“I love these! I want to do this!” “You love watching us struggle!” “Let’s make sure we help each other.” The following student quotes are music to a teacher’s ears and occurred during the implementation of the mathematical escape room that I will describe. Incorporating escape rooms is one way to engage students, encourage productive struggle and teamwork. An escape room is a game in which teams solve multiple puzzles using clues, hints, and strategy in order to figure out how to escape from a locked room. Students must work together in their teams in order to solve challenges. Setting up a mathematical escape room can be a great way for students to apply and practice mathematics they have learned. I will highlight important principles and ideas for teachers who want to develop their own escape room. These include a unifying theme and a brief backstory, challenges that involve students using and connecting mathematical representations (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, 2014), the inclusion of hints if needed, and a compelling twist or twists. I will also describe insights from implementing the escape room with a classroom of students. Unifying Theme and a Brief BackstoryThe theme that I selected for my escape room was lines. All of the challenges involved lines or line segments in some way with the mathematics mostly focused on linear equations. The backstory that I created involved a student, Luna, who knew everyone in the room. To introduce the escape room I projected the backstory for students to read (See "Math Activities" tab for all escape room handouts) I went over a few things with students before starting the escape room. I emphasized to students the importance of teamwork and ensuring everyone was being utilized in a team. I tried to put students in teams with other students who they did not know as well. This can be to done to develop classroom community and let students know the importance of helping each other. In actual escape rooms, a team of players are locked in a room and given 60 minutes to try to solve the puzzles in order to determine how to leave the room. I did not lock the door but instead placed the seven locks on tables in a part of the room where students could try combinations to open the locks. It is important to let students know to leave the locks at the table and for only one person in each group to check combinations. This ensures that all groups will have access to the locks because students will not be taking locks back to their group. I designed the escape room so it would be challenging but so that students could finish in under 60 minutes. In actual escape rooms a record of the fastest time to escape the room is kept so a timer could be set when students begin. Use and Connect Mathematical RepresentationsIt is important for students to have the opportunity to make connections between different representations. The Lesh Translation Model emphasizes five categories of representations (a) Representation through realistic, real-world, or experienced contexts, (b) Symbolic representation, (c) Language representation, (d) Pictorial representation, and (e) Representation with manipulatives (concrete, hands-on models). The understanding of concepts depends on the learner’s ability to represent concepts and situations through the five modes of representation, and the ability to translate between and within representations (Lesh and Doerr, 2003). I choose the escape room challenges with these ideas in mind. To begin the escape room, students are given a folder with the information that they will need. The folder contains the following pages: (a) message from Luna, (b) table to record the combinations for the seven locks, (c) the seven challenges labeled with the corresponding lock number, and (d) six pages that contain 96 possible answers, 96 lock combinations, and 96 sets of three characters. Groups need to figure out that when they solve a challenge, they need to refer to the possible answers to then identify the correct combination. I included 96 possible answers so that students would not try to just guess the correct combination. I also included answers choices based on common mistakes that students could make. For example, in determining the slope of x = 1/2 y + 10 students might think that the slope is ½, but should recognize the equation is not in slope intercept form. I included the following answer choice for the challenge to calculate 8 slopes represented in different ways, {-6, -3, -2, ½, 1, 3, 4, 5}, which is correct except for the slope of ½. Escape rooms often have a sequential or asynchronous design. My escape room uses both designs. The seven challenges do not have to be solved in any set order, but all must be solved correctly to move on to the next part of the escape room. The seven challenges all involve lines in some fashion. Inclusion of Hints if Needed The escape room is set up for students to be able to check if they correctly solved the challenges and hints can be provided as well if groups are struggling. Students can check if they correctly solve the challenges by trying the corresponding combinations to open the locks. If groups are struggling on a challenge or falling behind other groups, below are some possible hints to provide to groups. Compelling TwistReal life escape rooms often have hidden objects, keys that need to be found, and/or objects placed in the room that end up being integral to escape the room. Once a group has correctly identified all seven lock combinations to open all of the locks, they have to figure out what to do next. In addition to the correct seven lock combinations groups must find out what everyone has in common. Once the groups got to this point they were unsure of what to do next. I reminded them of the question they needed to answer and if they had used all of the information they were given. This led groups to look back over the handouts they were given. In the six pages of answers and combinations there were three characters under each combination that gave the next clue. The three characters placed in order for the correct combinations spelled out the following: L o o k u n d e r t h e k e y t a b l e ! Before students arrived in the classroom, I had taped a key along with a note under the table where the locks were placed. In the clue “key” meant important and also that there was a key under the table to be found. Along with the key a small scroll of paper was found with the following clue: What is the meaning of “life”? The group started to search the room. Before class started I had placed a stack of books in a different part of the room from the locks but in plain sight. One of the books appeared to be a dictionary, but when opened had a locked compartment. This item can be purchased for about ten to fifteen dollars through Amazon. I reminded the group of the phrase on the scroll and after several minutes of searching I asked where do you find the meaning of words? This lead one group to be able to find the dictionary which the key opened.The locked compartment of the dictionary provided the last challenge. On the inside of the dictionary I had placed a note for each group to take one folded up piece of paper. When the piece of paper was unfolded, there were two questions. The first question was what do all of the following numbers have in common? 11, 37, 2, 101, 71, 73, 41, 29 Students had to notice that all of the numbers were prime numbers. Underneath this was the question to finish the escape room. What do we all have in common? Below this question was the series of characters and numbers in the figure below. In order to answer the last question students had to circle all of the prime numbers and use the associated letters above the numbers to spell out the answer. WE ALL LOVE MATH! In summary, the following are important elements in designing a mathematical escape room: a unifying theme and a brief backstory, challenges that involve students using and connecting mathematical representations, the inclusion of hints if needed, and a compelling twist. An escape room is an excellent way to increase engagement, teamwork, and provide students with a memorable experience!
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## Micah StohlmannChristian, author, and professor of mathematics education. ## Archives
July 2021
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