Secrets for Creating Escape Room Units for Your Classroom

Family time

Dinner together after the Escape Room!

On a family getaway weekend near Blueridge, Georgia (have you been? It’s such a great family vacation spot!). We stayed at a mountain retreat with stunning views (check it out here – not an affiliate link – we just loved it!). On our trip, we went to an Escape Room and there was no going back! Have you been to one? They’re more fun than I expected. And, being the teacher that I am, I couldn’t wait to put together a version for the classroom. It’s a fantastic way to work cross-curricular concepts into a single lesson. I have some tips and tricks to share for creating your own Escape Classroom activity. These activities will challenge your students to think creatively and critically while working together as a team. It gets your students moving around the classroom and into problem solving mode!

Moonshine Mountain Lodge, Blueridge, GA

Sweeping views at Moonshine Mountain Lodge!

Moonshine Mountain Lodge, Blueridge, GA

Seriously one of my favorite vacation spots.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We began with a study of Ancient Egypt. Students explored (as a team) various math, history, science and language arts concepts while solving team challenges. I suspected that my students would enjoy it – but I wasn’t prepared for how they begged for more!

So I’m launching a new one exploring the United State’s Race to the Moon, and have another in the works exploring volcanoes! The kids are going to lose their minds. Ha!

The Race to the Moon is a bit longer and more involved and will take about two weeks for my kids to complete. I’ve dug up YouTube videos to accompany each riddle which has completely re-inspired me in what a country can do when we’re all championing the same cause.

We may not be able to all get behind climate change, healthcare or education systems, or how even our country is run – but I’m pretty sure you’re here because you can get behind being creative in your classroom and engaging your students in a fun and unique way. Let’s get behind that together.

So here are some of my secrets for creating these units:

  1. Choosing a Topic – What’s your specialty? Language arts? Choose a book you’re studying! Science? Incorporate labs into your challenges.
  2. Perspective – Our Ancient Egypt study was broad enough to be multi-disciplinary but we tucked facts into each riddle. Our Race to Moon unit walked students through the timelines of each launch, and the progress (and failures) necessary for the US to set foot on the moon. Our volcano lesson is in progress, but this one is more of a story line of a fictional character who lives in Herculaneum in Ancient Rome who is nervous that the mountain, Vesuvius, is going to erupt and destroy his family and their home.
  3. Challenges – This is where it gets fun! My original ideas spurred from a few of the escape room ideas, but I’ve since branched out. From finding differences in pictures, to solving secret codes, to solving math problems.
  4. Creating the Incentive – This one is a piece of cake. Break up your students into small team and let them after the game. Competition will entice your students to keep after each answer even when the riddles get tough! The Race to the Moon is a bit more involved and we added a currency portion that adds an extra element of fun (and an assessment activity similar to Jeopardy where they can leverage their currency to win!).
  5. Assessment – Speaking of assessments…these are some of the easiest assessments in my experience because the kids don’t have the aversion to traditional assessments. We build a pyramid in the Ancient Egypt program…they have no idea they’re being tested!
  6. Have fun – Seriously. Your students are going to have fun if you get into experience with them. Build a pyramid! Launch a rocket! Explore lava! Don’t forget to be allow yourself to be in awe and let that spark fuel your lessons.

Still not sure where to start? Give ours a try and then come back and tell us what you create!

Critical Thinking Classroom Team Challenge Multi D

Escape with the Pharaoh’s Treasure!

Critical Thinking Team Challenge Activity

Escape the Launch Pad – Race to the Moon!

Critical Thinking Team Challenge Activity

Maker Space Tour – Visiting an Elementary School Maker Space

Maker Space Cart Summit School

Yesterday, I visited some old friends who began a maker space in their school building. Jodi and Wendy visited me to get ideas about creating a space in their school three years ago. I was very impressed by the progress they have made while taking maker spaces to a whole new level. The excitement and enthusiasm they have generated in their school is really remarkable.

