Ed Tech In the SpEd Classroom

Using Technology to Help Bridge the Learning Gap

Spring Breakout (Digital BreakoutEDU): The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly


WOW.  What a day.  I am proud to announce that I’ve executed my very first digital Breakout ever! And what an adventure it was.

But let’s start from the beginning, shall we?

If you’re not familiar with BreakoutEDUs, get familiar with them.  They are ah-mazing.  I was able to do a real one with the box, all the locks, etc.  It was a lot of fun and the students in my class had a blast doing something different.  An alternative to doing a physical Breakout is to do a digital one.  The same concept is there:  clues are hidden on a website or electronic document.  An advantage to doing a Breakout digitally is that anyone can create one. You don’t require all the equipment/hardware that’s required for a physical one.  Students are given a certain time limit to unlock all “locks” and are given a certain number of allowed hints, but couldn’t use their first hint until 10 minutes had passed.  I created a Google Site with an embedded Google Form containing the locks.  Thanks to the advice I was given from Alex Milton from River Valley Middle/High School prior to making it, I knew how to create the Form with data validation points to let the students know their lock was “still locked” if they entered the incorrect guess.


Now, before I get into the details of creating the digital Breakout, I needed to think of my overall goal for my students.  Although I teach high schoolers, I teach high schoolers with a range of disabilities.  One common concept they’ve struggled with are fractions.  We had been reviewing fractions for the past month and I really wanted them to get these concepts down before our upcoming state tests.  Plus, fractions are something that follows them in almost every high school math class.  So, my digital Breakout was going to be geared around fractions review.  After attending MACUL 18, I was inspired to create a digital breakout myself after getting solid advice from teachers who have done them in their own classrooms.  By seeing and getting some hands-on experience playing with one, I was able to re-create my own with similar features.  It helped a LOT.  After understanding what the bare bones of my Breakout was going to be, it was time to figure out the details.

And that, my friends, took a looong time.

It wasn’t only thinking about picture clues with hidden, embedded links that was a process for me.  It was also coming up with clues that weren’t too easy to figure out the answer right away but vague enough to still be a doable puzzle.  Much of my time was spent perusing this Google doc that offered a plethora of websites that are awesome for Breakouts clues.  I highly recommend that if you ever even think of doing a Breakout (regular or digital), you make a copy of said document for your own records.  You can thank me later.  In addition with thinking up clues, I was also thinking of the types of “locks” that would be used for each one.  I didn’t want to repeat any lock type as much as possible, so I had 5 types total:  a 3 digit lock, a directional lock, a word lock, a color lock, and a 3 word lock.

After several hours, I was finally able to finish my digital Breakout.  After testing the links and codes out, I used my own offspring as guinea pigs and had my son and his friend test it out.  And it was at that point that I knew I had messed up. A few times.  They were able to show me that I should’ve made some of the hidden links a bit bigger so that students could click almost anywhere in a space to have it open another window.  Also, I forgot that it’d been a while since my son and his friend had practiced fractions, so it was much harder for them to “get” the clues.  Once time ran up for them, I figured I should up the time limit for my students from 45 minutes to 60 (we are on a block schedule, so classes are 90 minutes).

The next day, I had my co-worker play it to do a final test.  It turns out my one word lock answer was completely different from the clue.  I had forgotten that I had changed it at the last minute and didn’t make that change on the lock itself.  It was a close call.  I had the soundtrack of the movie Clue playing as they came in to class to set the mood and had them figure out a riddle for their warm up.  When it came time to do the actual Breakout, I explained the rules to my students.  Most of them had me the year before and remembered the physical Breakout box game we did last year, so they were familiar with the rules.  After going over the rules, I let them loose.

*record scratch* And that’s when it went downhill.  Quickly.

