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“Breakout” Into New Learning

by Lori Gracey
breakout

If you live in a big city, you’ve probably heard about the latest craze going: the escape room. An escape room is a place where a group of friends can go, pay a little money, and then try as a team to “escape” from a locked room by solving a variety of puzzles. The hit TV show “The Big Bang Theory” even had an episode about such an activity. Now this game-based play has made its way to education, and it’s pretty amazing.

Immersive gaming, such as is found in a breakout room, can foster problem-solving skills, teamwork, collaboration, critical thinking, and troubleshooting, all while engaging students in curricula-rich content. Because the process models how real-world problems are solved, students can experience authentic activities. And, depending on their work, they can experience the joy of success or the heartbreak of failure, both of which are excellent learning opportunities.

I ran the game “Dr. Johnson’s Lab” with the TCEA staff as part of a teambuilding activity and they had an amazing time. It definitely required them to learn to work together more and to think through the many problems presented. Once the game was over, we spent time debriefing and reflecting on their processes, how they worked together, and what they could do better next time. The reflection piece is critical after any breakout activity.

In a typical breakout game, a team of students (or adults!) is given a scenario with a big problem to be solved. For Dr. Johnson’s Lab, which is an introduction to the breakout process, the scenario is that “Dr. Johnson has plans to unleash a deadly airborne virus that will transform anyone who comes in contact with it into a zombie.” The team of up to 12 players (although four is better) has 45 minutes to figure out how to unlock a box that contains the antidote for the virus. In order to unlock the box, they must solve six other puzzles first to determine the combination.

What can make doing a breakout activity difficult is creating the games themselves and then collecting the resources for the various puzzles. BreakoutEDU has come to the rescue with a solution for both of these problems. The company, run by former educators, offers free games aligned to specific grade levels and content areas and a breakout kit, which contains all of the equipment needed to run a game. The kit is just $99 (and they do accept school purchase orders) and can be used over and over again. But they also provide a list of the necessary materials and encourage educators to purchase the supplies on their own from Amazon, local hardware stores, or elsewhere. And, if you create your own game, then you can decide what types of supplies are needed. So the activity is very scalable and inexpensive.

To gain access to the free games, you must register as a Beta tester. Then they will provide you with a password to access them. (They password protect the games so that students cannot find the answers.) You are also encouraged to design and share your own games with other educators.

If you would like to see a breakout in action, Jennifer Bergland will be presenting on and running a room at the TCEA Convention & Exposition in Austin on Thursday, February 4 at 3:45 in room 18A of the convention center. A few of the attendees will be selected to take part in the breakout while the rest of the room watches, learns, and discusses how to use the idea with their students. It should be a blast!

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