The 5 W’s of Breakout Edu with Littles

I see it as my mission to take all the innovative pracitces popular in education and make them accessible to littles. Breakout Edu was a tough one for me. I played around with it in my head for a long time before actually trying it. I’ve still only done it a handful of times and I love it. I’m interested in creating my own breakout puzzles.

Why I like breakout boxes…

Breakout boxes provide students with the opportunity to practice problem solving strategies. They encourage students to persevere and show some grit. They allow students to collaborate toward a common goal. Breakout boxes can hit so many standards and hit every one of the 4Cs all at once! And, they are SO FUN!

What I’ve tried…

I’ve chosen breakout boxes that focus on solving different types of story problems (OA.1.1, OA.1.3, OA.1.5) and ones that focus on answering questions about a story (RL.1.1). I found these breakout boxes on I printed all the materials and followed the instructions to assemble my box and set up the puzzles around the room.

I introduced the problem and their goal to unlock the box. The math breakout we did had a football story (it was the beginning of the season and I have students super into sports). We had to unlock the footballs for the team. In the literacy box, the mouse locked up our markers and we needed to break them free or lose them forever! I broke my class into groups (one for each puzzle), set the timer, and set them free. We rotated around to all the puzzles until everyone had a chance to solve them all.

Who are the Breakout boxes for and how I made them more accessible for littles…

I planned my first breakout box for my whole class to do at the same time. I split them into small groups so they had to work on 1 puzzle at a time and I rotated them around as they seemed to reach a solution. The second time, we partnered with a second grade class and they had free range to solve the puzzles around the room with their second grade buddy or a group of their choosing. Both of these methods worked well with my students however, they made a lot of mistakes when I turned on the timer. My advice for making breakout boxes more accessible for littles…


Woah! My kids got so obsessed about how much time was left they made silly mistakes on problems I KNEW they could solve otherwise. As soon as I turned off the timer and they felt safe to take their time and solve the puzzles, they were much more successful and were able to breakout. I tried twice thinking the first time it was just the newness. But, they had the same reaction to the timer both times. I will no longer use the timer with my littles.

When I do a breakout box…

I tried a breakout box with my class as a culminating event for our math unit right before an assessment and they did well. However, it took nearly 3 hours to do. I pretty much lost the rest of my day.

About once a month my district has early release days where the students go home early but the teachers stay normal hours for professional development. I’ve found that these early release days are the best for breakout boxes because they fill up our day, they’re fun, students are engaged in rigorous work focused on multiple standards.

The next one I did was on one of these early release days and in the middle of our study on making predictions. The breakout box went with If You Take A Mouse To School. Students were familiar with this book since we had already read it and made predictions throughout. When we returned from specials, the room was a mess and the mouse left us a message about our missing markers. This worked great and really piqued their imaginations. No one predicted the mouse would come to OUR school!

Where I’m going…

My next plan is to try to start creating my own breakout boxes for my students. This way I can decide on specific curriculum points to hit and include my students’ interests.


I didn’t even know, but I was doing #booksnaps

I’ve been doing this really cool thing for over 2 years and had no idea it was a thing until last year! Ever since I started using Seesaw in my classroom, I’ve had students posting about the books they read. It started with a picture of the cover of the book and recording as they read or taking a video of their reading. This task helped build fluency and understanding (RL.K.10).
Then we moved to a photo of the cover and retelling the story (RL.K.2). Eventually we began taking photos of the pages of the book and explaining how the picture supports the text (RL.K.7). And then it happened. I asked the students to identify the “expert words” in an informational book and one of my students used the label tool and labeled the expert words in the picture and then recorded to explain them (RI.K.4).

