CW CSI students solve crime

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 Messenger photo by Linda Dillman
 Canal Winchester eighth graders Dean Myers, left, and Bailey McCoy, right, investigate footprints on a CSI-style science lesson with teacher Ken Phillips.

A poisoned ice cube, dog prints, white threads from a sweater, and a body outline add up to clues in an innovative Canal Winchester Middle School science lesson.

Students in Ken Phillips’ classroom were recently greeted with yellow police tape cordoning off a simulated crime scene in the middle of the room and charged with using crime scene investigation (CSI) skills to determine who committed the crime and how it was carried out.

In the midst of the floor was the outline of the victim surrounded by human and canine footprints, blood powder, fibers, soda cans, and evidence used by the middle schoolers to ferret out information, use investigative skills, and come to a conclusion. They circled the faux crime scene, making notes and gathering samples before heading to labs stationed around the classroom.

The week long science unit on scientific inquiry, knowing, and technology is part of the curriculum used by Phillips to introduce and reinforce academic content standards used on the Ohio Achievement Test.

"By covering this unit, we cover 12 of the standards and anytime we have an opportunity to teach through a hands-on approach, it makes the lesson more interesting," said Phillips. "The kids are so involved in the activity; it makes classroom management very easy.

"Five years ago, I and another teacher went to a science conference and they introduced this special investigation unit. At the time, "CSI Miami" had just come out and it was very popular. The initial planning took me a good solid week to map it all out.

"In some cases, students learn things they don’t even realize. As far as the state standards, where teachers struggle sometimes is in scientific knowing, technology, and inquiry. This lab addresses those standards. It creates a real-life situation and is really ideal and fun. When they (students) first come into the classroom the first day, their faces light up and eighth graders faces don’t light up too often."

Student detectives

Unlike the television show-where high technology equipment is used to detect fiber content, reveal fingerprints, and match images to suspects-Canal Winchester students use low-tech, readily available materials to accomplish similar tasks.

"I was excited when we started this," said student Dean Myers. "I hate learning out of a book. I like group activities and it was easier to work in a group. I liked it when we first walked in and had to piece everything together. We went from station to station testing hair and clothing, but I thought the hardest part was testing the handwriting. We learned how to solve something and what it would be like if we wanted to work in this field."

Student Bailey McCoy said she is very familiar with CSI and its spin-offs, and watches the show whenever it is on television. She said she was thrilled when she found out her class would be using similar skills in a science lesson.

"I like doing the labs and was excited because I knew we could interact with the labs and not all out of a book," said McCoy. "It was fun on the first day when we came in and saw everything on the floor, but it was hard to figure out who was the criminal. All of the suspects seemed like they could have done it, but my group figured it out. I found out how good it was to work with others and I learn better when I can do something. On the television show it looks like it’s easy, but it’s more difficult in real life."

Moving into a new building afforded Phillips the space to leave the display and labs in place and not roll everything up between classes. At the old Washington Street complex, he was forced to set labs up on student desks and spent the first 10 minutes of class keeping students from touching the displays.

In the new middle school on Lithopolis Road, labs-such as one using a plastic bag and "Super Glue" to reveal fingerprints-are set up on counters with enough space for student groups to move freely around the room.

"They can move from station to station now and I don’t have to tear down and put it back up between classes since I also teach language arts," commented Phillips. "The kids love this unit so much, I started researching other programs and in the fourth nine weeks, we’ll have another CSI-type lesson.

"I think, with this type of approach, students have a greater appreciation for technology, safety issues, and operating equipment. One of the big things is data keeping and they literally walk through the process in this. I love being able to refer back to a live situation they’ve been involved with because it makes it more concrete and I wrap up the process by having them write a confession letter, which gives them a little writing practice."

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