Crime Solvers: Tupelo Middle students learn through hands-on puzzle

TUPELO – The curriculum called for a lesson on the scientific method.
Teachers at Tupelo Middle School decided to teach it in the context of a murder mystery.
Last week and this week, eighth-grade students at the school are analyzing hair samples, measuring the length of maggots and determining blood types as they sift through clues provided to solve the crime.
“By the time we finish two weeks, we will have done 10 labs,” said Tupelo Middle School science teacher Judy Harden. “They get to see the scientific method at work.
“I think it is a perfect way to teach inquiry.”
Harden began using the crime scene investigation lesson four years ago after receiving a grant from the Association for Excellence in Education. A subsequent grant from Goody’s has helped supplement it, as has a 21st-Century Community Learning Center grant awarded to TMS Principal Kristy Luse.
This year, it is being used by all of the eighth-grade science classes, both general and pre-advanced placement. Some classes have to determine who murdered the town’s mayor, others must solve the case of the deadly picnic.
“Inquiry-based science and the scientific method is the hardest science to teach because there are not enough hands-on examples,” said eighth-grade science teacher Summer Allen, whose classroom is now decorated in yellow crime-scene tape.
“This is a way to start the year off and get them to know the process.”
The students rotate through various stations to obtain clues. At one, they must analyze a set of tire tracks left by the perpetrator and compare it with images of the tires of various suspects. At another, they must measure the length of several maggots to figure out how long the body had been dead.
“Opinions are important but that doesn’t prove innocence or guilt,” Allen told her students. “You have to have data backing you up.”
Eighth-grader Jamie Cook, 13, said her favorite part was lifting and studying fingerprints.
Classmate Hannah Wright, 13, said she enjoyed analyzing the clues.
“I watch NCIS, so I love all this stuff,” she said, referring to the television show that features special agents from the U.S. Navy who investigate various crimes. Other students said they felt like they were on CSI, the TV show about crime scene investigation.
Students also analyze various hair samples to determine who committed the crime. Harden’s students will look at DNA and a dissected pig as part of the exercise.
“It is fun because I’ve always liked to use microscopes,” said eighth-grader Luke Tucker, 13. “I’ve been interested in science and the body.”
Once they finish examining the clues, the students will hold a trial in which they will present evidence, and their teacher will serve as a judge. The students must convince the judge which person is guilty.
“They will justify each lab and who they think committed the crime,” Harden said. “That is real higher-level thinking.”
The students also will write a two-page paper, as well as a district attorney report and a police report.
“They think they are just having fun, but it is really one of the hardest things to do,” Allen said.
chris.kieffer@journalinc.com

Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal