Can You Lift It?

Are you looking for a team building activity for your class? Maybe it’s the beginning of the year and your students are still getting to know one another? Or it’s the middle of the year and you’ve found your class has fallen into the slump where they are not respecting one another and need a reminder about how to successfully work together as a team? Lucky for you, I have the perfect team building activity for all grade levels!

All you need is the following supplies:

  • binder ring - any size, but I used a 3 inch

  • yarn

  • random supplies to balance

    • I used the following items:

      • a ball

      • cone

      • tin can with objects balancing on top

      • ball of yarn

      • stuffed animals - small ones and big ones that aren’t as stable

      • matchbox car on top of the tin can

Here’s a step-by-step guide to making this activity come to life!

  1. cut yarn to length

  2. tie 1 piece of yarn for each student on the binder ring

  3. have students sit in a circle holding the string

  4. start the binder ring on the ground with an object sitting on top of it

  5. students must work together as a team to lift the object off the group to a standing position and back down to the ground without falling off

Tips & Tricks:

  • Identify a team leader. Only the team leader can give direct instructions about what should happen (ex. when to lift the string, how tightly to hold the string, how quickly to lift the object).

  • If a student wants to give a suggestion to the team leader they must raise their hand.

  • If you find your students are having easy success with lifting the objects, try something new - have them lift the objects off the ground and walk through the door or down the hallway! Differentiate the activity for each class and where they’re at in the moment.

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You’ll find your students leave the activity feeling more like one family. They’ve learned to talk through their frustrations, give advice, encourage one another, and experience both failure and success! Failure is important because they will learn more than a project that provides no challenge. Push your students to learn to grapple with the hard tasks and they’ll be better for it!

Here is an extra bonus for you - check out the presentation that I use with my students to go through the challenge. If you do this challenge with your students, share it with me! Tag me on Twitter @ImagineerSTEAM, so I can see you and your students in action.

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Do You Have a Teaching Partner?

Stop and think about this question for a minute - Do you have a relationship with another colleague or team of teachers that you collaborate with on a regular basis?

I’m not talking about swapping worksheets to give students or comparing data at a meeting. I mean diving into planning a project together, formulating a unit of study, presenting on or attending professional development opportunities. Maybe you’re a veteran teacher and if you feel like you don’t need to “rely” on someone else or you’re the opposite - a new teacher and you haven’t found that someone yet. Well I have a goal for you - find a colleague that can become your teaching partner.

  1. Surround yourself with people who are like-minded. They are there for the kids!

  2. Try bouncing teaching ideas off people. Are they eager to plan with you? Do they encourage you to build on your ideas? Or better yet, they help shape your ideas into something even better!

  3. Ask this person to try planning an activity with you! Maybe they aren’t on your grade level? That’s ok! How can you collaborate? Think reading buddies, social-emotional learning buddies, community service project, project-based learning across content areas?

  4. Above all, find someone who’s going to encourage you, lift you up, and make you a better teacher!

We can’t do this teaching thing alone. You need people who you can talk to during the hard days, encourage you to run with “crazy” ideas, and help create a community within your teaching circle. So go out there. Find your teaching partner. And if you already have one, how can you create more together?

10 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Me

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  1. I’m a huge Disney fan! And if you are too, you probably knew that from the title of my blog - Imagineer STEAM. Imagineers are creative engineers for Disney who constantly amaze us with new and innovate things that make us all feel like a kid again.

  2. Swimming is a large part of my life. I swam competitively for 14 years, taught swimming lessons for 10 years, was a life guard for 4 years, and coached swim team for 3 years.

  3. I love to travel! You name it and I’m there!

  4. I studied abroad in Spain for a short college course.

  5. I was a biology major in college and thought I would go to medical school until my first Human Anatomy and Physiology class and decided it wasn’t for me and instead added on an education minor.

