May 25 Day 443: We Escaped

More than forty of my MAA friends joined in the Virtual Escape Adventure this evening planned by Julie Barnes, Shih-Wei Chao, Rachel Epstein, Kerri Jamerson, Wei-Kai (Bryan) Lai, Allie Ray, and Laura Steil. Julie and her team have been creating mathematical treasure hunts for the Southeastern MAA Section Meeting for many years. During the Spring of 2021, they pivoted their activities to a virtual escape room and then volunteered to share it with the broader community tonight. We had a blast.

Broken up into teams of four, we solved five puzzles to “unlock” a suitcase. I was randomly assigned to Team Awe-Sum with Sarah Frick, Emily Burkhead, and Natalia Postrigan. We had crossed paths previously but only knew each other superficially. We trusted each other to say stupid things out loud. We laughed and collaborated and had a grand time. The entire experience was energizing. Maps, codes, anagrams, and counting. Everything I love. So a BIG thank you to Julie, Shih-Wei, Rachel, Kerri, Bryan, Allie, and Laura (those who were able to facilitate are marked below with a star).

We travelled around the world, finding clues and collecting souvenirs. I don’t think it reveals too much to show the opening slide.

I will say, I had an unfair advantage when it came to MAA HQ. I could answer most of those questions without even looking them up on the internet. It was all cleverly done with password protected files, screen sharing, and a jamboard for recording souvenirs. Everyone who finished received a prize—so it wasn’t a cut throat race to the end. There was time to enjoy each other’s company.

As with any online adventure, there are lessons to be learned.

  1. Whatever you do, DON’T REASSIGN THE HOST until after breakout rooms are open. This faux pas was entirely my fault. I had assigned all facilitators as co-hosts. Co-hosts can set-up breakout rooms (this ability is fairly new to Zoom, say less than 6 months old). Julie was constructing the breakout rooms to accommodate pre-formed teams. Just as she had completed the assignments and was about to open the rooms, I reassigned her as host. Unfortunately that erased the breakout rooms she had created. Yes, she had to start the process from the beginning all over again. So next time (should there be a next time), I will wait until the breakout rooms are opened and then switch roles (or better yet, just assign the host role to the right person from the beginning. )
  2. For some reason, private messaging was disabled. I’m assuming this was another Zoom security update that changed my default configuration. I didn’t realize it until the functionality was needed. Zoom is always updating and I don’t keep close enough track of the “improvements.”
  3. Teams that enjoy each others company and work together well are amazing. The planning team makes working together look like so much fun I wish I was in the Southeastern section.
  4. I wonder if something like this could help build community within a classroom. Admittedly, we self-selected to participate in the event and that might have to do with its success. But still, I wonder….
  5. If you ever participate in a virtual escape room, make sure to start with a clean desktop. Close all extraneous windows and browser tabs. (By the time we finished, I must have had 25 or 30 tabs open in my browser and it was hard to find the information I needed when I needed it.)

This amazing team is creating another escape room adventure to premiere at MathFest, August 4-7, 2021 online. Maybe you will join me there? (Register for MathFest here.)

Published by Jenny Quinn

Mathematician. Mother. Wife. Leader. I am a professor of mathematics at the University of Washington Tacoma. Mother of Anson and Zachary. Wife to Mark. President of the Mathematical Association of America.

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