Not only have they created a maker space room off of the library, but they have also invested in four movable carts that can be wheeled into any classroom so that teachers can bring maker spaces to their rooms (see the photo above). The four carts were designed and built by a volunteer and are themed around building, electronics, creating and crafts. The carts are in use every day as the classroom teachers have integrated making into their grade level curriculum. Each cart has a built in storage cabinet with a foldable tabletop that essentially doubles the working space of the cart. Teachers are using the carts in reading, language arts, math, and social studies to help bring their subject matter alive.

Wendy told me about one teacher who read about caterpillars and had her students design and build caterpillars of their own. She also mentioned how non-English speakers are able to excel with creativity even though they may be struggling with the language. Learning disabled kids are also thriving because they can make connections to real life that they could not make before.

We spoke about how to generate interest in other buildings in the district. It seems that there is a fear that if they move away from the dictated curriculum that test scores will drop. I believe just the opposite will happen. As children become more engaged in learning, it becomes more fun and students learn with less effort. We need to take back our classrooms from the politicians and testing companies!

Aquaponics 101

Adding-Tilapia-to-HS-Hydroponics

I’m assisting Oconomowoc High School with the aquaponics system in their greenhouse. So far we have set up two systems with 50 tilapia in one tank and 50 perch in a second tank. We are facing some challenges with our systems from the heat that is building when the outside temperature reaches 70 degrees or above. Tilapia need a water temperature of about 80 degrees, while perch need a water temperature of about 70 degrees. Our greenhouse reaches over 90 degrees and can see temperatures of 110. Before the weather gets too warm we need to find a way to keep the water cool enough for the fish to survive. Enter Travis. Travis is a second shift custodian at the high school and has significant experience in building aquaponics systems. I sat down with him over lunch the other day and was very impressed by his knowledge and experience. Travis has a high school diploma but has so much knowledge that I thought he had a college degree. Travis has had much hands on experience fabricating and problem solving over 150 aquaponic systems. I asked Travis if he had a degree. His response was that he just had a high school diploma but he picked up a lot of money and expertise doing side aquaponics jobs. He also has sought out many experts and used collaboration to build his knowledge.

Our discussion just reinforced my belief that we need more individuals with the ability to fabricate, and to use their hands to build projects that solve problems. I’m very impressed by his ability to think out of the box. After about an hour of talking, we had a solution to our overheating problem. It struck me that what Travis is doing is just the thing I want my students to do. Think out of the box, collaborate, seek expert advice, problem solve. The world could use more people like Travis!

Maker Spaces: Appleton Maker Space Tour

Last week I traveled to Appleton, Wisconsin and visited the MakerSpace located there. It was located in a small building behind a hair salon. It is a great place for members to tinker, fabricate and collaborate in making projects that appeal to them. Each month members pay a fee to have access to all of the equipment, materials and storage located in the space. The president of the organization, Chris, gave me a tour. There were several large work areas for woodworking, metal work, electronics, planning and storage. All were equipped with the machines for an inventor to do hands on learning.

A maker space is a great space to have access to all of the various machines needed to invent at a fraction of the cost of purchasing these on your own. There were lathes, saws, planers, welders, drill presses, and many more machines that could be useful for anyone wishing to be creative. I really liked their planning room that had a floor to ceiling whiteboard that was 12 feet wide and 8 feet wide. Members can use the board for drawing, creating lists or planning a project.

Chris introduced me to one of the members who is building an airplane in the space. He had the frame and wheels already made and was working on the wings. It reminded me of the old days when early flight pioneers made airplanes in their garages.

Craft Stick Truss Bridgeu

These are the kinds of spaces that we need in schools! We don’t need
all of the fancy and expensive equipment, but we do need areas where students can invent, create, fabricate, and experience failure and success. A corner of a classroom with craft sticks, glue guns, wires, light bulbs, and any number of inexpensive items helps children use their hands and minds to invent. Let’s get away from this culture of constant testing and get back to the real world!

Maker Monday: When Life Gives you Lemons…Make a Fire?

Do you remember when I told you that my family is crazy…I mean full of creativity and collaboration? We often spur each other on to try new things. To be curious. To work hard on solving problems. To dig for answers. Well, my dad’s birthday rolled around and we had a family party that involved lemons. Zinc nails. Copper nails. Wire. And fire. Well…let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The question: Can you really start a fire from a lemon?

