Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Powerful Mindsets: The 4 C's through Breakout EDU

My first thought, when I heard about Breakout EDU was, “Hum...another game.” I want learning to be engaging and thought provoking. In my mind, games tend to have a limit to the depth of knowledge it could render. Nevertheless, I placed it on my list of things to present to Teachers.

When I decided to present Breakout EDU to Teachers, it was solely for the purpose of measuring the 4 Cs (Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, and Creativity). We are a 4 Cs school district that embraces strategic processes to cultivate student-centered learning opportunities. My ultimate goal for this platform was to measure the productivity of group work. Keep in mind, group work at the elementary level remains a skill that should be modeled and refined based on the data curated from previous observations of a task. Maintaining a mindset of a classroom Teacher is pertinent for me, if I expect to gain traction for the goals that I set for myself and ultimately students. Most Educators seek digital tools, instructional practices, and learning models that will move the needle forward for their students, in addition to, strategies to engage and enhance the learning process for a student-centered learning environment. Breakout EDU has provided those needs for my colleagues and our students.

Consequently, the lessons that I bring to the learning environment must have a digital tool and literacy component that allows me to capture Learners’ skillsets. As an Instructional Tech Coach and credentialed Reading Specialist, in my district we are challenged to increase reading levels for all grade levels. Therefore, I seek out occasions for measuring the two, especially for our Little Ones.

Breakout EDU and Communication (C1)
Providing the opportunity for the Littles to apply this competency needs to be regularly modeled in order to prepare them for group work in a Breakout EDU activity. Without building this fundamental competency, Second graders could respond to this question in the following manner: What did you learn about yourself while working with your group?

  • “That I need to be nice to people”
  • “That I need help”
  • “I learned about myself is that I can solve things when someone is listening to me.”

Granted, these responses and the ones that follow resulted from a Breakout EDU at the end of April 2017. Based on this data, I believe that the Breakout EDU challenges can also be used to measure where Learners are with each competency. Also, this activity renders evidence that Learners need to experience in order to identify what they are capable of achieving independent of the teacher.

Breakout EDU and Collaboration (C2)
Collaboration is an extension of communication and is designed to increase comprehension and deepen thinking in order for the learning process to become richer and meaningful. The lack of effective collaboration for our Littles can quickly evolve into power struggles. Power struggles could result in a complete shutdown lacking productivity and sharing of information and ideas. As facilitators of a Breakout EDU activity, we have the privilege of collecting observational data regarding power struggles. An element of our roles is to ask probing and clarifying questions that will reconnect the Learner to the purpose of the task, while valuing everyone's contributions to the goal at hand. Questions to examine the climate of a disconnected learning environment could consist of the following:

  • “I noticed that there is a lot of activity within your group. How is it helping you move forward? Share with me your ideas for moving forward.”
  • “There is so much energy in your group. Is this strategy assisting you in achieving your goal? How so?”
  • “Your group looks very thoughtful. What tools or strategies have you considered using to assist you in solving this problem?”

Using Questioning strategies for conflict resolution provides the opportunity for Learners to shift their current mindset and creates an opportunity for them to take a moment to reflect upon their current position...stagnation! After all, according to a Johnson and Johnson study in 2009, “The power of collaborative learning is to be operational and cultivate relationships.”

Breakout EDU and Critical Thinking (C3)
Critical thinking is a skill in which Learners, regardless of grade level or age, if they have successfully implemented C1 and C2, they have acquired the momentum to be focused and engaged in convergent thinking. In reality, at this stage Learners are analyzing, evaluating, organizing, and implementing strategies to shatter impediments to get to the next level! When Learners are taught early how to invite their peer’s thinking into the inquiry process, they step through this threshold with confidence to solve problems and build the confidence of their peers exponentially. As a result, when 3rd graders are asked the following question, “What did you learn about yourself while working with your group?” Responses from them might look like these:

  • “I learned that I was thinking more than I usually do”
  • “I am good at problem solving”
  • “I learned that I can do problems.”