After sharing my Google Site with my students via Google Classroom, it quickly became apparent that my site was blocked.  It had never occurred to me to have a student who wasn’t in my class to try it out first while at school.  When my son and his friend tried it, they were at home when it worked for them.  But under our school network, it did not.  I went into panic mode and tried to think of a fix.  Ultimately, I allowed students to use both my teacher computer that projected my site on the whiteboard and allowed them to also use my personal laptop.  I only had 7 students in that class, so we were able to make it work, but it was far from ideal.  The beauty of digital breakouts is that all students have access to it simultaneously, so they could decide to either figure it out together or split it up, but they each would have it on their own devices in front of them.

The cherry on top of all this was that my AP walked in to observe this thing that I had been so giddy to share about the days before.  Ultimately, it worked out ok.  I was starting to relax as they continued to play.  Then, I realized my students had no idea where to begin.

Have you ever seen those videos on social media where kids are given a cassette player or Walkman and they look at it like it’s an alien? They poke and stare and move it around but have no idea what that thing is?  It was exactly like that.

It was excruciating to watch.  It never occurred to me that even for my Breakout-experienced students, none of them had ever done a digital Breakout before.  I intentionally did not tell them in the instructions to click on things, as that is part of the “fun.” As several minutes went by as the students were scrolling and reading in almost complete silence, it may or may not have crossed my mind that I had made a horrible mistake.  All sorts of things were running through my head: “What was I thinking?…why did I think this would work?…should I just call it off and do something else?…what is my AP thinking?….God, I could really use a donut right now.”

After some not-so-subtle reminders that they had hints available to use, they finally decided to use one.  With great relief, I told them to start clicking on things.  Pictures.  Anything that stuck out on the page.  Finally, they started finding clues and convos started happening.  It wasn’t until my AP had left the classroom that I thought to ask if our IT department could temporarily allow my Google Site.  It also wasn’t until my AP left that the kids started really getting into it. Figures.  At the end of it all, they were finally able to unlock all 5 locks in 45 minutes.


So, what did I learn? A lot.

  1. Double -no- quadruple check all your links and locks at school! Have a coworker try it out! Have a student! It will make for a lot less stress when it’s actually time to roll it out.
  2. Talk to your IT department, if you have one, ahead of time.  Make sure your students will actually be able to access your site, if you choose to do it on a website.  It makes a huge difference.
  3. If you do have your digital Breakout on a Google site, explain to your students NOT to expand embedded pics in another window.  I found that when they did, the hyperlinks embedded in the pictures were not active.  This will only make things more difficult and/or frustrating for everyone involved.
  4. Make sure there are no big events going on at your school during your Breakout.  I totally didn’t think about our WIDA testing that was going on with our students who spoke another language.  Which was a huge chunk of my caseload.  So I never had a full class to do this.  Obviously, the more people you have playing, the easier it is.  One class had only 2 kids in class that day.  Another had only 3.
  5. It’s going to be hard to hold back while they’re working.  Really hard.  Fight through it! This is an outstanding time for them to learn to do things on their own, as a team without your help. I did have to remind some of my classes very often that they had hints to use because 30 minutes went by and they were struggling severely, but also wanted that badly to figure it out on their own.  Let them.
  6. Get feedback from them right after the game is finished.  I created a Breakout reflection Google Form with a few questions that asked them to rate the game, their individual roles, what they would change, which their favorite puzzle/clue was, and how enjoyable it was for them.  Despite the dead-ends that they ran into, there feedback was overwhelmingly positive.  I did have one that reported it was “too hard” but he also struggles with math and due to testing going on in the building, there was only 1 other student in class to help him.
  7. Make it a competition! I had each of my hours compete against each other and the other teacher’s Resource classes.  Bragging rights are a great motivator.
  8. Make any necessary changes for future Breakouts.  I learned that I will give my students more than 4 hints to use in the future.  I can certainly give hints as needed, but like to give them the independence to ask for help when they feel as a group that they need it.  I also learned that I needed to make some clues a little less difficult.  When creating future clues, I have to think more how they would think instead of how I would like them to think.

All in all, I say it was a success.  It was a lot of work upfront, I will be honest.  But watching these students work together, come out of their shell, thinking outside of the box, and having fun while reviewing content is so worth it.

