Break Out of a boring class

This week took so much prep work, and it was amazing! First of all, if you have never heard of Breakout Edu then go now to their website! If you don’t have time for that, then simply it is a box locked with a series of different padlocks. The goal is to unlock the box. What really inspires me about this concept is that it can be applied to absolutely any subject so long as the students have the dexterity to open the lock once they have solved it. Honestly, I’m now thinking that maybe my first graders would like to do this in their class. Second, I need to mention that alignment with the other teacher of my program in my division is important to me even though we teach in different ways, in different buildings to a population that is generally stable. So, when I arrived at the end of my Capibara Con Botas unit a week before she did, I went scouring for something else we could do to extend the book out a little further. Breakout boxes were discussed in Matt Miller’s Ditch Summit, so I began the search for a box and began formulating my clues. I uncovered one and the rest is history!

Beginning the work was so intimidating, but it was worth the effort, and a lot of what I made can be used again! Here’s what you have to have:

  • Either a Breakout box for every team, or a plan to share the box:
    • I had one box and used a 2 minute timer to limit the time each team had to open the box.
    • In retrospect I’d consider lowering the time – a team who has all the combinations can unlock it in about a minute. I may also institute a rule that you cannot access the box for the first 5-10 minutes. My teams wasted a lot of time seeing if they could just guess the codes.
  • A place for each team to keep their supplies:
    • I used an 11×17 sheet of construction paper folded and taped into an envelope shape for each team, and used the color names to identify my teams.
    • I am now considering something like this poly folder set from Amazon, it is easy to pull the folders out of the system for each team, and can be quickly collected and maintained outside of class. (I’ve been using three of these for ten years and they seem indestructible.)
  • Hint Cards
    • I found memes in Spanish that I thought expressed “help” clearly. Each team got two, glued to their color construction paper.
    • In retrospect, maybe I should have told them in English what these were – they struggled to figure out their usefulness. Also, while the company provides 2 hint cards, I think I’d rather have three.
    • Also in retrospect, maybe I should have considered what hint I would give for each clue – but it was more exciting for me to tell them to ask a question and they would only “pay” if I agreed to answer the question.
  • A Clue Log
    • I made a two column document that had the picture of each type of lock in the small left column, and a large area to record notes or combinations on the right. I like it, the company also has one.
    • Mine were not pictured in order, which the kids knew. I did not tell them (unless they asked with a hint card) which lock they were unlocking. I will not do that again, at least not for novice lock-breakers. That was a bit too much challenge for my ~10 year old students.
  • Clues
    • You need to provide a clue (or series of clues) that lead to the combinations for each lock.
    • I colored envelopes and labeled them with ordinal numbers and team colors, since I had five teams and five locks I had 25 envelopes.
    • In retrospect, my easiest clue (so easy they guessed it without anything to go off of) turned out to be 3rd. It worked well because it really energized the teams when they moved so quickly from two locks done to two locks to go.
  • Some prize/reward to put in the box. Mine were admission tickets to the next two weeks of class. (You have to know your audience to choose a good reward. I do.)

Now, I frequently go way overboard on things, and in this activity it favored me well! That being said, my poor students spent the first three days (of 30 minute classes) being wildly off track. They spent their entire period trying to guess the combinations randomly (and 4 teams succeeded in guessing the third lock). I will not give them access to the box from the start again. On the second day I told them what the hint cards were for, they did successfully find where I had hidden the first clue – but again, that was luck so they spent the entire class certain that they were not finished with “clue zero” which was not a lock code. On the third day I removed “clue zero” from their envelopes so they wouldn’t be distracted by it. We stopped class to discuss the fact that I had taken them and they were not lost, merely useless. We then discussed what it was and how it helped so they could start to get the thought process necessary to decipher the clues. On the fourth day it was cold, and our class was lost in a 2 hour delay. On the fifth day I had a conversation with everyone who was in the room before class started and allowed each of them time to share what they knew to be true about the first clue. This, finally, led the first team to success. First lock down, that team finished with little to no interference from me in less than 15 minutes. Spurred on by their success, another team stayed close in their wake and finished about three minutes later. I allowed the first team to serve as guides to the remaining teams. Once those teams were ready to listen to their new interloper, they actually provided great clues without just giving answers. Apparently, it had been difficult for them and they wanted to see the other teams struggle too. I’m fine with that. Three teams would finish during class, and two other teams came to visit me later to breakout for themselves.

There are three different ways to hide clues, two I tried:

  1. Riddles: mine led to places around the room, pages in the book, and used verbs to convey the direction arrows should point
  2. Red lens viewers: This technique is the most time consuming, and took me an entire day to create, an artist could probably have been faster. You must write the message in blue crayon on white paper. Then, build a distracting image above it using red pen and yellow or orange highlighter. I drew llamas, it was especially helpful to add different colors to the parts of the animal which were not covering the clue to make it more visually distracting. Then provide teams with a red lens. This can be made out of red glass or plastic. I found a multi-color set of plastic notebook dividers at the dollar store and cut up the red one. Certainly more expensive and attractive options are available, but unnecessary. I even cut and glued foam frames around them (to color code for teams) and it cost $3 (with the tacky glue) and took about an hour with the aid of a pocket knife and a paper cutter. I could even make a second set in six colors with the supplies I have left over.
  3. UV light: This is the one I didn’t do. I worried that not having black light flashlights for each team would cause a bottle neck, so I decided I would get a dozen of keychain sized lights if this event went well. (I’ve been eyeing these) I will probably also get my own set of uv markers (probably these). My one reservation is how distracted the students were by my llamas, so I’m not sure that leaving the flashlights in the envelopes would be a great idea. But, that’s an issue for another day.

Have you used a breakout box before? How do you make your clues? How much do you worry about English use to deal with the Spanish (or other language) clues?

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