Think about it. The human brain will flag the user when something is not quite right and will automatically shift their current position to a pathway of devising a solution. Amazing...right?!

Breakout EDU and Creativity (C4)
Creativity is the stage where the visual of the vision increases its focus of the task. The visual of the vision in the previous competencies can become nebulous without interventions in place. This is why classroom facilitators should take the time to cultivate each competency, because each one is impacted by the other. Creativity allows Learners to engage in a system of covert thinking that is reflective of an overt behavior, which could cause the group to move forward. This is an explosive stage for our Learners. If you do not believe me, take note of their physical behavior when a solution is on the rise! The propensity of knowledge converges on the learning environment and the Learner embraces the type of thinking that is ongoing in order to produce a product that others could benefit from. Although, the trajectory of a solution may cause the Learner to return to the drawing board to reconsider what might not be working efficiently. Therefore, when the Learner finds his or herself at the drawing board, “The important thing is not to stop questioning,” (Albert Einstein 1955) in order to move forward.

Providing opportunities for Learners to grow and thrive in these competencies will cause students to say:

  • “I learned about my group is that when they are working they are good.” (2nd grade)
  • “That we all tried our hardest.” (2nd grade)
  • “I learned that you should never argue.” (3rd grade)
  • “I learned that working with new people can be fun.” (3rd grade)
  • “I felt smarter” (4th grade)
  • “When I did the Breakout, I learned that working with other people helped others if confused.” (4th grade)
  • “That I would be good at something if you try.” (5th grade)
  • “I learned that I can think harder than before” (5th grade)
  • “I was trying my best at every single one I was also very interested” (5th grade)

The most compelling evidence in the implementation of challenges like Breakout EDU activities are the development of competencies and skillsets that the Learner is capable of identifying for themselves. Creating safe learning environments for Learners to learn about themselves and others in order to promote “all things good” in the environment is nothing shy of perseverance and tenacious for the betterment of a thriving society!

Are Two Heads Really Better than One? Making Collaboration…
Snapshot of a Deeper Learning Classroom: Aligning...
New assessments help teachers innovate in classrooms

Debra Peters
TK-12 Instructional Tech Coach
Hesperia, Ca.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

8 Ways to Celebrate World Oceans Day on June 8th!

StreetView Ocean’s Page

Over 128 StreetView explorations of different
islands, reefs, bays, and more.

Check out the collection >

Exploration of the Pacific Ocean

The exhibition 'The Exploration of the Pacic Ocean: 500 Years
of History' commemorates the fifth centennial of Vasco Núñez
de Balboa’s discovery of the Pacific Ocean.

Go explore >

Google Expeditions

Imagine exploring coral reefs in an afternoon. With
Expeditions, teachers can take students on immersive,
virtual journeys.

> Download the Apps

> List of Expeditions

Hidden World of the Tank Room

The tank room at the Natural History Museum houses
many of the Museum's 20 million wet specimens stored
in alcohol. Take a 360-degree tour with Senior Curator of
Fish, Oliver Crimmen, and view highlight images of this
strange and spectacular collection space.

Take the tour >

Ocean Multicolored Diversity

The MEERESMUSEUM has long combined museum-like
exhibits with living animals. The main focal-points in the
aquariums are the Mediterranean as well as the more
tropical regions of the world.

Explore the exhibit >

Ocean in Google Earth 5.0

Take a plunge into the oceans of the world with Google
Earth 5.0. In the new ocean layer, you can dive beneath
the surface of the ocean, view exclusive content from
top marine experts, discover new surf and dive spots,
and explore 3D shipwrecks like the Titanic. Download

Get a preview >

TAMAR Collection: Turtles

This collection offers pictures, videos, and
information on these beautiful creatures.

See the Tour >


This exhibit displays a number of
rare original animals and plants as
well as those produced in-house.

