Pedagogical Guide


Part 1
Why Escape Rooms are useful for STEAM education

Table of Contents

Part 1: Why Escape Rooms are useful for STEAM education
Part 2: How to integrate ER into the school curricula
Part 3: How to capitalize on previous knowledge of the students and how to valorise the skills and knowledge developed during the Escape Room
Part 4: How to animate an Escape Room
Part 5: How to integrate different profiles of students

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Escape Rooms’ (ER) popularity boomed in the last 10 years. They are now widely spread and can be found in every European country, especially in capital cities. We have intensively described Escape Rooms’ characteristics and format in the previous section to give a broad panorama of possibilities. It is time now to analyse why ER’s could be a useful tool in education with a focus on STEAM. Our initial focal point will be on Game-Based Learning, its importance, and how it links with ERs, before moving on to STEAM education and how they can both be integrated into said ER.

1.1. Concept: Game-Based Learning

Three key expressions emerged in the last decades to try and term the new tendency to integrate games into education and the learning process: Game-Based Learning, Gamification, and Serious Games. As they are all linked to the same field, people describing the subject tend to use them interchangeably. However, these expressions do not relate to the same phenomenon.

As Meihua Qian and Karen R. Clark (2016) define it, Game-Based Learning (GBL) describes an environment where game content and gameplay enhance knowledge and skills acquisition’s [1]. GBL turns the focus of the educational curriculum into a game.

Serious Games are similar. They are created for the sole purpose of learning. As Juliette Denny explains, the difference between the two comes from the focus of the creator. [2] Serious Games can be used in GBL, but GBL does not only use Serious Games. A game that helps you learn was not necessarily designed to do it initially. Here is an example of a Serious Game: “La machine à remonter le temps 14/18” conceived by the Franco-German TV Channel Arte.[3] The idea is to allow players to immerse themselves in the period of the First World War by embodying one of the 28 suggested characters. The game was awarded the German prize “Comedius EduMedia” in 2014. On this topic, the French online platform is a goldmine. It acts as a database for Serious Games in French.

Gamification, on the other hand, is different. The company ‘Growth Engineering’ describes it on their website as ‘the application of gaming mechanics to non-gaming environments in order to make it more engaging’.[4] Hence, there is no game creation within gamification. Games mechanics are analysed, extracted, and applied to an environment where they do not usually exist. In daily life, the most visible and widespread example of gamification is probably the concept of loyalty cards, found in many shops around the globe, as they trigger a sense of reward once completed. Within companies, several methods exist, and some are more criticised than others. It is possible to set up leaderboards, progress bars, and challenges, completed with rewards, e.g. badges. In education, the well-known language learning website DuoLingo is a good example, as it makes extensive use of gamification techniques. Each completed lesson awards points that help progress onto the leader board that is reset every week. Aside, there are a collection of badges won by completing different challenges. Additionally, a system of forum discussions also exists to foster mutual assistance and a sense of belonging. All of this makes language learning more engaging, even though DuoLingo is not a game. In this guide, we will focus on Game-Based Learning as the concept is more adapted to Escape Rooms.

1.1.1 The Impact of Game-Based Learning

It has become increasingly difficult to get young people involved in learning in a general and ‘regular’ education system. The rise of the internet, its growing influence on younger generations, and the popularization of video games can be linked to this growing disinterest.

Game-Based Learning is an attempt to tackle this problem. Many studies were published in the 2000s regarding its effects and advantages on the learning process, with the primary argument being that games create a favourable environment to engage participants in learning. The following impacts have been found[5]:

  • Soft-skill development. We will come back to this point more extensively later in the guide.
  • Motivation and higher engagement. In 2011, the American Game Designer Jane McGonigal wrote the following excerpt in her book Reality is Broken:

    In a good computer or video game you’re always playing on the very edge of your skill level, always on the brink of falling off. When you do fall off, you feel the urge to climb back on. That’s because there is virtually nothing as engaging as this state of working at the very limits of your ability[6].

    GBL helps reach this state, which is otherwise complicated to attain in formal education processes. Nevertheless, as Sauvé L., Renaud L. & Gauvin M. noted, the learner’s motivation depends on his/her interests, on the importance given to the final goal, and on the perception he/she has about the task’s scope. Creators of Serious Games should therefore try to trigger the above-mentioned state while keeping in mind that a task that is too hard or too simple will tend to bore the learner.

  • Knowledge structure and integration. Games can help to put knowledge into actions, by giving a concrete practical scheme in which learners can repeat the task without fear of failure.
  • Influence on behaviour and attitudes. Games, especially multi-player ones, can foster collaboration and communication between learners. Also, they can help children focus and concentrate on subjects which might have seemed boring to them in the formal education context.

