Real-Life Room Escape

What happens when you put six educators in a locked room, where they have to solve puzzles to escape in thirty minutes?

That’s how I spent my Friday night. Real-life room escape is a hot new type of game, where you and a group of friends have to find clues, solve puzzles, and overcome challenges in order to escape a room.

My school principal invited folks to check it out, so we wound up with a self-selected group of six: two principals, three teachers, and a school psychologist. We went to Escape Canton and tried their Cursed Tomb room. We had thirty minutes to get out of an ancient Egyptian-themed tomb that reminded me strongly of temple dungeons from The Legend of Zelda video game series.87821787

Before beginning, we surrendered our phones, for several reasons: one, to prevent cheating (definitely would have used the flashlight function right away!); two, to prevent distractions (we really needed all thirty minutes to focus and think); and three, to prevent the secrets of the room from leaking out on social media. I’ll also try to review and describe the experience without giving too much away.

So, as soon as the countdown clock started, mayhem ensued. It reminded me of the first time you hand out iPads to first graders. Everyone was talking over each other and “searching” for clues in a way that made a giant mess. It was pandemonium, and it took some time before natural leadership emerged from among us. And natural leadership did emerge, between three and five minutes in. But it wasn’t a single person; in terms of time management, we needed people to work on different strands of puzzles simultaneously. Six people one one puzzle would have been too many cooks in a kitchen anyway. So leadership that emerged was based on the challenges before us, not based on the personalities of the people in the room.

There were a couple times when folks displayed excellent out-of-the-box thinking and almost magical clue-finding, but I think my proudest moment was when trying to solve an enormous wall-mounted puzzle. It was the kind of thing that you could solve by yourself, if you had lots of time and lots of patience. We had neither. I had made repeated attempts to recruit members of the group to help me: “Hey guys, I need help… guys? Guys?” Finally, I zeroed in on a single other person and simply said, “I need help with this. This is exactly how you can help me.” I was going to manipulate the pieces while she read the clue and talked me through it. We made an attempt but were looking at the clue from the wrong angle, so we had to start over. As we worked other people came over – another person helped me manipulate the pieces more efficiently, and another person helped the clue-reader finesse how she communicated the information. We had to try four times before we got it right, but we did eventually succeed. How’s that for grit?

We made it to the homestretch, literally the last puzzle, before we ran out of time. But even losing at the game was a positive experience overall. It was such a thrill, a rush. And with the time limit, you don’t have a lot of time to bicker. You have to make your arguments persuasive and to the point if you have a disagreement with another team member. There were some puzzles that brought out different people’s strengths, so if it wasn’t your strength, you could let someone else take the lead. It was a good reminder that a good team doesn’t have all the same abilities and weaknesses, both physically and mentally.

If you have the chance to try and escape room, I would recommend it, with some caveats. It might be good to clarify in advance how “scary” it is. We had a “chicken” on our team who was frank about it to begin with, and we were assured she would be fine. (The other room option available that night, which I checked out later with a smaller group, was slightly scarier.) The venue we went to usually operates a haunted house during the Halloween season, and no way did the escape room experience approach their haunted-house-scariness levels. Some of the challenges were physical in nature, like moving something heavy, or putting or getting things from high or low places. So if you’re not physically the most agile person, that’s fine, but you might want to make sure you have balance on your team. Also, I guess sometimes props might be made of materials such as latex, so if you have any allergies like that, you might need to clarify that with the venue in advance. Also, different escape rooms are going to be different experiences in terms of setting, atmospheres, puzzle types, etc. For example, the Cursed Tomb was dark; the Serial Killer was more brightly lit. That’s not to say that one escape room experience is automatically better than another, just that every escape room will be a different experience, and sometimes those differences make it difficult to directly compare them.

 

Build a Better Graphic Organizer

Earlier this year our second graders did a project where they researched about a particular country and its culture, and either wrote a mini-book about it or put together a Google Presentation. As I’m the technology resource teacher in our school, with the computer lab as my domain, much of the online research and presentation-making happened under my tutelage.

