Digital Breakouts

I have Finally (after about a year of saying I was going to) created my first digital breakout. Moving, changing schools, new house… whatever excuse you can come up with I’ve probably used it, but the fact of the matter is, as soon as I had that one needed inspiration, I was able to create it in a rather short amount of time.


I’ve seen several digital breakout’s at this point, mostly thanks to my friend and former colleague Tom Mullaney (check out his Sustainable Teaching blog and podcast at and follow him on Twitter @TomEMullaney). These digital breakouts have varied in topic, some of them covering poetry, math, and history. I’m sure with the great staff at my former school (Once a Grizzly, Always a Grizzly) there have been many more created by now. However, I had never been able to come up with just the right idea to launch my own creation until a month or so ago.

Unlike some of the digital breakouts I had seen, I really wanted everything in mine connect to what we were learning or going to learn in class. The inspiration came to me when I considered the class story I’ve been using with the kids all year (and on which I got called Miss Frizzle the other day!)… for those who don’t want to read that blog, here’s a quick summary:

We started the year on a desert island and from there have flown to Ancient Greece, been zapped to Mount Olympus, rocketed to a new planet, rocketed back to the 1800’s, hand paddled our way to Philadelphia, walked to Kitty Hawk, and most recently, actually used a time machine we “broke into” to get back home.

giphy (3)

As you can see, this story lends itself to Many breakouts because of the whole “beating the clock” mentality to get out of where you’re “stuck”. That’s where I’m headed with this actually… I’m going to create several breakouts to move the story forward And hype the kids up for our next units.

Anyway, as far as the actual creation of the breakout… the hardest part was coming up with the idea. This is especially true because of how intuitive the new Google Sites has become. Once I actually sat down and thought about how many clues and what kind of clues I wanted the kids to find, everything really came together in a few hours of work.

I used Tom Mullaney’s template to build my breakout. He really made everything easy to work with. Now that I’ve done one I’d feel more confident trying totally from scratch.

Now, down to my advice for using this with kids around the 4th grade level.

1. I suppose this isn’t really for 4th grade specifically, but I would totally have a few people you trust (thanks Tom, Sierra, and Miranda!) run through your breakout before you give it to the kids. They’ll notice the little things that you don’t see because they are actually trying to solve the answers. Mine wouldn’t have been successful without these trial runs.

2. Having the kids work together as a whole class was Very successful. Once one student found a code, then the rest worked harder to find other codes. It still took between 20 and 30 minutes for them to find 4 codes. It also built a sense of community in the class with everyone cheering each other on and kids who don’t generally get the spotlight were some of the ones finding the answers.

3. I didn’t put the codes in order for the tabs which seemed to be fine given that they figured out there were hints once they got a code wrong, but I also didn’t include any extra tabs that would be distractors. I think if I had included erroneous information then it would have been too frustrating for them and they would have given up. If I did these more often though I might build them up to it. Although I would probably still let them know that there’s one tab that is trying to distract you if they were really struggling.

4. I made sure everything related to what we had done in class all year or what was coming up. The addition of the “time police” story line really drove this breakout and gave them that sense of urgency. I would recommend you find a way to make solving the breakout of vital importance rather than just another activity (especially if you’re planning on doing more than one throughout the year).

5. Or maybe more like 4b. Many times 4th graders ask me what their prize is… do they get candy or the bucks that we use… due to the fact that I made breakout fit our class story and the accomplishment was getting away from the “police” not one single kid asked me for an extrinsic reward and yet they were jumping and cheering and so excited. I think that was the part that really made my heart sing. It was incredible.

Check out the cheering!

Here is a copy of my “Escape the Time Police” digital breakout.

So anyway, I’m sure I could ramble all day, so I’ll sign off for now. If you have any questions about creating your own digital breakout, please let me know! If I don’t know the answer, I know the people that do 😀

Good Luck!


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