Maja Milosavljevic, Primary Teacher, Author and Moderator of online courses, ECC – Educational Creative Center, Belgrade, Serbia

Maja Milosavljevic is a versatile person, always eager for new knowledge, experiences and broadening horizons. She is a passionate traveller and globe trotter. Maja is as imaginative as a child, curious as a child, almost as creative as a child, but she works like a grown-up. She enjoys sports and foreign languages, web tools, decoupage and, inevitably, books. She has worked in several Belgrade schools, both as a teacher, and educator in after-school care, as well in the project BG Internship 2014 within the Secretariat for Sport and Youth. She is the author and moderator of the online seminar “Escape Classroom – A Universal Teaching Method”. The seminar is designed for professional training of teachers and educators and is available as part of the ECC seminar offer. She has recently started a blog and YouTube channel “Open E-classroom”. She adores her calling, because she likes the idea of being able to shape the future.

 

Do you like Indiana Jones films? Do you enjoy books by Dan Brown and their film adaptations? How many of you rooted for Harry Potter to win against Voldemort? Are you getting more and more excited while these heroes keep solving riddles, having embarked on dangerous and secret adventures?

Back in antiquity, Greeks had the Minotaur who was defeated by Theseus after he passed through the labyrinth. Egyptians have the Sphinx, the one whose riddles are almost impossible to solve. The literature of the ancient world is swarming with heroes who, in addition to physical strength, must exhibit ingenuity and logic in order to overcome all the obstacles facing them and become favourites of gods and humans.

If we take a closer look, we will see that a number of remarkable books, legends and films follow the basic principles of Escape Room. Namely, the protagonists are faced with seemingly illogical and incoherent clues and riddles. Once the connection and the solution are found, the final solution and the reward are within reach.

In view of the fact that people have loved this kind of adventures since the time immemorial and that such stories are part of our DNA, why not use this information for educational purposes?

The pitfalls of traditional teaching

According to Simeon Markovic, “the main shortcoming of traditional teaching is its dogmatic and reproductive nature – the independence of students is repressed. They are viewed as objects of instruction, acquiring ready-made knowledge from lectures delivered by teachers or from textbooks. This is what they memorise and reproduce. The teacher’s word is almost the sole criterion of truth. (…) For them (the student), thinking is a habit, rather than an ability. This teaching method lacks curiosity, initiative, self-confidence, spontaneity, tolerance, critical thinking, courage, patience, flexibility, broad and diverse paths of contemplation. What prevails instead is schematic one-sided behaviour, along with insufficient motivation, stereotypes, narrow interests, submission to authority, pressure, insecurity, fear of failure, the feeling of guilt, resistance to changing deeply ingrained habits, setting limits, persistent imposing of goals”.

“We do not know how much creativity is killed in the classroom with its emphasis on learning”.

Children of preschool age spend most of their time playing and spontaneously discovering the world around them, while schoolchildren have content and approaches to work imposed on them. By comparing facts, it turns out that preschoolers are geniuses, while the abilities of students finishing primary school are mediocre, which reveals a crucial piece of information – children learn best through play and not through application of traditional instruction methods.

A realistic solution or magic?

Believe it or not, a solution to these problems exists. It takes the form of none other than the Escape Classroom method. The concept is very simple. The participants i.e. players have to solve logic puzzles chain linked into a single entity. Being logic-based, this activity requires no background knowledge, rather it relies on the use of logic, namely, the ability to make inferences. Moreover, the connections between certain phenomena or objects in the game itself are significant and meaningful and have a place in gameplay. The puzzles are arranged in a certain way, forming a chain or path to be followed to get to the solution.

Here are some of the reasons why this method should be incorporated into your teaching practice: it is fun for everyone, it is suitable for all subjects that are taught, it develops collaboration and team spirit. Furthermore, it is student- and outcome-oriented, etc.

The application of the Escape Classroom method influences the development of the following key student skills:

● Problem solving
● Social skills
● Resilience development
● Lateral / divergent thinking
● Time management
● Involvement

This method represents the best of gamification in teaching when all its principles have been upheld. The two biggest concerns of today’s teaching, the attention span issue and student involvement can be overcome by taking advantage of it.

This method like all others has its advantages and shortcomings. Some of the advantages of the application of Escape Classroom in teaching are:

● Strengthening the desire to learn
● Increasing the attention span
● Lowering student stress levels
● Encouraging active learning

On the other hand, the shortcomings include:
● High level of engagement and training of teachers
● Increased distraction levels
● Difficult class management

The key factor here is the teacher’s skill, creativity and knowledge of teaching methods. The teacher should be the one to gauge the difficulty, diversity and number of tasks, while making sure that every detail functions as part of the whole and preserving its logical and thematic coherence.

It is often the case that students are not clear about the purpose of learning some elements of the curriculum and it happens that they refuse to learn them, or they just cram to get grades. The essence gets lost because they lack awareness of the reasons why this knowledge will be necessary in the future.

In this method, the aim of the game is clear – collecting the pieces of the puzzle, arranging them in a predefined order and winning. That way, students acquire information naturally, quite unconsciously, as part of the game itself. This ensures long-lasting effects of the acquired knowledge i.e. skills, while students receive a positive emotional stimulus, at the same time, and “emotions are the most important factor of intellectual and all other activities” .

It is also important to point out that the student gets feedback immediately after completing the task, but it is very important to analyse the process at the end of the class, in order to gain an insight into all the features that can influence the creation of future Escape Classrooms and at the same time analyse student satisfaction and success rates.

At one point, after applying the Escape Classroom method, I asked the students for feedback. They were required to provide responses to a set of questions rated on the scale from 1 to 5 (where 1 is the lowest and 5 the highest rating). Here are the results:

● I enjoyed playing this educational game: rated 5 by 81% of respondents, while 19% rated it 4;
● I would like teaching to take this form as frequently as possible: rated 5 by 56% of respondents, 4 by 38% while 6% rated it 3;
● Thanks to this kind of activity, I’m sure to have mastered all the content we were taught: rated 5 by 63% of respondents, 4 by 31% while 6% rated it 3;
● I enjoyed teamwork: 5 by 88% of respondents, while 6% rated it 4 and 3 respectively;
● I find solutions to problems more easily when working in a team: rated 5 by 81% of respondents, 4 by 6% while 13% rated it 3
● I can master the content we are taught more easily when it take s the form of a game: rated 5 by 50% of respondents, 4 by 38% while 12% rated it 3
● Evaluate your own success at mastering the content taught on this occasion: rated 5 by 63% of respondents, while 37% ra ted it 4;

Student knowledge was assessed in a test in the course of the class that followed, where 80% of students got the highest grade (5), while 20% got grade 4. Since the test featured a question that was not formulated in the Escape Room and that particular question was where the 20% of students failed, we can conclude that knowledge acquisition reaches a high level of up to 100% when using this method.

Having in mind the current circumstances caused by the pandemic, the fact that this method yielded excellent results in regular, hybrid and online classes alike must be pointed out. Digital Escape Classroom projects are applicable to any form of the teaching process and therefore worthy of additional attention of teaching specialists.

Fast forward to the future

We must also keep in mind that we are the ones preparing students for the future. Thus, we might as well add that Escape Room based questions will be part of job interviews in the future. Human resources staff are looking for new ways of finding talented individuals among the many people who have the skills possessed by the majority. Companies have been using computer games for a long time now to measure the skills of job applicants to manage time and activities efficiently. This is an excellent way for companies to see how people cope with uncertainty and fit in with other colleagues, how they communicate and make decisions when faced with time constraints. The use of the Escape Classroom method in the teaching practice targets the development of these skills precisely.

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