Welcome to Room 111


Oh, well, he-LLO again! So nice of you to stop by again! Come on over and sit–let’s chat.

Just to fill you in on what we’ve been doing in our high school Resource class, I’d like to squeeze 2 months-worth of activities in one post.  So, just a reminder, I am currently in a 1:1, at-risk high school.  I have 4 different Resource classes this year:  my freshmen class (which is currently PACKED with 13 students!), my originally-intended-for-sophomore Resource, which now has 4 freshmen, my Certificate of Completion class for those students who are significantly below grade level, and my junior/senior Resource class.  Luckily, this year I am co-teaching my freshmen Resource with the other Resource teacher in my building.  This helps tremendously with monitoring students, managing the work load, and classroom management.

Because we are a 1:1, I have the ability to help create lessons that utilize the technology our students have.  My goal has always been creating lessons that are engaging and informative.  Being that we are on a block schedule, it can be challenging to find activities that are engaging enough to have students work for the entire 90 minute period.  This year, to help with this, us special ed teachers decided to use stations.  This will allow students to work on an activity for 15 minutes before moving on to the next.  We find that this minimizes behaviors while keeping students working on skills that we’ve taught them.

One of my favorite tools that I’ve started using more often is PearDeck.  This allows me to share my Google Slide presentation to be displayed on each student’s laptop.  Additionally, PearDeck lets students use the interactive tools to respond to given prompts.  Students can respond with text, draggables, drawing tools, and with multiple choice options.  For example, below students are learning about their IEPs (Individualized Education Programs) and enter information on their own slides, that will transfer over to the teacher.


Students entering their own information to given IEP slide prompts.


Additionally, we use Google Classroom to post Slides that each student can obtain their own copy of and edit as needed.  This has been a huge help in getting activities out to students quickly while being able to check their work just as efficiently.  In one of their station activities below, we had students replace “dead words” (overused words, but more Halloween-themed) with more colorful synonyms.  With the help of a small set of thesauruses that I’ve hoarded over the past few years, students were able to edit their given slides.  Hopefully, this will allow them to know not only that there are so many more words to use than the usual ones, but also where to find them.  And thanks to this Google Classroom feature, I can check their work in real-time.  Super convenient!


Another thing we do from time to time is give video prompts as their bellringers.  At our school, we use Teach Like a Champion strategies and the Do Now strategy is the one that students complete immediately upon class starting.   While we try to incorporate a lot of writing in the Do Nows, we try to look for prompts that will be of interest to our students.  Having short video prompts will pique their interest and give them that little extra push to want to respond.  One example of us using this in our Resource classes was showing them this video and having students respond to it.  They could answer a variety of questions, such as, “What happened next? What lesson can be learned from this?”  I’ve noticed it’s a lot easier to get longer responses with video prompts than it is with written ones.


We also know that sometimes there’s nothing wrong with good ole’ technology-less activities as well.  Getting students up and out of their seats (and just moving) can break the everyday-class-routine monotony.  Here you can see students (it was “Where’s Waldo Day,” fyi. Hence, Waldo) in the halls at different checkpoints.  These checkpoints had math problems student had to solve and had to select the correct answer from the given choices.  This activity in particular reinforced their skills on the distributive property. Once they solved the problem, they were directed to the next clue, which was at another checkpoint in the building.  Although this station activity was meant to be completed individually, several students utilized teamwork to solve the problems.  Some did them in teams of 2 or 3, others completed them solo.  Either way, each student was able to practice their math skills while getting their fidgety-ness out.

img_2264 img_2263

So that’s just a snippet of what we’ve been up to so far this year.  I am excited to share all of the upcoming treats that will take place in my Resource classes this year with you all.  It is still very much a learning process for me, despite this being my 8th year of teaching.  Here’s to a successful, new, and tech-filled school year! Salud!

posted under Math | No Comments »

Who woulda thunk Math could be fun? :)


This is exactly how I felt today.  Let me tell you why.

