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Polk County math teacher encourages students to 'escape' classroom

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Posted at 7:46 AM, Apr 27, 2021

AUBURNDALE, Fla. — A walk into one Polk County middle school classroom will make a person forget they're in a school altogether.

Instead of desks and books, math students at Stambaugh Middle School in Auburndale get fog machines and laser lights.

Tirey Williams is the teacher behind the creation. He's taught at Stambaugh for three years and wanted to bring excitement back to the classroom.

"Because of COVID, we can't take the kids off-campus, so we were looking for an exciting way to bring something to campus that they would enjoy," Williams said.

To do that, he took to the internet and snagged a couple of ideas from other teachers.

"There was a small scale like you can do an escape room thing that I saw online, and I'm like if we're going to do it, we're going to go big," Williams said.

Escape rooms have become a popular, fun activity that pushes people to solve problems in an hour and use clues that eventually lead them out of the room.

Williams thought, why not bring that excitement to his classroom.

"It kind of gives them something to look forward to because if they can't solve the math clues, they kind of get stuck," Williams said. "So even when we're in the classroom doing normal instruction, they know that this is coming, so they're dedicated to learning the stuff because they don't want to get stuck in the escape room."

The response from students has been positive, and the buzz is spreading.

Eighth-grader Khandice Gatlin has heard it first hand.

"The people who have done it they were like it was fun. It was cool, and then the people who haven't done it they were like we want to do it," Gatlin said.

Jamaurri Wilson missed the first escape room and said he was excited to see what the hype was all about.

"I thought it was going to be like really fun because everyone was talking about it in class," Wilson said.

Williams typically spends his Saturday creating the escape room puzzles and riddles.

He said about half his students "escape" during the 30 minute time frame. Students who solve the puzzle correctly win prizes of their choosing, and like most teachers, Williams uses his own money to buy them.

If you would like to help Williams build bigger escape rooms, email him at tirey.williams@polk-fl.net.