I made a graphic organizer for students to use while doing research, that looked roughly like this:

Research Source Food Clothing Traditions Sports Shelter Fun Facts
Research Source
Research Source

I had it copied on both sides of a piece of paper, because I wanted students to carry around minimal pages as they moved between their classrooms and the computer lab. However… it wasn’t great. For the most part, we moved to using their Google Presentations as the graphic organizer and researched and added more details during the revision process, rather than getting everything done in clear stages.

First, that’s a lot of blank space for a second grader to fill. And, it’s just a lot of different spaces in general. There’s six different categories, and they’re all right there, which really divides a kid’s focus. I wish I could time-travel back to January and bop myself on the head. My priorities – keeping one compact sheet – did not suit the needs nor the style of the students.

Here’s the thing, though. Second graders are now working on a new social studies project – a biographical one. They’re researching a famous person from history, writing a three paragraph biography of them, making a timeline of their life with five events. Luckily, a lot of the bumps and bothers we experienced in January are not happening so much now: kids have a better sense of trustworthy resources; know how to search for and evaluate photos; and so on. But also, we the teachers have learned.

Instead of one graphic organizer meant to include everything, we’ve chunked the writing portion into three separate, color-coded pages. The first page is pink and asks prompting questions about the person’s early life. The second page is blue and asks prompting questions about the person’s adulthood and later life. The third page is yellow and leaves room for writing interesting facts and a wrap-up (conclusion) sentence. This has made it much easier for kids to write responses, and much easier for teachers to read their responses and guide students towards revision.

For example, this is an approximation of one second grader’s graphic organizer so far. It’s the first two pages, done each on a different day. She still needs to do her third sheet.

Name of Your Person
Princess Diana
Why is your person famous?

Princess Diana was famous because she was a princess.

When and where were they born?

July first 1961

What happened during their childhood?

two boys 1996

When and where did they go to college?

She was educated first at Riddlesworth Hall and then went to bording school at west Heath School.

What happened during their adulthood?
She mared Prince Charles on July 29, 1981.The divorce was finalized in 1996.
Any honors, awards, recognitions?

Diana Princess of Wales memorial fund. Provide care to the sick in Afica.

If your person is no longer living, when did they die?

Princess diana died in August 30, 1997 in a car crash.

If your person is still alive, when did they retire?

(She drew a large X over the last question, there.)

Another reason this style works is that it keeps kids focused on the questions at hand on Day One. Then, on Day Two, armed with new prompts, they can go back and reread the same text they already used, except this time they’re hunting down different details. In a world where instant gratification is available at our fingertips in so many aspects of our lives, pacing ourselves and practicing deeper dives into texts can be very valuable.

So, the whole point of me writing all this out is to help me remember for next time. In a lot of ways, as a teacher, I feel like I’m learning the same lessons over and over and over again. I make a lot of the same mistakes repeatedly and I’m trying to break out of that cycle. Plus, I cannot overstate the value of having a team of teachers working together. I did not think to make adjustments to the first graphic organizer, and that’s why it fell short of my goals. But when I am open to input and even criticism from others coming from other perspectives, with different experiences, I do better by myself, by my kids, and by my school.

How I’m Using Twitter Lately

The way I use Twitter has changed significantly in the past few months.

When I started, I thought it was for making pithy remarks and thoughtful observations, because many of the accounts I follow make pithy remarks and thoughtful observations. But it’s a lot of pressure to put on yourself, to try and by pithy and thoughtful all the time. So that’s not my goal anymore.

Instead, I’ve been using Twitter like how some people use Pinterest. I tweetbirds-md out links that I find interesting and want to be able to find later. Retweeting is especially good for this, too, because many of the accounts I follow use Twitter similarly. As a caveat though, I’ve never really gotten into Pinterest.

