Google Apps “GAFE Smashing” activities — Part 3: Breakout EDU Digital

Ed Tech

Ed Tech | Thursday, May 12, 2016

Google Apps “GAFE Smashing” activities — Part 3: Breakout EDU Digital

[guestpost]This is the final installment of a three-part series on “GAFE Smashing” — blending Google Apps together for engaging, creative experiences for students. Today’s post is written by Justin Birckbichler and Mari Venturino, both educators and Google Certified Innovators from Virginia and California, respectively. When they’re not creating new games for Breakout EDU Digital, they tweet at @Mr_B_Teacher and @MsVenturino.[/guestpost]

Breakout EDU is an immersive learning platform developed by James Sanders and Mark Hammons. After visiting an escape room (a room where you are locked in and have to solve clues and riddles to escape) with a group of students, James and Mark noted how engaged the students were while working on the escape.

Problem solving. Critical thinking. Teamwork. And lots of fun. What's Breakout EDU Digital all about? Check out this post. (Logo from Breakout EDU)

Problem solving. Critical thinking. Teamwork. And lots of fun. What’s Breakout EDU Digital all about? Check out this post. (Logo from Breakout EDU)

Realizing most educators can’t lock students in a room (for obvious legal and ethical reasons), the two decided to flip the concept – take a wooden box, add a hasp and a few locks, and provide clues. Let the students’ natural curiosity and excitement do the rest. By the end, students will have (hopefully) found and figured out all of the clues, enabling them to unlock all the locks and complete the game before time runs out. (See a thorough explanation of how Breakout EDU works here.)

We (Justin and Mari) have run multiple Breakout EDU games with our students. We love seeing how engaged and motivated our students are, even those who less likely to participate in class. We realized how much fun these games were, while also being educational. We wanted to replicate them using only digital tools. With Google Forms and data validation, we were able to recreate the locked box and hasp. In our games, all clues are linked directly within a Google Site, and take some serious detective work to solve.

This project started small, and we expected to share the games around, then move on with other things. When we sent out the initial invitation to Beta test our games on March 25, 2016, we were blown away with over 200 responses in less than 36 hours. After the initial Beta test and feedback, we released our games and website out to a wider audience on Facebook and Twitter.

In mid-April, James Sanders reached out to us and asked if we’d like to officially become Breakout EDU Digital, and take on We responded with an immediate “yes!” and began integrating our content into the Breakout EDU website.

We’ve certainly learned a lot since we first launched our games.

One lesson we’ve learned is that we constantly need to be flexible in our teaching. As part of our games we have a feedback form that allows us to hear directly from the people who are playing our games. We act on all feedback that we feel improves the games, which is something an effective teacher should always do as you gauge student reaction in class.

Resiliency and growth mindset have been another huge focal point of this project. We purposely make the games challenging and rather in-depth. Sometimes people contact us asking for answers or hints, and we encourage them to explore the games alongside their students, to show that teachers don’t always hold all the knowledge. This may make some teachers uncomfortable, but the connections your class forms as you decode the games together will pay off in dividends.

Some of the many Breakout EDU Digital games available to play at

Some of the many Breakout EDU Digital games available to play at

You can definitely tie your instructional content into a Breakout EDU, whether the box version or the digital type. For our digital game “,” we made understanding of the history of Alcatraz necessary to unlock the Form. Other users who have created their own have also tied their content into their digital breakouts. Imagine how much more engaging this is than reading it from a textbook! (See lots of pre-created Digital Breakout EDU games here.)

So how can you develop your own Breakout EDU Digital games? We’ve tried to streamline the process by having a “Build Your Own” button on the website. These are a series of screencast tutorials that model different elements of our games. The most important element is the Google Form that acts as the box. Under advanced settings on “short answer” (in the new Forms) or “text” (in the old Forms,) you must turn on “data validation.” From there, type in the desired response and add something like “Still locked” or “Keep trying” in the help text. If you don’t, it will give the answer to the students. There are plenty more tutorials available for you to watch, and we’re always on the lookout for new ideas!

One of the critical elements of the original Breakout EDU is the collaboration and communication between the classmates. With Breakout EDU Digital, there might not have been as inherent a need for collaboration since each device is its own box. We have presented at a GAFE Summit (Mari live, and Justin on Google Hangouts) where we had participants play a short demo game. The session started out with everyone on their own devices. They naturally paired up and then formed larger groups to work together to solve the breakout.

Additionally, we recently hosted a Breakout EDU Digital LIVE event with eighteen adults working together to solve a brand new game. These events proved that the collaboration factor definitely takes it to the next level.

We predict an exciting future for Breakout EDU Digital. We are currently getting ready to launch a Digital Sandbox, where community members can submit their own games for others to play and provide feedback. Additionally, we are both building our own individual games and collaborating on games. We’re on pace to release one game per week for the foreseeable future. We always love feedback and suggestions on new directions and how to improve our games.

So what are you waiting for? Go visit and to learn more about how you can use it in your classroom, or join the Breakout EDU Facebook group for ideas and help. The students will be engaged, will collaborate, will develop interpersonal skills, will have fun, and will even learning something along the way!

Contact Justin or Mari via email at

Mandi Tolen, a Missouri math teacher and #DitchBook Twitter chat regular, created a Breakout EDU Digital game for her students. It’s called, “Digital Breakout Data Cruncher.”

Mandi Tolen's Breakout EDU Digital game, "Digital Breakout Data Cruncher". Click here to check it out!

Mandi Tolen’s Breakout EDU Digital game, “Digital Breakout Data Cruncher”. Click here to check it out!

She’s a big fan of using Breakout EDU Digital to get kids excited about learning. “BreakoutEDU is a great ‘hook’ for a lesson,” she said. “It provides opportunities for students to problem solve and persevere. While solving the Breakout, students will be learning about the content. It would also be amazing to have students create their own BreakoutEDU.”

Mandi’s steps:

  • You can create a digital BreakoutEDU using Googles Sites as the shell. By inserting a two column table onto the main page of your site and embedding a Google Form on one side and Google Drawing image on the other, you can create an exciting adventure for your students.
  • On the Google Form, you will insert a timer from YouTube (BreakoutEDU has one you can use or find another if you want less the 45 minutes) and make sure you validate each answer so students can’t continue until they have entered the correct clue.
  • In Google Draw, create your image with invisible hotspots linking to the websites or clues. To create an invisible hotpot, create a shape on top of the image and change the line and fill to transparent. You can still insert a link into the invisible shape. Make sure its order is in the front. Have a few people test your BreakoutEDU to make sure they can solve the clues. You know what you intended but you want to make sure the clues aren’t to difficult (or easy.)

Play “Digital Breakout Data Cruncher” here:

And check out Mandi’s tutorial on making a Breakout EDU Digital game:

[reminder]Do you have any experience with Breakout EDU (standard or digital)? What do you think of it?[/reminder]

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