APSU article on Chemistry Lab escape game published in Journal of Chemical Education

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Austin Peay State University - APSUClarksville, Tennessee – Dr Leslie Hiatt’s quantitative analytical chemistry students at Austin Peay State University (APSU) had a mystery to solve – identifying the department’s copper thief.

Dr Leslie Hiatt (APSU)
Dr Leslie Hiatt. (APSU)

But this mystery came with a tantalizing reward. If the students found the copper thief, they also “escaped” the classroom lab work.

This is the third time Hiatt has used the “I Escaped Quant” escape game instead of a final exam.

This spring she worked with Hannah B. Musgrove, a former APSU chemistry student and currently a doctoral student. candidate at the University of Virginia, and Dr William M. Ward, another APSU chemistry professor, on an article – titled “Escape from Quant Lab: Using Lab Skill Progression and a Final Project to Engage Students” – which focused on what the previous students in the class have learned.

The Journal of Chemical Education published the article on June 29, 2021.

Hannah B. Musgrove (APSU)
Hannah B. Musgrove. (APSU)

In the lab, the students had four weeks to use the chemistry they learned in class to solve a puzzle similar to an escape game.

“A lot of them were stressed out, but their faces when they escaped were awesome,” Hiatt said.

But, as Hiatt and his colleagues discovered in their article, the students took away more than a fulfilled feeling.

“The students reported that the game made them learn, think ahead throughout the semester instead of just going with the movements,” the newspaper read. “The students were motivated by the prospect of using the foundational skills they learned early in the classroom to solve a real, complex, multistep problem as part of an escape game. “

This spring, Hiatt’s students studied the evidence (starting with three bottles of chocolate syrup) to find the culprit – the chair of the chemistry department, Dr. Lisa Sullivan. They accused her of the crime, and after she confessed to stealing the copper, she offered them “I Escaped Quant” stickers.

How does the game work

The class presented the students with a fictitious crime. This year, a thief stole copper from labs using chocolate syrup bottles to smuggle the metal out.

 Dr William M. Ward. (APSU)
Dr William M. Ward. (APSU)

“The students worked the entire semester learning in the lab how to analyze copper,” Hiatt said.

The students used their chemistry know-how to uncover the first piece of the puzzle – which bottle of chocolate was contaminated by the copper con artist. Once the students determined the correct bottle (using science!), Hiatt rewarded them with a key for the first of three puzzle cases.

“A little chemistry, clue games like UV lights, Scrabble coins, locked boxes, etc.,” Hiatt said.

The first suitcase led the students to more lab work, and it led to more puzzle work, and so on.

“The game is run entirely by students without getting any advice or help from me,” Hiatt said. “They have the skills, so now they’re just putting their skills to the test.”

Learn real lab skills with a game

 The students in Hiatt's spring class have escaped from the lab. (APSU)
Students in Hiatt’s spring class have escaped from the lab. (APSU)

Even though the escape game IS fun, students also get the real life skills they need for their careers, Hiatt said. And the results are reflected in the published article.

“It’s about quantitative analysis, which is analytical chemistry, so these students go into industry where they need these skills,” she said. “Normally they do a lab, and they just tick a box and leave, and they forgot everything.

“But with this game, they are focusing on the skills they have learned and can use later,” she added. “They show their techniques, show what they learned and how they learned it. And it’s fun.

To learn more

To learn more about chemistry offerings at APSU, visit the Department of Chemistry webpage.


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