Studying math, science, & geography w/ Journey North’s “Mystery Class”

Ann Kohler

Ann Kohler

by Ann Kohler

January is one of my favorite months as a teacher, and today I’m going to tell you why! About five years ago I happened upon the website while my class was following the Monarch butterfly migration. Not only does this site follow Monarch migration but it follows all sorts of different animal migrations from Hummingbirds to gray whales and whooping cranes.

However, the part of the site that has me excited every January is the part for the “Mystery Class” . Mystery Class is described as “a global game of hide-and-seek. Follow photoperiod clues to search for ten secret sites around the world. Track sunlight to solve a mystery — and discover the reasons for seasons along the way.”


When my class started participating in the Mystery Class search five years ago, I wasn’t sure whether my students would be able to do the math and science involved, solve the clues, follow the geographic details, complete graphs, and just stay interested throughout the length of the program. The first year was interesting. My parapro and I learned how to do searches along with our students. We went through every step together and by the time we made it to April, we were so excited to see if we had found the correct locations that we forgot about the learning curve we had all just been through.

That first year my parapro and I figured out which Journey North resources and materials worked in our class, and which weren’t necessary. She and I figured out a way to easily have our students do the math every week to calculate the necessary “photoperiod” (or amount of daylight everyday). This took us a while and I am happy to share my formulas — just email me at

The 2016 Mystery Class Hunt starts on January 29. In our classroom, each student gets a “Mystery Class” binder with a laminated 24 hour clock in one front pocket and two laminated sheets in the back pocket with our photoperiod calculation formulas. Each child has two dividers in the notebook. In the front they put their “Mystery Class Data Sheet” to track their photoperiod for their “class” weekly, and in the other section they put their weekly print-out of their class’s clue. We put the numbers 1-10 in a hat and let the students pick a number. That number is the site that they will search for this year. Since I have small classes my parapro and I usually pick a site too, as this is a lot of fun and the students love to try to figure out where our sites are too.

Once the students have their class number they list it at the top of their data sheet. The website provides photoperiod figures by class every week so students put these numbers on their sheets and calculate the length of their class day. I have a graph embedded each year into an ActivInspire app for our Promethean interactive whiteboard. I display this on the whiteboard and each student picks a color for their “class” and they come to the board after calculating their photoperiod and place a marker on the ActivInspire graph. We also keep a graph (laminated) on the back wall to have up all the time. Along the way your class will learn how to determine latitude and longitude to help you narrow your class location with the clues. This all sounds very complicated, but it really isn’t, and the website has tons of materials and teaching packets to help make the process a smooth and fun one. Here is the link to the participation guide: .

Data Sheet             Data Graph of Mystery Sites

You will find that as your students mark their photoperiods every week, the graph lines will intersect on the Spring Equinox and sites in the Northern Hemisphere will have ever lengthening days and those in the Southern Hemisphere will be showing shorter days. The end result is the best part. After everyone turns in their location results all of the sites are “revealed” to the world and each location submits all sorts of pictures, video and information about their city and country. You can even email the sites and start a conversation with them. Talk about collaborating on a global level-this is it!

All throughout the year we also use this website to keep up with Monarch butterfly and hummingbird migrations, and we watch the whooping crane migration progress. My students love this because they are following an ultralight airplane disguised as a whooping crane. This “Operation Migration” began to help grow the Eastern whooping crane population in 2001 and is ending this year after this group of birds reaches their winter destination in Florida. You can learn about and follow the birds at .

I hope you will check out this web site and see what you can use in your classroom. The skills that my MID (mild intellectual disability) students have learned from this one site alone will last them a lifetime and enable them to understand and be part of the conversation whenever people are discussing maps, the globe, cultures, latitude, or cities in countries all over the world. Good luck and happy Mystery Class hunting!

Ann Kohler is a Special Educator in Forsyth County, Georgia teaching in a BYOD school. In 2013 she completed her Master’s Degree for Technology in Curriculum and Instruction. She received the 2013 Tools for Life Assistive Technology Innovation Award from, was an honorable mention in Tech and Learning Leader’s of the Year 2013 for Innovation and was one of the 100 PBS LearningMedia 2014 Digital Innovators in the United States. She is currently working on her blog/website You can reach her via twitter @MIDAkohler .


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *