Breakout Box

My goal this week on the blog was to share my experiences and thoughts about making time for critical learning experiences in the Open, Immerse, and Explore phases of inquiry learning. Analyzing our own attitudes toward how we decide to spend our time in our classrooms is the first critical step. Then remember that you are not alone! When classroom teachers and school librarians collaborate, we can create some truly exciting opportunities for our students!

On Wednesday, I shared an idea to invite local community members to your library during the Immerse phase and plan gallery walks to expose students to lots of different types of information sources during Explore. Another fun idea to try during the Immerse phase is a breakout box activity!

Modeled after escape rooms, a breakout box activity can take many different forms and can be used in any classroom and level. Students can work as a whole group, in small groups, with a partner, or individually to solve clues, unlock locks, and discover what’s hidden in the locked box! Even our high school students get active and enthusiastic. One teacher said, “I see some of my students participating who usually do nothing!” One school librarian in my district planned a breakout activity for the faculty during an in-service day before school started.

We have successfully designed 3 breakout experiences: library orientation, book censorship, and the beginnings of the Cold War. We began by purchasing a box set from Breakout EDU which was $100. However, you can buy your own boxes and locks for less than that. The advantage to buying from the website is that you get access to hundreds of lesson plans. The set includes invisible ink pens with a special flashlight, which is incredibly fun for the students to use to solve clues. Also included is a small USB drive. I made a short video of myself giving a clue, saved the video on the USB drive, and hid the drive in a book.

To begin, create a scenario that is exciting for students. For example, when we use the breakout for library orientation, we play music from Mission Impossible while reading aloud the following:

“You and your friends have been investigating a biochemist on suspicions that he is making bioweapons. His evil plans are locked in a black box in order to prevent you from finding them and destroying them. You must find the evil plans and destroy them or this mysterious villain will unleash a deadly virus in 30 minutes!”

For book censorship: “A group of parents is angry about some of the books available for checkout in the library. Specifically, they are complaining about To Kill a Mockingbird, the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and Harry Potter. They have locked the offensive books in a large, black box and are planning a book burning ceremony in order to get rid of these controversial books! You have 30 minutes to save these books from an untimely and unjust end!”

For the beginnings of the Cold War: “World War II has officially been declared over with the unconditional surrender of Germany. While people around the world celebrate, another conflict has been brewing between the Allies, even before the war ended. The new world superpowers the Soviet Union and the United States are battling for territory and influence after the Nazi threat is defeated. As the United States is concerned about the imminent spread of communism, the Soviet Union also begins its own nuclear program. This new cold war has the potential to end in total devastation. You are the superpowers, the Americans versus the Soviets, working against the clock to prevent a world-ending nuclear holocaust. Be the first country to unlock the nuclear codes and get them out of the hands of the enemy. If you fail, your opponent will acquire your country’s nuclear codes, and a mushroom cloud may be in your future. You have 30 minutes to overcome Cold War mistrust and tensions to save the world.”

For the Cold War activity, we passed out paper copies of Soviet Union and American flags to students as they walked into the library, dividing them into two teams. This idea helped create an atmosphere to mirror the tensions of the Cold War (obviously on a smaller scale!). Each team worked to solve clues, but the box wouldn’t be completely unlocked unless both teams were successful. 

Design the clues so that students must access a variety of library resources in order to solve the puzzles and unlock the locks. For example, we use print books, eBooks, databases, infographics, and more. When we use this for library orientation, it’s a great way to test if they know how to use an index. And if they don’t, they’ll figure it out quickly because they become competitive and don’t want time to run out!

Here’s one clue from each of our activities so you can see examples if you haven’t created one yet. Library orientation: Those pesky librarians are always changing things around…this time, they have adopted a new way to use online resources called MackinVIA. Apparently they have given each student their own login. Go to schoology and open the MackinVIA link. Open the Opposing Viewpoints database. Some people call me a bully (imagine that!) and I want to know just how many news articles are available for me to read under the bullying topic.” Book censorship: “It’s not easy to stop people who want to burn books! For the first step in finding the key, figure out which book is number 6 on the list of books most challenged in 2016 as reported by the Office for Intellectual Freedom.” The Cold War: “You must find the type of uranium used in the center of the secondary fusion device to accomplish the most powerful explosion from the nuclear bomb before the other team. What is it? (Hint: Find Matt Bougie’s Strategic Inventions of the Cold War.)”

Most importantly, HAVE FUN! Use a free website to create fake text messages. I created the following conversation between Truman and Stalin as part of what was in the locked box during the Cold War breakout. You can get really creative with a breakout activity! Use QR codes. Maybe your principal could play a role or make a guest appearance.

Breakout experiences are effective during the Immerse phase because students become exposed to lots of information through solving various clues. Design the clues so students use content area knowledge to solve them. After the breakout experience, debrief students. Have them share answers to clues if they worked on solving different ones. From here, students can choose which aspects they encountered during the breakout to investigate further in the Explore phase.

