Monday, December 5, 2016

BreakoutEDU: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

TODAY WAS SO FUN! I've been wanting to try a BreakoutEDU game in my classroom since last spring, and this fall, I talked my librarian into purchasing five BreakoutEDU boxes.  I've been looking for opportunities to integrate these games into my American Literature curriculum all semester, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn felt like the perfect opportunity for students to flex their problem solving and communication skills!

If you've never seen a BreakoutEDU box, the idea is pretty simple. Buy a box and a bunch of locks, and build a series of clues and riddles that guide students to open each lock and, ultimately, open the box. On the BreakoutEDU website, they provide an open source list of everything you need to build your own box, and all the games they've built are FREE to use, which is always great! The escape room games that are popping up in cities around the country have a similar premise. With the game in class, you're just asking students to break IN to something rather than OUT of it.
I searched Twitter and the internet in general and couldn't find a pre-made game for Huck Finn, so I decided to make my own. I was a little nervous to dive into this since I'd never built a game before, but I think it helped a lot that I was working from a piece of literature. I was able to create codes for the locks that related directly to the text. This required students to go back into the literature and do some close reading and problem solving to determine the codes for each lock.
I also met with our district's technology coach, and she gave me some pointers, based on games she had built for other classes. All of my lock codes were linked to QR codes that I hid around the room. Students had to scan the codes to gather clues, complete quizzes, view resources, and puzzle out the meanings and significance of each clue. This was hilarious to watch! I had 7 foot tall basketball players sprawled out on the floor to scan codes hidden under desks.

What was probably the most awesome about this activity was that literally EVERY kid was engaged and excited. I had students that I've been struggling to engage all semester that were running around the room to make sure their group hadn't missed any clues. Students really had to work together and encourage each other in order to solve all the clues and open the box. And even though they didn't all complete the challenge, they didn't give up and quit. They worked through their frustrations. In each class, I had at least one group break into their box, but I had more students that were not able to complete the challenge. It was awesome to see the way these groups were still proud of their hard work, even if they were a little frustrated that they couldn't work their way through all the clues.

In past semesters, I've implemented the Spheros in our study of Huck Finn, but this semester it felt right to do something a little different. We had used the Spheros with both early explorer narratives and Hamlet, and I really wanted to see what would happen if we used this strategy. What happened is that students dug more deeply into Huck Finn, worked together, dealt with frustrations, and had a lot of fun. I'd say that's an end-of-semester success!