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).