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One of the more popular shows on PBS is History Detectives, the program where renowned history investigators seek out facts to mysteries that connect local folklore, family legends, and interesting objects. The program’s fast-paced style and interesting investigations demonstrate that history is fascinating, fun, and occasionally frustrating when theories don’t pan out. Part of the show’s success is attributed to keeping viewers informed on the investigation and engaged in the process.
Getting students engaged in their learning is one of the things we strive for as teachers. INTERACT has a series of 14 units entitled History’s Mysteries: Solve the Crime of the Time that do just that. In these hands-on investigative activities, students are asked to think like criminalists and analyze the evidence surrounding the mystery of a historical event. Students work in small teams to gather, analyze, and interpret evidence, engaging in tasks such as examining renderings of physical objects (e.g., a model of a guillotine, bullets, and a blood-spattered uniform), poring over photographs, analyzing documents, and reading maps and charts.
This entry will focus on three new History’s Mysteries units (out of six new units total): Galileo’s Arrest, The Black Death, and Joan of Arc. In Galileo’s Arrest, student teams are given the task of determining why Galileo died in his home under house arrest. In The Black Death, students investigate how the Bubonic Plague changed life in Europe during the 1300s. And in Joan of Arc, students try to find out who was responsible for Joan of Arc’s death. Each unit contains a PowerPoint® presentation that takes students through the details of the case, setting up the mystery, providing instructions, and presenting students with evidence from the crime scene, police report, and a detective’s research. Student teams examine the evidence and fill out a crime report. Finally, the teams complete a forensic analysis answering “who, what, when, where, why and how” questions to summarize their assessment of the case. Once all the student teams have submitted their reports, they read a Mystery Solved: Press Release explaining the background behind the case and explaining its historical circumstances. The student teams who are most accurate in their analysis will be given a “Criminalist of the Month” award. Optional extension activities include having students create a “breaking news” TV report, write a front-page newspaper article, or compose a “news alert” text message. All this activity can be completed in approximately two to three days.
History’s Mysteries: Solve the Crime of Time is a great way to involve students in history through active learning. The activities follow many Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and History/Social Studies and 21st-Century Skills in critical thinking and problem solving and communication and collaboration. The units work best as an introduction to a world history unit, but may also be used as a review before a formal assessment and at the end of a unit. History’s Mysteries units engage students in learning about some of world history’s most interesting and important periods.