Breaking Into a New Era of #EdCampNJ


EdCamp in a bubble. Welcome to EdCampNJ where, for the first time I spent the majority of my day working instead of being an active participant in general EdCamp Sessions. This was a completely different experience for me. Despite having been involved in the leadership and planning of EdCamps in the past, I found this year was extremely different.

One aspect, was the incredible opportunity to join the transition team for a collection of new people to take over I joined passionate, innovative educators like Chris Nesi, Chrissy Romano Arrabito, Stacey Lindes, Justin Schleider, Dan Borghoff, Bibiana Prada, AJ Bianco, Sandra Paul, Rob Pennington, Rebecca McLelland-Crawley and many more (there are in creating a smooth transition from the original team that created and led EdCampNJ to be one of the country’s premiere EdCamps. Having the opportunity to work with these people, to ride their coattails a bit, and to learn about the planning process from Billy Krakower, one of the original founders of EdCampNJ was all part of an amazing experience leading up to the day.

I can say from experience that this group of people cares profoundly about creating the best learning opportunity possible. The planning that went into the event, the ideas, the discussions were far beyond what most people saw on the day. Many of those ideas never make it out of the discussion phase, but the goal was clear: create a vision for the future of EdCamp. The planning has not stopped. This amazing group has continued to talk immediately after the event, planning, discussing how to make future EdCamps better, and reviewing feedback that people are sharing on their surveys. Being a part of this team is amazing. I have every confidence that the events put together by this crew will lead to amazing things going forward. The team for EdCampNJ is going to deliver an incredible day of learning, passion, and empowerment for educators going forward.


(The Room where it happened. Thomas Grover Middle School Cafeteria to start the day!)

The day of the event was a whirlwind. For the first time during an EdCamp I took on a day long job during the event. I had expected to feel as though I’d missed out, to feel let down by being “locked up” in a certain place. In the original plan, I was set to be a part of the prize patrol. I would be visiting sessions and giving away some of the great donations from the day. During the planning phase however, I suggested a room to play, discuss, and experience BreakOut Edu. It quickly morphed into a day long commitment. The plan was for me to “breakout” of that space for a little while, but it became overwhelmingly popular.

(Groups of attendees in the common area, attempting digital breakouts, sharing ideas and resources)

(Left:Mr Flexon examines the locks. Right: Hadley Ferguson, Billy Krakower, and Rob Pennington grab a reward- EdCamp Swag!)

After creating a game that was designed for EdCampNJ, I ran the experience between 8-10 times for different groups. With the high speed nature of resetting, watching and assisting where teams were working their way through the puzzles, and having discussions about application of Breakout to different areas, my day flew by. What was the same however, as in other EdCamps was the inspired feeling, the positivity and passion that I gained. Between the many conversations that I had about the breakout room, to having Hadley Ferguson laughing and smiling with joy at discovering the answer to various riddles, the day was energizing and exciting.

One highlight was having Chrissy Romano Arrabito shout with near giddy excitement at knowing the answer to one of the puzzles. (Chrissy was there taking pictures and had previously expressed her sincere dislike for “those types of things”.)

I thought that I would miss having the great discussions that led to quality learning, but instead I found the opposite. The day solidified the goals, value, and purpose of using BreakOut Edu in the school setting. I was repeatedly asked to explain the curriculum connections, but the best question was, “what is the purpose of this? What will my students get from it?”

(A group works together to find uses for a tool they have discovered… a blacklight pen)

The answer that I came to was this: BreakOut doesn’t just get people to communicate and collaborate effectively, it necessitates players to be critical consumers of information. Players need to view a number of pieces of information through text, media, and the world around them. They have to be critical of that information and look for alternate meanings Rather than take in what they see at face value, players need to evaluate their surroundings, their information resources, and use that information to solve problems.


(Image of a group from Rider University with a few other participants-Fastest time of completion!)

The day ended with a wonderful celebration of all the hard work that went into creating EdCampNJ, which quickly turned into a reflection on how to make it better. It is one of the reasons I love working with this group. They are non-stop. As a group we took some time to celebrate the success of the event, appreciate it all, and then get right back to making it better. I feel like this event was the best EdCamp for me yet, because I get to continue the conversation, invest in building the future of EdCamp, and continue to develop quality relationships with some inspiring leaders in my area.


Build a Digital BreakOut using GSuite

Last Tuesday I taught a district PD class on Building Interactive Digital Games.  I realized I was sharing so many different things, so quickly, to make sure we fit everything in within the hour time frame, that it may have been a whirlwind for many of the participants, so I decided to write it out, make it easier to follow, so that anyone can make it themselves!


Where do you start?

With so many tiny steps, it seems like it could be anywhere, but for me, it starts with a simple question where any good lesson plan begins: What do you want your kids to get out of this?

