Work across content areas with an engaging project that highlights higher-level thinking, teamwork, and a STEM focus.
At some point, nearly all of us have yelled at the fictitious detectives contained in our TV screens, pointing out the obvious suspect who won’t be caught until the end of the 40-minute procedural. As we play armchair detective, we’re sure that we would be super sleuths if we were in the same position.
Our kids have probably experienced the same feelings, with the avalanche of crime scene shows on television. While real crime scene investigations are hardly the same as they are on TV, that interest is a great way to introduce young learners to an amalgam of science, math, logic, mapping, documenting, and reasoning skills.
Using a mock crime scene is a simple and exciting way to apply skills from the classroom into an interdisciplinary project that is student-driven, team-oriented, and an exercise in higher-level reasoning. Here are a few tips to make your mock crime scene a success.
Hype is Half the Battle
Make your class feel like they’re actually detectives by adding official touches. A quick trip to the store can supply you with caution tape and official badges. Have one student in charge of checking people in and out of the crime scene, emphasizing the importance of keeping the crime scene uncontaminated. Have someone who is professionally dressed debrief your students with the surrounding details of the case before they enter the scene.
Here are some supplies that can help make your crime scene seem more official:
- Caution tape
Evidence bags (even just ziplocs)
- Cotton swabs (for blood or liquids)
- Evidence logs/graph paper to map the objects in the room
- Plastic gloves
- Tyvac suits (hard to find - but they look very official)
- FBI/Security shirts or jackets
Keep it Simple
When you create your crime scene, you don’t even need to have a complete story in place. This is modeled on reality, not an elaborate "whodunit." Scatter random objects in a room, even things like hair or a spilled drink. For younger ages, you could have the scene of a robbery; for older, you could have a homicide. Halloween or costume supply stores have fake blood that is easy to remove. Impress on your investigators that everything is evidence. Push them to hunt closely to consider every detail; every hair, every footprint, every item could have a clue.
Once you brief your class on what to look for, photograph, and collect, turn them loose. This allows them to make their own conclusions, create their own processes, and work as a group. Have your class divided into groups, so that each student has a specific role. Here are some suggestions:
- Team leader (in charge of security and assists other members)
- Photographer (documents scene first)
- Mapper (draws out the room with exact measurements of items)
- Evidence collector (bags and tags items)
Once each team has their roles, let them decide how to approach the crime scene, and what conclusions they make. Collaborative skills are just as essential to children as academic knowledge. By giving them this freedom, you are giving them a chance to practice.
The crime scene is your launch event. The true interdisciplinary work happens after the evidence collection, when you take that data and use it in the classroom. Here are a few suggestions:
English: Have the class write up official reports on the items in the crime scene, emphasizing precision and thoroughness. Then, have them make inferences about what the items could mean, as well as next steps for the investigation.
Math: Use the measurements from the crime scene to teach basic algebra and geometry. You can take two measurements and find the distance of the third line of a triangle, or use the distance between footprints to estimate the height of a suspect.
Science: Teach about the composition of blood, or the effects of weather or erosion on evidence. Study fingerprints and the different patterns by using ink and putting fingerprints on balloons - when the balloon is blown up, the fingerprint is visible.
The directions you could take this subject matter are innumerable. However, it is most beneficial to have a way to synthesize the connections between subjects. Have a mini-science fair with board presentations, or portfolios of the group work. When classes see the interconnectivity of subjects, they are more willing to work in all content areas.
Lesson Planet Resources:
Geometry CSI lesson
Compare, make predictions, identify patterns, and use 9th- 12th Geometry in this CSI-themed lesson.
Teach congruence and similarity through a crime scene investigation.
Looking for more advanced work? Incorporate chemistry into your investigation.
In my fifth grade class, when we were studying mixtures and different ways to separate them, I set up a crime scene with a ransom note. I gave each lab group a handful of different black markers that supposedly belonged to different suspects. The kids performed chromatography on them, along with a piece of the ransom note. They were able to compare the separated pigment pattern to that of the letter and so identify the suspect. It took a little time to prepare, but it was well worth it to see how engaged the class was!
@terry_l Wow, you really went above and beyond with that one! I love the idea and I'm sure your learners were very engaged. With creative teaching strategies like this, students stand a higher chance of getting involved and excited about learning. To add to the interdisciplinary theme of this article, I think the crime detectives idea can also be utilized in history classes. It would be fun to investigate ancient mysteries or even historical deaths.
My students would LOVE a CSI-themed project! This could take a lot of preparation work though, so it would be key to have students be as much involved in setting up the materials as possible.
I do a similar activity to begin the school year where I set up a crime, with some students as co-conspirators, and have the class recreate the scene and investigate pieces of evidence in order to illustrate the difference between primary and secondary source material.
What do you think of using CSI as a continuous theme throughout the school year? Any thoughts on how this could be accomplished for different subjects?