So first of all, I was told yesterday afternoon that our new principal should be dropping into my classroom* to observe the iPad pilot we’re doing.  Of course, knowing this, I try to plan something that the kids will use their iPads for.  Being that today is Core Class Review day, I decide to introduce them to a new app to review their Math.  Lately, we’ve been going over how to write an equation of a line with a given graph.  I happened to stumble upon an app a while ago called Geometry Pad.  Basically, this gives students the ability to graph lines, coordinates, and other figures onto an x and y axis.  What I did was give them an equation, such as y=2/3x-4, and they needed to graph it.  I had to give them some brief instructions on how to use the app, but they caught on fairly quickly.  They graphed their line and we went over it as a class.  We did this two more times and they seemed to enjoy it.

After this, we went onto Wonderopolis so they could write their ten lines about the topic of the day, which had to do with nomads.  Before they began, I showed them the Speak feature on their iPads, which allows the user to tap and select any portion of text and have it read aloud to them.

I then showed my students how to tap and select the text on Wonderopolis.  I demonstrated it to them, showing them the process on my ELMO, then had them do it themselves.

After a bit of tweaking with reading speed rates, they were able to listen to the selection.  I explained that this would be a valuable tool to use when it came time to do research projects in a few months, which will require them to read material from several different websites.  All students in my resource room are below grade level and motivation is always an issue.  I’m hoping this is a useful aide to them when the time comes for them to read a lot more information on their own.

I let my student use my personal, pink-cased iPad for this one. 😉

After class, I had to have a student take a make-up test.  Her IEP requires her tests to be read aloud to her.  I decided to use the iPad to record the test at home and explained to her how to pause and un-pause the iPad so she could answer the questions.  It went nicely, and she did well, considering it was a pre-test.  I used the app Audio Memos, but plan to switch to Chirbit, which is an online audio recording tool.  This way, several students can access the test recording at once, rather than just one recording on one iPad.

And, of course, I had to save the best for last.  Thanks to the wonderful Edmodo community, I posted if someone would be interesting in doing pen-pals with my students.  I had a few people respond that they were resource teachers as well, and would love to get their students to practice writing.  So, beginning next week or the week after, we will be doing, E-Pals, or electronic pen-pals.  My students will be e-mailing their pen-pals, and hopefully, get to Skype with them later down the road.  You have absolutely no IDEA how excited I am for this! At the moment, I’m in the process of doing some brainstorming as far as grading, frequency, format, etc.  I wanted to wait until tomorrow to tell my students about this project, but instead I told them I had some exciting news that I would share the next day.  Dumb mistake.  They twisted my arm and I gave.  At first, they weren’t sure what I was talking about, then as it sunk in, some of them remembered they did something similar in elementary.  But when I explained that they’d be corresponding with other 8th grade students from another state and may possibly be able to Skype them, they started to get excited.  It’s pen-pals suped up.  🙂

Poor Future-Hubby.  He’s been letting me chew his ear off about all this while we were supposed to be sleeping.  Brace yourself, honey….this is only the beginning.  😉


 *Of course, after all that prep…he never showed. Oh, administration.  

posted under English, Math | No Comments »

Learning experience…


Ok, so just to reiterate from yesterday, here was the plan for today: the students’ warm up was for them to use their Google Form that I made for them while they went on a gallery walk around the classroom, reviewing material from all four of their content area classes. I was really excited about it this morning. Here’s how it went down:

Issue #1: Fire Drill
As antsy I was to get started, we were e-mailed about the fire drill we were going to have at 0900. No worries. We went back inside fairly quickly. I explained to them that they were each going to go to each of the “stations” that coincided with the numbers on their Google Form. There were nine questions total. The rule was, there couldn’t be more than one person at each station. Finally, I said, “Go at it!”

