Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Escape the Classroom

Did my title get your attention?  This blog post doesn’t have secrets to how to get paid without showing up to work everyday.  It’s inspired by escape rooms or breakout rooms, which have become really popular over the past few years as adult games or for leadership and team-building workshops.  Having started in Japan in 2007, it’s even made its way to Lewisburg - have you tried it out yet?

In a continuing effort to make kids fully active in their learning, some teachers and innovators have grabbed the idea for the classroom, creating small puzzles for students to solve that leads them to the clue for the next puzzle.  These are great for any level because you can adapt them for any theme, from zombie apocalypse to prison escape.  Still adjusting from their summer off, students can definitely relate to the idea of trying to escape our classes, but this time they will be watching the clock wishing for more time to solve the puzzle.

So how could you make it work?  William Chen of says there are 11 basic puzzle ideas that you can adapt:

Hidden Objects - There are objects hidden around the room in strategic or interesting locations. Perhaps they are under a block in the floor, attached to the chair in the room, or hidden under a desk. Perhaps there are hidden words written on the blinds (but only if you open them), or under / behind the paintings on the wall. Perhaps there's something written on the shirts that they make you wear at the start of the game. Perhaps if you pull a lever or move something a specific way, a special object will pop out.
The Four-Digit Combo Lock - Or any such variant. I've seen 5-letter word locks, directional locks, and regular key locks. A very easy way to lock something up until you discover the right combination, directional sequence, word, or key. However, this technique is a bit lazy and is best not overused.
The Blacklight Puzzle - Opening a container, drawer, or cabinet will reveal a blacklight, or various pieces of a blacklight. Once you have your full blacklight, you can shine it on the walls, on surfaces of objects, or on pieces of paper to reveal additional information that can help you solve your next puzzle.
Words with a Hidden Message - You have a long sequence of words (perhaps a long sentence, a poem, or a story), and you have to extract information from the words. Some examples include:
  1. Read or decode all of the letters colored peculiarly
  2. Read all of the large letters
  3. Certain words in the text refer to objects in the room, and provide an ordering that you can use to arrange or press the objects
  4. You have a sheet with rectangular holes in it, that you can use to cover the words. A specific message will appear telling you what you need to do.

The Magnetic Switch - You have to place a certain object in a certain place. This will trigger a magnetic switch that will give you access to the next room of the escape room. Knowing what to place where is usually a clever clue given somewhere in the room, or just the solution to a puzzle (e.g. place the object that is the solution to this puzzle in this location).
Going Fishing - There is an object out of reach, and you must fashion a makeshift grappling hook or creatively use an object to get access to the item. The item is usually something of obvious importance, like a set of keys or one of the items you need to escape the room.
Decoding a Cipher - The ciphers are rarely just simple alphabetic ciphers. Expect ciphers that include shapes, or colors, or animals. Each of those objects will map to a certain number, and after deciphering the meaning of the objects, you can input the code into a lock.

Depending on your subject area, your objectives could differ.  This is where some companies have decided to create standard “kits” that you can use to adapt to your content.  One company is BreakoutEDU and instead of breaking OUT of the classroom, you are breaking INTO the box.  They have also created a digital version, which might inspire a more advanced WebQuest (since this idea is very similar).

The digital versions are a great use of gamification in learning, but they do not encourage the same amount of teamwork, hands-on collaboration and activity as the physical versions.  One nice version, though, comes from the ASU School of Life Sciences, explaining how the scientific method works.  Try it out!

I have ordered a Breakout box so we can give this fun idea a try.  If you’re interested, get in touch with me!  If you want to know more about how and why this has a positive influence on student learning, check out this article from The Atlantic.

I hope you can find a way to make this work for you and try something new this year.  Have a great long weekend!