Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Plate Tectonics - a digital escape room and how to create one

Escape rooms have been in vogue in education for a couple of years. The proponents, such as Breakout EDU, tout them as a fun way to engage the students, and I can totally see the appeal. However, the mere idea of purchasing all those locks and boxes, making all those copies and "transforming" my classroom for a class period gives me nightmares. I also knew that there was a digital version of escape rooms, which house everything on the cloud and for my situation seemed more manageable, but again I had not really thought about actually running one.

As I was prepping for my classes a couple of weeks ago, I came to that awful realization that sometimes happens. I would finish a unit a day before a break. Not a good time to start something new but a great time to review. Usually, my fall back would be to create a Quizziz or Kahoot and call it a day, but as I was thinking about this and scrolling down on my Edmodo stream I saw a post talking about digital escape rooms and thought, what if I just take the plunge and create one. From my Boss Battles and some of the other stuff I've done with gamification, I knew some of the mechanics that I could use, and while visiting BreakoutEdu's sandbox I saw there were several sites housed on Google sites. I visited those in the hopes of getting some inspiration and was not disappointed. From there I gathered that I needed some kind of narrative (why are the students attempting to break out?), a set of tasks (the questions that will need to be answered in order to break out), a conditionally formatted Google form (where students will input "the codes"), some sort of linked image (to make the game "interactive"), and a set of "decoders". Before I proceed, let me show you what the end product looks like:

Plate Tectonics Escape Room

Creating a digital escape room

The tasks: 

Research has shown that educators should begin with the end in mind. For this particular escape room, I needed review questions, which I already had. However, if you are inspired to create your own, this would be the time to think about what you'd like the students to interact with/do. Since I knew that I would be creating linked hotspots on an image I housed each set of questions on individual Google slides and spent some time making them pretty.

The decoders:

For the escape room that I was creating students would need to answer the questions correctly, and I needed some way to also not make it a straightforward "abcd" selection. A Google search of escape room decoders gave me some ideas and the magic of Google draw made them possible.
Though I did not use it for this game, LearningApps would also be a great way to do it since you can create the task and add messages at the beginning and end, much like what you see here:

The main image:

This is where you will house all of the clues and tasks you have created. For me, this is a Google Drawing that uses a cluttered image as the background. Think "Where's Waldo", "I Spy"  or any room image that has lots of smaller images where you can "hide" things. The messier the image the better. Once I selected a background image I liked, I added transparent shapes to it and linked them to the 6 tasks I had created. If you are unsure about how to do this, visit @mpilakow's blog post "Hiding Easter Eggs in a Google Drawing"

The Decoys: 

Although you do not have to do this, while hiding Easter Eggs in previous classroom activities, I learned that my tech-savvy students quickly figured out a way to "find" them all by creating copies and using the select all option on their own copy. Since this would defeat the purpose of searching for clues, I decided to create decoys also hidden within the main image. These are one-page, published to the web Google slides, that also open, but are irrelevant to "escaping" the room and sometimes have some sort of commentary.

Below you see the image that I chose, with all the tasks and decoys before they are hidden:

The narrative:

This is where you get to be a little creative. Students need a reason to escape or look for clues, and while it needs to offer the incentive to engage with the tasks, it does not have to be long or convoluted. In the case of the Plate Tectonics escape room I created it simply reads:

"It is the year 2050, and a group of scientists has been sent out to explore the center of the Earth in a newly developed “dig-pod”. Unfortunately, the secretive lead scientist forgot all of his instruments in the office, and the team is now stranded without any tools. As an intern, you are now tasked with finding all the tools he left behind in his office and bring them to the dig site before they leave. Look around the office, and answer all the questions, which will allow you to collect the different instruments. If you get there in time, you will be able to join the expedition. Good Luck!"

The Lock Sheet: 

How will you know that your students completed the tasks and decoded each one correctly? While I do give my students a worksheet of sorts so that they can keep track of their work, I used the magic of Google Forms to collect their responses and auto-correct their progress. This Google form also allows me to determine who escaped first and even assign points directly into our leaderboard (using the Vlookup formula explained in "Assign XP automatically"), so I do not even have to look at the sheets they fill in to know who did what.

Putting it all together - a Google Site:

This is where everything I created for this escape room came together. Although there are several platforms to choose from to house the escape room, for me a Google Site was the easiest choice so I would not have to worry about whether the students could open any of the different things I had created. 

I resized the font on the page title to the smallest available and copy/pasted my narrative. Then I used insert from Drive to place the room with hidden clues and decoys and finally inserted my form, again from Drive. Clicked on publish and DONE!

So there you have it. It does take some time and patience, but your students will thank you for developing new experiences for them. If you've tried out digital escape rooms and would like to share with us, leave a comment. 

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