“Can you solve the clues to unlock the box and breakout before time runs out?” Last fall I kept seeing articles and twitter posts about staffs and students using Breakout boxes in schools. I was hooked by the idea of students answering riddles and unravel complex clues, turning learning to a fun kind of game! Needless to say, I wrote a grant and received approval to purchase four Breakout boxes for my school’s makerspace and library program. My experience with using Breakout EDU boxes with students is mostly positive, but there are a few things to consider.
Breakout EDU boxes engage teams of students in timed challenges. Each kit includes a large and small lockable box, a hasp lock, an alphabet lock, a directional multi-lock, a three-digit lock, a four-digit lock, a key lock, and a UV light. In teams, students use these materials to solve a series of riddles, challenges, and mysteries. Each game is designed so players are immersed in the experience and are racing against the clock to break out before times expires. The Breakout EDU website has a database of predesigned challenges and provides a template for teachers to create their own. Each kit costs $125 per box. More information can be found at breakoutedu.com.
There are many benefits to Breakout EDU. The experience is fun and engaging to students while teaching critical thinking, complex problem solving skills, troubleshooting, teamwork, communication, and collaboration. They support all content areas and can be used with students in grades K-12 - even adults enjoy the breakout experience!
I’ve done Breakout in a variety of ways. I’ve done a few small group experiences with students in four groups of 5-6 students working with their own Breakout box and materials. This type of set up doesn’t require a timer since groups of students simply compete against one another. The benefit to small groups is that all students get a chance to participate and work with all aspects of the game. The con is that only one team of 5-6 students wins. I’ve also done a large group Breakout experience with a whole class of students. I had multiple boxes that needed to be unlocked, but the entire class had to work together to breakout. This experience requires a timer, challenging the students to complete with the clock. The benefit to a large group is that everyone experiences the joy of winning (or the agony of defeat) together. The con is that sometimes there is not enough activity to engage all students, and some students are left with nothing to do.
Students have enjoyed many features of using the Breakout boxes. Overall, the kids really like the game-like challenge of breaking out. The activities are a fresh alternative from the typical learning experience. The tasks require students to apply their knowledge in a fun and interactive way, allowing them to think outside the box (both literally and figuratively). They love using the UV light, discovering hidden clues, and solving the mysteries. I’ve hidden keys in fun locations all around the library and required students to read messages written in code.
However, there are some aspects of Breakout that students don’t enjoy. When teams successfully work together and win the game, they are genuinely proud of themselves. But the teams that argue and lose are down right angry that they don’t win. The first time I did Breakout, I had 5 happy winners and 18 sad students. I’ve also seen kids experience anxiety as the clock ticks down, and frustration when things get challenging and confusing.
To make the tough aspects more enjoyable and help students make the most out of the Breakout experience, I have a few suggestions:
1- Organize students into groups based on ability and personality. Try to make each group a combination of students that are leaders/followers, high academic ability/low academic ability, good team member/bad team member, etc.
2- Prior to starting the game, provide students with tips for success. I encourage students to work together as a team, use kind words, be persistent, and remain positive whether they win or lose.
3- When a team wins, the game doesn’t end. I allow time for the other groups to finish their experience and can even get help from members of the winning team if needed. This allows all students to walk away with a sense of understanding and accomplishment despite winning or losing.
4- Only photograph the winning team members. To avoid capturing sad faces, I only photograph the winning team. Sometimes that’s 4-5 student for the small group experiences and sometimes that’s an entire class for the large group experiences.
5- Reflect with students afterwards. I ask students what they liked about the Breakout experience, to list strengths of their group, consider what their group could have done better, and explain what they could have do differently next time.
I have a few more recommendations to make your Breakout experience easier. First, use the pre-made games on the Breakout website. I find organizing these games rather difficult. As I put the games together I often feel confused. I keep going and in the end everything makes sense, but it takes me a little time to get there. So I truly value the Breakout website’s game library. Second, teach students about the locks prior to starting the game. I show the students how the locks work and the proper way to align the code for each lock. Third, use the “Lock Parking Lot” (this can be printed from the Breakout website). When students open a lock, they need to bring it to the front of the room and place it in the lock parking lot. If students keep the locks, they are likely to play with them and possibly disrupt the settings or break them. website’s game library.
Like our makerspace, the Breakout EDU boxes are an exciting addition to the school’s library program. If you’re looking for a fun way to challenge students, I highly recommend the Breakout boxes. Break out of the norm and try something new . . . you’re students will love it!