CanYouStartAFire

Spreading like wildfire {ha! pun intended!} around social media was a video of NorthSurvival (as it turns out this is a hoax! He makes advertising money from this video.). NorthSurvival demonstrates how to use a lemon and some other odds and ends to start a fire. My sister, Amanda, showed up to the birthday party with a bag full of fun to test this method out. She and her family had started the experiment earlier in the day but couldn’t get it to work, so she brought in more of the {crazies} family members to give it a whirl.

First you’ll need a lemon, zinc nails, copper or brass nails or brads, wire, insulated wire, toilet paper, and steel wool. I know. You’re already wondering how you’re going to find these items when you’re in a desperate survival situation. Trust me, you’re not going to need them. You’ll be better off digging up a battery and giving it a shot. {Side note: I haven’t tried the battery trick yet, but when I do, you’ll be the first to see my results!}

Lemon Lemon1

You can watch the video for the details on how to build it.

We tried. And we tried. And we tried some more. We switched out the copper nails with brass brads (because it looked like that might be what he was using). We tried different wire, different conductors, longer wire, shorter wire, more toilet paper and steel wool, less steel wool and toilet paper. We tried using a new lemon. We rotated through the family. It sat on the table and family members hovered over this mess for hours trying to ignite the toilet paper. We did measure 0.5 volts using a voltmeter, but it wasn’t nearly enough to get a fire started.

Lemon2

After hours of work on this, I finally decided to turn to the trusty internet I scoured websites looking for people who were successful in this method. I found not a single person who had tried it and reported failure. I read comments. I read websites. I found one website that listed it on the very bottom of ways to start a fire…but I don’t think they actually tried it.

And then Mrs. Brainiac on the hunt finally found a video explaining that NorthSurvival was a hoax! See the video below. Next time we’ll light the birthday candles with matches.

If you want to try an easy hands-on project using electricity that actually works, check out our Light Up 3D Washington Monument! There’s no hoax here!

Friday Follies: Lego Love

Legos®. Those colorful, creative little bricks that kids love to tinker with. It takes grit and persistence to build a project out of these little guys. It’s all the stuff kids enjoy. Problem solving, trial and error, risk taking. They use their own special engineering design process, they make mistakes, have failures that set them back and then, success! Tada! You made a robot. Or a tractor. Or something that looks awesome even though I have no idea what it is. The important thing is that you know what it is. And what it does.

It’s Mrs. Brainiac back for some Friday Fun! Today, she will share some Lego® love. Note that Jerry Brainiac loves Legos®, Mrs. Brainiac’s relationship with Legos® is ambivalent.

The most fun thing about creating with Legos® is actually a secret. A secret that only adults know. The odds of a budding Lego engineer reading this blog are slim to none so I feel confident I can reveal that secret here. Ready? Kids don’t know that when they are having fun with Legos® it’s actually a learning experience. Yes, just like school. And kids like learning. And math. And science. Yes, kids like math and science if it masquerades as fun.

Kids don’t know that it takes grit and persistence to build a project out of Legos®. They don’t know they are using problem solving, trial and error, risk taking. They don’t know they are using an engineering design process.  They don’t even realize that they’re making mistakes, learning from them and that’s why they successfully complete a project. They think they are just “playing with Legos®.”

Bonus “fun” is making a robot out of Legos® and then programming it to function. Make it go frontward and backward or speed up or turn. When a kid has “fun” programming Legos®, it’s possible that when that kid grows up, he or she might get a “fun” job programming computers. And that’s the secret some adults don’t know. You can have fun at work if you do something you enjoy that challenges you and offers variety and keeps your brain exercising.

But Legos® aren’t always fun. Jerry Brainiac has thousands of Legos. These Legos are all over Mrs. Brainiac’s house. Mrs. Brainiac doesn’t wear shoes in the house. You see where this is going.

