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Eighth-Graders Use Primary Source Documents to Save the World in an American History Escape Room
North Hills Middle School eighth-graders tested their knowledge of the Constitution and their problem-solving skills during a BreakoutEDU activity that combined popular escape rooms, iPads, American presidents and primary source historical documents.  

Students were told that a president wants to create their own version of American history by getting rid of all primary source documents. The secret to saving the nation and stopping the president from abusing their power was locked in a heavy, wooden box secured by five locks. Only they could save the nation by using their communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity skills to open the box and release its answer before time expired. 

Primary source historical documents used included:

  • James Madison’s Speech on Amendments to the Constitution from June 8, 1789 - Students had to use this document to open the directional lock on the box.
  • Signatures of the U.S. Constitution - Students used the date, 1787, to open the four-digit lock.
  • Article II of the Constitution and Voting Data from the 1824 Election - Students used this to open a smaller locked box with answers to questions that were written on a transparency. Students then used these answers to match them up with questions, realizing that there was a message written on the bottom of the paper that could only be seen when all answers were in the correct spot, “BILL.”  “BILL” opened the word lock.
  • Presidential quotes from Abraham Lincoln, Ronald Reagan, John F. Kennedy and others about the importance of the Constitution, with one Franklin Pierce quote stating “The storm of frenzy and faction must inevitably dash itself in vain against the unshaken rock of the Constitution” had an italicized word, rock.  There were three hidden rocks in the room, each with a key to the locked box underneath them.

Students worked together to decipher clues from the various primary source documents used by teacher Joe Welch throughout the year from TeachingAmericanHistory.org/Ashbrook's 50 Core Documents, Our Documents, Library of Congress, National Archives, Gilder Lehrman and the Smithsonian Learning Lab.

Once they were worked out solutions and unlocked each lock, the students found the answer they needed to save the nation from ruin – the Constitution. 

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