Saturday, September 8, 2012

Logic Class is underway....

Our beginning Logic class has been meeting for a few weeks now.  Here's a look at some of the things we've been discussing:

Information for first class:

Introduction to Fiction

There are five basic elements in the detective story: the milieu (which is the world surrounding the characters, not only the setting but also culture and society, government and religion, family and traditions, everything), the victim, the criminal, the suspects, and the detective(s). 

The plot centers around the question of who done it, which keeps the reader’s attention, building excitement from the elimination of several suspects to the surprise ending - the key to a good detective story.  The actual criminal is finally caught and brought to justice.  As the student reads the novel, following the detective’s lead, his/her own logic and reasoning skills are sharpened.

There are some examples of stories from ancient times that arguably fit the general definition of the detective genre; however, true detective fiction is more often considered in the English -speaking world to have begun in 1841 with the publication of "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," by Edgar Allen Poe, featuring the first fictional detective, the eccentric and brilliant C. Auguste Dupin.  Poe devised a plot formula that's been successful ever since, give or take a few shifting variables.  Poe followed with further Auguste Dupin tales: The Mystery of Marie Roget in 1843 and The Purloined Letter in 1845.  (I believe it is this last one that is highlighted on the Jim Weiss CD that I recommended.  Mr. Weiss also has out a Sherlock Holmes CD that contains more of his stories….)

Poe referred to his stories as “tales of ratiocination.”   In stories such as these, the primary concern of the plot is determining truth, and the usual means of obtaining the truth is a complex and mysterious process combining intuitive logic, astute observation, and discerning inference.

Some others argue that Wilkie Collins, writer of longer detective novels, was actually the father of the modern detective story rather than Poe (who we might designate as father of the short story….)  Collins wrote The Woman in White, and The Moonstone, which you might also like to check out some time if you decide you really like detective stories.  The Notting Hill Mystery, Charles Felix (author’s actual name is Charles Warren Adams), is another early masterpiece of detective fiction.  As you get older and begin reading more adult novels, you might like to explore one of the great authors from the golden age of detective fiction: Agatha Christie.  If you do begin to read Christie, pay attention to how different her writing seems than some of these other authors.  After reading a book or two of hers, you might like to look up information on the “Christie Code.”

The game of “Clue” was developed using elements of the popular detective genre.  If you haven’t played it for a while, you might like to give it a try!


Setting:  For our first week in class, please read the Sherlock Holmes story “A Case of Identity.”  I believe you will find it rather odd, as the setting is a world very different from our own.  Most of these stories are set in London in the late 1800’s.  Think about this.  England was the center of the industrial revolution that led us into the modern age.  It was also the greatest colonial power in the world at this time.  In spite of this, our world has changed so much (just in the past ten years) that much of what you will read in this story seems terribly old fashioned!

Period of authorship:  These stories are not only set in the late 1800’s, but were actually written during that period, so they must have seemed very fresh and modern to readers at the time  (in the way that many people enjoy CSI or other “modern” crime shows today, although I detest the inaccuracies in that particular show, but I digress….)

Writing style:  I think you will notice something that is found in many books written during that time period.  Education at that time was very different than it is today.  Many people at that time had what was called a “classical education,” which often involved learning at least 3 languages, among other things.  You will see regular references in the Sherlock Holmes stories that were at that time the mark of any well educated person.  The words and phrases from French and Latin would have been more widely recognized at that time than they perhaps are today.  Also, writers of that time used a wider vocabulary (always more interesting, I think) and more complex sentence structure (called syntax).

Vocabulary:  As you read this story, please note these words or phrases and try to find out what they mean.  If you read a story without really understanding a lot of the words or references in it, you are missing out!  In a detective story, this might cause you to miss out on clues that will help you solve the mystery, so please note these:

outre’ (page one, I believe, although if you’re reading different versions of this story then your page numbers may vary)

affair de coeur (page 3)

oscillating (page 3)

vacuous face (page 5)

axiom of mine (page 8)

pince-nez (page 12)

denouement (page 15)

voila’ tout! (page 21)

Make a Prediction!

