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.

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.

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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.

Trying Something New: Breakout EDU

My colleagues Heather and Janay and I have been eager and excited and planning to try Breakout EDU boxes in our classes for almost year. But of course, like introducing anything new and exciting, finding the time to do the research and the set up in order to implement is always a barrier.  When I was hired by our school division as an Instructional Coach halfway through first semester, I quickly realized that helping bring this Breakout EDU box experience to reality would be one way to help out and get into high school classes.

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Maiden voyage for #PRSD8 Breakout EDU boxes

Although we had initially considered making our own Breakout kits by sourcing all of the components ourselves, we soon realized that a) the variety of locks needed (colours, letters, shapes, etc) were not readily available at local stores and b) locks are expensive. So, in the end, I ordered a ‘class set’ of 6 Breakout EDU boxes directly from the Breakout EDU online store. The price didn’t look quite as good after USD exchange and hefty out of country shipping costs, but the boxes finally arrived.  In my new position, I actually had time to properly unpack, inventory and colour code all of the various components for each box, especially considered that these will ultimately be used by classrooms of differing age levels across our school division.

Earlier in December, I spent a morning with Heather and Janay and we chose a pre-made game from the Breakout EDU store. Janay was looking for an English Literature review game – in the end, we chose a poetry review game. Together we printed the game resources, I then laminated and cut out the pieces, and organized them into envelopes for what I hope is a good, re-useable system. (I had to promise that I would not use this game with any of the EBHS feeder schools. Eventually, we will try our hand at making a complete game from scratch — Janay is an expert at riddles and puzzles!)

Like with anything new, there is a learning curve: how to reset and organize the locks, how to best sort, collect and manage the locks and ‘game resources’.

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

Heather’s Learning Strategies class did a test run of the game a few days before the full class experience. After a few minor alterations, we ran the first PRSD8 Breakout game the day before Christmas break. We invited a few adults to share the experience and help out in each group; this was a good strategy for helping students get past the inevitable points of frustration.

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In the end, this was an awesome success.

  • Students and adults alike had fun.
  • Janay is already plotting ways to create her own original games — I figure this could be a great retirement project in a few years!
  • There were 1 or 2 minor glitches with the materials and locks –things that would make the game-play better for next time.  But as this was a learning experience for all, this makes sense–there is always room to learn and improve in anything that we do.

As anticipated, there is a bright future for the Breakout EDU experience in Prairie Rose School Division:

  • Janay is already planning a Shakespeare/Romeo & Juliet Breakout experience for her academic Grade 10 English course next semester.
  • I am hoping to take this Poetry Breakout to Angie in Foremost and Matt in Burdett after Christmas.
  • I’ve got a Breakout “Staff Experience” prepared that Cathy and I will take to Oyen with us in February for the School Improvement Day
  • Jason in Schuler is interested in a Breakout experience for his Junior High Phys Ed class in Schuler….