Breaking Out Collaborative Problem Solving in the Classroom


flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

One of my goals at the recent GAFE Summit in Melbourne was to delve into BreakoutEDU. I had long wondered about the concept, having read various reflections. However, it is one of those things that can be hard to make sense of without actually experiencing it. Basically, the session has a central narrative which drives the problem

The first thing that stood out in the session was the place of the teacher in the room. Although it can be easy in the traditional classroom to fall back into the default role of the ‘sage on the stage’, BreakoutEDU simply does not allow for this. With the focus on participants working collaboratively to solve a series of problems in order to unlock a collection of locks attached to a box located in the room, the learning is centred on the learner.

The role of the teacher in this environment is in creating a learning sequence that includes tasks and challenges that are neither too easy nor too hard. One of the suggestions given is to start out small, maybe just a couple of problems over a short amount of time, and as students develop stamina and resilience increase the length of time. There is also the opportunity for documentation, whether this is taking notes or recording video.

The problems themselves involve a range of resources and stimuli to support the learning, ranging from decks of cards, computer, infrared torch, USB disks with information, coloured paperclips, QR codes and Google Docs. The limit is dependent on your imagination. For example, one case study provided was of a teacher who incorporated Google Cardboard into the activity. While in regards to the locks, there are a number of options, including those controlled by directions, traditional key locks, number and letter codes, as well as a iOS app for something different. Each allows for the creation of different problems to work through.

The reality is that the whole classroom truly becomes a learning environment, both virtually and physically. Anything and everything can be incorporated as a part of the process. With this in mind, it often needs to be specified what maybe out of bounds, such as a permanent screen or teacher’s computer.

In regards to the learning sequences, there are already a range of ready made puzzles which you can use or repurpose based on your context. However, I see the real potential in making your own story to fit your needs. Maybe it is:

  • Reimagining the immersion process to a unit.
  • Exploring computational thinking without a computer.
  • Revising a semester of work.
  • Developing congeniality amongst staff.
  • Focusing on general capabilities, such as thinking skills and teamwork.

What needs to be remembered is that it is actually the process and reflection which is most important. Although there maybe some sort of reward within the box, this is not the focus. (Nick Brierley shared how his students have gotten to the point where they no longer need or expect to find anything with the box.)

Personally, I was left thinking about my experience of teaching biomes. Although students engaged with their ecological projects, the immersion process did not carry with it the same enthusiasm. I had attempted to develop a series of flipped videos exploring Brazil. However, students were still left consuming content, making sense of the different biomes. In teaching the unit again, I wonder if it could begin with an activity where together they need to ask and answer a series of puzzles and problems in order to unlock the box. To me this takes some of elements of hyperdocs and combines them with the detective elements of Carmen Santiago. At the very least, students could work together through a digital version, as demonstrated within this example. While Tom Mullaney has also written about how to use both old and new Google Sites.

Although creating a scenario from scratch has its challenges in regards to developing a compelling narrative, teachers already have much of the content from the planning documents that they use. For example, when preparing using Understanding By Design teachers identify the intended understandings, questions, content and skills in a process of working backwards. I also wonder if there is potential of students actually developing their own scenario?

For some more ideas and inspirations around BreakOutEdu, checkout this video and website:


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Breaking Out Collaborative Problem Solving in the Classroom by Aaron Davis is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

8 thoughts on “Breaking Out Collaborative Problem Solving in the Classroom”

  1. Hello again Aaron – this is a terrific post!
    BreakoutEDU appeals to the active, collaborative learning many students, and adults, prefer. I agree that assessing the process through reflection is key to advancing learning. Another aspect of BreakoutEDU that consistently impresses me is escaping, or successfully arriving at a solution, always requires divergent perspectives. Critics can shoot holes in Gardner’s learning styles theory, but successful team members always comment about how different “styles” helped them overcome obstacles. I like to think BreakoutEDU mirrors “real-life” challenges that divergent global perspectives can solve.
    Thank you for sharing the terrific digital example. I have been toying with this concept and it’s actually simpler than the approach I was taking.
    Isn’t it interesting that we are physically a half a world away in physical distance, but we have been able to communicate instantly, almost daily, in our digital learning space. I think that’s cool!
    Bob

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