me and each other, takes risks, they help each other, they challenge each other... it was fun to watch. My afternoon class is cooperates/collaborates much less, they barely know each others names, and they didn't really listen to each other OR me (when I gave hints). It was disappointing, but I hope to make a teachable moment tomorrow!

Should I Play a BreakoutEdu Game with MY class? 
Yes! Creating the game myself, while more "work," (it was a labor of love, really) had me more invested in committing the class time to it. The clearest testimonial for the power of the game, however, is all of the passes I had to write to class when kids couldn't bear to leave because they wanted to crack the lock!

20 May 2016

To My Student (Re)considering Teaching

Part of my final today was a student reflection on the project we were completing and on math class as a whole. My most conscientious student spent a long time writing today, and was intentional about making sure I was going to be reading her reflection. This was her response to the question, "What non-math skills have you learned this semester?"
"Out of everything I’ve learned from this class non-math wise, I've learned to change my backup plan to be a teacher. I don’t understand how you can deal with disrespect like this without snapping! How, did you do it? I would honestly love to know."
I was honestly conflicted with how to take this question. Should I be flattered that she acknowledged I might have "deserved" to go off on a kid but she noticed I had not? Disappointed that I was unable to show her the parts of my job that I love in that 6th hour math class? A little insulted that teaching is her backup plan to begin with? :)

Image via Justin Mazza, Flicker

This was my response.

I don’t think that my experience with your classmates should change your plan to teach - I love my job, and the days I go home questioning my life choices are very few and far between. :)

Frequently when I talk about work and purpose with my friends, it seems that I tend to get more satisfaction and fulfillment out of my work than people that work in other industries. I believe that God cares about the work we do and has a specific purpose for us in that work, and that my job right now is to be a white guy in a predominately black school and to care for kids. I don’t like some of my students on some days, but I always love you all, and I want you all to be kind people and be teenagers and adults that contribute to their community to create beautiful things, solve problems, and care for their neighbors.
It completely matters to me who all of my students are as people, which is why I have such a hard time ignoring annoying behavioral things some days. I would never want a teacher to let one my own kids make poor decisions because “that’s on them,” so I commit to the same for all of you.

As far as solving problems - real problems in our world, whether in government, engineering, writing, etc., are not confined to questions on a test, so my professional goal for my classes right now is to better reflect that in the tasks I have you perform. I have in no way attained that yet, but I believe it’s a matter of civil rights that I do what I can to make sure I give you more than a grade on a test that ultimately turns into a piece of paper that says you’ve graduated. I believe a high school (or even college) graduate that does not feel empowered to think about and create solutions to challenges in their lives or communities had been cheated by their school experience.  

To circle back to your question - how do I deal with the disrespect with snapping? Ultimately it comes down to the truth I get from the Bible in the creation account that humans are made in “the image of God,” which means to me that no matter how a kid is treating me, I have a responsibility myself to see them with that value. Everyone is worth a loving/caring action (as much as I can muster LOL). So I have people pray for me a lot about my relationships with my students, and I pray for you all and your relationships with each other, and God grants me the grace daily to start over. On a parent level, I have never seen my kids change their behavior and mature as a result of screaming and nagging, so I know that anytime I do that as a teacher it's really just to make myself feel better (and that’s an unhealthy path to emotional well-being). 

I make positive choices, such as intentionally looking out for students doing cool stuff, and do my best to avoid negative conversations about students.  

I hope you’ll reconsider your conclusion about the horrors of teaching, and whatever you do, I trust that you’ll continue showing care and thoughtfulness for others. I’ve found that you’ll feel much better about your life when you look back if you can measure how soft your heart is toward your relationships, rather than the things you’ve accomplished or the stuff you’ve accumulated.  

Have a great summer!

I know that you know that what we do as teachers matter - I was thankful today to get to communicate that to one my students.  

29 April 2016

Is "Makerspace" Another Learning Silo?

The principles of design, engineering and iteration that students get to practice in maker environments is invaluable - I get it.

What worries me some is I sense in the rush to get grant money for the next big thing, schools are rushing to put in makerspaces like they're just another elective that the creative students can go to, but might not be for everyone.

When we install the MAKERSPACE room or turn our libraries into them (which I'm more okay with, because it blends information space with design space with collaborative space), don't we run the risk of just building another silo in which kids compartmentalize their experiences? On the flip-side, if teachers know that kids will be able to do _____ in "makerspace," doesn't that give an escape clause to anyone who wants to maintain a more traditional lecture-practice-test-repeat classroom?

I love the way my friend +Manuel Herrera is developing his space at Affton High School, "Room 15" because while it has maker elements included, it's still a learning space first. Making is something that happens alongside other work, and students and staff and come in and try on the room for activities unrelated to "making" at all.

Because I love to see interdisciplinary approaches WHENEVER and WHEREVER possible, I would much sooner advocate a school invest in a few pimped out maker-carts if they're looking to buy and put together a bunch of maker-stuff. It loses the design-collaborative space aspect that makes Room 15 so special, but gives many more opportunities for teachers to practice making and engaging in design challenges.

What do you think - if you have to choose how to start, is it better to focus on carts and spread the opportunity in your school, or have a dedicated "makerspace" that serves as a model space for students AND teachers to learn about design?