Richard Bartle, the inventor of the first multi-player virtual world MUD1, describes four categories of gamers, linked to individual personalities: Socializers, Achievers, Killers, and Explorers.[7] Each category has different interests and reacts to games differently. Since then, other attempts at categorizing have been made. One is the Hexad player type, created by Andrzej Marczewski, splitting players into twelve different groups.[8] Whichever categorization we choose to follow, the conclusion is the same: games must take the player type into consideration, either by focusing on one or by trying to accommodate everyone. It is even more important with Game-Based Learning. Undeniably, motivation is the core purpose of GBL; That is the reason why this technique is working better than others on children. For example, we could make sure that the game has enough challenges to satisfy Achievers and discussion space for Socializers.[9]

Unfortunately, more research and analysis is needed on this subject. For example, Meihua Qian and Karen R. Clark were highlighting in 2016 the lack of knowledge on the degree of complexity necessary in a game to produce ‘meaningful learning’.[10]

The importance of GBL practices is well illustrated by their integration into cultural heritage. It is not unusual to see children reluctant to visit museums, castles or different cultural and historical buildings. However, as families account for most of their customers, it is highly understandable that museums developed techniques to attract children. Most rely on games and other playful and pedagogical resources to engage children, making their visit meaningful and memorable.

In Italy, the Cooperative Sistema Museo launched an escape room in a hypogeum site. The MUSE of Trento has launched an escape room linked to a theatrical show and the figure of the physicist Majorana. In Holland, the Villa Mondriaan Museum, dedicated to the painter after whom it is named, has equipped itself with a permanent scavenger hunt.[11] These GBL practices are not solely steered towards children and young people. In France, in 2019, the famous Palais Garnier, also known as the French National Opera, regularly operated a life-size immersive adventure, where participants had to solve the curse of the Phantom of the Opera.[12] The targeted public was not children, but playful adults who might not have visited the site otherwise. The set-up of Escape Rooms – or similar games – is a good way to involve both children and adults, as the level of difficulty can vary.

Escape Rooms are a prime example of what a complex and complete Game-Based Learning project could look like, as it is linked with all the impacts previously mentioned.

1.1.2 The four freedoms

The Four Freedoms of Play is a concept created by the MIT professor Scot Osterweil. Similar to the players’ types, they are important to integrate as they can explain why children do not seem to engage well in a game.

The first one is the freedom to fail, which is essentially at the core of every game: the possibility to fail and restart from the beginning. This process integrates a well-known and proved learning mechanism, which dates back to the end of the 19th century and has been extensively studied since the 1980s. Repetitive failure allows the learners to recognize, remember, and overcome the mistake made.

The second one is the freedom to explore or to experiment. As games allow you to start again, they also allow you to try to accomplish your goal differently, by using a variety of strategies, and identify which one works best.

The third one is the freedom to try on identities. Games give you the possibility to be whomever you want to be. They might help you discover a part of you that you did not know, such as a leaning for leadership roles for example, by playing multi-player games.

The fourth is freedom of effort. Games allow to play at different speeds, to engage in them differently according to the player’s daily motivation.[13]

These should also be considered as the four freedoms of learning. However, they often do not appear in schools.[14]

1.1.3 Development of specific soft skills: Critical Thinking – Problem solving / Reasoning and deductions

A relatively new trend in research focuses the sets of competence and skills required to succeed in the 21st century societies. Here is a synthetic list given by Meihua Qian and Karen R. Clark (2016):

  • Critical thinking: scientific reasoning, systems thinking, computational thinking, decision making, and problem solving
  • Creativity: divergent thinking, innovative thinking, originality, inventiveness, and the ability to view failure as an opportunity to improve
  • Collaboration: effective teamwork, flexibility, compromise, assume shared responsibility
  • Communication: articulate thoughts, use media and technologies.[15]

We mentioned previously that GBL helped learners develop soft skills. They might vary according to the game played and its features: is it multiplayer? Can it be solved alone? Is it a serious game? Is it an online game? Is the first aim strategy or social interaction?

As there is an important number of possibilities, we will try to cover here the most important – and visible – soft skills that GBL can trigger, regardless of the game features.

The first ones are the basic 4 Cs, namely:

  • Collaboration. If the game requires several people to be solved, the players will be forced to collaborate and find their place in the team.
  • Communication
  • Critical thinking
  • Creativity

GBL also triggers problem-solving and reasoning skills.[16]

As skills acquisition differs from game to game, the teacher using GBL should give special attention to the type of game and focus on the one which will be the most useful to the students. Therefore, an analysis of the students’ needs might also be necessary before designing the game and implementing it in the classroom.

