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Gone are the days of teachers lecturing in class and students learning through absorption, regurgitation, and note taking. Today, STEM classroom instruction is student-centric learning intertwined with computational thinking and problem-based learning.  Breakouts are one tool that can be used for this type of instruction.  Based on the popular escape room challenges, Breakouts present students with a fun and engaging story line, require them to solve a series of puzzles and use those solutions to open “locks” to break out of the challenge.

Breakout lessons incorporate computational thinking through decomposition, pattern recognition, abstraction, and algorithm design. These components help foster problem-based and inquiry-based learning because students are attempting to solve a variety of problems and ask questions in order to acquire the necessary information to breakout of a storyline. These lessons keep students engaged and focused on learning without it looking like a traditional classroom lesson.

A Breakout challenge is easy to create and customize for any type of classroom content.  When designing your breakout consider these key components:
Learning Objectives
Breakouts are an effective way to review content.  Decide what content and key concepts you want your Breakout to review. 
When designing a Breakout, it is imperative to have a storyline that is content driven. It can be simple or complex. Novice designers may want to start simple. Remember, a Breakout does not have to be complex in order to be fun or to stimulate learning opportunities. Here are some examples:
  • After spending years in search of the elusive Great Factorial Treasure, risking life and limb to discover its location, digging through layers of dirt and rock and ancient artifacts, you have found it! All that separates you from claiming this great discovery is a single lock.Now, you must rely on your vast mathematical knowledge to solve the final steps of the mystery.What truly lies within? (View Breakout)
  • Spring break is only a few weeks away and every electronic system on the campus has gone haywire!! The AC units are stuck on high heat and the shut-off code is lost. The Wifi password has been locked out. The alarm system keeps beeping on and off driving everyone nuts! There is even an elementary class stuck on the playground because the gate locks have changed. The teachers are way too busy trying to get everything in before the break, so it is up to you! You have to make your way out of the classroom and crack all these codes before anyone can even think about Spring Break. (View Breakout)
Digital vs. Physical
Breakouts can be digital or physical.  Digital Breakouts are not difficult to create using Google forms and there are many free resources available on the Internet to create your own.  You can also create a physical breakout if you are willing and able to purchase some basic supplies.
Designing Clues
Students move through the Breakout by obtaining clues from solving problems by way of puzzles, games, code-breaking and riddles. Determine how the story will be told through a series of clues. Clues need to be solvable for the students, so take into consideration their age, background, and knowledge of the content. Students should work in teams to foster communication and collaboration.  Each clue should unlock a lock, either digitally or physically.  Once the series of locks have been opened the students will successfully breakout of the challenge.
Additional Considerations
There are several other considerations that need to be addressed when designing a Breakout lesson. Hints are given to the participants by the teacher when they are stuck. Usually teachers limit the number of total hints per Breakout (for instance, two hints per Breakout lesson). Images can be used as clues or to add to the story (as a visual reference). It is also important to consider the type of digital locks that will be integrated into the story. Locks can be 3-number, 4-number, directional, or word locks. Locks should include validation (did the student get it correct/incorrect) to help move the students along their Breakout journey.
Breakouts are an exciting way to challenge, engage, and drive student centric learning in the classroom environment. Breakouts drive computational thinking, a STEM mindset, and problem and inquiry-based learning. But most importantly, Breakouts drive student-centric learning and provide meaningful and experiential learning.
Learn more about Breakouts in the S2TEM Center SC Instructional Tools Library.







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