I ran a Harry potter themed Escape the Classroom game last night, "Escape from Gringotts". I spent way too much time creating all the props and clues but my effort was DEFINATELY not in vain! Now, I do have to mention that it has been several years since I read the Harry Potter books. Tucker was a puppy when I was reading the 7th one when he destroyed the book after I left it on my reading chair! While I am a reader, I do not typically watch the movies that are made from books. I find I am often disappointed, so, I limit my disappointment. That said, I have NOT seen any of the Harry Potter movies. I know, GASP.
I had to re-familiarize myself with the series. I find I am doing that a lot these days as I create these games. I immerse myself in the theme. It is the same process I do when I am updating lesson plans. This week my brain has been full of Harry Potter and Tesla Vs. Edison. Not so odd of a combination, if you think about. Anyways, I found a ton of prop tutorials and downloads from @MuggleMagicDIY. He has a You Tube channel and Instructables page that you HAVE to check out if you are a Potterhead. I downloaded EVERYTHING, went through two color ink cartridges, and have a pile of props to complete that will be added to the game when I run it again at Harry Potter Camp this summer. Yes , you heard me, this game has spurred on my geekiness and I am now scheduling a Science of Harry Potter Camp to run over the summer.
One of the takeaways from last night was the astonishing rate at which the kids gave up on clues. They were all over the place and could not focus long enough to make that last leap in solving the puzzles. They came in, like a whirling dervish, touching everything, riffling through things for 10 minutes before one said okay lets try and focus on one item and figure it out. It is really hard as a teacher to sit back and watch the kids give up and fail. However, it is such an important process for them to go through in order to build those problem solving skills. So many times last night I was reciting in my head "come on, come on....you are almost there...." and then they would put it down and move to another clue. It was so frustrating to not only me but also the kids who could not solve the clues in front of them. I start second guessing myself.
Are the clues too hard for this age level? I don't think so. While I do tend to have high expectations and try and stretch kids abilities with the levels of things, I always have a varying degree of difficulty in the clues. These kids, however, are their own worst enemy! They are so excited to get started, my introduction to the game, rules and helpful hints at the beginning go in one ear and out the other.
If they stopped for a moment and read the first clue which was a homework list they would see there was a page number for the homework in the History of Magic book, that, oh wait, is sitting right next to the list. If they had turned to the page they would have found a riddle to solve which gives them the order of numbers for one of the locks. On the second table was yet another book with a homework list and another clue tucked into the page. This clue was a receipt from Honeydukes, the address on the receipt was the 3 digit lock on the bag containing the blacklight which revealed so many more hints and clues. They eventually found one of the hidden clues in the books but it took at least 30 minutes of the 60 minute game and one of their hints from me to get there. One would think that after finding this clue they would put two and two together and deduce that maybe the second homework list and page number went to the second book....but alas....it took another 20 minutes and me constantly prompting them with "the homework will lead you to the clues for 3 locks". Now, I also had a Spells and Charms homework list on the board with 4 spells (Expecto Patronus, Expelliarmus, Riddikulus, and Accio) and 1 Summoning Charm listed. Even if they weren't familiar with Harry Potter, If they had looked up the spells in the Spells Book I made, they would have noticed that Accio is a summoning charm. If they had said "Accio key", instead of being silly and doing all the crazy spells and turning each other into magical creatures, they would have been given the key. The look on their faces when one of the kids figured it out was priceless, especially when a key flew through the air to land at their feet. What can I say...MAGIC!
I think it is a balance in knowing when to let them flounder a bit and see if they can get there on their own and stepping in. I never want to step in too early even if it is frustrating to watch. We have to let them fail and know it is okay to fail as long as you continue trying. This is the whole premise of the iterative process in the engineering design process. Tesla didn't invent alternating current in his first try.
How do you build and teach problem solving skills in your classrooms?