Dyan Branstetter | September 2016

Escape Room for Educators

Have you ever been to an Escape Room Team Building? They are a relatively new form of adventure entertainment, and they are popping up all over the country. People pay admission to be locked in a small, themed room for an hour. The goal is to escape the room; attempting to use clues from the room to solve a series of puzzles that ultimately unlock the door. Not the place to be if you suffer from claustrophobia!

Last year, a family from my school opened an Escape Room team building just down the road from our school campus. My principal, always ready to kick off the new school year with a fun challenge, reserved the facility for our staff on the first day back after summer vacation. We would have to escape the room while getting to know our new colleagues.

If you have been looking for ideas for team building, this was the ultimate icebreaker activity. I am normally someone who shies away from activities such as this (mostly due to the locked in a room aspect!), but there were more than a few takeaways for me.

Escape Room Team Building

I teach in a small school, and our staff members work very well together due to our common vision and excellent leadership. We have a number of new teachers on staff this year, and what better way to help people get to know one another than to lock them in a room together to solve a puzzle with a time limit. This seemed like the obvious reason for doing an escape room activity, until we were actually in the room, working through the mystery.

It seemed odd to me that in the course of deciphering codes in a surreal environment, it felt normal to be doing this with these people. Really, this is what we do every day at school, isn’t it? We try to “unlock” the clues of how to best reach our students. We try a strategy, and if it works we share it. If it doesn’t work, we consult other teachers and try their suggestions, or brainstorm solutions together.

We are even racing the clock. Sometimes it is literal- collaborating on the fly in the copy room before dashing off to pick up our students. Sometimes, we are racing the clock because we need to figure out how to help a student before he or she misses too much curriculum to stay with the pace of the class. To be honest, I don’t think I would have escaped a room as quickly with any other group because we do this kind of work all the time.

Learning through Process

My group had the challenge of escaping from a Greek Mythology-themed room, and I didn’t find out about the topic until I was about to enter. Greek Mythology was part of my education when I was twelve. The topic was more than a little foggy to me. As we were solving the mystery, I was so immersed in the topic that I was learning everything I could from the resources around me (and striving hard to retrieve that background information from 6th grade). I was learning through the process because I had a problem to solve, a goal to reach and a time constraint. I now know quite a bit more about this topic, and it is burned into my memory.

Our group was collaborating, using critical thinking skills, stretching our creative thinking skills, all without being told to do so. While this didn’t have the real-life authenticity that makes a project-based learning “gold-standard”, it had so many other components. During escape room team building, one couldn’t help but be engaged. Some teachers have already been inspired enough by escape rooms to design classes with this format in mind.

If you have an Escape Room near you, and you love new ideas for escape room team building, I highly recommend finding a group (especially your teaching staff!) and trying it out. You will learn how your teammates operate under stressful conditions. If you aren’t familiar with problem-based learning, you will experience it fully. Whether you escape or not, escape room team building will be an exhilarating learning experience for all who try.

For the record, my group and I escaped with 3 minutes to spare. Whew!

Escape Room Team Building, Education Closet

About the Author

Dyan is a fifth grade teacher in a public school district in Lancaster, PA and has over 16 years of classroom experience. With a Masters of Science Education and a passion for dance and music, she strives to integrate the arts into the curriculum whenever possible. Dyan has a background in teaching advanced learners, and is devoted to using project based learning to help her students achieve 21st century learning skills and master the PA Core Standards.