Learn About Literary Detectives & Real-Life Scientific Sleuths

What do famous literary detectives like Sherlock Holmes and Miss Marple have in common with real-life scientists? It’s elementary!

Super sleuths in some of our favorite books and movies rely on the same skills as chemists, microbiologists, and cyber security specialists. Scientists use their skills of observation, inference, prediction and investigation to solve mysteries in fields like medicine, history and ecology. But these skills aren’t just for adults. Kids become better problem solvers when they put on their thinking, or rather detecting, caps to investigate the world around them. From learning through play and using their senses to explore the natural world, to getting immersed in the thrills and chills of a good mystery book, children can enhance their critical thinking skills while building age-appropriate literacy, math and scientific comprehension.

Keep reading to for tips to encourage curiosity and develop problem-solving skills in kids of all ages. Learn about the history behind famous literary detectives and the amazing work of real-life scientific sleuths with the activities, books and videos below.

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Tips to Encourage Curious Kids

Encouraging Curiosity With “Elinor Wonders Why”

Grades PreK-K
Play helps children as they try to make sense of the world and is an essential part of their growth. Here are five simple ways to encourage curiosity in your preschooler.

Nurturing Your Child’s Independence

Grades PreK-3
Independence is bittersweet. Here are some ideas on how to raise a child who is loving and linked to family and who pushes forward to find their place in the larger world.

How to Raise a Good Problem-Solver

Grades PreK-3
Helping children become good problem-solvers from their earliest years is a gift that keeps on giving. The ability to manage their frustration and be persistent in muscling through a challenge will serve them well now and far into the future.

Welcoming Wonder (And Endless Questions!) With Kids

Grades PreK-5
Kids ask amazing — and often perplexing — questions about, well, everything. As grown-ups, we often feel the pressure to have all the answers, whether our kids are wondering about why dandelions are yellow or why the sun sets later in the summer. But instead of pulling out just the right answer to their curiosities, what if parents sat in wonder with the youngest among us instead? Here are six simple ways to incorporate wonder into your family life!

Daring Fictional Detectives & Real-Life Scientific Sleuths

Dr. Brooke Crowley: Chemistry Detective | Science Around Cincy

Grades 3-8
Dr. Brooke Crowely from the University of Cincinnati isn’t an ordinary scientist—she’s a chemistry detective—reconstructing ancient food webs using lemur bones from over 10,000 years ago!

Hot Shots & Hot Jobs: Cyber Security Analysts Fight Crime | Science Matters

Grades 3-12
Worms. Trojan Horses. Hackers and Clouds. It is not what’s happening in the movies, but what’s happening in cyberspace – that area that connects all of us and our computers to the internet and each other. Learn about the vital role played by Cyber Security Analysts, like Sarah Demeria, in the growing field of Cyber Security.

Art of the Short Story | Edgar Allan Poe: Buried Alive

Grades 6-12
Learn about the rise of mass media and the popularity of the short story in this video from the American Masters film Edgar Allan Poe: Buried Alive. Poe wrote more than seventy short stories, is credited as one of the first literary critics of American literature, and was the original creator of the detective fiction genre. In his character, detective C. Auguste Dupin, Poe invented a new breed of literary hero, laying the groundwork for other famous detectives like Nero Wolfe, Sherlock Holmes, and Hercule Poirot.

The Secret Life of Scientists & Engineers | Ian Lipkin

Grades 6-12
Meet microbe hunter Ian Lipkin in this video profile from NOVA scienceNOW: The Secret Life of Scientists & Engineers. As a child, Lipkin read a lot of Sherlock Holmes stories. He was inspired by Holmes to become a detective in the world of infectious diseases and find out why people get sick and what we can do about it. Through his role as script advisor on Hollywood movie sets, Lipkin has been able to explain science to the public. This work has also had a positive impact on the response to public health crises worldwide.

The Hound of the Baskervilles 1: Meet Sherlock Holmes

Grades 9-12
Investigate the iconic and much-beloved character of Sherlock Holmes, as well as the mystery genre, in this excerpt from MASTERPIECE’s 2002 version of The Hound of the Baskervilles. As students are introduced to Holmes, they use their own analytical skills to understand the methods and characteristics of the famous detective, the history of the mystery genre, and why Sherlock Holmes, in particular, has continued to fascinate and engage audiences.

Activities, Books & More!

Be Sound Detectives!

Grades PreK-3
Play this simple game with your child to explore how one action or event causes another. Create mystery sounds with objects from around the house and see if you can figure out what’s causing the sounds!

It’s Elementary! Books for Junior Detectives

Grades PreK-4
They’re not named Agatha Christie or Mary Higgins Clark, but young readers definitely have their favorite mystery writers. Check out these recommended mysteries for armchair detectives ages 0-9 to find books that’ll interest and intrigue them.

Make Mystery Footprints

Grades K-3
Detectives often look for clues, like footprints, to help them solve a case. Using the sole of a shoe as the “stamp” and the paint as the “ink,” create a trail of footprints to examine together.

Jo Wilder and the Capitol Case

Grades 3-5
Jo Wilder and the Capitol Case  engages  students  as “history detectives.” This game from PBS Wisconsin Education is designed for students to develop skills in critical thinking and historical inquiry. Players use the same process as real historians to solve mysteries about artifacts from Wisconsin’s history and use evidence to prove their case. 

SciGirls | Super Sleuths

Grades 3-8
No matter how much someone tries to clean up after committing a crime, he or she will leave something behind and take something away from the scene. This idea is known as Locard’s Exchange Principle and is why a small amount of material, known as trace evidence, is collected at a crime scene. In this activity, students will collect trace evidence (glitter) and explore some of its class (or group) characteristics, such as color, size, shape, and light reflection.