The Mystery Strategy: Understanding the Origin of the Moon
by Chase Young
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The Mystery Strategy is grouped with understanding models for teaching. It is a high interest activity that puts the learner into a scenario where they work with their own abilities, and that of their peers, to draw conclusions about a discrepancy delivered by the teacher. There are four phases that students pass through in this strategy; the first step is to encounter a problem and conjure a hypothesis. Next, they examine clues and create order, or sort the clues. After thorough examination, students refine and test their hypothesis according to the data. Finally, students draw a conclusion and present their findings based on their interpretation of the evidence (Canter & Winberry, 2001).

The teacher’s role is significant formulating the mystery. There are five steps that must be completed before the mystery can be brought to the students. The first task of the teacher is to create a problem. For this example, the origin of the moon will be discussed. In order to hook the students a list of words will be read aloud. Students will be encouraged to make connections, visual images, and predictions based on the words read; the teacher reads earth, moon, magma, asteroids, planets, energy, billions of years, debris, impact, and birth.

The logical explanation, currently widely accepted, is the impact theory. The impact theory essentially explained by Wright (2003): For now, the story scientists tell about the origin of the moon goes something like this. It's 4.5 billion years ago. The very young Earth is circling the very hot sun with a bunch of other newly formed planets. Out of nowhere an object half as big as Earth comes hurtling in at several miles per second. The mega-meteor is so huge it takes half an hour to plow fully into the planet. In the heat of the collision, much of the impactor and a good portion of Earth melt and vaporize into surrounding space. Then all that atomized rock begins to recondense as dust in the primitive heavens. Within a month, a year, or a century, Earth's significant other emerges from the detritus of disaster. The two have been inseparable ever since. (p. 3)


Students will be guided to a simpler explanation of the impact theory by clues given by the teacher. Each group will receive clues (Appendix A) that will help them make connections, cause and effect relationships, and help support their hypotheses. Each group will discuss the relationships of their clues and how they support their findings.  The clues must be carefully selected to guide students to the logical explanation (Silver, Hanson, Strong, & Swartz, 2003).

After creating the clues, the teacher needs to establish a scenario. The scenario must be of high interest, and raise the level of curiosity in the classroom (Canter & Winberry, 2001). For example, tell students the origin of the moon has been debated by scientist all over the world. The latest theory was introduced in 1975 by Dr. Hartman and Dr. Davis. There are three current theories, but no one can seem to agree. To this day, they are just theories, yet to be proven. The powers that be have asked Mr. Young’s class to help in the research, and determine where the moon actually came from. They have handed over their clues, and each is now in your hands. Tell the students their scientific study teams are responsible for settling the debate.

Finally, teacher needs to establish the work style. This is where the teacher decides how the clues will be distributed, whether one at a time, in groups, or all at once. Also, the teacher discloses if students will work alone, with partners, small groups, or if the mystery will be solved as a class. For this instance, the students will be working in groups, and all the clues will be given at once. Their teams will be responsible for using the clues, sorting them if necessary, and refining their hypothesis as needed. Finally, they will present their explanation of the moon’s origin to the class.

The Mystery Strategy is a great way to spark student interest, feed on curiosity, and lead students to self discovery where the information becomes their own. Sometimes the content is less important than their new ability to solve problems with raw data to form educational conclusions about real events in life. This strategy can be applied to any content area, and is delivered from an understanding prospective where the students are in charge of the process of learning (Canter & Winberry, 2001).

References

Canter, L., & Winberry, K. (Directors). (2001). Program 6: Concept Attainment Strategy [Motion picture]. In C. Arnold (Producer), Instructional Models and Strategies. Los Angeles: Laureate Education, Inc.

Wright, K. (2003, Februrary 1). Where Did The Moon Come From. Discover Magazine. Retrieved May 26, 2008, from http://discovermagazine.com/2003/feb/featmoon

Silver, H. F., Hanson, J. R., Strong, R. W., & Schwartz, P. B. (2003). Teaching styles & strategies. Ho-Ho-Kus, NJ: The Thoughtful Education Press.

Appendix A

Clue
The Earth has a large iron core, but the moon does not.

Clue
The Earth has no iron in the crust because it has all drained to the core.

Clue
Objects often collide in space

Clue
When objects collide, debris floats in space

Clue
Earth has a density of 5.5 g/cc, but the moon has a density of only 3.3 g/cc. The reason is the same, that the moon lacks iron.

Clue
The moon has exactly the same oxygen isotope composition as the Earth, whereas Mars rocks and meteorites from other parts of the solar system have different oxygen isotope compositions.

Clue
A small planet the size of Mars struck the Earth just after the formation of the solar system, ejecting large volumes of heated material from the outer layers of both objects.

Clue
Mercury and Venus have no moons at all.

Clue
Much of the earth’s crust folds under and recycles every 150 million years or so.

Clue
The mineral composition of moon rocks—including elements such as iron, silicon, magnesium, and manganese—resembles that of Earth rocks.
Clue
The moon is moving away from Earth by more than an inch a year. The moon was much closer to Earth when it formed more than 4 billion years ago. Today it's about 240,000 miles away. Originally the distance might have been only 16,000 miles It would have loomed 15 times larger in the sky, had anyone been around to see it.

Clue
The lunar samples had been found to contain a large proportion of low-density minerals, and the only plausible explanation anyone had proposed was that the moon's surface had once been almost entirely molten.

Clue
When large objects collide, it produces heat. If two objects collided like Earth and a bit smaller planet, it would create temperatures up to 18,000 degrees.

Clue
The only way to get a magma ocean is to assemble the moon very rapidly. And the only way to do that is to have debris in Earth’s orbit

© 2011 Chase J. Young. All rights reserved.