DIY – Breakout #Education

There are crazy people in Auckland who pay to be locked in a room and forced to escape. Why? Because it’s fun! The people at EscapeMasters provide problem solving escape challenges for parties and corporate team-building. There’s also an app version where clues around the room combine to be your key to escape. So, how are educators using the popularity and opportunity these game ideas present? How could schools possibly get away with locking children into a room? Well, the people at BreakoutEdu have solved the problem.


Breakout Education

Breakout Education is a gamification of teaching and assessing knowledge and skills. You can purchase or build your own to whatever complexity you require. Instead of breaking out from a room, participants attempt to solve and combine the clues around the room to break into a padlocked box. The box, obviously, is filled with treats. offer products that include multiple types of padlocks. This allows you to invent numeric, alphanumeric or directional solutions that the clues might lead to. When I was introduced to it by EdTechTeam, we had to solve 4 different types of padlocks!

Limited time = simpler problem

I decided to give this a go but with 1 hour lessons periods, I thought one padlock would do. I bought a metal box and a 4-digit numeric padlock. I then created a simple enough set of clues that would lead to the 4-digit solution that might be introduced and solved in one hour. My problem worked like this:

  1. Four picture clues that point to four numbers used in my sum
  2. Each number is coloured in the clue
  3. 2 more clues point to how the colours are paired-up in the sum
  4. One clue reminded the children about the order of operations (The order of the sum)
  5. 3 clues combined to draw out the position of numbers in the sum

I divided a class of 24 kids into 3 teams of eight. I think teams of 5 or 6 would be best. I found with 12-year-olds, I had to remind them to write down in one place, everything they had discovered so far. This included “You have found numbers, colours, pairs of something and order.” It took one team of eight 12-year-olds 40 minutes to piece together my clues and break into my padlocked box. For mine, they needed phones or iPads as I’d used URLs and QR codes as clues. I also ‘hid’ a clue in ultraviolet ink and quietly left a UV light in a jar on a table. I’ve attached the slides of clues below that you could use as a template or just print off and use as it is.

More complexity and topics

Clues can be made really tricky. Such as, making a QR code from a plane journey that stops at a number of airports, whose airport codes are an anagram of a required number in the sum! Using URLs, QR codes or AR to get to Google streetview points where clues can be found at street level in other places around the world. Science can use material clues to point to atomic numbers in the periodic table. The potential exists to involve any type of content, so get creative!

ALP book banner


Kids must code on iPads

hopscotch flappy

An important 21st Century skill

This post is about a topic and app close to my heart. Computer programming is the engine of modern life and dream maker for tens of thousands. More and more countries are introducing the subject as compulsory schooling at surprisingly young ages. The UK is introducing a national school programme in september this year whilst also funding to increase momentum. is pushing an international message with big-name endorsement. Even small countries like Estonia have their 5-year-olds taking their first steps into logical problem solving. A site I’ve used for years is

estonia codeWhat learning to code offers young people.

Even I was surprised at how much my students have enjoyed their first experience of coding this year. In a number of ways, coding offers a ideal learning experience. Students receive immediate feedback from any attempt and can see the results of their endeavours without the need for teacher feedback. If the challenge is set at the appropriate level, coding automatically becomes a perfect example of gameification. It naturally encourages students to ask “what can I do next?”

code club ukAccessible to anyone 

Coding is problem solving and like any puzzle, it seems to immediately engage kids as long as the puzzle pieces are easy to play with and move around. That’s where Hopscotch comes to the rescue! I have been teaching coding for 10 years and have never seen such an immediate impact on engagement than that of touch-screen draggable commands. Hopscotch is a free app that has an online community to share your coding projects with. It’s easy and intuitive to play with and is appropriate from about the age of 4 or 5. You do not have to know anything about coding to give this a go with your class and of course there are Youtube video lessons.

hopscotch screeen Quick & keen

My colleague and I had written a typical coding introduction for our 12 & 13 year olds using Hopscotch but very quickly realised that the app negated traditional approaches as it was so intuitive. The students were creating shapes, drawings and characters within 20 minutes. They just wanted to play, discover and create and our teaching unit was far to slow. Obviously, we let them go for it!

codecademy“Let’s make Flappy Birds!”

Within the first hour, a 12-year-old had already realised the the ‘world issue’ that was “the death of Flappy Birds” could be solved with Hopscotch. It was great to see the students all working together and keenly sharing their discoveries. One student realised the the Emoji keyboard allowed for 100s more characters, another worked out how to colour the background in as sky and grass. The only element I had to directly help with was keeping score.