I also use Twitter like virtual post-it notes. If someone says something interesting irl*, I tweet it (in quotation marks, credit given if possible). That way I know where to find it if I want to refer back to it.

I also started a Twitter account for a group focused on the education about, fundraising for, and renovation of a unique local landmark. Except, somehow it’s become from the point of view of the landmark. I mean, no one told me no? I’m trying to build a social media presence for it, so that when this group starts an online fundraiser later on this year, it won’t be coming out of left field. So I asked my younger sister for some advice — she works as a social media manager of some kind. (Ugh, millenials.) Here is a summary of her advice:

  1. Pay attention to your analytics to find out what days, and what times of day, your audience is most responsive.
  2. Follow and retweet accounts that could be related, such as local businesses, other historical societies, people who restore old buildings or do other things close to our group’s goal. Retweet and promote other people’s content because social media is social.
  3. People like photos and pictures.
  4. Be a real person as much as possible, so people don’t think you’re a bot.

I definitely paraphrased my sister, but hopefully I did her some justice. And hopefully this helps me do some justice to the subject of my social media volunteering.

*A third grader asked me today whether I knew what “irl” meant, and was gobsmacked that I knew it meant “in real life.” ROFL.

Intense Holidays for Teachers

It probably differs by culture and region, but I think the hardest holidays for teachers where I am are Halloween and Valentine’s Day. They are sugar-intensive, involve class parties or other in-school celebrations, and varying levels of participation from parents — something that can help or hinder, depending!

That doesn’t mean these holidays are all bad. If you keep your wits about you, you might even find yourself enjoying them. I enjoyed our school’s Halloween parade, seeing all the kids in costume. I enjoyed our school’s Valentine dance, which was actually an after school event; I liked when kids did the Cupid Shuffle with me.

I also got some Valentines from kids. These were two of my favorites:

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Our first graders use the standard school account, “pabc,” instead of their own usernames or passwords to log into computers in the lab. So I shouldn’t have been surprised that I got a Valentine addressed like this…

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Second graders recently did projects on Google Drive. When sharing with me, I told them they only needed to type “dri” to find me (my surname is Driscoll). This kid proved that doesn’t just work for our Google accounts…

On Attention Spans

So here’s another reflection from OETC ’16 this past week.

Thursday morning’s general session speaker was Dr. Freeman Hrabowski. He said a lot of things that really struck a chord (and opening with a quote from Maya Angelou is always good), but one thing that really really impacted a lot of listeners there was about how long college students are engaged in a lesson before they start to fade.

Eight minutes.

A college student generally focuses on a lesson for eight minutes before they start to fade.

I can see that. I feel the same way about staff meetings if they are the kind where someone talks and talks and talks at you. You stop paying attention to what’s being said and start thinking, “I could be grading right now…. couldn’t this have just been sent in an email?… I wonder what I should cook for dinner….”

(This year our school district has been doing that less and less, thank goodness, but I think everyone has been to that kind of meeting at some point or other.)

Anyway. If a college student only focuses on a lesson for eight minutes before they start disengaging, how long is it for a high schooler? A middle schooler? An elementary schooler?

This is something big for me, since I teach grades one through three currently. Kids have a hard time focusing for the same amounts of time as adults. Look at Sesame Street – their skits and songs and sketches are always under five minutes, and many clock in under sixty seconds. Many programs pitched towards younger kids do similarly — they may take up a standard thirty-minute block of programming, but they divvy it up into smaller chunks.

There’s also the interactive element. Children are encouraged to participate in their TV programs by reading along; singing along; doing call and response, etc. That helps keep kids engaged, at least until the next commercial break.

As a technology teacher, I see this in a lot of popular resources as well. For example, my students love Sumdog.com for its math games. The games are almost like short sprints, never lasting more than a few minutes at a time. The videos and lessons put forth by Khan Academy never last for more than a few minutes either (at least not the ones aimed at third grade and below). Even then, I often see students only watch part of a video and not the whole thing. (I feel that’s a plus — why watch more when the concept clicked after just a little bit?)

