I gave my students their first taste of BreakoutEDU last Friday! I had heard about BreakoutEDU through Twitter, and the premise sounded great. Students work together to gather and decipher hidden clues that give the combinations to a series of locks. The locks secure a box that contains the objective of the challenge. Since I wasn't sure I was ready to invest in the whole shebang, I decided to give it a try with a version that was shared with me by another 5th grade teacher.
In his version, six clues are hidden around a designated area...it could be limited to the classroom, or in this case, one floor of my school! Each clue contains a math problem for teams of students to solve. The solution to the problem is a password to one of six Word documents that are given to the students at the start of the activity. Each document contains part of a final code that students enter to complete the challenge.
To give a fun context for the challenge, the students were informed that Captain Doom, a mad genius, had invented a doomsday device that was set to go off in 60 minutes. The teams of students were each provided a map of Captain Doom's "lair" (actually, a map of the second floor of my school); a copy of his "demands," that if not met in the next 60 minutes, would cause him to trigger the device; and a USB drive containing the six password-locked Word documents and a link to a Google Form that would only allow the correct entry of the code. To get the students started, I had overlaid a coordinate map grid over the map of the school and color-coded certain letters and numbers in Captain Doom's demands that would point them to the locations of the clues.
I started off by handing out four "Top Secret" envelopes and showing the students a brief Google Slides presentation outlining the challenge and going over ground rules: Students were to leave the clues where they found them so that other teams could locate them; they were not allowed to enter any other room besides ours; and that they were to walk and speak quietly in the halls. They were also informed that I was not going to help them at all! They were then instructed to open their envelopes and the countdown began! To keep track of time, I projected a timer counting down from 60 minutes on the screen.
During the challenge, I noted some interesting observations. First, Many students assumed at first that the colored letters and numbers led to the code itself. It was one of my more reserved students who noticed that they pointed to certain locations on the map grid. I also found it really interesting that some of my so-called "weaker" students were the calmest under pressure and that some of my highest achievers were getting very jittery. In fact, at about the 45 minute mark, one student told me, "Mr. Ullman, that timer's really stressing me out!" The vast majority of the students were really engaged the entire time, although I noticed that some groups were deferring almost all of the math problems to one or two group members, assuming that they would come up with the right answers. This really affected one group who had the early lead in deciphering the code, but was letting one student do all the math work. He made a fundamental error on one of the problems, but none of the other three members of his group called him on it, and it caused them to run out of time. In the end, all but one of the groups stopped the device in time...this last group eventually did figure it out as well. All of the students were extremely enthusiastic about the experience and couldn't wait to do it again!
Of course, as with all first tries, there is some tweaking to be had. One of the problems I came up with had several different ways to express the answer, which was frustrating. Also, one of the clues I had placed got picked up by another teacher...it was eventually found, but threw a bit of a monkey wrench into to proceedings. I also, as I am wont to do, set one of the letters of the code up incorrectly, which threw some groups for a loop as they had double- and triple-checked their work...luckily, I had set the code up as a Google Form, so all it took was for me to correct the data validation and they were fine.
The overall experience was so positive, I went out and ordered the components to an actual open-source Breakout EDU kit that very night! I can't wait to try it out on them. I would like to thank Mr. D. Zach Holden (@mrzholden) for sharing the components of his challenge with me...I never would have been able to do this without them. If you would like to try this challenge out in your own classes, please let me know. The challenges could be modified to suit a variety of grade levels...I'd like to hear what you do with it as well!
5th grade teacher in Princeton, NJ. Passionate about education, technology, and the New York Giants!