Imagine if your typically peaceful day at Avenues was suddenly interrupted by the discovery that a horrible crime had been committed. Much to your surprise, the chief of the newly formed Avenues Department of Investigation then tells you that it would be up to you and your team of forensic scientists to collect the proper evidence and make sure the correct suspect could be brought to justice. This is exactly the scenario that the Avenues 5th graders encountered in science class this fall.

Before the project began, students spent many days learning the methods and practicing the skills used by forensic scientists to analyze everything from human hairs and fingerprints to DNA sequences and shoe print patterns. Soon their training and critical thinking skills were being called upon to solve one of several mysteries, such as the Case of the Kidnapped Python, the Case of the Stolen Laptop, the Case of the Deadly Cafeteria Food and the particularly dreadful Case of the Hidden Body.

Investigating crime scenes.

Investigating crime scenes.

Whose footprint?

Whose footprint?

Over the course of several weeks, students worked collaboratively to collect evidence and identify a suspect. Students chose specific roles to take on as they assembled into forensic teams. They first had to observe and carefully document the entire crime scene so as not to disrupt or alter the evidence in any way. As our forensic scientists know, overlooking one small piece of evidence could cost them the entire case. They also had to use the appropriate tools and safety gear for the task at hand – microscopes, cameras, fingerprinting powder, tweezers and rubber gloves – in order to gather their evidence and get to work on their analysis.

The students analyze evidence.

The students analyze evidence.

The 5th graders were careful to use the appropriate tools and safety gear for the task at hand.

The 5th graders were careful to use the appropriate tools and safety gear for the task at hand.

From matching shoe prints and clothing fibers to those in the suspects’ case files to sequencing DNA strands found at the scene, teams remained busy for the duration of the project trying to narrow down their suspect list based on any matches of the evidence. Sometimes more than one suspect had sufficient evidence to link them to the crime and teams were forced to consider if they could have worked in concert to pull it off. At other times, teams identified a clear suspect but lacked information about their motives, requiring them to think creatively about why and how the deed was done. Skills such as communication and teamwork along with critical and creative thinking became crucial to the success of this project.

Narrowing down the list of suspects.

Narrowing down the list of suspects.

Now that these future scientists have gotten a taste of their first major forensics cases and collaborated with a team to tackle complex problems, they are better equipped to collect and analyze evidence and solve future mysteries. If you ever have the need for your very own private eye, consider contacting one of the new 5th grade special agents within the Avenues Department of Investigation. They will be sure to solve any case that comes their way.