Digital Breakouts: Google Forms vs. BreakoutEDU digital locks

In the early days of digital BreakoutEDU, digital breakouts were hosted on a single page Google Site (the old version) with a Google Form embedded as the locking mechanism. Part of the challenge was finding the clues which could be hidden in images, linked content or even the white space on the website!

Now digital games from BreakoutEDU feature custom digital locks that look like locks and puzzles or clues on individual pages – when you choose a lock or get to the next one, the designated clue or puzzle pops up for you to focus on. This new model presents a sleek professional looking “game” experience. The BreakoutEDU platform even has lesson plans for building digital breakouts with your students (with a paid teacher account). There is even a classroom space where teachers can monitor student progress in games or builds.

Despite the great work BreakoutEDU has done to continually improve their digital space, I still think that there is a time and place for using the “old-school” Google Forms method.

Most of the puzzle building principles will be the same whether students build a Breakout using the BreakoutEDU digital locks or a Google Form (with or without a Google Site):

  • they will need to build image clues in a design site like Google Drawings, Slides, or Canva
  • they will build puzzles or clues in third party sites like jigsawplanet.com or a rebus builder or a cipher site

And while I do believe that creating in any digital platform teaches kids transferable skills, having students, especially those in Junior High or High School, create their Breakout games in Google Forms sends them on with confidence and deep skills in a tool that they will encounter in many out-of-class endeavours. After creating a Breakout game in a Google Form, students will have Form building skills far beyond the basics, including such abilities as

  • uploading images
  • using data validation
  • using date/time questions

In the end, just the act of having your students create Breakout games on either platform, or even for the physical lock boxes, is an engaging way to have students use critical thinking and collaboration and creativity to produce an authentic product. But for an extra layer of learning a transferable digital tool, do try having for older students build in Google Forms.

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Tweaks for Multi-box Breakout Edu games…

Breakout 5 boxes
Standard 6-box set from Breakout Edu

Our school district LOVES Breakout EDU and we use lots and lots of the games available from the Breakout Platform.  We usually play with a set of 6 boxes which turns into 3 to 5 students per group. Read on for some modifications that we often make so that game-play with 6 groups and 6 boxes goes smoothly.

Issue 1: Many published games hide a clue “behind a poster”, or have an invisible ink clue written on a poster that all teams are to use.  This is a big game-breaker: as soon as one group finds the clue, all other groups usually notice it and no longer have to work at solving it

Solutions:  Sometimes the fix to this issue is simply to leave a copy of the poster as a clue with each individual group

Issue 2:  Too many “poster on the wall” clues.  One wall/poster clue is almost too many!  Here’s why: the students who are really into the game are off at the posters trying to solve the clue – this results in a student or two who are left at (or choose to stay) at home-base, often aimlessly trying to hack the locks. With the others off trying to solve the poster puzzles, there really is very little team-work or collaboration happening.

Solutions: As above, make a copy of each poster and leave a copy for each group to solve together.

Issue 3: Hiding the key. The keys are little and easily lost.

Solution:  Create a game-related image that fits onto a quarter-sized sheet of paper.  Tape the key to this laminated, and ultimately, colour-coded sheet of paper and then hide it.  Students then realize that they are looking for a paper colour that matches the rest of the clues or the dot on their box; the key is less likely to get lost, and the students are more likely to “find” the correct key for their box.

Breakout Coloured Clues per envelope
Using different coloured clues for each box in a multi-box game makes hiding items, resetting for the next period, and clean up much easier.

Issue 4: Hiding anything.  In a multi-box game,  you have to hide everything x 6.  This can quickly become a disaster as clues that you thought were out in the open disappear.

  • Solutions:  Hide clues in groups. For example, if 3 items need to be found, hide one colour-coded item from each group on a book-shelf; hide the second colour coded item from each group under the teacher’s desk, etc.
    • Take a picture of the location where you hid each item or grouping; trust me on this one.
    • At the beginning of the game, tell students to “hunt” for any clues with hands behind their back – looking with only their eyes.  If they use their hands, they will start moving items around, even though you’ve told them the items are in plain view.  Once they start rearranging items in the search process, the items that you hid in plain view are now inadvertently hidden beneath something.

Google Keep – New Dark Mode

Google Keep Dark Mode

via GIPHY

Although I’m not a huge “dark mode” user, I know this is important for some.  And it’s new and cool. It is interesting how the colour palette translates!

Simply go to the settings cog toward the top right and choose “Enable Dark Mode” or “Disable Dark Mode”.

(And I finally learned how to make a GIF – it’s about time!)

ℂ𝕙𝕒𝕟𝕘𝕖 𝔽𝕠𝕟𝕥 𝕚𝕟 𝔾𝕠𝕠𝕘𝕝𝕖 𝔽𝕠𝕣𝕞𝕤

Whenever I do an in-service on Google Forms, someone invariably asks about the ability to change the font.  While we would all love this feature to be part of Google Forms, it doesn’t exist within the program. As such, I have always had to tell my teachers that, no, this isn’t possible, but you can… create sections, use capital letters for emphasis, etc….

But wait! I just learned about the most exciting hack! It makes so much sense I am a little embarrassed that I didn’t think of this workaround myself.  Here it is:

You simply go to Google and search for a ‘fancy font generator’.  You type your desired text into the generator and copy and paste it into the Google Form. It works in the title spaces, questions, or body of the questions.  Ok, so it does involve quite a few clicks, but it is a great way to bring new life and interest to your forms and surveys! Thanks go out to my ₲ØØ₲ⱠɆ ₵ɆⱤ₮ł₣łɆĐ ₮Ɽ₳ł₦ɆⱤ ₱Ⱡ₦ for this revelation.

The site that I have most enjoyed is www.coolsymbol.com This site not only creates fancy fonts, but also has an emoji section.  And 🅨🅔🅢!!!! You can even copy and paste the emojis into your form.  This opens up so many new possibilities for using forms with pre-readers or ELL students! There are lots of font generating sites to chose from.Screen Shot 2019-07-29 at 9.12.15 PM

Although the Font in Forms hack brings me considerable joy, here are some other places this trick would be really helpful:

  • labelling Google Drive Folders – think of the Emojis for pre-readers
  • adding interest to your Social Media account name – you’ve likely seen this in some Twitter handles
  • adding interest to your blog title
  • creating Rebus puzzles
  • signing your email with a unique digital signature

Go on and try it, if you haven’t already!  See, it really does work slick in forms, doesn’t it?

I’d love if you added a comment with other uses for this hack.

Appsmash: BreakoutEDU + Flipgrid

Breakout+ Flipgrid

It’s always a win when you can combine your most beloved tech tools, so I got to thinking how great it would be to combine Flipgrid with a BreakoutEDU game. I’m sure this has been done before, but here are some of my new thoughts and tried and true ideas.

New Ideas

1. Solve a clue to open up the grid password. This is a brand new idea credited to @staffysquad_lpe – I heard about it from Joe & Kristin Merril @MrMerrilsClass and @FriendsinFourth at the Teach with Tech 2019 Virtual Conference #TWTCon2019.  So brilliant that I am going to change my next game to include it! 

2. Complete a Flipgrid response as a clue.  Provide a link to a Flipgrid task (try a QR code or even invisible ink web address to get them there.) Participants must complete the task and then show you the “Congratulations! Your video has landed” message to get the next clue from you.  In this scenario, “correct” might not be as important as the “doing”. The beauty is that, in true Flipgrid fashion, this can be modified to any age, subject, or skill. The task could be so many fun things:

💜an introduction of someone or something     💜a response to a quote or article  💜create a team cheer  💜a team acting out a “tableau” related to a quote or keyword  💜solve a math problem on a whiteboard  💜modelling a conversation  💜demonstrating a skill – each team member does the whole or a part

3. Complete a #Fliphunt!  Best done using the “pause” feature on the camera. Create a document (Word or Google) that outlines the tasks and add it as a topic attachment in Flipgrid, or lock the list or task in a small lockbox along with a link to the Flipgrid grid. Participants might be required to:

💚”spell” a word using letters they find around the classroom  💚find a sequence of shapes or complete a pattern  💚interview some people    💚take a picture of words (nouns) listed in a different language  💚do the actions of words (verbs) listed in a different language  💚Check out this link to a whole grid of #fliphunt topics for different subject areas

As above, showing the successful posting “Congratulations” might be enough, or, you could have them continue on other clues while you have a “Fliphunt checker” (you or another adult in the class) confirm that they have all of the #fliphunt pieces and then hand them the next clue. Include a “Hint” to the next clue if the group has followed instructions for correctly naming their submission!

I would suggest that this not be a hunt that has all students finding the exact same items, as it is only then a challenge for the first group; subsequent groups know where to go, or at least the “area” where the action was taking place.

Tried and True

4. Postgame debrief. I have already been using Flipgrid as an integral part of the postgame debrief. A tough part about using a multi-box Breakout is how to keep the early finishers engaged in something so that they don’t just over-help the remaining groups. BreakoutEdu’s debrief cards are a great place to start, but without someone monitoring, a group can flash through a stack of cards in about a minute. Enter Flipgrid for a great accountability factor.

Breakout EDU debrief cards

Breakout EDU debrief cards

Sometimes I provide groups 5 or 6 debrief cards and a device. I suggest that they discuss them all, but that they need to record a group answer for at least two of the prompts. Not only does this keep them occupied in a great critical-thinking meta-cognition activity, but the quality of their responses increases greatly as they decide which questions to answer and then fine-tune their response as they record.

5. Postgame class interview. Other times, if the class hasn’t used Flipgrid often or at all, we will wait until the end of the game and have a whole class debrief. Here the teacher reads the question cards to the class, and as an Instructional Coach, I use the start/pause button to move around the class recording.  Here’s an example.

The best part is that I create a Mixtape of students who have answered the question about advice to other groups. I then play this Mixtape to the next group of students who are doing a Breakout box for the first time.

Have you embedded a Flipgrid activity into your BreakoutEDU game? If you’ve tried it, I’d love to hear about it – leave a commentBreakout+ Flipgrid

Flipgrid AR – a new twist!

Flipgrid+Logo

If you are Flipgrid fan, chances are you may have heard rumblings about #FlipgridAR.  This is another one of those edtech unveilings that happen around ISTE time. But many people do not quite know what AR is!  Here is a quick differentiation:

VR (Virtual Reality) is when you immerse yourself or your students into a totally different world – you get ‘transported’ elsewhere, such as floating among planets in outer space.

AR (Augmented Reality) is when you bring an ‘augmentation’, an ‘other, into your existing reality, such as bringing the Solar System into your classroom.

So, Fligrid AR essentially flips an existing Flipgrid video into your world.  When you try this out, it is important that you access the QR code to a specific video, not just the topic or the grid.  If you use the QR code for the grid, you just get the grid on your phone or iPad like you normally would.

Here is the Flipgrid blogpost that unleashes Flipgrid AR, and Flipgrid’s How-To AR

Here are some places or occasions where Flipgrid AR would be super cool:

  • to accompany favourite book choices or perhaps attached to a book cover
  • a teacher welcome message outside their classroom or at a Welcome Night
  • explanations of student artwork
  • teacher explanations for centers – including in the gym or weight room!
  • Flipgird AR stickers for instructions or reviews on Maker Space materials
  • ….of course, the possibilities will be endless

Flipgrid+Fever

Thanks, Flipgrid, for another cool way to use your tool!

Jigsawplanet – a Great Tool for Digital Breakout

There are lots of great digital tools that can easily be used in a digital breakout game or as a digital component in a physical game.

One of my favourites is to incorporate a link to a puzzle at https://www.jigsawplanet.com/ .

To use jigsawplanet you need to upload an image file such as a .jpg or a .png, so ultimately for a breakout you would create a visual clue such as a riddle, a colour pattern, or some other clue element.

As a result, a jigsawplanet puzzle becomes a multi-element clue.

1. The first element is the manner in which you get the link to the students – something like a hidden QR code, or a web address written in invisible link, for example. My preference is to convert the link that jigsawplanet generates into a bit.ly short link, preferably customized into a phrase that suits your puzzle.

