Getting Students Excited to Learn

In Tina Risinger’s elementary math classroom in Round Rock, Texas, engagement is at an all-time high. Students are excited to learn and practice math skills with Breakout EDU “escape room” games. Each game challenges students to solve a series of problems creatively while working together against the clock. Students are more apt to retain this knowledge and, best of all, students learn important problem-solving skills along the way.

Learning the content is nice, but learning how to solve problems is even more important. Even when the task is hard, students are finding a way to get it done.
— Math teacher Tina Risinger

Through-the-Roof Engagement

It’s not often that teachers have students begging them for lessons. But this happens routinely in Risinger’s classroom since she introduced learning activities from Breakout EDU.

Risinger, who teaches math to gifted students in grades 3-5 at Deep Wood Elementary School, is always looking for new ways to engage her students and help them achieve deeper learning. At a gathering with other talented and gifted (TAG) teachers in her district, she learned about Breakout EDU, which takes the concept of escape room games and applies it to K-12 instruction.

The lead administrator for Risinger’s district purchased six Breakout EDU kits for the elementary TAG teachers to use in their classrooms.

The first time Risinger used a Breakout EDU kit with her students, “they loved it,” she says. “They just went wild. They’re constantly asking me, ‘When can we do another Breakout EDU game?’ And I realized that I could have them work on any subject or problem as long as they were doing it through a Breakout EDU game. They put so much more effort into their work when they are trying to solve one of the Breakout EDU challenges.”

Turning Classrooms into Escape Rooms

Breakout EDU offers hundreds of learning activities that are presented in the style of an escape room game, complete with a backstory and a series of challenges that students must solve by working together. Successfully completing the challenge of unlocking a Breakout EDU box happens when students unlock clues that help them solve puzzle after puzzle until they reach the game’s conclusion.

The Breakout EDU kit includes lockable boxes, five types of resettable locks, an invisible ink pen, a UV flashlight for reading invisible ink, hint cards for when students need help, and other materials needed to set up and play the games. An online platform includes digital games that students can play, as well.

Teachers can choose from hundreds of pre-made activities spanning every subject area, or they can create their own learning challenges using the game materials provided.

Risinger would frequently check out a Breakout EDU kit from the district’s TAG office to use with her students—until her principal’s son ended up in her class. “He loved doing Breakout EDU games so much that my principal bought two kits for the school’s STEAM Studio,” she notes.

A Novel Way to Review

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Risinger often uses Breakout EDU games to reinforce her teaching of core math concepts. For instance, after teaching students how to convert a fraction into a decimal, she’ll have students solve a challenge that requires them to apply this skill. “When students have to apply their knowledge in a context they’re interested in, I think it sticks with them more,” she says.

With Breakout EDU, even something as mundane as reviewing for the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR)—the state’s high-stakes accountability exam—becomes enjoyable. Risinger handed out a 40-question review sheet and told the students they would be completing a Breakout EDU challenge the next day that relied on their answers to the review questions.

“Normally, my students absolutely hate preparing for the STAAR exam,” she observes. “They’ll run at the sight of a review sheet. But this time, nobody even groaned.”

Risinger set the locks in the Breakout EDU box to open using answers from the review sheet. Students then solved assigned problems to get the answers that were the combination to a 3-digit lock.

“They were allowed to collaborate, so they were checking their answers with each other and teaching their own mini-lessons for each other,” she recalls. “They were learning collaboratively and having fun while doing it. To have students not complain about working on review questions— that’s unheard of.”

More Than Just Content Knowledge

For Risinger, the most valuable aspect of using Breakout EDU in her classroom is that students aren’t just learning math proficiency; they’re also learning how to become creative and effective problem solvers.

When students are confronted with a Breakout EDU challenge they can’t immediately solve, but they are motivated to stick with it, they try many different strategies in order to complete the task. This is good training for when they encounter questions on the STAAR exam they don’t know how to solve—or any other challenges in their lives.

“Learning the content is nice,” she concludes, “but learning how to solve problems is even more important. Even when the task is hard, students are finding a way to get it done.”

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