Digital Breakouts in the SS

It’s time for some heartfelt honesty – I have an addiction … to BreakoutEDU.  I continuously try to think of or look for new clues, shop for every different lock I can find, hit craft stores for cool ways to hide information, and scour Groupon for deals to local Escape Rooms.  I love creating them and my students love solving them (Breakouts were one of the top memories in my end of the year survey). I posted about Breakouts before, and I am excited to be presenting BREAKOUT! at the annual NCSS Conference in San Francisco in November. In my first BreakoutEDU post, I mentioned my thirst for digital breakouts and insinuated a follow up post … so here it is!

Similar to the classroom version, digital breakouts involve challenging students with a series of locks that must be opened, centered around a theme and clues tied to the curriculum. Instead of having physical clues in a classroom space, digital breakouts are housed on a website, with clues available directly (or hidden) on the website and/or through various digital platforms. Kids can learn a ton about the selected content and develop specific skills if desired as they complete the breakouts.  Once participants solve the clues, they unlock a new webpage with a congratulatory message. Most importantly, students experience the thrill of the chase, leading to increased engagement!

In my mind, digital breakouts have a few advantages over the classroom counterparts. Video,  audio, and online resources can easily be used to challenge students as well as convey curricular content. Also, digital breakouts can be completed asynchronously by students. Of course, students lose some of the collaboration that is a hallmark of classroom breakouts, but the digital variety can be completed in unison through various online means like messenger and Face Time.  Digital  breakouts unfortunately lack the physical movement that I enjoy in class and with classroom breakouts, but you can’t win them all – RIGHT?.

Digital breakouts are AWESOME for social studies content. Think of the available materials online regarding the content you teach – video, audio of speeches, maps, primary sources galore, images, cartoons, current events … the possibilities are endless.  Combine that with amazing digital tools that fit perfectly with the social studies and you have an awesome method of introducing content and skills to your students.

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Want some examples?  I created a digital breakout to introduce the major themes of the 1920s, and my students enjoyed it as a class activity. I also created a homework assignment to have studnets get the basic content of the early years of the Cold War, using the spy theme to make it “Operation Crypto”.  The kids loved finding a fake spy name and posting their spy image when they cracked the code.

Amanda Sandoval (@historysandoval) is my digital breakout muse, as she blows me away with her combination of history, challenging thinking, creative clues, beautiful design, and plain old fun.  Her Suffering for Suffrage is by far my favorite BreakoutEDU  of all time – physical or digital!  It is a must try, and also one to use as a model for awesomeness.

How do you go about creating a digital breakout? My first suggestion is to try to complete one of the many digital breakouts available online. The best place to start is BreakoutEDU’s digital site, as these creators have it DOWN to a science. Besides incredible tutorials and a litany of awesome online platforms for fantastic clues, the site has multiple examples of breakouts in all curricular areas from fantastically creative educators across the globe.  From there, you can determine what you want your students to learn and develop your clues. You’re not limited by the constraints of specific physical locks, because in digital breakouts locks can have any key you desire – a series of numbers, letters, words, directions, colors, dates, you name it!

I always consider the purpose of my breakouts,  Is it an introduction? Content delivery? Skill development?  All of the above?   For my content-based digital breakouts, I have students utilize a note taking device so that they can extract and record important info and also note any questions they may have. A breakout is not a substitute for a discussion, but it offers a great base of knowledge and gets kids excited about the content.

If you have the time to tinker this summer, I suggest creating a digital breakout for your class.  It can be a great opener, or maybe an awesome activity for that area of curriculum that you find tedious and want to spice up a bit. The best way to go about it is to play play play, but I warn you … they are addicting.

Join the BreakoutEDU History Teachers Facebook group to share ideas, collaborate, and find awesome social studies Breakouts – and join the #sstlap chat at 8:00 CST on June 29 as we explore breakouts in the social studies!

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