When I attended NETA several weeks ago, I attended a session about BreakoutEDU.

I could spend time explaining it, but why do that when one of my students wrote about it just fine? So you should read that and then come back to this. I’ll wait.

Anyway, I am typically afraid of trying new things and taking risks in my classroom, especially when I don’t quite see in my head how it will work. But after they saw the presentation at NETA and did a Breakout activity there, my students really wanted to do one before graduation with the rest of our newspaper staff.

So I asked my dad how hard it would be to build a box that could lock.

“What size?” he asked.

“I don’t know…not big but not small?” I said.

We agreed on a 12 inch square box, for ease of measurement, and he built me this:


He added a hinge and a hasp; I ordered the supplies on Amazon (locks, UV flashlight, invisible pen). Now I had to find the best way to use it.

One of the most appealing elements of BreakoutEDU is the community function–hundreds of puzzles are available in a variety of curricular areas. They are created by teachers, and there’s a crowdsourcy vibe to the website that hosts the puzzles.

Because I just wanted to get a sense for how it might work, I chose one that focused on team building. This was for my newspaper staff, after all, and team building is always something we could use more of.

Here’s the box, all locked up, waiting for my students to solve it. 

(I didn’t want to be a paparazzi while they worked on solving it, so I don’t have photos of them at work.)

The hardest part for me was keeping my mouth shut. It took them 10 minutes to find the most important clue, and I watched three kids walk right by it and miss it every time. Once they found that clue, everything else moved pretty quickly and they solved it in 21 minutes. It helped that three of the students had successfully completed a breakout box at NETA, so they knew what to look for.

It also helped that I couldn’t keep my mouth shut and I kept responding to their seemingly innocuous questions. Note to self for next time: bring duct tape for my mouth.

Inside the box, I had candy for them as well as a personalized thank you note for each student, in which I thanked them for their contributions to this year’s staff. I also had eight Sharpies.

My dad, ever the craftsman, was a little concerned at how plain the box looked. It was a rush job, and I just wanted the functionality of the box, but I was hit with this idea: what if I keep Sharpies in the box, and every time I do this, the students who crack the puzzles get to sign the box?

The inaugural signatures on my Breakout box.

Here’s what I learned:

  1. We had a group of 13 (some kids were absent) and even 13 is too big. Not everyone was involved all the time, and when one or two kids took a clear lead, it was too easy for the rest of the crew to just sit back and let them drive. Next time: smaller groups.
  2. I kept thinking how I could make this work in my situation where I share classrooms with multiple teachers. Communication is always key, but even more so with this activity–hiding clues and hoping other classes don’t mess with them will cause problems if I don’t communicate clearly with the other teachers.
  3. I underestimate my students. They solved it with 24 minutes remaining. That’s so much time! Yet I was worried they wouldn’t solve it, and I wanted this first one to be a success (hence my blabbing). I could’ve let them hang a bit longer and they still would’ve beat the clock.
  4. Have I need to keep my mouth shut when they do this?

Now that I have one under my belt, I’m excited to do this with more classes, to create and share games–even in my niche elective curricula. I’m glad my students lobbied for us to do this. I ask them to take risks all the time.

It was my turn to take a risk for them.


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