A mystery is unfolding at Chatham Middle School this summer and students are using science, math, reading, and writing to solve it! More than 30 middleschoolers are taking advantage of the CMS Crime Scene Investigation Summer Academy (inspired by the CSI television series) to learn about real-world investigative practices and stay sharp academically over the summer months.
On July 24, the students enjoyed a visit from the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office evidence collection team. Chatham’s School Resource Deputy, K.C. Bauhoff, introduced the students to Investigator William Dunspaugh, First Sergeant Don Krapf, and Deputy Todd Hyson, who brought along some of their evidence-gathering equipment and talked to the students about how they collect forensic evidence from crime scenes, including fingerprints, DNA, footprints, and tire tracks. Investigator Dunspaugh explained that a lot of the forensic science depicted in TV police dramas is closer to science fiction than it is to the actual methods police use to process evidence, and that real forensics require a lot of time, attention to detail, and patience.
The officers encouraged the students to try on the special clothing they wear on crime scenes to avoid contaminating any evidence and to protect themselves from harmful substances. Each student also got to dust for fingerprints and lift them onto clear adhesive tape, the way police do to preserve the prints as evidence.
The visit from the Sheriff’s Office was a great way for the students to expand on what they have been learning this summer. At the start of the program, the students arrived to find a crime scene their teachers had set up for them on the auditorium stage. They spent the day sketching the area and collecting evidence for later analysis and laboratory testing. Apparently, a local restauranteur, who had inherited a chain of pizzerias and a large sum of money from his recently deceased parents, was found dead on the stage shortly after he hosted a party there for himself and four of his friends. However, his body disappeared on the way to the morgue and rumors now abound that he may have faked his own death. Only CSI Chatham can solve this mystery!
The students have been learning about four suspects (who bear a striking resemblance to faculty members Mr. Burns, Mr. Connelly, Mr. Richard, and Mr. Christensen) and through investigative police work have uncovered possible motives and other clues as to who the perpetrator may be. They are currently using the evidence they have collected to build a criminal case against one or more of the suspects.
To go along with solving this mystery, the class as been reading The Westing Game, a Newbery Award winning mystery novel by Ellen Raskin. Along with vocabulary and critical discussion relating to this book, they have been exploring key elements of mystery writing. The program has also focused on investigative reporting and students are currently writing newspaper articles that cover key events in the CMS investigation and the upcoming trial.
Whodunit? We will soon find out! The program wraps up with a mock trial during which the students will present their evidence to a faculty jury, who will then determine the guilt or innocence of the accused. The “Trial of the Summer” is set for July 31 in the CMS Court of Law.