My wife and I subscribe to the Hunt-a-Killer Mysteries. Each thematic murder mystery unfolds over 6 months. Each month we get a box of evidence that is filled with clues and story details.
Honestly I was stunned by the quality of the evidence sources each month. The company nails important details like newspaper clippings that are double sided and printed on newsprint as well as small details like the different handwriting on notes written by different characters. In the Stand alone “Death at a Dive Bar” there is a matchbox with a phone number which we thought would be funny to call – We got the voicemail of the character in the game! Each month has a specific goal too. In the season for “Curtain Call” we were helping solve a Cold Case murder of an famous stage actress from the 1920s. The first month we had to determine the murder weapon, then we had to start eliminating suspects. Part of the fun of the game is that some of the clues are hidden in ciphers than need to be broken and by manipulating the objects into correct orders or locations. For example, in Death at a Dive Bar we had to refold some envelopes to find a clue.
All told these are really fun Date Night and Game Night activities. The puzzles are fun and help engage our “Achiever” player type need to demonstrate mastery. We are also touching on our “Socialiser” type needs by playing together. In some cases we have hosted murder mystery nights over Zoom to really tap into this!
The Hunt-a-Killer model reminds me a bit of both the Breakout Edu craze as well as that of an old DBQ (document based question) model. I am intrigued by the possible classroom applications of this hybrid. My one complaint about the Breakout Edu model is the overemphasis on puzzle solving. The critical thinking element is important but the content knowledge/acquisition often takes a back seat to the puzzle solving. I have often found that students are able to get by with almost no content knowledge if they are good at puzzles. DBQs suffer from the opposite problem. They require a great deal of content acquisition or knowledge but have almost no element of exploration or challenge. In the end they are just research essays.
My goal is to find a topic that can be applied to larger concepts but has some element of mystery. Then develop facsimile style primary sources evidence that can be investigated maybe with some ahistoric puzzle pieces like ciphered messages thrown in to add some fun challenges. Students could then work in some small groups to decipher clues, create a narrative out of the sources, and then present their interpretation. I would encourage creativity in the interpretations. For example, I would love to see students create a “Serial” style podcast or Tiger King Style Documentary!
That is pretty ambitious but the great thing about History classes is that there is always more research that can be done!
One last thought is that during this current Hybrid/Virtual instruction the Hunt-A-Killer method seems tailor made to the unstable nature of our instructional settings. While providing physical copies of the evidence boxes may not be feasible it is completely within the realm of possibility to scan in evidence and create a simple Google Site to display the pieces. To celebrate my wife’s birthday through a Socially Distanced Zoom party I was able to scan about 17 pieces of evidence in the stand alone “Death at a Dive Bar” and create a simple Google Site in under 2 hours. All the participants were able to see the initial evidence (there was some in a locked container!) and we were able to discuss over the Zoom call. It took us about an hour and a half to successfully solve the murder! Within that time we learned all about the marital struggles, business troubles, and weird real estate situations in this fictitious universe. Imagine what we could do with real life!
As I prepare for the second semester and the 2nd half of US History I think the following topics would be interesting to create these mysteries around. My only concern is to not let this fall into the “traumatic simulation” zone where students are asked to sympathize with or even role play abusers and racists. While some of the topics might deal with traumatic times and events the goal would be to treat the events with the respect they deserve. Please add some more in the comments!
- The Tulsa Race Riots
- Demise of the Buffalo
- Massacre at Wounded Knee
- Ida B Wells (a lot of options)
- Spanish American War Causes
- Filipino American War Causes
- 1902 Coal Strike
- US Joins WWI
- Sacco and Vanzetti Trial
- Bonus Army Marchers
- FDRs Court Packing Plan