May 13, 2017

Summer Reading Book Suggestions

The last few weeks of school I discussed with my students the importance of reading over the summer and encouraged them to participate in the public library's summer reading program.  Students who complete the summer reading program can turn in their reading log to Mrs. Merkle when they return to school in August, and receive an invite to an extra recess party to celebrate Greensview's summer readers. 

To keep in touch with students over the summer months, I will be hosting Teacher Tuesdays at Upper Arlington's Lane Road Public Library.  Students can meet up with Greensview Elementary teachers on June 13th, June 27th, July 11th, and July 25th from 3:00pm-4:00pm.  

To get students excited to read over the summer, I book talked some new and exciting books.  Below are the lists organized by grade level.  All of these books can be found at the public library.

Happy summer reading to all my students!  I hope to see you at Teacher Tuesdays at the public library and can't wait celebrate your reading when we return to school in the fall.  May your summer be filled with exciting adventures and experiences, both real and fictional.  Enjoy your summer, day by day and book by book!

Picture Books
Pete the Cat and the Cool Cat Boogie by James Dean
Peterrific (Pinkalicious) by Victoria Kann
Superheroes Have Bad Days by Shelley Becker
Moo Moo in a Tutu by Tim Miller
Night Night, Groot by Brendan Deneen
Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great by Bob Shea
Bob, Not Bob! by Elizabeth Garton Scanlon
Blobfish Throws a Party by Miranda Paul
Be Quiet! by Ryan T. Higgins
The Case of the Stinky Stench by Josh Funk
The Nuts: Keep Rolling by Eric Litwin
Plankton is Pushy by Jonathan Fenske
Sea Monkey & Bob by Aaron Reynolds
Triangle by Mac Barnett
The Legend of Rock, Paper, Scissors by Drew Daywalt
The Good for Nothing Button! by Charise Mericle Harper
I Am Not a Chair! by Ross Burach
We’re All Wonders by R.J. Palacio
Not Quite Narwhal by Jessie Sima
Charlotte and the Rock by Stephen W. Martin
You Don’t Want a Unicorn! by Ame Dyckman

Graphic Novels
Adventures in Cartooning books (4) by James Sturm
Narwhal and Jelly books (2) by Ben Clanton
The Great Pet Escape by Victoria Jamieson
The Bad Guys books (3) by Aaron Blabey

Chapter Books
Lego Nexo Knights books (4) by Tracey West & Kate Howard
Disney Princess Beginnings books (2) by Tessa Roehl
Bad Kitty Takes a Test by Nick Bruel
The Princess in Black #4: Takes a Vacation by Shannon Hale
Rider Woofson books (7) by Walker Styles
Magic Animal Rescue books (2) by E.D. Baker
Press Start! books (2) by Thomas Flintham
Goldie Blox books (2) by Stacy McNulty
Moby Shinobi books (2) by Luke Flowers

GRADES 2 & 3
New Books from a Series
Bad Kitty Takes the Test by Nick Bruel
The Princess in Black #4: Takes a Vacation by Shannon Hale
The 65-Story Treehouse by Andy Griffiths
Hamster Princess #3: Ratpunzel by Ursula Vernon
Hamster Princess #4: Giant Trouble by Ursula Vernon

Graphic Novels
Adventures in Cartooning books (4) by James Sturm
Narwhal and Jelly books (2) by Ben Clanton
CatStonauts books (2) by Drew Brockington
The Great Pet Escape by Victoria Jamieson
The Bad Guys books (3) by Aaron Blabey
Caveboy Dave by aaron Reynolds

Marty Pants by Mark Parisi

Jake the Fake by Craig Robinson
Hamster-saurus Rex books (2) by Tom O’Donnell
Fizzopolis books (3) by Brian Sheesley

Nexo Knights: The Forbidden Power by Max Brallier
Press Start! books (2) by Thomas Flintham
Rider Woofson books (7) by Walker Styles

Third Grade Mermaid by Peter Raymundo
Magic Animal Rescue books (2) by E.D. Baker
Goldie Blox books (2) by Stacy McNulty

GRADES 4 & 5
Trials of Apollo #2: The Dark Prophecy by Rick Riordan
The Gauntlet by Karuna Riazi

Science Fiction
Last Day on Mars by Kevin Emerson

Realistic Fiction
Braced by Alyson Gerber
The Great Treehouse War by Lisa Graff

Historical Fiction
Making Bombs for Hitler by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch

Horizon by Scott Westerfeld

The Goldfish Boy by Lisa Thompson

Graphic Novel
Real Friends by Shannon Hale
Caveboy Dave by Aaron Reynolds
Invisible Emmie by Terri Libenson

Marty Pants by Mark Parisi
Welcome to Wonderland books (2) by Chris Grabenstein 
65-Story Treehouse by Andy Griffith
Max Crumbly books (2) by Rachel Renee Russell
Jake the Fake by Craig Robinson

