Thursday, December 29, 2016

Little Learners LOVE BreakoutEDU!

We’ve been having so much fun playing Breakout EDU in our classrooms!  Many people wonder if this exciting game can be used with primary-aged students. It certainly can! Breakout EDU is a great way to get our littlest learners communicating, collaborating, and thinking critically!

What is Breakout EDU?

If you’re not yet familiar with it, Breakout EDU is a fun way to get your students out of their seats to try, as the Breakout EDU creators say, something different!  In this game-based learning activity, students work together to find clues and solve puzzles.

Where to begin with young students?

As with any activity with little learners, there are unique considerations that have to be factored into the planning of your Breakout EDU:

  • How do I keep the little ones engaged and on-task?
  • What scaffolds can be embedded?
  • What if the students aren't yet readers?

For your first experience, you may want to try browsing through the shared games on the Breakout EDU website. The games can be filtered by age and subject area. There are a number of great games designed with young students in mind, and are 100% ready to go with primary-aged kiddos.

These are just a few of the games I’ve had a chance to run with little learners, all found on the Breakout EDU website:

If you Take a Mouse to School - Patti Harju

Puzzles, colors, sorting manipulatives, and a fun, familiar text make this a great first game for little ones!

Help the Cat Get Back His Hat by Knela Newton

Thing One and Thing Two stole The Cat’s Hat! Can you help him get it back? The puzzles and clues in this game are appropriate for K-2 students. This game also offers a few challenges for ramping up the difficulty.

Turkey Trouble by Patti Harju

This game is masterfully designed! There are multiple variations of some of the tasks so the game can be adapted for early or non-readers. We played in First Grade and had a blast!

Run Turkey Run by By Ann Kozma and Cari Baylie - Found Here

Using Technology and Google Tools with Breakout EDU

When playing Breakout EDU with students of ALL ages, I often use various apps from the Google Suite to supplement the games, increase engagement, and incorporate modern tools into the various Breakout EDU scenarios:

In this sample, students used a QR code to open a force-copy link of a Google Drawing. ( When the images are arranged in the correct food chain order, directional letters reveal the combination to the directional lock.  

Google Forms are another great way to include technology in your Breakout! Use a QR Code, Short URL or Google Classroom to send students to a Google Form to get a clue! Using page breaks, data validation, and customized response pages, students can answer questions and solve problems! Here are a couple short YouTube tutorials by Mike Nye on how to do this:

Many games in the Breakout EDU collection use Jigsaw Planet, which is an online puzzle tool that can be accessed with a laptop, Chromebook, iPad or other tablet. Students arrange puzzle pieces like this one by Patti Harju, often to reveal a clue or lock combo. Little learners love puzzles!

Productive Struggle

As an instructional coach, I get to play this game with students, but the core of my role includes supporting the teachers! Since Breakout EDU is new, this year I bring the boxes and games into the classrooms and co-facilitate with the teachers.

I love the moment when a teacher realizes that it’s okay to NOT help their students. That it’s okay to let even the little ones get frustrated and struggle! Hyperdocs Co-Creator Lisa Highfill sometimes shares this video when she speaks. It (adorably) illustrates the power of letting students learn on their own.

It’s so easy to give our kiddos a gentle nudge, because we feel like they could reach success with just a little help. What we often don’t realize is that usually, NOT helping our students is the best way to lead them. Let the grow and shine and figure it out on their own!

Jo Boaler, author and Professor of Mathematics Education at Stanford University, speaks on this topic as well. Her research shows that in the human brain, more growth occurs when a person gets something wrong and then figures out, than if he or she just answered correctly the first time. Are we allowing our students enough opportunities to struggle? Are we giving them safe spaces to fail? We have to provide our students with opportunities to try, fail, and learn on their own to NOT give up. Breakout EDU is a great opportunity to teach even our youngest students these important learning skills, especially perseverance!

It is my hope that the Breakout EDU experience leads teachers toward giving their students more opportunities to take risks in all content areas throughout their day. Let them have fun, let them struggle, and give them a chance to learn and experience trials of failure and the thrill of success!

