Three years ago, while hopscotching from one educational blog to another, I came across the tail end of an interview in which an innovative teacher was asked, “If there were one new resource you would recommend that every teacher try this year, what would it be?” And the answer came back: “Breakout Edu.” It was not the first time I’d come across the name, but this time I decided to find out more. And what I found out makes me say: If you care about student engagement, collaboration and ownership, you cannot afford not to try Breakout Edu.
Breakout Edu is the educational equivalent of an Escape the Room adventure. Students solve clues (devised by their devious teachers) in order to open the varied locks that bar entry to a large wooden box. And when they finally penetrate the box’s interior, it is only to find yet another locked silver box within, whose combination must be divined through yet more mental gymnastics. Inside that box lies a letter of congratulations, awarding a prize and attesting to the class’s mental agility.
Part of the charm of the game is in the variety of locks: Three digit, four digit, wordlock, padlock, directional lock…and whatever else you care to add. Part is in the tactile nature of the task, part in the joy of riddle solving. But it is hard to put into words the feeling of handing over a bag of supplies and a room of hidden clues to a group of kids and saying, simply: Go to it. That’s where the magic begins.
It goes against every fibre of my old fashioned being to just let the kids go, without trying to guide them. Each time I have to hold back the advice I am bursting to offer and settle for making cryptic pronouncements and asking wise questions. I cringe but persevere. And lo and behold: The kids show themselves capable of more than I think they can do and more than they think they can do.
What have I learned that might help you avoid a pitfall?
- Document and save. I’m losing count of the number of locks whose combinations I have forgotten.
- Piggyback. The Breakout Edu creators have a website and Facebook page with loads of information. There are videos there and on YouTube for how to set each type of lock and plenty of examples of creative teachers running exciting games.
- Make it your own. Don’t be satisfied with what other teachers have done. Use your own creativity and the specific knowledge and talent you bring to the classroom. In my Yom Yerushalayim Breakout, kids have to beat games I designed in Gamestar Mechanic, each of which recreates the path of a different battalion of Israeli soldiers in 1967. The victory message of the game gives the students the clue they need for one of the locks.
- Plan, Replan and Check. There are so many details that it is really easy to forget a crucial detail. You might want to use the outline in my INSTRUCTIONS FOR THE TEACHER file to guide yourself. The Breakout Edu people have templates for how to list what you are doing. When push comes to shove, if you forget something, don’t despair. Think on your feet and salvage the game. A deft insertion of a fact along the way (“Oh, I forgot to write that you have to double the answer…”) can save the day with no one the wiser.
- Plan for Maximal Engagement. You will want enough and varied clues so that the most kids can be engaged at the same time, doing things that play to their strengths. Not everyone will thrive on Gematriya or be good at maps or solving riddles, but each type will snare a few more. Circulate during the game, and if you see an occasional outlier, suggest something they might be able to do.
- Make it Educational. Once you are investing so much effort for one activity, don’t waste it for something that is just fun and engaging, but does not really teach or review your material. Find ways to incorporate true education in the game. When you have them in the palm of your hand, don’t forget to teach!
When did I know that I really had a winner here? Even greater than the productive buzz in the class or the excitement as the kids ran to and fro tracking down clues, was my sense of astonishment when the students asked that the prize for their next tefila contest (for two weeks of beautiful tefila) be not not a party or edible treat, but the right to play another Breakout game. When repeating an educational experience becomes an incentive for future educational performance, you are really thinking outside the box.
Check out Moshe’s Breakout EDU lesson plan for Chanukah by visiting this link! Be sure to start with the “Instructions for Teachers.”