Sunday, December 18, 2016

Our Breakout EDU Kit Came!

For a long time, I have been hearing teachers tell stories about their Breakout EDU experiences. They created games, or used the existing ones, so that their kiddos would have a cool problem-solving challenge. One time last year during our social studies PD day, Chris McGee (@cmcgee200), our coordinator, had us play a game of Breakout. It was fascinating to see how each of us thought through the problem, how we collaborated and worked to solve it and how we treated it as a game instead of a traditional learning experience. We know that gaming in the classroom brings learning to a new level; the kiddos don't even realize that they are learning.

I want that experience for my kiddos. I want my kids to learn through play. I always mix traditional learning with new experiences in class. The kids prefer the new and different experiences and I don't blame them. Trying to create new experiences for them is my challenge. I must admit that I have been relying more on traditional learning experiences than fun learning experiences this year because I was trying to get my bearings in my new school. Now, I feel much more comfortable in my new role, have launched a couple of new projects and even started a Genius Hour program here. It's time to change things up in the regular classroom as well.

I ordered a Breakout EDU kit a few weeks ago. I hoped that I would have enough time to prepare a session with the kiddos before break but alas, we are running out of time. The kit came a few days ago and instead of trying to rush and get a session in, I'll use winter break to really plan a session so that kids have a fun and challenging day when they return to school. If it is well-planned, challenging and fun, kids will want to do it more. I don't want the Breakout EDU session to be a bad one for the kids because of my poor planning. The first time doing something is always the most important time. It is the time that kids assess whether or not they like the activity and whether they will have positive or negative feelings toward it in the future. It's like winning them over all over again.

Over break, I'm going to investigate Breakout EDU more, the website, and the games. I'll find or create a game that I think is great for my kiddos and plan it out. Upon returning to school, we'll start the new semester with a challenge. Hopefully this will set the tone for the rest of the school year.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

"The Tide" Revisited

A few weeks ago, we did a soft launch of The Tide (, @enmtide), our digital literary magazine. During the course of the school year, there are various writing contests. We thought that timing the launch of the magazine with the conclusion of the Creepy Story Contest at school would be smart. We published the top stories that were submitted for that contest. Since then, a few other non-contest stories have come in and we published them as well. Needless to say, the magazine is in its infancy and there will be many tweaks and changes along the way.

Once we launched, there were a few things that my colleague, Brad Basinger (@sitting0vation), and I wanted to change. This is how we work. We publish the first iteration and then think of things that we want to tweak. After tweaking those, we see what else we can do to improve the magazine. I think this is how most people work. Of course, there are the perfectionists who will not put up anything until it is absolutely perfect. I can't abide that. I have to live with something for awhile, getting the feel of it, before realizing what needs tweaking. Having Brad as a second set of eyes is extremely helpful. He has a ton of ideas, most of which I hadn't thought of. Between the two of us, the magazine is shaping up to be a pretty cool venue for showcasing our kiddos' work. I think we are both excited to see how far we can develop this project.

We think it is important for kids to have many places to display their work, both at school and beyond the school walls. There is something very special about the moment a student sees their work published either in print or online. Sure, kids post stuff on social media all of the time but having their work displayed in a literary magazine that others control is something special. 

While this project is just beginning, we predict that it will grow quickly. Brad is making the rounds to all of the English classes over the next couple of weeks to promote our site and get more kids involved. Once they see it, many will want to be a part of it. We are happy that our writers will have a place of their own to showcase their work. 

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Recess and Recreation

Over the last ten years or so, schools have put more emphasis on curricular on-task time, often shortening recess as a result. The idea is that kids will learn more if they spend more time in the classroom and less time on the playground. As I observe my kiddos everyday, I know that the education experts who promote this line of thinking have it exactly wrong. Obviously they do not understand the workings of a school or classroom and make rules based on their ignorance. They THINK something will gain a desired result and don't bother to consult the real experts, the teachers, before codifying these decisions.

When kiddos are deprived of enough time to run and play, their classroom studies suffer. Twenty minutes of recess per day is not nearly enough time to nurture well-rounded kids. With too little time for recreation, kids' focus suffers and they try to have recreational experiences in the classroom. Right now, we hear all kinds of positive stories in the news about education in Finland. It is the hot topic right now. I read about how schools in Finland operate and know one thing to be true - the amount of time that schools there devote to recess and recreation is one reason that the kids perform so well. They seem to understand that when kids run and play for long periods of time several times per day, their focus in the classroom sharpens and they can learn more in less time. Our focus here in the USA has been on quantity of time instead of quality of time.

I see the kids' pent-up energy in my own classroom. While we try to include lots of activities in which kids can move and use their social skills, class time is no substitute for recess. Kids need play time and lots of it. A school day in which kids have thirty minutes of recess three times per day would be ideal. We would see kids learning when they should be learning and playing when they should be playing. Now, we often see kids playing when they should be learning because there is so little time to play. Play is an essential part of being a kid. Kids need unstructured play time. It fosters their imaginations, helps build social skills and gives them a chance to exercise their bodies.

In our "more is better" culture, we miss an essential point. We mistake quantity for quality. If we want kids learning more then they need to play more. We have to build pockets of time into the day during which kids can burn off some of their energy and be kids. When kids have those times, several times per day, then they will focus more in class and learn more. It is not rocket science. It is what the best school systems in the world are doing.