It's an age-old problem: how do you get more kids engaged with maths?
A Scottish secondary believes it might have the solution: you frame pupils for a crime they did not commit, dress them in orange convict jumpsuits, send them to a futuristic space prison and make them solve puzzles to avoid being sent hurtling into outer space.
Well, not quite – the punishment is only theoretical, for now at least. But Elgin Academy hopes to take advantage of the trend for escape rooms – where players are locked in and have to solve a series of clues in a set time to get out – which have been growing in popularity among adults keen to pit their wits against game designers. The school hopes this will motivate pupils to solve problems and build their maths skills.
At the school in Moray in the north-east of Scotland, a space prison-themed escape room has been designed and built after five pupils, aged 11-14, won the Cracking the Code competition, run by innovation foundation Nesta in partnership with Tata group and Tata Consultancy Services. Today, Elgin Academy welcomes its first escape-room participants.
Rocking the convict jumpsuit look......even has HMS Supernova branded on the back 🚀🚀 @ElginAcademyHT @nesta_uk @TataCompanies @TheMorayCouncil @VCrossHoSCD @FionaFionacru @MathsScot pic.twitter.com/ZaFiLRG4Jc— EA Maths Dept. (@ElginAcMaths) November 19, 2018
The Elgin Academy pupils – who went by the name HMS Supernova – were asked to design their own escape room inspired by TV show The Crystal Maze, and to come up with a storyline and a series of maths puzzles to be solved.
The Elgin team won an event held in London in June, in which nine teams of finalists presented their escape-room designs to a panel of judges. Their design has now become reality with help from the Problem Solving Company, which specialises in running problem solving and team-building activities in schools.
The escape room has been built on a lorry parked in the school's grounds and used this week by groups of pupils and staff. There was even a competition for "golden tickets" to secure a place in one of the teams.
Headteacher David Barnett said: “The buzz this has created in school has led to an increased profile for maths learning. Alongside that, our pupils have developed a number of highly valued transferable skills through taking part in this project. We are very proud of their achievement."
The Cracking the Code competition is a part of Maths Mission, a series of pilots seeking to find the most effective ways to increase young people’s interest in maths and improve their collaborative problem-solving skills. In its first year, 118 schools from across the UK registered for the competition with 400 students participating, consisting of 41 per cent boys and 59 per cent girls.
Joysy John, director of education at Nesta, said the competition had been a success because it mixed maths with creativity and teamwork.
She added: “Schools can make learning maths more interesting if we get students to solve problems in interesting contexts, while helping them build important skills to make them future ready.”