Saturday, September 10, 2016

Our First Student-Led Breakout EDU


This school year, we have already had four different Breakout EDU sessions for our learning community. The most recent was created for 8th grade library orientation. We also held a Breakout EDU session for our entire high school faculty. Prior to these sessions, we had a student led Breakout EDU session for our history department meeting. I haven't written about it because I wanted the student who created the Breakout EDU session to share this story through his own voice.

I'm very excited to be joined in this article by an 11th grade student at Lakeside High School, Mr. Nathan Evans. Nathan and I are not related (in case you notice we share the same last name). He has been a regular in the LHS library since his 8th grade year. I should also mention that he has led book clubs in the library for the past two years. I am grateful that he continues to take leadership roles through library programming. I remember sharing with him that I had been charged with introducing the history department to Breakout EDU in their upcoming summer meeting. He offered to create a series of puzzles for them. How could I say no to that? Please, read the following paragraphs to find out what happened next:

LHS student, Nathan, presents to our history department

Our First Student-Led Breakout EDU
by Nathan Evans


When Mr. Evans first showed me the breakout package that had arrived and that he was planning on using, I felt excited. I had gone through an escape room recently, and the interest in that sort of activity had not quite left me. So when he mentioned that he was hoping to demonstrate it to the faculty at some point, I offered to create one for the history department, because I have always enjoyed history, and I knew enough about it that I was confident I could make challenging hints for my teachers. Mr. Evans, of course, being the ever-supportive person he is, immediately gave me the go ahead to set one up. I had about 2 weeks to think up whatever sort of session that fit the history theme.

We pose for a photo with Bismarck School District Teacher Librarians
(they visited our Breakout session)

Step 1 

The first step, for me, was deciding which tools I wanted to use. If you are creating a breakout for a classroom activity, you would most likely need to keep it all in that classroom unless you have a wonderful media director like Mr. Evans helping you and giving you more room somewhere else. As such, you would need to make sure your puzzles are more of the mental kind, as in riddles and the such, rather than activities that make your students move around a lot. Of course, since it was summer and I knew I would have access to all 3 of the library rooms and the Computer Lab right next door, I decided to make my set up more interactive and hands on to show the History department teachers the full potential of what they could do if they had access to the Library on a specific day. After I decided I wanted to make my session more hands on and that I wanted the teachers to move around a bit, I had to decide, more specifically now, what tools I wanted them to use. After much careful thought, I decided that I wanted to have some clues already hidden in certain areas around the rooms that they would have to find and take advantage of at the proper time. The first was a map. I wanted the teachers to find a map that was hidden and then follow it based on some historical knowledge, and then put their passage into the directional lock we had to open a box. I also decided I wanted them to have to scan a QR code hidden on a paper taped to the wall, I would have a laptop set up in advance already pulled up to a computer screen, I wanted them to have to walk through a Minecraft world in some way, and I wanted them to use a blacklight (UV flashlight) reader and a hidden message.

Let the games begin!

Step 2

Now that I had the processes that I planned on using in my head, I needed the actual clues to go with it. I needed some riddles to help guide them to use the tools, and of course since it was for the History department teachers, they needed to be historical riddles. So, using my natural born genius :^) over the next few days, I devised several riddles that were of varying difficulty (at least in my opinion). Of course, I kept in mind that these were HISTORY teachers, and as such I had no clue whether they would actually be difficult or not and brought them up to Mr. Evans and the rest of the wonderful library staff at Lakeside, and they helped me tweak a few unclear lines here and there to make them perfect. Here they are:

In our government’s history,
It’s unique as the one.

Eliminate it
Watch it continue to grow
Scratch that, bad idea.
(These were a pair that led to the same answer, the 21st amendment)
Such a great man was he,
That he was forced to travel over the sea,
All of his life,
Was filled with much strife,
And if you were to ask him what he should rue,
He would surely say ____.
(This one was Waterloo, he=Napoleon.)

history is a set of lies agreed upon
l'histoire est un ensemble de mensonges convenu
.-..  .----.  ....  ..  ...  -  ---  ..  .-.  . / .  ... - / ..-  -. / .  -.  ...  .  --  -...  .-..  . / -..  . / --  .  -. ... ---  -. --.  .  ... /
-.-.  ---  -.  ...-  .  -.  ..-
(This was a hint that devised in Morse Code to help them on the Napoleon riddle if they got stuck.)
Pull out a dollar, and what do you recognize?
Ancient dead words, and those are to be your prize.
If you knew of his works, you would say, “here comes ___.”
(this led to Charles Thomson, the man who decided what latin words would go on the dollar bill, and “here comes truth” a known saying said about him)

One team works together to solve the clue

Step 3 

Next was deciding on how I wanted the teachers to solve it. After thinking over it and talking with Mr. Evans, we concluded that the best setup for this event would be two teams of teachers, each working the same puzzles, which meant that it was a sort of competition to see who finished first.