I hope you have enjoyed my blog posts for this week. I truly believe in the importance of educators making time for what matters and modeling their own curiosity and excitement to learn for their students.

-Jamie Gregory, NBCT, Duncan, SC

@gregorjm    jamie.gregory@spart5.net

An Invitation to Learn

In Monday’s blog post, I asked everyone to dig deep and analyze their own attitudes about time. Today, let’s think about how we present the learning process to our students (which definitely relates to time). In short, is learning a drag, something to merely tolerate? Or is it a process of discovery?

When you want to learn more about something, do you reach for a textbook or Powerpoint presentation? Or do you ask a person, do some research, watch a film or video?

 

What can educators do to establish a warm, inviting, exciting mood for learning? In Guided Inquiry Design, the first three phases of inquiry learning (Open, Immerse, Explore) are critical. Kuhlthau et al establish again and again how important it is not to rush students because establishing a learning purpose affects successful implementation of the rest of the inquiry process.

Educators learn from studying the Open, Immerse, and Explore phases of inquiry learning that they should not begin a unit of study by handing out an assignment. No learning context has been established! Just yesterday a student told me, “We just started reading a speech in English class today and answering questions about it, but I have no idea who was giving the speech and why.”

In my school, students can take an elective called Media Center Service Learning. We have had success implementing a unit on social justice. When we start talking about it, they all inevitably ask, “What is social justice?” That question shows me their lack of previous knowledge, so imagine how ineffective it would be if I simply handed out an assignment sheet or packet on the day we began the unit.

Units of learning should begin with an open invitation to spark students’ curiosity. Students should be curious about lots of things because they typically haven’t had many life experiences yet, so there’s a lot they don’t know. What would make you curious to learn more about something? (Probably not a textbook or PowerPoint presentation.)

At the high school level, I’ve had success using the New York Times Op-Docs website for short documentary clips to engage students and get them thinking. For the example of our social justice unit, here’s one clip we used, featuring an all-girls school in Afghanistan. Students wrote questions during viewing on a shared Google Doc which we discussed after viewing. The clip prompted some great discussions among students who before viewing the clip didn’t know the meaning of social justice. They were astonished to discover some of the information presented in the clip. Some students went on to research the school because they were curious, naturally leading into the Immerse phase of GID.

In Immerse, educators need to give students opportunities to encounter the breadth of the topic. Building background knowledge is critical if students are going to have enough information to eventually narrow down a topic in the Identify phase of GID. During my unit, the students continued their discussion about the clip. I also arranged for some guest speakers to visit my library. A representative from a local organization which works to help victims of human trafficking attended as well as a representative from a local community center and a public librarian. These three individuals spoke with students about how their jobs involve issues of social justice. This event helped show students the breadth of social justice issues around the world but also in our local community. Students took notes and also participated in discussions in inquiry circles. They were particularly interested in the human trafficking organization (SWITCH).

At this point, students have already encountered a great deal of new information as a group. As we transition into the Explore phase of GID, “students browse through various sources of information to explore interesting ideas and prepare to develop their inquiry questions” (Kuhlthau, 2012). In our unit, we prepared 13 stations each featuring an issue of social justice. Students rotated among the stations, writing down questions. We included books, articles, political cartoons, photographs, video clips, and much more. Remember that students should only be browsing, skimming, and scanning at this point. They may feel overwhelmed by the amount of information, and now is not the time to be bogged down in detailed note-taking. As Kuhlthau (2012) states, “when students rush through exploring, their thoughts about their ideas have little opportunity to evolve or develop. As learners slow down and relax, they can read and reflect on the information they are exploring” (79).

Here is proof that GID works: some of my students ended up choosing a topic that was not featured in the Open, Immerse, or Explore phases! These same students who began the unit asking “What is social justice?” had progressed enough to find their own topics. I could not have been more proud of them. And yes, some of these students were reluctant learners.

As an end product, students wrote a letter to a local representative, organization, or newspaper explaining the social justice issue and proposing a solution or course of action. Their end products were much more effective because they were given time to explore issues that interested them and that they cared about. They gained a much clearer, detailed picture of social justice because they moved through the Open, Immerse, and Explore phases. Imagine if I had merely provided them with an assignment sheet including a list of possible topics. The students would not have developed an emotional connection with the unit.

All of these activities took time. Use your fellow teachers and school librarians to collaborate. Branch out into your community and see which learning opportunities are available. Ideas provided in the Open, Immerse, and Explore phases can make learning so very exciting!

-Jamie Gregory, NBCT, Duncan, SC

@gregorjm    jamie.gregory@spart5.net

 

Time and Patience

“Would your learners come back to your class tomorrow if they didn’t have to?” –Trevor Mackenzie

I have a tall order for a Monday morning: we’re being very honest with ourselves today!

If you’re a more experienced teacher, you might realize upon self-reflection that it’s very tempting to fall into a rut. Because, let’s face it, teaching is exhausting. Tailoring instruction to your specific students, allowing for exceptionalities of all types, being creative, giving constructive feedback, entering grades, calling parents… I’ll just stop the list right there.

