It takes real planning to organize this kind of chaos! – Mel Odum

This past Friday was the kind of day that exemplified this quote. Picture 73 grade 8-12 students with gifted designations running around in groups in a very large room at the district office, trying to break into their respective Breakout EDU boxes to prevent the zombie apocalypse, and you can perhaps imagine my day.

Heidi Nielson, the gifted education helping teacher, plans various events for gifted students from all schools in the district. Recently, at the Surrey Teachers’ Association Convention, I presented a workshop on using Breakout EDU boxes to engage students. If you’ve never heard of them before, these are essentially exit room games in a box. Students collaborate using their communication and thinking skills to solve a series of puzzles and locate clues that will help them unlock the box and solve the problem that is set up in the game’s scenario.

Although there are many games online, some free and some for which you must purchase a subscription, I’ve always found that it’s best to adapt the games to the group with whom you’re working – or to create your own. So Heidi and I met a few weeks ago to plan out the scenario and the puzzle chain that would lead students to be able to break into the box. Our scenario was this: a UBC professor who was coming to do a presentation to the GT students was secretly planning on turning them all into zombies in an attempt to reset the world. Wanting to make sure that students would be adequately challenged by the event, we added a second dimension: the professor had an accomplice who the students needed to identify in order to save themselves (and the world) from the zombie apocalypse.

There’s a balance between creating clues that are too easy (and therefore boring) and those that are too hard (and therefore frustrating): we did not manage to create that balance. Our groups needed extensive hints in order to solve the puzzles, and in the end, only two groups managed to open their boxes before we ran out of time (and none of them did it in the 45 minutes of the actual gameplay).

Our problem, I think, was that Heidi knew the kids but had never run a Breakout EDU event, and I knew how the Breakout EDU games worked but had never worked with these students before. Next year, if we do the event again (which seems likely, based on what Heidi said at the end), we’ll be able to make the game much more reasonable. We’ll both have a better idea of the flow of gameplay with these particular students, and be able to plan clues that will be challenging without making them so difficult that much more time would have been necessary for the students to break in.

I look forward to the challenge.