WEST POINT, Davis County — With the clock ticking, teams of students at West Point Junior High encountered zombies — and a series of challenging math problems — as they labored Tuesday to find clues to unlock a cure for the living dead.
As zombies roamed about her classroom, Kara Oliverson's seventh- and eighth-grade students worked their way through equations and story problems. If the teams came up with the correct answers, they were awarded keys to unlock boxes that contained additional clues.
The ultimate goal was solving enough math puzzles to unlock a box that held a cure for the zombies, who in real life included Oliverson's husband, Casey, brother, her brother's girlfriend and a cousin, the latter three who traveled from Cedar City to help.
Armed with calculators, notebooks and black light flashlights, the students worked in small teams. If they got stuck, they could ask the zombies for clues but they had to do the work themselves.
The students competed with Oliverson's other classes to complete the tasks the fastest. By the end of three periods, only one class had finished the tasks, with about five minutes to spare.
“In junior high, if they feel like they're being challenged or in competitions, it's huge for them. A lot of things I do in class are competitions because they really get into it,” Oliverson said.
Once she told her respective classes that they would be competing against one another, “They’re like ‘We’re going to win.’
“I’m like ‘OK, we’ll see if you guys win,’” Oliverson said.
For that matter, all of Oliverson’s students were winners because instead of typical review for the end of the term, they got to do a lot of math carefully disguised as a fun challenge.
Seventh-grader Caleb Miller gave the exercise a thumbs up.
“I just like it, basically. It's not like doing math at all,” he said.
Camryn Geary, another seventh-grader, said she liked using the black light to find hidden clues written in disappearing ink.
“I like how you work together to open the boxes,” she said.
Oliverson, who is in her first year of teaching, said she and her family enjoy going to escape rooms.
While attending Southern Utah University, Oliverson visited an escape room in St. George with family. To escape, they had to solve a number of math problems. Oliverson got the idea to incorporate the idea into her math curriculum.
“This year, when I was thinking of a review activity to kind of end the term, I was like 'Oh, Halloween!' It would be really cool if we did a zombie themed one because it would get the kids in the Halloween spirit but they could also show me how much they really know. That's where we came up with it and we've been planning it since the summer because it’s lot of work to work out all the puzzles in a row,” she said.
While the preparation was more involved than a typical day in the classroom, Oliverson said she believes it was worth it.Comment on this story
“It's really cool when you see them solve a hard one. At first when they see it, they’re like 'There's no way we can do this.'
“I'm like 'Yes, you can. Look at it, three of you think of you of one way you can do this part and then expand on it. And then they're like 'Oh, we did it! That was easy!'
“I was like 'Isn't that crazy. You didn't think you can do it and you did.'”
Asked how he liked the competition instead of regular coursework, Jaden Crane expressed the feelings of many of his classmates.
“Better. Way, way better,” he said.