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Hampton students building a Mayan-themed escape room for school event

| Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017, 9:00 p.m.

Hampton Middle School students are working on a Mayan-themed escape room they plan to debut in May.

The premise of an escape room is for a team to work together to unlock a door by completing tasks and solving various puzzles with a specific time frame, said Hampton director of technology, Ed McKaveney, at the Feb. 7 school board meeting.

McKaveney said middle school students will be in charge of creating the puzzles needed to get out of the escape room.

They are brainstorming ideas now, he said.

It's all part of an interactive STEAM learning and innovation exposition program at the middle school that will be part of the Remake Learning Days 2017, where organizations, schools and communities can participate in hands-on, technology-themed events. These are being held May 15 to 26, in and around southwestern Pennsylvania and West Virginia, according to the Remake Learning website.

For the first time, Hampton will be participating for one day, which will replace its former T4 Technology Fair, said McKaveney.

“I think the kids will be very excited about it,” said McKaveney.

To help the students navigate through the process, McKaveney has enlisted the assistance of Brian Colonna, co-owner of Code Breakers, an escape room game venue in Ross. Colonna, a full-time Google employee, will work with the students on building puzzles. As part of that, middle school students and teachers get to experience an escape room at Code Breakers to get an idea of how it works.

The puzzle-making process can be incorporated into the curriculum of the technology and engineering courses, said Marlynn Lux, acting principal at the middle school. And she said tutorial periods can also be used to work on the puzzles as well as after school. She said the Mayan theme incorporates history and art and is a commonly studied subject at the school.

“Every grade in the middle school is touching on Mayans and history,” said Lux. She said no curriculum will be replaced with this project, but rather be woven into it.

Once the ideas for the puzzles are complete, students will present them to a panel of judges, which will include school staff, Colonna, and any others who assisted with the process. The winners will be built and used in the escape room.

Colonna said he may use a winning puzzle at Code Breaker, which offers a escape room geared for kids ages 7 to 12 and another for ages 13 and older.

Colonna complimented Hampton for “thinking out of the box.

“I've never seen anything like this at any other school district. You should be proud,” he said.

“It's really something that is going to be interesting to these kids,” McKaveney said.

The Hampton event will also feature additional hands-on, technology-based activities as well as informative stations for other visitors from the community, including parents, McKaveney said.

He also expects to have The Steel City Time Machine, a replica of the DeLorean time travel automobile from the movie “Back to the Future.”

McKaveney added he hopes this activity will continue as a project for the classroom. And, if successful, will hold a similar event next year.

Natalie Beneviat is a Tribune-Review contributor.

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