Digital Breakouts: Google Forms vs. BreakoutEDU digital locks

In the early days of digital BreakoutEDU, digital breakouts were hosted on a single page Google Site (the old version) with a Google Form embedded as the locking mechanism. Part of the challenge was finding the clues which could be hidden in images, linked content or even the white space on the website!

Now digital games from BreakoutEDU feature custom digital locks that look like locks and puzzles or clues on individual pages – when you choose a lock or get to the next one, the designated clue or puzzle pops up for you to focus on. This new model presents a sleek professional looking “game” experience. The BreakoutEDU platform even has lesson plans for building digital breakouts with your students (with a paid teacher account). There is even a classroom space where teachers can monitor student progress in games or builds.

Despite the great work BreakoutEDU has done to continually improve their digital space, I still think that there is a time and place for using the “old-school” Google Forms method.

Most of the puzzle building principles will be the same whether students build a Breakout using the BreakoutEDU digital locks or a Google Form (with or without a Google Site):

  • they will need to build image clues in a design site like Google Drawings, Slides, or Canva
  • they will build puzzles or clues in third party sites like or a rebus builder or a cipher site

And while I do believe that creating in any digital platform teaches kids transferable skills, having students, especially those in Junior High or High School, create their Breakout games in Google Forms sends them on with confidence and deep skills in a tool that they will encounter in many out-of-class endeavours. After creating a Breakout game in a Google Form, students will have Form building skills far beyond the basics, including such abilities as

  • uploading images
  • using data validation
  • using date/time questions

In the end, just the act of having your students create Breakout games on either platform, or even for the physical lock boxes, is an engaging way to have students use critical thinking and collaboration and creativity to produce an authentic product. But for an extra layer of learning a transferable digital tool, do try having for older students build in Google Forms.


Google Keep – New Dark Mode

Google Keep Dark Mode


Although I’m not a huge “dark mode” user, I know this is important for some.  And it’s new and cool. It is interesting how the colour palette translates!

Simply go to the settings cog toward the top right and choose “Enable Dark Mode” or “Disable Dark Mode”.

(And I finally learned how to make a GIF – it’s about time!)

ℂ𝕙𝕒𝕟𝕘𝕖 𝔽𝕠𝕟𝕥 𝕚𝕟 𝔾𝕠𝕠𝕘𝕝𝕖 𝔽𝕠𝕣𝕞𝕤

Whenever I do an in-service on Google Forms, someone invariably asks about the ability to change the font.  While we would all love this feature to be part of Google Forms, it doesn’t exist within the program. As such, I have always had to tell my teachers that, no, this isn’t possible, but you can… create sections, use capital letters for emphasis, etc….

But wait! I just learned about the most exciting hack! It makes so much sense I am a little embarrassed that I didn’t think of this workaround myself.  Here it is:

You simply go to Google and search for a ‘fancy font generator’.  You type your desired text into the generator and copy and paste it into the Google Form. It works in the title spaces, questions, or body of the questions.  Ok, so it does involve quite a few clicks, but it is a great way to bring new life and interest to your forms and surveys! Thanks go out to my ₲ØØ₲ⱠɆ ₵ɆⱤ₮ł₣łɆĐ ₮Ɽ₳ł₦ɆⱤ ₱Ⱡ₦ for this revelation.

The site that I have most enjoyed is This site not only creates fancy fonts, but also has an emoji section.  And 🅨🅔🅢!!!! You can even copy and paste the emojis into your form.  This opens up so many new possibilities for using forms with pre-readers or ELL students! There are lots of font generating sites to chose from.Screen Shot 2019-07-29 at 9.12.15 PM

Although the Font in Forms hack brings me considerable joy, here are some other places this trick would be really helpful:

  • labelling Google Drive Folders – think of the Emojis for pre-readers
  • adding interest to your Social Media account name – you’ve likely seen this in some Twitter handles
  • adding interest to your blog title
  • creating Rebus puzzles
  • signing your email with a unique digital signature

Go on and try it, if you haven’t already!  See, it really does work slick in forms, doesn’t it?

I’d love if you added a comment with other uses for this hack.

Appsmash: BreakoutEDU + Flipgrid

Breakout+ Flipgrid

It’s always a win when you can combine your most beloved tech tools, so I got to thinking how great it would be to combine Flipgrid with a BreakoutEDU game. I’m sure this has been done before, but here are some of my new thoughts and tried and true ideas.

New Ideas

1. Solve a clue to open up the grid password. This is a brand new idea credited to @staffysquad_lpe – I heard about it from Joe & Kristin Merril @MrMerrilsClass and @FriendsinFourth at the Teach with Tech 2019 Virtual Conference #TWTCon2019.  So brilliant that I am going to change my next game to include it! 