2. The second element is just the puzzle itself. A puzzle of 24-30 pieces is just right, unless the image is very difficult. Any higher number of pieces makes the puzzle more difficult than it needs to be.

3. The third element is the clue itself that you create that leads you to unlock an actual lock. Perhaps a riddle that unlocks a word lock. Perhaps a math equation that opens a 3 or 4 digit lock. Perhaps an image that includes directional lock clues. Perhaps a slew of colours that can be arranged to unlock a colour lock.

Click the links below to check out some jigsawplanet puzzles that are used for Breakout Clues.

Marco Polo – For When your Kids Leave Home

Within a few months of this past September, all 3 of our teenagers moved out of the house- one to Sweden, one to Australia, and one to university 2 hours down the highway. Of course, Social Media somehow makes this a little easier than when we moved away from home back in the 1990s and you planned to call every second Sunday at 8pm… and could only afford to talk for 10 minutes.

We started out connecting with a clan-wide What’s App chat, as not every kid had a data plan, and you can What’s App any time you had airport wifi, for example. This was a good way to keep everyone in the loop.

Then there was the Instagram ‘story’ issue. The kids would almost only post to their Instagram stories (with a 24-hour shelf life) instead of their stream (more permanent); this was problematic as their mother, and certainly their grandmother, missed lots of their updates as we are less indentured to social media and often missed the 24-hour window. A plea to post to the stream instead was not even entertained, as apparently that would be too spammy. Who knew.

We still use What’s App, but a few months in, one of our babes suggested that Marco Polo would be more efficient during her limited wifi availability. None of the rest of us knew what Marco Polo was, nor were we excited to have yet another Social Media account. So what is Marco Polo, anyway, you ask? I’ve heard some describe it as a “video walkie-talkie”, which I guess is mostly how we use it. We have our family connected in a chat. At any time, a family member can open the chat, press play and record an update, or flip the camera to show what interesting place or city they are exploring. At first the girls used it when there was some fantastic place they wanted to show us. Then mom and dad realized we could leverage it to keep the home fires burning….supper at Grandma’s house….cutting down the trees in the front yard… camping at a favourite spot, sans kids…planting the garden without any child labour…. Turns out the kids enjoyed the moments from home too, and our university son even started showing off the gourmet meals he was bbqing and his trips to the local farmers market.

Marco Polo – highly recommended when your kids move away.

Tips for Managing Breakout Boxes

One of the great things I get to do is an Instructional Coach is to manage our District set of Breakout Boxes. We ordered a standard 6-box class set from breakoutedu.com.

breakout-5-boxes-e1554864281953.jpg

Standard 6-box set from Breakout Edu

When a school or class wants to use the boxes, we have them choose from the list of our prepared games, or if time permits, we ‘prepare’ a new game for them, especially if it is a topic that we think will get re-used.  Typically we start out with a game from the ever-expanding BreakoutEdu library, but we often find that the games need to be modified to better fit a 6-box than a 1-box format.  And we’ve found that some types of clues just don’t work great – so we modify those.

Our mission has been to make Breakout Edu a fun and stress-free learning experience for our teachers too. As such, we reset all of the locks, print, cut out and laminate all of the required clues, and bring the ready-to-use game to the classroom. Then, due to the driving distance in our rural district, we most often facilitate the game so that the teacher and Education Assistants can play along with their students.  This often means “re-setting” the game for several classes in one day.  To facilitate this, we’d like to share several tips and tricks that make it possible to quickly reset and easily keep track of materials.

