The Case of the Missing Corn

I came into school, as I always do on a Monday morning, filled with an odd mixture of tiredness and excitement.  Outside of my classroom window, I spotted the class garden.  Horror!  Shock!  Despair!  The class corn was gone.  All of it.  Destroyed.  Knocked down.  Pulverized.

It must have been the rain we got over the weekend.  It was a torrential downpour.  But wait?  Why were those flimsy pea plants still standing?  And the tomatoes are fine?  I went closer to investigate and I saw it.  Bite marks on a cob of corn!  An animal is responsible for this.  But who?

The kids started to slowly trickle in from the buses.  A boy was the first to notice.  He noticed the signs that foul play was involved, but he couldn’t name the guilty party.  Like a pack of hound dogs on a hunt in the woods, he gathered friends and they began to investigate and sniff out clues.  Soon, the bell rang and class was about to start.

Once inside, before our morning journal writing, I told the class about the foul play that occurred in the garden, and apologized that we won’t be able to make the roasted corn we were planning.  They were disappointed, but they held their chins high and kept their feelings in their heart.  There was nothing they could do, and they knew it.  Conversation continued about the scene.

Ss:  It was a bear.

Ss: It couldn’t have been a bear, they are too big, they would have destroyed the tomatoes.

Ss:  Something small. Maybe there are tracks?

Ss: Or maybe we can find unchi (droppings)?

Ss: Why didn’t it eat the peas?

Accusations began to fly about the perpetrator.  I gathered the group together and told them that they need to find evidence before they start accusing innocents.  Innocent until proven guilty.  They brainstormed a list of clues that they need to look for and then headed outside to investigate first hand and interview witnesses.  I stayed inside (with an open window) to take their notes and write them on the command centre board.  After, of course, we cornered off the crime scene.

Observations and notes:

  • a forest is very close to the school
  • whole stalks of corn were pulled from the ground
  • some cobs of corn were picked off the stalk, others were eaten still on the stalk
  • all of the corn was eaten, but only a couple of tomatoes were found crushed
  • there was a very hard rain the night before
  • there are bite marks in some of the corn cobs, the whole cob was bitten in half
  • there is a trail of corn leading away from the garden and behind the prefab building (that is also the way to the forest)
  • the husks were peeled off the corn cobs
  • no tracks
  • no droppings
  • no fur or hair or feathers
  • A friend of one of the students had their corn eaten recently
  • Mr Sato the school custodian saw a dead Tanuki on the side of the road two weeks ago, and recently had to build a shelter for the garbage because of animals getting into it
Once we had our observations gathered on the white board, we got down to the business of putting the story together.  It is a hard thing to do with so many passionate voices in a class, but we were able to make the following inferences (theories, conjectures)
  • must be an animal
  • must have sharp teeth to bite the corn in half
  • a lot of corn was eaten, so it is possible that this was a pack (or else we would have seen a lot of droppings)
  • must be able to stand on two legs to pull down the stalk
  • must have a small mouth because the bites in the cob were not large, but they were clean, suggesting sharp teeth
  • must be a small light animal because we cannot see any prints (however, the rain may have washed them away; same with droppings)
  • must hands dexterous to peel the husks off corn
  • it appears that they used the path between the prefab buildings to escape since we found corn shavings on the other side
We needed suspects.  Luckily, we have a few staff and students who live in the area.  We canvassed them for information.  They gave us a list of animals that they know live in the region.  We went through the list and ruled out our suspects.
  • Bears (haven’t been seen in a while, too big to handle the corn delicately)
  • Foxes (can’t grab because front legs are not used as arms)
  • Tanuki (likely suspect)
  • Wild Boars (again, hoofs make it hard to grab stalks of corn)
  • Kamoshika (same, hoofs)
  • Hakubishin (likely suspect, though hands aren’t as dexterous as the Tanuki)
  • Crows or other birds (can’t grab and pull with enough power to rip out the plant)
  • Human (they would have had to bend down and eat raw corn of the stalk and then bite the cob in two; possible but highly unlikely)
We had a list of two suspects, the Tanuki or the Hakubishin (both of which are noted tricksters in Japanese mythology).  Background checks.  I spoke to the Japanese teacher and asked if I could hijack a period for some intense research (in Japanese of course!).  The kids got the iPads out and went to work looking for anything and everything related to Tanuki and Hakubishin.
Finally, we were ready to mount our cases against the accused.  We made t-charts for each option
  • group 1 – the evidence for/against other animals
  • group 2 – the evidence for/against Tanuki
  • group 3 – the evidence for/against Hakubishin
Finally, after weighing all the evidence, we wrote a reflection about who we thought was the culprit and had a vote.  The guilty party turned out to be the Tanuki!  We have no way of knowing of course who actually did it, but we have a pretty strong case against the Tanuki.  Here is our evidence:
  • loves to eat corn
  • has hands that are dexterous and can peel
  • lives in areas with old empty buildings
  • eats in packs
  • can stand on two feet
  • has sharp teeth
  • loves areas where humans live because of the garbage
  • light and would leave no tracks
  • nocturnal, hunt at night, and wouldn’t have been noticed at all
  • The only really odd part that has us stumped is; why it left the tomatoes?
After all this hard detective work.  We decided to spend the last thirty minutes of the day making some art inspired by our day of investigation.  Some students wrote a song about the situation, others drew pictures, and some wrote fictional stories.
We never did get to those journals.
Oh well, not a bad way to spend a Monday.

About Craig

In Kyoto 京都
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4 Responses to The Case of the Missing Corn

  1. Wow! I loved this story! Why can’t all days in school be like this one.


  2. This is a great inquiry! Love it!


  3. Wow! What a great way to let student curiosity lead the day’s activities. The students were obviously very engaged and utilized a lot of skills to solve a problem very near and dear to them! What a fun post to read!


  4. liddonz says:

    What a great lesson for the kids and for other teachers! And I bet you didn’t once think about whether it was on the test 🙂


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