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!