When your Breakout Box Class set first arrives…

  1. Use 6 different coloured dots (like the kind the librarian might use on the spine of her books) to categorize EVERYTHING.  We chose 6 distinct colours: blue, green, yellow, orange, purple, and grey.  Put these dots on EVERYTHING: large box, small box, hasp, each type of lock, ESPECIALLY THE KEY, flashlight, USB, UltraViolet lens, the Hint Cards, the box of the question card deck. Screen Shot 2019-04-09 at 10.19.52 PM
  2. Save the little zipper baggies that items like the hasp and 3 and 4 digit locks come in. When you unpack the extra rings for the multi-lock (eg. shapes, numbers, colours, extra letters, etc), put each of these into a separate little Ziploc bag and put one of those coloured dots on each bag.  This might seem silly now, but it sure helps speed things up when it comes time to change the locks or makes it easier if you are only using a few boxes at a time.
  3. Store all of the colour-dot-coded extra lock parts (eg. extra keys, the multi-lock pieces not in use, the USBs, the glasses, etc.) in a small, sturdy box (a tackle box works great) that you can keep close at hand if you travel with your set of boxes.
    img_4477
    Multi-lock pieces -store in separate colour-coded baggies

Some Extras to Buy…

  1. We went to Home Depot and bought some different multi-directional locks; in this way, you can use a letter clue, a colour/shape clue AND a directional clue.  I’d advise you to buydirectional lock image a few extra right away to save yourself a trip to the store. I won’t tell you how many of these I’ve gone through, but there is essentially no cracking these if you mess up the reprogramming.  At approximately $8-10 a piece, they are worth the investment, as they allow for some really cool clues, and with this version of a directional lock, you can use more than five directions.
  2. Buy extra UV flashlights.  We found that within a year, all of the original Breakout Flashlights had stopped working, due to a variety of issues.  We’ve always ordered more from Amazon as I can’t seem to find them at any local stores. I’d recommend buying more than you think you’ll need.
  3. A set (or two) of dry-erase markers that stays with the Breakout kit. At first, we just borrowed from the classrooms we went to, but keeping about a dozen markers (with the coloured dots) in a baggie with your Breakout supplies makes life easier.
  4. Always have extra batteries on hand for the UV flashlight.
  5. Keep a roll of masking tape with the Breakout Box set.  There are often posters that need to be taped to the walls.

When you Get the Game Materials Ready…

  1. If laminating is an option at all, LAMINATE all of the pieces.  We’ve used some of our game materials for over two dozen plays.  Students write all over the clues with dry erase markers and we just wipe them off and reuse them.
  2. If you are able to laminate, hopefully, you are also able to splurge and print in colour!
  3. Print each set of clues on coloured paper that matches the coloured dots on the boxes/locks. We find that light pastel-coloured paper works best; although it’s not a perfect match with our dot colours, it makes reading the clues easier than strongly hued paper.    Breakout Coloured Clues per envelopeWhy bother with the coloured paper clues? You only have to find a stray white paper clue a time or two, and then have to search through each set of clues to find which one it goes with to realize the colour coded paper makes a lot of sense.
  4. Be sure to use the “invisible UV pen” BEFORE you laminate.
    breakout-envelope-colours.jpg
    Colour code and laminate the envelopes
  5. We store our coloured paper clues in separate envelopes with, yes, a colour-coded dot.   Why separate envelopes? This has worked well when we end up doing single-box games, or 3 boxes each of two different games, for example.  Each envelope is also titled with the name of the game.
  6. Use a seventh envelope of the same size and label it “BOSS ENVELOPE”. In this envelope, store the following: your white paper originals; the set-up instructions for the game (including lock codes and how to solve each puzzle); any single game pieces, such as a poster that gets hung in the classroom;
  7. Use a really big envelope to store all of the other envelopes. Label this big one with the name of the game, the appropriate grade level(s), and any important reminders, such as “each group needs an iPad” breakout-envelopes-1-6.jpg
  8. If possible, LAMINATE ALL OF THE ENVELOPES.  Any good elementary teacher knows that this is a thing, but for those of us from high school, it’s a very important thing to learn….do it for your Breakout envelopes.

 

 

Packing Up After the Game…

  1.  Always collect and store the “Hint” cards separately. If they get swept into one of the envelopes along with the clues, it can be a long time before you find them again.
  2.  If you know you will be using the ‘same game’ the next time the boxes are used, go ahead and reconnect the locks, however…
  3. If you next will be needing to set the locks to a different game, pack up by leaving the locks unlocked and putting them inside the small box, inside the big box of their matching colour.
  4. I’ve started to leave a generic “We Broke Out sign” permanently in every box. To help me distinguish it from all of the others, I printed this one on legal sized paper so it is easy to identify and return to each large box when packing up.