I already try to “chunk” my directions and routines, but now when I look at resources and create activities and projects, I am going to think about duration of student engagement. I want students to build up academic stamina over time, but in order to get them there, I have to start by meeting them where they’re at in terms of attention span.

The older dog in this clip knows what I’m talking about.

OETC Flash Reflections

I am home from #OETC16 and I am so. Tired. 

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Humanoid robot I met in the exhibitor hall.

 

I feel like there are a lot of things I learned that need to settle in my head. But one of my favorite moments was during a session on formative assessment, when the presenter had us play along with a Kahoot.

 

Now, Kahoot is not new to me. In fact, it’s a very popular resource used by many educators in my district, not just my school. And I would recommend it to anybody, because it really is fun, fabulous formative assessment.

But this presenter was using it differently than had ever occurred to me. She used it to present statements such as, “New teachers are likeliest to use technology if it is available to them,” and then the crowd responded true or false. (That one was false — new teachers are less willing to step out of their comfort zones. Older teachers will test out new tech more quickly when it’s available to them.) And I thought — wow. It had never occurred to me before then that I could use it to address misconceptions instead of straightforward quizzing. It was perfect, because of how immediate Kahoot gives you feedback. I’m sure that other people have been using Kahoot this way for ages now. But it was a eureka moment for me. And because it’s a new way to use a resource that I already know how to use — and my students already know how to use, and my colleagues already know how to use — I feel like I am much likelier to use it in a new way.

There were a lot of other solidly good ideas and resources that I intend to explore, but rather than cramming everything into one big post when I’m already pretty beat, I think I’ll do them more justice by doing separate posts. So now to sleep, perchance to dream, and hopefully I won’t hear any car alarms go off at three a.m. since I’m no longer in downtown Columbus!

 

How Am I Doing? Sew-Sew

Another thing I decided to catch up on this weekend now that my RESA tasks are done is some sewing. I learned to sew as a preteen, and spent my teenage summers making clothing. I made both my homecoming dress and my prom dress my senior year of high school.

However, garment construction is a straight up pain in the butt. It takes a long time, is not as cost effective as one might think, and the ability to understand a pattern ought to be considered an entirely separate skill set. Mostly these days I use my sewing skills for repair and adjustment, like the ReFashionista I so admire.

Several of my “to be repaired” items have been sitting in my sewing basket for months. A seersucker shirt that belongs to my husband. A linen dress I really like but tore at work. A fabric bag whose strap came off. A pair of hand-me-down shorts from my sister. It’s February in Ohio, clearly the shorts have been there for quite a long time.

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The impetus to pull out my sewing machine this week was that a second grader at school ripped the seat of his jeans. Luckily, the school nurse keeps sweatpants on hand for just such occasions. But he really liked his jeans. I asked him if it would be okay for me to take them home and try to fix them, and he said yes.

Part of my thinking was, “If I make these jeans too small or tight for him, at least he has a brother in first grade who would probably wear them.” The next day, the brother in first grade asked me if I repaired the jeans yet. Nope, not before my RESA task was done, little one. But the thought of two kids asking every day if I’d fixed the jeans yet is too much for me. I can’t bear the thought of telling them “no, not yet” more than once. I don’t want to be an adult who promises things and then fails to deliver. So I pulled out the machine this morning and got to work.

The first thing I fixed was my husband’s shirt. It was a straight rip near a side seam so it went fast. Also, it’s seersucker, so I don’t mind the slight pucker. (It’s not my favorite of my husband’s shirts anyway, so maybe my standards weren’t so high to begin with…)

Then I fixed the strap on a fabric bag. I did play around with the stitch settings. So we’ll see whether or not this holds up, ultimately.