2. Complete a Flipgrid response as a clue.  Provide a link to a Flipgrid task (try a QR code or even invisible ink web address to get them there.) Participants must complete the task and then show you the “Congratulations! Your video has landed” message to get the next clue from you.  In this scenario, “correct” might not be as important as the “doing”. The beauty is that, in true Flipgrid fashion, this can be modified to any age, subject, or skill. The task could be so many fun things:

💜an introduction of someone or something     💜a response to a quote or article  💜create a team cheer  💜a team acting out a “tableau” related to a quote or keyword  💜solve a math problem on a whiteboard  💜modelling a conversation  💜demonstrating a skill – each team member does the whole or a part

3. Complete a #Fliphunt!  Best done using the “pause” feature on the camera. Create a document (Word or Google) that outlines the tasks and add it as a topic attachment in Flipgrid, or lock the list or task in a small lockbox along with a link to the Flipgrid grid. Participants might be required to:

💚”spell” a word using letters they find around the classroom  💚find a sequence of shapes or complete a pattern  💚interview some people    💚take a picture of words (nouns) listed in a different language  💚do the actions of words (verbs) listed in a different language  💚Check out this link to a whole grid of #fliphunt topics for different subject areas

As above, showing the successful posting “Congratulations” might be enough, or, you could have them continue on other clues while you have a “Fliphunt checker” (you or another adult in the class) confirm that they have all of the #fliphunt pieces and then hand them the next clue. Include a “Hint” to the next clue if the group has followed instructions for correctly naming their submission!

I would suggest that this not be a hunt that has all students finding the exact same items, as it is only then a challenge for the first group; subsequent groups know where to go, or at least the “area” where the action was taking place.

Tried and True

4. Postgame debrief. I have already been using Flipgrid as an integral part of the postgame debrief. A tough part about using a multi-box Breakout is how to keep the early finishers engaged in something so that they don’t just over-help the remaining groups. BreakoutEdu’s debrief cards are a great place to start, but without someone monitoring, a group can flash through a stack of cards in about a minute. Enter Flipgrid for a great accountability factor.

Breakout EDU debrief cards

Breakout EDU debrief cards

Sometimes I provide groups 5 or 6 debrief cards and a device. I suggest that they discuss them all, but that they need to record a group answer for at least two of the prompts. Not only does this keep them occupied in a great critical-thinking meta-cognition activity, but the quality of their responses increases greatly as they decide which questions to answer and then fine-tune their response as they record.

5. Postgame class interview. Other times, if the class hasn’t used Flipgrid often or at all, we will wait until the end of the game and have a whole class debrief. Here the teacher reads the question cards to the class, and as an Instructional Coach, I use the start/pause button to move around the class recording.  Here’s an example.

The best part is that I create a Mixtape of students who have answered the question about advice to other groups. I then play this Mixtape to the next group of students who are doing a Breakout box for the first time.

Have you embedded a Flipgrid activity into your BreakoutEDU game? If you’ve tried it, I’d love to hear about it – leave a commentBreakout+ Flipgrid

Flipgrid AR – a new twist!


If you are Flipgrid fan, chances are you may have heard rumblings about #FlipgridAR.  This is another one of those edtech unveilings that happen around ISTE time. But many people do not quite know what AR is!  Here is a quick differentiation:

VR (Virtual Reality) is when you immerse yourself or your students into a totally different world – you get ‘transported’ elsewhere, such as floating among planets in outer space.

AR (Augmented Reality) is when you bring an ‘augmentation’, an ‘other, into your existing reality, such as bringing the Solar System into your classroom.

So, Fligrid AR essentially flips an existing Flipgrid video into your world.  When you try this out, it is important that you access the QR code to a specific video, not just the topic or the grid.  If you use the QR code for the grid, you just get the grid on your phone or iPad like you normally would.

Here is the Flipgrid blogpost that unleashes Flipgrid AR, and Flipgrid’s How-To AR

Here are some places or occasions where Flipgrid AR would be super cool:

  • to accompany favourite book choices or perhaps attached to a book cover
  • a teacher welcome message outside their classroom or at a Welcome Night
  • explanations of student artwork
  • teacher explanations for centers – including in the gym or weight room!
  • Flipgird AR stickers for instructions or reviews on Maker Space materials
  • ….of course, the possibilities will be endless


Thanks, Flipgrid, for another cool way to use your tool!

