Monday, April 24, 2017

It's Alive! Challenging Students to Create their own Breakout Game

During the final week of March, I lost my mind.

Classes were starting to get stuck in a routine.  Now, I'm not opposed to routine, but I do get bored easily.  We were nearing the end of our American Revolution unit and I wanted students to do something that would let them practice using what they had learned and give me an opportunity to assess their understanding of our learning targets.
"Plan a Breakout game!  It's the perfect way to practice and assess."  That's what the angel on my shoulder told me as I pondered what to do.  
Turns out that angel was a little wicked, because it only told me half the story.  Asking students to plan a BreakoutEDU game is an incredible way for them to review material and for me to see what they do and do not know.  It's also a logistical nightmare!  

This post was written for a couple of reasons: 
  1. To share how I structured this activity
  2. To seek suggestions for improvement
How I structured the activity

I started by determining a goal and what items were essential for me to assess student understanding.

As a class, we discussed what was expected and brainstormed ideas for our story and how students would incorporate what they had learned into the game.  Students were then divided into small groups and tasked with creating a story and rough outline of how their game would work.  We met together the next day and each group shared its ideas before we voted as a class on which game we would like to build on.

We decided to use the stock BreakoutEDU materials for maximum playability and discussed what we would need to do to complete our game in three days.  I asked for volunteers to form teams to address those needs before students then began working in self-appointed groups.  Some students moved to teams once their tasks were done or if they felt they would be more successful.

On the third day, we came back together as a class and mapped out the game on the board.  Seeing it visually helped students figure out which items were used, if all clues led somewhere else, and if the game sounded achievable and like something they would want to play.

I asked each team to nominate one person to represent them during the final phase of game creation, the set-up instructions.

One way I excited the students about this activity was mentioning that I would like to submit these games for inclusion either on the BreakoutEDU site or in the sandbox.  I gave the new team a blank game template from BreakoutEDU and tasked them with "making the instructions" for our game.  

We played the games on Monday and, well, see for yourself.

What went well?

  • Using the stock BreakoutEDU materials makes the game playable by anyone with a basic kit.  The limited materials also encouraged students to create additional puzzles and clues.
  • Discussing expectations as a class kept students focused on the end goal.
  • It was encouraging listening to students brainstorming as a class.  It provided an opportunity for me to hear what they knew, what excited them, and actually seemed to encourage less vocal students to participate.
  • Overall, students chose well in the creation of the set-up instructions teams.
  • Using the template provided by BreakoutEDU helped ensure the game came together.
  • Three days seemed like a good amount of time to complete this activity. (Most) students didn't lose interest and they weren't rushed.

What needs improvement?

  • Some students pouted for three days because their suggestions weren't chosen.  I know there's always some hurt feelings, etc. with middle school students, but still, it was annoying.
  • Most self-appointed teams stayed on task, with some students even moving to another team in order to keep from getting distracted.  However, a few teams were distracted and distracting.
  • Although many of the quiet students spoke up during brainstorming, it was the loudest students that drove the direction of the product.
  • Some students tried turning all responsibility over to the students who are perceived as "the smart kids".  How can I increase students' self-efficacy? 
  • I was too involved in mapping out the game on the white board.  I tried turning over almost complete control to the students, but still had to lead the discussion to complete the game map.
  • Students struggled writing explanations for how to set up the game they created!
I challenged my History Lab! honors students (featured in the video above) and had to alter gameplay due to not having five Breakout kits.  I asked History Lab! what they thought about the games.  They said:

  • Some clues didn't connect well
  • Required content knowledge they didn't have
  • Fun to play when the game clues all worked
I think there's a lot of benefit to using BreakoutEDU in the classroom and allowing students to make their own games.  Hopefully, we'll try this again next year with a better plan and it will run smoothly.  

Have any of you led students through designing their own Breakout games?  What process did you use?


"Design Your Own Breakout Game" Student handout

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