GILLETTE, Wyo. (AP) — With public school classes starting in Gillette, local teachers found time to reach out to colleagues across the state.

Three local teachers designed their own escape room game to puzzle participants at the Wyoming Roadmap to STEAM Conference in Gillette.

They directed about 30 other teachers and technology educators in the use of intrigue to encourage student learning, engagement and excitement in the classroom this year.

It is something teachers can add to their classes to provide a little extra spice.

The conference participants were asked to solve a puzzle about the Oregon Trail history on their own.

It's a puzzle of locks that sometimes even stumped the game designers.


It took three hours for Gillette library/media specialists Megan Dingman and Richard Landreth to devise their Oregon Trail Escape Room during a Saturday in June.

They were working on a presentation on the use of escape rooms to engage and excite K-12 students as part of the state STEAM conference.

Maggie Unterseher, a third library/media specialist in Gillette, joined them in presenting the program. You might recognize the names of the three teachers. They're also heavily involved in the annual Book Battle in the school district each year involving schools throughout Campbell County.

The three used this past school year to encourage students to think outside the box with active, hands-on learning, puzzles, technology and games. They plan to continue doing so and wanted to give the STEAM participants some ideas and advice for classrooms throughout Wyoming starting this fall.

Unterseher has used Breakout with second- through sixth-grade students at the two schools she works at: Meadowlark and Pronghorn elementary schools.

She's had to incorporate one rule, though.

"It's the no puppy-dog rule," she said, meaning students can't pile around contestants like excited "puppy dogs" if they're not involved in the game.

Landreth and Dingman also have had success incorporating the breakouts in their schools and said it works well as part of the Wyoming history units for fourth-grade students have to study.

To prove their point, Dingman and Landreth designed their own game featuring six locks on a box. The STEAM participants, many of them classroom teachers, had to answer questions and solve riddles to open the box within 35 minutes.

This game, based on Oregon Trail history heading toward Fort Bridger in southwest Wyoming, was the first that the two teachers made on their own.

They haven't yet tested the game on students.

"It's to capitalize on that escape room popularity," Unterseher said, adding that the games capitalize on digital platforms, another factor that excites students.

With the Oregon Trail game, Dingman also produced a Google map.

"We made our own kits and made our own game," said Dignman, the media specialist at Prairie Wind and Paintbrush elementary schools in Gillette.

"This one is really hard," said Landreth, who teaches at two Gillette-area schools, including Westwood High School, and has used the games with his secondary students.

The game was so difficult to solve that the organizers stopped the clock with more than seven minutes left so the four-person teams could get closer to the finish line before they ran out of time. Those who "broke out" got some chocolate as a reward and took selfies with signs.


They opened the game with a description, one that included important clues.

"Put on your time travel hat and let's go back to the days of the Oregon Trail," they wrote. "We are on the Oregon Trail headed toward Fort Bridger in Wyoming and travel is difficult. It is getting late in the season and we need to continue making 19 miles each day in order to cross the mountains before the snow flies!

"However, we are getting low on food and need to resupply. Inside the locked box in front of you are the food resources we need. Unlock the box in 25 minutes to access our food store or risk ending up like the Donners from last year!"

The game "helps your problem solving. You learn if you don't have the answer to move on," Dingman said. "I had never done this (design a game). It's kind of like dipping your toe in the water."

There was something else at work, though. Their own faulty memories.

Dingman said the pair "had to go over it a few times" just to remember some of the answers to the riddles. Participants also had the use of some Wyoming atlases.

Inside the locked box was scratch paper and pen, a lava rock from a pasture and a taped down message that warns the team not to remove the paper from the box. There also was a rhyme: "This rock symbolizes a sleeping giant. When it blows it won't be a stunt. Answer this riddle with paper and pen. Return the rock and answer to Mr. Landreth in his den."

Once participants got the correct answer of the Yellowstone Volcano and the rock, they were given a black light and a note they had to read with the black light.

It said: "The last riddle was rather lame, but this one is quite game. Re-read the riddle with this magic lamp, write down the answer for Mr. Landreth to get your final stamp."

They had to write with invisible ink on the paper taped inside the box the answer to one more riddle: "This creepiest ghost town in Wyoming is quite pretty, it most definitely is not your normal city."

If they answered Gebo, then they received their pick of chocolate candy bars.

To figure out the correct answer, many of the conference participants turned to their laptops, iPads or smartphones.


Participants had a word lock, directional lock, key lock, a four-digit number lock, a three-number lock and a color lock to open to succeed. All of them included clues, riddles, digital discoveries and even a QR code.

The games can be used to improve learning in any subject, the Gillette trio said, whether it's a chemistry equation, French or Spanish lessons or world history questions.

The three Gillette teachers also provided information on how the STEAM participants could go online for physical kits or ideas for ciphers, codes, colors or clues.

Breakout can be a way to engage students in art, P.E., music or any class as well, or in an open house or with parents and staff, they said.

They went on to present "Escape from the Norm" to participants in the Wyoming Library Association's state conference.

To them, it's just one of those riddles to success.


Information from: The Gillette (Wyo.) News Record,