Category Archives: Critical Thinking

Breakout EDU

My daughter turned 13 last month.  To surprise her, I invited a group of her friends to a place in San Antonio called, “The Panic Room.” The hostess set the scene of the “Museum Heist” up by telling about a museum robbery gone wrong.  The 10 girls were given the mission of finding the most valuable item in the room to save their families from the robber who had taken them hostage.  They had one hour.

The parents were able to watch the group as they worked their way through the clues, all contained in the room.  There were mysterious codes, locked boxes, and secret hiding places.

Did I mention that these were eight 13-year-olds and two 20-something-year-olds?  Oh, and they couldn’t bring their phones in with them.

For the entire hour, these 10 girls ransacked the room, collaborated over clues, celebrated when they cracked codes, and laughed.

In other words, they were engaged in the task the entire time.

“I have got to find a way to use this in my classroom,” I thought.  And then I added it to my mental list of a bazillion engaging ideas that I keep in my Index of Innovation.

Lo and behold, I clicked on a Twitter link yesterday, and found that someone else had the same idea – and they followed it through with resources for educators.

I found the link to Breakout EDU in this article by Nicholas Provenzano called, “Re-Energize Your Classroom in the New Year.”  The post has other fabulous suggestions that you should also consider.  Breakout EDU was new to me, so I followed the link to find out more.

Breakout Edu is open beta right now, which means that the project is still in development, but open to the public to test it out.  The site currently provides six games that are free (with several more to come, it looks like), but you will need to register as a beta tester to receive the password that gives you access to the games along with the clues and answers.  You will need to invest in a Breakout Edu Kit, which includes the basic equipment for any of the challenges.  To do this, you have the option of buying a kit for $99, scraping up your own materials, or individually ordering the pieces you need through the provided Amazon links.

The games that are currently on the site inform you of the target age groups and the ideal group sizes.  Some of the topics are: “The Candy Caper” (3rd-5th grades, ideal groups of 4-6 people), “Decoding the War” (14-adult with groups of 6-12 people), and “The Mad Engineer” (for ages 10-14 with groups of 5-10 people).  There is also information for creating your own Breakout EDU game.

Follow this link for information about a Breakout EDU Game Jam that will be happening this week!

I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to try this with my students! Fortunately, I have rather small class sizes.  For teachers with a regular, or larger, class load, you may need to get creative on how to give everyone the opportunity to try to “break out.”  Knowing the audience who reads this blog, I don’t think that will be a problem ;)

image from: Breakout EDU
image from: Breakout EDU



KQED Science has a challenge for students ages 11-18.  Design a solution to a problem that is in the world around you, and share it on social media using #EngineerThat.  (Students under the age of 13 must share through a parent’s social media account.)  If you have questions about the contest, there is a live webinar being held this Thursday, January 7th, at 4 PM PST.  The deadline for contest submissions is January 24th 2016.

This sounds like a fun activity to help promote creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship.  For more information, visit their website. Even if you don’t think your students will be competing, it is a great challenge to share with them to see what they might create.  There is also a short introductory video.

On a side note, I was exploring the KQED Science site, and found the “Do Now” section to be a great resource for science-related current events that offer opportunities for student voice.  If you read my student’s blog post yesterday, you might be interested in the the topic, “What Would You Study About the Ocean? Students Weigh In.”  I found all of the titles intriguing, and definitely recommend you take a look at them if you teach middle or high school students.

Image from Wesley Fryer at
Image from Wesley Fryer at

Start 2016 with a Growth Mindset

Modeling and teaching my students about the difference between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset has resulted in huge shifts in thinking in my classroom over the past few years.  I have witnessed amazing changes in some of my students who often avoided risks because they were fearful of appearing unintelligent.  Those who have been on the same journey with me for the last three years now embrace challenges, learning from mistakes, and perseverance.

