## Friday, March 1, 2013

### Newton's Law of Cooling :: A Murder Mystery

You know those lessons/projects you give your students that you look back on and you're like, "Wow.  That wasn't half bad"?  I had one of those recently in Pre-Calculus.

We've all seen those exercises in textbooks where students are supposed to figure out the time of a person's death using Newton's Law of Cooling and given certain temperatures and times.  I always liked those problems, but never really knew what to do with them, more than just present them and say, "See!  Math IS applicable to real life."

Then a colleague of mine showed me a literacy activity adapted from Key Curriculum Press.  I found a version online that I used (but it was a direct link to the Word document, so I don't know to whom to give credit!).  The first page is what I found online (I added Newton's Law of Cooling to the bottom); the second page is the instructions for the kiddos, which includes the rubric:

To start out, we first had to watch a trailer for BCC's Sherlock (LOVE):

I gave the students about a half a day to figure out the math and solve the murder.  The next day, I loaned out a laptop cart from the school and the kids finished the story, working in groups of 2-3.  I had the students submit their posts on a blog I created for our class via kidblog.org.  My principal told me about kidblog, a class-friendly version of Wordpress, and I absolutely love everything about it (except its name).  Students don't have to register or sign in with an email account:  you just set up usernames and passswords (which can be done in a jiffy) and then they can log in.

On the blog, I posted a sample writing that I found here.  (The math is a little off, so be sure to fix it if you use this link--the final t should be negative.)  This really eliminated the "I don't get what you want us to do!" comments because the students had an example with which to model their writing.  In fact, I didn't get a single such comment (kuddos, kids).  However, I also protected this sample with an extra password:  students could not get into the post until they had solved the crime, as the password to the post was the time of death (see, kidblog is awesome).

Once all the posts were in, I gave the students a couple days to go back in and comment on their favorite posts.  The posts with the most comments received some bonus points.

I was honestly blown away by my students' response to this assignment.  Their stories were original, entertaining, and included the required mathematics.

There's obviously room for growth here on my part, but for the first go-around, I was incredibly pleased with this activity.  Next time, I may make the crime a bit harder to solve, and I may give different versions.  We'll see how motivated I am.

Out of respect to my students, I don't want to post the password to the blog here.  But, if you'd like to check out their stories or the blog for instructional purposes, feel free to tweet me (@RebeckaMozdeh) or email me (rebecka dot peterson at gmail dot com).

1. Lovely!

I set this up as a murder mystery on a tropical island, where my class is shipwrecked. (I play the Gilligan's Island intro to start us out.) When they find the time of death, they have to write the prosecuter's closing arguments to the jury. Maybe this time I'll let them choose whether to write that or a Sherlock Holmes story.

That post gets more hits than just about anything else.

1. Sue! This is awesome! Wish I would have seen it sooner!!

2. But then I wouldn't have seen your take on this topic! Some students will much prefer writing a story to writing a closing argument.

2. This is awesome! We were just about to leave this unit in Precalculus, but now there's one more project they're just going to have to do! Now, if I could only find the time to look through the material and edit the specifics to apply to my classroom...

Thanks for sharing!

1. Did you get to use it?!

3. I love this! I'm definitely going to use this in my pre-cal classes! Thanks for sharing!

1. Sure! We did it again this year, and it was super entertaining. I literally JUST finished compiling their stories into one Word doc, and our curriculum specialist is going to print it out so the kids will have a mini book with all their stories!

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61. This is such a creative way to engage students with Newton's Law of Cooling! I love the idea of using a murder mystery scenario to make the concept more relatable and exciting. Thanks for sharing this unique teaching approach – I'll definitely be incorporating it into my own lessons.
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