Math teachers at Central High School had been discussing the possibility of adding an escape room style experience to the Math curriculum. Erin Carmichael led the way by submitting a grant proposal for the purchase of materials to set up the Math Escape Rooms to be used at not just Central High School but in collaboration with Centennial math teacher Jay Hooper and Urbana H.S. math teacher Dan Bechtel.
About 175 Central High School algebra 1 students participated in an escape room last spring that required students to work together through a series of problems. Students had to work through problems that were math based and logic based in order to “escape.”
The math teachers designed the escape rooms to incorporate as many of the 8 mathematical principals as they could into the escape room. The first principle is to make sense of the problem and preserve in solving. The escape room was developed so that students might not know exactly what to do with the information in front of them, but by using all their resources the groups were able to figure out how to move forward. This also ties in with principle number 5, to use tools appropriately. Students were not able to progress within the escape room if they did not use all the tools given to them. Students also had to attend to precision, principle number 6. As they solved each step their solutions would be the combination to a lock or the answer to a puzzle that would move them forward in the activity. When faced with logic puzzles, students had to reason abstractly (principle number 2) and critique the reasoning of others (principle number 3). These principles are not only important in a math classroom, but in all STEM classes and future careers. Lastly, the clues given to the students were not always in English. Students had to use technology and their peers to help translate or de-code messages.
The escape room activity grew to be more of a success through each session where it was implemented. After each completion of the activity the teachers were able to quickly reflect upon how the students were able to move through the activity during the passing period and make minor adjustments before a new class would work through the puzzles. As the day progressed they saw more and more groups of students succeed with figuring out all of the obstacles of the escape room. Regardless of the group’s ability to “escape” from the zombies, each teacher stated that their students maintained a high-level of engagement throughout the process and persevered when faced with the challenges. Teacher Erin Carmichael is excited to see how this activity progresses as they continue to implement escape rooms in the algebra 1 classes and eventually all math classes. The Math Escape Rooms are being implemented this school year at Centennial and Urbana High Schools.