PIQUA — A group of Piqua High School students found their own escape from end-of-the-semester exams this week thanks to three of their teachers.
PHS English teachers Nick Neary, Kyla Starrett, and Leann Buchanan, instructing an English 90-minute block class for freshmen, found a new interactive tool to help make Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” stick in the form of creating an escape room.
Escape rooms, many inspired by “escape-the-room” types of video games, feature puzzles and tasks that participants have to complete under a set time limit to win and “escape” the room.
Neary, Buchanan, and Starrett created the escape room based on “Romeo and Juliet” to help their students study for exams, explaining that Buchanan found the escape room activity through Teachers Pay Teachers.
With the ceiling lights turned off, only a digital fireside on the SMART Board, flashlights, a few holiday lights lit up the two classrooms participating in the escape rooms on Thursday afternoon. The dimly lit rooms were meant to create a “Romeo and Juliet” type of environment while also encouraging the students to collaborate with their teammates.
Neary, Buchanan, and Starrett explained that the three different groups in each of the classrooms had to complete four skill-based tasks related to “Romeo and Juliet.” Those tasks were:
• For the first task, students identified major plot points and ordered them chronologically.
• For the second task, they identified major characters from the story based upon descriptions.
• For the third task, they matched important quotes from the text with the character who said them.
• For the fourth and final task, they read a passage from “Romeo and Juliet” and answered analytical questions about said passage.
There was also a “poisoning” twist during the game featuring grape juice.
“Each task gave them a key code that allowed them to move to the next task,” Neary said.
Neary, Buchanan, and Starrett explained that the goal was to have the students review what they know, practice applying important skills, and prepare for the semester exam.
“We’re already talking about how we could start earlier,” Starrett said about creating an experience around “Romeo and Juliet.” The two classrooms that the three teachers utilized were separated into the Montague and Capulet tombs, named after the two feuding families in “Romeo and Juliet.”
The English 9 block at the high school lasts for 90 minutes rather than the traditional class period of 45 minutes, giving these teachers the opportunity for longer, project-based learning tactics.
“There is no doubt in my mind that it is one of the best learning atmospheres that you can have for that grade level,” PHS Principal Rob Messick said. “It’s really good. There’s a lot of adding hands-on type activities into reading, making a lot of connections to what they’re reading. They use a lot of real-life examples.”
One example Messick mentioned was earlier in the year when they read John Steinbeck’s novel “Of Mice and Men,” the students had a fireside chat, emulating fireside chats that President Franklin D. Roosevelt held during the Great Depression.
The English 9 block is a new type of class that they have incorporated at the high school this year, but there are similar classes at the junior high school and in sixth-grade classes.
“We’re very excited about it. It’s been very successful,” Messick said.
The high school decided to create a 90-minute block class for language arts due to language arts having the most learning standards that students must complete. “It’s very difficult to get all of them done,” Messick said.
Messick said that Neary, Starrett, and Buchanan “wanted to try a new program where they could do a lot of enrichment type activities,” in addition to individualized learning and project-based learning activities.
“The fact that there are three of us has really opened up our possibilities. I have a class, Kyla has a class, and Leann moves back and forth between the two,” Neary said.
Neary, Starrett, and Buchanan plan their classes together and they also teach the students at the same pace. Buchanan said that this allows them to be able to split the students into different groups, such as for creating different stations within the classrooms or working with students for individualized help. Buchanan added that they are able “to build on each of our own skill sets” by working together.
Additionally, they can work with students more closely and for longer periods of time. The extra time also allows them to use a variety of learning strategies to reach all the students and increase the depth of their learning, Neary, Starrett, and Buchanan said.
“The extra time allows us to do activities that we wouldn’t normally be able to do. When we are able to implement these activities, students are more engaged,” Neary said. “They like ‘outside-the-box’ activities from time to time.”
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