Because planning a program doesn't just take 5 minutes

Edgar Allan’s Official Crime Investigation Notebook

edgar-allanProgram Plan:

Snack on ice cream topped with whipped cream and Oreos.  Even though it’s cold and snowy.  Start off by discussing the book over snack.  If we get stuck, go to discussion questions.



  • Decoding a message (“The Crypto Caper” from Super Sleuth: Mini-Mysteries for You to Solve by Falcon Travis.)
  • Writing / solving riddle poems
  • Chromatography (hooray for the forensics program!)
  • Solving mysteries that require attention to visual and textual clues (like”Ms. Blaze and The Mysterious Ghost” and “Perkey Has Got Big Change” in Case Closed?! 40 Mini-Mysteries for You to Solve by Jurg Obrist)

What Happened:

We ended up with four parent-child pairs (two canceled last minute).  They got their snacks as they came in.  They liked the whipped cream and Oreos especially, but one of the boys did point out (correctly) that we should have had goldfish for snack.  Where was he when I was planning food?

We actually did two activities before the discussion.  They did the message decoding in pairs while we waited for everyone to arrive.  One table did parent-child pairs, and the other did a pair of boys and a pair of moms, although they helped each other out quite a bit.  I only helped a little bit.  They generally did well at this and enjoyed it.  One mom even asked if the book it came from had more codes to crack because they had so much fun doing it.

After that, we got the chromatography started.  It takes a while for the ink to spread, so I wanted to start this early enough that it would actually work.  I gave them one sample from the forensics program and said we knew that pen made the crime note.  Then I handed out pens (Crayola fine tip marker, Uniball black pen, Papermate flair, and a generic black felt tip), strips of filter paper, and paper cups with a tiny bit of water in each.  I had them draw a large dot about one inch up from the bottom of the filter strip and dip the bottom in the cup of water.  Then we moved on to the discussion.

The discussion this month was a little bit flat.  Most of the kids and all of the adults enjoyed the book.  I feel like there was a lot of rich emotional content, but that’s not always where I do the best at drawing out the kids.  In addition to a general “what did you think?” question, we did talk a little bit about questions #2, #3, and #4 below.

After the discussion, we took the filter strips out of the water and compared them.  The Crayola was the closest match to the test strip.  The Papermate flair and generic felt tip looked very similar, but had different color profiles (the Papermate had more dark blue and less purple).  This was gratifying, since the boys who got them were sure they had the same pen.  The Uniball didn’t spread much, and the ink stayed pretty black.  We did go back and look at them later, once they had really dried, and the Crayola test strip created by a fourth grader today looked almost identical to the one I made last week.  Hooray for science!

We spent the rest of the time on the riddle poems.  They worked out the three on the paper (each parent-child pair figured out one or two and had trouble with one or two, so I think the difficulty level was about right). They were pretty good at giving each other hints.  Then they wrote some of their own.  We ended with each boy sharing one or two original riddle poems.  As usual, we went over time.  That can’t be a bad thing.  We didn’t even get to the visual mysteries.

Discussion Questions

  1. Edgar says that if you know another person’s sadness, it would be harder to dislike them.  Do you think this is true?  Why or why not?  If it’s true, is there some way we could use this to make people nicer to each other?
  2. Edgar says that he could get a lot more done at school if there wasn’t so much school work to do.  What do you think is the most important part of school?
  3. Why do you think it’s so important to Edgar to find out what he is good at?
  4. Edgar thinks his parents’ job is embarrassing.  What do you think?  Are there any jobs you wouldn’t want to admit to?
  5. Patrick and Edgar both really want to solve the crime.  What methods do they both use?  What methods would you use to solve a classroom crime?

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