Desmos Breakout “Escape Room” Activities = Amazing Review

At several teacher workshops over the past few years, I’ve experienced “Escape Room” tasks that married the novelty of “breaking out” with academic content.  SUPER FUN!  This idea was on my never-ending “TO DO” list of things I’ve learned and would like to try with students.  And there the idea sat, on my list…

…until RECENTLY when I learned about Jay Chow (@mrchowmath) and the way he connects the idea of “breakouts” with math content using the Desmos platform.  Already made.  Ready to go.  Boom.

First, I worked through his linear and quadratic escape tasks, filling pages of notebook paper with work I’d anticipate my students might do.  I love how Jay addresses paths in his activities for those who might make a mistake along the way, as well as the variety in the tasks themselves.  SO FUN.  I decided to use the quadratic activity with my Algebra 1 students, and the linear activity with my Math 8 students.

I created student groups, and generated several Desmos activity codes so each group in each course had a different code.  I didn’t want student groups to know that they were all doing the same task… at least initially… I also didn’t TELL them what the code was for.  To add a bit to the “drama” of introducing these “Escape Room” tasks, I stuffed envelopes with old, one-sided worksheets (to be used for scrap paper, not to do the worksheets… would students actually just start working on random worksheets that didn’t even align with any math we’d been learning?).  Also in each envelope was an index card with student group members’ names, and that mysterious “code”.  I wrote the name of one group member on the outside of each envelope as well as #BREAKOUT.

On launch day, I started class by standing at the front of the room, announcing that some students “got mail”.  I called the students to the front to receive the stuffed envelopes, and the buzz was immediate.  What is Mrs. Yenca up to?  What is this “mail” she’s giving to us?  Is she going to call my name?  They know me, and started grinning and hypothesizing.

Students with envelopes were instructed to wait until I gave the word, and they were to open them simultaneously.  They found the index card with student names on them, and realized that #BREAKOUT was a huge clue about what we were about to do… 🙂

Then, just like that, student groups got together, started typing the mysterious code into various apps, eventually trying it in student.desmos.com with success.   And… some groups just started doing the math worksheets!  I didn’t let this linger long… I stopped by their groups and said, “Some groups found a code in their envelopes… did you get one too?”  “NO WONDER! I WAS WONDERING WHY YOU’D PUT WORKSHEETS IN HERE THAT HAVE MATH ON THEM FROM YEARS AGO!!!”  I let them know to use the back of the worksheets to do any figuring and they chuckled and got right to work!

Can I capture the energy in the room and convey it accurately to you here?  Nope.  I wish I could.  It was REALLY SOMETHING!  All I can do is encourage you to work through these awesome tasks yourself, launch them with your kiddos, and get ready for high energy, determination, and JOY!!!

P.S.

How does Mr. Jay Chow create this Desmos magic?  I think it may have something to do with this… and boy, do I have a LOT to learn!


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2 Responses to Desmos Breakout “Escape Room” Activities = Amazing Review

  1. Allison Krasnow says:

    I love a lot about this. I love how you set the tone of mystery, gave envelopes misguiding them with old worksheets and just a code, but no web site to go to. I love Jay’s activities. And I love the images of your students in tiling hexagons. HOW DID YOU CREATE THOSE? I didn’t realize there was an upper elementary one on Jay’s site so I am here now watching my 3rd grade son do it, watching the glee on his face, and helping him out when he finds math he hasn’t learned yet. This would also be such a fun way to start a department meeting as a reminder of the importance of joy and teamwork in a math classroom.

    • Cathy Yenca says:

      Allison, I love your idea of using one of these activities with staff! Though I worked through them before launching them with my students, I worked them through alone. Working with others would have been so much more fun, as well as more authentic to students’ experiences!

      I use a free app called Instamag to create quick photo collages on my phone. It’s easy to use and has LOTS of options for up to 9 photos. Grab it, and enjoy! 🙂

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