This changed everything! I realized how much more I know about his understanding of the text and that he is applying the minilessons to his independent practice. Annotating the picture gave me way more information than simply having students record to tell. This in-the-moment decision this little friend made changed everything for me! I realized that I needed to be doing more book responses this way. I began encouraging students to post their responses with labels and using the drawing tool to explain their thinking.
And then I wend to my first edcamp, edcamp wake March, 18 2017. I went to a session on booksnaps because I had seen the idea floating around twitter and wasn’t quite sure what it was. Turns out this was one of the edcamp sessions where everyone turned up to learn something and no one really knew what it was or how to do it. After some on the spot collaborative research we were able to figure out that booksnaps were a way for students to share a reaction or their thinking on a specific section of a book using snapchat. And a light bulb went on in my head: “I do that! I just didn’t know it was a thing!” So I shared some of my students work and how we use Seesaw as a tool to share about the books we read. From this session I decided to be more intentional about students’ booksnaps and having them cite their source. I noticed that by the end of the school year, the more I asked them to include, the quality of showing what they know decreased.

This year, I was more intentional about introducing booksnaps to my students and created an anchor chart to make sure all the parts were included.

This year, our booksnaps have been a much higher quality including, labels, drawing, emojis, captions, and voice recordings. I have added to this chart since this picture to include retell, character strengths, comparing and contrasting, and tell 3 things. I will continue to add to this chart all year as we focus our booksnaps on different standards and question types.

Main idea (RI.1.2)

Reaction (RL.1.7)

Compare and contrast characters (RL.1.9)

Tell 3 things (RI.1.8)

Our next step with booksnaps is to explore different technology tools to use. We will try some with flipgrid and chatterpix next.

What is your favorite tool for booksnaps? How do you make booksnaps accessible to your littles?

Coding Unplugged – A number sorting computer

I learned an amazing coding activity at the #NCSTA17 conference in Greensboro, NC in October. The activity is from The mat works like a computer. It has rules and paths the information must follow. I was mind blown the first time we did it as adults at the conference and I immediately had the idea to use this as one of my comparing numbers introductions. #math1NBT3

The first time I did this, I taped the pattern out on the floor copying it from the photo I took at the conference. I didn’t want to spend the money making the cloth if it didn’t work. I was worried that my firsties wouldn’t get it since they would need to know right from left in order for the computer to be successful. I was so surprised! They did not want the computer to “break” and were very careful to chose the correct direction and help each other figure out where to go on the coding mat.

I bought this drop cloth at Lowes. I painted the pattern with tempra paint from my classroom. I copied it from the photo I took at the conference. It was pretty easy except I didn’t eyeball the paths correctly and ended up with 2 curved ones when they should all be straight. I also had a few cat prints from my dear sweet 15 year old torti cat, Calypso, being nosy and walking across the mat.

The kids DID NOT MIND! They love hearing all the crazy stories about my pets!

The first time we did this, I gave the kids single digit numbers 1-6 that I knew they would be able to compare and put in order easily. I had them line up out of order at the starting end of the mat. I asked the kids who were not on the computer to tell me what they noticed:

  • “They are 1 digit numbers.”
  • “They are out of order.”

So far so good! I explained the rules and paths on the computer and gave reminders for right and left so the knew which direction to move. At each step forward I had them stop and the observers to notice any changes (Nothing changed except the order of the numbers. And they were still out of order.) I slowed this WAY down. One step at a time asking them to compare and decide: right or left? By the time they go to the other end of the computer they were just as amazed as I was at the conference that this unplugged computer WORKED!!!

The next time we did this, I gave them teen numbers which I knew they were familiar with from kindergarten and had 1 or 2 numbers missing (i.e. 11, 13, 16, 17, 18 19). I kept it at a slow pace. Taking 1 step at a time and comparing and following paths and asking the observers to notice any changes. They were less surprised that the numbers ended up in order and more concerned that some numbers were missing in the order. This led to a great conversation about comparing numbers and the numbers that come between other numbers.

We moved on from there comparing more 2 digit numbers. I gave out another set of cards with 2 digit numbers specifically chosen so that it didn’t matter if they only compared 1 of the digits, it would still work out in order (i.e. 12, 23, 34, 45, 67, 89). I anticipated this would be a common misconception with comparing 2 digit numbers. We talked about always comparing with the tens number firs then the ones if the tens were equal.