Nathan's map clue

Step 4

Now that I had riddles prepared, and tools in mind, all I had to do was connect them together and set everything up. Of course, not every puzzle had riddles. The first station, the one the teachers started at, was a puzzle where there were a certain number of knots on small pieces of rope, and they had to scan the QR code hidden on the piece of paper to go to a site that showed them the proper order of the knots, giving them the code they needed for the first box. Of course, since both teams of teachers started out with the same puzzle, once one team figured it out the other was not far behind, but it still made sure the first team had an advantage. When they got into the box, they had to use a blacklight to scan a piece of paper  to find the words “W. B. Hannibal.” I made sure to label each puzzle with a room number, so they would know where to look for the next clue. When they got into the next room, the goal was for them to figure out that W. B. meant World Book, Hannibal entry. In that book the team found a map leading to the next clue. The map was just a map I got of the Internet of Hannibal’s travels on a Word Document, with a scroll like yellowy picture in the background. I printed it out, reprinted it so that the yellow was on both sides of the page, and then cut the whites parts out. I also left instructions for them to go to the next room and follow Hannibal’s footsteps. I forgot to mention, I set it all up so that the first group to make it to the room with the map got two minutes alone in there to find it, then the other group would get a chance to look around. That way the groups wouldn’t see each other just this clue and follow them. When the group got to the next room and followed Hannibal’s footsteps (which meant turning left towards a table, going forward to another table, all the way right until they hit the wall, then turning back towards the original wall to find a box hidden behind a computer. In other words, left forward right down. They put those directions into the directional lock, and the box opened. Here is where I wanted the groups to split up: I put two different riddles in the box, so that they would each do a different puzzle. One was the 21st amendment, and they had to find a sticky note hidden behind a XXI on the wall, and the 2nd group got to go to Minecraft. My friend had created, in Minecraft, the Mayflower replica for them to walk through, and a replica of Plymouth. They had to, using some clues set up in the world, figure out that they were in Plymouth. Once they figured that out, I gave them the next clue. The two groups then flipped places, the 21 led to Minecraft and the Minecraft led to 21. From there, whenever a group finished I gave them the same riddle, the Truth one.  A page on Charles Thomson ( was already open on 2 computers, and they could look there and find out the saying on that page. When a group put the word "Truth" into the lock of another box, it opened and inside was their last clue, the Napoleon one. If they were stuck, I gave them a morse code hint with a quote of Napoleon’s to help link the riddle to him. Once they solved it and figured out Waterloo, I gave them the lock code for the final box, where chocolate candy prizes waited inside.

Nathan explains the Minecraft puzzle

I had fun setting all of this up, and making my teachers think for 40 minutes (that’s how long it took them to solve everything.) It would have been a lot harder, though, without the help of Mr. Evans and the library staff. Of course, some hiccups happened. I had to take the 21 picture down temporarily because some people thought it was part of the first rope puzzle. They went through the first 3 riddles with blazing speed, which brought me into a panic, but thankfully slowed down a bit after that. I didn’t always communicate as well as I could with all of their questions during the adventure.

Teamwork is key during Breakout EDU

Closing Thoughts

I am sure that after reading all of this, you are probably thinking this would be impossible for you to do at your school. It’s a bit easier than you would think from this, I just made it harder on myself for personal pride. Since you are in a classroom, you would not be able to have the students move around nearly as much, so you would have to have more mental problems, and have them use online tools. You could have the students bring the answer to you when they think they have solved whatever puzzle they have, and if they have solved it you could give them the next clue, therefore removing a lot of the moving around I had the teachers do. You don’t have to create the riddles from scratch, you could easily find some online. You also, of course, don’t have to create a whole world from Minecraft. All of those steps would save you quite a bit of time, making it so it’s not the impossible task I’m sure it seems like.

Great job Nathan!

Next Steps (Stony Evans)

I'm very grateful to Nathan for taking the time to create the Breakout session for our history teachers. I think this was a great way to introduce a new method of sharing content with their students. The fact that it was student led made it more powerful. My hope is that we can have our learners take a more active role in delivering content using Breakout EDU, Minecraft, and other methods. What I discovered through this exercise is that our students have wonderful ideas that are innovative to the classroom. I want to look for more ways to empower our students as classroom leaders. Nathan had to master historical content at a much deeper level in order to create the Breakout puzzles. I would also assume that he will never forget this specific content becuause of the deeper thinking required. I look forward to additional student created professional development in the future. Let us all look for ways to encourage and empower our learners!

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  1. Hi Stony, you must be really proud of Nathan. What a great example for other students and to run a session for teachers was very brave. His explanation about what he did and how he did it was easy to follow and is beginning to make me believe we can actually give this a go. Well done Nathan!

    1. I am very proud of Nathan! Thank you for this encouragement Elizabeth!

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