When you get to page 15, stop at the top of the page, at the end of that first paragraph that is carried over from page 14.  Watson says that he came back to Holmes’ house the next evening to see if he had solved the mystery….

Now, make your prediction based on the facts of the story thus far.  Jot them down so that you can remember later, for our discussion purposes, what you think is occurring here.  Write down what facts you base your predictions upon, etc.

What do you think happened to Mr. Angel?

Now finish the story.  Was the end what you expected?  Do you understand why all involved agree that no crime had been committed in this case?  Do you agree with this?  Do you think that this would constitute a crime today?

Red Herrings

Look up the definition of the term “red herring” and be ready to discuss it in class.  Many detective stories include red herrings.  Why?  Did you note any in this story?

(For more information on required reading for the class, please see my earlier post:;postID=6631183813679481067 )


During the first class, we talked a little about mankind's enduring interest in riddles and codes. We used some of the Mind Bender Warm-ups puzzles, which are very simplistic, to get them thinking about solving puzzles using clues.

Mind Benders Verbal (Grades K-2) - was Mind Benders Warm Up

After the warm-up, we talked through several of the riddles from A Case of Red Herrings. These are meant to be used in a group and are a sort of twenty question game in which I can only answer 'yes' or 'no' in helping them narrow down possible answers (although I've had to do a bit more than that in getting them used to the game....)

A Case of Red Herrings: Solving Mysteries through Critical Questioning, Book B1 (Grades 7-Adult)

I showed them how to work a grid puzzle, and gave them four additional grid puzzles to work prior to returning to class from the Mind Benders A1 series.

Mind Benders® A1 - Click for Preview

I also gave them two sheets that contain some number logic puzzles.   These came from a Sherlock Holmes' workbook I found at Dover.  One had more introductory notes on Sherlock Holmes and a simple number sequencing puzzle. The other had codes on both sides.   I encouraged them to seek out more information from the library on codes and try creating their own to share in class.  We did talk a little about symbolic, or numerical logic, and at the end of class we played a little SET, which is a symbolic logic game.

Sherlock Holmes Activity Book (Dover Children's Activity Books)  

We talked a little about red herrings and how that term is used in logic debates or in the world of advertising, politics, etc. vs. how it might be used within a detective story.  I also talked a little about deductive reasoning and how it differs from inductive reasoning. 

We will follow this same approach each week: discussing the elements of the assigned story a little; doing some verbal logic puzzles; discussing the answers to the logic grids or puzzles completed at home during the week; playing some SET or other logic related games, etc.

I provided  a list of some library books covering codes that we have at our local library:
Top Secret, Paul Janeczko (re: codes, ciphers, and secret writing)

The Master Spy Handbook, Rain Newcomb
Math Trek: Adventures in the Math Zone, Ivars Peterson - this one is more than just codes! It includes fractals, chaos theory and more VERY cool stuff!

The Cat's Elbow and Other Secret Languages, Alvin Schwartz (Pig Latin, need I say more?)
Destroy After Reading, the World of Secret Codes, Mary Colsen

Assignment for second class: 

"The Red-headed League"

