Journey North Mystery Class

January 30, 2008 @ 7:31 am | Filed under: Fun Learning Stuff, Geography

In yesterday’s links I mentioned with some jubilation that the Journey North Mystery Class is starting this week. Tami asked,

Melissa,
do you know if it’s too late to join the Journey North class? In a
nutshell, can you explain it, and how much time it takes? Thanks!


With the caveat that I am incapable of writing the ‘nutshell’ version of anything (hee!), I’d love to take a stab at answering this. We (Jane and I—the younger kids have not yet been interested) have participated in the Mystery Class the past two years, and it has been delightful.

It is definitely not too late to join. Things are just getting rolling. Here’s how it works: Journey North has selected ten classes of schoolchildren in cities all around the world. Their locations are kept secret until the big reveal in May. These are the ten "mystery classes," and the game is to figure out where in the world they are.

You begin by figuring out their latitudes. Each week you compare your own local photoperiod (the amount of time between sunrise and sunset) to the photoperiods of the ten mystery classes. You graph this data on a chart. In just a few weeks’ time you’ll begin to see patterns and get a feel for where some of the mystery classes might be.

(It’s very exciting.)

Sometime in March, Journey North will release "longitude clues." By performing some calculations, you’ll be able to determine the longitude of the Mystery Classes. Now you’re really starting to have an idea where these classes might be!

Next come the cultural clues. Each week, as you continue to chart the photoperiod data, you’ll be given a set of clues about the culture and terrain of the ten mystery locations. This is when the fun kicks into high gear. You’ll be able to zero in on the specific towns in which the mystery classes are hiding.

In late April, you submit your guesses to Journey North. The following week, the answers are posted on the website and you can see how close you came. You may participate alone or as part of a group. All you have to do is register at the Journey North website (no cost, no strings). All the instructions and clues are there, along with a download of the chart.

The past two years, I led a group of online friends in the activity. We divided up the Mystery Classes so that each family was only responsible for calculating the data for one or two locations. (This is totally permissible and is in fact encouraged. Most participants are classes of schoolchildren who are usually divided into partner groups, each with its assigned mystery class.)

This year, I’m hosting a group of local friends. The kids in Jane’s peer group have been coming over every other week to read Shakespeare together (such a blast), and we’re going to set the Bard aside for a while to do the Mystery Class project together. We’ll be meeting weekly, more or less, to keep up with the data-sharing.

If your family was working solo and found the eleven sets of calculations to be too much to keep up with (ten mystery classes plus your hometown), you could easily drop some of the mystery classes and just work on a few. The registration with Journey North is largely a formality; there is no real interaction on the website except for submitting your answers at the end (which you don’t have to do if you don’t want). Of course, the JN folks love feedback, and they post lots of letters and ideas from participants.

It is amazing how much learning is packed into this activity: we have learned so much about geography, latitude, longitude, other cultures, math, etc etc etc. I cannot say enough good things about the project. I’ve been positively giddy about getting started this year. Jane too. Last year she worked side by side with the one local friend who was part of our online group, and those two eleven-year-olds had a wonderful time, let me tell you. So did their mothers. Right, Erica?

The project is just beginning this week, so it is by no means too late to get started. You calculate your local photoperiod every Monday—that is, you use each Monday’s sunrise and sunset times for the calculation. Here’s a website where you can look up the sunrise and sunset times for any date. Journey North releases the week’s new clues on Fridays, but the info is always up on the website for whenever you are ready to work with it. We’ll be doing all our work on Wednesdays, for example.

Working with online friends was great fun, these past two years. With hometowns spread all over the world, simply comparing our local photoperiods was fascinating. And I have to say, charting the increase in daylight time week after week really helped combat the late winter blues. (The first year, I mean, when we still lived in Virginia. Here in San Diego, last winter was a marvel of sunny days. This year has been quite a bit chillier.)

Tami asked about the time commitment. As you get started, it doesn’t take very long: a math problem on Monday to get your local photoperiod; and then however long it takes you to figure out and chart the photoperiods for the ten mystery classes—or however many you are responsible for. A half hour, perhaps? If you’re doing all ten? Maybe an hour for a younger child? I would say an hour a week is probably realistic, for the first six or seven weeks. The longitude day will take longer, but it’s fun, exciting work.

Later you’ll spend lots of time on Google and elsewhere, reading up on the tidbits revealed in the cultural clues. That’s fun time, detective time, and it flies by.

I told you it wouldn’t fit into a nutshell! Not even a Brazil nut.

Earlier posts on Journey North Mystery Class:
this one has a picture of our graph
this one was from last year


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Comments

5 Responses | | Comments Feed

  1. Lissa,

    I am new to Journey North and trying to set up an every other week class like you describe above. Can you tell me a little bit about the structure you envision for the “class?” I am picture mostly group discussion, sharing of data, etc. Do you intend to offer any actual lessons? How long will the every other week class last? Is an hour appropriate? My class will be composed of 5th through 8th graders.

    Thanks for giving me the nudge to finally do this!

  2. do you think a 7yr old could handle this? with parental guidance, of course. or would it be way over her head?

  3. There are great lessons and ideas on the Journey North site. Much to do and I agree it is a blast. This is our third year and interest. My kids are now 9 and 13. This year Anna, 9 can do all the calculation on her own and is really getting the concepts and finding spots on the map on her own. I think 7 is a great place to start. Have no expectations and you will learn lots of geography now and can grow into the bigger concepts later.

  4. Just this week I organized a local “class” to do Journey North mystery class together at a local library. We haven’t done it for several years, and I’m really looking forward to jumping in again as well as joining with other families. We learned so much about geography, etc. doing it. Thanks for the primer here, I’m going to share!

    Tina, I would say 7 is a little young to be able to do it all by oneself (grammar? sorry). But it is fun for both parents and kids, and as the weeks go on there are more and more “aha” moments.

  5. […] Journey North Mystery Class. Upper elementary or middle school students. Journey North Mystery Class overview. […]