New Breakout!

posted Apr 9, 2019, 12:34 PM by Kevin Roughton   [ updated Apr 10, 2019, 5:11 PM ]
We did our new Underground Railroad Breakout yesterday and it was awesome!

I have not figured out the best way to share these as they are so intricate. I think this one is simpler than others I've done in the past. Almost everything you'll need can be found in this file:


You'll need to make your own Google Form "Lock" document and you'll need to either create your own "slave bags" or change those puzzles to something else. If you can manage to make them I highly recommend it as the physical artifacts added a ton to the experience.

This lab started with a request on Twitter. Someone asked for an Underground Railroad Breakout. I loved the idea and dove in head first. It led me to discover the show Underground (currently streaming on Hulu!) which allowed me to make this hype video!

I asked my colleagues for ideas and Mr. Gomez had the incredible idea of using glow-in-the-dark stars to make the Great Dipper to use along with Follow the Drinkin' Gourd. That idea drove the rest of the design as it was just so cool I had to make it the focal point.

Another colleague (go teamwork!) told me he had some "slave bags" from Colonial Williamsburg that he used years ago. He wasn't sure if, or how, I'd use them but he let me know anyway. I'm glad he did. The bags became another key part of the experience. I've written before about the value in making things real and I think one of the missing pieces to most Breakouts I've seen is that real piece. When I did an Escape Room every puzzle was based on something tangible. There's something fun about manipulating real objects to solve a puzzle. The slave bags gave me that element.  They are quite simple. They are just drawstring cloth bags with a few items in them that slaves might have been able to grab to take with them - a ribbon, a couple socks, a wooden spoon, a shell, a chain, a bill of sale, a flint and a piece of steel. 

And then I added one final touch of realia to the experience.


I hung this lantern outside the day of the lab with the light turned on. I wasn't sure kids would notice. They did. I had kids I'd never met asking me what it was for. Perfect!

I set up the room with glowing stars all over the ceiling (and a glowing moon in the center which proved to be a useful red herring.)  In the corner above the closet I put the ceiling stars in the shape of the Big Dipper and placed a large, cross-like star on the wall above the closet to represent the North Star. Inside the closet I placed a small treasure chest with the Freedom (from an Assignment) papers and some candy for the eventual winners.

On the front table I had my lock box with the code set to the answer to the Rebus puzzle. Inside the box were six black light flashlights and six sheets with the lyrics to Follow the Drinkin' Gourd. We're set!

I started the lab by providing every student with a copy of the letter which sets up the narrative. In this case, the Department of Timeline Security, which my kids have worked for all year, need help understanding the secrets of the Underground Railroad so they can use them to help free their captive American brothers in the future. The narrative also outlines the basics of the UR.  On the back they had a copy of the "How Codes Work" information sheet. I realized during my last attempt at a Breakout with this group that they had almost no experience with codes whatsoever. This sheet, which I will use a variant of in all my Breakouts from now on, helped to set the stage.  It also contained their first puzzle clue.

Next, I put them into groups and gave each a packet with the remaining info sheet. They had 10 minutes to review the sheets before I gave them access to the locks. I told them to look for, and underline, anything that stood out like numbers or strange words. This is something I will again be sure to do for all future breakouts. Giving them this time just to read ensured that they actually did.

They got right to work. They solved many of the puzzles quickly (which showed me they actually had read) but all seemed to struggle a bit with the map one. Eventually, one group got the Rebus Puzzle and then opened the box. By the time they realized what they were looking for two more groups also had their lights.


Finally, with literally seconds left, the first group to get the light found the Big Dipper, the North Star and the treasure chest.


The lesson was a resounding success. Three of our teachers have done it now and all reported high engagement from their students. What I am most satisfied with, however, is the amount of content they picked up. I always end up making my own Breakouts because the ones I find are so content-light. It is hard to balance the need to content with the desire to make it fun. This lab hit both points very well. 

Now I've got a bunch of stars on my ceiling begging to be used for something else... I do have the pirate unit coming up... perhaps another Breakout?

Comments