Heritage students use social studies lessons to solve their way out of escape room

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The Heritage Middle School students were on a field trip on an island when the tropical storm struck. To get back to their ferry, they needed to navigate through a series of questions that would ultimately lead them to a code for their ticket home.

For the sixth-graders in Jenn Cole’s advanced social studies class, the challenge gave them an opportunity to review previous geography and mapping lessons in a format they were familiar with — the escape room.

“This is intense,” said Caden Cibulskis, who scrambled outside of the classroom with his partner in search of a clue. 

Escape rooms are popular activities where a group of players are confined within a space and must discover clues, solve puzzles and accomplish tasks in order to escape. For teachers, they are a learning strategy that aligns with the district’s Portrait of a Graduate work — and they’ve been popping up in more Westerville classrooms. 

“We are trying this as a new and different way to practice sixth-grade social studies standards,” said Debbie Pellington, a gifted education facilitator who works with teachers at Heritage and Genoa middle schools. She worked with Cole on the escape room activity.

“Our goal was to see the students collaborating, communicating and using their critical-thinking skills to problem solve.”

As part of the escape room activity in Cole’s class, students worked with partners to answer questions that tested their knowledge of cartography and geographic tools: “What name is given to the portion of the Earth located above the equator?”, “What are the four main points of direction called?” and “What type of map shows landforms like mountains and deserts?” 

In addition to answering the questions, they had to solve puzzles that led them to clues outside of their classroom. The more rounds they completed, the more challenging the questions became. At the final round, students answered questions and solved a puzzle for a completion code that would open a locked box — where prizes awaited and marked their completion of the escape room.

Students said it was a great way to review material they’ve covered in previous classes.

“It was really fun,” said Aubrey Williams, who along with her partner, Marisa Brown, were the first to complete the escape room. “It really helped that we knew the answers but some questions were challenging.”