Posts tagged escape room
Playing with Purpose

A little while ago The Shift wrote about the Three (Silent) P’s of Innovation.  Simply put they are

  • Permission: educators need to feel that they have the permission to try something new

  • Protection: innovators should feel that they are protected if something goes sideways

  • Policy: people need assistance in navigating the policies that may slow down innovation

We’ve worked within these three P’s for the past year, mostly helping to convince others that they do indeed have the permission to try, fail and learn.  Innovation is a part of the Halton District School Boards Improvement Plan, so teachers should feel that they are protected when trying something new. As well, administrators and IPLs are well versed in assisting teachers when navigating through the relevant policies.

But something was missing from the three P’s and we’ve recently realized what that is: play.  Students, teachers, administrators, support staff should all feel as excited for Monday morning as they do for Friday afternoon.  Wouldn’t it be great to hear the words “I can’t believe this is school!” more often from educators and students?

Let’s be clear about what we mean when we say “play”.  We do mean having fun and being excited. We also mean being filled with a sense of awe and wonder.  We mean that when the bell rings, everyone is disappointed because they don’t want the learning to end.  If our classrooms are filled with purposeful joy, we’ve won. Playing in an escape room is great, but how do we make sure there is a defined purpose behind that play?

Educators need to feel that sense of play in what they do as well.  Experimenting with different ways to make your classes more engaging, more student focused and more playful should hopefully also feel like play.  If we hold that mindset of play while we create experiences for our students, we will have more fun on the journey and we will be more forgiving to ourselves when things go sideways.  

Last Thursday a group of HDSB Science teacher got to experience a little bit of playing with purpose when they travelled to Toronto to learn about Integrative Thinking.  This was a chance for teachers and administrators to fully “nerd out” on thinking and learning and they had so much fun doing so. The first integrative thinking tool they learned to use was called the “pro-pro” chart.  Think about making a decision by coming up with a pro-con list. You then make your decision based on which option has the least cons. The pro-pro chart is a rich tool that allows you to look at the benefits of both sides of a problem in order to uncover an “ultimate” solution. The ultimate solution isn’t about choosing one side or the other, but a creative path that speaks to both sides of the problem.  We will be digging in more detail into this tool in an upcoming blog post, so stay tuned for more soon from teachers actively playing with the pro-pro chart with their students.

The best part about integrative thinking and the pro-pro charts is that, when using them, it doesn’t feel like school, it feels like play.  Students are engaged because they feel like their opinions matter and that their voice can affect change. Teachers are excited because they can witness the thinking process happening in real time.  This is play, with purpose and it is absolutely required for innovation to happen. So let’s add to the three Ps to reflect that mindset: the four Ps! Permission, Protection, Policy, PLAY!

Why Escape Rooms?

Being able to work in a classroom of our own at Milton District High School is a bit of a blessing for us.  Turning this space into our own demonstration classroom is a bit of a dream come true. Who wouldn’t want a blank slate to play in?  We realized quickly that we were going to be slowed down a bit by factors that were beyond our control. The room needs to be able to demonstrate a wide variety of uses for multiple subject areas and pathways all while being functional for secondary or elementary students and teachers.

The first step we took in our space was to measure the walls and order whiteboards.  We like to work vertically and from our experience, so do students. Once the install is complete the demonstration room will have space for 17 to 20 student groups to work.  Unfortunately the delivery and install could take up to a month.

Step two was to find some furniture vendors who would be willing to work with us in outfitting the room with functional, flexible furniture.  We got really lucky on this one, as plenty of retailers wanted the opportunity to play with us. You can look forward to furniture as a vehicle to change pedagogy in a future post.  Again though, the downside is that scheduling the meetings, delivery and install takes time.

So we were expecting to have about a month of time where our demonstration space would be a blank slate.  Yet we had a few goals we wanted to meet, such as getting to know some of the Milton District staff and students.  We also had this funky display case attached to the room that could be accessed by a lockable door.


“That would be a cool feature in an escape room…”, we thought.

This was quickly followed by, “We should turn this into an escape room!”  We might have high fived. This was innovation. We had a product, the demonstration room, that we wanted to improve in the short term.  At the same time we wanted to improve our understanding of the school community itself.

We put together a package of sorts for interested classes, based around a YouTube video we saw that discussed the skills that are required to be successful in an escape room.  We wanted to go a bit deeper than the video, linking the skills used in an escape room to our own Learning Skills and Global Competencies. Our idea was to show the video, have the students complete a Breakout Edu escape room, then debrief their success or failure by linking back to their own individual learning skills.  

We did become a victim of our own success.  We offered up 25 time slots for classes to participate in the escape room, of which, 19 ended up being filled.  We didn’t initially plan for what to do when a student repeated our room. In fact, we only expect to run the same room several times, so we wouldn’t even mix up the puzzles.  In the short term, we thought that the one or two “repeats” could help us watch their class for good examples of team communication. We would then lean on these students to help guide our debrief with their class.


This worked well, for two days, then disaster as a Grade 9 class arrived at the escape room with fully half of the students attending for the third time.  On the fly between periods we printed out the puzzles for a brand new escape room and quickly set the room up. This wasn’t super ideal, as we had not really tested the room ourselves and in the end the room itself was a great deal more challenging than our first puzzle.  To this date, no one successfully solved that second room.

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Another challenge we faced was facilitating the debrief at the end of the room.  Several classes took close to the full 45 minutes to escape. Add the travel time and our intro activity and were we pretty much at the end of our period with the students.  So while we wanted to have a rich discussion with each class, we found ourselves more often congratulating them and then sending them on their way with some homework. Most often, “Think about how good communication and teamwork skills can help you in real life”.  Again, not quite what we were picturing when we decided to run with escape rooms.

That being said, lots of good came from our two week experiment.  We met lots of students from all grades and pathways. We also got to meet a fair number of teachers.  This is important to us, as we believe that intentionally building community in authentic ways is important on the first day of school, the second day of school and every day after too.  So we hope that those classes who participated in an escape room did notice a shift in their own community. We saw it happen in a few cases, where a class would arrive dragging their heels and asking “What’s the point of this?”, only to leave smiling and laughing.  


We are coming to realize how important a sense of play is to school communities.  People should feel that it is fun to be learning. This doesn’t mean that the activities are all fluff and candy and certainly it wouldn’t make sense to do an escape room every day with your students.  But if we can find authentic ways to make students and staff feel excited about coming to school to learn together, that’s a big win. So tell us, what do you do to make students feel excited about learning?