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  • reflection
We bought a couple of BreakoutEDU kits a couple of months ago, after I had heard Kristi Lonheim (@lonheim) rave about her experience with a Breakout during a CoetailCast.  My colleague Ryan and I leaned on a fellow teacher who has APO privileges, and within a couple of days the kits were here in Oman.  Ryan (@globalibrarian) and I peered into the boxes, played with the padlocks a while, and looked at a couple of Breakouts online.  Then we took some time to figure out what we might want to do with them. They looked like a lot of fun (which, in my book, is enough), but I wanted to understand what a Breakout could do before I tried to sell them to a busy classroom teacher. 
A month later I went to Seoul for a GAFE Summit, and met James Sanders (@jamestsanders), the man who dreamed up (and builds) the BreakoutEDU boxes.  During his workshop we were able to participate in our own Breakout.  It was very engaging (but I love stuff like that, I really love it.  I am a fundi, if you speak Swahili).  It also seemed to be very challenging, the clues were quite vague and took some creativity to decipher (and to make, I later found out). Some of the clues relied on us making inferences that in retrospect seemed remarkable.  But we were also all talking to one another (with varying degrees of reciprocation and listening going on), and there was also a high level of perseverance being shown.  All said, I thought it was a great experience, and I came back to Muscat ready to spread the good word.
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Yesterday at out staff inservice Ryan and I ran our own Breakout with our Middle School staff, a set of clues that we had taken a good few hours to dream up.  The clues were based on the Five Themes of Geography, and were all focused on Oman.  Local knowledge was necessary in order to figure some of the clues out, and for that reason we will not post the Breakout to the website.  Designing a Breakout is one of the funnest things that I have done as a teacher.  Once again, I think that perhaps a person's personality might come into play here (I am not sure that my wife would enjoy designing a Breakout). I loved it. It is certainly something that one gets better at, and more efficient at, I am sure.  It took a while.  But it was fun.
We gave our staff very few instructions, and unlike my GAFE group, they slowly started to wander around the room, looking for things that might be clues, with a little apprehension and a hint of "What the $^&#* are you having me do here?" in the air.  Then a couple of team members took charge, and devised a plan to gather all of the clues at one table. As the clues came in, team members began to gather around and work collaboratively at solving them. The results of this methodology was pretty interesting.  The clues were all piled on one table, and then the more gregarious team members soon formed a pretty tight circle around the table, and the more introverted team members floated around the outside. Twice we heard outsiders suggest ideas that were in fact correct solutions to a clue, only to be drowned out by the energy and drive of the inner circle members. In Seoul at the GAFE session, we had worked all over the room, calling out to one another when we needed to communicate.  Unknowingly, I think that that might have given more people more access to the information and therefore allowed them to become more involved.
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For the record, the MS staff unlocked the box with 8 seconds to spare, after cashing in both hints carefully and judiciously.  The reflection session afterwards was great.  The teachers had enjoyed the experience, but struggled to understand how they could get it into their classrooms.  Many were worried about one section of a grade ruining the Breakout for another later section. I feel like we can work around that kind of thing.
There was the suggestion that we could make it an after school activity, which I like, but at the same time think that the collaborative and team building lessons that surface after a Breakout are so powerful that it would be a real shame for our learning communities such as classrooms and homerooms to miss out on them.  This is where the real gold is.
During the reflection activity afterwards the teachers began to become metacognitive about their role during the Breakout.  I asked them to reflect on a couple of questions: 
  • how would you describe your experience during the Breakout in terms of learning skills and behaviors that support learning (for example collaboration, creative thinking, perseverance and problem solving)?
  • what aspect of working in a large group do you think challenged you and the group the most?
None of the team had seemed aware of how they were contributing to the group during the Breakout itself.  This kind of thinking came out afterwards.  It will be interesting to see how this team will work differently if we do another Breakout in the next month, which I have asked our principal to OK.  
I think that another Breakout with our staff will allow us to act on our reflections, and to understand better how we can use tools such as BreakoutEDU to help us to develop our capacity for empathy and to become more aware of how we work with one another.