Greater Latrobe students rise to challenge of creating, solving escape rooms
A team of Greater Latrobe Senior High students last week had to retrieve fake IDs that had been stolen from them. Another group of sophomores enrolled in Renee Stallings’ academic English 2 course had to defeat a dragon — actually, a donkey-shaped pinata.
Ending a months-long class project, the teams of about 16 students each designed and constructed a two-section escape room in the school’s Center for Student Creativity. They challenged their counterparts to uncover clues and solve puzzles with the goal of making it to the end of the game scenario within a half hour.
“My friends and I had a fun time talking about how we were going to do it, compared to writing a big essay,” leader Jessica Bald said of the fantasy-filled scenario her team, the Creepy Creepers, developed.
Inspired by the Minecraft gaming franchise, one of the team’s puzzles involved opening boxes that were labeled as TNT but actually contained “pearls” the players could use to proceed from the game’s first room to the second room.
The Creepers team navigated through the stolen ID challenge presented by the rival Homeroom Homies with just under 10 minutes to spare. The Homies came within 15 seconds of the deadline when they reached the end of the Creepers’ scenario.
Both teams succeeded, in the eyes of their teacher and three judges, and earned a pizza lunch Monday.
“It’s comparing apples and oranges,” judge Brian McCollum, who operates an escape room attraction in Greensburg, 60 Minute Missions Escape Room, said of the two team scenarios. Each had different types of puzzles to unlock, he noted.
“I almost wish I could have played the game,” McCollum said of the Mission Impossible-like challenge developed by the Homies.
Judge Anthony Princeton, the school’s mentorship coordinator, praised the Homies’ use of a recorded message that instructed players, who were portraying secret agents, to travel to Europe and retrieve documents with their assumed identities that had been stolen by thieves. “That was a very nice touch that transported them into this place of mystery and confusion,” he said.
The group also was effective in its use of a red herring, McCollum said. The Homies gave the players from the other team a choice of deciphering clues left either in Morse code or Braille to obtain numerals crucial for advancing in the game. The Creepers wasted time by first choosing Morse code, which led to a dead end.
Alexis Osborne of Latrobe, a Homies leader, said her team took extra pains to make one section of the school center resemble a thieves’ camp.
“We used tents with little cots and fake trees to make it look realistic, like a camp,” she said. “We definitely came together as a team. We all enjoyed seeing it come to life after all the hard work.”
The escape room challenge is an example of project-based learning that promotes critical thinking, problem-solving and creativity, Stallings said. “They had to create it from nothing, from scratch,” she said. “Those are the sort of skills employers are looking for.”
“I didn’t think I could be as much of a team leader as I was when I got forced into the situation,” Bald said. “I ended up doing better than I thought I would.”
It was the second year Stallings assigned the challenge, but the first in which a grant allowed her to partner with McCollum. He allowed the students to play through some of the escape rooms at his business and coached them on the elements needed to create escape challenges of their own.
“It was a nice collaboration,” said Stallings. “He gave the students a lot of tips and hints about how to create a storyline and how to create the characters, the props and the conflicts in the form of puzzles.”
The students also practiced playing less elaborate escape room games in the high school library.
McCollum said Monday he hopes to work further with Stallings’ students — to incorporate a Creepers puzzle involving balloons into an escape room scenario aimed at children and to adapt elements of the secret agent challenge in another offering at his business.
Jeff Himler is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jeff at 724-836-6622, [email protected] or via Twitter .