Some Tips for Little Learners:

Model, model, model.
If it’s your first time playing Breakout EDU with little ones, take a few minutes to show them some basics of how the locks work. I’ve seen many students spell out the correct letters or combination on a lock, but didn’t realize there was a specific place/mark on the lock where the dials should be lined up. The directional lock can be a challenge for learners of all ages! It’s a good idea to show the kiddos the mechanics of how to make the lock work!
Small groups work well!
I prefer to have the students work in small groups, and usually bring three boxes to the primary classrooms. If you don’t have access to multiple boxes, consider using a lock combo recording sheet with each team. Many of the games on the Breakout EDU website include some variation of this recording sheet for playing with teams:

You could also run the game like you would centers. Have a different puzzle/clue/task lock at each station. Either have each group work on a separate lock, or have groups rotate through the clues and reset the lock or puzzle when the groups move to the next table.

Get help, especially the first time!
It might be a good idea to plan your Breakout at a time when you have an aide or parent helper in the room. Consider inviting instructional coaches or administrators in for the fun, too!  
Everyone plays! 
To maximize engagement and keep kiddos on-task, include some activities that EVERY student needs to accomplish (a great example of this would be an instructional video on how to draw the Cat in the Hat, and when ALL members of the team share the drawing to the Breakout Facilitator, the team gets a key, hint, or clue!)

Most Importantly, Have Fun!

Breakout EDU is a fun, active way to learn, especially with primary aged students! Give them a chance to show you what they CAN do! And then try your hand at designing your own Breakout EDU games!

Have you played Breakout EDU with little learners? Please share tips and tricks you've learned or links to your favorite blogs or games in the comments below!

Monday, December 19, 2016

If at First You Don't Succeed...

It's been quiet here on the Primarily Google Blog, but I promise that I've been using this downtime to work on something huge!  

In a couple weeks, some friends and I will be hosting the first-ever #K2CanToo Conference, promoting Innovative Learning in the Primary Classroom. 

This event brings together an EdTech All-Star team of presenters, many of whom specialize in Early Childhood technology integration. 

And the even bigger stars are the teachers and leaders who have signed up to attend to this amazing learning event! We have people from across California heading to Fresno for this weekend of learning. Teachers who are eager to improve their practice, try new things, and who know that there's always room to grow! 

At the conference, we'll be talking coding, robots, inquiry, and design thinking! We'll have sessions on STEM, NGSS, the Google Suite, and an all-conference game of BreakoutEDU! It's going to be a weekend-long primary learning party!

Here's the thing - teaching little learners does have some challenges, but there is nothing those kiddos can't do! We just have to put the tools into their hands! In the primary grades, we set foundations for a lifetime of education. Those foundations NEED to include access to meaningful learning opportunities using modern tools. 

Professional learning for the teachers of our youngest students has to specifically address the unique needs of little learners. I'm so excited by our quality conference program that has been assembled to do just that.


So, I'll be honest and share that this whole idea stemmed from a failure.

You see, twice last year I applied to the Google for Education Innovator Academy. And twice, I did not make the cut. This highly-competitive program asks applicants to create and submit their vision for making an impact toward improving education. 

What is my Vision? 
  • Infuse meaningful, relevant, modern learning opportunities into primary classrooms. 
  • Bring primary teachers together to celebrate what our littlest learners can create when we give them access to modern tools.
  • Share and build on existing networks, including the Teachers Give Teachers movement, (#TsGiveTs) to identify quality training opportunities and resources for primary teachers - it's not about starting from scratch - it's finding what's already being done and connecting, because we really are #bettertogether.

My vision hasn't been accepted to the Google Innovator program yet, but I've realized that I don't need a badge to Innovate! I decided it was time to start working on this vision now, because our littlest learners deserve it! 
Many thanks go out to Jason Borgen and the DigitalEdAlliance for partnering with me on this new idea. HUGE thanks go out to the presenters and friends traveling from near and far to add their expertise and passion to this event. Additional gratitude goes out to my #TOSAchat pals who worked hard within their districts to secure funding to send their teachers to Fresno - many from hours and hours away!

I can't wait for the day that I do get accepted into a Google for Education Innovator Academy. But until then, I will continue working on my Vision - planning, testing, and reiterating. This event will be great, and the next one will be even better!

