Teaching Critical Thinking
Using Escape Rooms At Military College
We sat down for a chat with Major Rex Thomen to talk about how he uses escape rooms to explore critical thinking at Military College, which caused some unexpected surprises.
Q: Major Rex, Why Is Critical Thinking So Important To Modern Day Military Operations?
A: Our current theater of operations has no distinct front line or even a uniformed enemy. So every moment you are faced with a constant barrage of information where you must decide how you respond, and what level of lethality.
How do you care for those citizens who are conducting the business of their lives while engaging an enemy whose focus is more terror oriented than engagement? Our leaders, especially those young men and women doing the work, must be able to be decisive, empathetic, and able to engage in ways that are not within any doctrine.
The ability to find solutions for any situation, think outside the box, and always consider the impact of decisions in the future, is key to their success. It is why I am spending much of my time teaching creative thinking in the classroom, then evaluating those students on their decision matrices in field training environments.
Q: What Lateral Challenges Do Our Soldiers Tackle?
A: Foot patrol sounds uneventful.
In fact, it's a recurring challenge that requires intense creative thinking.
For example, when you have an IED [makeshift bomb] or ambush, with many civilians around and spotty communication, you must simultaneously:
- Care for the wounded.
- Secure the area.
- Be prepared for additional attacks.
- Assist the local civilians that are in danger or injured.
Your response, as a young leader, affects not just your men but also the wider community.
The game Helped My Students Grasp Concepts In Creative Thinking.
"Our Leaders Must Be Able To Engage In Ways That Are Not Within Any Doctrine"
Q: Why Do Escape Games Appeal As A Mode Of Exploring Critical Thinking?
A: I sought out escape rooms for several reasons; they are not tactically oriented, they are fun, and team building is essential to success. By not being a military tactical scenario, it frees them up to be more open in their solutions.
Critical thinking is taught at many levels, and in a variety of ways. I utilize many tactical decision exercises to have my students think of quick solutions. The threat is that my influence in the classroom, they may be more apt to seek solutions that they believe will please me. They may have instructor bias and not realize it.
Q: What Surprised You About How The Team Tackled The Escape Room?
A: The biggest surprise in conducting the escape room was the emergence of different leaders. These were the students who usually didn't take charge due to a lack of confidence in their military knowledge.
However, when playing the escape game they were a force, finding solutions from giant leaps in logic. Now I am constantly engaging them on what they see and what courses of action they see as viable.
Definitely found some leaders who can think outside the box.
Editors side note: kids tend to think outside the box by default. To see this in action, check out this moms story when she transformed her house into a kids birthday party escape room.
The Army Needs Agile, Adaptive Leaders, And This Was A Great Exercise For Them.
Q: Did Teamwork Develop Throughout The Escape Room Challenge?
A: Teamwork is everything.
We like to use a Field Leaders Reaction Course, when available, to build teamwork. The escape room worked the same way.
Some students who are natural leaders took a backseat to students who were able to think critically and make leaps in logic.
The biggest hindrance was laziness.
A few didn’t want to even try. They had a hard time thinking quickly or working out the puzzles even when they had been solved. In the extreme, one student actually looked up the solutions guide (which was cheating by our rules). I realized this quickly and he became a casualty on the spot.