By Becky Nation, Avalon Middle School in Santa Rosa County
Escape rooms are all the rage these days and for good reason. Everyone loves a challenge. Think about the fact that people willingly let themselves be locked in a room from which they can escape only if they solve clues to free themselves within an allotted time period. Social media pictures abound detailing each team’s success or lack thereof. The interesting thing to note about these pictures is the smile on each participant’s face regardless of the sign they’re holding saying whether they escaped or that they came so close. With the process as the focus, the positive outcome is just the icing on the cake. This same concept holds true for using Breakout boxes in the library.
Breakout boxes offer the escape room experience by challenging students to break into the box rather than out of a room. Breakoutedu.com offers complete kits for sale, but boxes can be just as easily assembled on your own. Anything that is capable of having a lock put on it can be used as your container. Examples include bags with two zippers, tackle boxes, tool boxes, or wooden boxes with a latch. There are typically multiple locks like three and four digit, word, directional, color, or key locks. The locks used can be customized to fit your game. A hasp with multiple holes is useful for putting multiple locks on the box. Kits also contain a black light and invisible ink pen for writing clues. If designing your own box instead of purchasing the preassembled ones, you are only limited by your imagination and budget.
After purchasing or gathering the materials for the physical box, the next step is to either create your own breakout game or use one from the Breakoutedu.com library. A free account gives access to many games in a variety of subject areas. The games come with a background passage that sets the stage for the context of the breakout along with lock combinations, a video with setup details, and files for the game that are typically shared via a Google drive. These resources are there, but the choice can also be made to create an original game to meet your particular needs. The Breakoutedu.com site has blank forms to guide in the creation of an original breakout.
After choosing or creating the breakout game, the boxes must be set up according to the game instructions. I was given some really great hints that I’ll share with you to make the actual playing of the game go more smoothly. Use cable ties or zip ties on the hasp and then hook the lock through the loop of the tie. If the lock accidentally gets stuck, the wire tie can be cut to free it. In the school setting when boxes have to be quickly reset between classes, I only cut the wire ties if all combinations have been solved and locks removed. Then the locks can be quickly added back to the hasp without reassembling the entire box. Another helpful hint is to use the lock parking lot that can be printed from the Breakoutedu.com website. As locks are removed, have participants place the lock on the appropriate parking space so that combinations aren’t accidentally reset. I also labeled all of the boxes and locks for each so that materials were easily reassembled after a game.
The items that are placed in the box or container can lead to other clues or might possibly be treats for the winning team. Signs for breaking out or almost breaking out can be located on the Breakoutedu.com website or you can make your own. Participants enjoyed having their team picture taken with the signs even if they didn’t make it through the whole game.
I would be remiss if I made the whole breakout box experience sound glorious and did not share my first experience with you. The game I chose to do first was way too hard for my group of students and the allotted time too short to allow for completion. As I watched the students struggle with the clues and tried to provide some guidance without helping them more than I needed, I was beginning to feel like a total failure. In the back of my mind, I was thinking this would be my first and last breakout. My mind was quickly changed while doing the reflection discussion with the students at the end of the period. They were totally undeterred by the fact that the game was too hard and time was limited. They were still excited about the activity and asked if they could do another one soon. They actually wanted to continue the same one the next day, but due to scheduling, that wasn’t possible. We discussed what went well and the challenges they faced. The overwhelming response was that they had never done a breakout prior to that one and had no idea how to attack the clues. They also said that they felt next time would be better since they now understood how the process worked. Even though they thought critically, collaborated, and communicated, they didn’t breakout, but a breakthrough was made. The success was not in the final outcome but in the process itself.