See the exhibit >

How will you celebrate World Oceans Day on June 8th?

Monday, May 29, 2017

Empower Student Voice with Dive into Inquiry

High school English teacher Trevor Mackenzie’s recently published book by EdTechTeam Press, Dive Into Inquiry: Amplify Learning and Empower Student Voice, presents an approach to personalized learning requiring students to eventually take ownership of their own learning.

A tough student situation sparked his own dive into inquiry. Mackenzie sought ways to retain students who might otherwise seek alternative classes or drop out altogether. His seven year journey culminated in the publishing of this book.

Dive Into Inquiry has a broad scope, and isn’t a narrow lesson, unit, or experience. It is a fundamental, yet doable shift that requires educators to keep in mind:

  • a mindful transition to foster student agency and support the shift in pedagogical models students will experience
  • a collaborative journey through the Types of Student Inquiry that nurtures a gradual release of control over learning in the classroom
  • gaining a grasp of Understanding by Design and planning for a performance task that demonstrates deep understanding
  • honouring our students, their passions, and goals and tying them to the learning objectives of the course

This easy to read book (about 130 pages) outlines shifts in pedagogy, types of student inquiry, essential questions, creating an authentic product and displaying it publicly. He starts with some classroom management strategies, such as being flexible, teaching real skills, making eye contact with students, and taking the time to get to know them.

Inquiry based learning is not about telling students to find something that they want to learn about and go do it. Inquiry based classrooms aren’t about the teacher sitting in the back of the room checking email and correcting spelling and grammar. This approach is about scaffolding students’ journey into learning about something that they care about and guiding this trip by assisting students in developing a free inquiry proposal and providing prompts.

Sprinkled throughout the pages are QR codes that link to YouTube videos of student work, some his own and some from across the globe. These students have produced work and broadcast it to the world. Video evidence is one way students demonstrate their learning, as well as writing, video/audio, photography, and dance. His learners record evidence of their learning with storyboards, compilation of resources, their learning process, photography, feedback from mentors or critics.

Mackenzie recommends starting small, but with a plan. You can start by revising an existing unit of study, designing a syllabus with your students, or infusing a smaller chunk of learning with the Dive Into Inquiry process, which scaffolds each step into the next. Plan, do, iterate, and reflect.


(I was not paid to write this review, nor was I given the book to review it. I did receive it for no cost as a prize in a recent Teacher Appreciation promotion by EdTechTeam and thought it was very worth reading and reviewing.)

Lisa Bieler
Instructional Coach- Technology
Google Certified Trainer
Los Angeles, CA

        Want to Dive In? Get your copy today!

Join Trevor and Dive into Inquiry on the Tour at a City near you!

Friday, May 26, 2017

Engaging Young Writers Using 21st Century Technology

Today’s students, who have grown up with the emerging technologies at their fingertips, really challenge teachers to find new ways to engage them in their learning. These students operate in a global environment where information is just a click away and feedback is expected to be instantaneous. Their communications are brief and their emotions are shared via emojis. They are a visual generation whose first port of call to learn a new skill is YouTube. So as teachers of writing how can we use their preferred tools to not only engage them but to also ensure we are delivering the curriculum in a manner that they can relate to. This was the challenge I started to address a few years ago. I realised that teaching the way I was taught, by having students write narratives for me in their books and then providing them written feedback on completion was not addressing the needs of today’s students. Changes had to be made by me!

Teaching writing
So 3 years ago I made some big changes in my teaching practice, and in return, the students made some big changes in their output. The first thing I did was to give up being the expert in my class on writing and brought in some help. Who better to teach lessons on the writing process that award-winning authors. So where do I find myself an award winning author who will come and teach my class for free I hear you ask. Well, that’s easy, Skype for education!