Escape Rooms differ from other games because of one intrinsic feature: their multifunctionality. Many different skills are required to solve them. For example, Problems-solving skills are put to the test as several puzzles and items are hidden in the room. Time and pressure management are highly requested, as players are given a limited time to solve the problems. Organizational management comes in handy to compile all the data and solutions found through the problem-solving process.

Furthermore, communication and collaboration are evidently necessary, as it is not possible to solve the game alone. Even if a player had all the skills necessary to solve every puzzle, the time limit would still be there to stop them from succeeding.

To sum up, we notice here that both GBL and more importantly Escape Rooms, trigger 21st century skills.

Now that the methodology and the pedagogical interest of the medium have been covered, let us take a look at the next concept of this project: STEAM.

1.2. STEAM

STEAM derives from STEM, but what is STEM? The acronym stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics. The acronym “STEAM” designates an approach to learning which blends the four subjects of STEM, plus Art, together, to create interdisciplinary teaching with strong real-world applications. It has been created to foster children’s interest and understanding of subjects regarded as somewhat difficult and dull. STEM education offers a ground in real life, a way to learn by doing, a possibility to understand the applications of the content acquired.

Why is STEM important? As we explained in the introduction of this guide, the latest PISA test scores speak for themselves.[17] European Countries are far from being the top runners. These low scores call for action, as scientific knowledge is essential in our modern societies, to tackle the challenges ahead of us. The struggle to integrate STEM into education has been long and it is not over. However, governments are starting to realize its importance and to implement it within their education scheme. Such is the case of Australia, which launched in 2015 several funded initiatives in their schools.[18] At the European level, the European Commission released in 2015 the report ‘Science education for responsible citizenship’, with a focus on STEM.[19]

STEM education’s main aims are to develop students’ critical thinking, problem-solving skills, and ability to link science concepts with real-life situations.[20]

STEM education and Game-Based Learning share some specific positive outcomes: they both enhance children’s motivation to learn, facilitate the process, and help them acquire skills that they would not have gained in a regular lecture class. However, they are not mutually exclusive but can work better together.

STEAM is the new variable in the world of STEM. It adds ‘Arts’ to the acronym. We will discover soon why this additional letter matters and why it brings more to the discipline. Furthermore, we will see how Escape Rooms fit in the STEAM context. They mostly act as a tool, a conveyor. Many scenarios and guides already exist for each STEM subject: we will highlight several successful examples in the following sections.

1.2.1. Science

Science has been defined by the US’ National Research Council as:

‘the study of the natural world, including the laws of nature associated with physics, chemistry, and biology and the treatment or applications of facts, principles, concepts, or conventions associated with these disciplines’[21]

Here is an example of a science-based Escape Room: La Disparition, created by Aurelie le Hir for a class of French 2nd Graders (15-16 years old)[22]. Following a break-in at the high-school science-lab, groups of 3 to 5 students become police investigators and must solve the perpetrated crime.

The objectives are: to find the victim’s and culprit’s identities, to find out how the culprit kidnapped the victims, and to get out of the room following the same path as the culprit. The scenario and puzzles build on two notions taught in this grade’s biology class: blood sampling and pollen analysis.

1.2.2. Technology

Technology has been defined by the US’ National Research Council as:

‘the entire system of people and organization, knowledge, processes and devices that go into creating and operating technological artifacts, as well as the artifacts themselves.’[23]

Here is an example of a Technology-based Escape Game: Retrouvez les bases de l’informatique (Roughly translated: ‘Find the fundamentals of IT’), created by Aurore Dupuy, Enora Gabory and Celia Kessassi, for a group of 6 students of French 3rd and 2nd graders (14-16 years old).[24] In a hypothetic future, a group of people – called Antithek, afraid of the scope taken by IT, decided to create a virus that would destroy the Internet and all connected devices. People with IT knowledge have been eliminated. Feeling the attack coming, one IT scientist created a secret room to help novices rediscover the lost knowledge. However, he scrambled it into codes and enigmas. In this ER, students play the group of novices and must within an hour – time remaining before the Antitheks arrive in the secret room – solve the puzzles. Curriculum notions tackled by this ER are computer components, binary conversion, picture coding, database, algorithms, etc. According to teachers who implemented this ER scenario, it can be easily adapted to different age groups, by adding or removing hints.[25]

1.2.3. Engineering

Engineering has been defined by the US’ National Research Council as:

‘[A] body of knowledge about the design and creation of products and a process for solving problems. Engineering utilizes concept in sciences and mathematics and technological tools.’[26]

Engineering is a subject that seems to have fewer examples of implemented ER. However, one scenario idea can be found on the website Instructables, a page that gathers different tutorials on how to build a variety of projects. The ER was created by a teacher (under the pseudonym TeacherMike) for high school students, but the precise target age or grade is not given. The puzzles tackle notions such as Design Process, Unit Conversion, and CAD Modelling. The scenario in itself is quite simple, but the number of subjects covered by the ER is numerous.[27]

1.2.4. Mathematics

Mathematics has been defined by the US’ National Research Council as:

‘A study of patterns and relationships among quantities, numbers, and shapes. Mathematics includes theoretical mathematics and apply mathematics’[28]

Here is an example of a Mathematics-based Escape Game: Enigmaths, from Jennifer Garrido, created for a class of French 1st Graders (16-17 years old).[29] The aim is to find a code to open a safe, where the treasure of the criminal Enigmaths lies. Policemen requested the help of the students to find the code. Split into four teams, the students must solve a succession of five puzzles linked to notions taught in their class level (trigonometry, statistics, quadratic equation, etc.). The answer to each puzzle allows the students to find the code, then appears as a final enigma. Students can choose to collaborate to solve each puzzle or split the puzzles between them. In any case, they need to cooperate, listen to, and help each other out.

Most of the scenarios based on math follow this example: letting the pupils know that they are locked in the room and must solve enigmas to crack a code, which will allow them to get out. ‘Viens jouer… aux mathematiques’, created by teachers of the Bordeaux Academy in France, followed the same storyline.[30] It was made for children between 11 and 16 years old. The enigmas, their number, and the notions on which they are based vary and can be rendered more or less complex, so as to adapt to different age groups.

1.2.5. Integrating the Art in STEM

As mentioned earlier, the integration of arts in STEM is a new trend, but it derives from an alarming observation: the lack of students’ creativity and the standardization of traditional education hindering it. However, creativity is crucial in training full-bodied scientists able to innovate and cope with the 21st century world-problems.[31] According to Joseph Lathan, Master of Education program’s director at the University of San Diego, the Arts integrate practices that can be retranslated into science: ‘modelling, developing explanations, and engaging in critique, and evaluation (argumentation)’.[32] A very practical example is the use of sketching in Engineering. Moreover, the Cultural Learning Alliance (CLA) suggests that STEAM education has a higher impact on fostering innovation than STEM does. Thirdly, CLA argues that the Arts can enhance high-performance teamwork, change management, intercultural communication, as well as improve observational skills and adaptability.[33]

Free tutorials of Escape Rooms implementation in the broad STEM context are rare but they exist: several can be found – mixing two or three subjects – on the two French websites and

However, when it comes to STEAM, resources are scarce. Only one can be found on S’CAPE website: Polymorphos, mixing art, mathematics and science, created and implemented by several secondary school teacher from Nice region in France. The aim of the Polymorphos ER is to elucidate the death of a local photographer, Charles Negre, famous for the invention of the rotogravure process. In order to achieve the goal, players must find chemicals formulas used into the rotogravure process, while discovering photography notions and history.[34]

Another project has been reported by Scientix: an escape room specifically designed for STEAM classes, made by pupils and teachers from different schools across Europe, for pupils, under the project ‘Learn to escape’. Unfortunately, the website Scientix does not give access to the tutorials, to implement this project in other schools. Contrary to previous Escape Rooms described, the project in itself was not to solve the ER but to create it from scratch with the students.[35]

Here are the conclusions we can draw from this section:
Escape rooms are a great tool for both game-based learning and STEAM education as they foster fundamental skills. Within the triggered soft skills, we can particularly outline problem-solving, critical thinking, communication, and collaboration. Hard skills and knowledge depend on the subject and the puzzles deployed. Furthermore, ER apply to all types of gamers and respect the four freedoms of play. As teachers report needing more pedagogical models on how to teach STEM attractively, Escape Rooms might be the solution.[36] In the end, as Scientix publication shows it, ER’s creation and design can even become a STEAM exercise.

Now that we have an overview of all the concepts of this project, we can delve deeper into the actual implementation process of a pedagogical Escape Room into the school curricula. The first step that needs to be addressed, is how to integrate an Escape Room into the school curricula?

