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Students Test Chemistry Skills to “Escape the Room”

Escape rooms, where people test their wits and puzzle-solving abilities, have become a popular form of entertainment. At Ursinus, Professor of Chemistry Mark Ellison has brought this idea into his classrooms.

In August, as part of a Crigler program chemistry class, Ellison’s students learned about atomic structure, Avogadro’s number, moles, properties of gases and energy changes in chemical reactions. But to test their chemistry knowledge on the last day of class, the students were asked to answer questions, escape room style.

“The students really seemed excited by the activity and worked very hard at it,” Ellison said.

Divided into groups of four or five, students went into separate classrooms, where they were given a chemistry question and three locked boxes. The answer to the question was the combination to one of the boxes, which contained another question. The last box contained the students’ prize for successfully answering the questions.

“One group struggled a bit with the third question,” Ellison said. “And the first group to finish went to their room and gave them a little help so they could open that third box and get their prizes. That really showed the Crigler spirit.”

The students learned some chemistry and had fun doing it.

The outcome in the Crigler chemistry class inspired Ellison to search for ways to incorporate the escape room exercise into his Ursinus classes.

“In my general chemistry course, we were learning about quantum numbers and atomic orbitals. It’s a pretty abstract concept, and I wanted to find an interactive way to have students practice solving problems about it,” he said.

“I described some atomic orbitals, and the quantum numbers were the combination to the locked boxes.  Students worked together in groups to figure out the combinations. Just like in Crigler, the students really got into it, and all of them figured out the correct answers.” 

Ellison says he is pleased with the way that the escape room idea helped the students engage with the subject and plans to keep using it in his classes.