Seventh graders become crime-scene sleuths |

Seventh graders become crime-scene sleuths

Taylor Eisenman, of the Record staff

As the seventh graders lined up for lunch at Ecker Hill International Middle School Thursday, an announcement rang out that an audio recording of the thief and the stolen ice cream cart had been discovered. For a brief moment the room was quiet.

As the recording played, school resource officer Corporal Ron Bridge was spotted chasing an anonymous person with an ice cream cart on the second floor. The students follow the action, some standing on their seats to see, while others ran around to get the best view of the chase.

Teachers manned the stairways to ensure that what happened during last year’s lunchroom sighting for the Crime Scene Investigation (CSI) unit didn’t happen again. "Last year the kids got up and ran and chased the police officer and almost caught him," seventh-grade English teacher Liz Thompson said.

Thompson, along with fellow seventh-grade English teacher Emily Sutherland, co-coordinated the CSI unit for the entire seventh-grade class. Four subjects science, math, English and Utah studies are participating with related lesson plans.

"Each subject went through the core [state curriculum] to figure out how to connect skills in the core to this unit," said Thompson, whose own students are studying the history of mystery novels, reading and discussing them and, once all their clues are gathered and their theories finalized, creating iMovies about "who done it" as in the TV show "Unsolved Mysteries."

She said showing how the information can connect across subjects is a part of the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Program’s focus, which is based on teaching by integrating content.

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"For a lot of kids, having those connections makes their learning much stronger," she said. "I can see the retention for kids is higher when we can integrate."

Sutherland added, "It helps them see that their teachers are on the same page, and it creates a bigger picture."

Sutherland is taking a journalistic approach for her students by having her students write news articles about the case. She said because she found a way to connect to the core early on, participating in the CSI unit really hasn’t taken up much more time than starting any other new unit.

What impresses Sutherland about the CSI unit is the newfound ambition students have. "They want the satisfaction of solving it, so this has been motivating them in the classroom to do things they might not otherwise care about," she said.

Seventh-grade science teacher Marnie Moody agreed that by having a mystery to solve, the students are more engaged and interested, especially because it "brings real-world stuff into the classroom."

In Moody’s class, students are analyzing collected evidence to help solidify a suspect. They are identifying fingerprints, examining fibers, learning about chromatography and doing powder analysis.

Seventh-grader Harley Grinpas said the science experiments have been her favorite part of the unit so far. "It was very cool," she said. "It’s fun to look at it and draw conclusions, but it does suck that they stole the ice cream and not bananas or something like that."

Her classmate, Sierra Shearer, is also disappointed about the lack of ice cream, especially since she thinks she’s already solved the crime. "I’ve been getting the same people over and over, so, I think I’ve solved it, but there are still lots of things to do," she said.

The unit began Monday when students came back from their week-long break to discover a crime scene in the cafeteria. An emergency seventh-grade assembly was held where Bridge told the students the story of the stolen cart and who the suspects were.

Bridge said he is enjoying this role. "Interacting with the students is good," he said. "It shows them that I’m not just here to be the mean cop. It shows them that I am a normal person."

He added that he’s even had students come up to him asking why he hasn’t caught the robber yet.

The teachers and staff suspects are posted on school walls with mug shots. Thompson said they tried to pick people the kids would know in some way.

Besides real-life sightings like the one on Thursday, students get their clues from the announcements and the blog: . Thompson added that some clues are only posted in Spanish or French, and some clues are only posted online to encourage the students to check the blog,.

Using this deductive reasoning every day keeping the kids engaged and excited is one of the reasons Thompson said they decided not only to do the CSI unit again this year (last year was the first time they tried it), but to also include all seventh graders as opposed to half of the class.

"Part of middle school is core curriculum and mastery of content," Thompson said, "but getting kids excited and getting kids to think is really important too."

The seventh graders will continue collecting data, analyzing it and generating new theories about "who done it" in their classes until March 3. Thompson estimated that they’d find out which faculty member was guilty of stealing the ice cream cart by the week of March 17.