What do you get when you blend digital escape-the-room adventures, puzzle and treasure hunts, “Survivor” and the “Amazing Race,” haunted houses and interactive theater?
Animas High School’s Escape Room. And it might be the perfect entertainment for a spring evening.
“Six geniuses can enter the room,” said Aliza Cruz, a math teacher at AHS, “but if they can’t work together, they probably won’t get out.”
The origin of escape rooms is somewhat in dispute, but whether they began in Silicon Valley in 2006 or in Japan in 2007, they have spread around the world. Likened to a physical version of “escape-the-room” video games, they can be set to resemble such things as a space station or a dungeon.
They generally involve solving multiple and diverse puzzles to solve a murder mystery, find a treasure map or simply provide a path to the keys that will allow players to depart the room. And it all has to happen while the clock is ticking down the allowed 60 minutes.
Cruz, whose geometry students collaborated with biology teacher Tina Hott’s students on the AHS Escape Room, is an admitted escape-room junkie.
“I’m a person who likes games and puzzles in general,” Cruz said. “Two years ago, my younger brother in Charlotte (North Carolina) took me to one, and now I’ve been to five or six in different cities.”
Cruz is quick to point out that she doesn’t travel to cities just to visit escape rooms, but when she’s going somewhere, she always checks to see if there is one and makes a point of going.
As much as the students learned creating the Escape Room, they may learn even more as gamemasters watching groups attempt the solutions, especially the importance of communication and paying attention to detail.
“We had a group yesterday (Thursday) that weren’t speaking to each other,” sophomore Victoria Reeve said. “Or they were miscommunicating, so they got really frustrated and quit before time was up.”
Creating the roomThe design started with a trip to Albuquerque, where students visited the New Mexico Escape Room and picked the brains of the owners for two hours.
“Then, when we came back, the students came up with different scenarios and pitched them to each other,” Cruz said. “We did a gallery walk of the ideas to pick the most appropriate.”
The AHS version had to incorporate geometry and biology themes. It also includes art created by the students blending geometry and anatomy. Everyone going through the room must sign an agreement not to disclose details – no spoiler alerts for future participants – but it won’t ruin the experience to say it’s art-based.
“In the math department, we’re trying to push the idea that there are ideas that are habits of mathematicians,” Cruz said. “Critical thinking, creative thinking, being analytical, and the students had to use all of them on this project.”
The escape room also tapped into the “Habits of Heart and Mind” that are a key part of Animas High School’s overall philosophy, she said. Remembered with the acronym PAPER, they are perseverance, advocacy, perspective, evidence and refinement.
“This certainly took a lot of perseverance and refinement,” Cruz said. “Students have learned building skills, hanging doors, using power drills, painting, learning you have to clean your brushes after painting or they dry out. We wanted this to look professional, so we built and rebuilt the wall, painted and repainted.”
One big help was a kit from Breakout EDU, which included several different kinds of locks and other items to create the puzzles.
The project required effort from all the biology and geometry students, and it roped in other students in the public charter school based on learning from projects. A senior art teacher and several of her students served as advisers, a couple of older students figured out the audio-visual system, and several teachers loaned the televisions used in the experience from their rooms.
“We’ve seen students who are not necessarily engaged in class become energized by this project,” Cruz said. “Collectively, as a group, they formed an idea of what this project could be, and they pushed each other. As kids get older, they forget how to learn from watching other people make mistakes, but we hope this brought that back.”
As of the last play test on Friday, no one had finished the puzzle sequence in the time allowed.
In addition to being a learning experience for the students, Cruz has learned a lot, too.
“I leaned to relinquish control,” said the former High Tech High teacher, “and I relearned that I can trust the students to make decisions. They were inspiring, and they were inspired.”