Last week my local chat focused on new beginnings to start the second half of the school year. One activity that came up several times was that teachers wanted to try BreakoutEdu boxes, but weren't sure what it was. As a avid fan who has done MANY in my class, I decided it was time to blog about it and how my class uses it to become better collaborators, communicators and critical thinkers.
First, a little background on what it is. Basically the students are solving puzzles while working in groups. Each puzzle answer leads to the ability to open a lock. The types of locks vary from word locks, key locks, number locks and the popular (but very challenging for the teacher!) directional locks. There is always some kind of backstory. Sometimes it is academic (like finding the solution to chemical formulas or based on the novel you are reading), fun (like Dr. Seuss or Rudolph's Reindeer Games) or can be an introduction to something in your school (like how to use the library). Students are allowed to ask for two hints from the teacher in order to solve the puzzle. Depending on the teacher and class, the hints can be specific or general in nature. All of the puzzles have to be solved in a certain amount of time, usually 45 minutes. There are even digital breakouts for the students to solve using only the computer.
With a class of 35, I usually try to do breakouts using at least 2 boxes, borrowed from our Makerspace. (See my post, adventures-in-creating-a-makerspace.html, about this wonderful addition to our school!) This allows me to break the students into groups of 7 or so. They still have to share time trying the locks, but it makes it easier. It is possible to do a breakout with a large class using only one box. Each group could complete one lock of the puzzle or every group solves one part but have to work together to complete the final part. I have done or two of these, but find that too many of my students end up sitting around waiting for the rest of the groups to finish.
There are many reasons I love using the breakout boxes in my classroom. Students collaborate with each other in order to solve the puzzles. Many times that shy, quiet one is the first to figure out the answer. These students are not always the one the other listen to in the beginning. This is where they end up becoming better communicators. The groups end up discovering how much time was wasted (sometimes not breaking out in time) because they didn't listen to ALL members of the group. Some groups divide up the puzzles and collaborate well. Others use the various strengths of the group to solve each part one at a time. Either way, they have to TALK to each other in order to solve the puzzles.
Critical thinking skills is another great reason to try a breakout in your room. The first time I tried a breakout last year, I had two boxes. Only one group ended up breaking out on time. There were several reasons for this. One was that the second group wasn't able to think through a problem that involved higher levels of thinking. It was more involved than solving a problem on a worksheet. Many in the group were my higher academic students. They weren't used to not being able to solve a problem quickly. Even this year, with the several breakouts we have done, we have only had one where every group was able to breakout on time. Their critical thinking skills have come a long way, but they still have more to grow.
The best part of the breakouts is the debrief after time is up. Whether the students were successful or not, it is important for them to talk about what happened. Here is another area for them to improve their communication skills. They hear from each other what they did well, what they can improve upon and how well they worked together. This can be hard for the students to do for the first several times. My students still have a difficult time not repeating the same things ("We need to listen better to the others in our group.", "We worked well as a team.", "The others didn't always listen to me.") We have talked about reasons why the answers in the debrief might be the same.
Breakouts are definitely an activity I suggest every classroom tries. You do not need to purchase the box from the site (but I highly recommend it for the first one!) If you have questions about getting started with Breakout Boxes or just want more information check out the Facebook groups or #breakoutedu on Twitter.
What I learned:
- BreakoutEdu is a great way to get the students collaborating and communicating!
- School should be fun!
- Critical thinking can't be done in the same way on a worksheet!
20+ year teacher, mother of 2 kids and 2 dogs, wife, lover of all things M&M, interested in tech in the classroom, and changing up my teaching