All schools in Louisiana have been closed since March 13, 2020, and many school librarians across Louisiana, as well as the United States and other countries, have been diligently curating and disseminating resources for their students, educators, and community. As I spent hours gathering resources, I came across a post by Kelly Wadyko in a librarian Facebook group about a free Harry Potter Digital Escape Room created by Sydney Krawiec, a youth services librarian at Peters Township Public Library in McMurray, PA. I have hosted Breakout Boxes and escape rooms in my school library, but I did not have much experience with digital escape rooms. I decided to try my hand at this online escape room, and absolutely loved it. The digital escape room consists of a series of puzzles, questions, and video clips via a Google Form. You begin by answering questions, and once the correct answer is input into the Google Form, it will lead you to the next puzzle and question until completion of the form.
I began wondering how I could share this escape room with my students. Of course, I could simply post the link on my library’s Facebook page, but I wanted to find an interactive way for my 5th- and 6th-grade students to join together, albeit from a distance, to experience this online activity. I decided that I would invite my students to play via Zoom. I have a friend, Heather White, who teaches 5th grade at a nearby school and asked her if she’d like to co-host with me and invite her students along for this experiment. I prepared a post using Canva to advertise my idea, posted it on my library’s social media platforms, and anxiously awaited to see if we would have participants.
On March 22, Heather and I put on our Harry Potter attire and waited to see who would show up. We had 22 students from two different schools join us that day! We used Zoom to host the escape room and used a combination of Google Slides and the escape room link to share with our students. I started with an introduction to the activity using a Google Slide and then displayed the link for the Harry Potter Digital Escape Room Google Form. The form included pictures and video clips, and we went step by step reading aloud each question and puzzle in the digital escape. I would then ask students what they thought the answers would be, and they would provide answers in the chat room until we had completed the entire digital escape. Heather and I were excited, the students enjoyed themselves, and we considered it a huge success. It was a chance to entertain our students and allow them to escape from reality for a few moments. Upon completion, Heather and I asked the students if they would be interested in doing this activity once a week and got a resounding yes.
The first meeting was fun, but we needed to fine-tune our approach for the next digital escape room. I decided to stick with Zoom, but it can get a little chaotic with students talking and on video, so we needed to work out new details. We decided that we would set a few safeguards and measures in place for future escape rooms. We now post the advertisements for our escapes, but require students to e-mail us for the Zoom meeting ID and password. We disabled screen-sharing and file-transferring capabilities, and students must first enter a waiting room before being allowed into the Zoom room. Heather and I go through the list of attendees in the waiting room, verifying each student before allowing them to enter the Zoom meeting, and we lock the meeting once all students are in the room so that no one else can join once we have started. We also mute all student mics and videos and only allow the students to answer via chat. This significantly cut down on the confusion and has made for a more enjoyable experience for everyone.
We have now hosted four online escape rooms and it has become a weekly activity. At the conclusion of each week’s escape room, we give the students four choices and have them vote on the next week’s theme. We have journeyed to Narnia, taken a haunted road trip, and have infiltrated a Star Wars First Order Star Destroyer. We have found many of the escapes online for free, but have also been creating our own digital escapes using Google Forms. Many of our students have also created their own digital escapes that we will be completing together in the future. I have put together a Digital Escape Wakelet with the free activities I have found online, as well as tutorials and articles on how librarians can create their own digital escapes. I encourage librarians across the country to try hosting digital escapes and invite a partner school to participate with your students. This experience has united students from two schools and given us a chance to escape from the mounting pressure of distance learning.
Many librarians have been e-mailing me to ask how they, too, can host their own digital escapes, so Heather and I have decided to host a webinar titled “Our Two Cents: How to Run Online Digital Escape Rooms” on April 27, 2020, at 11:00 a.m. (CST). Please feel free to reach out via e-mail, or join our webinar. We are stronger together and can get through this time by helping each other out.
Author: Amanda Jones
Amanda is the 2021 School Library Journal Co-Librarian of the Year, a 2021 Library Journal Mover and Shaker, the 2020 Louisiana School Librarian of the Year, and a 21 year educator from Watson, LA. She’s a teacher-librarian and certified reading specialist at a 5-6 grade middle school. She is Vice President of the Louisiana Association of School Librarians and is the 2019 AASL Social Media Superstar Program Pioneer. Amanda is an active member of several committees for AASL and is on the Louisiana Young Readers’ Choice Awards Committee. Visit her library website at lomlibrary.org and/or find out more about her at http://librarianjones.com/.