The next set of cards had more random 2 digit numbers. I had them draw the base ten picture for this number so they could begin comparing both the number and a picture of that number and visualizing each 2 digit number. The last set of cards had just base ten pictures and they compared the images.

Each time I gave out a new set of cards, I called different students to be in the computer so that everyone could have a chance to observe and notice and participate. Each time we worked the computer, they were able to follow the rules and paths faster. Our observation skills even got keener as they noticed mistakes in the right/left stepping and corrected their friends so we didn’t “break” the computer.

Please share other unplugged computer science or coding activities or ideas you have for this activity in the comments!

Amazon’s Echo Dot in the Classroom

This is not a sponsored post.

I bought an Amazon Echo Dot at the beginning of the school year and have set it up in my classroom as an additional learning tool. The Echo Dot uses an Artificial Intelligence, Alexa, to interact with humans through voice commands. Having an AI in the classroom helps students work on their speaking and listening skills. They have to speak clearly so she can hear them. They have to listen carefully because she sometimes answers quickly.
I have seen a lot of questions around lately about how these are can be used in the classroom. I linked a podcast at the bottom where they talk about the benefits of AI in the classroom. I’m going to share 5 ways I currently use my echo dot and then some of the new skills I just added and look forward to using.

I chose to use AI in my classroom this year because it can help support students with different needs. It takes the pressure off students because they don’t need to read or write in order to interact with the device. I also love that it is a relatively new technology on the market and I love the challenge of making it work in the classroom.

Note – We changed the wake word on our Echo Dot to Echo instead of Alexa since I have a student with that name.

*tips* turn OFF shopping, put it in a spot that doesn’t have a ton of regular activity so she can hear and be heard

1. Muisc

From day 1 I have used my Echo to play music. I have amazon music set up and can ask her to play anything from a specific song to a genre or artist playlist. My kids love to be the DJ for the day as one of our classroom rewards. They get to pick the music for morning arrival, movement breaks, or quiet music when we need to concentrate.

2. Timers and Reminders

I will ask Echo to set a timer for the number of minutes students have to complete a task or remind us of something we need to do that is not part of our regular schedule.

3. Spelling

First graders are really good at phonetic spelling and can stretch and write the sounds for any word they want. However, they start to realize that their spelling doesn’t match conventional spelling and they want to spell words correctly. I let my students use Echo to spell a word for them or check their spelling of a word. At first they needed to ask me before asking Echo to spell a word (I didn’t want them using it for sight words or words we have learned the spelling pattern for). They are good about this now and I’m ready to release control to them (or an Echo Manager – student job).

4. Brain Breaks

Echo can play music, tell a joke, or play quick games to help with brain breaks. We can ask her to play a song for a quick dance break, tell a joke to lighten the mood, or play a quick game. We love to play the Animal Game (one of the skills you can add). It works like 20 questions about animals.

5. Genius Hour

We have an (almost) weekly genius hour in my classroom. When students are ready to choose a topic or question to work on for their genius hour, they need to have their idea approved by Echo first. The purpose of Genius Hour is for students to spend time exploring their own curiosities. Part of this is in coming up with ideas that are not “googleable.” Alexa, being and AI, works like google. My students need to ask her their question and get an, “I don’t know” response from her to know that their question is going to take some time and work to reach an answer.

Skills I like or will be using soon

  • Invisible Dice
  • Ambient Sounds
  • Animal Game
  • Flip a coin
  • Kids Affirmation
  • Kids Mad Libs
  • Laugh Box
  • MathFacts
  • Mother May I
  • Rock Paper Scissors
  • Translated
  • Would You Rather
  • Word Look Up
  • Weather

Do you have and Alexa or another AI in your classroom? How do you use it? Please leave ideas in the comments!

