BREAKING OUT in the Social Studies!

Every teacher has been there – the dog days of March, when your class is getting a little squirrely waiting for Spring Break and struggling with the routine of school. You want to light a fire in your kids with an awesome activity that will engage the students, push their problem solving and critical thinking, strengthen their collaboration, and also present some content in a challenging way.  As you comb the Internet and get on social media, you find a bazillion ideas, but nothing seems to work perfectly for your goals and your class. You feel the need to design your own opening experience when you stumble across a very intriguing idea on your favorite social studies blog. You now know what you’re going to do – BREAKOUT!

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We’re not talking about the early Atari video game or the constellations of acne that appear on a teenager’s  face – we’re talking about Breakout EDU.  The concept of a Breakout EDU is similar to a scavenger hunt or escape chamber activity. A scenario is presented, various clues are scattered in a room or location, and participants work together to solve clues and unlock a box, a door, or a something else using a combination of numbers or letters or a secret clue. Scavenger hunts have been used by teachers far and wide, along with Amazing Race type experiences – but Breakout EDU takes these games to the next level with physical items in their creative kits and prepackaged games. 

Classroom Breakouts are incredibly engaging, especially when two groups are pitted against each other (and the clock). They involve collaboration and team building, and it’s fascinating to see how participants work together to solve problems. The commercial Breakout EDU games are fun, challenging, and easy to set up. Many of their pre-made breakouts deal with the social studies – but you do need to be a subscriber to access them.  However, you can create your own breakouts using their products and/or inexpensive store-bought materials. Physical items that you can purchase yourself include simple combination locks, key locks, and boxes with pass keys. Breakouts can be all-tech, high-tech, low-tech, or no–tech – it’s up to you and the technology available to your students. Rachel Porter has a great Smore overview of Breakout EDU – check it out!

Why do I break out in the social studies classroom? The harder question answer is “why not”? These types of experiences are perfect for social studies. You have themes and scenarios galore in every content area. It’s simple to put together a storyline for any sort of Breakout.  Code breaking in World War II, escaping an Egyptian tomb, breaking into the National Archives vault – situations that go beyond Hollywood.  It’s very easy to use a Breakout to introduce content in an engaging and interactive way. I love using breakouts as previews for a unit or an introduction into an era. It’s much more exciting for the kids then just pushing play on an overview video. It’s also simple to integrate primary sources and have students complete a close analysis of a document, speech, or artifact. Depending on the design, students will have to utilize search skills as well, something we try to develop in all of our classes. Finally, the best reason to use breakouts and the social studies is simple – they are social (and can get LOUD!) Students work together and find their own method of collaborating, recording answers, and problem-solving.  Three letters – FUN!

The best way to approach developing a classroom Breakout experience is to start with the beginning and the end – what are your curricular or content goals, and what is the ending apparatus that will eventually be opened?  From there, you can meet in the middle as you design your clues based on the content or curriculum in order to lead to the numbers or letters for the breakout. I use a planning document to organize my original breakouts.

Creativity is the key for developing the clues to a successful and challenging Breakout. Ideas for Breakout clues include …

  • Content or school based ciphers or cryptograms, hidden messages in word searches, double puzzles, and fallen phrases (easy to create at Discovery Education’s Puzzlemaker)
  • Map puzzles, with locations leading to certain locations, numbers, and letters
  • Jigsaw puzzles or block puzzles that lead to a clue when assembled
  • Remember that letters can easily be turned into numbers through a telephone keypad or any sort of cipher or code (which, of course could be another clue).
  • Rebuses, word mazes, using the first letter of a series of images, colors, timelines …
  • Examining the commercially created Breakouts and doing a quick search of Breakouts on YouTube will give you countless clue ideas as well!

While Breakouts can be no tech / low tech, I love integrating various digital platforms into the experience. Some ideas for tech integration in a Breakout include …

  • Utilizing QR codes placed in an area to lead students to text, images, audio, and video
  • Various augmented reality apps, including Aurasma and WallaMe
  • Leading students to a pre-made online document or google slide, with a shortened URL using bitly or tinyurl
  • Creating a google form that sends participants to specific pages when a certain code or series of numbers or letters are entered
  • Challenging student search skills by having them find various data or info online
  • Utilizing Google maps and Google Earth to have students search for locations
  • Using Classroom Timers to add to the engagement and excitement!
  • The INCREDIBLE crowd sourced list of digital platforms available from Breakout EDU – some of my faves are Snotes, Match the Memory, GeoGreetings, and making a Word Maze.

The debriefing aspect of the Breakout is powerful as well.  You can not only discuss the content presented in the challenge, but also ask students about their observations on collaboration, problem solving, and creative thinking.  And, you will hear them plead for you to plan another one. Better yet – have them design their own BreakoutEDU!

Breakouts can also be entirely digital – but we will save that for another post.

What are you waiting for?  Get started by going small – maybe one code or lock on a small box – and build from there.  You will love the engagement as you watch the kids work together to solve problems and get excited to be in your classroom.

 

 

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