Saturday, August 27, 2016

Library Orientation Breakout EDU

I was first introduced to Breakout EDU while attending the Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert Forum in Denver, Colorado this summer. After experiencing a session at the conference, I knew it had lots of potential for library programming. I shared it with Kaitlyn Price, my new partner teacher librarian at Lakeside High School. We couldn’t wait to try it out for 8th grade library orientation! I am grateful she is joining me for this blog post.

Planning (Kaitlyn & Stony)

We actually started talking about this potential early in August. Tiffany Whitehead even brainstormed with us in a webcam session prior to school starting. She gave us many good pointers (she had done several last year with her students). Then school started, and things got very busy.

Brainstorming session with Tiffany Whitehead!
Fast forward to the end of August. Orientation meetings were upon us! We didn’t find any library orientation breakouts that we could easily use in the short time period available to us. Kaitlyn and I both knew we had two days to present library orientation to approximately 300 8th grade learners. We decided to create two separate breakout sessions; one for the fiction side of the library and the other for non-fiction. We brainstormed skills that we wanted the learners to experience. It was decided that we would cover library hours, sign-in/ sign-out procedures, circulation information, makerspace services, LHS library web page, game room guidelines, and our OPAC (online public access catalog). The next step was to decide which locks we would use and build our puzzles around them. I took non-fiction, and Kaitlyn decided to create the fiction breakout. It took us a full day of working to complete our puzzles and set up the event.

The Event (Kaitlyn & Stony)

We brainstormed what the event would look like with classes of up to 28 students in each of our sessions. We decided to have two large and two small breakout boxes in each room. This would make it easier since we could split the class in half to have two teams of 10-14 students. We decided to give a very brief introduction and only give students a hint as to which box to unlock first. It was estimated that the session should take about 30-35 minutes to complete. After that, we would come back together to allow students to share what they had learned. The goal was for them to discover the library orientation content through the puzzles without us having to “stand and deliver” the material.

The Fiction Breakout Design (Kaitlyn)

For the fiction side, I chose locks that made sense with what I wanted our students to learn about the library. In all, I chose the small 3 digit lock box, the 4 digit number lock, the 5 letter word lock, and the 4 direction directional lock, and of course the large Breakout EDU box with the hasp attached to hold the locks.

Items used for the fiction breakout
The fun part of creating your own puzzle is that you can play to your strengths to make this a better experience for the students. Before being a library media specialist, I was a 9th grade ELA teacher. Because of this, I chose to create rhyming riddles/cryptic messages for most of the clues.  Each room was split into 2 groups, so I created some differences in the two boxes. Although I did keep the clues the same if the clue gave vital information that I needed the students to know.

I began the breakout with the small 3 digit lock box. For this box, the students had a rhyming riddle in which the answer was the media center’s opening time. After the students opened this box, they found a UV flashlight and a flash drive. The students then oftentimes split their groups in half with one half walking around the media center shining the flashlight on everything they could find and the other half finding a computer to insert the flash drive into. The group with the flash drive would then find a document that contained our game room guidelines, and the rest of their group would join. As the students read they would begin to notice that there were many numbers in the game room information (how many students at once, how long they can play, etc). All of these numbers were either blue (3 numbers) or red (4 numbers). Once they realized the number lock had 4 numbers they would use the red numbers.

After the students removed a lock, they were to send 1 team member to me to get the next clue. Once the number lock was off, the students got a clue with a call number on it. After locating the book, the students would find a slip of paper with a riddle that would lead them to use the UV flashlight. On this paper in invisible ink, I wrote “Go ask Mrs. Price for your decoder”. I would give the students the decoder and a code. Once they cracked the code the word they should get was LEARN. This word would unlock the word lock. Some groups really had to work together to figure out how to use the decoder in the first place. Some groups even looked up directions on the internet. I encouraged them to use any resources around them to solve each clue.

With the word lock off, I would give the students a note that sends them to find one of our library assistants. She would be waiting for the students at the circulation desk where she would show them the sign-in/ sign-out process using our iPads. We had previously recorded a quick video of students explaining how to sign-in and sign-out using Aurasma. Then the students would be given their final clue which included the directional lock code in riddle form. The directional lock was the final lock. Once a group broke out, they held up their breakout sign with pride!

The Non-Fiction Breakout Design (Stony)

I decided to use the small 3 digit lock box and the large Breakout EDU box for the non-fiction puzzles. In addition to the 3 digit lock box, I also selected the directional lock and a 4 digit lock (both placed on a hasp locking the large Breakout EDU box).

Items used in the non-fiction breakout
I created minor differences in the two puzzles so both teams wouldn’t be going to the same places solving the same things. I designed it so students first had to solve a word problem that presented our library extended hours closing time on Tuesdays-Thursdays (our library assistant, Peggy Schaeffer, created this for us). When they figured this out, they were able to open the small lock box which provided them with a UV flashlight, a paper revealing our library circulation information, and a flash drive which led them to an online HyperDoc with clues. The circulation information contained numbers that allowed them to open the 4 digit number lock on the large Breakout EDU box.

