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A high school educator's interactive Hunger Games-themed escape rooms require students to complete gaming-style learning challenges to unlock the next activity

Take a peek inside this teacher’s Escape Room learning challenges

A high school educator's interactive Hunger Games-themed escape rooms require students to complete gaming-style learning challenges to unlock the next activity

Escape rooms are engaging for people of all ages—they require durable skills such as creativity, critical thinking, determination, and the ability to work in groups to solve challenges. It makes sense that educators would craft their lessons around the concept of an escape room—and that’s just what high school educator Lynn Thomas has done.

In this Q&A with eSchool News, Thomas details how she found inspiration to create escape room learning opportunities and the benefits she sees for her students–and she offers a look at a new ChatGPT challenge she’s created.

eSN: What gave you the idea to structure learning activities in an escape room-style challenge? 

LT: I was inspired to utilize this fun and challenging activity in my classes upon attending workshops and reading about the benefits and ways to gamify learning, as well as a specific Brightspace workshop about creating an Escape Room through the platform.

What do these challenges look like for students? What do students like best about them and what feedback have you received? 

In my particular case, I opted to create an around-the-world adventure. The narrative begins as follows: “You have been hired by a mysterious organization to complete a series of challenges. The details are all very vague, but you are very intrigued. All you know is that your problem-solving skills are going to be challenged and that you will have to learn along the way because, apparently, it also involves traveling around the world!”

I selected an around-the-world theme because it offers a wide array of subject-matter and material to incorporate into the challenges. This means I can also ensure that there are elements that will appeal to a wide variety of student interests. For example, so far, my escape room, which actually contains multiple “rooms,” includes infographics, narratives, timelines, itineraries, informative videos, a 360-degree virtual tour, and informative articles on a range of topics like the Pyramids, the Taj Mahal, mythology, motion sickness, the Great Wall of China, the Terra Cotta Warriors, the Qinghai-Tibet railway, Mount Everest, the Pallas’s Cat, and many more.

How do the escape room challenges accommodate all learning styles? 

Escape rooms incorporate elements of gamification, which has been shown to enhance student enthusiasm for learning while focusing on important student needs throughout the process (Kim et al., 2020). In practice, gamification mirrors student development throughout the learning process. As Chen Jun and Liang Mo noted in their research, gamification promotes good habits of learning and an independent exploration spirit. These are more reliable gauges for supporting learning than appealing to various learning styles because there is no evidence to support the idea that matching activities to a student’s learning style improves learning, as noted by Nancy Chick in her learning guide.

That being said, escape rooms offer multiple modes of communication (textual, visual, audio) to ensure accessibility and inclusivity and appeal to personal preference.

What are some of the features in D2L’s Brightspace that make this possible? 

Brightspace’s release conditions are the biggest feature that make building escape rooms possible. A wide array of options are available to set release conditions on from reading a content page to submitting an assignment to getting a certain range of marks on a quiz and many more. This allows for the “rooms” to be locked and then unlocked automatically upon release conditions being met, enabling the teacher to pace the challenge as well as ensuring various predetermined requirements are met. For example, a release condition can be set for the student to complete a quiz with a grade of 70 percent or higher. The student is given automatic feedback and rewrites the quiz until they achieve the needed grade, so the next challenge is unlocked. In this game atmosphere, students enjoy the challenge and work to reach the goal, even when work needs to be redone. Using the quiz tool is really helpful in this atmosphere as well because it allows for automatic grading and immediate feedback, so students can move on with the challenges without having to wait for the teacher to grade their quiz. In a normal classroom setting, I have many students who would not redo work in this way. This alone shows how gamifying the experience can support better learning outcomes.

I have also incorporated Intelligent Agents into some of the challenges. In these cases, the release condition is set with the Intelligent Agent to automatically email the student when they meet certain conditions. For example, the student completes a task, so the Intelligent Agent emails them a clue or secret message to help them open the next room.

These tools also allow for building escape rooms that can be tailored to each student’s interests. Choices can be embedded in the room and by selecting one over another, the student is taken on a different path to a different room. Just one more way to differentiate for improved student learning. 

Can you share any observations about student learning after you’ve introduced these engaging activities? 

One escape room activity I built based on The Hunger Games was constructed as an end-of-unit review of literary terms. When students were completing this activity they were deeply engaged in solving the challenges, practiced successful collaboration, and persisted despite difficulties they encountered. The increased development of social emotional learning skills shown during the activity coupled with successfully reviewing their understanding of concepts and terminology covered in the unit displayed to me the absolute value of undertaking the development and use of escape rooms and other gamified experiences.

What advice would you give to other teachers hoping to do something similar or hoping to add more engaging activities to their instruction? 

My biggest piece of advice for other teachers looking to implement a new experience for students would be to not be afraid to try something new and possibly outside of your own comfort zone–you just may be amazed at the results!

We hear you’re working on a ChatGPT challenge—feel like sharing any details? This sounds really cool.

In my experimentation with ChatGPT, I have utilized it to alleviate writer’s block – I asked it to write an escape room narrative involving traveling around the world, which got the ball rolling as far as the overall storyline is concerned. I have asked it to compose multiple choice questions based on articles that I used in the escape room, and I have used it in class to study writer’s craft moves and poetry.

In the final case, my student teacher and I asked ChatGPT to write a poem about puppies. The resulting lines were definitely a poem – it had verses, rhyme, and used some figurative language – but the quality was questionable. As a class, we analyzed the “Puppy” poem pointing out the uses of various craft moves and discussing its quality. Students then had ChatGPT write a poem on a topic of their choice. They identified the craft moves and analyzed their effectiveness. Through critical analysis of ChatGPT’s product, students then made recommendations for improvement employing these recommendations in subsequent prompts to see how well ChatGPT could improve the poem. The lesson was extremely successful. Students were completely engaged in using the tool and showed increased focus and critical thinking skills in analyzing the poem that was produced.

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