It’s true. I’m obsessed. My students are obsessed. My teachers are obsessed. We can’t get enough of BreakoutEDU in the library! We only have one BreakoutEDU box, and we’ve only had it for about a month, but we’re officially hooked. The kids love the competitive problem solving, the teachers love the curriculum connections, and I love the collaborative opportunities.
Over the past year, our school district has been purchasing BreakoutEDU boxes and adding them to school’s collections. My school received our box in late January and we couldn’t wait to get started. An English teacher in my building had attended a BreakoutEDU training during a recent PD day and was enthusiastic to work together to create a Breakout scenario for her students. This instant avenue for collaboration thrilled me! A performance poet was visiting her students the following week, so we tailored the problems students would solve for each lock to relate to the poet’s works and reinforced academic vocabulary. The library’s poetry collection and other electronic resources supported students’ quest for answers. Being able to closely collaborate with the teacher allowed for us to create a timely and relevant scenario for her students.
I was beyond excited about how the first BreakoutEDU lesson had gone. I tweeted about it. I posted pictures on the website about it. I talked to everyone I saw about it! And, I learned that kids got interested the minute I said “competition” and “locks,” but a lot of teachers didn’t have a clear idea what BreakoutEDU is. During the next Tech Tuesday meeting when I met with each grade level, I gave an overview of BreakoutEDU and its benefits: Think of an educational escape room in a box that causes mass engagement and learning. This piqued teacher interest, and I made sure to emphasize that the relevancy of the experience for students hinged on our collaboration. I had at least two teachers in each grade level sign up to work together after those meetings–including two math teachers!
Like any collaborative endeavor, time is always at a premium. So far, we’ve found that a 15-30 minute brainstorming session is invaluable. This gives me a chance to show the teacher the physical BreakoutEDU box and locks and gives the two of us a chance to think about how we want to structure the problems for each type of lock. After the initial meeting, we use a shared Google Doc to communicate and gather ideas and information for each lock. I also create a New Google Site (much cleaner and simpler than the traditional Google Sites) that becomes the platform students use to navigate the problems for the different locks. This Google Site is also shared with the teacher. We try to give ourselves at least a week to get everything in order, but I think that time will decrease as I work with some of the teachers multiple times and we become more comfortable with the process of creating a BreakoutEDU lesson together.
Another important aspect of the collaboration is establishing the overall scenario we want to use to engage the students in the Breakout. The scenarios are great ways to leverage our relationships with students and set a purpose for their problem solving. Sometimes the scenario is a little silly, like the time we tried to save a certain teacher’s beloved man bun, and other times the scenario is more serious like when a group of behavior intervention students wanted to have bragging rights for teamwork and critical thinking. Collaborating with teachers is the best way to make sure that the scenario we choose best meets students’ learning needs.
Already, the teachers and I are looking ahead to more ways we can capitalize on the BreakoutEDU obsession. I’ve submitted a few grants aimed at adding more BreakoutEDU boxes to our school. This will allow greater flexibility in how we structure our Breakouts. It will also give more teachers and students the opportunity to use the boxes beyond the library. There are already a few teachers who have voiced interest in continuing the collaboration process and working with students to create new lessons. BreakoutEDU is helping our school break into new collaborations.
Author: Christine James
I am the teacher librarian at Northwoods Middle School in North Charleston, South Carolina. This is my twentieth year in education, all of them working with middle school students. When I’m not trying out crazy ideas in the library, I like to read on the beach, play with my puppy, and try new restaurants with my husband.