The flash drive and HyperDoc gave them books to look up in the OPAC. When they went to the shelves and retrieved the books, they found blank sheets with invisible ink (the UV flashlight was used to view the secret messages). These sheets led them to an article in our encyclopedia sets. After they progressed this far, the teams had to come report what they had learned to me. I asked the teams about our hours, the OPAC, and our circulation information (how many materials can be checked out, length of time items are loaned, etc).

After they reported to me, I gave them one last puzzle that would reveal the final lock solution. When students opened the box, there was a celebration breakout sign. We took photos of student groups when they completed all puzzles.

Check out this video to get a snapshot of our Breakouts

Improvements for Next Time

Students suggested that we have more breakout boxes in each room so the participating teams can be smaller. This will allow more students to be engaged instead of 2 boxes in each room. Next time, we want to try 3 or 4 in each. In addition, we had some students experiment with the four digit number locks after they were unlocked. One class actually changed the lock combination after they had unlocked it. The solution to this problem will be for them to give us the locks after they are opened.

Future Possibilities

I hope we can have 8th grade students help us design the orientation Breakout EDU sessions for next year. Perhaps we can have them work on this in April or May after they have used the library for various research projects and have built on their experiences. This could be a wonderful tradition to begin.

It would also be interesting to have small sessions during lunch in the library to introduce breakouts to older students. This might get them asking teachers to incorporate the activity into the classroom. I’m also interested in trying the new digital breakouts that are online. There are many possibilities to explore this year!

Student Survey Highlights

We created a short survey for students to complete the day after our sessions. Here are some of the comments they shared:

“I liked (this) instead of just listening to you talk, you could actually do something fun and learn the rules of the library.”

“It was kind of like solving a crime or a mystery. It was very interesting.”

“I liked that we didn't have to sit for an hour and watch someone talk. I liked that the different teams had different puzzles, so we couldn't cheat off of each other.”

“I loved that this was a hands-on learning experience. There were clues we had to figure out, and they all had to do with the library. If I am involved, then I retain information easier and faster. I also liked how the answer wasn't laid out for you. My team had to explore the library and really think about it to find out what the answer was.”

“Having smaller teams and more boxes would make the Breakout program more efficient and interesting.”

“Let us students be able to use more devices to discover clues/hints and learn more about the devices that can be used in the library.”


It was a lot of work to prepare for these breakout sessions, but it was totally worth it after seeing how engaged our learners were in the library. Breakout EDU was a priceless first impression of the library for our 8th grade students. We encourage you to investigate the resources available on the Breakout EDU website. We believe we have only just scratched the surface on the future potential for content delivery with the escape room theme.

This is a link to the September 2016 newsletter I created that contains all our Breakout EDU puzzle materials mentioned above.

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Saturday, August 20, 2016

International Skype Session at ArASL 2016

I'm delighted to be joined by Elizabeth Hutchinson in this blog article. Elizabeth is a chartered librarian on the Island of Guernsey which is located in the English Channel. She is the head of School's Library Service there which serves the Bailiwick of Guernsey island schools.

Introduction  (Elizabeth) 

Way back in January I was looking for information about Mystery Skype. It was something that I had been interested in but did not know where to start. I found Stony's blog post about his first Mystery Skype attempt with lots of suggestions on how it worked. He made me feel that this was something that I could at last try so I took the plunge and sent him a Tweet 

This is the Tweet that changed us both!
It turned out that Stony was keen to try his first international Mystery Hangout and was in the middle of a library re-vamp. Our Mystery Hangout could be used to open his new space... No pressure then :)  

Mystery Hangout  (Stony) 

Previously, I wrote about our first Mystery Hangout with Elizabeth and St. Anne's School on the Island of Alderney. To prepare for the event, we scheduled a time a few days before to test our connection with the school. We found the connection to be great; it was as if our new friends were right across the building! We then set up the library for a typical Mystery Skype/ Hangout. If you need more information about this arrangement, read this article. On the day of the event, everything worked flawlessly. 

Professional Development  (Elizabeth)

After our very successful Mystery Hangout session between Lakeside High, Hot Springs  and St Anne'sAlderney. Stony and I continued our conversation. Where could we take this next? Could we share our experience to inspire others to try this out too? Stony had a district CPD (continued professional development) session coming up and asked me how I would feel about joining in this session to share how it had worked. I thought this was a great idea and we arranged the session so I could talk via Google Hangouts during their session. It was wonderful to share ideas and best practicewith a group of librarians who were all so keen to hear what we had done but were also inspired to give this a go. This session lead to two other connections with one of my schools. We shared a story with a primary class and ran another Mystery Hangout with a junior class. Both were very well received by participating classes. The CPD session made Stony and I realize that sharing best practicewas important and we were keen to find different ways to continue this.  

Stony had a couple of conferences coming up that he was presenting at and we discussed the possibility of me co-presenting at one of them with him. We could share our experiences of using Mystery Skype/ Hangouts to inspire other school librarians. I could not believe that I was being given such a wonderful opportunity to present at a conference in America without having to leave the comfort of my own house. We agreed that the Arkansas Association of School Librarians (#ArASL16) was going to be our first attempt and about 2 weeks before we started planning.  
Stony shared how he thought the session would run and what he wanted to talk about. We then agreed what I would share. He told me I would have about 20mins and my outline was very simple. Tell our story about creating our first international Mystery Hangout connection and how social media has had an impact on my own professional development. Easy I thought, talking about something I am really interested in. Now to make sure it worked.  

My job before the conference was to make sure Stony had a recording of what I wanted to say in case the tech didn’t work. It is not easy to talk to yourself for 20 minutes but having had a little practice talking on Voxer to Stony over the last few months, I just went for it. I had a 20 minute timer and had broken my talk into 10 minute slots so knew when I had to move on. 20 minutes seems like a long timebut actually if you love the subjectyou have to be very strict at talking about what is important.  
Having done the hard workI just had to send it to him. Now surprisingly enough the part that I thought was going to be easy proved far harder than I had imagined. There was no way (that I could work out) of sending a 20 minute video and I tried everything. YouTubeDropbox, email and even uploading to Google docs was impossible. None of them would accept a video that was this long. Lucky for me my son Nick knew how to chop up my video into 5 minute chunks. This still took around 40 minutes for each section to downloadbut at least they were with Stony if our plans did not work.  

Elizabeth presents at our ArASL session!
Conference Presentation (Stony) 

We decided to use Microsoft OneDrive to share our outline for the presentation. We also used this method to write this collaborative blog article. A few days prior to the conference, we connected via Skype and talked through our outline to make sure we were both on the same page. 
In addition, on the day of the conference, we connected twice to make sure all was working correctly. I brought our school MiFi just in case of an issue with the hotel WiFi. I'm very glad I brought it because right before the session, the hotel Wifi dropped out. The MiFi device worked wonderfully! 

Check out the video above to view clips from the event.

Feedback from Attendees (Stony) 

I received many nice comments from school librarians who attended our session. Most described that they were ready to try connecting their schools to other places via Skype and Hangouts after hearing our presentation. It was very encouraging to receive such positive comments from colleagues from around our state! 

Feedback (Elizabeth) 

I received many requests to connect on Twitter which is great to increase my international connections.  

Reflection of the Presentation (Elizabeth) 

Waiting to be connected was a little worrying. Was it going to work? Would they find what I had to say interesting? How was I going to start? I had several starts in my head, which one would sound the best? I even wondered if they would be better off if they could just watch the pre-record...Then we were connected. No backing out now!  
It was lovely to share this story with Stony.  It was great to see the reaction of the audience as I spoke. This helped me relax and start to talk more naturally. It was impossible to talk and read notes so it made me make sure that I had prompts and nothing else. This worked because I was very familiar with what I was talking about and I intend to use this experience to ensure my talks in the future have less notes. It was great to be  part of something new and different. Not only were we talking about what we had done but we were demonstrating how the technology worked. The only down side for me was being a little disconnected, there was still a feeling that I was talking to myself although I could see them and hear them laugh, thankfully in the right places, but when they asked questions the microphone was too far away for me to hear. This made it truly co-presented as Stony then took control again and was able to answer from in the room. Maybe next time we need to set up an extended microphone. Already I am talking about next time so it must have been good! 

Value of the Presentation (Elizabeth) 

I feel this was extremely valuable session not only for those watching but for myself too. We were able to demonstrate how it worked and not just talk about it hopefully making it seem possible to share ideas and lessons around the world. I hope that the librarians felt empowered and inspired to give it a go by the fact that we were so passionate about what we were talking about and showing that with a little preparation it was possible to make something a little different happen. I feel it extended my own belief in my presentation skills and the importance of making sure I know and understand the subject I am talking about which makes presenting it easier. If I do this I wont need lots of notes. I enjoyed this so much I really want to do it again.  
Skype and Google Hangouts make it possible to talk to anyone in the world. Extending presentation skills. Looking for more opportunities to present and share via webcam. We can encourage teachers to use this with their students. 

Reflection of the Presentation (Stony) 

In January 2016, a Tweet from the island of Guernsey changed my life and our school. I'm so glad Elizabeth took a moment to reach out to me on that Saturday morning. Because of that one Tweet, she caused change in our school and in many librarians in our state. Our students have had a great cultural learning experience. Our district's librarians have opened their minds to connecting to other places. 

Our follow up visit following the conference session!

Conclusion (Stony)

Because of these events, Elizabeth and I are planning to have our first international book club this fall. I cannot wait to share our common love of literacy over so many miles. The best is yet to come. Stay tuned to Library Media Tech Talk to find out what happens next!

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