Modifications that We Frequently Make to Breakout Edu published games…

Issue 1: Many published games hide a clue “behind a poster”, or have an invisible ink clue written on a poster that all teams are to use.  This is a big game-breaker: as soon as one group finds the clue, all other groups usually notice it and no longer have to work at solving it

Solutions:  Sometimes the fix to this issue is simply to leave a copy of the poster as a clue with each individual group

Issue 2:  Too many “poster on the wall” clues.  One wall/poster clue is almost too many!  Here’s why: the students who are really into the game are off at the posters trying to solve the clue – this results in a student or two who are left at (or choose to stay) at home-base, often aimlessly trying to hack the locks. With the others off trying to solve the poster puzzles, there really is very little team-work or collaboration happening.

Solutions: As above, make a copy of each poster and leave a copy for each group to solve together.

Issue 3: Hiding the key. The keys are little and easily lost.

Solution:  Create a game-related image that fits onto a quarter-sized sheet of paper.  Tape the key to this laminated, and ultimately, colour-coded sheet of paper and then hide it.  Students then realize that they are looking for a paper colour that matches the rest of the clues or the dot on their box; the key is less likely to get lost, and the students are more likely to “find” the correct key for their box.

Issue 4: Hiding anything.  In a multi-box game,  you have to hide everything x 6.  This can quickly become a disaster as clues that you thought were out in the open disappear.

  • Solutions:  Hide clues in groups. For example, if 3 items need to be found, hide one colour-coded item from each group on a book-shelf; hide the second colour coded item from each group under the teacher’s desk, etc.
    • Take a picture of the location where you hid each item or grouping; trust me on this one.
    • At the beginning of the game, tell students to “hunt” for any clues with hands behind their back – looking with only their eyes.  If they use their hands, they will start moving items around, even though you’ve told them the items are in plain view.  Once they start rearranging items in the search process, the items that you hid in plain view are now inadvertently hidden beneath something.

Other random tips…

  1.  Print (and laminate if possible, a class set worth of the various “We Broke Out” celebration signs.  If you include the We Almost Broke out signs, put them on a slightly different coloured paper such as grey or beige so that they are easy to distinguish.
  2.  It is easy to suggest that early finishers discuss the questions on the Breakout cards. Interestingly, this never seems to take long enough, especially if you are trying to have the other groups solve to complete. To remedy this, we have started to have groups record their answers to a few of the Breakout prompts on FlipGrid. This seems to keep them occupied for longer.

Big Kids building Breakout Games for Little Kids

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A great way to get the attention of junior high school boys – locks and boxes!

Teachers at Burdett School really seem to love Breakout Edu.  By the end of our second year as Instructional Coaches, we will have run at least seven of our different Breakout Games at this school, with each grade level having had between two and four different Breakout experiences. It has been fascinating to watch how the group work skills and perseverance levels have changed as students experience another new Breakout Mystery for the third or fourth time.

As a result of this growing Breakout expertise, it was not surprising to be asked to come along-side rookie teacher, Ms. R, as she endeavoured to host a “Breakout” option class. She has her seventh-grade science students for an option “CTF”  course and needed a project/topic. Her initial idea was that the seventh-grade science students would create a Breakout game related to the Building Materials Unit in her third-grade science class. Although the students in both grades had experienced Breakout Box challenges, Ms. R. had not, so I agreed to come out to her school as often as I could to help, as long as she fully understood that this project would be messy!

There has been a winding road of analyzing, planning, prototyping, testing, remodelling and offering feedback to peers as this project has progressed. As students are less accustomed to providing feedback that is kind, helpful and specific, this step near the end of the project is a challenge in itself, yet it has been powerful to watch students want to modify their own puzzles after testing the puzzle of a different group.

So, here we are in the testing phase.  This is really one of the “messy” parts of a project like this, especially since we have a real audience of third graders, not only at this school but potentially across our school district!

We will certainly update once the locks are on the boxes and the third graders have had a go!