Breaking Breakout(EDU)

In case you have not yet had the pleasure of familiarizing yourself with BreakoutEdu, let me start by saying that it is ahhhhh-mazing! Similar to activities such as Exit Strategy, the goal of Breakout Edu is for students to solve a chain of clues that will reveal combinations to multiple locks in various configurations. You might have a bunch of locks on one box, or you may have a bunch of boxes with one lock each– it just depends on your audience and your purpose.

The site itself is fairly straightforward– you can search pre-made games that cover any content area and grade level you can imagine (password is “showyourwork”) and get the materials as well as a video made by the game creator that shows how they set it up. All of this for FREE! But wait! There’s more! Check out the Facebook groups– there’s one for general discussion, and three others divided by elementary, middle, and high school. There you’ll find lots of great discussions and ideas on playing the pre-made games as well as people sharing the games they’ve created. This year, my position has me working with kids in grades K-5 so I have had the opportunity to try out different games on each grade. The first one I tried was called “Teamwork” and it was intended for grades 4-5 with modifications for lower grades. I’m going to be honest: It was really intimidating to get started on this. I had been lurking on the site and clicked on a few game descriptions and their documents and I felt very overwhelmed and confused. I knew the best way to combat these feelings were to schedule some classes to do this with because I didn’t want to face the embarrassment of cancelling, so that’s what I did. I printed the materials and sat down with the notes provided by the game designer, and didn’t talk to my spouse and children for the rest of the day. Seriously. I worked through each clue, spent time organizing everything, made a cheat sheet for myself with the combinations for me and the class’ homeroom teacher to use, and went over it several times to make sure I understood the process. I also gave the teacher I was working with a heads up that they were part of a grand experiment and this could be awesome or it could crash and burn. Thankfully, it turned out amazing.  All the kids (4th graders) participating were excited. They didn’t use the hints because they wanted to figure it out themselves– they worked together, included each other in discussions, and disputes were relatively easy to resolve. There were a few that were disappointed that there wasn’t a stack of cash in the box when they got it open, but overall they were proud of themselves for persevering through it. (note: all that was in the box were some stickers saying “I broke out using TEAMWORK” and a sign for them to be photographed with.)

Some groups got their lock open before others, so I split them up and put them in new groups, and I did this with 18 different classes. Reflection conversation highlights included:

  • One group insisting they didn’t need help even though they were clearly struggling: We talked about the importance of being brave enough to ask for help.
  • A group member not participating: instead of getting mad an tattling, we talked about the importance of finding out why they weren’t participating. Did they feel like others weren’t listening? Were they too intimidated to speak up? This led to…
  • Being open to other’s ideas, no matter how crazy (within reason!) they may seem: This activity didn’t require the participants to be strong in math or reading. What counted was their ability to function as a team, and it exposed some behaviors that may have otherwise not been addressed.

This year, I have played several other Breakout Edu games with all the grade levels in my school. We’ve done Pirate Pete with second grade, Help the Cat Find his Hat with grades K-4, There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Turkey with K-1, and Turkey Trouble with grades 2-3 to name a few. All successful, all age appropriate. What I love about them is that I can usually customize them to meet my students’ needs, and with almost 900 kids in my school that is a whole lot of needs! With any super-awesome new tool, though, I have to be careful about burning kids out on it (I’m looking at you, Kahoot!). I have yet to have a child give negative feedback based on the activity itself, though, so I will consider that a win.

Stay tuned for the next post where I share the joys of creating my own Breakout for the first time. Thanks so much for reading– I’d love to hear about your experience with Breakout Edu, or answer any questions you may have! Happy learning!