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Waconia Middle School

It’s Thursday morning and seventh-grade students in Naomi Simon’s class at Waconia Middle School are going to spend the next 45 minutes trying to break out.

“We call this our Prescribed Learning Period,” Simon explained. “It’s a daily block of time for students to get further individualized instruction. These particular students are being challenged today to solve a breakout game.”

The theme is the ’80s. Students have a series of clues that give them combinations to several locks on a box. Their goal is to break out of the box. The ’80s theme is carried out through the clues that are all based on old computer games.

“Atari. Wait. What’s Atari?”

Simon explained they’ll have 45 minutes to break out. “The time. Starts. Now. You can have two clues after 15 minutes, but it will cost you 2 minutes per clue.”

As soon as the clock started, students surveyed the clues and then began digging in.

“It’s really interesting to watch how they float from station to station to help each other,” Simon commented.

Students worked as fast as they could think and would speak up when they discovered something or needed help. “There’s a QR code on here. Someone get their computer to scan it.” The QR code led them to a clue: Help Mario to climb the stairs, using care to divide each pair, remember the quotients as you go, put them together for the combo.

They use black lights to scan the clues for even more clues that are hidden to the eye. They scour everything, talk to each other, try out their theories, and then, something clicks.

“That’s probably it,” a student said with excitement as she looked at one of the clues, a black keyboard. “These keys are mixed up. Look, I know what it’s supposed to be. Whoohoo, I think we got one!”

The keys on the keyboard were not in order and, when they figured out that the letters were wonky, they cross-referenced that with some numbers and made the connection. Meanwhile, Lionel Richie sang “Hello” in the background.

“We need to get into the spirit of the ’80s,” Simon explained as she chose the mix on her computer. There are two sections of this class and they meet on alternate days of the week. Their next challenge is to design their own breakout game based on the Titanic. Students will then play each other’s game.

Angelina Wellumson talked about how they work through issues. “Sometimes it’s hard because we all have different mindsets. But we’re always there for each other, helping each other.”

Danna Strohsack added, “It’s really fun. Just trying to break out. You don’t even notice that you’re problem-solving and working together. You just do it. And if you ever get frustrated, you work on something else to get your mind off of it. Then you can come back to it as you might have a new idea on how to solve the problem.”

“This is all about them thinking about how they respond to a challenge. One of the hardest parts about this class is I want to help them but I have to step back and let them figure it out. And when they do, oh, there’s such a celebration,” Simon concluded.