AGENT 42 sat there silently disguised in black hat, dark glasses and a jacket.
It was the Grade 3 and 4 students from Melbourne’s Laurimar Primary School who first met her.
She handed each student a piece of paper with a complicated Chinese character written on it.
One of the students noticed a web address at the bottom, another called out there was a password and maybe they should go to the website ... the mystery deepened.
More than 120 students at the school were able to suspend their disbelief and became swept up in a story that transformed them all into secret agents.
The Black Line Mystery has been called an ‘alternate reality game’ — a style that involves multiple platforms including websites, mobile devices, real life locations, and pen and paper activities.
The key to the experience is the narrative, which compels students forward to willingly take on the next challenge in the journey.
Students were quite attached tothe main characters in the unit — Agent 42 and her trusty companion Charles the Basset Hound.
Something very bad happens to Charles half way through the mystery, due to the intervention of evil Agent X, and this was quite a concern to many students.
They were determined to finish the next tasks quickly in order to get Charles back!
I created the Black Line Mystery as a way to help students analyse and more easily remember Chinese characters.
I have a strong interest in the power of narrative for learning, as well as how many different technologies can work together.
The unit is run in English and uses web tools, such as Google, Voki, and Vimeo as well as iPads and regular old pen and paper, to present content and get students to engage with the experience.
The Black Line Mystery is this year being further developed as a project with the Chinese Teacher Training Centre at The University of Melbourne and is taking on a whole new set of secret agents from schools across the country.
One of the aims is to involve as many teachers as possible, not only to present a different approach to teaching Chinese characters, but also how to negotiate and implement free web tools using an engaging unit.
JESS MCCULLOCH, Chinese language teacher, VIC