Mystery Festival
by Kevin Beals with Carolyn Willard

Price at time of review: $25.95
258 pp.
GEMS/Lawrence Hall Of Science
Berkeley, CA
ISBN: 0-924886-10-2

Grade Level: K-8

Reviewed by Mike Bucci
High School Teacher

Imagine walking into your classroom, only it has been transformed into a crime scene. Something has happened here, what it is ain't exactly clear, and it is up to your students to come up with conclusions based on the evidence. Students make and test observations, then use speaking and writing skills to make inferences about what may have happened.

The GEMS Mystery Festival Teacher's Guide is your step-by-step guide to setting all this up, from letters soliciting parent volunteers to extension activities across disciplines. This is another great product from the Lawrence Hall of Science, so all of the activities have been extensively field tested across the country. "Who Borrowed Mr. Bear" is one mystery suggested for grades 2 and 3, and the "Felix Mystery" (a murder?) is suggested for grades 4-8. All activities are developmentally appropriate.

Each mystery activity follows a similar format. Five days of activities begin with the students examining evidence and recording observations at the roped-off crime scene. Day 2 is spent at the Clue Board organizing the observations. On Days 3 and 4, students are in the Forensic Lab learning about pH, paper chromatography, and other scientific techniques. Then students examine the evidence in light of the results of their forensic tests. On Day 5, students make an attempt to solve the crime, and there is no "correct" answer. The Felix Mystery is especially open-ended.

Holding a mystery takes extensive preparation, but Mystery Festival provides detailed handouts, checklists, and very specific instructions for teachers and students. Data sheets have written directions and pictures, so non-readers can easily circle choices. Humor abounds; for example, one character is named Alfredo Fettuccini. Background information on forensic science, chromatography, and DNA fingerprinting will prepare teachers for student questions. (I didn't know that superglue in a resealable bag will reveal fingerprints on a plastic cup!) An annotated list of other mystery books for students is also provided. The time spent setting this up will have a big payoff when the whole school is abuzz with talk about the "mystery"!

Review posted on 11/26/2001

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