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Stephen P. Robinson Collaboration Grant Report: The Dunham School

Wednesday, March 8, 2017  
Posted by: Christina Mimms
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Preservice Teachers and Students: Breakout for Critical Thinking

By Nikole Blanchard, The Dunham School and Dr. Debbie Heroman, Louisiana State University

Critical thinking is an essential skill that students need to be successful in their professional and personal lives. According to Gokhale (1995), “Active exchange of ideas within small groups not only increases interest among the participants but also promotes critical thinking.” Research shows that one of the greatest weaknesses in schools is the lack of critical thinking learning activities for students. Hopson, Simms, and Knezek (2001), write, “The creation of a technology-enriched classroom environment has a positive effect on student acquisition of higher-order thinking skills.”

Preservice Teachers and Students: Breakout for Critical Thinking connected The Dunham School and The School of Education at Louisiana State University. The project utilized Breakout Boxes while engaging students in a problem-solving situation requiring the use of critical thinking. Breakout Boxes are wooden boxes with a lock created by Breakout EDU. The box creates an ultra-engaging learning game for people of all ages. Games (also known as breakouts) teach teamwork, problem solving, critical thinking, and troubleshooting by presenting participants with challenges that ignite their natural drive to problem-solve. A completion certification is within the box and viewed by students when the lock code is solved.

Upon SAIS funding the grant, The Dunham School’s Director of Innovation & Technology Nikole Blanchard and Louisiana State University’s Senior Instructor Dr. Debbie Heroman met to discuss logistics of the implementation. Dr. Heroman teaches Integrating Technology into the Classroom for preservice teachers at LSU during the fall, spring, and summer semesters. The LSU School of Education within The College of Human Sciences and Education has an iPad cart with high speed Internet and educational apps. The college classroom setting has a SmartBoard and one-to-one desktop computers. Nikole Blanchard leads the technology program at The Dunham School. As a five-time Apple Distinguished School, The Dunham School seamlessly integrates technology in the curriculum. Every Dunham student from 1st-12th grade has a MacBook Air with a high-speed Internet connection. The 6th grade classroom engaged in this project is equipped with a Promethean ActivBoard, projector and all students have a MacBook Air.

Each Breakout Box arrived with a physical box, a series of locks, invisible ink pens and a flash drive that were used to play Breakout games. Blanchard and Heroman used the Breakout EDU Facebook group and Twitter chat to gather resources and ideas for managing the lessons. Breakout lessons were also accessed and explored using the Google Drive community.

The Breakout lessons were based on the curriculum taught within the 6th grade grammar classroom and planned for 45 minutes. The preservice teachers and 6th graders completed the

Breakout Boxes separately at their campuses and culminated the semester by doing a Breakout lesson together. During the Breakout lessons, the students used the GoPros to video the problem solving in action. We discovered that the GoPros were great for recording video but the audio was very low and hard to hear. Throughout the semester, the students communicated about the Breakout lessons using a blog.

The key to each Breakout Box lesson was the debrief session. During debrief sessions, the students reflected upon how the Breakout box was solved. The goal of the discussion was to allow the students to critique how they worked as a team and the problem-solving methods they used. The GoPro video recordings were used to analyze the steps groups took in order to solve the box. Students also reflected using the shared blog. The discussions between the students on the blog were very positive and encouraging.

Sample Lesson

Breakout Edu Box: Z. Punctuation

Storyline: Hi There, I am Z. Punctuation. I love periods, question marks, exclamation points - you name it, I like it. My parents gave me the right name, didn’t they? Every year, I go on a trip to visit my friend Comma Cutie in Atlanta. We go to the Grammar Fair and have a fun time! If you unlock the box, you can see a picture of me and Comma Cutie!

Using a fake airline ticket, Google forms, silver lock box, videos, text message, Grammar Fair map, word search puzzles, and a letter, the students have to unlock 4 locks.

Blog exchange

LSU student: This box was a bit harder than the first! Work together, keep an open mind, and really look at every little clue you are given!

Dunham student: Since this box was a bit harder to open, my group decided to stay focused more. We also tried to work on one problem at a time so there wouldn't be too much confusion. Thanks for the advice!!

The LSU preservice teachers learned effective lesson strategies for teaching critical thinking and technology implementation in a middle school environment. A preservice teacher shared, “I always wondered how to teach students to use thinking skills. Using BreakoutEDU Boxes in my college class and with Dunham students gave me ideas that I can one day use in my classroom.” The grant also encouraged both sets of students to be involved in tasks that promote teamwork, problem-solving and troubleshooting. A Dunham student explained, “My friends and I had to learn to listen to each other’s ideas. Sometimes the quietest person had the best idea.”

To culminate the grant, the preservice teachers visited The Dunham School to unlock a Breakout Box with the 6th grade students. The students solved a Breakout Box titled “The Story of Ted” which reviewed grammar rules on quotation marks. “I think our groups worked well together today and did most things together instead of breaking off into groups. I enjoyed having the LSU students here. I would like to thank them for doing their best to help us,” wrote a Dunham middle school student. A preservice teacher reflected, “We had a great time coming to your school! It was awesome to see how well you worked together. I love the way you all found context clues from the classroom. I wish we could have helped more, but you all were so efficient!” The preservice teachers took more of a teacher role and facilitated the lesson rather than actively engaged in the lesson. This happened naturally and allowed the preservice teachers to observe the critical thinking and problem-solving of the middle school students.

In recent years, Louisiana State Certification has changed to PK-3, 4-6, and Middle School. This project exposed LSU preservice teachers to the middle school setting prior to their decision on grade level focus. Dr. Heroman stated, “It is important for our future teachers to visit the classroom prior to determining a certification route.”

This project, along with other Dunham and Louisiana State University connections, was selected to be presented at the upcoming International Society of Technology Educators Conference in San Antonio, TX, this summer.


Anuradha, Gokhale. "Collaborative Learning Enhances Critical Thinking." Journal of Technology Education 7.1 (1995). Web.

Hopson, Michael H., Richard L. Simms, and Gerald A. Knezek. "Using a Technology-Enriched Environment to Improve Higher-Order Thinking Skills." Journal of Research on Technology in Education (2001): 109-19. Print. 

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