Yesterday, I went to Washington, DC with my husband and oldest daughter, who is 7, to try out The International Spy Museum’s Spy in the City program. Basically, you get a handheld GPS device and you use it to try and solve a (fake, but still fun) mystery. Throughout the game, you receive text messages, audio files, surveillance footage, and clues via the touchscreen device. You scan for fingerprints and microdots, find secret symbols, and analyze photos. Well, despite the fact that I am a moron and I failed the mission (I pushed the wrong button by accident!), we still had fun! My husband and daughter completed the mission, so DC avoided being hit with an ElectroMagnetic Pulse. You’re Welcome.
Always the teacher, I couldn’t help but think of the adaptations possible for the classroom. We may not have the money to buy GPS communication devices for all our students, but I’m sure there is some way I can work in the activities we did into my teaching. Here are some of the steps (I won’t go into too much detail in case you want to go to DC and play the game for yourself):
Analyzing Photos: We had to look at a photo of a city street and locate that particular view, then find the building indicated in the photo. Classroom app: If I were to set up a similar mystery game, I could email students a photo of a location within the school and they would have to find that spot and locate the clue I placed there. If I were teaching World Geography, I could show the students a photo of a famous (or maybe, to be more challenging, not as well known) landmark in a foreign country, not tell them where or what it is, and have them work in teams to find out about it on the internet.
Following a map: The GPS unit had a map that showed your current location. My daughter loved watching the little “You Are Here” symbol move along with us. Classroom app: Map skills are taught at many grade levels. Why not give your students a map of the school, or a compass and set of directions (go to a predetermined location, walk 10 paces North, 3 paces East, etc.), or, if you have at least 1 or a few GPS units, have them find coordinates or do some Geocaching.
Solving Codes and Puzzles: We were given Book Ciphers, Cryptograms, and riddles to solve. Classroom app: There are soooo many ways you could incorporate codes, ciphers, and riddles into your classroom! It can be extra work for early finishers, an exciting way to introduce new topics, a way to practice spelling words or vocabulary words, a fun way to study for a test, etc.
Forensics: We compared fingerprints, chemical samples, and suspect photos. Classroom app: With the popularity of CSI and related shows, this is a fun topic for science teachers. Here are some examples featuring the cast of the hit TV show.
There were many other little details that rounded out this experience, for example, we had to look at an office building, find a particular window, and report whether the shade was up or down, and that was supposedly a signal from an accomplice inside the building. Of course, it doesn’t matter whether the doggone shade is really up or down, you get the same message, but it makes it feel more authentic, like you are actually working with a spy crew. Overall, I highly recommend this experience for kids and their parents (or maybe a field trip?), ages 9 and up. My daughter had some trouble reading the long text messages.
I am really thinking about creating a similar “mystery” in my classroom this year, as a content-based project, using technology along the way to solve the clues and, shhh, actually LEARN something along the way!