  6. I met my now husband the first day of college orientation. (awwww…)

  7. I love cruising, specifically Disney Cruise Line! What can I say, Disney just does everything the best!

  8. I’m very passionate about helping pediatric cancer patients and their families, which is why I thought I wanted to go to medical school. I actually lost my friend to neuroblastoma when I was 16.

  9. Christmas is my favorite holiday, and I could sit in front of the Hallmark channel and be perfectly content.

  10. I love animals, but especially cats - I know probably the most controversial one of all! My cat Twister is definitely my first baby.

Now it’s your turn! Share with other people something new about you. Maybe it’s with your students, their parents, your colleagues, or your PLN on Twitter! But find a new way to connect with people today.

STEAM on a Budget

STEAM on a Budget

So you’ve caught the STEAM bug! You been seeing teachers talk about it on Twitter, pins on Pinterest, and it’s always been in the back of your mind. You want to start, but you’re fearful of the cost. Well no worries! I’m here to share quick and easy ideas to get STEAM started in your classroom.

STEAM isn’t only about the latest robot or expensive consumable products. You can make a lot of headway in your classroom by using both recyclables and cheap, consumables.

Read More

Summer Break

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Summer Break. If you ask a teacher they most likely wouldn’t agree that it’s a “break”. We have meetings, lesson plan ideas, conferences, and professional development that we still attend during the summer. So no, we don’t just hang up our hat for 10 weeks straight and completely forget about our classrooms.

But I’m here to say, yes, I’ve taken a “break” while traveling with my family and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. My son is only going to be this small once, I’ve had the pleasure of seeing his “firsts” this summer! First time sitting up, clapping, all the new solid foods, going to the pool, flying, visiting friends and family, being the first one he sees in the morning and the last one to kiss him goodnight. And I’m not afraid to say I’m enjoying every minute. I’m still reading my professional development books, jotting down lesson ideas, applying to present at conferences, and sending emails to colleagues, but instead of doing that in my classroom in a 7:30-3:15pm setting, I’m doing it on a lounge chair by the beach as my 7-month old sleeps to the sound of waves rolling in.

So teachers, soak it up. Enjoy your “break”. Travel with family. Sleep in. Go out to eat with friends. And come back rejuvenated for your students. Because they deserve it and you deserve it.

Why DonorsChoose.org?

Do you ever feel like you have new, exciting lessons and project ideas running through your head, but they immediately get stopped in their tracks when you realize you don’t have funding to get the materials? We’ve all been there, but luckily we have a pretty amazing group of people who want to help educators with this exact problem!

I got the opportunity to start the STEAM program at my school from scratch, which was super exciting. The only problem was the program was added too late for me to have any funding for materials. What was I supposed to do?

I turned to DonorsChoose.org, a crowd-funding website solely for public school teachers!

You’re probably wondering, where do I start?! I was sitting in your shoes about 6 years ago. Here is how I navigated posting my first project.

  1. Search through projects that other people have posted.

  2. Make a list of materials you want for your classroom - think big, small, and everything in between.

  3. Look at what match offers they currently have listed. **This provides the most bang for your buck - literally! 95% of the time, I only post a project that has a match offer to start with.**

  4. Write an engaging description of your students and project.

  5. Come up with a catchy title! **So important because you want to stand out!**

  6. Post your project and don’t be afraid to share it with others (social media, email, school website, etc.).

  7. Be patient!

That last step is the hardest. Whenever I post a project I get really excited about using the materials, but I have to remind myself, even after having 38 projects fully funded, that patience is key. Sometimes my projects are funded very quickly and other times months go by and they’re about to expire, but someone pulls through and sprinkles a surprise!

If you need examples from my projects you can check out my page here.

Click here to get started today!

If you need help, head to my contact page and send me an email. I will answer any questions you have!

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K-2 Can Too

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Raise your hand if you’re a K-2 teacher!

Just a few years ago I wouldn’t have raised my hand, but now I’m a K-5 STEAM Teacher, so I have the privilege of teaching them all!

