The Snickerdoodle Mystery—Solving Mysteries Using the Scientific Method Lesson Plan
Program/Lesson 1 for “The Snickerdoodle Mystery”
Language Arts/Science Focus
Ages: Grades K through 4
Book – “The Snickerdoodle Mystery” by Mack H. Webb, Jr.
Chalk and Chalkboard or Marker and Butcher Block Paper or Computer and Projector with screen
Read “The Snickerdoodle Mystery” by Mack H. Webb, Jr. (Note: Reading can be done as homework or as a class.)
Objectives: (Language Arts and Science)
Define the word “mystery”.
Identify the steps of scientific problem solving.
Analyze how the lead character applies the scientific method to solving the mystery.
Overview: This lesson focuses on the steps to solving problems. Detectives of all types, be they police, scientists, or anyone with a question, can use the problem solving steps to identify solutions and find answers.
Set Up: For the discussion section below, arrange chairs in a circle to allow for better communication between students. Use butcher block paper on an easel or a Powerpoint slide display to display the question being discussed and to jot down major discussion points.
1. Students are to prepare for this program by reading “The Snickerdoodle Mystery” prior to the start of the session or the book may be read aloud at the start of the session.
2. Define “mystery”: Begin by discussing the story “The Snickerdoodle Mystery”. Have the students discuss the definition of “mystery”. Webster’s Dictionary defines “mystery” as any thing or event that remains secret or obscure as to excite curiosity. Encarta Dictionary includes in its definition of “mystery” a puzzling event or situation which is difficult to understand or explain. Have students volunteer answers. Explore the idea of where mysteries often occur i.e. crimes, science topics like how, where, or why something happens or happened, and every day events where it is not clear what has happened or who did it. Note the ideas on your chalkboard. At the conclusion of the discussion, codify the definitions and places where mysteries are found so they are clear to all. Some of the points you will want to see emerge include:
A mystery is puzzling event or problem which requires careful study to figure out what has happened. Mysteries can occur in many different fields of study or work including police work, scientific study of all types, and every day situations where there is a question about how, why, or where something happened or who is responsible for what happened.
3. Identify the steps of scientific problem solving. Discuss with your students the idea of a process or series of steps one can follow to solve a mystery. Write the steps out on your Butcherblock/Powerpoint/chalkboard. As you discuss each step have the students identify how the lead character, Patricia, used the problem solving steps to solve the mystery of who was responsible for making the cookies disappear.
Step 1. State the problem. In this step we want to be as specific as we can about identifying what the problem is to be solved. For “The Snickerdoodle Mystery” the problem might be stated as: Who is making the cookies disappear? Alternative problem statements include: How are the cookies disappearing? Who is eating the cookies? Where are the cookies going?
Step 2. Gather the facts or evidence. Discuss with your students how one can gather facts. Methods include researching written material in books or on the INTERNET, asking questions of people who might know helpful information, conducting experiments, closely observing the area where the mystery occurred to find clues. Discuss how Patricia gathers evidence. What does she do to find out what is happening to the cookies? What other ways might she have used to gather information?
Step 3. Form a hypothesis. A hypothesis is a theory or idea about how something might have happened. A hypothesis worth thinking about must include answers to who, what, where, when, how, and why questions. To address the who, what, where, when, and how questions, a problem solver must find likely candidates for the who part of the question and then think about whether or not that person had the opportunity, capability, and motivation to do the action involved. Discuss with your students the hypotheses Patricia forms and subsequently explores. Her first theory is that her husband might have eaten the cookies when he went down for a late night snack. Her second theory is that the children might have eaten the second batch when they got home from school. Her third theory is that the postman might have eaten them when he delivered their mail. Her final hypothesis is that the dog ate the cookies.
Step 4. Compare the hypothesis to the facts or evidence. Do the facts support the hypothesis or not? Discuss with your students what Patricia finds as she compares the facts she gathers with each of her hypotheses. In the case of her husband, he states the cookies were already gone when he reached the kitchen. In the case of her children, they report the platter was empty when they got home from school. In the case of the postman, Patricia decides it would be extremely unlikely for the postman to have helped himself without her invitation to do so. Finally she looks at her poodle and discovers he is now the color of the snickerdoodles.
Step 5. Analyze your data and state your conclusion. Patricia tests each one of her hypotheses and discovers the only hypothesis which remains true after gathering all the information is that the poodle ate the cookies.
Step 6. Communicate your results and take action if required. In “The Snickerdoodle Mystery” Patricia realizes who has been making the cookies disappear and takes corrective action to prevent the cookies from disappearing again by placing them out of the dog’s reach. Discuss with your students how the conclusion might be communicated and acted upon if required. For instance, in the case of a crime a police officer might arrest the person who has committed the crime. In the case of a scientist, he or she might publish an article or book explaining what mystery he/she explored and what they found out during their careful study. In the case of an every day life situation, you might learn how the mouse got in the house and close up the hole.
4. Conclusion: The problem solving approach shown here can be used to solve all sorts of mysteries and puzzles. You can take this lesson further by following this lesson with a science lesson which incorporates an experiment. You can also use the free activity sheet to reinforce the steps of the scientific method from our Activity Sheets page. There is also an activity sheet for figuring out how many cookies the dog ate.