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The Case of the Missing Teacher

It is Monday morning and Ms. Porter, the prim, always unruffled, college algebra instructor, did not show up to teach her 7:00 AM class.  In the 15 years that she has taught at OTC, she has never once missed a class.  The students told the department secretary that they had waited for 15 minutes and as they were leaving they noticed her small purple purse tucked neatly under the desk.  Ms. Porter never went anywhere without her purse.   The secretary rapidly checked her office, the bathroom, and the teacher workroom but Ms. Porter was nowhere to be found.  The only evidence that she had been in her office that morning was a credit card receipt from St. Louis Bread Company time stamped for that morning at 6:15. Exactly like she has done every morning for 15 years she had picked up her bagel and café mocha before heading to class.

Her mother answered her home phone and said she left the house this morning at exactly 5:55 but she did seem a little unnerved this morning which was very unusual.  When Mr. Stanley, the biology instructor, finished his morning class he caught the discussion around the coffee pot about the missing Ms. Porter.  “That’s odd,” he said, “I saw a young man, who I thought might be one of her students, having a heated argument with her in the classroom before class.  At first, I assumed he was mad about a grade but when I got closer I noticed she was crying and seemed quite upset.”  To be continued. . .

Even if you are not the next John Grisham, a mystery is a great way to get students to think critically while encouraging their natural curiosity.  I developed the Murder Mystery “Killed by a Broken Heart” to introduce a unit on the study of cardiac drugs.  I divide the class into teams of six.  Each person gets a different set of clues so the group has to work together to solve the mystery.  The solution requires critical thinking and collaboration of the team.  Along with solving the mystery, the students also learn the basics of cardiac drugs. When I introduced this activity, I found that not only did the students have a blast solving the mystery but their scores on the cardiac exam shot up.  Providing a context for learning, even if it was this contrived mystery, helps students learn the material in a more effective way.  The website at starts with two mysteries and provides some great information on Contextualized Instruction.  I’ve attached “Killed by a Broken Heart” so you can have some fun solving the mystery or use it in your class as a team-building activity.  Mysteries provide a good way to get students to higher levels of thinking including summarizing what they know, predicting solutions, and drawing conclusions; all in a fun way.  Working in small groups leads to a synergy of thought and students feed off the energy of the group as they get excited about solving the mystery.

Barrie Talbot also uses a mystery activity in her classes to build group rapport or as starters for writing prompts.  She divides the class into small groups and provides the group with a short mystery or riddle.  Each group can ask up to 20 questions that are answered either yes or no to solve the mystery.  The group that solves the mystery in the fewest number of questions is the winning group.  This helps them think through the questions in more detail to strategize which questions would give them the best information. She uses some mysteries from the game “Crack the Case”.  Each mystery comes with a brief scenario for the players to read and an answer to guide the leader so they can respond to the 20 questions.  Barrie says, “I sometimes do this mystery game at the beginning of the semester as one of my building-community activities.  Each semester, I try to do collaborative activities every day for the first 3-4 days, and I rotate the group membership, so that students get a chance to work with almost every other student in class.  Students get to know each other so class discussions and activities usually have greater participation.  Building community takes a few class periods, but, for me, it is worth the time to have this kind of foundation for the rest of the semester.”  Barrie would be glad to share some of her mysteries if you would like to try this activity.

Bad joke to start the week

A man and his wife were heading out for the evening when their cat raced back into the house.  The man went back in to put the cat out while the wife waited in the cab.  Not wanting anyone to know that the house would be empty, the woman said, “My husband is just going back in to say goodbye to my mother.”  When her husband got back into the cab he said, “The fleabag was hiding under the bed and I had to poke her with the broom stick to get her to come out.”

Last thought

“We are creating a one size fits all system that needlessly brands many young people as failures, when they might thrive if offered a different education whose progress was measured differently. Paradoxically we’re embracing standardized tests just when the economy is eliminating standardized jobs.” (Robert Reich, Former US Labor Secretary)

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