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Fifth graders create virtual puzzles with math, locks
Midway Elementary School
Staff and students of Midway Elementary School in south Forsyth, sit at a computer attempting to unlock a series a math and word puzzles created by fifth graders. - photo by Alexander Popp

One elementary school in south Forsyth has found a way to shake up how math and other subjects are being taught.  

According to Sandy Lippe, a fifth grade math teacher at Midway Elementary School, the online games that her students have spent nearly a month making have boosted their creativity and challenged them to think outside the box. 

“The real world is critical thinking. You aren’t going to just go solve a math problem, and it’s not going to be rote memorization. Education has changed,” Lippe said, explaining the games that her students have created, using Google Forms and their own creativity. 

She said that the idea is called a breakout box — a game with narrative, challenges and locks that have to be unlocked so the story can be finished. Lippe said that the locks are normally a type of puzzle, and completing them give will give one clues and hints towards solving a larger or smaller lock. 

The program is a brainchild of Lippe, who wanted a new, innovative way to teach her kids math, with a method that would engage them and stimulate them to create their own puzzles.

According to Lippe, normally a breakout will be an actual, physical box, with locks that the students have to figure out special combinations to, based on clues and hints. Her class does it a little differently. 

Each group from her class sits around a laptop computer, with papers, folders and scratch paper spread before them. They have figured out how to take the idea of a breakout game, and put it online with customized stories, clues and challenges all done through Google.

The topics they were able to come up with ranged widely in theme from, World War II, professional football, the Olympics, Valentine’s Day, to many more. 

“When we went to a Georgia Tech conference, we taught teachers how to do this, so you don’t need the physical locks. The locks are all digital. And when I got back I said to my students, ‘you have to take one of the math units and make one,’” Lippe said. 

She said that when her students learn through different and interesting ways, like the breakouts, it helps them learn the information more fully. 

“I don’t know how you learned, but learning out of a worksheet is boring. My social studies is my weak point, because it was ‘read the chapter, answer questions,’” she said. 

At a test of the class’s breakouts held Wednesday, two other classes of Midway fifth grade students came into Lippe’s classroom with Midway Principal Jan Munroe to see what the students had made. A group of five of Lippe’s female students proudly presented their breakout to the class. Its theme: Valentine’s Day. 

One of the members of the Valentine’s Day Breakout group, fifth grader Abella Sparks, said the activity made her think about doing math differently, and she was surprised how hard it made her work to put the thing together. 

“At first I thought, it’s not going to be that hard to make the locks, because all you have to do is come up with a few math problems. But it was actually really hard to think of something to go with the storyline and what the locks have to do with it,” Sparks said. 

“That’s the beauty of it,” said Lippe with a laugh.