Using escape rooms to launch the new school year

The new school year is about to start in Australia. This year my school is starting a new middle school initiative where Year 7 science, maths and some aspects of geography will be integrated and taught by the one teacher. And I am lucky to be one of these teachers. Since almost three subjects will be combined and taught by the one teacher, I will see my Year 7 class A LOT for a typical high school teacher. I’ve done this type of middle school/integrated curriculum before at my previous school and I always kick off the year with a project that allows each student learns about learning. This year the driving question for our first project will be ‘How can I learn effectively and achieve my personal best in maths and science?’

So I wanted a hook activity to launch the year and this project. It needs to be an activity that captures the excitement of the project (and the year’s learning) and allows me to see their existing group work skills. I played around with some ideas and thought an escape room will be good.

I have thought about escape rooms before but they seem to take a mammoth effort to create. But I thought I’d give it a go. I used the general guidelines from Bespoke ELA’s blog and was inspired by her use of Super Mario as the background story (Super Mario is one of my favourite video games series). I am using the introduction to Super Mario 3D as the background story for the escape room. If you haven’t got the time to view the video, the gist of the story is that Bowser has captured seven Sprixies (fairy-like creatures) and each time Super Mario and his pals complete a world, they rescue a Sprixie. For my escape room, a world will be a challenge and each time students complete a challenge, they rescue a Sprixie.

I also followed Bespoke ELA’s instructions on using Google Forms to create a digital escape room, using the section and validation features in Google Forms for students to enter codes to unlock rooms.

Screenshot of the introduction on Google Forms for my escape room activity. It features an embedded YouTube video for the introduction of Super Mario 3D to provide students with the background story.
The video for the background story for this escape room activity is embedded as YouTube video at the start of the Google Form.
Screenshot of a section of the escape room in Google Forms.
Students solve seven challenges. Each time they solve a challenge, they reveal a code to enter into the Google Form. The validation feature is used to check if the code they have entered is correct. If the code is correct, they proceed to the next room (next Google Form section).
Image showing a red Sprixie being rescued.
When students enter the correct code, they unlock a challenge and rescue on of the sprixies.

Students gain the code for each challenge by completing questions in small groups. The images below show each challenge. Challenge 1 was inspired by an activity in Stile, which currently has two online escape room activities. They are definitely worth checking out if you’re interested to see what other educational escape rooms can look like. I used Discovery Education Puzzlemaker to create some of the challenges.

Image showing challenge 1
Image showing challenge 2
Image showing challenge 3
Image showing challenge 4
Image showing challenge 5
Image showing challenge 6
Image showing challenge 7

All of the challenges are designed to be quite basic for this particular escape room as the purpose is to see how a group of new Year 7 students work together after knowing each other for a few days. However, escape rooms can be used as retrieval practice activities. I am planning to use this same escape room structure for my Year 12 classes, but have sample and past HSC exam questions in the challenges.

Have you created or used escape rooms before? How did you find them?

Level Up! Using games culture to enhance learning & innovation

Level Up! is a project that involves embedding games elements into everyday classroom practice. The project involves games based learning, gamification and games design. The brochure and poster presented at the Microsoft Asia Pacific Partners in Learning conference are shown below. Click here to access the virtual classroom tour details from the Microsoft Partners in Learning website.

poster presented at the PIL c onference

Mobile gaming in school

Primary-secondary transition … when Year 6 students spend a day at high school to see what it’s like before attending the year after. This usually involves a tour of the school. “Here is the canteen. Here are the toilets. This is the front office.” Kids become bored in about 5 minutes.

So how can we make it more engaging? In a way that is fun and will allow kids to actually remember the places?

Turn it into a game!

I’m exploring at the moment is mobile gaming. Instead of students being shown around the school and taking in information passively, a group of students and I are planning to have small groups of Year 6s as players completing quests with the use of iPods and QR codes.

I’m leading a group of students on making a mobile game in Aris for this school tour activity. The video below shows the potential of Aris in geolocation activities:

The group consists of 6 students ranging from Year 9 to 11. There are three teams within the group: (1) Narrative writers; (2) World designers; and (3) Media designers. The narrative writers have constructed a draft narrative, which involves elements of a typical day in high school – what to do at recess and lunch, locations of staffrooms and locations of other significant places at the school such as the library and sporting fields. From this, the group has created 9 quests.

The first quest they have constructed is the Social Quest, which involves unlocking the Social Badge. The narrative is:

The bell has gone for recess. You have 30 minutes to visit the toilets, buy a nutritious meal from the canteen that will give you energy to last you till lunch and place your rubbish in the bin in the quadrangle.

The students have made a plaque in Aris which contains the quest’s instructions. The plaque will be revealed on players’ iPods when they scan a QR code. QR codes will also be placed in the toilets, canteen and quadrangle. The QR codes in each place will contain the following information:

-Toilets – You have used toilet paper to dry your hands. To be a safe, respectful learner you’ll need to place the toilet paper in the bin.

-Canteen – There will be multiple QR codes with picture of different food underneath them for students to choose the most nutritious food

-Quadrangle –  To be a safe, respectful learner you’ll l need to put your rubbish in the bin

Players are awarded items when they scan each correct QR code. When they have collected all the items, a virtual character called “Social Guardian” will appear to say they have unlocked the social badge and give instructions for the next quest.

The media designers have constructed the social badge while the world designers have placed all the information onto Aris.

social badge

aris screenshot

This is still work in progress so watch this space for updates 🙂








Gamifying learning in my classroom – 1:1 Learning Unconference

This post has been designed for the 1to1 Learning Unconference. I will be showcasing my work on games based learning and gamification with three of my students. Below is a summary of what the showcase will be demonstrating:

We will also have an Xbox and a selection of Xbox games so you can get a feel of games based learning yourself.

Please comment below and tell us your thoughts and ideas on gamifying learning 🙂

Should our classrooms be like Mario Kart?

Mario Kart is one of my favourite racing games. And recently it has made me think about the implications of what’s happening in my classroom.

To succeed in Mario Kart, not only do you have to drive fast and stay ahead of the pack, you also need to know how to use power-ups. Power-ups are picked up by driving into the power-up blocks. When you drive over one of these blocks, the game will assign you with a power-up. However, Mario Kart likes to work on a handicap system. mario kart power-upsBasically the further you are ahead in the race, the power-ups you get never boost your speed. So if you’re coming first, you are only ever given banana peels and turtle shells as power-ups. You leave banana peels on the track so others slip on them or you throw the turtle shell at whoever gets in front of you. You are not given power-ups to get you further ahead. If you’re further behind in the race, the game will give you a range of power-ups like:

-star (gives you a huge speed boost and you’ll take out anyone you touch)

-thunderbolt (zaps everyone else in the race and makes them small so you can run over them)

And if you’re really behind, you get Bullet Bill, Bullet Bill turns you into a bullet and you rip through the track at super fast speed, blasting everyone that gets in your way. Bullet Bill is designed to give anyone coming last with a fighting chance at the race. Basically the power-ups gives everyone an even chance of winning all the way through the race.

So what does Mario Kart have to do with my classroom?

For anyone that has been following my blog, you’ll know that I’ve been implementing gamification with my year 10 science class. (Click here for more details) We wrapped up the first gamified unit of work recently. While I was evaluating the effectiveness of gamification, I noticed the leaderboard. The winning team had over 400 points and the last team had 30 points. (Points were awarded for completing and submitting class and homework tasks). So what happened to the team with 30 points? This team wasn’t doing nothing. They weren’t being lazy. I regularly helped them in class and saw them do their work. They just didn’t hand it in.

While I haven’t asked them why they haven’t handed it in (yet), if I was them I would say to myself ‘Why bother? It’s not like our team will ever catch up.’ It is like when you are so far behind in a car racing game that you re-start the race because there’s no point of continuing. In most classrooms, there’s some kids who are behind for some reason (went overseas for a lengthy period, have poor reading skills, etc). For many of these kids, it’s like being very behind in a racing game. Everyone is on their 5th lap while they’re still on their 1st lap. They want to re-start the race and have another go. But they can’t. How can schools and teachers give them power-ups like in Mario Kart. I want to give those kids Bullet Bill so they will still be engaged in the game. But how? And what about the kids who are always a few laps ahead of everyone else? Are teachers keeping the game challenging enough for them?

Mission complete – an evaluation of gamification

My first attempt at gamification has wrapped up. The Great Science Race was a science unit of work on experimental design, but had gaming elements integrated such as points for completing work, passwords to level up, achievement badges and leaderboards. For more details please see my previous post.

On the last lesson, my class completed a short survey to what they thought of gamification. Click here to see the survey questions. The sample size was only 21 students, but the results were overall very positive towards gamification.

Here are some of the results:

When asked what they liked most about the unit of work, students indicated the following:

  • Working in groups/teams
  • The topic fun and entertaining
  • The competitive atmosphere
  • Doing experiments
  • Getting a prize at the end if your team wins

When asked about how to improve the unit of work, students indicated the following:

  • More experiments/more harder experiments
  • More organisation in handing in tasks
  • More interactive activities
  • Assigning everyone in the group with roles/tasks

The next unit of work this class is doing is Chemical Changes, a topic involving learning about atoms and chemical reactions. The class has indicated that they still like working in teams, getting points and having a leaderboard. However, I’m going to scale back on the passwords and the achievement badges.