You’ve heard about teachers adding STEM/STEAM to their classrooms, but you’re not sure where to start? Maybe you’re afraid that your young kiddos can’t handle it? I’m here to tell you that, just like reading and writing, this is where the foundations for STEM/STEAM begin!

The basics of STEM/STEAM is embedded in creative, imaginative play, which is exactly what we want all of our students doing, but especially our K-2 students. During the first week of STEAM class I always have my K-2 students building with LEGO and you wouldn’t believe how many students look at me like I have two heads…no not because they are bored and play with LEGO all of the time. Actually quite the opposite.

They don’t know how to build with them! Some have never seen LEGO before or they tell me they don’t know what to build! This right here breaks my heart. Our students are loosing their imaginations and while that’s a blog post for another day, it’s up to us as K-2 teachers to bring out their imaginations and creative natures! So how can you bring STEM/STEAM into your classroom exactly? Just follow these easy steps:

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  1. Gather building materials (If you’re not sure what to get, refer to my Building Materials blog!)

  2. Have students work in partners (Larger groups tend to be overwhelming for younger students and they’re still learning the basics of sharing.)

  3. Give them a topic or don’t! It’s up to you! Here’s a few ideas to get you started.

    • castle

    • dream house

    • trap for the leprechaun

    • tallest tower

    • patterns designs

Now don’t wait. Start now! It may be summer, but this is the perfect time to start gathering building materials for next school year. Be intentional about putting building time in your plans. I promise you will see increased creative play as students navigate the social/emotional landscape of building, playing and collaboration!

Soon enough, you’ll be wondering what took you so long to add this to your instruction.

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Krazy About Keva

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If you already read my blog post, Learning With Lego, then you know they are my go-to manipulative for learning of all ages. But…Keva Planks are a close second! You may be wondering what in the world I’m talking about and that’s ok. I was in the same place just a few years ago, until I walked into the Virginia Children’s Engineering Convention in Roanoke, Virginia, and I saw a contraption designed with Keva Planks that allowed ping pong balls to travel through like a slide.

In a nutshell, Keva Planks are wooden blocks that can be used to build. They are unique in the sense that they are identical to each other, no varying colors, sizes, or shapes. They are extremely simple, but that is their secret. Students have to add their own creativity. They turn plain wooden blocks into creative designs, and they don’t have to worry about digging through a box to find the exact color they want. You’re probably wondering, “Well. How do I use them? Are they really that versatile? Aren’t they just for little kids?”

Here’s the low down…just like LEGO, Keva Planks are for kids of all ages! I use them for all my students kindergarten through fifth grade, and I have students who even prefer to build with them over LEGO. The big picture is that students work to build stable structures, which is a phrase we use a lot in STEAM class. And yes, even my kindergarteners can tell you what a stable structure means and what it looks like!

Here are a few ways we have used Keva Planks in my classroom to build:
  • bridges

  • castles

  • letters of the alphabet

  • tallest tower

  • ramps

  • mazes

  • playing Jenga (students build their own game!)

  • imaginative play

  • And the list could go on!

So are you convinced? Do you want some of your own?! Check them out!

Check out other useful posts such as Learning With Lego and Building Materials!

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Building Materials

Part of STEAM is building prototypes to rectify a problem, so building takes place each week in my classroom. While sometimes students are using recyclables and consumables to build, having a variety of non-consumable building tools is an important part to my classroom instruction. If you read my previous post, Learning with LEGO, then you already know how versatile and beloved the brick is by my students and myself.

However, having a variety of building materials is important because it gets students thinking in different ways. I’ve compiled a list of materials that are easy to add to your classroom construction. They are perfect for students of all ages. While I tend to use them for solving problems such as, build a bridge to get your elephants across or Cinderella needs a new castle, they can also be used for anything from imaginative play to concrete math concepts.

Later on I’ll break down each tool (and even more tools!) and how I use them in the classroom, but for now, go check them out and start brainstorming how you can add them into your instruction today!

