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Breaking Into Breakout EDU

What exactly is this Breakout EDU thing I keep hearing about?

You may have heard about escape rooms, where you pay someone to lock you and your friends in a room and you must collaborate to solve puzzles within the time limit in order to escape. People do this for fun! And they actively seek out escape rooms in new cities they visit!  

It’s not exactly practical (or legal) to lock your kids in your classroom and ask them to escape. [Ed. Note- Wait, really? That explains all those phone calls.]  Solution: Breakout EDU.

You are given a box locked with multiple locks. Students must find and decode clues in order to break into the box. It’s not a scavenger hunt or glorified worksheet–students must collaborate, communicate, think critically, and act creatively in order to successfully break out. Sound familiar? Those are the 4 C’s of 21st century learning!

It’s easy to get started with Breakout EDU. Purchase a kit and explore the free games on the Breakout EDU website. All of the games come with setup instructions, making it easy to play with your students.

One of the best parts about Breakout EDU is it promotes positive failure. Often in class, if a student gets an answer wrong, they are reluctant to try again. However, with Breakout EDU, if a student gets an answer wrong, they pull on the lock and it does not open. Instead of shutting down, they are even more motivated to try again and again until they open the lock. As a teacher, it’s a magical experience to observe.

The following are example clues from an 8th grade science Breakout EDU game I created for a friend’s class. Can you solve them?

Typically, Breakout EDU games have a 30-45 minute time limit. At the end of the time, students have to stop working. With your students, debrief the activity. DO NOT skip this step! I cannot say this enough: the debrief at the end is the most important part of the game! When students don’t break out, it often leads to the best discussions (and they’re even more motivated to work harder the next time!).

Discuss the positives and not-so-positives of the group’s collaboration, cooperation, and communication. Allow students to reflect on how they contributed to the team effort, and what changes they could make for the next time they play.

Please, whatever you do, don’t grade Breakout EDU games. This takes away from the fun and adventure, and adds even more pressure to students. If you really must collect some sort of Learning Evidence, create a rubric and have students complete a written reflection.

It is important to help students validate both their successes and frustrations when playing a game like Breakout EDU. As my students are playing, I rarely intervene. Occasionally, I’ll drop quiet hints to a student who is on the game periphery. I only step into a group if students are blatantly being disrespectful to each other; even still, I wait a few beats before interrupting a group to see if another student will confront negative behavior.

It’s difficult for many students to think this way because they are so used to the question-answer formula. For teachers, it’s even harder to facilitate Breakout EDU. We naturally want to be the Bearers of Information, and have to work extra hard to be quiet during the game. For me, I find something to keep myself preoccupied while my students are working, usually taking pictures or taking notes on positive things I hear and see during the game.

When you’re ready to extend Breakout EDU even further, try having students create their own games. It’s an incredibly difficult process, so I recommend putting students into groups of 4-5, with each student responsible for one lock. Here’s how I did it in my classroom this year.

Another fun Breakout EDU option is Breakout EDU Digital, which takes the Breakout EDU fun and turns it into an entirely online game. The great part about Breakout EDU Digital is there is no setup: give students the game link and play. Better yet, play along with your students! Read more about how it all got started and how you can play Breakout EDU Digital with your students.

Want to connect with more Breakout EDU fans? Check out Breakout EDU on Twitter, #BreakoutEDU, and the Facebook Group.

Good luck, and happy playing!

Mari Venturino is a 7th grade science and AVID teacher and Blended Learning Specialist at Mar Vista Academy in San Diego, CA. She is a Google For Education Certified Trainer and Innovator, a Google Certified Educator Levels 1 & 2, and is Leading Edge Certified in Online and Blended Instruction. Mari is on the San Diego CUE Board, and serves as Secretary. Mari was awarded the CUE Outstanding Emerging Teacher of the Year in 2017. She is the co-founder of Breakout EDU DigitalMari is the founder and editor of Fueled by Coffee and Love, an anthology of “real stories by real teachers,” set to publish in May 2017.

Today I asked my students who their favorite musicians are. It was a natural extension of a conversation we were having that sprang from the curriculum and I was genuinely curious. I am an Old, and I don’t know what The Kids are into these days. I mean, Taylor Swift is my jam, but other than her I’m at the point where the only reason I can recognize current artists is when “Weird Al” parodies them. So I have no idea. And it’s fun to give my students a reason to laugh at me.

