Breaking Out!

Predators of the Sea and Sky

It’s fascinating to watch young children problem solve. Even when faced with a tough challenge, they are curious, creative, and intrepid enough to keep investigating even after multiple dead ends.

This was demonstrated brilliantly in Predators of the Sea and Sky today as students worked together to “BreakOut”!

A BreakOut activity generally involves a complex set of clues, and two boxes, each secured with one or more locks. Students are given a basic scenario and asked to work out the clues in order to find the lock codes and open the boxes.

After a diligent search of the entire classroom to find clues (photographs, coded messages, a circular cypher, for example), the students huddled together to start problem solving their way into the boxes.

One of the clues was an email message. Tyce noticed that certain numbers in the message were bolded. He predicted they might be the code to open the 3-number lock on the smaller lockbox. But the first few tries failed to open the lock.

“Try arranging the numbers in a different way,” suggested Riley. “What if you put the two on the top. It might have those numbers, just in a different way.”

Rory focused on the cypher wheel. “What I found out is there are 26 letters in the alphabet,” he said as he turned the wheel lined with a layer of numbers and a layer of letters. But something wasn’t right – instead of a Z at the end, there was a zero. “It’s hard because you have to make sure they’re in the right order,” but the zero confused him.

At one point Annabel expressed her frustration. “There are millions of patterns,” she groaned. “Does anyone have a hairpin? We could try to pick the lock,” she giggled.

Another joker suggested: “We need a pneumatic drill!”

Meanwhile, Chris stood alone at a table working intently to copy labels from a shark worksheet onto a clue form. At some point, he realized he was copying “PARTS” – as in shark body parts – onto the sheet. He shared his find with the group and they put P-A-R-T-S into the word lock. “Yeah! We got one!” they shouted as the first lock sprang open.

In the small lockbox was a flashlight and photos of animals. “It’s the food chain! The food chain!” yelled Alexander as he realized the significance of the animal pictures. Students put the photos in food-chain order and turned on the flashlight. Suddenly, arrows written in invisible ink were revealed. Students quickly got to work opening the directional lock on the larger box.

A persistent group figured out the cypher wheel and finally revealed a coded message:

“Sharks have cartilage!” said Charlotte.

Teacher Amy Rouzer sprang into action. “I heard the magic word!” she said, and handed Charlotte a key, which quickly opened the key lock.

Just one lock remained. Anabel hunched over photographs of sharks with their length measurements. She organized them by size and paid particular attention to any patterns that might be revealed. “It’s always take away two,” she noticed. “No, wait…this one is take away four. No, Wait! I got the number!” she exclaimed, running to the main box and that final lock.

When the box sprang open, the students were rewarded with miniature sharks – the greatest predators of all.

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