Pedagogical Guide


Part 4
How to animate an Escape Room

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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In an escape game, the game master has a major role in the animation. Even if he does not participate in the creation, he must know every cog of the game. Throughout the session, he will have to be attentive, dynamic, and rigorous. Keeping all these recommendations in mind, he will ensure that the game runs smoothly.

4.1 Guidelines and briefing

The main mission of the game master is a completed game. To do this, the facilitator must use his observation and listening skills. When the students play, the teacher must assist them in their quest to solve the mission. Interventions must be adjusted: only essential information should be given.

Beware, a controlling posture could slow down the game dynamics and hinder the players in their game. It is necessary to find the right balance by accepting that sometimes students find different strategies to solve enigmas. Some puzzles can sometimes be too complex for the players.

At the end of the game, the facilitator should take the time to debrief with his or her students for a minimum of fifteen minutes. It is important to go through the game again and bring to light the skills and concepts involved, but also to highlight their successes and discuss the obstacles they faced. Finally, the facilitator should listen to their feedback to improve the next animation or perfect the creation of the next game.

Each game part is different and evolves according to the personality of the animator. Experiencing an escape game as a player can help to identify the expectations and emotions you may have when you play it.

4.2 Supervision and Security

In a traditional escape room, the game master is outside the room where the game takes place. Here, he will be in the room with the players. The facilitator can sit in a corner of the room to observe without disturbing. It is also possible to communicate with the students using a screen (walkie-talkie; microphone; computer screen, etc.). Unless it is to help depending on the time, the progress of the teams) or to settle any conflicts that may arise in the groups, the Game Master does not intervene.

During the introduction of the game, the presentation of the mission must be done carefully: to strengthen the quest, the number of instructions will be reduced to a minimum. It is also possible, depending on the degree of complexity of the game and the autonomy of the players, to not set any rules.

The students are under the responsibility of the facilitator. After having explained the rules of the game, he must remind them of the safety requirements to abide by during the game: “do not use
physical force, do not sneak anywhere, do not climb on furniture and do not attempt to dismantle objects or furniture…”. The facilitator should not hesitate to ask another adult to assist him or her to supervise the game. He or she can also anticipate this step by giving each student a road map with safety and operating rules beforehand.

Once the pupils have been immersed in the plot and made aware of the operating and safety rules, the game master must inform the pupils of the time allotted to solve the puzzles and complete the mission.

4.3 Different types of help for different objectives

Players must mobilize various skills related to teamwork such as collaboration, exchange, mutual aid, and listening. They must also use research skills such as deduction or deciphering. Students are actors in their learning. Thus, the game master must observe the actions and modes of operation of the players and take note of how the students benefit from solving the escape room.

From the start, the game master must remember that the escape game has been set up to take advantage of what has been learned in class. They are able to solve the puzzles using their knowledge. By creating sub-groups to divide the riddles, they will be able to progress faster. The facilitator must insist on the fact that each player and sub-group must try to solve every unsolved puzzle. A different reading of the information will allow them to adjust their thinking and thus get to the end of the puzzle.

It is necessary to anticipate possible blocks. Depending on the progress of the teams and the time elapsed, the teacher can give clues to speed up the thinking process or add time if the pupils have not finished. Be careful, it is not a question of giving the solution, but of giving clues of varying degrees. In facilitator can offer a card to understand a tool; the possibility of “buying” hints with a starting sum (this restricts the amount of requests for help and encourages group autonomy); if the riddle is solved in a given time, students can benefit from bonus points allowing them to have a joker for emergencies.

4.4 Clues and guidance

Unlike a traditional escape room where players are locked in a room, students must find hidden or coded clues to complete their quest. Before the game begins, the Game Master must take the time to brief them on the experience they will be having.

A minimum of instructions and a diversity of puzzles in both content and form are therefore important to encourage teamwork. The facilitator should also think about going deeper into the scenario, avoiding a linear synopsis. If each puzzle is solved one after the other and so on, the game experience will be weaker. The game master can imagine his students discovering clues for a puzzle they will face later, whether they are codes, keys, or even objects to use.

Puzzles must be enigmatic, or the game loses its interest. Care must be taken to alternate levels of difficulty, keeping in mind that they must be neither too easy (at the risk of losing the students’ commitment) nor too difficult. To reach the end of the quest, all the puzzles must be solved and understood. Students should work in small groups according to their connections and affinities. They should collaborate by discussing, hypothesizing, experimenting, and sometimes making mistakes.

Players should not be helped too much. But neither should the facilitator not help them at all. This would slow them down and could lead to a final non-resolution of the quest and cause a loss of confidence. The game master must observe them, guide them, accompany them, and evaluate if he needs to readjust the game.

4.5 Time management

While a traditional course may seem long to some students, the escape game format can offer the opportunity to review or address concepts at a different pace in an entertaining way. To reach their goal, players must be able to solve the puzzles and, additionally, complete their quest. While a traditional escape game usually lasts an hour, the game master can set the time allocated to the game according to the time slot available or the attention span of his students. In any case, he must inform the students at the beginning of each game of the time allotted to them.

As the game is timed, the facilitator must be attentive and reactive. He must not hesitate to play on timing to control the energy and excitement of the players. If students get stuck on certain puzzles, the facilitator should give them a helping hand by luring them to clues or suggesting leads. Be aware that each push must be given at the right time. Creating a flow chart, which shows the game scenario and the relationships between each puzzle will allow the facilitator to visualize the progress of the players. It is up to the facilitator to judge if, and when, to intervene, taking into account the time, the dynamics of the game, and the exchanges between players.

