(Photo by Grace Billups Arnold)
At Bond’s Escape Room, we are proud to be one of a small number of escape rooms in the Washington D.C. area that designs our own rooms. This comes out of a genuine love and passion for escape rooms, but our goal to innovate every time we create something new and refuse to tread tired ground has driven us to always seek novel new avenues we can explore with the medium of escape rooms. Over the last year, we’ve been working on a project that, as far as we can tell, is the very first of its kind in the world, so we wanted to take the time to share what we’ve been working so hard on!
We opened up over six years ago as one of the very first escape rooms in Virginia. Since then, we’ve been convinced that escape rooms can be used as more than just a night out. We’ve experimented for years on how to best use escape rooms as a team building event, but can escape rooms be educational? As it turns out, Matt Hoffert, the after-school specialist at Luther Jackson Middle School in Falls Church, Virgnia had been wondering about educational escape rooms. Mr. Hoffert reached out to us last winter and told us that the school had a vacant room that used to be a computer lab that became obsolete. As someone who enjoyed computer lab day as a kid…I feel old. While there were many details to work out, it was clear to us right away that this was our chance to learn how to build escape rooms for schools.
The Design Process
We knew from the beginning that we wanted to truly create an educational escape room and not just a vaguely ‘education-flavored’ game, so once we officially started working on the world’s first permanent escape room in a school, we began working with curriculum consultants within the school to make sure that the content referenced in the puzzles matched the Virginia Standards of Learning for math, science, social studies, and language arts.
Luther Jackson Middle School serves 7th and 8th graders, so we decided to base the puzzles on the 7th grade curriculum in order to make sure that they’d be able to use the escape room for kids in either grade.
When we’re designing escape rooms for our locations in Fairfax, VA or Arlington, VA, one rule we always try to follow is to make sure that solving the puzzles doesn’t require outside knowledge, as we want to make sure to appeal to a general audience. So being able to design our school escape room with the knowledge that the players would all know certain things was an exciting twist on what we’ve been practicing for years.
When we developed the puzzles for our school escape room, we always tried to ensure that the puzzles would require students to apply skills they learned. It was important that it wouldn’t just feel like a list of quiz questions that didn’t lead to engagement with the curriculum. By making sure that the puzzles had interactivity and weren’t just a fancier way to repeat the knowledge they’ve learned, we found that the students who played our educational game were able to form new connections with the material that resulted in a greater understanding of their lessons.
The Value of Escape Rooms for Schools
In addition to the benefits of incorporating school curriculum into our escape room ‘lesson’, we’ve noticed that the teamwork, critical thinking, and problem solving skill reinforced by the school escape room has just as much educational value. While escape rooms were designed as entertainment, if you really think about it, what an escape room is at it’s core is a task that you approach with your team which requires collaboration, delegation, and efficient problem solving under time pressure, which, in a way, is like a mirror image of many situations we experience in day to day life, whether it be in higher education, the workplace, or in any other team project context.
The beauty of escape rooms is that anybody can contribute something, and only with a wide array of problem solving techniques and knowledge of your team’s strengths and dynamic can you succeed.
While we’re proud of our educational escape room built for Luther Jackson Middle School, it’s only the beginning. We are proud of what we’ve built so far and are overjoyed at the reception it’s had so far from the students, the faculty, and the media. We’ve had a few articles written about our school project so far (localdvm, fox5dc, wtop, the zebra), so take a look if you’d like to see what they had to say or want a sneak peak into the classroom escape room!
More to Come
We’re excited to work with more schools to build even more educational escape rooms for schools, as we truly believe that the medium of escape rooms has so much power to teach in a completely new way. As we continue to explore what escape rooms in classrooms can accomplish, we are proud to work with educators to create something truly special. Stay tuned for more information about the development of our school escape room project!
Written by Andrew Nicholson