Thirdly, I got to those jeans. This is the epitome of a “good enough” repair. On the one hand, this is the only repair I was doing for someone other than myself or my husband, which means I started out with higher standards. But, look at that rip. It’s not quite a straight line, and it starts out close to a seam. Plus, denim is a tricky fabric to work with because it is so thick. That helps it be sturdy and durable, but it means you have to be very aware of your machine while sewing it. It can also fray a lot. Plus (and this is probably why they ripped in the first place) this pair wasn’t evenly thick — some parts of the denim were worn and thinner. But that worn denim is so comfortable! So I did want to at least do a decent job. (Then again, this is a repair for a seven-year-old boy, so it could be literally two seconds on the playground before all my work is undone.)

I had briefly considered using a patch, but I decided the seat of a little boy’s pair of jeans was not the best place for one. I’d use one for a knee rip, though.

On to my dress! I love this dress. It’s just from Target, but I have had it for years. I put a tear in the skirt part earlier this school year when I was getting up from being seated at a desk, and some metal under-part snagged the cloth.

It’s not perfect (the rip was sort of X-shaped, both with and against the grain of the fabric) but I figure I would always cover it with a little decoration if I want to. I’m going to iron it and wear it to work tomorrow and see how I feel about it.

I actually almost forgot to fix the shorts. I only wore them once before I ripped them right below the zipper. (Good thing I always keep safety pins at work!)

The crotch area of pants is a tricky place, because of all the pulling of the seams, in different directions. So whether this repair holds up remains to be seen. I’ll be slipping safety pins in the pocket next time I wear these, just in case.

All in all, it took more time finding my sewing machine’s foot pedal than it took to do any single one of these repairs. Hopefully they all work out in the end!

 

Oh, RESA

Where have I been for over a month, you might ask? Oh ho ho, I’ve been right here this whole time! Just, you know, less chatty.

The thing is, I had to redo some RESA Year 3 tasks. What is RESA, you may ask? “RESA” stands for Resident Educator Summative Assessment. It’s a performance assessment that, in Ohio, a beginning teacher (“resident educator”) must pass in order to obtain a five year professional license.

I am actually on Year 4 of RESA, but I needed to redo some of the tasks from Year 3 because I failed them. I failed both tasks that required video of a lesson. Because I had procrastinated a fair amount, I found myself panicking over uploads last year as the deadline barreled ever nearer. I did something that was against the rules — I edited the videos before I uploaded them. I was thinking smaller file sizes would upload faster, but that was against the rules. So my submissions were automatically failed for me to redo this year, in addition to Year 4 tasks.

If you find yourself required to video lessons, I have some tips:

  • If you can, practice recording before you need to record. That will help you work out any audio or angle issues in advance. Plus, video recording myself teaching over and over has been a very beneficial reflection tool for me this year — I’ll talk about it in a later post.
  • Try out different devices and settings, considering what you truly need. Originally I was recording using high definition, which was contributing to long upload times and processing errors. The uploading part of the process went much more smoothly when I switched to recording in standard definition.
  • Ask for help. Other teachers may have had to record lessons before, and may have really good tips for you. I even had a colleague hold the camera for me during part of their prep period once! (Thank you again!) One of my other colleagues this year has been on the phone with the RESA support folks trying to upload her video. It is better to ask for help than to move forward wrongheadedly and fail the task, like I did.

1197119420758017922nicubunu_Film.svg.medUltimately I used an iPad and a device called a Swivl that I really enjoyed using (but that I had to practice a lot beforehand — I will probably write a review of my experience sooner or later). It worked really well, except for the times I messed up while using it!

Anyway, the point is, I finished and submitted my last make-up RESA tasks last night. (Not only did I need to submit video, I also had to answer several extended response questions along with it.) Nine days before the deadline instead of bumping up against the deadline, because I learned my lesson last year! Therefore I hope to be using this blog again to reflect more starting this month. Thanks for hanging in there!