Enhancing formative assessment & personalised learning – add on benefits of gamification

It has been two weeks since the implementation of gamification in my Year 10 Science class. Five out of six teams have completed the first two quests and have been awarded the achievement badge of “Cool Scientist” and the password to level up to Quest 3. Engagement and motivation has definitely increased for 99% of the students. I now get nervous when I log onto Edmodo because I know there’ll be heaps of work uploaded by the students with comments such as “please mark asap”. At the end of every lesson, almost every student submits one or two pieces of work on Edmodo for me to mark. I have to be honest – marking their work every night has been hard work. However, because the students are handing in quality work so regularly, I can easily analyse their areas of strengths and areas for improvement.

Before I go into this further I want to emphasise that every teacher, including myself, knows the benefits of formative assessment (For non-education readers formative assessment is about finding out what students can and cannot do regularly in class tasks. Students are given detailed written feedback. In many ways it is more effective than making students sit an end-of-topic exam). However, many teachers know how difficult it is to gather student work regularly for assessment. Many classrooms involve students doing a task and then the teacher going through the answers together with the whole class. Students mark the answers themselves and many students do not know what they need to improve on and more importantly how they can improve.

So back to gamification …. Since the students are so keen to submit their work, I had an opportunity after every lesson to see whether they “get it”. And what I found is that the design of scientific experiments is much harder for this class than I expected. I also found out they cannot construct tables to present data in a way to show trends. While most students understood independent, dependent and controlled variables, a selected number of students still didn’t. From this I was able to provide detailed written feedback via Edmodo for each student after every lesson. I was also able to plan mini-lessons at the start of each lesson to go through the concepts they did need to improve on. This was followed by students working in teams on their quests.

I can see so much potential with using gamification to enhance formative assessment, which branches off into better personalised learning plans. When I implement gamification for the next topic, I want to use it to enhance personalised learning. Here’s my idea – When students complete quests in the game, there are multiple parallel levels (tasks) that I as the teacher can give the students depending on their need. For example, the next topic is chemical reactions. If a student is capable of completing word chemical equations, I can give them the next level of writing chemical equations with chemical symbols as their “level up”. However for a student who needs more time with word equations I will provide them with more levels of practicing chemical equations. Points and leveling up is tailored for each student. I know this is a very ambitious plan and I’m still ironing out some ideas, but I think using gamification to engage and motivate, enhance formative assessment and better inform personalised learning can reap great benefits for our students.

Gamification – is it actually working in the classroom?

I don’t like lugging stacks of cardboard and paper for recycling, but it has to be done. While I know it’s good to recycle, it still feels like a chore to do it. Similarly many of my students don’t like completing and submitting their work, even though they know it’s good for them. Doing work and handing it in can often feel like a chore and many students do it to avoid punishment. So how can I make my students want to hand in work? Perhaps by making it fun?

But how do I make it fun? While nothing beats designing learning that’s authentic, relevant and engaging, there are always some areas of the syllabus that is mandatory to teach, but it’s not very exciting to 15 year olds. So I started to implement gamification with my Year 10 science class. I wanted to see whether gaming elements in the classroom will increase their motivation and engagement in learning. The unit of work is that has been “gamified” is called The Great Science Race and uses game mechanics such as a narrative, quests and achievement badges. For more information on the gamification of this unit of work, please see my previous post. But in a nutshell I have turned a unit of work about setting up science experiments into a game. The unit has a story line, worksheets have been grouped into quests and students work in teams to complete their quests to receive points and achievement badges. A leaderboard has been set up in the classroom to show the ranking of each team.

So how is it going so far?

Term 2 has started and it’s the first day that students are returning to school after a two-and-half week holiday. When one of the students asked me what topic we were studying this term, I replied “scientific investigations”. He groaned: “Not all the independent variables stuff. It’s so boring”.  But when I explained that the topic is a game and how the game would work, the class, including the student who previously groaned, were very excited. They laughed at the story of the secret society of epic scientists, but they were very excited about the achievement badges and the leaderboard. They quickly chose their teams and started working on their first quest.

After two lessons only two teams out of six have submitted their work. They were awarded 5 points on the leaderboard. On the third lesson the students saw the rankings on the leaderboard for the first time. The teams who were ranked first were delighted, and the teams who were on zero points worked extremely hard to ensure they caught up. One team, who was on zero points, very diligently completed most of the work from Quest 1 in a day (including doing a lot of extension work after school). They are now ranked first on the leaderboard.

leaderboard photo

I did ask myself whether the leaderboard was encouraging students to rush their work and not spend enough time on it. However, the work they submitted so far is of the same quality or better than their usual standard. But now they are submitting their work quicker and more regularly, which is allowing me to better identify their strengths and areas for improvement.

I am still in the early stages of implementing gamification so watch this space for more updates on gamification in my classroom.