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by Steven R. Wills

Mind-Boggling Astronomy

Why? How? When? And all that good stuff…


Teacher’s Guide

Teaching Suggestions for
The Science of SPYING

      Article / Page

"Keeping Our Nation Safe: The Serious Spy Game," pg. 6
  • Our national security depends on accurate intelligence. Today, the CIA and the FBI use advanced technologies to collect information, but intelligence gathering in the U.S. dates back to the American Revolution.
  • Vocabulary, Historical Context
"Peeking Through the Keyhole," pg. 8
  • Satellite reconnaissance began during the Cold War and has improved with advances in photographic technology. Pictures taken from space find applications in defense, forest management, disaster recovery, and city planning. In "People to Discover" (page 10), ODYSSEY interviews the project manager of ASTER, a part of NASA’s Earth Observing System.
  • Vocabulary, Applications
"Trading Faces: The Art and Science of Disguise," pg. 13
  • The art of disguise belies an agent’s language, dress, and mannerisms. The science employs technology to make forged documents and altered faces convincing. Tony Mendez, former CIA Chief of Disguise, reveals a few tricks of the trade.
  • Vocabulary, Process Analysis
"True Lies?" pg. 16
  • A polygraph monitors vital signs, and it can be fooled. Functional magnetic resonance imaging of brain activity may work better as a "lie detector." A sidebar (pg. 17) explains how an expert infers deception from facial expressions.
  • Inductive Reasoning, Cause and Effect
"Information Technology Warfare," pg. 19
  • The FBI uses a computer system to read and analyze criminals’ e-mail, while defense strategists use an even more powerful system to monitor electronic communication worldwide. Computer programs also compare faces to photographs in a database of known terrorists and criminals.
  • Applications, Extrapolation
"The Secret Writing That Helped Forge a Nation," pg. 21
  • The Cupler Ring and invisible writing helped George Washington defeat the British in the American Revolution.
  • Historical Context, Applications
"The Last Case of S.P. O’Nahge" pg. 24
  • Is secret agent S.P. O’Nahge leaving the spy biz? Miss Takes doesn’t think so. Use a word bank of spy terms to complete this secret agent’s story.
  • Vocabulary, Context Clues
"Play the Spy Game!" (Activity), pg. 27
  • Learn to decipher codes, make invisible ink, and eavesdrop on secret conversations.
  • Problem-solving
"Hollywood Spies," pg. 30
  • Everybody likes a good spy flick. Here are some of the best, from the paranoid 1950s to the cynical 2000s.
  • Historical Context, Literary Analysis
"Find the Bugs!" (Brain Strain), pg. 32
  • How many bugs are in each room? This puzzle needs a mathematically inclined exterminator!
  • Following Directions, Inductive Reasoning
"What Does He Know?" pg. 33
  • Peter Earnest is now the executive director of the International Spy Museum, but he used to be an intelligence officer for the CIA. In this interview, he talks about a career dealing with everything from the Cold War to terrorism.
  • Historical Context, Vocabulary
"The REAL Toys!", pg. 35
  • Spies wouldn’t be quite so cool if they didn’t have all those great toys to play with. Here is a sample, from imitation dog poop to $5,000 lie detectors. A sidebar (pg. 37) offers two ways to measure the sneakiness quotient.
  • Applications, Following Directions
"Destination: The International Spy Museum" (Place to Discover), pg. 38
  • Take a tour of the world’s first museum dedicated solely to international espionage.
  • Historical Context, Drawing Inferences
"Science at the CIA," pg. 40
  • Go behind the scenes at the CIA’s Directorate of Science and Technology to see how high-tech innovations have given the United States the edge (so far) in international espionage. A sidebar (pg. 41) challenges ODYSSEY readers to dream up spying inventions of their own.
  • Applications, Extrapolation
"What’s Up & Planet Watch," pg. 42; "Make a Stellar Notebook" (Activity), pg. 43
  • In September, Mars will be at its brightest in the evening. Before dawn, look for Saturn, Jupiter, and – at the end of the month – Mercury. Compile a notebook of your star sightings.
  • Observation, Following Directions
Think Tank (Discussion Starters to Use Before Reading the Magazine):
  1. What do spies really do? Talk about what the daily lives of real secret agents must be like. Make two lists on the chalkboard comparing real life with images from radio and TV. Title one list "I think they really do . . . ", and the other list "I think they really don’t . . . "
  2. Spies have been at work as long as humans have been in conflicts. How have spies had a positive influence on human history? In what ways has their impact been negative?
Classroom "Syzygy":     Talk, Connect, Assess
Pg. 8 – "Peeking Through the Keyhole"
  • Talk It Over:
    1. How does intelligence gathering by satellite help ease world tensions? How might it increase or worsen them?
    2. For what nondefense purposes are satellite images used? How do they help protect the environment and assist people in need?
  • Connections:
    1. Mathematics: The LACROSSE radar satellite can produce a clear image of any object five feet or more in length, width, or diameter. Measure objects in an outdoor area. Draw a scale diagram of the area as LACROSSE would "see" it from above.
    2. History: It’s embarrassing to be caught spying – and dangerous! In your library and on the Internet, research the infamous U-2 spy plane affair of 1960. Write a report on the events and outcomes of this tense moment in Cold War history.
    3. Language Arts: Use one of the satellite images from the magazine or select one from another source. Write a "tour guide" of your image, pointing out important details and discussing their significance.
  • Student Assessment:
    1. Write an essay that compares and contrasts any two types of satellite images mentioned in the article. Define and describe both techniques clearly. Discuss advantages and limitations.
    2. Would the world be safer or more dangerous if no one spied? State your opinion in a speech or essay. Provide evidence to support your point of view.
pg. 16 – "True Lies"
  • Talk It Over:
    1. What did you think about lie detectors before you read the article? What do you think now? Are they more reliable than you thought, or less? In what ways?
    2. Is it right to force a person to take a lie detector test? What ethical and legal limits do you think should be placed on this process? When (if ever) does a person have a right or an obligation to lie? When (if ever) does a person have a right to refuse a lie detector test?
  • Connections:
    1. Science: Master spies can learn to fool polygraph tests. Can you? Work with a partner. Measure your breathing rates and heart rates. Build and use a device to measure galvanic skin response. (You’ll find instructions at Over several weeks, conduct controlled trials to compare your lying and truth-telling measurements. Draw graphs showing how well (or how poorly) you learn to change your body’s response to the stress of prevarication.
    2. Art/Drawing: Reread the sidebar "You Can’t Hide Your Lying Eyes" (pg. 17). Conduct library and Internet research on the topic of body language. Use what you find out to prepare a series of drawings or posters showing how certain posture and facial expressions expose the truth when people lie.
    3. Creative Writing: You are a detective trying to solve the murder of a wealthy old man. You have four suspects: the man’s wife, his son (an only child), his sister (live-in), and the family butler. Each tells a convincing story of innocence, but you know one is lying. Write a mystery story complete with characters, setting, and plot. Use the science of lie detection (not a polygraph) to solve the case.
  • Student Assessment:
    1. Write an essay to contrast the myth and the reality of polygraph tests.
    2. Who is the best at keeping a "poker face"? Select a series of obscure words from the dictionary. Appoint five volunteers to serve as members of an "expert" panel. For each word, have four panelists offer convincing – but false – definitions, while another gives the correct one. For each word, decide who’s telling the truth. Keep a data table and make a graph of "hits" and "misses." Who’s the best liar?

