Polar Mystery: Using Puzzles to Connect Youth to Polar Regions
Inspired by the popularity of free choice puzzles, including escape rooms and murder mystery kits, the team developed a multi-week "Arctic Mystery", through which youth explore polar data to solve the mystery of a scientist who has disappeared. Youth must determine where the scientist traveled, when she arrived, and the circumstances of her disappearance using evidence and warrants to make a series of claims. Evidence for the mystery includes information on Arctic flora and fauna, weather and climate, climate change impacts, journal entries, laboratory notes, and images related to the scientist's research. Meeting each week via Zoom, youth work together to discuss the evidence and share ideas in small groups with facilitators guiding discussion only when necessary. Engagement continues asynchronously via print materials mailed to youth and an online tool, Padlet. While not tested in person yet due to the pandemic, the project team anticipates materials being useable with in-person programs.
Data from post-session youth surveys from two pilots suggest high engagement throughout the program, and youth have reported feeling "like a scientist" and have expressed excitement in participating in future mystery activities. Support materials are provided for facilitators, who are not required to be experts in science or polar regions. A second mystery kit is in development and will feature early-career polar researchers, their data, and research sites.
These kits are part of Polar Literacy, an NSF-funded initiative focused on developing a series of Out of School Time (OST) programs to 1) communicate the importance of polar regions in an engaging format and 2) foster youth connected with a scientific self-identity through data activities and interaction with early-career polar researchers. Each program is designed to satisfy the overarching goals of Polar Literacy, while simultaneously being data-rich, place-based, modular, and covering a variety of topic areas.