Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Kicking Off Innovative Thinking with BreakoutEDU

Our school district is entering our sixth year in our 1:1 Apple device program. That means the students in 5th-grade were in Kindergarten during our first year in the program. They entered the public school system with a smartboard in their classrooms and a device in their hands. 

One of these 5th-grade teachers, Lori Horne, wanted to use Breakout EDU to help build community at the beginning of the school year. After looking over a few, we both just loved the "Totally Radical 80s Time Travel Adventure," mostly for our own nostalgic reasons. Who wouldn't want a reason to dust off the overhead projector and dig the floppy disks out of that storage closet!        

Cassette tapes, overhead projector, and Oregon Trail clues for 80s Breakout EDU

The purpose was to build community with the activity, but as her class embarked on the Breakout EDU adventure, it did more than just build community. The premise was Carmen San Diego snuck into the classroom over lunch, stole the iPads and replaced them with 80s technology. Now the class of "gumshoes" has to use the clues to solve the mystery and save their iPads! Students discovered how to use an overhead, had to figure out the name of floppy disks, and explored music on cassette tapes. It was like watching scientists discover a new species as they studied each object with wonder. As we had fun watching them discover what once was considered innovative, this also set the stage for a conversation about past, present, and future technology to get the students thinking.   

Student discovering an overhead projector, and even trying to insert a disk into it!

The activity was a great opportunity to show the students the technology that was innovative early in our teaching careers. The conversation after the activity held the real power. The students were able to reflect on the growth of technology in the last 30+ years. As they look at the technology they have today, some may think that this is the best it can be, others will think, there has to be a better way. These are the innovators of the future. The students sitting in front of us are the generation that will take it even further. To do this, coding, engineering, and computer science are essential skills to keep our society moving forward. Students need to have the mindset to solve problems that we don't even know are problems yet.

In Lori's class, she is setting the stage for the year and creating innovative thinkers. In her class, these students will experience design thinking, coding, and STEM activities design to get them to analyze the world around them. I am grateful we have the resources to supply them with these activities and teachers that have the capacity to do so.   

It makes me wonder about schools where this type of retro technology is still the norm. Cassette players with books on tape, overhead projectors, and TVs on carts. Is this the environment that is going to prepare the next generation of innovators?       

We left the students with the thought that the iPad in their hand today is the worst technology that they will have available to them. George Couros shared this idea as he spoke at iEngage Berwyn in 2016. Technology is only going to get better. It is up to them to solve problems that we didn't know were problems and get them thinking about the world around them so they can make it better.