Imagine yourself trapped inside a locked room, and you must get yourself out before you run out of oxygen.

You have 5 minutes. Clues are scattered around the room.  Follow the clues, find the keys to unlock the door, and you live.  Miss clues, hesitate, or take too long, and you die.

The timer counts down further…4 minutes…3 minutes…2…1…

Exciting, right?  What if we could recreate this kind of engagement in the classroom?  A new classroom game called BreakoutEDU promises to do just that.  I learned about the game in October during EdTechTeam‘s New York Summit featuring Google for Education.

The Game

The game began with a simple premise — an ordinary-looking wooden box with four combination locks on it.  One lock required five letters to unlock, one displayed some arrows, and the last two locks required 4-digit numbers each.  Working in groups, we were told that we had 45 minutes to open the box using clues scattered around the room.

We quickly started searching.  One person found an envelope taped to the underside of a desk.  Inside, a map and a short poem about the Pony Express (with references to north, east, south, and west) led us to try the corresponding directions on the directional lock.  It worked and we unlocked the first combination.  Next, we found a small box with a QR code taped to the outside, which we promptly scanned. We arrived at a Wikipedia article about the RGB Color Model.  Earlier, we had found some red, green, and blue ropes and this new clue prompted us to examine them more closely. Each rope had a certain number of knots tied in them, which was the key to unlocking another one of the combination locks.  We continued for the full 45 minutes, finding clues to open each lock.  Ultimately, we were unable to open the final lock (but we came very close!).  A complete ten-minute overview of the game (spoiler alert!) is posted on YouTube.  BreakoutEDU sells various kits through their website, but they also include instructions to create your own.

Relationship to Course Content

Instructors can easily use this game to encourage learning in the classroom. The nature of the game requires engagement and encourages teamwork. It is also not hard to see how many of the puzzles could be adapted to various subjects.  For instance, a chemistry instructor may have an imbalanced equation whose answer may be the key to one of the combination locks. Or a history instructor may set a key to be the year of an important event students need to determine.

Online Courses

While BreakoutEDU is primarily intended as a face-to-face classroom activity, there are similar games suited for online courses.  For instance, Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes can break the ice, even when students are not in the same room.  In this game, one person is designated as the bomb defuser (the only person who can see the “bomb” or perform any actions on it), while the others on the team must use a manual to help disarm it.  Both parties must communicate in order to disarm the bomb or it will explode.  Additional education-related games are also available from Steam.

Do you know of similar games people have used in the classroom?  Let us know in the comments!

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