Here is some more vocabulary that you might want to pay attention to and look up as you read this week’s story.  Again you are seeing lots of Latin and French words and expressions sprinkled throughout these stories:
Page 25 – Omne ignotum pro magnifico
Page 33 – foolscap
Page 36 – introspective
Page 38 – conundrums
Page 44 – partie carree’
Page 44 (and other places in the story) – rubber
Page 48 – ennui, and the phrase: L’homme c’est rien – l’ouvre c’est tout
At page 40, stop and write down what you think is going to happen in this story, then read to the end to see if you guessed correctly.  In case your page numbers are different, stop at the point where Watson says “It was a quarter-past nine when I started from home and made my way across the Park, and so through Oxford Street to Baker Street.”
Think about clues you are given in the story as you read.  I’ll give you one clue and you look for others in your reading.  Basements weren’t always finished concrete structures as they are today.  Have you ever been in a very old house or other type of building that had a dirt basement?  Builders used to (and still do, sometimes) simply dig out a whole in the ground, shaping the walls out of the dirt.  They would leave the basement dirt, rather than pouring concrete floors and walls, and it would stay cool.  People often used these “root cellars” to store fruits and vegetables to keep them cool in the days before refrigeration or freezers.   Imagine the basement of the pawn shop as just such a cellar….
There are lots of things to think about… why would Mr. Wilson’s worker (Spaulding) be willing to work for half wages (half of what most men made in a day at that time)?
Has Mr. Wilson seen all the pictures that Spaulding is developing in the cellar?
Who brought the advertisement for the Red-headed League to Mr. Wilson’s attention?
What did Holmes and Watson find out when they took a walk around the block surrounding the pawn shop?  Put on your thinking caps and decipher those clues!
Here are a few online logic based puzzles to try:

These involve more numeric logic:

Here's a set of the riddle type that are rated from easy to difficult:
In class, we talked about the elements of a good detective story:
First, the crime must be significant, worthy of the attention it receives. Most stories involve
murder, though Conan Doyle tied the majority of his crimes to greed and theft.
Second, the detective must be in some way a memorable character. He or she must be very
intelligent, of course, unusually clever and observant, but also quirky, possessing perhaps some
odd idiosyncrasies that distinguish him or her. Kojak’s lollipop, Columbo’s crumpled raincoat,
James Bond’s unruffled cool and high-tech gadgets, all of these things make the hero somehow
Third, along with an exceptional detective, there must be an outstanding opponent, a criminal
clever enough to be a match for the hero. Solving the crime can’t be too easy.
Fourth, because a large part of the attraction of a detective story is the opportunity for the reader
to try to figure out the solution along with the detective, all suspects of the crime must be
introduced early in the story, and
Fifth, all clues the detective discovers must be made available to the reader also.
Finally, at the end of the story, the solution must seem obvious, logical, and possible. The crime
must not have resulted from accident or supernatural intervention, and the detective must be able
to explain all aspects of the case in a reasonable way. A fine detective story should meet each
one of these standards.
Because they all found the first set of logic puzzles I sent home too easy, I moved them into the second book, A2.  Once we find a set that proves tricky for them to work, we'll slow down and move through that series.  (None of these children had done logic puzzles before, or so I was told before class began, so I didn't know how they would do with them.  Also, I have a mix of kids in class, from age 8-12.)

We continued talking about Red Herrings and added the Straw Man fallacy to the mix. We talked a little about deductive and inductive reasoning and I game them some work from the Sherlock Holmes book which involved simple puzzles using deductive skills. We'll build on these as we move through the course, adding more types of fallacies and continuing practice at recognizing the ones we've already discussed.   I encouraged them to watch upcoming political debates, commercials, etc. to look for fallacies.  We played a little SET, again, at the end of class. 

I am using The Fallacy Detective to talk about logical fallacies with them, as well as some online material.
The Fallacy Detective: Thirty-Six Lessons on How to Recognize Bad Reasoning, 2nd Edition
Assignment for third class:

For our third class, I asked them to read our first Father Brown story: "The Blue Cross:"

