In most classrooms, it’s not a good sign when students’ eyes flick to the clock. It means they’re distracted and waiting to get out. In Nicole Naditz’s 12th-grade class in Sacramento, California, the opposite is true; students desperately eyeball the clock, wishing for more time. Naditz’s trick? She’s incorporated a new style of teaching into her lessons that was originally designed for adult games. The increasingly popular escape room has been given an educational twist—padlocked boxes that can only be accessed by decoding verbs, performing math problems, or solving scientific puzzles.
Naditz is no outlier. Over the last year, there’s been worldwide growth in educational escape rooms, and many educators are adapting the concept to fit the needs of their students—in both physical and digital learning environments. They’re an innovative way to bring technology and critical thinking into the classroom, and the benefits are twofold: Games have a history of promoting engagement in a learning environment, and the collaborative elements help students develop social skills.
Naditz shares a narrative with her class before the game begins. The inventor Claire Levine has been kidnapped, and her robot has been reprogrammed to destroy a hospital. To save it, students must activate the kill switch inside a box—but they need to get through four padlocks to do so, and they’ve only got 45 minutes. Multiple locked boxes and clues are scattered through the room—deciphering these leads to hidden keys and combination passwords. There’s a black-light flashlight that reveals hidden messages, and a QR code that directs players to a video containing a four-digit code.