Google Teacher Tribe Episode 31

Scooters, Science, Goal Setting

Yesterday as I stood in my driveway waiting for AAA to jump start my husband’s car, I watched as the neighbor boy (5 years old) played on his scooter in his driveway. The street leading into our cul-de-sac is a hill and his driveway is also sloped. Our driveways have a little bump so rain water goes down the storm drains instead of flooding our driveways. He went to the top of his driveway and realized he only needed to push once to make it to his garage. Next he went to the bottom of that bump and got frustrated with the number of pushes he needed to make it over the bump before he could coast to the garage. He went a little ways into the cul-de-sac and pushed off. He had to push again to make it over the bump in the driveway and then coast to the garage. He went farther into the cul-de-sac and pushed off. He made it to the peak of the driveway bump but didn’t make it over it. He went to the top of the cul-de-sac as his sister yelled for him to come back inside. This time he made it all the way down to the driveway, up and over the bump, and all the way into his garage. I could tell by the look on his face as he rode faster and faster down the hill that he was so proud of his accomplishment. He knew before he reached the garage that he was successful.

The whole time I watched as he problem solved, tried multiple strategies, failed, made adjustments, but never gave up until he succeeded my teacher brain was going wild!

  1. Wow! I can use this story to teach forces and motion in science to my firsties!
  2. Woah! This kid has some serious growth mindset and was so determined to race to his garage with only one push. He never once gave up or thought he was a terrible scooter rider.
  3. If kids can use these skills when they play why not for academics? Why aren’t academics at school approached through play?
  4. How can I use this kid’s perseverance and apply it to myself?

Yes, I plan to tell this story to my firsties and see if they can apply it to our science unit as well as pull out the character strengths he used while working to solve this problem.

I believe in play based learning as best practice for littles. Kids learn so much from their play. We as teachers need to pull our curriculum objectives out of children’s natural play. We need to guide and inspire play where children can apply curriculum knowledge to their games. Play allows children to feel safe in order to take risks. Risks allow children to learn and grow in deeper ways.

His perseverance inspires me. I am a goal setter but I often don’t make clear plans to take the necessary steps to meet my goals. I need to be more mindful about making plans and following through on the steps I need to take to meet my goals. I also need to take time to reflect on my progress and make adjustments to my plan in order to meet my goal. I need to go farther up the hill to get over the bumps in the path toward my goals.

What does this story make you think about?

Building Relationships …a work in progress…

Author’s Note: I’m not proud of the post below. Actually, I’m embarrassed by it. But learning and growth must be shared! This is about to get real………

I started reading The Curious Classroom by Harvey “Smokey” Daniels. And of course it begins talking student relationships. I have good relationships with my kids. They know I love them and they love me. I try to get to know my kids outside of school and academics. I share my life outside our classroom with them.

In the first chapter, Daniels brings up a quote I’ve heard many times before by Donald Graves,

You are not ready to teach a child until you know ten things about her life outside of school.

It got me thinking. I actually went back to that quote 4 times in the time it took me to read the 18 pages of chapter 1. Do I know 10 things about each of my Firsties??? Of course I do! ……… WAIT! Do I REALLY know 10 thing about each of my kids? I decided to make a list.

I left off names and things I know to keep some privacy for my students. Below reflects what I was able to come up with after thinking about my students for a short time. The number on the left represents a student and the number in parenthesis is the amount of things I could come up with.

1.  (5)

2.  (5)

3.  (7)

4. (4)

5. (5)

6. (8)

7.  (4)

8.  (4)

9. (2)

10. (3)

11. (2)

12. (3)

13. (5)

14. (6)

15. (3)

16. (3)

17. (4)

18. (3)

I have a lot of work to do. I’ll update this post as I work toward my goal.

The #IMMOOC experience

For me the #IMMOOC experience was a chance to read the book again, get into some consistent blogging, and connect with educators around the world who share a passion for student learning. I absolutely loved the Youtube live videos. It was amazing to see and hear people live while tweeting and commenting in the video chat. The twitter chats were so fast! I’m used to slower ones that I can read every tweet and I just had to let go of the fact that that was not going to happen. I enjoyed the sidebar conversations. And that they were actually allowed and encouraged! I embraced the opportunity for some personalized professional development!

