Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Slice of Life: Reflections From an Escape Room

Tuesdays are for slicing about life. Join us at Two Writing Teachers!

"Everyone pause for just a moment," I said. 

At that moment, if everyone didn't groan, pause, or contemplate ignoring my request, then I'd be surprised. It was Election Day, a day of professional development in our school system, and I was co-presenting an escape room simulation to about 25 teachers. There were puzzles, brain-teasers, and problems to solve, as well as keys to win and a treasure box with prizes. 

Teachers are generally compliant, and most of them went along with turning their papers over temporarily in order to "spy on themselves" as learners, reflecting on the types of thinking and work they were doing insofar as it relates to 21st century competencies. 

One group just couldn't bring themselves to hit the pause button. 

The reflections were great, and after a short conversation, they all got back to work. Frustration in the room rose as one group experienced success and collected a key. Then others. One of the group collected another key...

"Pause for a moment," I said. 

Groans, eye rolls, papers turned. Except for that one group. 

We talked about engagement and how hard it is to be interrupted when you're on a roll. How you have to regain your energy for a task once it's been paused. And yes, how we do that to students. 

That one group ignored the conversation, trying to continue their work under the radar. (I can't say I was cheering for them to solve any of the puzzles. I might have even been secretly happy when they came up with wrong answers.)

By the end of the session, two of the groups had solved all the problems and gathered keys. They decided to split the prizes, then shared with the rest of the group. They also shared the answers, at which time one of the participants from my not-compliant-at-all group became visibly angry. 

"That's not fair," she said. "..."
"You didn't tell everyone," she said. "..."
"We would have," she said. "..."

At later times, many people apologized for her, but at that moment in time, her reaction also led to important reflections for the room. Our students not only need to learn critical thinking skills, collaboration strategies, self-directedness, and citizenship, but they also have to handle injustices and unfairness with dignity and resilience. 

And...our students aren't the only ones!

Happy Slicing,


  1. This is such an important skill for all of us to develop! I've been working with my students on Twitter and the pause before you post time helps them think about ways that they represent themselves in a virtual space - the pause in real time is much harder. Thanks, Melanie :) Your blog title inspires me everytime I read it.

  2. Love the implications here and the important point you're illustrating. We expect our students to pause, even when they're on a roll, and we expect them to do so without complaint. And in reality, doing this is much harder, even for us!
    Great piece and great presentation.

  3. The take-aways of what students (and people) have to learn are important. It's hard to learn to handle and manage one's feelings when dealing with injustices. It is a valuable lesson to learn in a safe setting like the one you created since it prepares us for turbulence that may lie ahead.

  4. Thanks for this illustration of what happens when we work in groups. It's very hard for us to stay on the same page at the same time, to cope with interruptions and regroup after setbacks. Humans are complicated! I appreciate your pausing the group mid-process to observe and note what's going on. We rarely take that opportunity, even if it's only for the space of a few deep breaths.

  5. These are such important insights you shared. Working in groups can be challenging and how we respond can make a huge difference.

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