My brother, Charlie (this post is dedicated to him, the day after his birthday! Happy Birthday, Charlie!) and his partner, Ashton introduced me to Escape Rooms nearly a year ago. We were in New York City for New Year's 2015 and they insisted that I come play an immersive game with them.
We spent an hour locked in a tiny apartment with a family we'd never met before and, together, solved riddles, puzzles and challenges to get enough keys to unlock a lockbox to let us out of the room.
Immediately, my teacher brain turned on and I began to think about ways to play with my students like this. The idea has continued to percolate as, in the months since I've:
- defused a bomb with my little cousins in Orlando (Shauna's Escape Rate: 100%)
- escaped from a deranged killer's wine cellar in Ottawa (SER: 100%)
- stayed captured in the scariest serial killer basement in Vancouver (SER: 66%)
- escaped from a dream in Vancouver (SER: 75%)
- failed to find a detective's missing daughter in Vancouver (SER: 60%)
- brainstormed with a teacher in Ottawa about how to turn her Hallowe'en Haunted House into an Escape Room for grade 1-6 students
- gotten totally derailed from an American Thanksgiving #totallyrossome chat in a side-conversations with educators about #eduescape - our ideas for Escape Rooms in education
- hosted a virtual Escape Room for educators in #cdnedchat
Tweeting about #eduescape has led to connecting with more educators who are keen to experiment with their students to use Escape Rooms in education. In preparing to talk to two Ottawa educators about their developing #eduescape plans, I put my thoughts down.
Below and linked is a summary of my research, thinking and development of how to use Escape Rooms in Education. There is a link for a Planning Template that you can use, as well as other resources to explore.
I am so excited about this innovative teaching method. If I can do anything to help or support you as you experiment and prototype Escape Rooms in your classroom, let me know!
Escape Rooms in Education
“Escape Rooms are live-action, team-based activities where players discover clues, solve puzzles and accomplish tasks in one or more rooms in order to accomplish a specific goal (usually escaping the room) in a limited amount of time.” (source: Scott Nicholson)
In education, we can use the concept of Escape Rooms in a number of ways to excite learners and help develop their skills, teaching them content through immersive, engaging play.
Why Would You Want to Use Escape Rooms in Education?
In Escape Rooms, students use gameful attitudes and teamwork to solve riddles, challenges and problems.
Jane McGonigal (author of Super Better, link below) says, “Being gameful means bringing the psychological strengths you naturally display when you play games - such as optimism, creativity, courage and determination - to your real life. It means having the curiosity and openness to play with different strategies to discover what works best. It means building up the resilience to tackle tougher and tougher challenges with greater and greater success.”
Skills Developed: teamwork, delegation, communication, risk taking, attention to detail, perseverance, critical thinking, lateral thinking, time management, optimism, creativity, courage, determination
Advantages of Using Escape Rooms for Learning: engagement, fun, immersive experience, build sense of community, experiential learning
Curriculum Tie-Ins: the sky’s the limit! You can teach or practice any content through the storyline and/or challenges you incorporate in your Escape Room. There are obvious storylines from history and current events that can be used. Challenges can incorporate math, science, technology, art, reading, writing, finances, literature, music, geography, physical activity and other disciplines.
Planning an Educational Escape Room
A great Escape Room should include the following elements:
- to increase excitement, there should be a mystery, players have to wait to see what is in store
- a goal
- set the purpose of the challenges - what are players trying to do?
- Possible concepts:
- be an adventurer
- carry out a heist
- defuse explosive device
- engage with supernatural
- escape an unpleasant place
- find a missing person
- free another person or animal
- gather intelligence
- help create something (potion, cure)
- investigate crime
- military operations
- send a message
- solve a murder
- solve a mystery
- opportunities for collaborative problem solving
- some challenges should need multiple players to solve them
- multiple challenging puzzles
- variety is best
- time limits
- many Escape Rooms have to be solved in 60 minutes
- gamemaster (the “host” of the game)
- sets the scene, tells the story
- giving hints
- ensure that there is a fair experience and that challenges are working correctly
- intervene only when necessary to allow players to engage with challenges, make discoveries and learn
- debrief at the end
- gamemaster explains any unsolved challenges
- discuss strategies that worked and didn’t work
- how can the challenges be better in the future?
- how can players work better in the future?
