Christmas elves have some students at Dempsey Middle School to thank for getting them back on track this season after students spent their final day of school solving puzzles for them, escape room style.
Intervention Specialist Ann Irvan said her students participated Thursday in several escape room-style activities where they were challenged to use critical thinking and problem-solving skills to open several locks and, in this case, return decorations to Christmas elves. Irvan said it’s more hands-on than having students watch a holiday movie on the last day of the semester, for example.
“Out goal is to give them something collaborative to do,” she said. “Something where they aren’t sitting in their seats but are working together as a team to problem solve and learn some social skills and team building. There’s a language arts tie-in as well.”
For example, one puzzle required students to solve a holiday crossword puzzle and then use letters circled in invisible ink to unlock a lock. Another required students to sort words by their parts of speech and then use the number of each category to unlock a numerical lock.
Irvan said students take a little time at the start of each project to learn to cooperate but said that’s part of the lesson.
“There’s definitely a learning curve of how to work together as a group,” she said. “They all want to do everything at the same time, so it’s about taking the time to learn how to do this. Social skills are really important.”
Irvan said many students already have social and teamwork skills they learn outside of school, so activities like the escape room one is about getting them to apply those skills in a school setting.
“A lot of them are really good at playing video games,” Irvan said. “We’re trying to transfer those skills to in-person interactions, instead of just computer interactions. This is nice, because they get those interpersonal connections.”
Irvan said library staff member Kate Loker set up the puzzles. She added one advantage is that they are completely modular.
“You can make this as complex or as easy as you want,” Irvan said. “You can do any of the locks in any order. It’s different every time. It’s interesting to see which clues groups gravitate to.”
After the students solved all seven locks, they got a “thank you” note from the elves and were awarded with candy.
“Prizes are a good motivator,” Irvan said.
Tony Rodriguez, a seventh grader, was one of the students in a group that successfully completed the puzzle Thursday afternoon.
“It’s a fun thing to do,” he said. “We got to do something hands-on.”
One of his teammates, Ryan Garcia, said he enjoyed the escape room-style activity.
“You have to put your brain in it,” Garcia said. “Sometimes, we struggled, but we got back up.”
Both students said they would like to do more activities like the escape room in the future.