Sunday, October 21, 2018

Escape to

I've written several times about the amazing free tools at In fact, when I am looking for a way to get people interested in spreadsheets, I almost always use Flippity because once people see the variety of the tools, and how easy it is to create them, they are hooked. This weekend, when I teaching a Google class, I revisited Flippity as part of my Sheets lesson and found a new addition to the family: a Breakout tool!

Breakout games and escape rooms have become all the rage. Teachers are crafting lessons where students have to apply content knowledge to decode clues and open locks. Presenters are sharing breakouts at conferences in all content areas. And escape rooms aren't just for school. They are popping up all over for team-building, challenge seekers, or just a night of fun.

The trend to use breakout activities in classrooms meant a great demand for boxes. The one I purchased was $100, so if you wanted several for your classroom, you have to have a good budget to get them. Then there is the time it takes to create a great lesson, or the fee you pay to sites to find a lesson, and the time it takes to program all the locks. It's no surprise that digital breakouts emerged. That's what the tool at is, a digital breakout tool.

Head over to Flippity and take a look at the demo. Then download the template. It's a Google Sheet with eight lines, one for each lock. You delete the text in the cells and create your own clues and combinations. Then publish the template to the web, grab the link to share the game, and you are ready to go.

When you play the game, you will see red locks until you solve the puzzles and open the locks. Then they turn green.

This is a free tool, but it is very slick and includes many awesome options:
  • Make the answers case-sensitive. Or don't.
  • Make the locks open in a certain order or a random order.
  • Include images, videos, links, Google Docs or Drawings, and even Desmos graphs or EquatIO equations.
  • Customize the initial instructions, hint warnings, and completion text.
If you have been wanting to try a breakout game in your classroom, now is the time. If you can type things into a spreadsheet (and, of course, you can!), you can create an engaging lesson for kids without spending anything on a box and locks or a membership to a service to access lessons. Once you create your lesson with Flippity, I hope you'll share it with others!

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Get Ready for Conferences

In most districts around me, October is the month when Parent-Teacher Conferences happen. Conferences are a great time to talk about student goals and progress, but they are also a great time to connect with parents and talk about ways to support students at home as they work on material they are learning at school. One of the most important ways to do this is to create a way for parents to access assignments. I like to do that with Google Calendar.

It's very easy to create a Google Calendar for your class. Go to and click on the + that is underneath the small month calendar on the right hand side.

 Then click on New calendar.

Give your calendar a title that matches your class and start adding assignments and class happenings as events. I like to make my class happenings "all day" events so they show on the calendar as a colored bar at the top of that date.

The next step to make this a shareable resource with students and parents is to go into settings and mark the calendar as Public. Then copy and share the public link to the calendar with your students and parents. Here is a short video I made to show how this works:

Quick hack for Google Classroom teachers: Google Classroom is notoriously unhelpful for parents because parents can't join Google Classrooms. If you are creating assignments and posts in Google Classroom, they get automatically entered on a calendar that matches your Google Classroom. You can follow the steps above to make that calendar public and share it with parents so they can see what has been assigned in your class even though they can't join the class!

When you sit down with parents at conferences this month, be sure to share with parents how they can help at home. You might have a system that you love for sharing the information with students, but consider whether or not that system makes sense for parents too. As a parent myself, I sometimes feel frustrated that I didn't encourage my child to study for a test or polish a presentation because I didn't know it was happening. Having access to a calendar that shows what is happening in class and what is assigned to the class is a great first step to helping parents help your students.