An exceptional Escape Room may also include some of the following elements:
- a theme
- consider using an Escape Room as part of a unit and create it to match the time/topic
- a story or narrative
- giving the players context
- build up a backstory
- suspend player’s reality and allow them to be in a different time or place
- decor/decorations to transform the classroom
- role playing (including a game master in character)
- red herrings
- false clues to throw players off
Possible Challenge Types:
- abstract logic (a puzzle, like Sudoku)
- assemble a physical object (such as a tower or jigsaw puzzle)
- engagement with characters
- hand-eye coordination (such as hitting a target)
- hidden messages (such as those written in “invisible pen”)
- light (including black lights)
- morse code
- noticing something “obvious” in the room
- out of the box thinking (using something common in an unusual way)
- physical agility
- prior knowledge
- research using information sources
- ropes or chains (such as undoing knots)
- search for objects in images
- search for physical hidden objects
- shape manipulation
- strategic thinking (like Chess)
- team communication
- visual patterns
- word patterns
- word puzzles (such as crosswords and word searches)
- Do you need players to solve challenges in a certain order?
- Does the solution for one challenge lead to something else (for example, do you have to unlock a box that holds a magnet before you can use the magnet to remove a key from a maze?; do you need the code for a padlock that opens a box with a clue for another puzzle?)
- How many players are needed to solve each challenge?
- How can you immerse your students in the story
- What guidelines and rules do you need to set?
- do players have to take turns?
- outline areas or objects that are off limits
- make sure players know that they won’t need to break anything to solve challenges
- Some people are concerned with the name “Escape Room” in an educational context. Here are some possible alternate names: Adventure Room, Challenge Room, Mystery Room
- Will you incorporate a penalty for any hints?
- you may subtract time if players use hints
- What is your success/escape rate?
- Balance how difficult the overall challenge and individual challenges are
- How can we prove that this is learning?
- What are the Success Criteria/Expectations?
- go through your standards/curriculum and make a list of what expectations you will address
To Make This More Student-Led
Use Design Process (loosely based on The Design Sprint from Google Ventures)
- Collaboratively, define the problem
- How may we (HMW)
- create an interactive, immersive adventure with multiple challenges that addresses X standards/expectations?
- tell a story that players can be a part of through active play?
- Who are our users? What do they need from us?
- Set a deadline: when do we want to launch this?
- Share what you know
- Brainstorm essential elements of Escape Rooms
- Share experiences or stories about Escape Rooms
- Split the task up into steps
- Share Planning Template to help guide your students
- Rapid Brainstorming
- As a group, share ideas for themes, storylines and individual challenges
- accept and record all ideas
- Individually, students use “Crazy 8s” model to brainstorm and iterate ideas
- Remind them of the HMW question (from “Define”) they are solving
- Each student folds a legal-sized sheet of paper in eight
- In each of the eight sections, they have 30 seconds to visually represent an idea to solve the HMW question
- Develop an Idea
- Tell the “User Story”
- Individually, students consider their eight ideas and pick one to develop
- Each student creates a three panel storyboard developing the story for that idea (you can give them a template with three boxes, a page with three large sticky notes or have them create their own)
- the storyboard should have the HMW question at the top and the story should be clear to a viewer without any further explanation
- Students look at their peers storyboards and offer written or verbal feedback in the form of “I liked it when...Next time…”
- Decision Making
- through discussions and/or voting (anonymous or public), decide on which (and how many) ideas to develop further
- Students revise their storyboards and create rapid protoypes of their ideas (make props out of paper, show challenge through dramatic play, etc)
- These are protoypes and should be created so that they communicate the purpose of the element, there is a focus on testing the idea, not in creating something flawlessly beautiful
- Students test each others’ prototypes and offer feedback in the from of “I liked it when...Next time…”
- Students make improvements or rework protoypes
- Students’ test each others’ iterations and offer feedback
- repeat as many times as needed
- Put it Together
- Students’ contributions are combined to solve the HMW problem
- Provide product/service/experience to users
Use the ideas above to think about your Escape Room and then fill out the details in this Planning Template.
I hosted an #eduescape Twitter chat for #cdnedchat. If you want to see how to fill out the Planning Template, here is the plan for that game: #cdnedchat Escape Room.
- #eduescape Planning Template (make a copy and fill in your own information for planning)
- #eduescape on Twitter
- “Escape Room Madness” - blog post by grade ⅚ students in Tiiu Tsao’s class in Ottawa League of Awesome Geniuses blog
- “Peeking Behind the Locked Door: A Survey of Escape Room Experiences” - white paper by Scott Nicholson
- Breakout Edu - platform for immersive learning games
- Breakout Edu interview - video of founder James Sanders
- Super Better - book by Jane McGonigal
- “The Art of the Escape Room” - article
- The Design Sprint - Google Ventures