Teachers don’t often get to witness positive outcomes that result from their guidance, but it has been gratifying to see the effects of promoting a growth mindset in my classroom.  If you have not introduced this to your students, I strongly urge you to make a commitment to do it in 2016.

I’ve shared a lot of growth mindset resources on this blog, which you can find here.  Over the past couple of weeks I have run across some more:

  • Thanks to @shellterrell, I learned that Larry Ferlazzo shared this new RSA film that animates one of Carol Dweck’s fascinating speeches about the impact of having a growth mindset.  It is a good film to show adults and older students (I plan to show it to my 4th and 5th grade GT students).
  • This article speaks about “What Growth Mindset Can Teach Us About Our Brains,” and reminds us of some of the pitfalls some of us succumb to when we try to simplify the effect of a growth mindset.
  • Research shows how detrimental it can be to praise our students by saying, “You are so smart!”  Head on over to the Schoolhouse Divas blog to see a free downloadable poster of alternative phrases for giving students positive feedback.
  • Edudemic recently published an article by Sarah Muthler on, “Why a Growth Mindset is Crucial to Learning,” that gives a good summary about growth mindset for those who may just be beginning to learn about growth and fixed mindsets.

After looking at these resources, I hope that you will make the resolution to model and teach a growth mindset to your students and/or your own children.


Creativity Kickers

Jeanne Muzi recently posted two lists of “Creativity Kickers” on the blog, Four O’Clock Faculty. The lists offer great ideas for formative assessments and creative challenges.  In “Creativity Kickers, Part 1,” I found a couple I would like to try in my own classroom, such as the “Yes, And… Cards” and the “Student Created Knowledge Cards.” The second post, “Creativity Kickers, Part 2,” suggests the “Brain Breaks Cup,” which is a great idea that I’ve seen used by one of my colleagues and highly recommend.  The “Character in Search of Setting” suggestion is a fun idea for encouraging some creative thinking that I would also like to try out.

Check out the rest of the options by clicking on the links above!


My List of Lists That Can’t Be Missed

Shockingly, I’m not the only person with the idea of making gift recommendations during this time of year.  I’ve run across a few other great lists in the past few weeks that have helped me to add to my own growing wish list.  Just in case you don’t spend as much time combing the internet for more lists, here are some you should definitely check out:

I can't believe I haven't added this littleBits kit to our classroom inventory yet.
I can’t believe I haven’t added this littleBits kit to our classroom inventory yet.  Check out TKSST Guide for more great suggestions.  


The value of social networking never ceases to amaze me. Yesterday, I tweeted the blog post I had shared about the Hopscotch Snowflake tutorial.  I received a reply from an educator in Maryland, @mrdulberger, inviting anyone interested to attend a webinar today called “Coding in the Class.”

The webinar will be hosted by the students in Mr. Dulberger’s 5th grade class and Liza Conrad from Hopscotch.  It will be at 1:30 EST today, December 10th.  If you are unable to tune in, the recording will be archived.  Here is the link to more information.

At the very least, you should show your students the trailers for the webinar.  Created by Mr. Dulberger’s students, the short commercials display a multitude of ways that Hopscotch can be used to enhance core curriculum.  Here are the links to Commercial #1 and Commercial #2.

Hopscotch Angles
A student demonstrates how she used Hopscotch to make a game about measuring angles.



A Teacher’s December Survival Kit

During the last few years, I’ve collected quite a few resources to help teachers “survive” the few weeks before Winter Break.  Rather than recycle them in separate posts this year, I decided to put the links to the posts all in one place.  (The “Telegenic” post shares related videos.)

One activity that has made it into my lesson plans for a few years in a row is, “Outside my Snow Globe.” Another seasonal favorite on this blog is to S.C.A.M.P.E.R. the Holidays.  Here is an example of a student’s work.  He chose to “Substitute” globes for snow to make an “Earthman.”


These weeks will fly by and probably be quite chaotic – but there’s no reason they can’t be fun, too!