These stories use footnotes. When you see a tiny number following a word or sentence, you will find the explanation for it at the very end of the story - not the end of the chapter, but the end of the entire story.
I don't see the same sort of unexpected vocabulary here that we find in the Sherlock Holmes stories, so I asked each of them to choose five words they ran across in their reading that they didn't immediately recognize.  I also asked them to make sure to note what page in the story these words were on so that we could talk about usage in context if need be....
You will find a couple of interesting names in this story: Valentin is a common enough male name in Europe.   You may recognize the word if you think of St. Valentine, who gave us Valentine's Day.... Father Brown is a rather plain, non-descript sort of name.   Do you think it matches the description of the little priest given in chapter two?
And what about the criminal - Flambeau? Look up that word to see what it means....
What are your expectations of Father Brown after reading about him in chapter two?   What about after finishing Valentin's musings on him in chapter 7?   Is he just a poor little bumbler?
In the end, who is the master detective responsible for the capture of the elusive Flambeau?
Do you see a red herring (smelt, cod, etc.) in this story, designed to throw you off track?
I'm continuing to move them ahead in the level of logic puzzles I'm sending home with them until we find a place where they are experiencing more difficulty.   I have them working with mostly three dimensional puzzles now, so perhaps they will find those at least a little more challenging.  In the meantime, if they want more challenge in those types of puzzles, I hope they will utilize the online resources that I have suggested over the past few weeks.  I just ordered a couple of other books to look at to see if they contain more complex puzzles....  I guess I'll be moving them into the A3 book puzzles next week.  I'm just afraid that they're going to get into the B level puzzles and suddenly find those too difficult....

I'm a little perplexed with this class at this time, because I can't seem to get them to solve verbal puzzles through the Red Herrings book I'm utilizing in class, but they tell me the grid puzzles are too easy!  Perhaps the visual aspect of the grid puzzles makes them simpler to solve than purely verbal puzzlers - I'm just not sure right now....

I had them work some assorted logic puzzles this week.  These are from Discovery Toys, but I don't see them currently offered by the company.  We again ended the class with them playing a little SET.  They are getting better at it!

Assignment for fourth class:
I asked them to go back to their Sherlock Holmes book for next week and read "The Mystery of the Blue Carbuncle." Of course, the first thing I'd like them to do is determine what a "carbuncle" might be.... Here's some additional vocabulary that I'd like them to define as they move through the story:
Page 52 - inferences - look at the additional info I'm sending you (below) regarding the difference between induction and deduction. What does it mean to "deduce" something? Do you sometimes see Doyle using these terms interchangeably even though they really mean different things?
Page 53 - think about fallacies of old that have now been debunked by modern science: does a large head always equal a large brain (in terms of IQ level)?
Page 58 - "vitriol-throwing"
Page 60 - disjecta membra (should be pretty obvious to you from the context of the conversation, but it's another Latin term...)
And what about the way this particular story ends? Do you think the solving of the crime is more likely due to a happy chance, rather than any sort of sound detective work?  How else might this crime have been solved?   Do you think the chances were pretty good that it might not be solved at all?
Here's a good exercise for the inductive/deductive reasoning we've been discussing:
With regard to the logical fallacies we've been discussing in class, here's a good exercise for them to look at how the straw man fallacy is often used in politics:
This is a little You Tube animated video that includes not only the straw man fallacy, but also appeal to the people and slippery slope fallacies which we will be talking about next week. Please try to take a look at it:
...and, pretty irrelevant, but I couldn't resist the red herring:
More relevant, and this one also talks about how a red herring differs from a straw man fallacy:
With regard to the logic puzzles they've been working, here's a word puzzle you might like to try (you can change the length of the words):
Here's a whole set of different types of online codes to attempt to crack:
(These are from the CIA and FBI.)
And here's how the FBI investigates cases:
History of cryptography:
A secret code maker that can help you learn how to create your own secret codes:
I am hopeful someone else will find this information useful.  I must say that I'm really not at all happy with how this class is going at this point.  Perhaps things will change.... Right now, I'm racking my brain trying to figure out what else I can do in an attempt to engage the children in this class as about half of them seem uninterested.  Perhaps it is just the mix of personalities and ages, but I've never had a class go quite so poorly and I'm just not quite sure what to do....  If in reading over this you happen to have any ideas to help me, then I'd appreciate hearing those!

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