No, it’s not the title of a new crime series. It’s an experience I set up for my students as a way to hook, or get them excited about what we were studying. I love the book Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess and reading it has reignited my creative juices. So, while we were learning about the brightness of stars and constellations I wanted a fun and engaging way to end the unit. Of course this idea hit me toward the end of the unit, so I had to rapidly pull it all together.
I set up my classroom as a crime scene with evidence that would lead to the identity of a fallen constellation. I presented the students with a scenario and then gave them a crime scene evidence book in which they would record evidence and how it was significant to the investigation. I found articles and videos that would assist with their research and loaded them on our class BlackboardLearn site. I also provided paper copies as our technology is sometimes an issue (I’m sure many of you can relate.). I also set up a bulletin board to keep track of the evidence as well as holding all of the information for the investigation. I was inspired by the murder board from one of my favorite TV shows, Castle.
Students then set off in groups to analyze the clues (these had tags) and research to discover what role each piece of evidence played in identifying the constellation. They were so focused as they came up to the crime scene and discussed what the items were and what they thought they meant. At first I think they were most excited by the presence of the caution tape and the telescope. As three classrooms, over the course of several days, participated in the investigation I was impressed by the fact that no piece of evidence was disturbed. Our crime scene was never once contaminated. They valued the experience enough to respect it.
At the end of the investigation I asked my students to provide me with feedback on the experience. I told them to be polite, but not to be afraid to be very specific as to what they liked, what they were not that thrilled by, and what I could do to make it better if I did it again next year. I was very pleased that they took this part seriously and that they provided me with very helpful feedback. Read below for a taste of the feedback I received.
- Do the simulation at the beginning of the unit and make it last longer.
- Make the clues harder so that it is more challenging.
- Have many of the clues fit two or more constellations to make it more challenging.
- Have more constellations to choose from.
- Don’t provide paper copies so that more of the research is student driven.
I think I had as much fun creating this experience as they did working on it. So where do I go from here? I’ll be taking the feedback my students gave me and tweak the experience for next year. Since the other two teachers in my grade level used this investigation, I will also be looking to them to help improve the experience for next year.
What this experience taught me is that sometimes the best ideas do come at the last minute, and after you thought you’d planned out the unit. Don’t be afraid to change course and just go for it! Giving your students the opportunity to critique the teacher’s work is empowering and makes them feel valued. Besides, who knows better than your students what other students would want?
As I end this post, I’d like to share a quote from Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess. This is what I need to constantly remember when designing my lessons so that I don’t get caught up so much in what I need to teach, but just as importantly to focus on how I teach.
“How can I make this lesson outrageously entertaining, engaging, and powerful so that my students will never forget it and will be desperate to come back for more?”–Dave Burgess, Teach Like a Pirate