My favorite discovery at PETE&C was BreakoutEDU. I heard two different educators talk about them and how it works for their age groups, both late elementary and high school students. There is a great Sketchnote from @SylviaDuckworth describing the greatness of breakoutEDU. The concept of BreakoutEDU:
Creates ultra-engaging learning games for people of all ages. Games (Breakouts) teach teamwork, problem solving, critical thinking, and troubleshooting by presenting participants with challenges that ignite their natural drive to problem-solve.
There are pre-created games to teach those skills. Or you can create your own. At PETE&C Traci (@tci_traci) shared how she created her own version based on content in her curriculum that she wanted students to explore more deeply on their own. The BreakoutEDU website offers either a kit to purchase or links to Amazon to buy each of the pieces yourself. I thought I ordered the exact items from the ‘Do It Yourself’ kit, but I got creative with colors. I would have just ordered the full kit, but my enthusiasm did not allow me to wait the full 6-8 weeks. So while my locks initially looked like twins, they are closer to cousins. One of the locks is not reprogrammable, so I had to get creative with the predetermined combo. Another lock is changeable, but the letter options are different, which also changes all the clues available.
It’s ok. I wanted to get creative anyway. The presentation by Traci demonstrated how she created her own BreakoutEDU experience for students that mixed content with the problem solving challenges. She incorporated things through QR Codes, Aurasma, SoundHound, as well as locks and invisible ink. I was inspired to present Canadian culture in a self-created BreakoutEDU scenario.
Last year the students loved writing the Canada Letter, but they felt the cultural components were stifling. I want students to be interested in the culture and to search for deeper understanding on their own. So my breakoutEDU is a hybrid: scavenger hunt, webquest, and breakoutEDU. I utilized locks, song lyrics, invisible ink on maps, Aurasma Augmented Reality, QR codes, physical puzzles, brainteasers, quotes, cryptic hockey schedules. There are also red herring QR codes on other cultural topics around the room that I want them to learn about, like food and holidays. Some of the ones that look obvious require students to read the entire thing because the clue is hidden at the bottom, so if they dismiss it as non-important, they risk missing the clue.
Another untraditional element of my breakoutEDU: team contract and extended game play. I know my students. I knew they would get frustrated by the complexity of the task, but if they persevered, they would learn a lot. I wrote a team contract that would set the expectations:
- A good backstory sets the stage for buy in or failure. My Canada backstory earned giggles and a willingness to try to save the Liberty Bell. To really, really sell the story, I purchased a small metal replica on Amazon that is now hidden in my room.
- A book bag is a great alternative to a lockbox as log as the item inside is not too small. A sixth grade hand can bypass the double lock on the zipper and sneak their hand inside. They accidentally discovered what I was using to weigh down the bookbag, so I had to modify the ending to include the random plastic dinosaur. Luckily Alberta, Canada has one of the best dinosaur finds in the world.
- Augmented Reality might be more of a headache than it is worth. The Aura worked fine one week but stopped working when students actually got to that clue. Even using the exact trigger image did not work for me. Instead the students showed me the trigger image and I AirDropped the next clue to their iPad.
- I added a couple clues as the students have been working, especially when their search for ‘Fake NYC’ only brought back search results for buying a fake ID to get into New York clubs. If you mentioned Canada and films you get the correct answer.
- Students are missing some of the obvious clues. Some of them notice the clue but do not act on it, like seeing a note that says ‘This stapler is not filled with staples.’ My natural curiosity would force me to open the stapler, but less than 5% of my students feel compelled.
- Initially some of the groups struggled with the unstructured nature of the breakOUT and group collaboration/problem-solving. They asked more than once what they were supposed to do. One group even asked what the learning objective was hoping I wouldn’t have an answer and they could get out of it. However, their attitudes have changed. They were upset the days they did not have any time to work on it.
- My homeroom students start trying to figure out clues as soon as they arrive and want to use the study hall time too. I like them during study hall because it only includes a portion of the group, which takes away from the group collaboration aspect. Obviously they are further along than the other groups, but it is nice to have a beta test group. I can fix some common errors or issues without it negatively affecting all the classes. Like a misunderstanding with the lyrics of the first song or the Aura not recognizing with Aurasma.
By putting many of the clues on my website (named randomly and hidden), they can be updated on the fly to help students be successful. My website isn’t blocked, but for some of the students Biography.com was, which takes away from the lesson if they can’t learn about random Canadian celebrities.
- If there is a hint that requires students to put it together, like a puzzle involving parts of QR codes, you need more than one set. I have six groups in each class, so I have three sets of the puzzles. Twice there were four groups ready for the clues, but the one group just had to wait until the first group finished. Luckily I have a parallel clue set, so I sent them to try to find the second path while they waited.
- One thing that I will definitely change next time: expose them to the apps ahead of time. They are very comfortable with a QR code reader, but they have never seen Aurasma nor SoundHound. While having a description on the back of the contract is good, it does not guarantee that they will take advantage of the app during a time sensitive window, like using SoundHound during the normal duration of a song.
When I have explained my lesson concept, the first question people ask is how long it took to set up; honestly, I don’t want to be honest. There were many, many mornings I drove to school and brainstormed some of the clues. Once I had the series of clues, it still took at least 20 hours to create everything, both the online hints, the QR codes, the culture matching game, adding hints to the maps in invisible ink. With all the work, is it worth it? Absolutely. I will not create a breakoutEDU for every unit, but I’m already brainstorming where to add another one next year.