July 20, 2012

Mystery solved: Assessment of Mystery in the Stacks

Last week, I wrote about the murder mystery, or "Mystery in the Stacks," that we used in our outreach and instruction to a summer program for high school students. This was the first time we had done this program and also the first time we had used a mystery to engage the students.

We received all positive feedback from students and parents... some examples:
"...I wanted to thank you for your coordinating "Mystery in the Stacks".  [Student] enjoyed the day and really learned a lot.  I hope you have it again next year…I will pass on the excellent rating. I wish AYU would put this program on for adults!”
 “...He really enjoyed the class - the Dante book especially made a big impression. He said the librarians were cool - praise from a 13 year old, hard to come by!”
 “[Student] had a great time at the Mystery in the Stacks. He really enjoyed it and, honestly, couldn't stop talking about it for hours!” Thank you all for  your hard work and a great day. “

We were so pleased to see that the students had fun and the parents seemed to feel the program was worth the money and time. The other question though, and perhaps more pressing, is did the students actually learn anything?

They did solve the mystery with essentially no help needed from me, so I would say so. I sat in the computer lab while the students were solving the mysteries to answer any questions and provide instructional support, so I was able to witness their problem solving processes. Overall, they really did do everything right and retained what was taught during the instruction portion to help them solve the mystery. There were just a few minor snags that I think could have been worked into instruction and/or planning....

  1. In the second clue, the students are prompted to search Stedman's Medical Dictionary to understand that the medical examiner means dehydration as cause of death when she lists the synonym, exsiccion, in her report. I saw a student immediately jump to Google instead of even trying the medical dictionary, and of course I said, "Hey now! You want to make sure your information is accurate, so use the medical dictionary to find the answer..." And when you search Google for the term, nothing really comes up anyhow. I think I should have stressed more the uncertainty of Google. Of course it is good for quick definitions, I use it all the time, but for specialized information, using a trusted source actually saves more time.

  2. I taught the students the basics of Boolean logic during the instruction portion, and was so happy to see they remembered how to use AND during the catalog-searching clue. However, for some reason when they put the first term on line 1 and the second on line 2, those results differed from my answer-checking when I typed term AND term on one line. I'm glad I caught them before the ran up to retrieve the next clue because they would have been led to an incorrect location based on the catalog results. I hadn't even thought to check this, but now I know.

  3. Google seems to really capture the students' attention, so perhaps spending more time on search tricks and evaluating websites might be good. I covered the difference between Google and databases at the beginning, and showed how they search differently. We talked a bit about credibility and in the second half of the instruction they completed part of a tutorial on evaluating websites. I think maybe spending a little more time on instruction and incorporating some quick games or activities could be good. We chose not to because the mystery was the major hands-on/game portion, but perhaps more specialized instruction would have been good since these kids seemed to be more advanced.
So overall it went pretty great, I think with just a little more time on instruction and maybe a shorter tour would work well. We are now talking about repurposing these mysteries into orientations for K-12 outreach and/or UA students. More on that another time!