Breakout EDU


Searching for Dr. Johnson’s antidote was my first experience with Breakout Edu during the First Annual Google Summit in Breckenridge back in May of 2015. Breakout Edu is the creation of James Sanders and Mark Hammons who had the brilliant idea of transforming the ever popular Escape Rooms into a classroom activity that involves solving clues, puzzles and problems to break into a box rather than escape. I assume escaping our classrooms wasn't their goal, but quite the opposite. Students work together, think critically and learn relevant curriculum in the process. After playing in Breckenridge, I was hooked and dragged my friends to numerous Escape Rooms all over the country, including Valencia. Although I was hooked on the concept, it took another experience playing Time Warp to figure out how I could create an original game that would also include culture and Spanish for my Spanish classes. So, after a GAFE Summit in Boulder last fall, I drove back to the mountains designing a Spanish game in my head.

The Game

I won’t share how long it actually took me to create my first game but it does give me comfort knowing that every time I share my game or another teacher shares it with his or her students the number of minutes spent per student ratio decreases. The other good news is that now there are 100s of games to chose from in all content areas making prep time for teachers much less of an issue. Just go to the site and register. You'll have access to both completed (vetted games) as well as games in beta. 

I actually built the box out of barn door from Leadville with the help of a talented friend and then spent hours creating a storyline with clues around Spain and la Nochevieja (New Year’s Eve). I thoroughly enjoyed looking through my cultural nicknacks to find the perfect tiny bottle of saffron or Metro Map to incorporate into the game. I even used the inside of a old Don Quijote book to use as a clue. The process included many trips to Lowes and WalMart looking for more locks or returning the ones I had “broken”.  I had most of the game complete in my head but was stuck on the last clue until my colleague put the last piece together. Gracias, Silvia.

Salvando La Nochevieja (Saving New Year’s Eve) debuted with my grade 10 Dual Language classes.

The premise of Salvando La Nochevieja is that the students have just finished a semester studying in Spain. They are planning to spend New Year's Eve in Madrid. However, someone has stolen the grapes needed to celebrate properly. The students must find them before the tradition of eating the grapes starts. 

Grade 5 Students

Both classes "escaped" as we call it with less than a minute to spare. They loved it and one student blogged about it here. Next, I played it with my juniors (DP1/Spanish IV) Surprisingly, my larger class of juniors did better with a lower level of Spanish proficiency as they demonstrated stronger teamwork and determination. I also played the game with 4th and 5th graders in our Dual Language school. Two classes escaped and one did not after bickering with each other on what combinations they had already tried. Watching the teamwork (or lack of it) was amazing. It was also excruciating for me to watch and not help. I did fail a few times and provided a few more than the allotted two clues. 

Students as game designers

Minutes from our first game, students asked when we could play again. I laughed and told them THEY would be creating our next games. They did.Their games were related to cultural topics and were quite creative. In one game we had to find our host family in Argentina who had been kidnapped upon our arrival. Another brought us in to save Machu Picchu before the Spaniards arrived. One of my favorite parts of their games was the story they created and shared with us before starting. Here is another student blogging about their BreakOut games. It wasn't all perfect. One group brought in dirt that was really compost (to hide gold of course) and bugs (from the compost) exploded around the room while kids looked for clues. The setting and resetting of the locks was also a challenge in my student created games. I still don't know how, but one group had us find a key but the key didn't match the lock. Hence, my first hasp had to be cut by the maintenance man at school. All in all is was a success. One student borrowed my box for a project for his DP English class.

Sharing Breakout EDU with teachers

iFLT 2016

iFLT 2016

I have now presented Breakout Edu to teachers over the past year, running either my game in Spanish or another from the Game Store in English depending on the audience. Both have been successful in hooking teachers. One teacher trainer was so excited to use the concept with her staff that she drove four hours to my home to borrow my box.

Here is the slide show I used in Chattanooga during iFLT this past summer. Copy it, give proper credit (as most of this information is from others), improve the presentation and please share back in the comments, on Facebook or Twitter. The power of Breakout Edu has been the sharing of ideas, clues, materials and inspiration.  Soon there will be even more WL Breakout EDU games to explore.

A few tips

  • Work with a friend or two to create a game. I should have asked for help much sooner.
  • Start small and keep it simple. My first game is time consuming to both set-up as well as clean-up. My next game will be shorter and less involved. (maybe saying it publicly will help me with this tip)
  • Use the FB page and Pinterest for support and mega ideas.
  • Take time to go over the clues with your students the next day. You will want everyone to experience the creative curricular content and not just the few that ultimately solved that puzzle. Plus, students will want to know how certain puzzles were solved. I never seem to have enough time to reflect properly on the game the same day. 
  • If you chose to create your own box (I suggest buying the awesomely branded Breakout EDU boxes and making your own), error on the smaller and lighter. My box is gorgeous but huge and heavy.
  • Document your students playing and share the experience with parents, administration and the community.

Please share your experiences with Breakout EDU or something similar you are doing with your students. The goal for me is to include more elements of Breakout EDU to both my classes and teacher professional development.