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.

24 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!

  2. Welcome back for another month. Some things change, some things stay the same.
    On the family front, my wife continues to ride the waves of being in leadership during such chaotic times. One minute talking about building back better, next minute scrambling plans for how learning online might be for Victoria’s second wave. All while balancing study as well. In the meantime, the kids have taken to finding joy in forgotten places, such as the backyard. This included using the sticks from the apple tree to create a homemade tent.

    Homemade Tent Version 1

    Homemade Tent Version 2

    At work, the month started with questions from schools about whether they needed to change things back to normal within their system to frantically checking that everything was still in place from last time schools to move back online. In between all of this, I have been supporting new schools and continuing to develop various resources. I am not sure if it is just me, but there is a different level of scrutiny when recording video content compared with written material.
    Personally, I have continued to live the life of working at home where everything morphs into everything else. However, Troy Hunt wrote a useful reminder about not sweating the small stuff. I have found it important to remember that things could always be worse. I am still employed and as Damian Cowell recently explained, there are always worse jobs.
    In regards to writing, I wrote a reflection on stealing time, as well as some more pieces about space. I have also been continuing my dive into the sonic spaces of Joseph Shabason, listening to DIANA. I have also been enjoying Taylor Swift’s pivot.

    Here then are some of the posts that have had me thinking:
    Steve Collis on Innovation in Learning Design
    Steve Collis reflects on the challenges associated with designing for emergence.
    ‘Reality Pedagogy’ Is Teaching as a Form of Protest
    Christopher Emdin discusses the importance of pedagogy as a response to the world around us.
    Blended Content Studio
    Mike Caulfield breaks down some of the pieces associated with the structure of blended learning and some consideration in regards to the creation of video content.
    Librarians turned Google Forms into the unlikely platform for virtual escape rooms
    Aliya Chaudhry reports on how some librarians have turned to the creation of digital escape rooms.
    What does ‘back to basics’ really mean? What ‘reforms’ are being signalled this time?

    Naomi Barnes reflects on the many iterations of ‘back to basics’ education and highlights the way in which this empty signifier means more than just reading, writing and arithmetic.

    Why Should We Allow Students to Retake Assessments?
    Thomas Guskey responds to concerns raised around offering students the opportunity to retake tests and assessment.
    The Constant Risk of a Consolidated Internet
    Ian Bogost reflects on the recent Twitter hack to highlight how centralized the internet has become. One with little room for design and creativity.
    How SDKs, hidden trackers in your phone, work
    Sarah Morrison digs into the way in which APIs and SDK kits provide the framework for tracking.
    What’s wrong with WhatsApp
    William Davies discusses the place of private groups in the rise of the web.
    The TikTok War
    Ben Thompson reflects on the growing concern around the political implications of TikTok. In a follow-up piece, he discusses the different internets and the role they play.
    The Age of Mass Surveillance Will Not Last Forever
    In a new introduction for Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother and Homeland, Edward Snowden reflects on the change in consciousness in the last ten years.
    The rise and fall of Adobe Flash
    In other histories, the Walkman turned forty and the car radio turned ninety.
    Jacob Collier: Tiny Desk (Home) Concert
    Jacob Collier re-imagines the idea of a solo performance with multi-part presentation for NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert
    The End of Open-Plan Everything – Walls Are Back
    Amanda Mull discusses the challenges associated with turning around years of open planned spaces.
    Our remote work future is going to suck
    Sean Blanda discusses remote work’s focus on tasks, the ways in which people can become forgotten, the culture of disruption, and the challenge associated with career growth.
    Is SARS-CoV-2 airborne? Questions abound—but here’s what we know
    Beth Mole unpacks the data on coronavirus and aerosol transmission, with the push to recognise the distribution beyond just droplets.
    Mystery Road offers a different model for police shows in the age of Black Lives Matter
    Hannah Reich discusses the problems associated with a one-side perspective of police portrayed on the screen.
    Susan Rogers on Take 5 Podcast
    Zan Rowe speaks with Susan Rogers about working with Prince, archiving his music and our experience of music.

    Read Write Respond #055
    Ben Folds captures the current moment best, stating:

    It used to be ‘that song is so 2008’. Now it’s ‘ugh, that song is so 10am. What are you thinking? With that old song you old man?

    On that note, stay well and thank you for reading. I hope you found something of interest. Oh, and thank you to my one avid reader for.picking up the careless mistakes in my last newsletter.

    Cover Image via JustLego101

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