Jigsawplanet – a Great Tool for Digital Breakout

There are lots of great digital tools that can easily be used in a digital breakout game or as a digital component in a physical game.

One of my favourites is to incorporate a link to a puzzle at .

To use jigsawplanet you need to upload an image file such as a .jpg or a .png, so ultimately for a breakout you would create a visual clue such as a riddle, a colour pattern, or some other clue element.

As a result, a jigsawplanet puzzle becomes a multi-element clue.

1. The first element is the manner in which you get the link to the students – something like a hidden QR code, or a web address written in invisible link, for example. My preference is to convert the link that jigsawplanet generates into a short link, preferably customized into a phrase that suits your puzzle.

2. The second element is just the puzzle itself. A puzzle of 24-30 pieces is just right, unless the image is very difficult. Any higher number of pieces makes the puzzle more difficult than it needs to be.

3. The third element is the clue itself that you create that leads you to unlock an actual lock. Perhaps a riddle that unlocks a word lock. Perhaps a math equation that opens a 3 or 4 digit lock. Perhaps an image that includes directional lock clues. Perhaps a slew of colours that can be arranged to unlock a colour lock.

Click the links below to check out some jigsawplanet puzzles that are used for Breakout Clues.

Marco Polo – For When your Kids Leave Home

Within a few months of this past September, all 3 of our teenagers moved out of the house- one to Sweden, one to Australia, and one to university 2 hours down the highway. Of course, Social Media somehow makes this a little easier than when we moved away from home back in the 1990s and you planned to call every second Sunday at 8pm… and could only afford to talk for 10 minutes.

We started out connecting with a clan-wide What’s App chat, as not every kid had a data plan, and you can What’s App any time you had airport wifi, for example. This was a good way to keep everyone in the loop.

Then there was the Instagram ‘story’ issue. The kids would almost only post to their Instagram stories (with a 24-hour shelf life) instead of their stream (more permanent); this was problematic as their mother, and certainly their grandmother, missed lots of their updates as we are less indentured to social media and often missed the 24-hour window. A plea to post to the stream instead was not even entertained, as apparently that would be too spammy. Who knew.

We still use What’s App, but a few months in, one of our babes suggested that Marco Polo would be more efficient during her limited wifi availability. None of the rest of us knew what Marco Polo was, nor were we excited to have yet another Social Media account. So what is Marco Polo, anyway, you ask? I’ve heard some describe it as a “video walkie-talkie”, which I guess is mostly how we use it. We have our family connected in a chat. At any time, a family member can open the chat, press play and record an update, or flip the camera to show what interesting place or city they are exploring. At first the girls used it when there was some fantastic place they wanted to show us. Then mom and dad realized we could leverage it to keep the home fires burning….supper at Grandma’s house….cutting down the trees in the front yard… camping at a favourite spot, sans kids…planting the garden without any child labour…. Turns out the kids enjoyed the moments from home too, and our university son even started showing off the gourmet meals he was bbqing and his trips to the local farmers market.

Marco Polo – highly recommended when your kids move away.

Big Kids building Breakout Games for Little Kids


A great way to get the attention of junior high school boys – locks and boxes!

Teachers at Burdett School really seem to love Breakout Edu.  By the end of our second year as Instructional Coaches, we will have run at least seven of our different Breakout Games at this school, with each grade level having had between two and four different Breakout experiences. It has been fascinating to watch how the group work skills and perseverance levels have changed as students experience another new Breakout Mystery for the third or fourth time.

As a result of this growing Breakout expertise, it was not surprising to be asked to come along-side rookie teacher, Ms. R, as she endeavoured to host a “Breakout” option class. She has her seventh-grade science students for an option “CTF”  course and needed a project/topic. Her initial idea was that the seventh-grade science students would create a Breakout game related to the Building Materials Unit in her third-grade science class. Although the students in both grades had experienced Breakout Box challenges, Ms. R. had not, so I agreed to come out to her school as often as I could to help, as long as she fully understood that this project would be messy!

There has been a winding road of analyzing, planning, prototyping, testing, remodelling and offering feedback to peers as this project has progressed. As students are less accustomed to providing feedback that is kind, helpful and specific, this step near the end of the project is a challenge in itself, yet it has been powerful to watch students want to modify their own puzzles after testing the puzzle of a different group.

So, here we are in the testing phase.  This is really one of the “messy” parts of a project like this, especially since we have a real audience of third graders, not only at this school but potentially across our school district!

We will certainly update once the locks are on the boxes and the third graders have had a go!