 

Some links may be affiliate links which means if you click through and buy the products I get a kickback but it does not, in any way, effect your experience. I only recommend things that I either have and use or that I fully believe in.

Summer

At this point many schools across the country are either out of school for the summer or kids are counting down the days.

Summer. A time to reset, breathe, play, travel, and the list could go on. As an educator and mother I do look forward to summer. It is the time I get to wake up in the mornings and not have to rush to get my son packed up for someone else to watch all day. I’m looking forward to going to the pool with him, watching him say his first word, snuggling him when he needs extra love, and so much more. Any parent would say it is hard to leave them for work. I think as a teacher it can be harder at times because you’re going to work to love, nurture, and grow the minds of hundreds of other kids, while yours are in daycare or at another school. I’m beyond thankful for those I entrust with my son to do the same thing that I do everyday with my students. But boy am I happy to spend 2.5 months at home with him.

As you leave for summer break remember that the time you have with your children is precious. Continue to foster that love of learning in them. Read books, go to museums, travel, spend a day watching movies, and refresh yourself, so that you’re ready to come back in the fall to teach your students. Our students deserve the very best we can give them, but we can’t do that if we’re not ready ourselves.

Classroom Organization

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As I’m typing this I have 5 days left of school, so you’re probably thinking, why am I reorganizing my classroom? Shouldn’t it be in boxes for the summer? While some of that is true, I find the end of the school year to be the perfect time to reorganize. You’re always so rushed at the beginning of the school year - lesson plans, decorations, center tubs, files to comb through, and more. While yes, you’re probably thinking that the end of the school year has a to-do list a mile long too, you’ll thank yourself later.

Stop.

Reflect.

What worked this year? How were your materials set up? Were students able to easily access everyday items?

This is the process I’ve been going through this past week and boy did it help. As a STEAM teacher I have so many materials, consumables, recyclables, building tools, and technology. I want my students to be able to know exactly where everything is (and let’s be real - I can forget where it all is too!) in my room because it saves time when we’re working on projects. They don’t have to stop and ask me 10 times during class, “Where are the scissors? Hot glue sticks? Googly eyes? Streamers?” and the list could go on. Believe me, there are times that I feel like my head is spinning trying to answer these exact questions, so it’s important to make it easier on yourself and your students. So instead of mentally checking out for the school year, my fellow STEAM co-worker and I stood in the middle of my room, started sharing different ideas, and immediately started moving furniture around.

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In one week I have:

  • emptied boxes of materials that I didn’t have time or energy to do at the beginning of the school year when I was 7 months pregnant

  • moved furniture around, so all of my building and consumables materials are separated

  • organized consumables into plastic bins

  • cleaned out my closet, so it’s organized

  • created a shelf for all of the school supplies (crayons, glue, scissors, markers, pencils, etc.)

  • moved my books to a filing cabinet, so it makes them more accessible for lessons

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My goals for next year:

  • label all of my plastics bins

  • sort student notebooks by classes

  • sort new materials that come in over the summer

Now believe me, I still have a lot of work to do in my classroom this week before school let’s out, but I already feel better about leaving for the summer. I know that I will be coming back in August with materials organized and a new setup that will work better for our classroom flow. Now I challenge you - if you still have time left in your school year, how can you setup yourself up with better organization before you leave for the summer?

STEAM Up the Classroom

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Connecting with other educators around the world is one of my favorite parts of the teaching profession. It is true when you hear people say, “We are better together!”.

I am thankful for Twitter connecting Tori Cameron and I together. She is a fellow STEAM teacher in Massachusetts where she also hosts STEAM Up The Classroom podcast. She talks with other educators and people in STEAM fields to highlight the benefits of using STEAM in the classroom.

As a guest of her podcast we compared our experiences teaching in STEAM classrooms across a variety of grade levels, shared teaching ideas, and chatted about how being mothers has changed how we approach teaching. You will not want to miss this episode and will find yourself looking for more! Tune into Season 2, Episode 6: STEAM Classroom to hear more!