We were also amazed to get recognised by the folks at Hopscotch!


hopscotch appPersonalised learning

One benefit of coding your own apps and games is keeping it personal. Students started twisting the Flappy birds concept into fish games or car games and it was as if I’d completely disappeared from the room. When using Hopscotch, students are constantly problem solving, working collaboratively and thinking creatively.

What’s coming next?

I have watched the development of this app and can’t wait to see the next version. There are a couple of significant programming tools missing but I am sure they’re on their way in future releases.

Here is a help sheet I produced from from my classes coding and I hope it helps.

Flappy Birds and code for other games in Hopscotch

hopscotch flappy

“School work is no longer school work when it’s recognised outside school” – @iPadWells

@ipadwells & OC on Hopsctch Blog

Teaching Math on an iPad




In my High school, one of the last departments to realise a use for iPads was the Math department. Note: As a UK born New Zealander, writing Math and not Maths is difficult but as most my readers are american, I’ll persist!  Also…. I’m not a Math teacher, so sorry if I upset anyone.

Their thinking was that Math had to be hand written and there was no digital functionality beyond a calculator that suited the learning of Mathematical problem solving.

Certainly things like movie making, animation and group work did little in the genuine learning of Math reasoning. Plus the age-old excuse that the exam was hand written and so experience was needed and the iPad was only a distraction from this vital practice.


ExplainEverythingThe first change came with using the app Explain Everything. This is often a comfortable first step into new pedagogy as it mimics the whiteboard but offers new functionality and workflow. This allows Math teachers to hand write their mathematical working whilst recording the lesson, including their voice. Uploading these skills videos to Youtube saves hours of time in the classroom repeating oneself and allows students to come preprepared or review after a lesson. Either way moving some or all of the standard Math teaching online saves time.


Now what can a Math teacher do with more time and a little more imagination? Here’s another popular starting point in the shape of a TED talk by Dan Meyer (Math teacher). He explains how challenging the students more and using multimedia to do this can hook the students into a genuine interest in Math, as apposed to the compulsory one they currently have to show:

After watching Dan’s talk, I realised that Math teaching could be more about students finding their own problems to solve in rather creative ways. Students could be freed from the classroom to challenge each other with videoed problems and limit the information provided. Remember the iPad’s app store can provide apps that just about take any type of measurement and mostly for free (See below).

“Best Math App” lists like this one focus on that Math Dan talks about that kids have to learn in school without worrying about why they might need to know it. In my mind, it now becomes less about finding the best Math teaching / learning app and more about building a set of measurement tools for life. These tools can then be used to make Math learning come to life and seem relevant.


MathApp1 MathApp2 MathApp3
Easy MeasureThere’s math to be learnt in the way this app works alone! iHandy LevelGreat general carpenter’s tool Measures HDLots a measurement tools in one including Seismic!
MathApp4 iphone-camera-icon MathApp5
Sprint TimerFilm moving objects / people with time stretched image Film with CameraJust video things happening and students find the maths! Home Design HD – Free
Lots of Math possibilities in planning and developing building models

For most students, this applied Math approach is far more meaningful and fun and can highlight the subjects significant place in their lives. Something that is not always apparent in traditional Math teaching.


The ‘real-world’ approach mentioned above could certainly apply to any student from about the age of 8. Before that, the library of basic Math and Number apps in the store comes into it’s own! Apps make Math fun from an early age and remove the fear factor whilst giving the all important instant feedback.

Nearly all basic Math apps are free and it’s just a matter of trying them out, Start by typing “Math” into the App store but sorting by popularity. Here’s a selection of the most popular. I personally liked the simplicity of “Summed Up” ($0.99) and the animation & game concept in “Hungry Fish”. I included Hopscotch, which is a kids drag and drop programming app as it allows kids to experiment with algorithms in a fun way and try out a lot of Math on the way.



Screen Shot 2013-10-03 at 9.50.48 AM100s Board ($2.99) is  ‘simple as’ (as us Aucklanders would say) but in it’s simplicity comes flexibility and a nurturing of children’s natural talent to invent their own games. It presents a simple 100s board and will highlight numbers to help young people count in 2s, 3s, 4s etc. It also has coloured & monster counters that you can place on numbers to invent games with. It hides numbers as well as highlights on touch. My 8 year-old immediately started inventing games for my 6 year-old including  “Higher-Lower” where in 7 goes, the youngest had to find the chosen number, whilst all prior guesses were highlighted. The face that it’s not a game in itself is actually a bonus as it extends kids’ imagination. Check it out!

100s Board is made by fellow Kiwi @MattJamesThomas.



The age and ability of the individual student will decide the best approach, be it applied discovery of Math or more rudimentary game play. Regardless, the iPad has much to offer in Math learning and I hope this helps those Math teachers who weren’t sure where to start.