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Mystery Investigation: A Kickoff Activity to Personal Inquiry

A kickoff activity for personal inquiry

This year I am going to do some personal inquiry projects with my students.  You've heard all the names.... Genius Hour, Passion Project.... I'm calling it what it is, and that's personal inquiry.  Personalized learning is really at the heart of the new BC curriculum and I'm doing my best to dive right in.

My bestie teaches across the hall from me and we're planning on team teaching personal inquiry to better meet the needs of our students.  I can assist with inquiries I know more about, and vice versa.  If we have students with similar inquiries, we can pair them for collaboration and feedback.  We want to make sure that when we begin, students will have some understanding of what it means to inquire.  Sadly, many students aren't provided many experiences to be curious and investigate. We wanted to give them that experience to connect back to once we begin.

We decided to go with this:

Humpty Dumpty - Did he fall or was he pushed?

We had so much fun setting this up!  We decided to go full force and even dressed the part.  We each wore blazers, dress shirts, and ties.  Crystal had the hat and glasses and I had a huge magnifying glass.  From before school even started we had kids talking, wondering, whispering about what was going on.  We were the buzz all around the school!
An outfit goes a long way in setting the stage to engage!

The Setup

This activity was set up in the multi-purpose room so we could keep it secret until we were ready for it.  We created a brick wall using a cardboard box.  We wrapped it in brown bulletin board paper and just drew the brick lines on with a Sharpie.  Humpty Dumpty's chalk outline is drawn on the floor with a chalk pen.  Turns out our floor is not level as the egg was running away!  We dammed it up with the egg shells after I took this photo.  Oops!

We marked the area off with tables from the room and then cones and Caution tape.  The tape is from the Halloween section of the Dollar Store, so it's got a spooky font, but it worked.  Only one student commented on that.

Did Humpty fall or was he pushed?

The clues were...
1) Humpty Dumpty's remains
2) A banana peel
3) Vasoline
4) A whisk
5) Boot prints (we painted the bottom of a boot with brown acrylic paint and stamped it on the floor)
6) A shield, sword and toy horses (for all the kings horses and all the kings men)
7) A chef's hat
8) A princess dress

Clue two: a banana peelClue 6: All the kings horses and all the kings men

The Investigation

The story we told is that as two broke teachers we rent the multipurpose room out on the weekends for some extra cash.  This weekend, something bad happened and the police needed our assistance to solve a mystery.  We set everyone up with a clipboard and paper before entering.  We told them ahead of time that they needed to be quiet at first, so they didn't influence anyone else with their opinions.  They were just to observe and take notes.

Analyzing and inferring from clues

Students used words and pictures to assess the scene.  We asked them, "What do you see? What do you wonder? What do you think?" and after about 15 minutes of investigating we began to discuss.  We made a t-chart that read "intentional" on one side and "accidental" on the other and students gave us their evidence to support both ways of thinking.  We set them loose to observe again with their new thinking.

Analyzing and inferring from clues

At the end, they had to form an opinion of what really happened.  There were many detailed descriptions with lots of evidence, but I especially enjoy this one.

Before wrapping up, we asked the students if they were to continue the investigation what next steps they would need to take.  They told us things like comparing the boot prints to those of students to see if they were suspects, sending the egg to a lab for DNA testing (haha), talking to specialists, and checking to see if the school had security cameras that could give us more information.

Next week, when we begin to talk about the inquiry cycle, students will now have something to link back to.  We plan on making an anchor chart with "Traits of an Investigator".  We can remind them of how they were curious, and how they investigated further.  We can link back to the fact that they had questions and took steps to investigate those questions.  Although personal inquiry is not a murder mystery, there are many similar steps. 

It took less than an hour to set up and we investigated for about an hour as well.  Take down was super easy and was completed over recess. 

Wanting to start up or spark up personal inquiry in your classroom? I'm sharing 11 anchor chart posters to help guide the inquiry process. Follow the image or button below to grab your copy.  

Send me the posters!

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A kickoff activity to personal inquiry
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