Breakout EDU Gaining Following with High School Math Teachers

Photo: Breakoutbox EDU Kit

It is a plain concept really, present students with a problem, give them a series of clues to solve it, and stand back to see what happens. That recipe captures the essence of Breakout EDU.

Breakout Edu markets itself as a platform for immersive learning games, which reads simple enough but so often the simplest things can prove the most elusive.

One part locked box and another part game or scenario of clues. Breakout EDU can be adapted to any subject and offers a different challenge than students typically encounter in a classroom environment. Presented with the locked box and a back story or scenario to get them started, players must collaborate, communicate, think critically, persevere against a clock, and solve puzzles to break out successfully.

Photo: Breakout Group Working

Group of math students working to break out.

The concept is similar but simpler to the escape room craze that took off in the mainstream last year. Many in the high school math department embraced the idea and have tried it out this spring.

Jaime Hall was one of the first high school math teachers drawn to Breakout EDU. After attending a professional development conference, she shared it with department colleagues. The concept took root.

Fellow math teacher Jen Fairbanks captured the spirit of the math teachers trying Breakout EDU, “I love puzzles and figuring things out. I loved the thought of one thing leading to another thing and the entire thing being a puzzle.”

The box or kit really truly is just the platform for educators and even students to design fun-filled problem-solving activities. The games created around the kit is where all the creativity and learning begins. Still only in beta, over 200 games have been developed using the kit, ranging across all subject areas and grade levels.There are also templates for teachers to create their own games.

Fellow math teacher Mike Greco recently developed his own game as a review for the Advanced Placement Calculus test. Even though none of his sections were successful in unlocking the box, he will definitely be using the Breakout EDU again.

“A lot of problem solving is being able to figure out the puzzle and that is kind of what Breakout is. It kind of forces students to think for themselves a little bit and try something. And if that doesn’t work, try something else. And that is a lot of what math is, especially at the higher levels,” said Greco.

Hall explained, “What’s interesting is when you give the activity to the class the first time. I know even when I did it, you’re walking around like, ‘I don’t know what’s happening.’ It’s uncomfortable because we are not often presented with situations where we are not given a specific set of instructions.”

Photo: Breakout EDU Locks

A number of different kinds of locks
used with a hasp.

The games or scenarios can be tied to any subject matter. Yet, the skills and requirements to successfully break out transcend any one discipline. The thinking, teamwork, and inquiry-based learning are all central to the activity.

“In the first activity, the main focus wasn’t on the math. It was just about trying to get them to be thinkers and trying to get them to problem solve as a unit, which I think is a major life skill, being able to work with a team to problem solve a task that you do not know how to get to the solution for,” Hall said.

“I am toying with the idea of doing a non-math based one, maybe the first day of the year. It depends on the course,” Greco said.

Another element required to be successful is determination. As students run into increasingly difficult problems, where they must first figure out the puzzle, a range of responses can be observed.

“It has been interesting to watch the differences between some of the groups who persevere and push through that. In math, that is one of our practices – perseverance. That is not something that we ask the kids to do a lot. We can be so procedural sometimes,” Hall said.

Greco observed the need for coaching perseverance as well. “It went differently than I expected. I expected them to be able to open the box. They didn’t persevere through the most difficult stuff. It was the same clue, in all four classes, that stopped them and it was the most difficult one. We talked about that. So, I think next time, they will understand they can’t just leave it for someone else to do and have to tackle it,” Greco said.

Photo: Breakout Group with Blacklight

Some clues are only detectable using a black light.

Yet, focusing on the mathematics has immediate possibilities. As Fairbanks explained, “It is more of an interesting way to review than just worksheets. There is always sort of a back story and I was thinking a carnival where we could have the polynomials being the roller coasters and the Ferris wheel being the sine graphs and doing a lot of math problems within that.”

Greco added, “There are a lot of ways to bring math in and make it relevant, even if it is a lesson opener. We are going to talk about the Pythagorean theorem. Let’s do something on Pythagoras and the ancient Greeks.”

More event than a regular lesson, Breakout EDU offers students something different. Cooperation and collaboration become paramount in a highly focused way for the duration of a class period. Plus, it is a way for students and teachers to work with content in a playful way.

Another option potentially on the horizon would challenge students even more. “I think it would be cool to bring it to the point where kids are actually making breakouts, as a review, to see if they can put the puzzle together that their peers can work their way through. I see potential in it. I think there are a lot of skills outside of the content that are important,” Hall said.

The Breakout EDU kit offers a foundation for a range of problem-solving activities across grades and subjects in a way that is engaging and fun. Plus, Greco summed it up, “The students love it.”

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