I am going to try blogging weekly. I’m going to attempt to do that until the end of 2017. I’ve had my blog since November 2016 so I’m going to round out year 1 with 1 post a week and then revisit this goal in 2018. I’m also setting a goal to continue reading education books and blogs on a regular basis! I’m going to start with a book study on The Curious Classroom with my team, bestie Caitlin McCommons, and our IRT Jessica VonDerHeide. I’m really excited to dig into this book and work on growth for my PDP goal of including more inquiry based learning in my classroom.

After this process of connecting, learning, and growing through the #IMMOOC family, I’m left with a question. It has been on my mind the whole 6 weeks and I haven’t found a good time to bring it up. How does all of this innovation fit in to equity in education? Is innovation in education yet another way that sets communities apart from one another?

#eduawesome #IMMOOC blog posts

  1. Michelle Schade – I started reading her blog because she commented on my first #IMMOOC blog post. I feel like we have so much in common even though we are in totally different positions. I can’t pick just one post. I connected to everything she wrote during this process. I’m so excited to see what she does next! I’ll continue to read your blog as long as you continue to write! @MichelleSchad20
  2. It Starts with a Screw – Kristin wrote about setting up a workbench in her kindergarten classroom and referenced my all time favorite children’s book What do you do with an Idea?. I’m so inspired by her risk taking and connections her environment makes to the real world. What an amazing opportunity these kindergarteners have to work and build on a real workbench with real tools. I can’t wait to see what they do next! Please continue to share your journey! @KLHouston3
  3. I think Katie Martin’s homework blog post won #IMMOOC this season. Everyone connected with it. Everyone shared it – even people not in #IMMOOC we’re sharing that post. It almost broke the internet! But seriously, why are we still giving homework?!?! @KatieMartinEDU

Passion > Stress (3 blog posts under 250 words – post 3) #IMMOOC


  • Requirements I don’t see the value in
  • Paperwork
  • Last minute changes
  • Meetings on meetings on meetings


  • Learning
  • Connecting with educators
  • Reading
  • Shareing

I work a lot. I work all day at school and most nights I come home and work more. I spend countless hours on weekends working. My husband tells me I work too much. But the thing is I love what I do. I’m passionate about learning (mine and my students). I never feel like I’m working because I enjoy it and I’m passionate about it.

I’m passionate about learning. I seek out learning opportunities. I attend EdCamps, look for local educators conferences, read books,  read blogs, write, and  tweet. I seek out new ways to teach my students. I seek out ways to connect standards to their interests.

I’m passionate about integrating technology in learning experiences. I’m on my phone a lot. But I use it as a tool for learning. I connect with others through my phone. I take pictures of what I’m learning and what my students are learning to share. I seek out new technology tools to integrate with my students. I’m currently learning how to integrate coding into my curriculum (please share if you’re an expert!) I recently tried coding unplugged to teach my students to compare 2 digit numbers.

I know the things that stress me out are must dos and they aren’t going away. M y love and passion greatly out weigh the things that stress me out.

Strengths Based Approach (3 blog posts under 250 words – post 2) #IMMOOC

Feedback is the most influential, powerful practice teachers can implement in their classrooms. Research (Hattie) shows that no single other practice in a classroom has a greater impact on student learning than feedback. However, how often does feedback come in the form of negatives.

  • “You need to start your sentence with a capital.”
  • “Did that sound right? Try a different strategy.”
  • “Check your counting. You made a silly mistake. “

I’m guilty of this type of feedback myself. I think I’m helping my students. But what message are they actually hearing? I worry that it could be:

  • “I’m a terrible writer.”
  • “I can’t read.”
  • “I’m not good enough.”

I have to be mindful daily to focus on my students strengths. It’s a decision I have to make every 5 seconds: tell them what they did great or what they need to fix.

I find that I get my fristies’ attention and interest when I start with something they did great. They love to hear how amazing they are. I try to make a point of telling each of my firsties something I love about them every day. They need this positive affirmation.

Today on flipgrid, one of my firsties was WAY off in her response but I didn’t even address it right away. I started by telling her how amazing she is at selfies (and she’s better than I am!) She lit up and hung on my every word after that! We hit her grow area after she was able to glow!