As soon as we enter the room, the gamemaster locks the door behind us. There are multiple clues to lead us to salvation, and we have one hour to find them and make our escape.
This kind of entertainment is better than going to a movie. In escape rooms, you and your friends are united in one goal: leaving that ominous place. Talking is not a luxury; it is a must. You have be a team to win.
These are qualities we need in schools: engagement, team-building, problem-solving, respect, and intrinsic motivation. Wouldn’t it be great if we could use escape rooms as educational activities in our classrooms? Here’s how you can.
Start by thinking about the physical space
I designed two escape rooms for my 7th graders. First, you need to arrange the exterior. What is the layout of the class? Does the room have lockers? Do these lockers have digital locks? If not, do school administrators let you hang combination locks?
Let’s say your class doesn’t have any kind of lockers, cabinets, closets, and such. What will you do?
Well, every problem has its solution. If you don’t have any kind of big rectangular boxes in your class, then find one. You can buy a small safe or a safe book (a small safe that looks like a book). They come with combination or key.
Now design the puzzles
We arranged the layout. Now what? Second is deciding which lessons you will use with the escape room.
Math is easy because you can find many problems that are fun to solve. You can use crossword puzzles, ciphered articles—anything you can think of. I used 3D glasses with colored lens in one of my designs. I took out the blue lens part and replaced it with a red, transparent piece of paper. That made red-looking glasses. Now you have a optical device that converts dark colors into blackish-blue and light colors into whitish-red.
Then I bought some colored matches, with both light and dark segments. I arranged them into the digital number 888. When you look at that number with the glasses on, you see the difference between the dark- and light-colored pieces, and it reads as 576.
In my second year, I designed an escape room for tablets and smartphones. All puzzles used QR codes or Aurasma (pictured right). This was easier with our layout. For example, you may want your kids to look at the bulletin board you just posted on the wall. You could visit the Aurasma website and start creating your own auras. Then use them on your puzzles.
If you arrange your auras about your bulletin board, your kids will remember it for a very long time. Don’t forget, children tend to remember the experience more than anything else.
Next, decide your puzzle order
Now that you have your puzzles, what you need to do next is place your puzzles in order. Be careful about this one. If you put out one puzzle at a time, it will bore your kids. Or worse, it will only keep one or two students busy. So give them all something to work on. Start with two clues at once. Students will have to divide into two smaller teams immediately. Let one team work with one clue and the other team with another puzzle.
My first clue was on my desk. It was an article about the number pi. One of the lockers in the room has pictures of spheres, circles, and such. So the kids went to that locker and tried 314 as a combination. Yep, it worked! Inside that locker, they found three puzzles. One was the red glasses I mentioned before, the second was a text written in Cyrillic, and the third was a picture of squares. One square was marked with an X.
Kids looked at everything with red glasses, but nothing appeared out of the ordinary. They couldn’t solve the Cyrillic, so what they needed was to figure out how to use the rectangles in the picture. Soon they solved it. It was a map of the class, and the X was pointing to a specific desk. Nothing was on that desk—even looking through the red glasses, they didn’t find anything. Then one of them decided to look under the desk. And there it was. A paper with the colorful matches on it. Then they looked at the paper with the red glasses … voilà, 576.
As you can see, there is no limit for imagination. Anything or any lesson can be a puzzle or a clue.
Putting it all together
You need to set up a time interval for the challenge. Every puzzle takes approximately 3-5 minutes to solve. Of course, it depends on how hard you make them, but finding the puzzle, solving it, and locating the clues takes time. Even for easy questions, kids need at least 2 or 3 minutes per puzzle. So if you’re planning average questions for your escape room and you have 40 minutes, try seven to nine puzzles.
As the difficulty level of the questions go up, you can use fewer puzzles. But if you want fun, go with easy ones. Let the kids enjoy the adventure. You can use your escape room with four or five students at once.
When you’re using the escape room, you have to be available to give hints. Kids may get stuck on some problem, and they may need help. It spoils all the fun if they open the door and ask you something directly for every problem they have. If you can install a camera to see inside the room, perfect. But if you want to keep your design manageable, you simply need a walkie-talkie to communicate with the kids when they’re inside.
Also, you can’t use the escape room during your lessons. One team should be doing the escape room while the other students are learning normally. How are you going to manage being two places at once? Find a time for them. Maybe you can offer the escape room as a reward or use it as a activity on the weekend.
As you can see, there are several things to think about when designing an escape room. According to your design, it will cost probably less than $100. Ours cost around $70. But believe me, it’s worth every penny to see them work together, get creative, and feel proud when they find the solution.