What exactly is this Breakout EDU thing I keep hearing about?

You may have heard about escape rooms, where you pay someone to lock you and your friends in a room and you must collaborate to solve puzzles within the time limit in order to escape. People do this for fun! And they actively seek out escape rooms in new cities they visit!  

It’s not exactly practical (or legal) to lock your kids in your classroom and ask them to escape. [Ed. Note- Wait, really? That explains all those phone calls.]  Solution: Breakout EDU.

You are given a box locked with multiple locks. Students must find and decode clues in order to break into the box. It’s not a scavenger hunt or glorified worksheet–students must collaborate, communicate, think critically, and act creatively in order to successfully break out. Sound familiar? Those are the 4 C’s of 21st century learning!

It’s easy to get started with Breakout EDU. Purchase a kit and explore the free games on the Breakout EDU website. All of the games come with setup instructions, making it easy to play with your students.

One of the best parts about Breakout EDU is it promotes positive failure. Often in class, if a student gets an answer wrong, they are reluctant to try again. However, with Breakout EDU, if a student gets an answer wrong, they pull on the lock and it does not open. Instead of shutting down, they are even more motivated to try again and again until they open the lock. As a teacher, it’s a magical experience to observe.

The following are example clues from an 8th grade science Breakout EDU game I created for a friend’s class. Can you solve them?

Typically, Breakout EDU games have a 30-45 minute time limit. At the end of the time, students have to stop working. With your students, debrief the activity. DO NOT skip this step! I cannot say this enough: the debrief at the end is the most important part of the game! When students don’t break out, it often leads to the best discussions (and they’re even more motivated to work harder the next time!).

Discuss the positives and not-so-positives of the group’s collaboration, cooperation, and communication. Allow students to reflect on how they contributed to the team effort, and what changes they could make for the next time they play.

Please, whatever you do, don’t grade Breakout EDU games. This takes away from the fun and adventure, and adds even more pressure to students. If you really must collect some sort of Learning Evidence, create a rubric and have students complete a written reflection.

It is important to help students validate both their successes and frustrations when playing a game like Breakout EDU. As my students are playing, I rarely intervene. Occasionally, I’ll drop quiet hints to a student who is on the game periphery. I only step into a group if students are blatantly being disrespectful to each other; even still, I wait a few beats before interrupting a group to see if another student will confront negative behavior.

It’s difficult for many students to think this way because they are so used to the question-answer formula. For teachers, it’s even harder to facilitate Breakout EDU. We naturally want to be the Bearers of Information, and have to work extra hard to be quiet during the game. For me, I find something to keep myself preoccupied while my students are working, usually taking pictures or taking notes on positive things I hear and see during the game.

When you’re ready to extend Breakout EDU even further, try having students create their own games. It’s an incredibly difficult process, so I recommend putting students into groups of 4-5, with each student responsible for one lock. Here’s how I did it in my classroom this year.

Another fun Breakout EDU option is Breakout EDU Digital, which takes the Breakout EDU fun and turns it into an entirely online game. The great part about Breakout EDU Digital is there is no setup: give students the game link and play. Better yet, play along with your students! Read more about how it all got started and how you can play Breakout EDU Digital with your students.

Want to connect with more Breakout EDU fans? Check out Breakout EDU on Twitter, #BreakoutEDU, and the Facebook Group.

Good luck, and happy playing!

Mari Venturino is a 7th grade science and AVID teacher and Blended Learning Specialist at Mar Vista Academy in San Diego, CA. She is a Google For Education Certified Trainer and Innovator, a Google Certified Educator Levels 1 & 2, and is Leading Edge Certified in Online and Blended Instruction. Mari is on the San Diego CUE Board, and serves as Secretary. Mari was awarded the CUE Outstanding Emerging Teacher of the Year in 2017. She is the co-founder of Breakout EDU DigitalMari is the founder and editor of Fueled by Coffee and Love, an anthology of “real stories by real teachers,” set to publish in May 2017.

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