Librarians and games go hand in hand, and have for ages. At some point we’ve all done a library scavenger hunt, a webquest through online databases, or even the beloved “order in the library” game. But if you attended AASL’s first-ever GAME (Gaming as Meaningful Education) Conference, these were the last games on anyone’s mind.
The first of its kind, the AASL GAME Conference brought together librarians from all over the country (and some from outside the country), pairing them with game developers, designers, academics, researchers, and other educators to see the evolution in gaming and how it ties to education. Not your typical conference, the underlying theme of every presentation and session was “play” and the benefits it has for our students.
In the past few years, board games (also referred to as tabletop games) have seen a renaissance, with new and creative games hitting the market. People are ditching their devices for dice or other accessories, and sitting around a table putting their wits and skills to the test. A great example of this, and one that was well received by the attendees, is BreakoutEDU. BreakoutEDU is a stylized “escape room/immersive learning game” that can be done in a classroom or library. It is a great way to get students collaborating and using multiple skill sets to solve numerous puzzles to “break out” of the many teacher community-created scenarios. If you’ve not tried it, or never heard of it, I encourage you to visit their site http://www.breakoutedu.com. My first experience was at iPadpalooza in Austin, TX, this past summer, and I’ve been hooked ever since. We recently added 3 kits to our Middle School libraries in my district.
By far one of the most popular sessions at the conference, the BreakoutEDU demonstration was great, but limited due to time constraints. With that in mind, we did some research and discovered that “The Great Escape Room” (a national “escape room” business with branches all over the U.S.) had a storefront in Rochester, NY, and a plan was formed. Wanting to learn more about this style of gaming and put our skills to the test, we gathered a team of 12 librarians and booked an adventure.
It was a match made in heaven! One of the many themed rooms in The Great Escape Room is called “The Library” where you have to solve a handful of complex, clue-based puzzles to escape from a library. Think about it: librarians, escaping from a library–could there be a better challenge? When we arrived at The Great Escape Room we were greeted by our hosts and given the rules of the game. Once the room was prepped, we were locked in and given an hour to escape. Our directions were to solve the 4 color-coded puzzles that had clues hidden all over the room. Once all of the clues were uncovered, they would allow us to solve the puzzle and defeat the combination lock on each puzzle. Not an easy task, as one puzzle had 21 clues to find. The others varied and often required math, science, or other prior knowledge (though some tools were cleverly placed in the room if one looked hard enough). When we had completed all four puzzles, we had the ability to escape.
Early on we discovered that every librarian was an “expert” in something, and were given a chance to shine. This is the same scenario that educators and librarians alike have seen when they’ve used BreakoutEDU in their learning spaces. It was nerve racking, thought provoking, and challenged our skills as librarians. In other words, it was FANTASTIC. As the clock ticked we solved puzzles, searched for clues (often multiple times) until we were able to escape, with 30 seconds to spare!
I believe that everyone who attended the AASL GAME Conference took away something different, be it a game they could use in their classroom or library or looking at presenting materials in new ways. Regardless, “gamifying” the education experience for our students is a win/win scenario for a variety of reasons. So if you’re reading this, I’d encourage you to follow or find the #aaslgame hashtag on twitter, and look at the resources posted. After that, get your game on!