Going around the room, something interesting happened. It wasn’t that they were naming people I didn’t know, it was that more than a few listed a person who, “has a YouTube channel, and they put their songs up there. They’re really good.” My students love YouTube. Some have their own channels, and they follow their “subs” as closely as I track twitter likes (only because I’ve somehow tied my self-worth to those little hearts, is all). Others own t-shirts with YouTubers on them. That was when I knew I was an out-of-touch Old. The look the student gave me when I asked her who was on her shirt. “He’s got, like, a million subscribers. He’s really talented.” I’m sure he is, and I’m not mocking my student. I haven’t turned into John Lithgow in FOOTLOOSE just yet. But I barely have time to watch the Netflix show my wife and I are slowly staggering through, I’m not tracking the latest and greatest YouTuber.

That does not mean, however, that I can’t exploit those obsessions for my own gain. The kids love the YouTubes, so to the YouTubes I will go. Honestly, I started doing this before I knew it had a name- blended or flipped learning. Blended means incorporating videos into class, while flipped, traditionally, means the lesson is done on video, the kid watches on her/his own time, and then the work is done in class. Great idea in theory, not so much in practice when you start to think about the internet connectivity of some of our kids.

Making video is daunting. Teachers can be much shyer than you might think considering our job is to stand in front of an audience (I know, I know, guide to the side, not sage on the stage, but the point stands). But it is harder to make a video and then watch yourself than it is to just do the thing. Though, making a video of yourself is a great reflection tool. That’s a post for another time.

Making a video is also shockingly easy. A simple, one-shot, short lesson. Set up your phone or iPad, point it at your face, do the thing, upload it to YouTube. All of you have a YouTube account, because YouTube is owned by Google, and gmail is ubiquitous. Heck, your school district probably runs on Google, making it easier because then you’re not putting stuff onto a “personal” account, it’s all going onto the one associated with your school. But do you know what that makes you? It makes you a YouTuber! You might not be as awesome as JoGirl27, but you’re on the platform. And that carries cache with our kids.

But why, aside from giving our kids a better reason to buy in? Why make a video? Because you can get information across faster and clearer in a video than you can live. There’s no interruptions, no phone calls, no bathroom requests, no repeating yourself over and no, no repeating yourself over and over. Set up the device (I don’t have a tripod, so I cut the corner out of a cardboard box and slide my iPad into the slot, works just as well), point at yourself in front of the whiteboard, get the lesson out in five minutes. Let stumbles stay in, we’re not looking for perfection, we’re looking for efficiency.

I have a bunch of Chromebooks in my classroom from various grants and Donors Choose campaigns, so I break my kinds into groups of two or three, send them to the bit.ly I created for the video, and let them watch. I’ll either put the actual assignment at the end of the video or up on the board. The kids watch the lesson, they’re able to go back, pause, replay, and take it at their own pace. I’m free to walk the room, answering specific questions and lending specific guidance.

Honestly, the biggest part is getting over feeling silly talking into a camera, and not stressing about being Spielberg. When it comes to making one-shot videos, go in for a KISS- Keep It Super Simple. I have puppets, and they teach most of my video lessons. The kids like the puppets more than me anyway. But one way or another I’m making videos and finding yet another way to deliver content. Maybe this way will work for that kid who wasn’t getting it the other ways. Maybe they’ll be jazzed because their teacher is a YouTuber (“But Mr Robertson, why do you only have six subscribers?”). And of course YouTube isn’t your only option. There’s Vimeo and Schooltube as well.

Get out your device. Set it up. Give a three, four, five minute lesson about something you’re teaching tomorrow. See what happens when you tell your students they need to go to YouTube to learn. Couldn’t hurt.


Two Video-Related Notes

1) CUE recently partnered with WeVideo and are currently offering a free six month trial of their online video editing tool through the California Student Media Festival. Just head over to www.mediafestival.org and click the WeVideo link on the homepage to sign up. 
2) We have a “Teacher Created Project” video category in the California Student Media Festival, which accepts entries from January-late March/early April every year. Who knows? Your video lesson might become an Award-Winning Video Lesson!

Doug Robertson is the CUE Blog Editor and an eleventh-year teacher currently talking at fifth graders in Northern Oregon. He’s taught in California, Hawaii, and Oregon in 3rd, 4th, and 6th grades. He’s the author of two books about education, He’s the Weird Teacher and THE Teaching Text (You’re Welcome), one novel, The Unforgiving Road, and is an active blogger. Doug speaks at teaching conferences including CUE Rock Star Teacher Camps, presenting on everything from technology to teaching philosophy (or teaching The Weird Way, to use his words).  Doug is also the creator and moderator of #WeirdEd on Twitter, which happens every Wednesday at 7pm PST.

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