I recently attended a professional development session led by a colleague titled, “How to Make Any Worksheet into an Escape Room,” which helped us experience an escape activity from the student perspective. It was the bomb. Dot com. The session touched on ideas expressed in this article, which happens to share the same title.
Two weeks later, I ran an escape room in my classroom. It was the most fun I’d had all year.
Cue intro. Goal: Answer the question, “what is life?” Other than that, I gave my students VERY little prompting. I figure I’d let all the mysterious new locks that had been placed in my classroom do most of the talking.
In order to answer the question, they need to collect all four puzzle pieces, which eventually led to this:
The escape activity was designed to work in a linear fashion, so students had to unlock each combination in sequence in order to get to the next clue.
Clue 1: Integration
Students were given a numeric code that had to be converted to a word after correctly solving the given integration problem.
The answer was “SNACKS,” which happens to be a location clue, leading to the refreshments centre where I provide students with water, tea, and snacks. The answer to the first clue was hidden under the snack basket. Many students got stumped at this point and wasn’t sure what they were supposed to do (I didn’t give them ANY other instructions). Once they got going, however, they really got into the flow of it.
Clue 2: Derivatives Matching
I used a matching activity here from Flamingo Math (teachers pay teachers) and students had to find the four digit number code based on the highlighted boxes. (So they didn’t actually have to complete the entire matching activity).
Clue 3: Find the Mistake
The answer: Students convert correct answer into letter code to unlock the letter lock.
Clue 4: Calculus Crossword
The answer: Highlighted in invisible ink are the words TRIAL.
A couple observations:
- DON’T set letter locks to be something obviously related to your subject. I stupidly set mine to be “MATH” and had students guessing random four letter words rather than actually engaging with the problem sets that I had worked so hard to create! (I later changed the combo to “BATH”)
- On that same vein, you can set a rule so that students can only attempt one combination at a time.
- There’s always that one kid who examines everything with the UV light… so I ended up writing a few random messages around the class not related to anything but just for giggles.
A great format for STEM OLYMPICS
ROUND 1: Unlock one of three boxes
- Event began with nine teams of four
- Students work in teams of four, they have a choice of which question set they would like to work on, however, once a box gets unlocked, then that box becomes unavailable
- The question sets corresponding to each box cover a different range of subjects (ex. Box A might cover Math 10, Science 10, Physics 11 and Chemistry 11 while Box B might cover IT 10, Math 10, Science 10 and Math 11).
- Inside each box are a series of “advantage cards”
- Only the teams that unlock the boxes proceed to the next stage of competition
ROUND 2: Gain 5 points in a trivia style tournament
- Each box contained a specialized advantage card that can be used in round 2
- Advantage cards may only be played after the question topic is revealed and BEFORE the question is revealed
- Examples of advantage cards: skip the question, make the question worth double points, invite an expert to answer the question
- First team to 5 points wins
- Remaining teams compete for second place
While it does take some time and planning, the escape room format is a great way to review and preview content for a unit or course. I like that it is completely student driven and there is a great deal of collaboration that happens. The novelty factor with the physical locks also played a great role in keeping students interested and engaged, although it is possible to adapt this activity to be completely digital (Onenote or Google forms).
Since then, I’ve created two other escape activities with my classes. They’re a lot of fun to make and the possibilities for clues and questions are endless! This is definitely an activity I’m going to keep using in my classes.