GRETNA - An alchemist gone mad, a study full of puzzles and clues, and an hour to answer why and escape.

A group of Gretna Middle School students found themselves in this situation recently as part of a special unit of study on human thought processes.

Thirty-six students from the High Ability Learner program spent time Jan. 15 at The Escape Omaha where they had to work together to solve the live escape game.

Students were divided into smaller groups of six based on personality type and then sent into one of four different rooms where they had 60 minutes to work out a key code to unlock the door, teacher Rhonda Sparks said.

“The teams were immersed as a group for an hour and had to think their way out of the room,” Sparks said.

At the end of the day, only two groups were able to escape any of the rooms. However, all of the students learned a lot about teamwork, problem solving and critical thinking skills.

“It was to learn teamwork. We had to learn to work together,” student Abby McGargill said.

The students found a variety of challenges within the rooms, from having to use a flashlight to search for clues to red herrings that led them away from the correct solution.

“We were solving a murder, and we had to use Latin,” McGargill said of her group’s challenge. “None of us knew it.”

Now that the students have had the opportunity to attempt to break out, their next challenge will be to create their own escape room designs. To help with that task, the students have spent time with Rachel Isaac Killough, a room designer at The Escape Omaha and a former Millard HAL student.

Students will start with a kit from Breakout EDU, an immersive learning program, to create their room designs, which will remain virtual due to space limitations at the school.

Students will create a scenario for their design and then use items such as invisible ink, locks and UV flashlights to create it. When completed, other HAL students at the school will have the opportunity to try to break out of the student-designed puzzles.

Through the “Think” unit, students have been exploring questions such as how do you think and how do you problem solve, Sparks said, and working on related skills such as creative problem solving, deductive vs. inductive thinking, critical thinking and team building.

“It challenges them in new ways,” Sparks said.

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