Escape rooms are breaking out all over. The latest tally by Room Escape Artistcounts more than 1700 in the United States alone. It only makes sense that teachers would want to find a way to bring the concept of a locked room into education as well. After all, who doesn’t want to escape from the classroom at some point during the year? But since the idea of locking up students wouldn’t translate well to most parents, some inspired teachers have figured out a better way to bring the challenge of the escape room to their instruction — with the use of breakout boxes.
Locked Room, Locked Box
Escape rooms, if you haven’t heard of them, are physical locations where you and your teammates enter a “magical world that has its own purpose,” as Sherry Jones, a philosophy and game studies subject matter expert and lecturer at Rocky Mountain College of Art + Design, explained. “There’s some reason you’re trapped in there. When you play the game, you’re trying to figure out how to get out.” The room has clues in the form of objects and gadgets, and the whole activity is timed. As the clock ticks down, the players need to figure out why those objects are there, what their function is, how they help explain why you’re locked up in the first place and how they can work as clues to help you escape before the room “blows up” or the participants inside “freeze” or some other metaphorical demise occurs.
Breakout boxes, such as those introduced by Breakout EDU, turn that formula on its head. Instead of escaping from a room, students must break into a box secured with multiple locks. They do this by drawing on what they’re learning in class to untangle clues that may help them figure out the combination to a lock, locate a key or something else to move them through the game.
The idea that students could still be over-paying for course materials all over the country really burns Brad Wheeler, the vice president for IT and CIO of Indiana University. A big part of the problem, he believes, is that it’s taken a long time for textbook publishers to own up to the “fundamental flaw” of their industry: “They are obsessed with counting their gross margins on the things they actually do sell.” And, he added, they ignore the enormous amounts they lose through the other 75 percent of the market made up of used and rented books and other kinds of substitutes. Because of those blinders, the publishers have “long pursued a model that has been failing, year over year.”
Wheeler has arguably been one of the loudest voices telling textbook companies to change their ways. In 2009, his university began piloting an e-textbook program that eventually pollinated to numerous institutions and started a movement that led to the founding of an organization dedicated to helping schools reclaim ownership of their decisions and data.
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