Issue #2: They Didn’t Know How To Go At It
My bad. There I go assuming again. I thought I had explained the directions fairly clearly, but that’s subjective. They didn’t understand how to use the Google Form. I was almost instantly bombarded with, “Wait, Miss! I don’t get it. What are we supposed to do?” They didn’t realize all they had to do was tap on the box for each number and input their answer. If it was multiple choice, they simply had to tap their choice.

Issue #3: Twitchy Fingers
I keep forgetting that for most of my students, this is the first time they’ve ever used an iPad before. I had embedded the form onto Edmodo as a post, so when they clicked on the link, the form came up as a pop-up window. A lot of the students kept grazing their thumbs on the screen, bringing them back to Edmodo, which was greyed out in the background, and losing their work. A few of them had to upload the form again and couldn’t figure out why they were getting kicked off. I had to explain that the screen is very touch sensitive and to use the holding straps located on the underside of the iPad covers to hold their iPads.

Issue #4: Not Paying Attention In Class
Each station was in direct relation to the material they had already learned in their core classes. For example, I posted two stations where they had to figure out the slope of a line, which they’ve learned how to do in Math. The Science stations reviewed the different characteristics of volcanoes. The English stations reviewed punctuation and grammar, and the Social Studies asked them about the Stamp Act. Again, stuff they should already know. They didn’t remember most of it. But that’s why we’re reviewing in the first place, right?

Issue #5: Traffic Jams
Sooooo, I had mentioned to them that I didn’t want more than one student at each station, since there were more stations than students. That seemed to have slipped their minds a few times, but it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. I had wanted them to think for themselves so I could see what they remembered without help, but whatever.

1. This was a good practice for using Google Forms on the iPad for the first time. I will have to remind them to be aware of their fingers, since several of them had to start over a few times.
2. Next time I will change the form so that all the questions aren’t “required”. For those of you not familiar with Google Forms, you can make it so that your questions are required, meaning, your students HAVE to answer them and won’t let them submit the form until they all are. This prevented all of them from hitting “submit” at the end, because most of them didn’t know how to answer some of the questions and left them blank. Again, blank answers equals no submissions.
3. Regardless of all the issues mentioned above, I think it was a good exercise. The kids were up out of their seats and moving. They were using iPads. They were reviewing the material anyways, even if they couldn’t input their answers.

The rest of the hour was dedicated to studying for their Science quiz, finishing any homework they had missing from their classes, and working on their paper blog posts. They worked well for the rest of the hour, some with their headphones plugged in, listening to to the relaxing sounds of Pocket Pond. 🙂 So, in the end, everything was ok. This was a learning experience for me as much as it was for my students. It’s a journey we’re taking together, and as long as they can be patient with me as much as I am with them, we’ll be good to go.

Rivas, out……

And the angel choirs sang…


…for today, the technology worked without a hitch.  And it was good.

You should’ve seen how ecstatic I was that there were no issues today with the technology.  Not only that, but things went smoothly and the kids were engaged. No big deal–just everything that I’ve ever wanted.

So instead of telling you the entire plan of the day, I’ll just show you:

So basically, the students needed to complete all the tasks, but had a choice as to what they worked on first, Science or Math.  The QR code that they scanned led them to a YouTube video on volcanoes by Bill Nye the Science Guy which they used in conjunction to the worksheet.  They filled this out as they watched the video.

A student using the Scan app to get to a YouTube video on volcanoes.

Those working on Math were able to use this page from algebrahelp.com to practice figuring out the slope of a line.  I really liked this page because the kids could zoom in on their iPads to count their rises and runs (rise over run= slope) and then enter their guesses in the given box.  They were given multiple different problems to work on, then could check their answers at the end and see which ones they answered correctly and which ones they didn’t.

A student enters her answer to one of the slope problems.


I hope things keep rolling at the momentum they are right now. Even my one student who was mad at me from the day before used his iPad to practice math.  The kids were engaged, they enjoyed it, they were learning, and mommy (me) was happy.   As Ice Cube so eloquently put it, “Today was a good day.”  🙂

posted under Math, Science | No Comments »

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