"There are more authentic ways to assess our students' understanding and measure their learning, than tests. Learning can be fun, while meaningful and challenging. Through playing and creating games, students are empowered to take ownership of their learning."
Through this project we were able to purchase 3 Breakout EDU kits and VersaTiles Answer cases. Breakout EDU is a educational concept that has been around for about a year, where participants solve riddles, puzzles, and clues in order to "break out" of the scenario. Kits include an assortment of combination locks, boxes, and accessories such as a invisible ink pen and an ultraviolet flashlight. Cipher wheels, secret messages, and other elements can be added to make the scenario more challenging. My students added the VersaTiles low tech, self-assessment tool to customize their games.
Originally, my students had planned to make curriculum-based content area games for classroom teachers, after they created one for the library. The students and I found that it actually was more difficult than we had originally thought to create these games. First, my students played and analyzed pre-made games shared on the Breakout EDU website. Then, I modeled for my students how to create puzzles for various ability levels, and how to connect these puzzles into a breakout scenario. My students created a breakout game to help introduce our incoming 6th graders to our library during orientation. They brainstormed and worked individually, in pairs, and finally as a full group. They also tested it themselves, so that they could "work out the kinks" by rewording riddles and adjusting the location of clues. My students plan to beta test it with other students before we roll it out in September.
The biggest success of this project is that my students were empowered to create a learning activity for other students. They have helped me to transform what could be a boring library orientation lesson into an activity that promotes collaboration, problem-solving, and active learning. Some of my students have even offered to help me facilitate the game in September during their free periods. This is encouraging to me because my students’ view our library as a dynamic place of learning. Even though our original goal had been to create breakout games for teachers, now that my students know how to create one they can show teachers how to create their own. In this way, the teachers can customize their games as appropriate for their classes. They can also demonstrate to teachers how to create puzzles using the VersaTiles self-assessment kits.
There were many unexpected outcomes of this project. My students learned that they could have as much fun playing a Breakout EDU game as they could by playing video games. They became so immersed in the experience of creating their own game (with my guidance), because they had a vested interest in it. They wanted to make it a game that their new peers would enjoy. Having other kids as their audience, I believe, was the driving force in making their game the best that it could be. Their contribution will have a lasting impact on our 6th grade library orientation program. My students also now appreciate the process of creating a game, from researching to brainstorming to creating to testing and to modifying. Even though this was a long process, my students demonstrated grit and perseverance. By working together, they were willing to continue for the benefit of the team.
Through this experience I have learned so much not only about gamification, but also about my students and myself. Recently, coding and video game design have been hot trends in education. But, it all relies on the story. I appreciate the aspect of stories as a school librarian, but never realized the impact on gaming. If you strip down a game to its most basic elements, the story is always the most important, regardless of medium. If the story is not engaging, challenging, and fun than the game can't succeed. I also learned more about how middle school students' minds work, and that I am very much like them! They tend to think more in pieces and need support making connections. Through this process I discovered that I am also a nonlinear thinker. Being creative and a free thinker, I'm comfortable with inspiring my students to tap into their imaginations. However, I have learned from working with my students that I must develop my own sequential, logic skills so that I can support them.
This project is still in its beginning stages in my school as a pilot program. I worked with a small group of students after school in our Imagination Foundation-SLIME Chapter. Through working with them, I feel more confident now helping teachers, and even their own students, to create games. One of my original goals had been for our students to create a breakout game for our SLIME-Students of Long Island Maker Expo (slimemakerexpo.com). More than 600 participants (students, parents, educators, and community members) attended our expo from all over Long Island, NY. The game was to be based on Long Island trivia. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to create one in time because we only received the resources in March. Next year, our club will begin preparing earlier. Now that they have experienced the obstacles of creating a game, it will be much easier to create other ones. My students are also excited about the idea of presenting at a local conference to share what they have learned during the process.
My colleague Gina Seymour, a librarian from a neighboring school district, and I have formed a consortium of Long Island educators interested in the maker movement. I would like to introduce them to Breakout EDU for student engagement, as well as professional development. Games are beneficial not only for problem-solving skills and demonstrating understanding of content, but also for promoting collaboration and building teamwork skills. My students have shown me the power of working together for a common goal. This is one of the most important skills for anyone to learn regardless of age, gender, socioeconomic background, religion, academic ability, or culture. As George Bernard Shaw once said, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” Through play we can learn how to lead, be a part of a team, cooperate, compromise, solve problems, and be reflective. These human aspects transcend curriculum. They help us to connect with others, and envision scenarios that we would not consider if confined to practicality and the “real world.” Though competitive, play has the power to unite people for a common goal.
To learn more about Breakout EDU, go to http://www.breakoutedu.com/.
To join the Breakout EDU Facebook Group, go to https://www.facebook.com/groups/breakoutedu/
To learn more about VersaTiles, go to http://www.hand2mind.com/brands/versatiles
To learn more about DonorsChoose, go to https://www.donorschoose.org/
To learn more about Think It Up, go to http://www.thinkitup.org/
To see the inspiration for our library Breakout EDU game, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JoXLWZMwORA
Links to clues:
QUOTES FROM KIDS
“I learned that I can make a game. I never thought that I would be able to do that. It was hard sometimes to make it, especially the puzzles. But my friends and I worked together. Now we made something that other kids can learn from.”
“I thought school was boring. I like to play video games at home all the time, but we can’t play video games in school. We can have breakout games. I’m not lying, I like video games better because there is more action. But if we can’t do that, breakout games would at least get us to walk around during class instead of being stuck in a chair.”
“New kids to our school will get to play our game. That is really cool!”
“It takes a lot more work than I thought. I learned more about the library, and how to decide what kinds of riddles to make to help the students go from one clue so they can find another. It was like a scavenger hunt.”
“I learned that it’s very important to pay attention to details and to follow directions. Our teachers tell us this all of the time. It’s different when you are making something. Then you have to REALLY know your stuff! You have to pretend that you are someone else and think like them.”
“I want to design video games. I like coding, but now I know that I have to have an idea of a game that people would like to play. It can’t be boring or no one will buy it.”
“I want to be a teacher when I grow up. Mrs. H. showed me that there are other ways that I can teach kids so they will learn. I really love making arts and crafts, and using cardboard. I think I am going to make my own games with things that I have around my house.”
“This was hard for me. I’m not very good at making puzzles, but my friends were helping so it made it easier. Mrs. H. said that I should try and do my best. I liked helping my friends and working with them.”
Our "Let Us Out of Here!: Gamifying Our Library" student-led DonorsChoose project was nominated for a Think It Up Innovation Award. While my students and I weren't selected to be one of the 8 winners, our project was one of the 200 finalists. My students will be disappointed that they didn't win, but I am so proud of them. I also can't wait to really delve into the world of Breakout EDU during the upcoming school year.
Meet the Think It Up winners!
Kristina A. Holzweiss
Ed Tech School Librarian