Escape Rooms in the Shark Tank

Posted by Meredith McCall - 14 December, 2017

Shark Tank - 5428211.jpgThe theme of our Senior Seminar course is “Escape Rooms,” which led us to study texts that deal with physical, psychological, and societal escape.

As part of their research, students participated in an actual Escape Room (via Huntsville Escape) to consider the challenges inherent in high pressure, high stakes, time sensitive situations. They were asked to reflect on issues related to group dynamics as well as issues that differ on an individual basis. 

The Randolph IDEA PATH provided an ideal framework for this Design Thinking-based project, both in its execution and in the students' understanding of their own learning.

The Randolph IDEA PATH was developed by our faculty across different grade levels and subjects. It shows the steps we take when we are learning. Sometimes we have to retrace our steps. Sometimes we need to work alone, sometimes we need to share our work. True learning is an ongoing process with no fixed endpoint.


Students started by interviewing a number of subjects , ranging from Randolph faculty and staff members and fellow teenagers to 3rd graders. The goal was to elicit stories or personal narratives relating people’s experiences with fear and escape. In particular, students were looking for consistencies (and inconsistencies) between things that inhibit us or may prevent us from achieving a goal. By asking people for their stories, the groups were able to develop empathy and focus on “people-centered” problems, providing a structure resemblant of a conversation more so than an inquiry.


From there, students synthesized the information gathered and developed a point-of-view statement, addressing a particular target group and a particular need that group has. They channeled the question “how might we” to consider what purpose their Escape Room (or just, room, in general) would serve. 

Shark Tank - 5428213.jpg


Next, students ideated to generate as many potential ideas for their room as possible. They played a game called “yes and…” to help facilitate this strategy. In this game, no group member can negate a previous idea or thread; they simply have to say “yes, and…” and build off of the previous suggestion to see what direction the ideas take. In this way, groups were able to open their minds and release themselves from the trials of limited thinking. 


By this point, students were ready to start building, but I added one additional hitch: The students could only build by repurposing materials. Randolph teachers generously donated some of their unused and unwanted items to our collection. (There were a lot of repurposed Halloween decorations.) After day one of this stage, students were allowed to bring additional items from home, but no new or purchased material could be used. Sometimes, in life, we can only use what is available to us.

Students had two class periods to create their prototypes. On the third day, they would present or “pitch” these prototypes to the Shark Tank.


Students presented their designs for an Escape Room to a panel of critics or Shark Tank. Through the amazing resource that is Randolph Connect, we were able to host a panel with a variety of backgrounds, experiences, and vocations.

The Sharks were:

TJ Wright – Founder of the HSV SOF Network, connecting the United States Special Operations Command & Intelligence Community to Huntsville enterprise. Also Founder and President of Offset Strategic Services.

Kelly Clary – Wealth management advisor with Warren Averett

Mem Bryant – Super cool, super fun, super mom of four Randolph students. Mem was the target audience for the escape room proposals. Would busy moms bring their children to these suggested game rooms?

Jerry Beckman – Assistant Head of School for Academic Affairs

Ryan Liese – Head of Upper School 

David Hillinck – Upper School History Teacher

Noah Hoppe McQueen – Upper School Spanish Teacher


We didn’t get to really dive into the improve stage as much as I wanted to because of time (it’s only a semester-long class). In an ideal time frame, my students would have repurposed, restructured and tweaked this assignment several times over to meet satisfaction. Unfortunately, the constraints of impending exams took over and time seemed to get away from me. (My students were quite pleased to see that sometimes, even teachers can stand to work on the “improve” step of the Idea Path when coordinating and executing assignments!) I hope to take timeline matters into consideration a bit more when engaging in the projects I have planned for next semester.

But the sentiment and intention behind the improve step definitely registered with the students.

Upon reading their reflections of the process, I was pleased to see some of the following takeaways:

“We learned certain questions to ask that would lead to great interviews. As different as people seem, we are a lot more similar than we show. We learned bringing all minds together for one purpose is very successful. We learned how to make something out of very little materials. We also learned how to accept critical feedback in order to make something better. This project was very tough, but it really taught me a lot about myself and the real world.”

Shark Tank - 5428240.jpg“Some of our interviewees were harder to get answers from, like the 3rd graders; from them, we learned that sometimes the best way to do something is to beat your head against it until it works!”

“I saw how much of a perfectionist I can be by how frustrated I was getting from the project. I just need to let it go sometimes.”

One student commented on the usefulness of empathy and seeing a problem through another’s eyes instead of her own: “When I’ve tried everything else and nothing is working, I can solve problems using a much different perspective, and that’s very useful.”

Another student stressed the importance of having to step out of his own comfort zone: “From this project, I learned that I can work well with people I do not usually work with. Not only did I work well with others, but I became the co-leader of the project. If my classmate and I had not stepped up, then the project might not have been completed.”

One student even made a point of putting forth an appeal: “At Randolph, [these] Idea Path project[s] should be used heavily in the future because of the unique way it [appeals to] student thinking to create something brilliant and new.”

For his first experience with such a project, one student reflected “the Idea Path project showed me more about how I work best.” He went on to say “This project is a very valuable experience to have because it is the most relatable to the real world. Between the time constraint, the adult panel, and the honest feedback, it made the project feel real. Because of this, we will all be much better off when faced with a similar situation [in the future].”

Experience the IDEA PATH and our student-centered approach to learning in all grades at our January 18 Open House. Click below for more information and to register.


Topics: career development, English, Huntsville, mentors, Randolph Connect, idea path

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