However, it does us good as educators to be reminded that our attitudes, tone, and demeanor dictate the paths of learning in our classrooms. I think it’s fair to say that in an average American public school, there are a lot of demands being made on teachers which can obscure our vision. How can we break through that fog to rediscover the joy and fun of educating others?

Let Guided Inquiry Design lead the way! This inquiry model isn’t effective solely for the students, but also for the educators. When was the last time you put yourself in your learners’ shoes? Done something you’d never tried before? Read something about which you knew absolutely nothing? Read something that you knew would be very difficult? Put yourself outside of your comfort zone? Engaging in these things makes us feel like learners and discoverers again, which means remembering what it’s like to feel uncomfortable and anxious and overwhelmed. We know this is exactly what happens to learners thanks to the Information Search Process research conducted by Kuhlthau and reaffirmed over the past 2 decades!

This week, I’m going to share some ideas that I plan to present next week at the South Carolina Association of School Librarian (SCASL) conference in Greenville, SC.  I will be encouraging fellow librarians to take steps to foster an inquiry mindset with their students based on the GID model, sharing some successes and struggles I have had. In this blog post today, I’m going to focus on two issues which I personally believe greatly influence our level of success: time and patience.

How many times today have you already said, “I don’t have time for that!”? Keep track and analyze your results. Time hasn’t changed; we still have 24 hours each day! Librarians hear that response a lot when we suggest alternatives to students taking notes from PowerPoint presentations or reading from a textbook. Although we do live in the age of standardized testing, there are still a lot of courses at the high school level which are not tested. Be honest with yourself about how you spend your time with your students. You don’t need to worry about drill-and-kill with content area knowledge if students are encountering your content in authentic texts and authentic learning activities (like visiting a museum, listening to a guest speaker, interviewing their local government representative). Remember yourself as a student. If you didn’t like to read your textbook when you were a student, then there is no chance your own students do.

Have you ever passed out a research assignment to students as the beginning of a unit? Do you only allow students a day or two to find information? Librarians know from experience that research is often presented in this way. If you find yourself dreading a research assignment as much as your students, then you know it’s time for a change. Students who feel pressured to complete work quickly will not turn in quality work, nor will they probably care because an intent to learn has not been established. Yes, exploration and discovery take time. But what a useful way to use the time we have! Partner with fellow teachers and librarians in your building to help brainstorm and share resources. There is never a reason to go it alone.

Be willing to honestly examine your own attitude toward time. You teach your students about what is important through your words, actions, body language, and tone. Make exploration and discovery something you can’t wait to do either, and be the learning role model for your students. As Kuhlthau (2015) states in Guided Inquiry: Learning in the 21st Century, “Guided Inquiry has the power to excite students about using resources for learning” (114). Furthermore, “Sources from the community enliven the inquiry process” (115). Use your time to find resources beyond your textbook or PowerPoint presentation: the school library, fiction, objects, museums, experts, parents, public library, business professionals, community officials.

Guided Inquiry Design states that during inquiry, the learning team “uses modeling, listening, and encouraging” to engage and guide students. Prioritize time in your classroom and library to model curiosity, listen to students throughout their process of discovering information, and encourage questioning.

These ideas naturally lead into the second issue I believe is greatly important: patience. I am the first to admit that I struggle with this one! Patience and time are directly linked. If students are going to build their own knowledge through an inquiry stance and develop information literacy skills, then they have to be the ones doing the learning. We don’t need more research and books to prove that to be true again and again. How many times did it take you to truly learn something well enough that you could teach it to someone else? Probably more than once! Allowing students to make mistakes, maybe even on purpose, so they can learn from them is critical. Avoid telling students answers. Use questioning to guide their thinking.

Moreover, being patient with someone shows that you care. Being patient shows that you are willing to give your time to someone else. When students trust their educators, a safe learning environment is established and they are willing to take more risks which can lead to more discoveries. Be patient with learners as they reflect on their abilities in order to make goals, then give them the time to reach those goals.

Dedicating time and patience to the inquiry process has many rewards! Return to the question which begins this post. Do you even want to return to your classroom? Being excited and curious, having patience, and using authentic sources of information will influence how students answer.

In my next post, I will share some ideas for the Open, Immerse, and Explore phases of GID and why they are so important to the inquiry mindset.

–Jamie Gregory, NBCT Library Media, Duncan, SC

@gregorjm   jamie.gregory@spart5.net

Past GID blog posts: https://52guidedinquiry.edublogs.org/2017/06/19/it-all-starts-with-a-question/; https://52guidedinquiry.edublogs.org/2017/06/21/concepts-and-questioning/; https://52guidedinquiry.edublogs.org/2017/06/23/keyword-inquiry-log/; https://52guidedinquiry.edublogs.org/2017/06/25/individualized-reading-plans-and-reflection/