[1] Qian M., Clark K. R. (2016), Game-based Learning and 21st century skills: A review of recent research, Computers in Human Behavior, 63, p.51
[2] Growth Engineering (2019, August 21), Gamification vs Game based Learning: What’s the Difference? [Video File]
[3] Direct link to the game:
[4] Growth Engineering (2018, November 23), What is the Definition of Gamification?
[5] Sauvé, L., Renaud, L. & Gauvin, M. (2007). Une analyse des écrits sur les impacts du jeu sur l’apprentissage. Revue des sciences de l’éducation, 33 (1), p.95
[6] McGonigal J. (2011), Reality is Broken, New York, NY: Penguin, p.24
[7] Arnold, B. (2014). Gamification in Education. Paper presented at the 2014 annual American Society of Business and Behavioral Sciences (ASBBS) conference. Las Vegas, NV, p.36
[8] Marczewski, A. (2015). User Types. In Even Ninja Monkeys Like to Play: Gamification, Game Thinking and Motivational Design (1st ed., pp. 65-80). CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.
[9] Cloke H. (2017, September 26), 4 Types of Gamers and Learner Engagement
[10] Qian M., Clark K. R. (2016), Game-based Learning and 21st century skills: A review of recent research, Computers in Human Behavior, 63, p.51
[11] More information can be found on the museum website:
[12] Direct link to the Opera’s adventure website:
[13] The four freedoms of games and gamification (2017, October 20)
[14] Osterweil S. (2014), Freedoms of Play [Video File], MIT Open Course Ware
[15] Qian M., Clark K. R. (2016), Game-based Learning and 21st century skills: A review of recent research, Computers in Human Behavior, 63, p.51
[16] Abdul Talib C. et al. (2019), Enhancing Students’ Reasoning Skills in Engineering and Technology through Game-based learning. International Journal of Emerging Technologies in Learning (iJET), 14 (24), p.72
[17] OECD (2019), PISA 2018: Insights and Interpretations, Paris: OECD Publishing
[18] Australian Government, Department for Education, skills and employment (n.d.), Support for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM)
[19] European Commission (2015), Science Education for Responsible Citizenship, Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union
[20] European Schoolnet (2018). Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Education Policies in Europe. Scientix Observatory report – October 2018. Brussels: European Schoolnet, p.6
[21] Bahrum S., Ibrahim N., Wahid N. (2017), Integration of STEM Education in Malaysia and Why to STEAM, International Journal of Academic Research in Business and Social Sciences, 7(6), p.646
[22] Le Hir A. (n.d.), Escape Game – La Disparition
[23] Bahrum S., Ibrahim N., Wahid N. (2017), Integration of STEM Education in Malaysia and Why to STEAM, International Journal of Academic Research in Business and Social Sciences, 7(6), p.646
[24] Dupuy A., Gabory E., Kessassi C. (n.d.), Retrouvez les bases de l’informatique
[25] Dupuy A., Gabory E., Kessassi C. (n.d.), Retrouvez les bases de l’informatique
[26] Bahrum S., Ibrahim N., Wahid N. (2017), Integration of STEM Education in Malaysia and Why to STEAM, International Journal of Academic Research in Business and Social Sciences, 7(6), p.646
[27] Escape Room Engineering Review Game (n.d.)
[28] Bahrum S., Ibrahim N., Wahid N. (2017), Integration of STEM Education in Malaysia and Why to STEAM, International Journal of Academic Research in Business and Social Sciences, 7(6), p.646
[29] Garrido J. (2019, May 4), Retrouvez Enigmaths
[30] « Viens jouer aux maths » – exposition et escape game clefs en main pour la semaine des maths (2019, March 5)
[31] Colucci-Gray L., Burnard P., Cooke C., Davies R., Gray D., Trowsdale J. (2017), Reviewing the potential and challenges of developing STEAM education through creative pedagogies for 21st learning: how can school
curricula be broadened towards a more responsive, dynamic, and inclusive form of education? BERA, p.28
[32] Lathan J. (n.d.), STEAM Education: A 21st Century Approach to Learning
[33] Colucci-Gray L., Burnard P., Cooke C., Davies R., Gray D., Trowsdale J. (2017), Reviewing the potential and challenges of developing STEAM education through creative pedagogies for 21st learning: how can school curricula be broadened towards a more responsive, dynamic, and inclusive form of education? BERA, p.28
[34] Nadam P. (2019, October 15), Polymorphos
[35] Farassopoulos N. (2019, August 23), STEAM escape room: How tointegrate STEM activities in an escape room made by students for students
[36] Billon N., Gras-Velazquez A., Mihai G., Nistor A. (2018). Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Education Practices in Europe. Scientix Observatory report – December 2018, Brussels: European Schoolnet, p.43

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