Connecting Virtual Rural Classrooms with PearDeck

In our southern Alberta rural school district we have many very small schools. Sometimes there are only three or four, or even one or two students in a grade level. In primary and elementary levels the solution is triple graded classrooms, however, this is less practical or realistic once students hit junior high. One solution that our district has employed is the development of a robust video conferencing network, supported by reliable technology.

While our division has been connecting classrooms via video conferencing for over a dozen years, the supporting technology has changed and sometimes outpaced the technology that our teachers are using. In the early days of video conferencing teacher assistants would fax and/or email student assignments back-and-forth to the teacher to be marked. Of course, this was time-consuming, and the time it took to digitize these paper products added to the length of time students waited for projects and assignments to be marked and returned. As technology has become more 1 to 1 it is important that our teachers shift from the fax and email mentality to using the many tools that are now available to not only make accessing work easier, but also more engaging.

Our ninth grade video conference math teacher is located in one of our larger centres but teaches math to four different school sites, each with 1 to 5 students.

Math 9 via Video Conference

5 sites are joined via video conference for Math 9

Each group of students is assisted by an Education Assistant (EA) who helps with the content on site, as well as the logistics of getting materials back-and-forth. Despite the support, it is still a challenge to keep students on task and to help them as much as they need. To alleviate this, we have been working together to come up with solutions for this teacher and one of the very best has been in the form of Pear Deck.

The Video Conferencing Pear Deck Revolution

The teacher pushes her Google Slides lesson out to the students and they join the Pear Deck session on an iPad. As they work through the lessons, she can watch in real time as students respond to questions.

Pear Deck real time

The video conference teacher using Pear Deck can see thumbnails as each student answers questions in real time – from 5 different sites.

Unlike some other platforms of this nature, students do not have to press submit to send their work. This is very important in this situation because the teacher can see who is stalling, off task, or struggling. After the modelling portion of the lesson, the teacher turns the lesson setting to “student-paced” so students are able to work through remaining questions/slides at their own pace, while the teacher can move between slides to support individual students.

At the end of the lesson, the teacher publishes “student take-aways” – a premium feature – which automatically puts a Google Doc copy of all notes/slides and a copy of the student responses into a Pear Deck folder in each student’s Google Drive, organized by lesson date and title. The teacher also has a copy of this document for each student so she can use portions of it for individual assessment if desired.

Other video conference classes in our district have also been using Pear Deck, but since they are humanities-based, students can type many of their responses on Chromebooks. Trying to have students type Math just to use Pear Deck would be a deal breaker, so we have found enough iPads (sometimes old ones) to allow each student to use a stylus + iPad to “write” their math. This has taken some getting used to, but it is becoming more normal. We have solved the issue of “not enough writing space” by increasing the custom slide length in Google Slides – this allows the students to scroll down to continue their answer, something they can’t do when the lesson is on a standard-sized slide.

Of course, there will be ‘bad internet days’ when a cloud-based technology like Pear Deck just doesn’t work.  Fortunately, there is always pencil and paper as a backup!

Takeaways from District Wide FlipGrid Book study

Back in November of this school year, we decided to bridge the 29 000 square km of our rural school district with some virtual PD in the form of a first-ever PRSD8 FlipGrid Book Study. flipgrid-700x403 Midway through the study as we paused for Christmas break, we were experiencing some great successes and some sure signs of disconnect.

Despite initial excitement, in many ways, this experiment in virtual Professional Development was somewhat disappointing if you consider some of the statistics:

  • by the end of the study right before our February break, only two of the original 16 participants had completed almost all of the suggested posts
  • about a quarter of the group did not get past Chapter 1
  • by the time we broke for Christmas, less than 40% of participants were still responding.Screen Shot 2019-03-10 at 6.31.22 PM

However, our feedback suggests that it is feasible to try again:

  • We had 13% completion, but whenever I watch a Seth Godin interview, he often mentions that only 5-10 % of people actually complete online courses.  So, I guess that we should see our 13% completion as positive!
  • Over 85% would try a FlipGrid book study again or recommend it to a colleague
  • 90% found the FlipGrid format easy to use and also appreciated not having to drive
  • 70% enjoyed “talking” their responses instead of having to write them

But when we match the reality of the completion data with the post-survey feedback, it is obvious that we do need to make some changes.  Here are some of the most commonly repeated suggestions from participants:

  • We should start with an “in person” get together to help everyone feel more comfortable with each other
  • YES to some sort of regular email or Remind reminder just before responses are due
  • We should remind members who do not like to see themselves on video that they can just put a picture of their cat, dog, pile of marking  etc. in front of the camera, thus just providing us with audio
  • We should post our chapter discussion prompts further in advance

Since these are all do-able suggestions, perhaps we will try again!