Blog Post

Escape the CS Classroom!

escape room
Image source: https://pixabay.com/en/live-escape-game-live-escape-room-1155620/

 

Do you ever have one of those days when when you feel like your lesson or activity is a complete flop and your students cannot wait to escape from class? Turn the tables by creating an engaging escape-room scenario. Escape rooms are fun, adventure-style games where participants work together with others, racing against the clock to solve a series of challenges in a set amount of time to “escape” the room. A quick look at Google Trends (a great tool for exploring data with students) shows a steady increase in interest over the past few years:

Google Trends
Google Trends: “Escape Room”

 

With just a little creativity, you can turn your computer science classroom into an escape room to promote interest, engagement, critical-thinking, and collaboration. Here are a few tips to get started:

Have you tried an escape room? If so, what tips do you have for others? Please share details about your work!!

  1. Determine your objectives. What do students need to be able to do to “escape?” Will you use your escape room for concept review, perhaps before a major assessment, or to pique interest about a new topic? You might ask students to:
    • Convert or match up binary or hexadecimal numbers
    • Determine the output for a piece of pseudocode or code
    • Write code to solve a challenge Debug a piece of code
    • Create an algorithm Engineer a working solution
    • Match computer parts with terms
    • Define Internet components
    • Program a robot such as an Ozobot, Beebot or Sphero to perform a task or navigate to a clue to unlock it

  2. Choose a theme that is appropriate for your age group. If you don’t have a theme in mind, your colleagues are great resources to help you connect your escape room to your students’ units of study in other classes like History or English. Fun classroom escape themes might center around solving a mystery, hunting for treasure, escaping a perilous situation before time runs out, or hacking a corrupt computer system to retrieve vital information. Lock Paper Scissors has a thoughtful list of 25 “wacky” ideas.

  3. Turn each question into a clue. Decide what each clue will unlock. To ensure that all students participate, consider giving each pair of students a clue so they will be accountable to their peers. Companies like Breakout sell kits that you can purchase , but if you are short on funds, a simple backpack with an expensive lock from the hardware store will do for the final “escape.” Perhaps students must turn in a solved puzzle to receive a new clue and puzzle to solve? Each puzzle might offer a highlighted letter or clue for the final lock combination, or each time a puzzle is solved students receive a clue. This post from Weareteachers.com details different supplies to consider.

  4. Set the scene. Play it up! Don’t be afraid to get into character and use inexpensive props or signage to set the scene. Display a countdown timer. You could even add a fun prize for escaping, such as inexpensive candy or homework passes.

  5. Debrief with students. Consider setting the cutoff time for your escape challenge five minutes before the end of your class. Using an exit ticket, journal, or vlog, ask students to reflect on what they’ve learned:
    • What knowledge and skills were essential for solving the puzzles?
    • What could they have done differently to improve their process?
    • When did they feel confident?
    • What pieces of the challenge confused them?
    • What surprised them?
    • How did it feel to work with others under pressure?

Community ambassador Bobby Oommen recently wrote a fantastic post with lots of resources for teaching about the Internet and networks in middle school. Escape rooms would be a clever tie-in for a unit on the Internet, encryption, or cybersecurity.

Have you tried an escape room? If so, what tips do you have for others? Please share details about your work!!

Jenn Vermillion is the Director of Innovative Learning at St. Catherine’s School, an independent school for girls age 3 through grade 12 in Richmond, VA. She teaches an introduction to computer science course for students in grades 9-12 and an 8th grade Creative Technologies course. She also coaches a 4th grade Robotics team and coordinates school-wide professional development. Jenn welcomes your comments and questions at jvermillion@st.catherines.org.