Kids Prevent a Pandemic in this Free Escape Room

16 July

Genetics and Microbiology! These are probably not a subject most people consider approaching in a homeschool environment, but this was one of my favorites in high school! I really wanted to bring in a microscope and everything, but not knowing how much experience the kids would I have, I decided against it.

So, after I abandoned the microscope idea, I threw in a little immunology and created this escape room. It may also be somewhat inspired by the board game Pandemic in the fact that the goal of the room is to prevent a pandemic rather than escape a scary situation.

Unlike the game pandemic, kids will also have to learn a little about immunology, genetics, and microbiology before they can put their problem solving skills to work!

It also gives you a chance to teach the difference between an epidemic (an outbreak of disease in a given area) which everyone seems to think is the worst and a pandemic (an outbreak of disease across a large area usually over continents) which is actually the worst!



Supplies for Preventing a Pandemic Escape Room



How to Prepare for this Microbiology/ Immunology Escape Room

As always, you will need to print all the printables and laminate if desired. However, for this room, you will also have to prepare your petri dishes.


So to create some faux bacterial cultures you need to start by mixing up some unflavored gelatin and pouring a thin layer in each of the dishes. If I am remembering correctly, you can make 4 dishes from one envelope of gelatin. So it can give you a couple extra in case something goes wrong.

Once your gelatin is set, you need to add some bacteria. Not really, you are just going to make it look like you are growing some bacteria. For this, you will use puffy paint the glow in the dark kind seemed to be the perfect color for some gross cultures.

In the first plate, you will want to make it look like a traditional culture where the concentration of organisms decreases on each side. The second dish needs to be fairly covered with a few open areas of differing sizes to recreate the look of a disc diffusion plate. Make sure there is a clear area that is noticeably larger than the others to simulate a more effective antibiotic.

Now take some of the "holes" from a hole punch and write 3 digit numbers on them using an extra fine sharpie. Place each of these in one of the open areas on the disc diffusion plate. The code on the "most effective" disc needs to match the combination on the 3 digit lock.




The other lock will need to be programmed to the number 1953. Yes, this is the year that the double helix nature of DNA was discovered; you all know I am a dork like that.  Once both of the locks are set and you have your "bacterial cultures," you can set up your room. Start by hiding the culture plates somewhere locked with the 4-digit lock.


Hide the congratulations slip somewhere locked with the 3-digit lock. Now hide all the other components, and the room is ready!



How to Prevent a Pandemic in this Escape Room


There are a lot of pieces to find in this room! Tons of neutrophils to hide all over, which when found should indicate to the kids that they are looking at a bacterial pathogen. They will have to find the sheet that defines the various white blood cells and causes of increased white blood cell counts before they will be able to use those critical thinking skills to deduce this.

The next puzzle they can easily solve is the antibody/ antigen puzzle. To do this the kids will need to match up the antigen and antibody shape to see which number goes with which letter. They will have to use this information for another puzzle.




Next they should be able to find the DNA sequence and the mutated sequence (random list of letters) which they will need to compare. Once they find the section of mutated DNA, they will need to use those problem solving skills to recognize they are the same letters on the antibodies from the previous puzzle. Once they see this, they can order the antibodies in the same letter order to find the lock combination. 


Once they have the lock open, they will have the bacterial culture plates. First logical thinking will come in to play, and they will have to identify what they are looking at, a bacterial culture and a disc diffusion plate. Then the kids will have to interpret the disc diffusion plate to get the combination to the last lock. 


Now they have helped to prevent a pandemic! They have used their critical thinking skills to  identify an albeit very generic pathogen and find an "antibiotic" that will treat it.

So really, there is nothing terribly difficult about this escape room at all except the puzzles don't look like a lot of typical puzzles and of course the combination puzzle could be tricky. I know my students tried organizing those antibodies and antigens in all sorts of ways before they even looked at the DNA sequence.

They did however escape and well within the time; I think they had about 5 minutes left. So this worked well for a group of 4 kids over 13, and I think a slightly larger group of younger kids could handle it too although they may need help with pronunciation!

It would be fun to use a neutrophil filled microscope slide instead of hiding the neutrophils too if you have kids familiar with the correct way to handle a microscope!

Either way, I hope your students can use their critical thinking skills to prevent the pandemic and any epidemics that pop up along the way! Be sure to check out all our Escape Rooms!





White Blood Cell images courtesy of  OpenStax College - Anatomy & Physiology, Connexions Web site. http://cnx.org/content/col11496/1.6/, Jun 19, 2013., CC BY 3.0, Link


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