Lessons from the Lockbox

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Lessons from theThis blog post accompanies the 2018 TLA presentation “Thinking outside the lockbox: New Ways to Use Escape Kits in Any Library.

Lockboxes are receiving a lot of hype in classrooms, K-12.  A quick Pinterest search will reveal countless pins and boards of teacher and librarian breakouts and lockbox applications for learning.  Founded by educators, Breakout EDU is largey responsible for the overnight infusion of escape activities.  With ready-made free games and sleek lockbox kits, Breakout EDU offers a “plug-and-play” option for eager educators to jump in and engage students in their content with critical thinking, collaboration, creativity, and communication

I decided to dive into the lockbox phenomenon after I saw how fellow librarians were building their own kits and games to excite and engage students about books and the services their libraries have to offer.  I’ve experienced early every emotion along the way–laughed until I cried, cried until I laughed, and lobbed a few locks across the library.

Rather than making my own lock boxes, I opted to go the ready-made route and purchased four Breakout EDU kits.

Breakouts for Professional Learning

My first attempt at facilitating breakouts was a collaboration with my administration on my campus.  I’m very lucky to work alongside a campus principal who sees the role of the school librarian as an innovator and campus leader.  After sharing the Breakout EDU site with him over the summer, he invited me to facilitate a Breakout for the administrative and leadership teams before school began.  Luckily, Breakout EDU had a game that served our purpose–to engage our campus leaders in a collaborative, dynamic learning exprience that required them to communicate, think critically and creatively to re-imagine what learning experiences could look like in our classrooms.  Both the admin team and the leadership team enjoyed the experience and participated in a terrific discussion following the game about student learning and their experiences working as a team to break in to the boxes.  Breakout EDU includes reflective question cards that make the discussion process easy to facilitate and engage participates in.


Breakouts with Students

Intellectual Freedom and Information Searching

The first Breakout game I planned was…ambitious.  After such a positive response to the Breakout games with teachers and administration, I was on a high–eager to design my own game from scratch to excite students (and teach them a little about information search processes in our Gale databases).  After chasing many rabbit trails and hours of frustration browsing the cute, elaborate teacher-made games on Pinterest, I felt entirely inadquate.

Finally, inspiration struck.  The freshmen English classes I had convinced to try this experiment with me had scheduled their classes for the Breakout during Intellectual Freedom Week.  During our initial collaboration, I discussed the goals of the Breakout with teachers.  They contributed by sharing with me areas they noticed students struggled later on in the year when they got to more formal research assignments.  I threw all of the half-baked, cutesie ideas I had started and abandoned out the window and returned to the WHY:

  • Engage students in collaboration, critical thinking by facilitating an experience they had to successfully communicate, problem solve, and come up with creative solutions
  • Introduce students to basic database search techniques, familiarizing them with Gale databases, features, and content
  • Introduce students to the basic issues and complexities around intellectual freedom, their rights as students, and future concerns as learners and citizens

I went easy on myself and created a lock-step game where each clue led to a lock solution rather than creating a complex web of inter-connected clues with multipe breadcrumbs.  To organize the game, I utilized Smore, which allowed me to embed YouTube tutorial videos and Google Forms.

The result:  Intellecutal Freedom Breakout: Defending Freedom of Speech with Database Skills

After two weeks of back-to-back freshmen classes (two a period), I was exhaustd and down three broken locks and one locked box.  My biggest take-aways:

  • Have something (chocolate) inside the box other than just the breakout sign or you’ll have a lot of disappointed teenagers
  • employ the teachers’ help to police lock-abuse and reset the lock
  • once the timer starts, sit back, relax, and resist the urge to give kids unsolicited help!  They’ll figure it out–it’s part of the game
  • Did I mention chocolate?



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Round 2:  Mash-Up of Library Resources and Student Creativit

Romeo and Juliet: What makes a great work of literature great?

It took a few months to recover from round 1, but by the time the English I clases were preparing for their Romeo and Juliet unit, I was ready to try again.  Still not ready for the flashy resources, I opted to keep the physical components low-key, incorporating only a few physical clues that I adopted from a teacher-designed game I had found in my browsing.  Our goals this round were:

  • Introduce students to the historical, cultural, and literary context of the play
  • Engage students in a creative process that requires them to synthesis and share their learning with one another

Lockboxes and breakouts had a lot of potential for teaching students new content, but I wanted it to lead to something where students then transferred their learning in creative ways.  I designed the game so students had to utilize a new resource, Follett’s Romeo and Juliet Lightbox–an interactive, multi-media ebook. The clues required them to learn new concepts and information about the play in order to create a 30 second teaser-trailer for the play and to respond to the essential question on a Flipgrid I had created for them to share their understanding and their work.

(This time, I remembered the chocolate).

Year One Realizations and Aspirations for the Future

Looking back, although exhausting and sometimes frustrating, I feel that the Breakouts were a success.  Students grew as communicators and collaborators, excersized their problem-solving and information search skills, and were having fun!

Next year, I plan to focus on extending teacher collaborations to content areas outside of English and to continue to mix and mash-up our library resources, digital and print, to incorporate them into the experiences.

What are your stories and lessons-learned with lockboxes and breakouts in the library and classroom?  I’d love to hear and share!

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