Middle School Tartans Use Algebra Skills in ‘Escape Room’ Activity—See the Photos!

St. Margaret’s grade 7 students had no idea when they walked into algebra class this week that they were entering an escape room—and the clock was ticking.

It started as a normal block before Middle School math teacher Stephanie Windes suddenly changed course with an urgent message—the students had 45 minutes to solve a two-tiered escape-room activity and open a box that was secured with five different locks. Their algebra skills were the only path to success.  

Escape rooms are an adventure activity that requires solving puzzles and riddles using clues and hints to ultimately complete an objective (often escaping a locked room) in a set amount of time. They have grown in popularity this decade, and Mrs. Windes brainstormed a way to bring the idea to her classroom.

“This activity relied on problem-solving and teamwork to complete the task,” Mrs. Windes said. “It was an engaging and exciting way to put their algebra to use in a competitive race against the clock.”

The first step was decoding a hidden message. A variety of algebra problems led to 35 different letters that spelled out a phrase. Students worked in groups to contribute a handful of letters, and when each group was finished, the decoded phrase led to a key that opened up a smaller box.

Inside that box was the second part of the activity—five sets of puzzle pieces with algebra problems and solutions on each edge. When the problems were lined up with the correct solutions, the puzzle pieces formed a square. Once a puzzle was solved, students used a UV blacklight flashlight to read a combination that was written on the puzzle in invisible ink. That combination opened one of the five locks to the second box. Finishing all five puzzles unlocked the larger box.

Different blocks “escaped” at different speeds. In the C block, the enthusiastic students figured out the puzzle and unlocked the final box with less than a minute to go. They were rewarded with an in-class perk and a treat.
An independent preschool through grade 12 college-preparatory day school in Orange County, California