Monday, May 28, 2012

Cold cases heating up history

There’s nothing like a mystery or puzzle from times past to ‘engage those little grey cells’.  Whether you’re looking for something to engage students or to exercise their critical thinking skills, unravelling or delving into the stories behind mysteries might be one way to achieve this.

I’ve been revisiting Case Closed? : nine mysteries unlocked by modern science by Susan Hughes (902 HuC 2010) because it ties into a website that also enables students to investigate true historical, unsolved crimes.

But first, a recap of Case Closed?.  These nine mysteries are arranged more or less chronologically from oldest (around 1457 BC) to most recent  (1968): from the death and disappearance of Egyptian pharaoh, Hatshepsut to the inexplicable disappearance of a submarine enroute to Israel from England in the Mediterranean Sea.  Each case opens with a briefing about what is known about the circumstances surrounding the mystery plus possible reasons for the disappearance.  Maps, illustrations and photographs help present each case. Detailed information is provided about the research, including revisions to the hypotheses along the way, and finally, the most plausible explanation at the end.

I like this book because it shows the work that goes into uncovering a mystery, who’s involved (often teams of people from various backgrounds) and some of the science used.  The mysteries vary from the very well known to ones I was completely unaware of, including: a Chinese explorer, Hsu Fu around 215 BCE, the ancient Arabian city of Ubar, the Anasazi, the lost expedition of John Franklin, the murder, burial and possible survivors of the Romanov family in 1918, the mountain climber, George L. Mallory lost on Mount Everest in 1924, and the disappearance of an airplane in the Andes Mountains in 1974.

The website I came across is Great Unsolved Mysteries inCanadian History from the Department of Canadian Heritage and the University of Victoria.  These are fairly detailed accounts of cold cases from various time periods from Canada’s past.  There’s plenty of information about the people involved, the time period, newspaper articles, relevant documents such as court transcripts, interviews, photographs, and teacher support resources that include interpretations of the evidence.  Fascinating reading.  The cases include both the known and the obscure but are intriguing nevertheless once you start reading.  I love that primary documents are used to support the cases.  Most of the information is accessible without a login and password but to look at interpretations and teacher’s guides, you will need to have these which are free.

Both of these resources exercise historical thinking skills, which is part of the emphasis of the Alberta social studies curriculum.  Both could be used to model other cold cases from the historical record providing teachers and students a way to research information, interpret evidence and then present plausible explanations.

Check out Nonfiction Monday at Perogies & Gyoza for this week's roundup of nonfiction children's literature.


Perogyo said...

This book looks very cool. I am going to share it and the website with my husband, who loves cold cases (from the tv show anyway!).

Can I just say how happy I am that you share how these work in the Alberta curriculum? Hanging off every word!

Tammy Flanders said...

Thanks for letting me know that you like the Alberta curriculum connections. Thanks again for looking after Nonfiction Monday this week, Jenn.

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