The facilitator can use objects to symbolize the “pushes” or “hints”, and thus keep count of them. The use of cards with a thumb, hidden in the escape room or offered on request by the game master, will help to de-dramatize the concept of error and go beyond the blocks. Be careful however never to give the answer! This is counter-productive and will increase the disappointment of the participants.

Finally, the game master has to accept that he is not always in control of everything. If he has to deal with the unexpected, rhythm, and time, he must also leave room for chance. It is important to remember that this is a game and that it is important to let go of method and technique.

4.6 Position of the Teacher

Learning through play is an issue that has been discussed for several years in school pedagogy. In addition to games on media, the growth of digital tools available in schools requires investment in what are known as “serious games”, which include escape games. Games have always been linked to learning, and by using them, pupils change their behaviour in order to learn. In this way, they contribute more to the development of their knowledge.

Playing an escape game means letting go of your role as a teacher. The teacher takes the role of master of the game, he monitors the progress of the game, reminds the students of the time that is running out, and accompanies by giving a helping hand when an enigma blocks the group. The uncertainty of the game, which evolves according to the difficulties of the puzzles and the time that elapses, among other things, requires the teacher to let go. The teacher must accept that he is not in control, trust his students, and his own ability to overcome difficulties.

However, the facilitator must not forget the objective of this activity: learning. It is difficult for the teacher to perceive the contributions of each player (reasoning, knowledge, and skills) because it is a collaborative and cooperative game. He or she should remind participants from the outset that even if an escape game is indeed a game, real learning objectives are hidden behind the puzzles.

As with any fun activity organised in class, a debriefing phase should be organised at the end of the game. Whether it is during the design of the escape game or the game phase, the teacher must keep in mind the pedagogical exploitation of the aftergame. This phase allows for the teacher to analyse each puzzle again and thus demonstrate the solving strategies, skills and knowledge retained. Therefore, even those who were not involved in solving the puzzles directly during the escape game can understand. It may also provide the teacher with ideas for improving his or her game. It is recommended that a paper trail accompany this phase, if none was available during the activity, to allow students to retain the new concepts they have learned.

Finally, the teacher must not forget to collect the students’ feedback and make sure that none disliked the experience. Collaboration and communication within the group should be discussed: ask participants which steps they preferred and why, even if they did not. Also, ask what they learned best and why.

4.7 Preparation and classroom organisation

The Game Master must have a thorough knowledge of the scenario, even if he didn’t design it himself. He is the only one who knows all the elements of the puzzle: the location of the puzzles, the solutions, and the shortcomings. By knowing exactly how the scenario unfolds, he ensures that everything runs smoothly. He should not hesitate to keep in hand the game’s flow chart, this will allow him to react quickly in case of difficulty.

Before the start of the mission, he has to check that the equipment is ready, that nothing is missing and that the digital tools, if any, are well configured. The room in which the escape game will take place must be available at least fifteen minutes before the start of the game. He must not forget to remove any unnecessary equipment that would interfere with the game.

The class must be prepared: the students must know what an escape game is. He has to let them know that beyond the game and behind the puzzles, they are there to deepen the knowledge they have learned in class.

The first step is to script the moment the pupils enter the game. The facilitator must present the plot of the story in such a way that the players are transported. Where are they? Why are they there? What is the goal? All this, while maintaining the atmosphere of the game. It’s up to them to determine how they will go about completing the quest. For the experience to have a stronger chance of immersion, the presentation or the introductory speech could be done in such a way that the students have not a teacher, but a character involved in the adventure in front of them!

During the game, the game master can direct participants by encouraging them, alerting them to their forgetfulness, or giving them a helping hand if they get stuck. However, he must not forget to give the participants the freedom to own the space, discover the material, collect clues, and question themselves to initiate cooperation. Finally, he must pay attention to existing and developing relationships. He must adapt to the personalities of the students: encourage the most hesitant to participate. Likewise, the facilitator should not hesitate to temper players too invested in the game. Everyone should be able to participate as they wish, and it is necessary to accept that some people are resistant to the game.

4.8 Tips for teachers to overcome potential challenges

For an escape game to run smoothly, a maximum of ten students should participate in the experiment. The space dedicated to the game and the number of puzzles must be accessible to all. Players must be able to move freely in the space and participate in one or more puzzles. The teacher can imagine, with another teacher, the animation of two escapades games in parallel, which will increase the dynamics of the game. The players will be faced with a double challenge: to solve the puzzles in a given time and faster than the other team.

Throughout the game, one must preserve the team’s dynamism and sustain the rhythm. To do this, the minutes that elapse must be reminded aloud to motivate the troops if necessary. The facilitator allows for cooperation and collaboration between players. Teams should be asked to split up and create sub-teams to solve the puzzles separately. As well, they should be reminded of the need to communicate with each other and guided as needed to re-establish connections.

The scripting of the game is important: the more linear the game is (the solution of the first puzzle gives access to the next one, etc.), the less the group will split up the puzzles. All players will follow the puzzles at the same time. In addition to muddling around the same question, the game loses interest. To avoid this, the teacher should plan the game with several activity areas from the start.

A typical school activity comes with instructions. Here, it is advisable to add as few instructions as possible. If the teacher finds it difficult to detach himself from the classic activities, he can imagine instructions that will be given to the students only if they have difficulty solving the puzzles.

Finally, it may be difficult, depending on some of the school subjects and their programs, to imagine puzzles. To deal with this, the teacher can create a cross-curricular escape game or use it as a tool to review several parts of the school-based program.

There is one aspect that we haven’t covered yet in this chapter that involves the preparation and explanation of the animation of an escape room and that is: how to prepare for and how to integrate different types of student profiles? This next chapter addresses these questions.

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How to capitalize on previous knowledge of the students and how to valorise the skills and knowledge developed during the Escape Room

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How to integrate different profiles of students