I love creating interactive classroom experiences, and I'm excited to share how I turned my classroom into an spy headquarters and gave my kindergartners a mystery to solve. And don't worry, I'll give you more than some clues about how to replicate it in your own classroom!
First, you need to come up with a plan: What mystery are your students going to solve and how are they going to solve it? In my classroom, I have a real popcorn machine. It's not for making popcorn; I use it to help my students learn their sight words (we call them "popcorn words"). I thought it would be a great idea to have my popcorn machine go missing. I talked with my principal, who said she'd love to be part of the mystery, so I planned to hide the machine in her office.
The next step was to create an invitation to get my students excited for our spy mission, which would take place the day after I handed out the invites. I created personalized envelopes that contained a secret message. It was so secret that my students needed to put together a puzzle to reveal it: "Secret Agent, I need your help! You have been chosen to be a part of a top secret mission. Our popcorn machine has gone missing, and I need your help to find it! In order to solve our mystery, you will need to complete a number of tasks. If you accept this mission, please report to your classroom at 8:20 a.m. sharp. If possible, please wear black as a disguise. I hope to see you there! – Agent Boender"
Setting Up Your Classroom
Creating an interactive classroom takes a lot of planning, but the results are rewarding for both the students and the teacher. Students are actively engaged in their learning while mastering the learning objective(s) for each activity. In turn, this improves student achievement and growth. To recreate my spy headquarters, here's what you'll need:
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After you have your supplies, follow these steps to set up your classroom:
- Create the appearance of lasers coming down from the ceiling to the floor with white yarn and black light fixtures. Cut large strands of white yarn, and tape them from the ceiling to objects around the classroom, such as tables, chairs, bookcases, etc. I recommend tying 6–8 strands in different locations around the room. Then cover all the windows and doors to prevent any light from coming into the classroom; I used black construction paper. Finally, turn on your black light fixtures to make the yarn glow.
- Since your students will be working in a dark environment, it's important to think about how they'll see what they're doing. I purchased some dollar store push lights to place at each table to help illuminate students' work. Another option is to purchase glow sticks or small flashlights.
- Decorate your environment with spy-themed decorations. This may include: spy-themed cardboard stand-ups, flashing lights, caution tape or "Investigation in Progress" tape, or even a spy-themed banner. Go all out if you want! I created a custom banner that I placed outside of my classroom, and as my students walked into school, I stood outside my classroom door in sunglasses, a secret agent badge, and a headset. In order to enter the classroom, students had to "sign in" by placing their finger on a fingerprint scanner app I downloaded onto my iPad.
Solving the Mystery
Now that your classroom is transformed, it's time to solve the mystery! I set up six stations for different activities. As the students completed each center activity, they received a puzzle piece, and each one brought them one step closer to finding out the culprit in the case of the missing popcorn machine.
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At the end of all six activities, my students worked together in groups to solve the mystery. Their favorite part was taking a visit down to the principal's office to question the culprit! Why did our principal take our popcorn machine? Because she wanted to learn our popcorn words, of course! My students were rewarded with some great prizes as well: personalized trophies and bags of popcorn.
Creating a spy headquarters interactive classroom is just one way to get your students excited about learning. Whether you're transforming your classroom into something elaborate or you go with something simple, if you create an uncommon experience for your students, they'll develop a desire to learn, adapt to new experiences and situations, and think outside of the box.