You can also tune into the STEM Everyday #83 to hear more about my work teaching in my STEAM classroom.


3Doodler Teacher Spotlight

Check out my interview with 3Doodler!!

One of my favorite parts of being a STEAM teacher is finding the latest technology to embed into my STEAM curriculum. In the fall of 2017, I started to hear the buzz of 3D printing pens. At this point 3D printing technology started to become more affordable for teachers to access and implement for their students. But 3D printers are relatively expensive, involve software on the computer and the easiest ones still have a learning curve and plenty of problems.

3Doodler is different. The 3Doodler pens allow you to draw in 3D as easy as just writing with a pen! 3Doodler seemed like the perfect tool for all elementary students to use as they learned the basics of 3D printing. I had the wonderful opportunity to interview with 3Doodler to explain how their pens and technology in general has transformed learning in my classroom! You won’t want to miss it - Teacher Spotlight: Full STEAM Ahead with Brittany Ballou.

(I do love my 3D printers but the 3Doodler pens get a lot more work in my classroom each year.)

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Some quotes from the interview:

My classroom is best described as organized chaos where students are laughing, learning, and building!

Students were so engaged with their 3D pens that they didn’t have time to be bothered to talk with their teammates!

We are helping students prepare for jobs that don’t even exist yet.

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Innovation in Technology

Over the past few months I had the honor of going through the process for the RVA Tech Innovation in Education Award sponsored by Trillium Technical. I was first nominated in January 2019, and was announced as a finalist on April 24th. All of the finalist were invited to the RVA Tech Gala on May 8th, which was held at the Richmond Convention Center. While, I did not receive the Innovation in Education Award, I left with a very valuable experience.

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Most educators only go to events that are education-based. However, The RVA Technology Council predominately works with and recognizes a variety of businesses, but one award is presented to an educator. During the RVA Tech Gala I was surrounded by men and women in the technology business world. It was fascinating to hear how they are applying technology in a variety of business sectors. I met a start-up business that researched how to make and use biodegradable packaging for shipping products, a non-profit that created a website to help those in need, augmented reality being used by Dominion Energy to “place” and “move” utility boxes for power lines, and so much more.

On the flip-side, they were enthralled with how I work with my elementary students using the Engineering Design Cycle to implement projects. The common statements to me were, “Wow. I wish that I had something like that when I was in school!,” as well as, “And wait, you’re doing this with kindergarten through fifth graders?! Your students are going to be so much further ahead than I ever was.” You see, the thought holds true - we are preparing our students for jobs that don’t even exist yet.

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In order to prepare them for these careers, we have to get them hooked onto STEM careers from the beginning. There’s nothing that says a kindergartner can’t learn how to code, and if someone tries to tell you that, I’m here to prove them wrong. Because, I have 150 kindergartners who can explain that a robot is able to follow directions in the order in which you give it, they can code sequences, and by the time they leave fifth grade they will be able to code even more advanced robots and script on Chromebooks.

Technology is an ever-changing field and it is our job as educators to navigate the expanding landscape for our students. We cannot be stuck in our ways just because it worked in the past. We have to be willing to try new things, expose our students to a variety of technologies, and bring to light the numerous STEM jobs that are available to them.

I always leave my students with a challenge, so I will challenge you with this - even though the school year is nearing the end, how can you find a new way to incorporate technology into a lesson, STEM challenge, or project in your classroom?



Learning with LEGO®

LEGO! No, they’re not just a toy you played with as a little kid or sharp obstacles that you step on as you enter your child’s play room. In fact, they’re a very versatile tool for educators.

The first time I decided I needed LEGO bricks in my classroom was after visiting The Art of the Brick Exhibit at the Franklin G. Burroughs- Simeon B. Chapin Art Museum in Myrtle Beach while on vacation in 2016. I was blown away by how Nathan Sawaya took small bricks and built masterpieces out of them. Immediately, I knew my students would feel the same way.

