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Anastasia—Dead or Alive

Classroom Activity

To use observation skills to identify a mystery student's ear.

Materials for each team
  • copy of "Whose Ear Is It?" student handout (PDF or HTML)
  1. One of the empirical tests conducted on Anna Anderson was on the shape of her ears. To give students practice in the precise observation needed for this type of test, conduct this activity. Divide the class into pairs and distribute the "Whose Ear Is It?" student handouts to each student. Each student should record data about the partner's left ear. Create a class chart of ear data. Discuss the accuracy of the ear comparisons. How many ears in the class are very similar? How likely is it that two or more people would have such similar ears that a positive identification of one of them would be impossible?

  2. Next, quietly select one student from the class to be the subject of the mystery. The subject will need to play along with the drama to avoid being recognized. Make a photocopy of the student's left ear, making sure earrings are removed and that the student's hair is pulled back from the ear. Be sure the student's eyes are tightly closed. Reduce the image to make it more difficult to identify.

  3. Give a copy of the student's ear to each pair of students. Explain that the size of the photocopy may be different than in the data they collected, but the ratios are the same. Ask students to compare data from the photocopy to all of the ear data collected in class to look for a match. After the subject is identified, discuss the challenge. Which features were the easiest or most difficult to identify? How did students narrow down the possibilities? How did this exercise help them understand researchers' difficulty in proving Anna Anderson's identity?

Activity Answer

Since every ear is unique, students should only find one ear that matches the photocopied ear. However, there are certainly similarities from one person to another. If the students find some ears in the class that are very similar to the photocopied ear, they should also realize that interpretation of images like this is a difficult and precise process. There is an advantage in this type of situation of working in teams as the scientists do in the program to assure the accuracy of their findings. After completing this activity, students should understand that one piece of data, such as the width of the ear, is not enough to make a conclusion because more than one ear could match the same type of data. Similarly, they should understand that scientists use more than one method to gather information and confirm hypotheses to ensure the accuracy of their hypotheses.

Teacher's Guide
Anastasia—Dead or Alive

Video is not required for this activity