This is one lesson Olentangy students can't escape.

In fact, that's the point.

Last week, the entire fifth-grade class at Glen Oak Elementary School took part in the Key to Kindness escape room.

The project is set up like a traditional escape-room experience, which requires participants to solve puzzles, decipher codes or figure out keywords through cooperative problem-solving to "escape" a room or scenario.

Popular for corporate team-building and date nights, the concept of an escape room increasingly is being used in education.

Olentangy Berlin High School media specialist Robyn Starcher said any subject area can be incorporated into an escape room, and they often hit on several subjects at once. For example, she said, a teacher could set an escape room in an "art museum" and require students to use math, history and art elements in making the escape.

"I tell teachers to put it in a narrative that gives context to whatever problem they want the student to solve," Starcher said. "Put it into a story that is relevant and it increases the engagement because the students are interested in the story."

Glen Oak's escape room was part of its guidance curriculum and used six different stations with clues or puzzles, Glen Oak school counselor Jim Bickley said.

One involved Sudoku logic puzzles, another a road map of Ohio. Some involved letters or numbers while at least one used ultraviolet ink that required a special flashlight to decode.

"There's definitely a sound between noise and working noise -- we call it on-task noise and off-task noise -- and you could tell that these kids were all in. There was kind of a buzz around about it," Bickley said. "Everything is a quotation about kindness or doing the right thing. After we solve the escape room, we'll talk about all these things we've learned along the way and talk about the quotes we read. I want them to apply it."

Both Bickley and Starcher said they got the idea to use escape rooms after going through one themselves.

"Five minutes in, I thought, this is something I have to do with my students," Starcher said.

Although education companies offer escape-room kits, "you don't have to spend a lot of money on an escape room," she said. "I think the best ones are those designed by teachers."

Over the summer, Starcher taught about 30 Olentangy teachers how to design escape rooms and use the concepts across all grade levels.

She also put the staff through a "surprise" escape room -- a fake "problem" she sprung on them during the district's annual Think Tank summer training.

"They fell for it," she said. "I went to my computer and I was apologizing and I started the 'Mission Impossible' music."

Escape rooms can be used to introduce or review concepts. At least one Olentangy instructor has used an escape room as a midterm exam, Starcher said.

"It's really exciting to watch the engagement. The leaders that emerge from the group -- the kids that speak up for how to solve a problem -- often you will get students who don't generally speak up," she said.

"To see the participation increase is something that is very rewarding for me as the teacher who has designed the project or helped another teacher design it," Starcher said. "Even if they're not successful in solving it, they are exposed to problem-solving skills, working under a time constraint and sharing ideas with students they don't usually talk to."

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