Far Out!: Moving Beyond the Magazine (Special Hidden Message Edition): Find the secret message hidden in these lines.

There is meaning entered in some ancient stories.

Individual Class Activity: Have a Disguise Party. Give each student a week to plan and create a disguise for the event. Award prizes in categories such as best overall disguise, best disguise as a member of the opposite sex, most natural disguise, etc.

Pretend you see beyond each simple thing.

Community Connection: Invite a private investigator to come and talk to the class. Ask if the detective has ever spied on anyone. If so, what laws or ethical codes must be followed? Ask how real investigative work differs from the images portrayed on television and in the movies. (As an alternative, ask an attorney to speak to the class about laws that restrict the invasion of privacy. When can the police, for example, stake out a suspect or tap a telephone?)

For results, insist every night, day, or resting weekend offer real safety.

Small-Group Collaborative Activity: Plan and hold a "Spy Fair" for another class or for your school. Work in groups to set up and staff booths devoted to specific topics, such as codes and code-breaking, the Cold War, spy cameras, and listening devices.

The ending never even misses you!

Whole-Class Project: Write and publish a newspaper on espionage and distribute it to other classes. Include news articles, editorials, comics, and a crossword. Hide a coded message somewhere in the paper, and give a prize to the first person who deciphers it. Can your class members keep the secret from other students through the contest’s end? If not, maybe a career in spying is not for them.

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Last modified: September 30, 2003