When I first met James Sanders (and his dung beetle), it was January of 2015. We were in Las Vegas, and this was Ro’s and my very first EdTechTeam Summit. There’s a lot more funny backstory to that first Summit (it’s been told and will continue to be told, but let’s just say that we truly didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into and arrived… umm… illprepared? for a full day of learning), but this blog post is not about us.
What this post IS about is BreakoutEDU and how I came to know of it. In Vegas, I got to hear James’ keynote, and it really set me on a different path of dealing with failure and resilience – especially concerning my students. We also got to hear from Jennie Magiera and Monica Martinez. We became instant groupies of Michelle Armstrong, and I decided that I would follow Adina Sullivan (Marlow) to the edges of the Earth after she presented my first session (on SnagIt!). Now, 3 years later, we’re all SuperBestFriends (to use Ro’s term), and Ro and I are headed back to Vegas in a couple of weeks for our “EdTechTeamiversary”. My, how our worlds have changed!
Not knowing what we were missing out on three years ago, Ro and I didn’t get to “play” with James and BreakoutEDU until a few months later when we reconnected in Orange County. We enjoyed the “Dr. Johnson’s Lab” Breakout with James at the helm, and we were hooked. One way in which my world has changed has been taking BreakoutEDU to my students. Me being the more diabolical and the one more into the organization and creation of torture for our students, BreakoutEDU became more “my thing” as Ro has taken over our TechFairies world in many other capacities.
I wrote a couple of Breakouts, I purchased the original wooden box/kit (the story of the students building them in shop class broke me down. I’m such a sap!) and then I WON another box at a CUE SoCal GEG social the following spring. With the TWO boxes, and then the realization that I didn’t even really need a box, I became a lock junkie. All of my spare change, and sometimes my mortgage money (I KID!), went into buying all of the new and different locks I could find. I wrote more Breakouts for my students. I used and adapted games from BreakoutEDU.com. I started running Breakouts for parties, teacher inservices and Summits, and I watched my students create Breakouts for their peers (AH-MAZ-ING!).
Over the past few years, when I ask students what positive memories they have of our time together, “Breakouts” is definitely in the top 5 – if not THE NUMBER ONE. That doesn’t hurt my feelings … nope … not at all! 😉
Then Mari Venturino and Justin Birckbichler decided to further blow my BreakoutBrain by creating Digital Breakouts*. I jumped at the chance to beta test their games over the summer and FAILED. BADLY. I still haven’t opened the pool, and am stuck in space, on an island, on a school bus, and probably another half a dozen digital places. I finally was successful with their “Find the Redstone” Breakout – based on Minecraft. I have no particular knowledge of or experience with Minecraft at all. Anyway, once I had that Breakthrough (ha!), I wrote my own digital breakout called “Mayflower Mysteries”.
Breakouts ARE both super fun and super challenging – for students and creators. As more educators experienced a “game”, I found that many were curious how to take the next step and create their own. Writing a Breakout does demand focusing on key content, and a certain skill set of understanding flow – including my best hint: work backwards! One has to determine how many participants there will be and how to best set up a model that will keep all of those participants involved. A designer has to understand the types and numbers of locks that are available (and not jammed from a previous set-up. HA! NOT kidding!). Keeping locks and other game materials organized is a whole ‘nuther ball of wax. Sussing all of this out is really fun for weirdos like me, and I am happy to continue to offer training sessions for game creators (and potential game creators 🙂 ) to sit together and share out ideas, successes, and failures as we hope to design games that are content-rich, relevant, and fun for our students.
Based on an “open access” model, educators who have created games have offered to share them through the BreakoutEDU site. For FREE.** Others who are not ready to design their own games yet – OR have no desire to – have been able to search for games on the site and utilize the expertise of those who have that game-building “gene”. Oftentimes teachers will grab a game, work through it, and adapt it to meet their students’ needs – or perhaps other time/equipment/ability level constraints.
This past October, BreakoutEDU announced its new “Platform” which allows teachers access to many more games, organized in Subject Packs. The Packs include the old/free user-generated games as well as additional Breakouts that have been developed by the growing group of BreakoutEDU employees and/or trusted BreakoutEDU Authorized Trainers.
Upon this announcement, teachers were “up in arms” – truly upset that their free resource had gone the way of so many other EdTech products. It took a lot of interception by James & Adam & many others to reinforce their commitment to open access; all of the games that had been free would continue to be free. Others that users create in the future will be free. “Platform” and its membership fee, is really just allowing access to the games without the constant need to enter ID/password information, and the organization and availability of the Subject Packs. In addition, Platform offers a VERY easy-to-use tool to design digital Breakouts. I haven’t tried creating one yet, but it looks like a lot of fun and something I’ll DEFINITELY be pushing some of my 5th graders to try! New user-created games continue to be uploaded, shared, and curated with awesome swag offerings for their contributors. It’s time for me to dust off some of my “proprietary” games and submit them!
And for those of you who somehow got caught in the middle of the Platform announcement, and went away disheartened, DO NOT WORRY! It’s STILL time for something different!
* Mari’s and Justin’s original digital breakouts can be found at BreakoutEDU.com/digital2016
** There is a lot of work that goes into writing a Breakout. I understand. But, to find that some educators are selling their Breakouts on TPT makes me sad.