Critical Thinking & Problem Solving: Escape Room

Jennifer Casa-Todd‘s post originally appeared on her blog.

Our family and my nephew recently engaged in an Escape Room activity in our area.  We were given a scenario, put in a room, and had to solve a series of puzzles in order to escape.  We had 1 hour.  The puzzles had us using Morse code, figuring out word clues, mathematical clues, using a dark light, lasers, a periodic table, etc…  It also had us collaborating and working as a team.  As educators, my husband and I left thinking this idea would be awesome in a classroom!

When I think of the 6 Cs, it touches on most of them:  Critical Thinking, Creativity, Character (because being in a time-sensitive situation really is a test of character), Communication, and Collaboration.Escape room

Soon after, I talked to my friend Karen Holmes about it who created an escape room for her Leadership class.  Her scenario involves a zombie apocalypse and culminates in students finding the vaccine (she draws on her science background to have students mix two gases together):

Now it’s time for you to think,

For the TRUE vaccine is the one that turns PINK.

Choose the ACID or the BASE,

Pour into one test tube and then place

Two drops of phenolphthalein in.

If it turns pink… Guess what… 

     …YOU WIN!

Hurry now, no time for fear,

The zombie’s footsteps are very near…

She spent lots of time on creating the challenges and I convinced her it needed to be shared.  Here is a copy.  Please give her full credit if you use the activity.

Sarah Thomas, who reserves Fridays in her classroom as “Figure it Out Friday“, and others in my awesome Edumatch Voxer group, told me about BreakOut EDU which is basically the same thing as an Escape Room. Best of all, they have resources, templates, and ready-made games which you or your students could use to create Break Out scenarios.  It is easy– you can sign up and use some of the games already on their website. Kits are available from their website and Amazon.com and now Canada is a distributor as well.  Jeffrey Humphries is the contact that I know of for us Canadians, eh.

Breakout EDU has gone Digital too!  Rather than having kids work on their own, I would ensure that there is a collaborative element; either have students work in partners working towards the same class puzzle.

Ask a Biologist is a site that has created Virtual Escape Rooms for Science in collaboration with the Arizona Science Education Collaborative.  Check it out here.

Kelly Tenkely of iLearn Technology has some ideas about using Virtual Breakout Rooms in the Classroom.

Here is a link to a few puzzle ideas put out there by Quora members.

Practical Applications in the Classroom

  • A teacher-created Escape room can provide a valuable opportunity for students to practice collaboration and teamwork.  Students can reflect on the choices they made and how well they communicated and collaborated with one another.
  • A Leadership class can create one for students coming in for grade 8 or 9 orientation.
  • Subject-specific Escape Room puzzles can be created as an alternative to a test.  In English class for example, puzzles can be created around grammar or figurative language concepts. Students would need to know the material very well in order to create clues.
  • This activity provides a unique opportunity for a variety of subject classes to work together on one culminating project (English creates the word puzzles, Math creates the puzzles involving calculations, Science utilizes the periodic table, etc..).
  • Once a semester or once a month, the school makerspace can be transformed into an Escape Room.  This might encourage a variety of other students to come into the space to see what’s going on.
  • I also think there could be potential for this to work with another class similar to a Mystery Skype.  It would require some collaboration by the teachers, but it would add yet another interesting element to the challenge.

In a similar vein, I learned about an online critical thinking challenge happening in November using computational skills called Bebras Challenge. More details about this can be found in this post by Doug Peterson.

What ideas do you have for bringing the Escape Room/Breakout EDU concept into the classroom?