At Skype for education, they put you in touch with authors of all different genres who are willing to share their expertise for free via Skype. Each year my class takes part in 3 or 4 Skypes with amazing authors. I like to have a number of authors share their methods because when the students hear the same message from multiple sources they understand that this is what they need to do as well. As a teacher, I have learned so much from these Skypes! Students not only find out specific methods they can use to improve their writing and editing skills, but they also get practical knowledge of how to get published. It is always inspiring to hear the different journeys authors take to become a published author, but even better when the students see that they can do that too.

Every author we have Skyped with has been amazing, but my 2 personal favourites are Chris Tozier and Sean Fay Wolfe. Both of these authors really connected with my students and truly made them believe that they could become authors.

So after lighting the fire of inspiration, we get started as fast as possible. I always try to create unit plans so we are writing about topics or in a style that the students are truly interested in. The last 2 years we have written our on own Choose Your Own Adventure Stories and narratives that can be the basis for a video game. By taking note of what the students like to read from my extensive class library, as well as what they love to talk about when they are supposed to be working hard in class, I then look for ways to incorporate that into our writing.

Drafting & Editing
Students write their drafts using Google Docs. The reason for this is three-fold. Firstly once they share it with me I have a copy of their story, if something accidentally happens to their story I can always restore it through going into the revision history. We have learned the hard way how easy it can be for some students to magically delete all their work but with Google Docs that can’t happen. The second reason we use Google Docs is the ability to provide timely feedback. The first time I used Google Docs I was extremely surprised when I went home that night and checked out their narratives and found out that not only had they shared their stories with me but also their classmates and that they had all read each other stories and shared ideas and suggestion. It is powerful and motivating for students when you are able to be read their stories and provide them feedback in real time. It is also interesting to be able to see how much writing students are actually doing and when. No better way to keep students on task than to leave them a little message reminding them that you can see exactly what they are doing. This year I actually had three of the boys in my class not known for their writing collude to have their stories connect to each other. Their stories all originated in different settings (video games) but they all had a common protagonist and in the conclusion, to all their stories the characters all joined together to fight this protagonist. It was very cool to see this level of collaboration taking place and the excitement the boys had as they plan for the part 2 of their stories.

The last reason we use Google Docs is the ability for students to edit their work and add to it. The importance of using a word processor when writing narratives really hit home to me last year when my son was in another class and had just finished handwriting his final copy of a narrative he was writing. When he showed me his work I asked him a few questions about his story which he realised he needed to expand on so it made sense. All of a sudden I had my son in tears because he did not want to have to rewrite his story as he had put so much effort into his handwriting. He preferred to hand in what he recognised as a substandard story rather than rewriting it. I offered him my iPad and suggested he write his story in Google Docs and even if that wasn’t what the teacher wanted he would at least end up with a story he was proud of. His original story was 300 words, his typed story 585. This year he is my class and his latest story was 3629. I challenge anyone to write that many words out neatly. All the authors we have Skyped with have told us that the editing process actually takes the same amount of time that it takes to write the story and that the writing is a process of constant improvement and that a story is never finished. Producing a handwritten final copy of their narrative takes away this ability.

After my students have put so much effort into drafting and editing their stories I feel that it is imperative that I give them the opportunity to publish their work in a professional manner. To do this we use a simple yet powerful app called Book Creator. Book Creator is an extremely user-friendly iPad app that allows students to create e-books that can include text, images, audio, and videos. These books can then be exported as pdf’s or even movies which turn the pages and play any audio on the page.

I like to have my students work on their reading fluency as well and ensure we reach the largest audience possible, so I have them record themselves reading their stories so when exported as movies younger students can still enjoy the stories as audiobooks. This in itself is a challenge when you are working in a noisy classroom. To ensure we record books with high-quality audio I developed my own iPad recording booths. These have proved very efficient at removing unwanted background noise and are extremely cost effective. (Click here if you want to know how to construct them)

Another app we like to use to enhance our finished products is a green screen app called Do Ink. Using a Greenscreen allows students to set up and shoot photos to illustrate their stories and works perfectly with Book Creator. We painted a wall in our classroom green just for this purpose.