Obviously you want them to communicate, collaborate, problem solve, and demonstrate resilience through multiple challenges.  What content do you want to center this game around?  That content will be your guide. Pick 3 or 4 key details you want to build the rest of your game.


I then move to a simple table like this to help me build.


I can change the locks to fit whatever I need. This is just a standard BreakOut Edu planning page.  For example: for a game I built on changing states of matter, I have an “atomic lock”, a “solids”, “liquids”, and “gasses” lock as well.

Step 2: Decide Your Answers

Once you have decided what the topic is and what the most important things your students ought to remember are going to be, it is time to pick your lock answers.  Now I am narrowing the topics (atoms, solids, liquids, gasses) into some very specific ideas.  I wanted kids to know about melting points and changes of that matter, so I pick specific terms and numbers that will focus on changes in states of matter.  I pick my 3-5 answers.  I don’t need the clues yet, just know your answers.


Step 3: Determine Your Resources

Where are your kids getting their information?  Using YouTube, Google Arts and Culture, Slides presentations, articles, letters, primary resources, or whatever else, you can create a scenario where your students review a significant amount of information while focusing their critical reading/viewing skills on the information what will eventually become your clues.

If a YouTube video is long, use a editing tool like EdPuzzle.  You can also use EdPuzzle to focus people’s attention on details or add a hint/clue.

Once you know what your resources are going to be for students to find the content, you are FINALLY ready to start creating your story.


Step 4: Tell a Story

This step will be broke up into some smaller parts to help make it simpler.

Part 1:

It is time to create the story.  Your story includes the premise for the game.  Mine usually involve some outrageously odd super villain that likes to steal candy.  Whatever you decide is the premise, remember, it doesn’t have to be amazing.  Most of the stories I have made are absurd or absurdly bad.  The point is your story can help you frame your clues.  Your clues should be a part of the story with information missing that leads them to a specific part of the resources you’ve shared.  Again, it isn’t about making it an amazing story, just guiding kids toward the information and making them read and think critically about the information they are consuming.

Part 2:

Decide your platform:

Do you want to create a simple Google Form (this is the simplest way.) Here is how:


  1. Add your clue
  2. Click on the three small dots (the snowman) next to where it says “required” and select “Data Validation”
  3. Numbers must be set to Equal to, Text should be set to “contains” and you must input a custom Error text.  This would be a good place to add an extra hint.
  4. Make sure you select “Required”
  5. Click the two lines on the far right (looks like an equal sign) to add a new section.  If you do it this way, players must complete each lock in sequence.

Embed Everything into a Site:

  1. Start by creating a new Site in Google Sites.  If this sounds crazy or too hard, just go to and click “create new” and blank template.
  2. Give your site a name.
  3. Click on the pencil to edit your new site.
  4. Click on the “insert” tab and add a Google Form.  The form you add should have been made the same way as above, only you don’t NEED to create sections.  This will allow players to shift from one question to another if they get stuck.
  5. When you insert pictures into your site, click on them and you will see a link. (This is the link to the web address for the picture.) You can then click “change” and add your own link, or select the tab that lets you choose your own sites and link it to different pages on your site.
  6. Add pages with resource content.  To add videos you may need to insert a “gadget”.  If you click on insert and select “more gadgets” you need the iFrame gadget, then when you click on “share” from YouTube or EdPuzzle, choose “embed code” and add it to your site.
  7. Take off the NAVIGATION BAR! This is simple.  Save all your work in Sites and then click on the settings gear.  Select “Edit Site Layout” and then click on the navigation bar and find the X to get rid of it.  It will look like the image below.


This is what the Navigation Bar will look like after you have “x”ed it out.

You can get as fancy or as simplistic with your site as you would like.  What is most important is that your game players have the opportunity access all the materials.


Game Ending: 

In the most recent games I have made I have been getting a bit more creative with the endings.  Many digital games do not require any physical box to open.  I have found kids really like opening the box, even if the game is all online.  What does this mean? It means I leave clues in different languages, hide the lock combination in blacklight marker, hide a bitly link or QR Code for them to find, or any other type of misdirection.  It isn’t necessary, but it does add a little fun to the game for both you and them.


Play Your Game!

I cannot stress this enough.  Play the game as a player.  Even have someone else try it.  I have learned from experience that if you don’t actually try the game out, it can very quickly show your mistakes while kids are working in the room.  There is nothing more frustrating for kids than getting the answers to the riddle correct but the lock doesn’t “open”.  Once you have done all the work (It looks like a lot more than it is) than you just test it out (it’s easy, you know the answers already.)  You are not ready to share this game with kids.  A link to the Form or Site you created will be more than enough.

Finally, Have FUN! During the game, walk around and listen, observe, give Hints as teams request them (I typically allow each team 1 per game) and enjoy the engagement and excitement of the activity.


Additional Note: The more you play games, the better you get at them and the more great ideas you will start having to create fantastic, engaging learning experiences for anyone.