It's not too late to join us! Visit for more information! 

Saturday, October 22, 2016

More Google Forms Little Learners!

Check out this Google Form listening center activity designed for primary-aged students! 

Why use digital listening centers? Here are a few reasons:

  • Students get opportunities to practice listening skills while hearing a wide variety of literature read aloud by fluent models.
  • Forms work on most any device and don't require login.
  • Little learners get watch YouTube videos without actually having to navigate through the YouTube website and all of its (sometimes questionable) distractions.
  • This can be an independent, yet still meaningful learning activity during your Literacy Centers - allowing you time to work with other small groups.

In this example using the story Halloween Mice, by Bethany Roberts, even very young students can offer a quick "thumbs up" or "thumbs down" opinion of the story. 

After the students listen to the story and vote, the class can examine and discuss the results:

Here is another sample using the story "Yoko" by Rosemary Wells. It goes a little further by adding some questions about the story to the end. The use of images as answer options keeps the activity accessible to early or non-readers.

Want to learn how to do this yourself? Here's a quick YouTube tutorial:

Tips for little learners:

  • Keep it simple! Use just 1-3 response questions!
  • Use the shorter videos - 5 to 7 minutes.
  • Use images as your answer options.
  • Deliver the form in Google Classroom or with a QR Code.
  • Including a short-answer question/prompt allows for authentic writing opportunities and practice at the keyboard.
  • The website has curated over 700 YouTube read-aloud videos, which can be sorted by author, length, reading level, and topic. 
  • Using a headphone splitter, multiple students can listen, even if you have just one device!

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Blended Learning in 2nd Grade Math

So what is Blended Learning?

Whenever I have the opportunity to speak to teachers about technology integration, I often tell the story about the very first time I was invited to speak to a group of superintendents and principals on the topic of blended learning. I was very excited and graciously accepted the invitation to speak to this group of educational leaders, but then actually had to quickly jump on the internet to look up a definition of what exactly blended learning was!

There are lots of shapes and models that blended learning can take, and it certainly varies in format from school to school, teacher to teacher, and even lesson to lesson! But a quick, uncomplicated definition is this: Blended learning is when we combine traditional instruction and practice along with digital instruction and practice for the purpose of best meeting the needs of all learners. Within the lessons, there should be some elements of student choice about the time, place, pace, or path of the instruction and practice.

The teachers with whom I have the pleasure of working have worked diligently to implement a blended learning model across many of their subject areas. They use technology to have students access and review content, interact with each other, and SHOW what they know in a variety of creative ways. In our blended learning model, Google Classroom acts as the platform for lesson delivery.

Here is an example of Blended Learning in Second Grade Math: 

As with most instruction, we started with a standard as a goal or desired learning outcome. Second grade was working on Place Value in math and were looking to address the following standards:

  • CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.2.NBT.A.1 Understand that the three digits of a three-digit number represent amounts of hundreds, tens, and ones; e.g., 706 equals 7 hundreds, 0 tens, and 6 ones.
  • CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.2.NBT.A.3 Read and write numbers to 1000 using base-ten numerals, number names, and expanded form. (from

This lesson began with a short whole-class review about the many ways the students could show a number, including the standard form of the number itself, a count of hundreds, tens, and ones, showing the number with base-ten blocks, the written number name, and the expanded form of a number.

Numbers Five Ways using Google Drawings

The students then worked through a number of math stations around the room. There were some math manipulatives with self-checking flashcards, and also a variety of online activities, including YouTube videos, ABCya! interactive games, and an assignment on - a standards-based skills-practice website. Google Classroom was used to deliver the content:

Variety of resources offered in Google Classroom

Interactive online practice with

Hands-on practice with place value blocks

Data collected in Scootpad skills practice assignment

The teacher monitored the students' progress a number of ways. She could watch them as they used the base-ten blocks to build the number either with the online games or with the physical blocks and flashcards. She could also check the data offered by the Scootpad assignment. As necessary, the teacher pulled individual and small groups of students aside for quick reteaching and support.

