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Ahern: Christ the King students have fun, learn in solving ‘murder’

Christ King teacher Vicki Rocus dressed as Evil Queen from Snow White pretends offer her students “poison” apple an elaborate

Christ the King teacher Vicki Rocus, dressed as the Evil Queen from Snow White pretends to offer her students a “poison” apple, in an elaborate lesson plan she and fellow teacher Donna Gentile staged for eighth grade students. Students (from left) are Delaney Mulcahy as Rapunsel, Sarah Mayer as Tinkerbell and Maggie Cranley as Snow White. | Supplied photo

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Updated: May 22, 2013 6:08AM



The eighth-grade (pretend) murderers at Christ the King School in Chicago’s Beverly community were at it again.

For the second year in a row, students “killed” their pastor, the Rev. Tom Conde, the perennial good sport of the parish. Conde not only dressed up as the fairy tale character Ol’ King Cole but was also willing to sprawl, face down, on the school’s cold floor until a scream brought the eighth graders out to find his “dead” body.

The purpose of the “murder” was to initiate a lesson that, based upon a fairy tale narrative, gave students the chance to practice vocabulary, science and a myriad of other lsubjects.

This year’s murder mystery lesson plan was again the creation of Christ the King teachers Vicki Rocus and Donna Gentile. Rocus created an elaborate back story for the mystery, and Gentile devised many science experiments for the students to solve.

Students not only played the more than 30 characters but dressed for their roles as well. The costumes were detailed and added another creative aspect to the lesson plan.

Each of the characters had a motive for wanting to kill ‘Ol King Cole, and in finding Cole’s body, the students had to determine the cause of death as well as the identity of the killer. They analyzed forensic evidence and drew conclusions as they worked through a variety of science labs.

In the end, through careful sleuthing, students discovered that Cinderella and Prince Charming had murdered ‘Ol King Cole in their desperate attempt to get enough money to save Cinderella’s shoe company, the Glass Slipper.

Christ the King Principal Maureen Aspell, who was “Mother Goose” for the day, said the exercise was a good way for the children to develop their critical thinking skills.

“Students also use their language arts and science skills, and apply them in a fun way,” Aspell said. “This is also a creative way for students to do character analysis and use their own creativity.”

Last year, Rocus spent more than a year setting up the murder mystery. This year, her experience let her coordinate it more quickly. Nonetheless, it is still a big undertaking, and students draw upon skills they have practiced for a couple of years.

“The students have prepared for this since sixth grade, using skills and core standards of readiness,” Rocus said. “They have to read procedures, interpret and do many experiments. There’s toxicology for (fake) urine and blood, and there is a coroner’s report, too.”

Eighth grader Katie Grant wrote an email, expressing her surprise at finding that she was an accomplice to the murder.

“It was really cool to dress up and go through all of the stations as a mystery investigator,” Grant wrote. “We got to do things that many people will never get to experience. The whole day was really fun and exciting, especially when I turned out to be part of the murder!

“I was an accomplice, and it was really cool that my teachers could fit everyone in to their own part of the murder. It was awesome that we all got to be our own character and dress up as them. I was the fairy godmother, and it was really fun to dress up and play her.”

Eighth grader Sarah Mayer agreed with Grant and wrote an email that she felt ready to solve mysteries on her own.

“After months of learning about forensic studies and all the mysteries we solved every Friday in reading class, it truly helped in the outcome of the final mystery,” Mayer wrote. “I learned and had so much fun with this unit and can now solve a mystery on my own! The labs helped me discover clues that were very useful. I had a blast.”

Rocus is glad her students “had a blast,” but her emphasis is on the lessons she wants her students to take away from the murder mystery.

“The philosophy here at Christ the King is to offer our students a hands-on, engaging curriculum that allows them to make real-life connections,” Rocus said. “We think this particular unit really expresses that objective.

“And even though the day didn’t end well for poor ‘Ol King Cole, we hope the skills we are sending our eighth graders off with will permit them a ‘happily ever after’ educational future,” she said.

Christ the King Catholic School, 9240 S. Hoyne Ave., Chicago, has nearly 300 students in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade. For more information about the school, visit www.ckchicago.org.



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