The Art of the brick by Nathan Sawaya. Image taken from: https://www.brickartist.com

The Art of the brick by Nathan Sawaya. Image taken from: https://www.brickartist.com

Students know that as soon as they enter my classroom they’re engineers who build, solve problems, and create prototypes. LEGO bricks are a perfect tool to take a large scale design and bring it down to an elementary schooler’s level. LEGO bricks come out at least once a week in my classroom as students are tasked with solving problems such as building a castle for Cinderella, taking letters of the alphabet and building objects that start with each letter, making a trap for the leprechaun, and the list could go on!

However, the bricks can be used for even more than just building. Think of them as another math manipulative! A variety of lessons could be developed for fractions, sorting, nonstandard measurement, counting, and more. Beyond a teaching tool, can you think of a time when your students just need a brain break? We’re all in the midst of testing season and LEGO bricks provide the perfect tool for students to just be creative. Our world isn’t defined by an A, B, C, or D answer, like those tests seems to think, so give your students an opportunity to stretch their imaginations, take a brain break, and become engineers.

So I challenge you with this, see if you can find one way to incorporate LEGO bricks into your classroom. I bet before you know it, you’ll find yourself looking at Buy, Sell, Trade groups on Facebook or Goodwill to see if you can get more.

Happy Mother's Day

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May 12th, 2019. My first official Mother’s Day. 

This school year came with a new change as I became a Mother on November 28, 2018. My son was born almost 4 weeks early. I remember that morning so clearly because I woke up in stomach pain, but refused to think it was labor. I told my husband that he should go to the gym and that I was going to work because I had too much to do and a lot of students depending on me. You see, as a teacher, your students depend on you like a mother too. While this is my first official Mother’s Day to my beautiful son, I’ve always felt like a piece of me celebrated Mother’s Day with all of my students.

It is my hope that as my son gets older and has teachers of his own, that they will feel the same way about him. I want them to nurture his curiosity, give him hugs, wipe away tears when he falls on the playground, jump for joy when he accomplishes that math problem he was agonizing over, and continue to create a culture of kindness in him. As they say, it takes a village, and teachers are a large part of that village. 

So to all of the teachers out there, Happy Mother’s Day. You sacrifice yourself for your students everyday and being a Mother is pure selflessness.

Breakout EDU Game Designer

I published my very first Breakout EDU game - Searching for the Sea!

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You maybe wondering, what is Breakout EDU? A quick rundown is that it’s an escape room for the classroom! It gets students out of their seats and collaborating together to solves puzzles to breakout of a box.

Starting in February, Breakout EDU ran their first cohort of teachers to learn how to make a Breakout EDU game from scratch! We shared ideas, critiqued each others’ puzzles, learned how to screencast, and eventually left the cohort with a published game. I absolutely loved the experience because it connected me with other like-minded educators as well as learning the skills to create a game that is puzzle-based and not worksheet based. I always say, “DITCH the worksheets!’ and this really put me to the test. The puzzles for each lock are not meant to be a worksheet hidden in a different format, but rather a true puzzle that will make students think and collaborate together.

Going into the process I knew it would be time consuming, but I found that generating the puzzles was easier as you started to create a few because I learned how to think differently. Now for me, personally, it took me longer than I would have liked because I was juggling learning how to balance my time between work and taking care of my newborn. However, when I clicked submit - boy did it feel empowering. Here I am a new mother, of a now five month old, and I created a Breakout EDU game from scratch in between feedings, diaper changes, snuggles, and oh yeah, my actual teaching job too!

While I have a lot more ideas running around in my head, I will definitely sit on them a bit, so I can enjoy more snuggles and finish out the school year. If you’re interested in learning how to design your own Breakout EDU game be sure to checkout the Game Design Tutorials.

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And if you want your own class to play Searching for the Sea, get Breakout EDU’s paid-for platform. I promise, you won’t be sorry! It has transformed learning at my school!

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Want to learn more about Breakout EDU?! Click the link to learn all the ins-and-outs of why you need it at your school!