“Escape the Room” with Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

screen-shot-2016-09-11-at-12-15-53-amLike a happy reunion with a childhood friend, re-reading a classic children’s book provides an opportunity to celebrate fond memories while also making new connections. An opportunity arose to reconnect with the 1968 Newbery winner, From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, as I planned for a summer reading book discussion with a group of fifth graders.

In E.L. Konigsburg’s humorous tale, two siblings, Claudia and Jamie, decide to run away from home and hide in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. While there, the children discover a mystery surrounding an angel statue that could possibly be the creation of Renaissance artist Michelangelo.

The museum purchased the statue for a few hundred dollars from the estate of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, and a trail of clues leads the children to her home. Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler challenges the children to solve the mystery by finding proof in her extensive file cabinets; she sets a time limit of one hour to find the correct file, while secreting herself away to observe their attempts.

img_1810-1As I read this scene, it reminded me of the popular “Escape the Room” games and recent initiatives by libraries and educators to adapt this format—see Derek Murphy’s blog
describing the Escape Room created at the State Library of Western Australia as well as School Library Journal’s article, “Breakout EDU Brings ‘Escape Room’ Strategy to the Classroom.”  I decided to immerse the students in their own “Escape the Room” challenge: students would locate clues to solve an art mystery surrounding Michelangelo’s rival, the Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci.

img_1807Before beginning the mystery game, the students and I read together the section describing Claudia’s and Jamie’s strategies for searching (From the Mixed-up Files, 140-146). Jamie starts frantically pulling open file drawers, but Claudia stops him, saying there is a better way.

We discussed how Claudia’s approach–thinking about how information is organized and making a list of possible words for the search–are techniques used by effective library researchers.

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Leonardo da Vinci “mirror writing.” Students used a mirror to read reverse writing and find the combination number for the lock.

Divided into three groups and given a time limit of 15 minutes, students

1) read their art masterpiece clue
2) listed keywords for searching
3) looked in one corresponding drawer
(drawers labeled alphabetically)

Each group could only retrieve a file folder if it was labeled as matching their art masterpiece clue. (Interestingly, all three groups were frustrated by their first search attempt—students showed persistence in re-reading their clues and evaluating potential keywords).  If the correct file folder was located, it provided one number, part of a combination to a lock on the file cabinet drawer.

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Once all three mysteries were solved, the students used their numbers to open the combination lock to find the missing Mona Lisa painting. I placed an iPad in this drawer for extra gamification. An art puzzle app on the iPad challenged students to put together the mixed-up image of the Mona Lisa.

Students enthusiastically collaborated on this activity, problem-solving and trying new strategies as first attempts floundered.
This GoogleDoc provides the art images and clues, if you would like to sample an “Escape the Room” adventure.  Let the Games Begin!

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3 Responses to “Escape the Room” with Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

  1. Allison Williams says:

    This sounds fabulous! I am filing this for later in the year for my 4th graders. We did The Mixed-Up Files as an All School Read a couple of summers ago. This would have been a great culminating activity.

  2. Rebecca James says:

    Joan, thanks so much for writing about this activity and providing so many helpful details. I can’t wait to try it with our middle grade students.

  3. Maggie Knapp says:

    Very creative! Thanks for sharing your photos and the idea. It sounds like the students really enjoyed it.

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