Guest Post: You Had Me at Breakout

Maria Galanis is a member of the Breakout EDU community and this is a blog post she originally posted on her personal blog. See other posts from her personal blog here. Thanks Maria! 

Back in March of this year at the Future Ready Schools Summit at Leyden High School, I attended one of the featured speaker sessions led by James Sanders. It was a great session with lots of takeaways about meaningful digital learning. My biggest takeaway though, was one of the last things he mentioned in the session. 

I looked back at my notes and this is the last thing I typed... “Breakout room idea”.

James shared with us this breakout room idea and gave us a little background about how this all came about. He went on to explain to us that there are these escape rooms around the world where you pay to get “locked in” a room with friends and try to escape by solving puzzles and unlocking codes. He was in Edmonton, Canada, with some high school students playing one of these escape games and he was amazed at how hard these students were working during this game. James wanted to turn this incredible learning experience of problem solving and fun and into something that can be used in the classroom. I left there super excited about this.

"You had me at Breakout!"

Soon after the summit, BreakoutEDU launched!

General info about BreakoutEDU:


  • How does it work? These are challenge escape games. Players solve clues in order to open locks and "breakout" of a room. Watch this quick video from the BreakoutEDU site to learn more: How BreakoutEDU Works
  • Why play? BreakoutEDU offers players a fun and exciting way to strengthen skills such as problem-solving, critical thinking, logic, creativity, communication, collaboration... so many skills necessary to for us to have. Did I mention fun? Playing a challenging BreakoutEDU game is such a fun and exciting way to strengthen skills without even realizing learning is happening. 
  • Who can play? BreakoutEDU games can be played by adults for team-building and collaboration or in class with students. Playing with adults is not only so much fun, but also a great way to have them experience it first hand so if they want to have students play, they understand exactly what it entails. And, giving students this fun learning experience which can be so different from what they’re used to, sparks a new energy and excitement for them. 
  • What subjects can you use these games in? Although many of the games available on BreakoutEDU are linked to a specific content area, they can be played by any subject. The beauty of these challenge games are the higher-order thinking skills involved and because of this they can be integrated in many ways. 

Over the summer, I purchased a BreakoutEDU kit. School started up again and it was time to decide when to give this a try. Each month in my district, the iCoaches get together to collaborate. I thought our first meeting together would be a perfect opportunity to play BreakoutEDU. Once we set the date, my fellow iCoach, Nikki Tye and I, started planning away. 

How we planned: 

  1. First, we searched for the right game to use. On the BreakoutEDU site you’ll find the games available now. New games will be added as they are developed. We decided on using “Time Warp” a game where players are lost in time and need to navigate the history of communication in order to return to the present. 
  2. Next, we started organizing the materials needed for the game. Each kit comes standard with items in it such as locks, a black flashlight, an invisible pen, hint cards, and more. All of these items can be used with each of the different challenge games. In addition to the items in the kit, the game instructed us to print out various digital items that we’d use. 
  3. Finally, to make things fun, we made some big bright signs for the players to hold up afterwards. Signs were made for a successful escape and unsuccessful escape. 

The day came to play BreakoutEDU with the iCoaches! Nikki and I, as the facilitators, introduced the game to the group and explained the objective which was to solve the clues in order to unlock the BreakoutEDU box so they could escape. We started the game timer and let them go. It was fascinating to see how things rolled out. Their energy and dedication to succeed was exciting to witness. What a fantastic way to use logic and higher-order thinking and such a great way to work as a team. 

With 24 seconds left on the clock, they opened the final lock. They escaped!

After having the iCoaches play, our mission was to get BreakoutEDU into a classroom with students. We reached out to a teacher and immediately after hearing about it, he was sold and couldn’t wait to try BreakoutEDU with his students! 

Our first group of students to try this were a group of 7th grade social studies students in Tom Samorian’s class. We split one class into two smaller groups and each group played Time Warp.

As facilitators, we didn’t give any clues away, but we did monitor the students' progress in order to help guide them. The students in each group escaped (and both student groups finished faster than the adult iCoaches). 

The feedback we heard from students was so positive. We heard they couldn’t wait to do this again, that it was so much fun doing something different like this, they loved that they had to “think out-of-the-box”, and they were so intrigued after solving one clue that they couldn’t wait to try solving the next. We debriefed with the teacher as well about how everything went. One exciting take-away was that he wants to design his own game to use in his future lessons. At some point our hope is to give students an option to design their own game to put the learning in their own hands. The wonderful thing about this is that when we give students chances like this, what they show us in return can be pretty amazing. 

We are already planning our next lesson with an 8th grade science teacher and her classes. And, coming soon, our principal is letting us take over one of our staff meetings for all staff to play. We cannot wait for that!

Hearing and seeing the student and adult reactions reinforced that playing BreakoutEDU escape games could bring so much to learning. How great it is to be given an opportunity to apply past knowledge and make connections in order to solve new problems. Using problem-solving, critical thinking, logic, creativity, communication, collaboration...these are the skills we strive to have in our lives!