Sometimes Mrs. Brainiac helps Jerry Brainiac at school events. Hundreds of kids attend and they learn to make and program Lego® robots. Thousands of Legos® and hundreds of kids. Kids with colds during the winter. Billions of germs on the thousands of Legos®. Mrs. Brainiac didn’t have Legos® when she was a little girl and doesn’t understand the attraction. All she thinks about are the germs. But she helps the kids anyway. Sometimes the kids have to show Mrs. Brainiac how to put them together right. And that’s good because you retain more information when you teach it to others. So teaching Mrs. Brainiac how to build Legos® helps you retain information. You’re welcome, kids.

Now let’s program the Lego® robots. The program uses pictures instead of words so kids that don’t read well can still do great programming. Once a little boy fresh from China was visiting and he picked up programming right away even though he didn’t know any English at all. So if a child is struggling with reading or language barriers, gaining some success and confidence from programming Legos® can be a good thing.

Computer Programmer!

Computer Programmer!

If Mrs. Brainiac can find educational value in Legos® then EVERYONE should be able to. So, get the kids going and have some fun with Legos®.  Your brain will thank you. And when your child grows up to be an engineer, you may thank Mrs. Brainiac for sacrificing the soles of her feet to the Lego® brick gods.

 

Friday Follies: It’s All Fun and Games Until….

Saturday morning. Spending some time challenging a couple hundred kids with fabricating foam rockets. They are loving getting out of the classroom and into the cafeteria for a hands on experience building foam rockets and then launching them. They persistently brainstorm ways to get the rockets to go farther and higher. Through trial and error, mistakes and occasional failures, they achieve success! Rockets are flying everywhere. Bouncing off walls and garbage cans, other kids and the occasional unwary instructor who happens by. The curiosity, creativity and risk the kids take with the engineering design process are inspiring. If through this activity we can connect to real life applications and get them into Maker Spaces and Maker Labs, it will all be worth it. Worth the drive to the city early this morning to set up. Worth the exposure to all the kid germs and sticky hands grabbing hot glue guns from my helpful hands. Worth the parents hogging the supplies because they are as excited as the kids to engage in novel learning. And definitely worth the experience of having these wild ones use me as a target to aim the rockets at. “What if we hit Miss Sue? Do we get a prize?” No. No, you don’t. Rockets

Yes, it’s me, Sue Brainiac. The Head Brainiac Jerry’s long suffering wife. Brainiac Jerry loves offering events for poor underprivileged inner city kids that have never had the opportunity to torture Mrs. Brainiac with their attempts at foam rocket building. Yes, I understand that offering STEM activities encourages collaboration among students and sparks excitement about learning that may lead to a little girl becoming an engineer or a boy realizing he COULD go to college and do fun stuff for a living. It’s novel learning at its best. Developing synapses in the brain through presenting challenges to solve. Showing kids that tenacity and grit and hard work can actually be fun and rewarding. Blah blah blah. Okay. Kids learn to love science and math and make it applicable to everyday life. How nice for them.

But on a lovely Saturday morning , Mrs. Brainiac could be enjoying coffee on the deck and instead she is supervising kids from ages five to, well, whatever age the oldest parent is. Using scissors and hot glue and rubber bands. All her favorite things for kids to play with. And now the finished rockets are bouncing off her in spite of the oath to “not aim at anything living” that we made them take prior to launch.

How about we go back to the traditional education experience? Worksheets. Lectures. Videos of other people making things. Kids love watching other people have fun in videos. Tests! What about tests? Those take up lots of time and keep kids busy. And why aren’t these kids playing video games? That would keep them out of Mrs. Brainiac’s hair.

The worst part is all the questions they have. What if we use an extra rubber band? What if we angle it? How about if we make the fins longer? Shorter? More fins? Less fins? I have no idea! I’m not a scientist! But I am smart enough to let them figure it out themselves by trying it. And then when they figure it out and tell me, I smile knowingly as though I knew the answer all along and say, “There, now aren’t you glad you figured that out by yourself without me telling you the answer?”

Augh, the kids found me hiding behind the waste baskets writing this blog on my Ipad. “We want to make rockets, we want to make rockets.” Well, when do I get to make one of these rockets? I’m sure I can find a way to hit that top window they are all aiming for.