Animal Fiction
Hamster-saurus Rex books (2) by Tom O’Donnell
Hamster Princess #3: Ratpunzel by Ursula Vernon
Hamster Princess #4: Giant Trouble by Ursula Vernon

Notable Summer Release
Babymouse Tales from the Locker: Lights, Camera, Middle School! by Jennifer Holms (out on July 4th)

May 1, 2017

Breakout EDU in the Library & Classroom

“Can you solve the clues to unlock the box and breakout before time runs out?”  Last fall I kept seeing articles and twitter posts about staffs and students using Breakout boxes in schools.  I was hooked by the idea of students answering riddles and unravel complex clues, turning learning to a fun kind of game!  Needless to say, I wrote a grant and received approval to purchase four Breakout boxes for my school’s makerspace and library program.  My experience with using Breakout EDU boxes with students is mostly positive, but there are a few things to consider.

Breakout EDU boxes engage teams of students in timed challenges.  Each kit includes a large and small lockable box, a hasp lock, an alphabet lock, a directional multi-lock, a three-digit lock, a four-digit lock, a key lock, and a UV light.  In teams, students use these materials to solve a series of riddles, challenges, and mysteries.  Each game is designed so players are immersed in the experience and are racing against the clock to break out before times expires.  The Breakout EDU website has a database of predesigned challenges and provides a template for teachers to create their own.  Each kit costs $125 per box.  More information can be found at  

There are many benefits to Breakout EDU.  The experience is fun and engaging to students while teaching critical thinking, complex problem solving skills, troubleshooting, teamwork, communication, and collaboration.  They support all content areas and can be used with students in grades K-12 - even adults enjoy the breakout experience!  

I’ve done Breakout in a variety of ways.  I’ve done a few small group experiences with students in four groups of 5-6 students working with their own Breakout box and materials.  This type of set up doesn’t require a timer since groups of students simply compete against one another.  The benefit to small groups is that all students get a chance to participate and work with all aspects of the game.  The con is that only one team of 5-6 students wins.  I’ve also done a large group Breakout experience with a whole class of students.  I had multiple boxes that needed to be unlocked, but the entire class had to work together to breakout.  This experience requires a timer, challenging the students to complete with the clock.  The benefit to a large group is that everyone experiences the joy of winning (or the agony of defeat) together.  The con is that sometimes there is not enough activity to engage all students, and some students are left with nothing to do.

Students have enjoyed many features of using the Breakout boxes.  Overall, the kids really like the game-like challenge of breaking out.  The activities are a fresh alternative from the typical learning experience.  The tasks require students to apply their knowledge in a fun and interactive way, allowing them to think outside the box (both literally and figuratively).  They love using the UV light, discovering hidden clues, and solving the mysteries.  I’ve hidden keys in fun locations all around the library and required students to read messages written in code.  

However, there are some aspects of Breakout that students don’t enjoy.  When teams successfully work together and win the game, they are genuinely proud of themselves.  But the teams that argue and lose are down right angry that they don’t win.  The first time I did Breakout, I had 5 happy winners and 18 sad students.  I’ve also seen kids experience anxiety as the clock ticks down, and frustration when things get challenging and confusing.  

To make the tough aspects more enjoyable and help students make the most out of the Breakout experience, I have a few suggestions:

1- Organize students into groups based on ability and personality.  Try to make each group a combination of students that are leaders/followers, high academic ability/low academic ability, good team member/bad team member, etc. 

2- Prior to starting the game, provide students with tips for success.  I encourage students to work together as a team, use kind words, be persistent, and remain positive whether they win or lose.

3- When a team wins, the game doesn’t end.  I allow time for the other groups to finish their experience and can even get help from members of the winning team if needed.  This allows all students to walk away with a sense of understanding and accomplishment despite winning or losing.  

4- Only photograph the winning team members.  To avoid capturing sad faces, I only photograph the winning team.  Sometimes that’s 4-5 student for the small group experiences and sometimes that’s an entire class for the large group experiences.

5- Reflect with students afterwards.  I ask students what they liked about the Breakout experience, to list strengths of their group, consider what their group could have done better, and explain what they could have do differently next time.  

I have a few more recommendations to make your Breakout experience easier.  First, use the pre-made games on the Breakout website.  I find organizing these games rather difficult.  As I put the games together I often feel confused.  I keep going and in the end everything makes sense, but it takes me a little time to get there.  So I truly value the Breakout website’s game library.  Second, teach students about the locks prior to starting the game.  I show the students how the locks work and the proper way to align the code for each lock.  Third, use the “Lock Parking Lot” (this can be printed from the Breakout website).  When students open a lock, they need to bring it to the front of the room and place it in the lock parking lot.  If students keep the locks, they are likely to play with them and possibly disrupt the settings or break them.  website’s game library.

Like our makerspace, the Breakout EDU boxes are an exciting addition to the school’s library program.  If you’re looking for a fun way to challenge students, I highly recommend the Breakout boxes.  Break out of the norm and try something new . . . you’re students will love it!