Good, Better, Best…

Never let it rest, ’til the good is better and the better is best!

QR.jpgI was hanging out on teacher Twitter last week (it’s the same thing as regular Twitter, except my timeline is packed with updates from a few thousand teacher accounts) — and I was honored to see a handful of folks giving #QRBreakIN a spin in their classrooms! Even nicer — they were all very thoughtful with their tweets, and kind enough to @mention my Twitter handle and the #QRBreakin their posts in talking up the gameplay.

Some examples:

From Nova Scotia:


From Frisco, Texas:


From the small town of Oregon, Ohio:


From my own back yard of Silver Spring, MD, just outside of Washington, D.C.


From the Paso Del Norte school in El Paso:


From upstate New York:


From Yorktown, Virginia:


And all the way from Ho Chi-Minh City in Vietnam (!!!) —


If you’re new to the pedagogy —

#QRBreakIN is a gamified twist on old school centers. Rather than assigning each group a set amount of time to work in an individual station before the inevitable countdown of “3-2-1, rotate!” directive all at the same time (which never works, because some groups are inevitably finished well before time is called, while others are nowhere near complete even long after they’ve been told to move along to a new station) — the gameplay works in such a fashion that student teams simply select a center of their choice, complete the corresponding work product attached to that station, and call the teacher over to review their work once they’ve generated a work product that meets the submission guidelines. Activity centers are modular and completely asynchronous (you can absolutely develop additional centers to suit the unique needs of your classroom) — but a standard game consists of eight activities and is designed to last for about 120 minutes of classroom time (presuming that each station will demand about 15 minutes worth of work in order to complete to standard).

The eight #QRBreakIN default centers look like so:

  • EdPuzzle – Have all members of your team complete the EdPuzzle attached to this center. Show all player’s success screens to the teacher before you’re allowed to move on.
  • Flipgrid – Record a video of 2:30-3:00 in length in which all members of your team work together to respond to the prompt question. Everybody has to contribute, and videos have to meet the minimum length requirements in order to be accepted.
  • Google Forms – Have all members of your team submit their answer to the response-validated Google Form, with a required character set minimum of (x) keystrokes per submission before the form will accept your response.
  • Microlab – Call the teacher over to chat with your group about this center for a full five minutes of timed conversation. Everybody contributes.
  • Quizizz – Have all members of your team complete the linked multiple choice quiz, with the oak of achieving the highest score possible. Take the quiz as many times as you’d like, but at least two members of your team must achieve a perfect score before you’re allowed to move on.
  • Sketchnotes – Work with your teammates to create a visual representation of the concept or prompt item presented at this station. You won’t be graded on artistic ability, but you will need to include at least 10 annotated details in your sketch before the submission will be counted.
  • Web Quest – Read a short article or test excerpt related to the course content and have each team member take individual notes on what items they believe are most important from the resource. Team members are welcome to talk to one another as they complete the note-taking, but each individual needs to include at least 10 itemized details in their notes before calling the teacher over to review.
  • YouTube – Watch the video assigned to this station and have all members of your team take bullet point notes on at least 10 items of interest based on what they see. This station works exactly like the Web Quest

To ensure quality control, each center has its own unique submission guidelines — and select stations come equipped with a “penalty box” mechanic if a team calls the teacher over to review the work before meeting the baseline quality standard. If a team’s work product isn’t up to snuff on the first go, they’ll earn two minutes in the penalty box where they’ll be unable to resubmit. And since the game is a race to see which team can complete the most centers before time expires? Two minutes of timeout in a close race can very well be the difference between the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.

A massive overhead timer ticks down to zero to create a mounting sense of urgency that holds everybody accountable while a giant scoreboard keeps tabs of which teams have completed which puzzles along the way — allowing teams to get a clear sense of their progress while offering the teacher a quick glimpse into which groups might be struggling and which teams are flying through activities which helps you keep the game close by giving certain high-fliers just a little bit of time of closer inspection.

