By Ryan Knight, The Bowman School

Have you ever had a project where you set out to give back, but along the way you end up receiving your own special gifts?  That just recently happened to me, with a project combining the Bowman School wood-shop and Breakout EDU.  

During the summer, I went to the #gafesummit in Palo Alto, CA.  I participated in one of their Breakout sessions, and I was hooked.  At the end of the session, I spoke with James Sanders and Mark Hammons about the possibility of my students building some of the breakout boxes for Breakout EDU.  It was just an off the cuff statement, and I had not put a lot of forethought into the idea.  Mark said to contact him, and we could work something out.  I sent  James and Mark a follow-up email, and the plan to build 100 boxes was born.

I proposed the idea to two of my elder (8th grader) wood-shop students, and off we went (naively) to build 100 boxes.  We made some estimations and bought our first load of lumber.   When we got back to school, I receive the first gift from this project.

The first gift was in the form of a student who normally does not engage in any activity who ended up taking the lead on this project.  “Freeman” is the type of student who likes to linger on the edge and not really get involved, put himself out there, or take any risks.  However, when we got back to school, he leads a group of students to unload the wood, and he helped direct where to stack it.  After we finished, I spoke one-on-one with Freeman and told him it was clear he was going to be the lead on this project.  I expected him to give me some reasons why he couldn’t do it, but I got a big”OK” instead.  It just proves that if you give your students real projects and real responsibilities, they will rise up to the challenge.

Next, we planned out our cut lines and set ourselves up to make a prototype box.  I was working with three students and we discovered that it was very important to make sure we were all working with the same units of measurement.  One of the students was using a metric tape measure …… oops.  This lead to a fantastic teachable moment about checking scale, units, and verifying your measurements, aka “measure twice, cut once.”  In all my years teaching shop, this experience helped demonstrate the concept better than anything I had tried in the past. We fixed the unit issue, made adjustments, and got our first few boxes completed.  

Later that afternoon, we had a follow-up discussion (the real Socratic method) on the quality of the boxes, developing a critical eye, and the best methods for construction.  We decided to do an assembly line approach and to open the project up to all ages that wanted to build a box.  Bowman is a K-8th grade school.  As we started the next phase of the project, I named the initial group of 3 students the Big 3.  We gave daily lessons on working with tools and proper box construction.  A few days into this phase of the project, I received another gift.  

One of the Big 3, “Madden," had one of the worst days ever while trying to assemble some of the boxes.  He ended up splitting five sides for the boxes and put the hinges on the wrong end of the only box he completed.  He wanted to quit the project, but I would not let him.  We had a conversation about his struggles and I told him I wanted him to push through and figure out a way to contribute to  this project. Madden decided he could contribute as a safety officer, watching to make sure people are working safely, and help build with the younger students.  Madden not only became an excellent safety officer he also became a requested helper with our youngest contributors.  Because of Madden’s experiences accidentally destroying some of the boxes, he was able to have real empathy for the students who were struggling with the construction. When something broke or did not go as planned Madden let them know it happens to all of us.

These are just two quick examples of the gifts we received from this project.

Where have things gone since we finished the 100 box project?  I now have a list of students signed up to build their own boxes with customized transfer images. Some of the older students have made their own boxes and added security systems with buzzers, and key switches.  A group of younger students brag that they have made real things (the boxes we shipped) and are taking orders for other projects to build. Other students  have started to make their own versions of the breakout game too.

I would like to extend a deeply heartfelt THANK YOU to Breakout Edu for taking a chance on us.  James and Mark have been so generous sharing their ideas, expertise, and techniques.  They made it easy to transfer the information to the students.

I am also happy to share more details about building the boxes, what worked and what did not,  and other gifts this project gave to us.

I can be reached at

If you receive one of the boxes that we built, we would love to hear where it ended up.  You will know it was made by us because it will have  ”Built by the Bowman School” on the bottom.