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The City Journals

Expelliarmus! Eastmont teachers create Harry Potter escape room

Mar 07, 2018 03:13PM ● By Julie Slama

Eastmont teachers Anna Alger and Richard Mellor are creating a Harry Potter escape room for middle school students. (Richard Mellor/Eastmont Middle School)

“I thought, ‘why not?’”

That is what history teacher Richard Mellor thought when his colleague English teacher Anna Alger first suggested having an escape room at Eastmont Middle School.

“We talked about how it would teach students teamwork as they would need to solve tons of puzzles to get out of the room,” he said. “We thought these puzzles could be curriculum based so they would have to use what they have learned in their classes. Learning is supposed to be fun so this is a way we can reach out to our students while they’re using logic to figure out the clues.”

Mellor, who is the adviser for the 100-member Harry Potter school club, immediately thought to incorporate the escape room into Harry’s world filled with horcruxes and deathly hallows, maybe even a study of herbology.

“We’ll have hidden objects and when they find each one, they’ll have to solve the puzzle to move on to the next one before finding the key to escape the room,” he said.

Mellor went to work on a Donor’s Choose grant. Once each year, Chevron fulfills the first request from each school, so keeping that in mind, he submitted and received the $800 grant.

“There are lots of grants out there if I wanted more reading books or math manipulatives, but this is the one they’ll fund for weird things like Harry Potter robes, replica horcruxes, electric candles and old-time locks,” said Mellor, who said he has received $28,000 in grants through his 11 years of teaching.

With the blessing of Principal Charisse Hilton, Mellor cleaned out book closets, freeing one on the top floor to create a 12-foot by 12-foot escape room. 

Over the winter break, he spent about 70 hours hanging a chandelier, putting in a hardwood floor, installing foam insulation which he carved and painted to look like stones, painting the ceiling black and placing a desk, rug, chair and bookshelf in the escape room.

Mellor, an advocate of lifelong learning, taught himself how to install a hardwood floor and make and install foam-looking stones.

“You can learn just about anything on YouTube,” he said with a laugh.

What wasn’t covered by the grant, Mellor and Alger, and other teachers, pooled together the $220 materials funding they each received this year from the legislature.

Meanwhile, Alger has begun working on the clues for students to solve.

Mellor said he hopes to have groups of four to five students work together after school starting this spring.

“We will be able to customize and change puzzles so they’ll constantly be learning, recalling what they already know and thinking outside the box,” Mellor said.

Before this escape room has even opened, he is already envisioning a second one opening with a CSI crime scene theme. 

Mellor said that Canyons School District has even created escape boxes for teachers to check out, so he hopes this popular form of entertainment will lead to innovative learning.

“It’s designed to immerse them in a different kind of thinking,” he said. “Middle school is about learning, having fun and making memories. This is about just that.”