Breakout Boxes: Problem-Solving Mystery

Escape room experiences are a big trend today. They call upon teamwork, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking to escape a locked room. Best described as a hand-held escape room experience, Breakout Boxes are in use at Hawthorne School thanks to English Learning teacher Julie Schubert. Mrs. Schubert wrote and received a grant from the Student Excellence Foundation for Breakout Boxes, which are the product of Breakoutedu and come in many iterations.

Mrs. Schubert uses her Breakout Boxes to promote math and language skills, as well as the teambuilding and collaborative aspects the boxes promote. After dividing the class into groups of about four, each group is then given a small locked box and a large locked box. Mrs. Schubert tells the class a story of what has happened to make it imperative that they open the big box to reveal the contents hidden inside. The small box must be opened first, as it contains some of the clues and equipment needed to eventually open the four locks on the larger box. Each group is given a “task:” a clue to unlocking the small box. After solving the first clue, the groups are then given further “tasks” that lead them closer to figuring out the combinations of the four locks on the larger box.

The tasks may include puzzles that must be solved to get the correct information to unlock one or more locks. They may include having each student take a turn on a Chromebook computer to play grade-appropriate Math Bingo, using the results to solve a lock combination. Any one of a number of other suggested clues can be used, even using a flashlight (that they must put the batteries in first) to see the invisible ink clues written on a piece of paper. Each time the class experiences the Breakout Boxes, a different theme can be used.

Since this is a team-building exercise, one observation is that each group works together differently. Some work on specific tasks (a division of labor approach). Some work all together in their group. Some observe; some lead; some guess, but all are engaged. The exercise promotes sharing information and encouraging each other. Mrs. Schubert encourages each group to share in the unlocking so that each student gets to actually unlock one of the locks. The goal is to be the first group to get their large box unlocked and claim the treasure inside.

The Breakout Boxes can be adapted for specific subjects and education levels, from elementary to high school. The time allotted for the entire exercise is about one hour. The hands-on experience, the ability to move around the classroom, and the fun learning that occurs reinforce the students’ critical thinking skills, their creativity, and their collaboration.

When asked what her long-term goal was for using the Breakout Boxes, Mrs. Schubert was hopeful: “They demand a lot of time and work in setting up the specific exercise, but they offer such a level playing field for all students, including EL, to use their critical thinking skills.” Breakout Boxes are a fun learning tool for the whole child.

The Foundation is grateful for teachers like Mrs. Schubert, and the ways that she helps enrich educational experiences for her students!

Do you know a Community School District 200 educator who would like to apply for a Student Excellence Grant? The Foundation offers a Fall and a Spring grant cycle each year. Please feel free to share information regarding grant procedures with any District 200 educator. Classroom teachers, administrators, LLC Directors: any staff member with student contact is eligible to apply!

To read about other grants that have been provided to educators, click here.