#GoOpen Part 3: Open Moodle Courses
February 17, 2017
Hamilton Community Schools – Personal Experience With Exceptional Results
March 16, 2017

March 3, 2017 — “Obstacles, of course, are developmentally necessary: they teach kids strategy, patience, critical thinking, resilience and resourcefulness.” -Naomi Wolf

A recent professional development “playdate” introduced me to the concept of BreakoutEDU. Working in teams of 3 or 4, we followed clues to unlock a series of locks on a box to reveal our prize: cookies and stickers. The concept stems from the popular recreational and team building activity, Escape Rooms, as demonstrated in this clip .

For the classroom experience, clues lead students to the breakout box, which features 4-6 locks of different types. They might need numbers, hidden in a letter, words, written in invisible ink, and directions, which are posted conspicuously throughout the room. Breakouts follow themes, such as math, literature, or concepts such as team building or leadership. Breakouts even exist for professional development sessions, that build teamwork and a sense of community.

The website, BreakoutEDU.com , sells kits, but also explains how to acquire individual items elsewhere. It also lists free games, already written, with demonstration videos, once a teacher registers with the site. Most important, it features great advice on setting up a Breakout, and hosting a meaningful reflection after the Breakout ends. An active Facebook group also exists, where teachers share new ideas and collaborate on upcoming games.

The experience reminded me of a time in my childhood when I was obsessed with treasure hunts, scavenger hunts, and puzzle maps. Immediately, I wrote one specifically for our building, enlisted a few “insiders” to hand out clues along the way, and hid treasure in a locker at the end (candy canes). I also considered what students learn in this experience.

  • Problem solving: At it’s heart, every Breakout is filled with problem solving. More and more educators are seeking ways to teach “ soft skills ” such as critical thinking, problem solving and teamwork. Breakout requires all of those.
  • Stick-to-it-iveness : Well planned Breakouts will not come on the first try. Students learn how to learn from failure. The locks give immediate feedback, along with nearly infinite tries (though there is a necessary time limit, within the class).
  • Academic content: Breakouts can be used to introduce a concept, such as locking away all the copies of a banned book, at the beginning of a unit on censorship. They can add to a unit, by giving real experience using formulas to gain the numerical combination to a lock, or they can culminate a topic, drawing on the knowledge of previous lessons to solve riddles. When students relate so emotionally to an engaging activity, they are more likely to retain the knowledge they used to get there.
  • Technology : Many Breakouts, such as the game I used, incorporate technology. Some clues led to websites; students used QR codes to find clues.
  • FUN !: Teachers need not be afraid of Breakout simply because it appears to be a “game.”

Most teachers report that their students beg for more Breakout sessions. Many students even take to creating their own, which extends the critical thinking skills to even greater levels.

I asked a group of teachers who have used Breakout in the classroom to share student reactions. Some of them are:

“Teamwork makes the dream work!” – High school student

“The best PD ever!” – Staff member

“I never knew I’d be sweating so much in math class!?!” – 6th grader

“I’m really proud of how I didn’t give up!” – 7th grader

“Makes us figure things out like how we’ll have to in college” – 8th grader

“We are going to have to think about this. There’s no easy way to find a golden ticket.” – Student

“That was the ‘funnest ‘ learning I ever did!” – 2nd grader

To any educator that feels the need to have one more “weapon” in the “engagement arsenal,” I recommend Breakout EDU.

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