Menlo News October 26, 2023

The Middle School Escape Room: A Design-Thinking Project

Seventh graders learned about cryptography, web design, and coding skills by creating an Escape Room-style lockbox and puzzle page for their sixth-grade peers to solve.

7th grade Computer Science students created puzzle boxes for their 6th grade peers to solve.

On the day of the Escape Room Showcase in Tiffany Liu’s Computer Science and Design Engineering classroom, seventh graders rushed to test out and make last-minute tweaks to their physical lockboxes and digital puzzle pages. In just a few short minutes, the sixth graders would show up, ready to try and crack as many codes as they could to reveal the most valuable of all middle school currencies: candy!

What looked like a fun, creative and interactive assignment was all that and so much more. It was the culmination of a trimester of building skills related to cryptography puzzles; studying the Caesar cipher, Vigenère cipher, and enigma machine from WWII; encoding and decoding secret messages; and learning web design and coding with HTML and CSS. They even incorporated a design-thinking aspect, conducting a sixth grade interest survey and reflecting the findings in project design. (No surprise, there were several Taylor Swift-themed lockboxes).

The Escape Room converted seventh graders into designers, engineers, and architects, collaborating with a partner to move through the design process: from empathize, define, and ideate, to prototype, test, and showcase.

Seventh graders Hana Brownfield and Lauren Boyce chose a Halloween theme for their lockbox, because Halloween was a recurring theme in the sixth grade surveys. “For example,” said Hana, “we made up a riddle to which the answer was a cauldron, and according to our modified Caesar cipher, the cauldron symbolizes the number one.” “Once the sixth graders solve all the puzzles on the webpage,” Lauren adds excitedly, “they’ll discover that the code to the lock is 1031…the date of Halloween!”

Learning how to make and solve secret messages isn’t all fun and games, however. To build on these skills in eighth grade, Middle School Computer Science teacher Mary Kiang has created a cryptography lab where students learn about how to encrypt and decrypt passwords and how to protect their information online.

Take a look at the photos here: