Escape rooms have been popping up all over the country. That’s where a group of people are willingly locked in and given an hour to “break out.” They follow clues posted or hidden in the room, sidestep the red herrings, and work together to beat the clock.
The startup Breakout EDU has developed a way to use this playful, exciting model in the classroom environment with kits. These items can be used to create puzzles and treasure hunts for your students to discover content.
Breakout EDU founder James Sanders designed the student experiences after visiting those popular escape or puzzle rooms. As an educator, he realized that these activities “teach teamwork, problem solving, critical thinking, and troubleshooting by presenting students with challenges that ignite their natural drive to problem solve,” he says on BreakoutEDU.com.
Breakout EDU can be used to introduce a new lesson or concept, to reinforce and strengthen learning, or at the end of a unit to bring closure to a lesson and reinforce skills and concepts learned, all in a fun way. Rather than breaking out of a room, Breakout EDU’s versatile kit provides the basic materials necessary to present puzzles for students to decipher, each clue leading to another, and ultimately to the locked strongbox.
There are several age ranges to choose from: early childhood, elementary, middle school, high school, even adult. My literacy teacher and I were looking for an activity that promoted some of her beginning-of-the-year goals of collaboration, prediction, and problem solving for her freshman literacy class. So we decided to give Breakout EDU a shot, using a relatively easy challenge on the site centered around Dr. Seuss’s Oh the Places You’ll Go. We posted the clues, talked through the game, showed a video, and explained the two hint cards, which lend an assist to students if they got stuck. We set the timer and turned them loose.
The students were immediately curious and their problem-solving skills soon kicked in. They worked independently and together to solve clues. They made mistakes, backtracked, and tried again, moving from one clue to the next. As the game evolved, the excitement grew and even initially reluctant students gained confidence and began taking active roles in the quest for solutions.
Basking in the awe of her peers, one girl beamed with pride when she realized the map on the wall was the key to the four-digit lock. Others teamed up to decode a phrase, leading them to a hidden key. Then they used a UV flashlight to find clues to the letters of the word lock. Finally, our students deciphered text which helped them unlock the directional lock. The kids were questioning, thinking and focusing, solving the puzzle and “breaking out”—all with just under 30 minutes to go on the clock! Excitedly, they asked “When can we do it again?”
Adam Wellington, a middle school social studies teacher in my district, first introduced me to Breakout EDU. He talked about how the game provided opportunities for his students to grow as leaders and collaborative learners. “Often, it’s the least likely student in class who becomes the natural leader,” he says. Wellington also stressed that an integral component of the game is the debrief for teacher and students. Breakout EDU has a template called FIND debrief with questions to help students think about their process and evaluate their own thinking.
Resources, including an open source option
There are currently more than 255 lessons and puzzles available on BreakoutEDU.com. Some are complete, published games with all the posters, handouts, and clues needed, while others are still being tested—labeled “sandbox games.” Games relate to a variety of topics for almost every content area, grade level, and group size. Educators and their students are encouraged to design and post their own games using the game template. Game contributors are rewarded with t-shirts, sweatshirts, and even BreakoutEDU boxes, not to mention the glory!
The price of the clue boxes might be daunting, but you don’t have to purchase the box from Breakout EDU. To enable cost-effective access to the tools, the company has provided an Open Source link, where users can find, build, or purchase their own tools and equipment to set up their own experiences.
The Breakout EDU communities are growing daily and many talented folks are sharing robust discussions and resources, such as the Breakout EDU IOS app ($1.99) that you could use instead of purchasing padlocks. Blogger and educator Ryan Read is app smashing using iPads for the game. Others are “hacking” or expanding kits to include puzzles such as Hide and See, Jr. Detective kits, hidden containers, cryptex, cryptography tools, and more. Still others are taking the experience online with partner classrooms across the country and around the world.
Facilitating inquiry, problem solving, and collaboration, the Breakout EDU kit is a tool that can add an exciting component to our libraries and classrooms with minimal setup and a strong positive outcome for our students. But it is up to educators to make it meaningful in our own classrooms. As founder James Sanders says, “On the surface, it is a simple box. But when combined with the power of imagination and creativity, the possibilities are endless.” I would highly recommend that you take some time checking out the videos and exploring existing games. Effectively using the game not only increases student engagement, problem solving, and subject matter understanding, but also provides your students the opportunity to release their inner Sherlock Holmes.
Two different kits are available. (The kits are so popular, there is currently a 4–5 week wait for delivery.)
| The $89 starter kit includes (see visual below):
1 hard plastic Breakout EDU box
1 hasp (aka lock holder)
1 word lock
1 three-digit lock
1 four-digit lock
1 directional lock
1 key lock
1 UV light
1 invisible ink pen
1 small lockable box
1 USB thumb drive
2 hint cards
|The larger $119 kit includes:
1 wooden Breakout EDU box
1 three-digit lock box
1 directional lock
1 word lock
1 key lock
1 four-digit number lock
1 flash drive
1 UV flashlight
1 invisible ink pen