NDSU Extension Innovation


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Virtual Escape Rooms - Innovation Coffee Break, July 16, 2020

Virtual Escape Rooms? Yes, David Ripplinger, Agribusiness and Applied Economics, and Lindsey Leker, 4-H Youth Development, adapted these interactive, fun activities into an online environment.

Learn how they did it – and how you can, too.


Innovation Coffee Break – Virtual Escape Rooms – July 16, 2020

21 participants

Lindsey Leker, 4-H Youth Development Specialist -- Science

Lindsey got into breakout boxes a couple years ago and had youth make escape rooms at virtual camp this summer. When COVID hit, she didn’t have much time to plan virtual camp, but it was easy to develop and went very well.

She uses https://www.breakoutedu.com/. Many Extension staff have BreakoutEDU codes from volunteer training. Others can get a code from Lindsey since she has grant funds.

She used Zoom for virtual camp and shared a photo of Cloverbuds in action. She often uses breakout rooms for smaller groups of youth working together. The kids mainly want social interaction and don’t care if something goes wrong. Always play the game yourself before doing it with kids.

BreakoutEDU started with a kit, and the kit provides games to do in person with kids. Digital games started a year ago or so, but really geared up after COVID. Platform access needed for digital games, and a kit is not required. Digital is $100 for a year.

Games + additional resources are on the platform, which is like the home page. Student Digital Game Design Course is used for youth to make their own games. Most are geared to upper elementary and middle school. Most games are created by educators – “curriculum” since meet educational standards. Can search for games based on topic, subject, grade level, etc.

Lindsey clicked on Science and showed topics and grade level to sort by. Breakout Camp was ages 8-13 so she did 3rd – 8th grade games, but levels vary so need to test. Choose a filter to find games that don’t require physical kits or in person work.

If you need to break into locks, contact Lindsey.

Youth don’t need to purchase to participate. She has sign-up instructions for students. Students who were in camp can go back and play again. She tried to develop teamwork and collaboration in the breakout rooms rather than playing on their own so she shared her screen. She said you need breakout rooms for more than 10 kids or so – hers were 4 to 5 in each breakout room, each with a leader. Then they’d come back together to talk about how it went and what they learned.

The website includes BreakoutEDU + Zoom hints.

Lindsey demonstrated a couple ag-related games and Zombie Outbreak: The Beginning, which has a Halloween theme for team building.

You can decide if a time limit and which kinds of locks you want and if they’re sequential or not. Sometimes it’s hard for kids to read shared screen. If they’re having trouble, give hints or have them Google.

Dave Ripplinger, Bioproducts/Bioenergy Economist

Dave and his wife went to Fargo Escape Room on their anniversary and had a blast, so he thought he could do something like this that’s educational.

First attempt: breakout box with series of puzzles, clues with physical locks of various types, covering a breadth of corn ethanol trivia, demonstration and a chance to educate

Answers are in the physical or digital box so participants don’t have to know answers. He wanted to do a physical breakout box first, but with COVID he had to quickly go digital.

He created Breakout: Biofuels! It didn’t take long to put together. Once he realized people were programming in Google Sites, it made sense. In about 6 hours, he put together his first draft, imitating good examples from teachers who have done these. Development is very intuitive. He framed the learning in a story. Have locks and participants have to find clues. They have to explore and click on things that might be new to them. In his, they can click on a photo and get a short lesson: game, video, chart, jigsaw puzzle, etc. Use various apps and drop into Google Site. Not just reading – activities. If answer is correct, it looks you move forward.

Dave shared it with the Corn Council and Ethanol Council.

His Extension Youth Conference pilot used Zoom with breakout rooms, for junior high to college freshman, about 15 students in four groups. There were connections between clues and locks were not obvious. Puzzles were independent and did not rely on completion of previous puzzles. You don’t want the answer to be obvious but also don’t want it to be too simple.

If activities are sequential and you don’t get the right answer, you’re done. It’s not successful education if participants struggle and give up.

Revised for virtual 4-H camp – subject matter stayed the same but revised a few puzzles and went from one page with 9 puzzles to 3 pages with 3-4 puzzles each. Younger kids wanted the answer, so he pointed them to the correct puzzle rather than just giving them the answer.

Participants who didn’t have the right Zoom couldn’t get into breakout rooms.

Lessons learned:

  • Follow good educational design methods – start with learning objectives and subject matter content – not just have fun
  • Consider participants’ abilities
  • Puzzles have to be about subject matter
  • Use a variety of puzzles for different types of thinkers and communication styles
  • Use as part of a larger educational program to make sure everything is covered and assessed – debrief
  • Make it the right level – challenging but achievable
  • Use a story
  • Build numerous variations for different ages, in-depth material

All you need to know is your subject matter – then it flows. He hasn’t done a formal evaluation yet and is going to teach K-12 teachers how to do this. There’s already a community of educators who share ideas. A great resource is https://www.thinglink.com/.


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