Capitalizing on Momentum to Change The Game

In a race or a sporting event, momentum is crucial to a player’s success. The built-in scaffolding mechanics included in the basic #QRBreakIN gameplay work a lot like “rubber bands” to help keep the competition close as teams fight to maintain and recapture momentum throughout the game. Blowout victories aren’t fun for losing squads! And teams that dominate the competition can really suck the life out of those students who start to realize that your fancy centers activity is really just a dressed up approach to “who can get the most right answers?”

As a teacher, I believe that enthusiasm is infectious. And I live and die by the momentum I can create in my classroom. To borrow a line from Bestselling New York Times author (and my publisher! How weird is that to see in print?) Dave Burgess, of Teach Like a Pirate fame:


Looking at all the exciting posts that educators were sharing about #QRBreakIN and musing on the power of inertia in creating a wave of student-centered excitement with this pedagogy got me thinking: what if there was a way to intentionally use lost momentum as a sort of player-vs-player “attack” mechanic in a race inspired activity like #QRBreakIN? And so I got to thinking about similar “attack” mechanics in popular racing game franchises like Mario Kart — a madcap, Wacky Races-like player-vs-player series of go kart battles through The Mushroom Kingdom, and arguably one of the most successful video games series of the past 20 years. Michael Matera, author of eXPlore Like a Pirate, the outstanding book on classroom gamification, sums up the appeal of Mario Kart beautifully:


The worse you are at the actual racing part of the game, the more the game rewards you with stronger power-up items to help keep each contest as close as can be. Pull ahead of your fellow racers and you might snag a measly banana peel or two to help add some obstacles to the course behind you as you go. But fall waaaaay to the back of the pack? And you’re virtually guaranteed to score a super-powered item like the lightning bolt (which momentarily shrinks each of your opponents down to a micro sized version of themselves, slowing their momentum and making the course infinitely more treacherous) or the dreaded blue turtle shell (which acts as a homing missile to seek and destroy the first place racer).

So I decided fired up my trusty Google Drawings (and a handful of icons from and decided to introduce a friendly bit of anarchy to my core #QRBreakIN gameplay.

I call them “Mischief Cards” — and they look like so:


Mischief Cards help teachers create an instant sense of momentum from the moment that they begin their #QRBreakIN activity. The way I see it, teachers can attach a hidden Mischief Card on the reverse side of each of the eight #QRBreakIN stations to start the game — and teams can “unlock” that particular power-up item by being the first group to correctly solve the corresponding activity puzzle that this station contains. This hidden power-up incentive creates an immediate “race” like element to the earliest stages of your gameplay, and rewards teams for working together quickly to unlock as many bonus items as they can before their opponents beat them to be the first to complete these activity stations.

If a team can successfully be the first to complete two (or three!) stations while rival squads are busy toiling away on their first activity, they’ll be rewarded with two or three custom power-up items that they can store up like wildcards, and use to create a friendly bit of chaos on down the road as the gameplay progresses and other teams pull ahead or threaten to take their lead.

And if you’re feeling really ambitious, I cooked up a DIY template for creating your very own custom themed Mischief Cards to go along with the default Mario Kart inspired items shown above. Maybe like a hidden dagger for William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar,  a Hessian soldier for the American Revolution, or a timely assist from Watson and Crick for a double helix DNA adventure!

Happy lesson planning!

Author: John

John Meehan (@MeehanEDU) is an English teacher and school instructional coach at Bishop O’Connell High School in Arlington, Virginia. He began his teaching career in 2010 as a career switcher through The New Teacher Project, after spending five years working in social media and event marketing. He is a 2017 ASCD Emerging Leader, and an alumnus of the 2016-2018 Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Teacher Advisory Council. In 2016, he was named one of Arlington, Virginia’s “40 Under 40” by the Leadership Center for Excellence. He is a past presenter and regular attendee at educational conferences throughout the United States, including the annual conference for National Catholic Education Association, ASCD Empower19, and the Play Like a Champion Today: Character Education Through Sports summer conference at the University of Notre Dame. He’s an avid runner who’s completed more than three dozen marathons, half marathons, long-distance road relays, mud runs, and obstacle course races. John lives in Silver Spring, Maryland.

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