AP Physics traps students, administrators in escape rooms

Ria Parikh | Staff Writer

From enclosing students in Outer Space to trapping administrators in a classroom, AP Physics students are creating their very own escape rooms.

Through the month of December, AP Physics Mechanics and Electricity and Magnetism classes are creating escape rooms for the first time. Mechanics classes were tasked with creating rooms for fifth and sixth grade students, and Electricity and Magnetism students created rooms for administration throughout the district. Each escape room consisted of ten puzzles relating to a different area of science, and participants had 30 minutes to escape.


Students at Mason Intermediate School work together in an attempt to escape from the rooms designed by Mason AP Physics students.


AP Physics teacher Dee Dee Messer came up with the idea after attending a Physics conference over the summer, and participating in an escape room from University of Illinois with her colleagues. Messer said she was surprised by how much she enjoyed the escape rooms and wanted to bring it to her students in a more practical way.

“Me and some of my friends who were there did the escape room, and afterwards we went to dinner and we were talking about how much fun we had, and how we wish we could bring it to our classrooms,” Messer said. “But it was too hard for one person to come up with all the puzzles and all the clues and we were afraid that kids would tell other kids throughout the day and it wouldn’t be as fun for them. The conversation turned into ‘Maybe we should have the kids build the puzzles and build the escape rooms’ so on the airplane ride home, I got a piece of paper out and just started jotting a bunch of ideas.”

Senior Anna Tenhagen is one of the team leaders for this project in her Mechanics class. Tenhagen said that when she and her team were thinking about a room that connected to sixth graders, they created themes and puzzles that enhanced their current science curriculum.

“Our team’s room is going to be space themed. It’s like a spaceship that went off course so they need to connect two missing controls,” Tenhagen said. “They’re going to have to solve all these puzzles to unlock a computer, and solve a few more puzzles about Mason and try to re-establish connection.”


Senior Matthew Chang sets up an escape room. Mason High School Physics students created an escape room for staff and students at Mason Intermediate School.


For this project, Messer worked with the escape room company Breakout to provide discounts for experiences in authentic escape rooms for her students. In order to gain insight about their project and bond as a team, Tenhagen and her team split themselves up and went to two different professional escape rooms. Tenhagen said that the experience in the professional rooms exposed their team to a variety of puzzles and helped them work better together.

“We got to work more as a team and create the connection to help later in actually creating the puzzles. We got an idea of what kind of puzzles we can give them, whether they’re word puzzles, keys, or codes. That was cool on how we can use those elements and apply to them science-related topics.”

Each of the Mechanics classes received standard for fifth and sixth grade science curriculums. Tenhagen said her team used circuits and rock identification to connect to what the sixth graders were studying.

“One of the puzzles we have is creating a circuit, so they have to understand and follow directions of diagrams,” Tenhagen said. “If they do it correctly, the circuit prints out a message and code for other puzzles. And then, we also have other puzzles that have to do with earth science and trying to identify different kinds of rocks. That just gives them more hands on experience to get them more interested in science.”

Along with strengthening team building skills, Messer said she hopes that the younger students use the escape room as a way to appreciate and apply the science they learn in class.

“I’m hoping the fifth and sixth graders are going to see a really different contextual way of what they’re learning in class,” Messer said. “There is an application for it, there is a reason why besides just a test or just a lab report that their teacher makes. They can see that this knowledge can be used in a variety of ways.”

Senior Scott Shepherd is a team leader in his Electricity and Magnetism class, and he said that his team designed a room for administration that resembled a Saturday School.

“They are failing a class, and they need to change their grade to a passing grade by the end of the semester,” Shepherd said. “They get a Saturday School on purpose so they can go into the teacher’s room and change it during the 30 minutes that they’re there. We thought it would be fun to put them back into the classroom for a little while and into our shoes for a second.”

Shepherd said one of the most challenging parts of the project was fitting all of the puzzles together to create a cohesive escape room.

“A lot of our ideas were difficult to actually implement,” Shepherd said. “One of the main tricky parts was connecting everything together, like figuring out, ‘You get a code from this one, but how is it supposed to relate to that, how are you going to put them all together?’ It’s really been a great process and we’ve learned a lot.”


Photos by Tanner Pearson.