High school students wanting to escape from class is nothing new.
But in math class at the National Inventors Hall of Fame STEM High School, escaping is encouraged.
The high school, at the site of the former Central-Hower High School, features a wooden, 16-by-12-foot, math-themed "escape room" thanks to a partnership with Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.
The middle school, a few blocks away at the site of the former National Inventors Hall of Fame Museum, will soon have one as well. Goodyear employees were hard at work Tuesday hammering and painting the room, part of the company's global week of volunteering.
The goal of the room is the same as the trendy escape room businesses that have popped up across the country: work as a team through puzzles and brain teasers to get yourselves out of the room.
But the school version focuses on algebra and geometry concepts, forcing students to collaborate on math problems that align with what they learn in class. The more problems they solve, the more clues they receive on how to exit the room. The lock-in is imaginary, however. For safety purposes, the room entrance remains open.
Math teacher Ben Graber first had the idea to create an escape room focused on math concepts, although he originally envisioned it as a virtual online-only concept. Many of his students, he said, dread math and try to get through it as quickly as possible.
"My question has always been: How can I engage my students in math to get them past that math anxiety?" he said.
Through the school's partnership, he pitched the idea to Goodyear, which constructed the room two years ago. The room is designed to look like a Goodyear store, with blue-and-white paint on the walls, a tire in one corner and several Goodyear posters on the wall. The prompt for the escape room experience asks the students to imagine they are trapped in a Goodyear tire store in the middle of nowhere and have to find four tires and a spare key to leave.
Ronda Williams, a regional quality manager for Goodyear and chair of the company's council on STEM education, said the goal is to expose students to concepts and careers in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math. One day, those students might even work for Goodyear.
"We're really building a technical pipeline," she said.
Principal Dina Popa said the room represents how the school encourages critical thinking. That could easily be ruined by a student who's already gone through the experience revealing where the clues are, but Popa said that doesn't seem to happen.
"They want their friends to have the same experience," she said.
Olivia Esposito and Roxan Leuanglitthidet, who will be juniors, and sophomore Santylea Wilson demonstrated how the room works on Tuesday, combining fun clues with hard math problems. It took them about half an hour when they did it for real, Esposito said. Unfortunately, during their trial run, the lock was jammed on the exit door.
"We figured out the answer, we just can't get out," she joked.
The students echoed their teacher's sentiments about their feelings on math — it's not their favorite. But the room made it fun, Leuanglitthidet said.
"I'd rather do this than paperwork," she said.
Contact Jennifer Pignolet at email@example.com, at 330-996-3216 or on Twitter @JenPignolet.