Individual support with teacher

After all of the practice, students used Google Drawings to show a number using all five forms they had practiced using this Google Drawings Template and a random number they pulled off of a flashcard. To get your own editable copy of the template, after opening it, choose "File" and then "Make a Copy."

Numbers Five Ways in Google Drawings

Putting it all together:

In this blended lesson, students were able to choose from a wide variety of interactive digital content, and get immediate feedback as they progressed through the activities. They were able to demonstrate understanding in more than one way as well! 

Tips for Little Learners:

  • Start small! You don't have to try everything at once. Give your kiddos a chance to become familiar and comfortable with the tools.
  • Have students work in pairs to start. They will be able to hold each other accountable for staying on task!
  • Model! Model! Model!

Lesson Resources: - Second Grade Math

YouTube Place Value Videos:

ABCYA Base Ten Games: - Common Core Skills Practice

Google Drawing Template

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Images as Answer Choices? Forms just got even more awesome for K-2!

Have you seen the update to Google Forms that allows images be answer options? A few weeks back, I posted a blog about K-2 Google Forms. But this update makes using Forms with young students even easier!

For years, when I have shared Google Forms to Primary teachers, one of their first questions has been, "Can we use an image as the answer choice?"

Many Kinder students don't start the year as readers! Before this week, we could only use TEXT as our answer options. This made using forms with our littlest learners a bit of a challenge. 

Look at this sample:

One way I had made Forms more accessible for our youngest students was by creating a labeled image in Google Drawings and then putting it at the top of the form. This still required students to match the label to a TEXT answer option. While this often made Forms a little easier for Kindergarteners, it did take extra steps and TIME when creating the Form.

This update makes creating K-2 friendly forms SO EASY!

Hover over your answer option, and an image icon will appear on the right.

You can then upload an image from your computer, take a snapshot, or search images right there in the form.

I can't wait to see what K-2 teachers do with this! Make sure you post and share! 

Want to try it out yourself? Click here! 

And here are a few additional resources on Using Google Forms:

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Digital Listening Stations in K-2!

Listening skills need to be developed in our littlest learners! 

Like many topics in the Primary grades, listening comprehension skills need to be explicitly modeled and taught.  We sometimes assume that K-2 kids know how to listen, but they don't always know how to listen actively and retain what they have heard! Our young students especially need to be trained with those skills for active listening and comprehension, such as making predictions and making text to text or text to self connections. Most teachers model these things while reading aloud with students:  
"I wonder why the character did that..."
"That reminds me of a time when I..."

And after hearing this modeled, students need practice doing this on their own! We need to offer them exposure to a wide variety of texts read aloud to have them practice those essential listening comprehension skills. 

While we want to read every wonderful picture book to our kids every day, sometimes there just isn't time to get to them all. And sometimes, you might want to read a particular book on a certain day, but you manage to misplace your copy. 

No worries! We have options! There are some great FREE online resources for digital read-alouds that let your students listen to the texts! And since they are online, won't get lost in your bookshelves! is a website that has curated a thorough collection of YouTube read-alouds some of the most popular picture pics. They are searchable and sortable by author and topic. Most of these are made by teachers. also has a collection of popular stories! They are read aloud by celebrity members of the Screen Actors Guild.

So how does this look in the K-2 classroom?

Differentiated Guided Reading groups are so important in the Primary grades. But one of the biggest concerns K-2 teachers have is, "But how do I manage the rest of the kids while I work with small groups?!?" 

Running effective and engaging literacy centers is certainly an art. Especially with little learners, you need to have clear and consistent classroom management routines in place. The literacy activities need to be adequately challenging (not just busy work!), but should also be something that the students can work on without a lot of teacher guidance. 

During my 14 years as a teacher of primary-aged students, Listening Stations were one of my go-to activities during Guided Reading and literacy centers. Students would sit in a group, and everyone would plug bulky headsets into a big, bulky block. Someone would push PLAY on the cassette and then they could all listen and follow along.

Now we can use our digital read-alouds and give students access to listen to so many wonderful pieces of literature! And as a bonus, since they are being accessed digitally, There is no need to rewind a cassette tape between groups. Did I just date myself?

Students can gain access to these titles through a link in Google Classroom. Another option might be to have little ones scan a QR code on an iPad or other mobile device. If you're worried about sending little ones to YouTube because of the sometimes terrifying comments or suggested videos, try using ViewPure to clean up YouTube and make it more friendly for littlest learners.   

If you don't have a device for every student, here's a quick and inexpensive way to use just one desktop, laptop, or tablet and turn it into a listening station for an entire group. 

This splitter takes the single headphone input on a device and allows five students to listen to the story together. There are a wide variety of these available on Amazon, ranging in cost from about $6-$12.

How do you know they are listening?

When I used Listening Stations in the classroom, sometimes the students would simply listen to the story and then move on. Other days, I used a Listening Station response page that the students were to fill out when the tape was over. I created this form when I first began teaching, and duplicated it over and over again. I must have made at least 8,000 of these sheets during my classroom days! 

These days, in order to have students show some kind of accountability, teachers sometimes use commercial online programs to have the students check their comprehension after reading or hearing a story. These programs offer a multiple choice quiz full of recall/DOK Level One questions. While designed to motivate readers, these programs sometimes have the unfortunate secondary effect of squashing the joy of books out of our kids. 

What if we offered them something else?

What if students had better options? Modern tools allow for so much personalization and creativity! Here are some fun Google Goodies and more that can be used for accountability and extension after a Listening Station:

Listening Station response on Google form - Automate it! Save time and paper!

TK Story Elements activity with Google Slides (Credit: Amanda Ibal)
Little learners can watch or listen to a digital read-aloud many ways! This set of Google Slides has the video embedded right into the slide, where it can be played. Using this method, the little ones get the YouTube content without actually visiting the YouTube website (and all of the scary elements we mentioned earlier!)

Time Magazine Reading Summary made with Google Drawings. 2nd Grade students listened to a text about Barack Obama and recalled key details to create their Magazine cover. This works really well with non-fiction and biographies, but what if they made a cover for a character in a piece of literature? (Inspiration: Ryan O'Donnell)  

Here's a Blank Template of the Magazine cover you can use with your students! Open it and then Click File>Make a Copy.

Amazon-Style Book Listing and Review on Google Slides: (Inspiration: Ashley Ochoa) 
After listening to a text, students can write an amazon-style review!

Story Summary with MyMaps (Inspiration: Will Kimbley) Students can retell a story using location! In this book, a girl flies around the world to gather ingredients to make an apple pie. Students place a pin where she stops and lists the ingredient she finds there.

Google Form with embedded video (Credit: Jon Corippo and Marlena Hebern) Going further with Google Forms, we can also embed YouTube videos right into a Form! This is yet another option for avoiding some of the inappropriate comments and suggested videos that show up directly on the YouTube website.  After listening to the video, you can use Form items to ask little ones to tell their favorite part, answer comprehension questions, or have them describe story elements such settings or characters.

Reading Rainbow style book talks on Screencastify or green-screened with DoInk (Credit: Anne Kozma) After hearing a story, have students write scripts and record book talks!

You can also record and create your own read-alouds using the camera on your phone, tablet, iPad or with Screencastify on a Chromebook. This allows you to ask students your own questions throughout the read-aloud while modeling think-aloud comprehension strategies, too! These videos can be uploaded to YouTube or Google Drive for sharing with students.

If you want to try a tool that embeds additional listening engagement, consider checking out EdPuzzle for your Digital Listening Station! This tool lets students listen to the texts, but can also automatically pause the video periodically to show embedded questions, play voice comments, or ask for other types of responses from the students. 

I hope you can see that the creative possibilities are endless! Pick one thing and try it! SHARE how it goes!

Give them options!

Books are so fun. Don't forget to let your students have plenty of CHOICE in what they read or listen to! One added benefit of having students listening to the stories is that they have access to texts that might be outside of their own reading ability. Let them listen to stories to build a love of literature, which can motivate them to want to read more. 

Using Digital Listening stations, we can offer our students a wider selection of books to read or hear even when visiting a library to get an actual book isn't always an option. We can also let our non-readers and language learners hear stories being read by fluent models. Some parents may have internet, but don't have the means to provide a large library of books in their home. Sharing these resources with them lets your young students also access these books from anywhere!