Escaping the Classroom: Breakout Rooms

Escape Room Challenges

Escape Room challenges have become a fad. These interactive puzzle games trap groups of people, sometimes complete strangers in a room filled with a mixture of clues, red herrings and physical challenges and tasks the group to solve the puzzles presented to them before time runs out. Sometimes the rooms contain actors and back-stories, sometimes the only goal is to unlock the door to the room. Either way, the game involves team-work, cooperation, and collaboration. Have a breadth of background knowledge in these games typically allows for quicker solutions to the puzzle, but in an escape room that is designed correctly, all players should have equal opportunity to solve the problems.

A feat of employable skills.

These challenge activities are being used in the classrooms as well. They could be an authentic tool to teach students about valuable and employable skills.

Many of the skills required to beat the clock in an escape room are some of the same skills employers wish for in potential employees. These skills are transferable regardless of what technical skills the employee candidate has.

According to a survey of business professionals in hiring positions the top 10 soft skills most valued by employers are:

  • Communication
  • Courtesy
  • Flexibility
  • Integrity
  • Interpersonal Skills
  • Positive Attitude
  • Professionalism
  • Responsibility
  • Teamwork
  • Work Ethic

Of these 10 skills, seven (communication, courtesy, flexibility, interpersonal skills, positive attitude, teamwork, and work ethic) are integral to speedy success in these challenges.Escape room game pieces

My experience with an escape room challenge from Breakout Edu

As part of our professional development during a recent institute day, a group of eight teachers participated in an escape room challenge. We began by searching the room for anything out of the ordinary. We found a handful of red-herrings and clues alike. The most obvious goal was a red toolbox with four different locks on it. Soon after, a second lockbox was found. One of the clues; three different colored paper clips, lead us to the combination for the lockbox. Inside the lock box was a blacklight flashlight, a USB thumb drive and a key. The key unlocked one of the locks on the tool box. The USB gave us a code which lead to a website. On the website was a clue which allowed for the unlocking of a second lock. The flashlight revealed a black light message on a page of notes which lead to a hidden hyperlink on the website, which revealed two different maps. One map unlocked the third padlock, and the second map gave us the key to a code which unlocked the last padlock on the toolbox. We had solved the puzzle in about 25 of the given 45 minutes.

We needed to communicate and delegate responsibilities. We needed to make sure everyone participated in some way to beat the clock. We needed to accept and discuss ideas in an open way which did not discourage anyone. If we spent too much time on a red-herring clue, we needed to not give up in frustration, but rather move on and try to help with a new problem. As new information was revealed, we needed to revisit previous clues to move forward.

When discussing the activity we realized that these escape rooms are highly engaging and are excellent ways to reinforce and explain these important soft skills. Escape rooms can teach our students problem solving and teamwork. The instructor can take careful notes on the ways the students are participating in the activity and critique the actions for future consideration.

However, it would take a while to design a fully functioning escape room challenge. Luckily, there are companies which teach ways to incorporate these activities into the classroom. The company through which our professional development leader found his activity is called Breakout Edu.

I enjoyed the activity so much, I decided to become a beta-tester and writer for a “Breakout” session. I will let you know how things play out.

Some words of caution.

There are some downsides to these escape room activities in the classroom.

  1. Works best in a groups smaller than the typical classroom. Most activities are tailored for groups of 10-20. You want everyone to be involved and not so many people to power through the session.
  2. Long preparation time and you will need to likely spend some money on equipment for the activity.
  3. While the activities can be adapted for content, they work best when the focus is on problem and puzzle solving and teamwork. It would be hard to carry out in a content focused setting.

Despite these negatives, I would be willing to attempt an escape room activity in my science classroom. It might be a great first day-ice breaker or lead in to the scientific method, with its emphasis on problem-solving and observation. I think these activities are worth checking out, and could make an excellent review tool or team building exercise.

References:

Robles, M. M. (2012). Executive Perceptions of the Top 10 Soft Skills Needed in Today’s Workplace. Business Communication Quarterly, 75(4), 4

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