In my opinion, the way to best motivate young student writers is to provide them with an audience. When students write for a teacher they will produce work that is good enough, when they know they are writing for a global audience then they are highly motivated to produce work that is perfect. We love to publish our work on our class Kidblog and YouTube accounts. We have partnered with a number of schools overseas and this then allows the students the opportunity to share their work with other students their age from all over the World. We then also use Twitter to publicise what we have been learning about.

My students love to blog and each morning we spend the first 15 minutes of our day writing our own blog posts or commenting on other classes blogs. I have blogged about how much of a difference blogging has made to my students writing, reading and spelling in the past and this year is no different. My students are so excited to see comments on their posts and this then motivates them to write more.

Another recent addition to our writing routines in class is Penpalschools. Penpalschools not only links your students as pen pals with students of a similar age and interests from somewhere else in the World, but they also provide the students with lessons they can work through and discuss with their pen pals. This has proven to be highly motivating.

Where to for you?
When it comes to writing I believe the most important aspect we as teachers need to consider when it comes to having our students engaged with the writing process is the purpose for writing. By showing the students that their work is not just for a mark but rather it’s an opportunity to tell their story or share their experiences you will find you will engage even the most reluctant of writers, but in my opinion, this can only be successfully achieved through the use of digital technologies. If you haven’t tried these various apps or websites then I urge you to give them a go for your student’s sake, but if you have used other forms of technology successfully, please share as I am always looking for better ways to motivate my writers!

Blair Smith is a year 5/6 teacher in a small rural catholic school in Central Queensland, Australia. He is passionate about giving his students a global education , using technology to engage and enhance learning and embraces flexible seating in the classroom. He is a Microsoft Innovative Educator, Skype Master Teacher, Book Creator Ambassador and PenPal Schools Global Ambassador. Follow him on Twitter @mrsmiths56class and on his blog at

Thursday, May 25, 2017

3 Books Every Educator Should Know About!

You may have heard about HyperDocs, seen the chatter around Twitter about Dive Into Inquiry, or even been to a Google Infused Classroom session at an EdTechTeam Summit. 

But did you know that the authors of these three books are trying to revolutionize PD?
The authors wanted to try something new in PD. Something that would bring lasting change. They got together, spent a lot of time brainstorming ideas - and concepts - that would completely transform how educators learn the ideas in their books.

After testing a few hypotheses and crumpling up a bunch of average ideas and throwing them in the trash, they came up with the Deep Dive Coaching model of PD. This summer (summer in the US and Winter in Sydney) we will implement these new ideas working with cohorts of teachers to make sure the ideas in the books stick and bring lasting change to classrooms.

This model combines online with in-person; content with coaching - and was designed around the idea that we all need help tweaking our learning experiences - and we need a coach, and a team, to help us do it!

In the US the stops will be in Portland July 20, Austin July 25, Chicago July 27 and NYC August 1 and it all starts in  beautiful Sydney, Australia - July 6th.
How we will  achieve this transformational PD? It starts with the participants and they have two options to choose from:

Leadership Cohort Option:
Participants will start online coaching classes in June and July with the deep dive day coming next. Next, cohorts will meet in each city to do a Deep Dive into the book - a hands-on day  with the author. This will be followed by two coaching sessions where the authors will coach participants through the tweaks that we hope will bring the lasting change that everyone is after. Applications for this cohort have closed but contact if you want to sneak in at the last moment.

Deep Dive - Coaching Option: 
These participants will come to the deep dive - and do all the hands-on work with the authors. Then they will go back to school try out their new learning and get coaching tweaks from the online coaching courses that will follow in the next two months.
You can still sign up or apply for one of these options!

We are excited to make this summer, something new in PD, something fun and something that will build communities of learning -  and classrooms of change!

Holly Clark, EdTechTeam
Educational Strategist and Head of Publishing
For more information visit
To sign up Click Here