India Edwards, a Wampus fifth-grader, is racing around the library with her class trying to solve the puzzle that will open a series of locks. If they can open them all, they will discover what is in their “breakout box.” They participated in an immersive educational game called Breakout EDU. This interactive activity was made possible by a grant from the Byram Hills Education Foundation (BHEF) and brings the challenges of “escape the room” learning to the classroom.
In the last few years, there has been a worldwide growth in educational “escape the room” formats and many educators are adapting the concept to fit the needs of their classes. Students develop social skills while integrating creativity, collaboration, communication, and critical thinking, often referred to as the four C’s of 21st Century learning. Breakout EDU serves as the culminating activity to the Wampus Library’s unit on Genrefication, defined as “the process or idea of classifying literature into specific genres or categories.” Genrefication is often considered an addition to, an alternative to, or an adaptation of the traditional Dewey Decimal System.
“One of the goals in this project has been to facilitate greater student ownership or investment in the library,’’ said Mrs. Jessica Murti, Wampus Librarian. “The idea was to get students more involved with how the books were organized, broaden their interest in different categories, and to support and nourish their love of reading.” For the Breakout EDU’s, the librarians set up four padlocked boxes, each with a set of puzzles to be solved in order to open the boxes. Teams of four or five students worked together using clues to locate genre-related answers from different sections in the library. To solve these challenges, students were instructed to use everything they had learned about genre, as well as their knowledge of how the library is managed.
India Edwards said, “This was a mystery inside a mystery. In our group, we decided to divide and conquer the tasks, and each focused on one thing.” India later admitted that it took the entire group working together to finally open the breakout box. The problem-solving component is a challenge but forces students to think deeper. This activity is about how to navigate and communicate in a group. They practiced time management, working under pressure, and respect for their group members, which are all significant life skills.
Mrs. Murti said, “The Breakout EDU genre assignment connects the curriculum in an authentic way and aligns perfectly with the District goals of 21st Century learning.”