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Muriel Clayton students design, build escape room

A class project at Muriel Clayton Middle School provided plenty of escapism for Grade 8 students.

From November 2019 until the end of January, the school’s Exploratory 8 class – an options class focused on woodworking, carpentry and construction-related skills – designed and built a fully-functioning escape room, which was unveiled at a Jan. 30 open house.

“What 13-year-old student isn’t thinking about escaping school at some point in the day?” said teacher Richard Sampson.

Sampson, along with Alicia Huculak, led the 30-student initiative after seeing a similar project on Twitter. Once the teachers located a resource from Stanford University outlining how to build escape rooms from scratch, Sampson said the class was eager to get started.

“[We were] really pushing the kids to drive all aspects of it,” he said. “From the design of the actual room and the dimensions of what it would look like, to the actual puzzles, theme, setting and the whole story of why you’re in the room.”

The scenario students came up with took inspiration from real life – the opening of the school’s 1994 time capsule last spring.

“In 2019, we decided we were going to build [another] time capsule and leave it in the school,” student Connor Parnham said. “It’s now 2050, and the students have heard the school was going to be knocked down, so they wanted to come back and retrieve it.”

The room includes a series of puzzles and riddles, as well as numerical, combination and direction locks participants were required to solve in order to escape the room and save the day.

The class built the structure from the ground up with help from Calgary-based sponsor Westcor Construction Ltd., which supplied materials and expertise.

While putting the structure together got off to a bit of a slow start, Sampson said the students quickly picked up the necessary skills as the semester progressed.

“To frame out the floor took us almost a month and a half, just to do the base,” he said. “The first wall took us three weeks, the second wall took us one week and the next wall took us a day and a half.

“You could see they were starting to remember [how to do it]. It was almost like being on a job site.”

With so much to do and with more than 30 people involved, Sampson said “crews” – a construction crew, a puzzle crew, an art crew and a story crew – were necessary to keep things moving forward.

While the construction crew worked on building the structure itself, the puzzle crew was busy designing the problems that would need to be solved in order to escape the room.

“We really wanted to let the kids discover and build puzzles on their own, and direct their own learning,” Sampson said. “This entire project was directed by the kids, for the kids. We were there to rein them in when the ideas got too big, but for the most part, they did everything.”

Along with learning valuable construction-related skills, students were introduced to career opportunities – another of the project’s benefits, according to Sampson.

“When [Westcor] came in to show us how to do the dry-walling, mudding and taping, they explained to the kids how much it would cost for someone to pay for that type of work, and how much you can make by doing this kind of work,” he said. “Some of the kids’ jaws dropped [when they realized] they had done this by themselves.”

At the open house, family members and students from other classes came to check out the final product, as groups tried their hand at escaping the room within the 20-minute time limit.

Though the students will dismantle the structure in February, Sampson said the project was a huge success, as it kept the students engaged and excited throughout the process.

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