Middle School Students Experience Crime Scene Investigations

For the past seven years, with generous district funding, (originally from Cambridge Science Initiative) the CPS science department has offered a science camp during April vacation for forty middle school students. Each year eighty to ninety 6th, 7th, and 8th graders apply to participate in this unique opportunity. In addition, seven CPS teachers create experiences that engage students with relevant, meaningful, and fun, technology, science, and engineering topics in an informal setting that extends their learning over vacation.

This year the theme was “forensic science—a mystery” crime scene investigation at Kennedy-Longfellow School. We selected forty –five 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students from all our schools. The teachers had been meeting for months trying to come up with plausible (and achievable) crime scenes, science investigations, field trips, and labs that would capture and hold the students interest for three and a half days. We developed three crime scenes in and around the school that the students would begin to assess and gather evidence from on Day One! 

With amazing assistance from Detective Fimiani and Cambridge Police Sergeant and photographer Lashley we set the crime scenes with the students. In small teams, the students began to gather evidence at each of the crime scenes, take photographs, look for clues and collaborate in their analysis of the collected evidence. One afternoon, we brought in a number of witness’s (CRLS teachers, CRLS students, KLO custodians) and the campers asked them pointed questions, recorded the answers and tried to piece together the crime. The students were incredibly observant and even caught one of the witnesses exaggerating their story! 

Day two and three the student CSI teams engaged in handwriting analysis, a lipstick chromatography lab, took footprint castings, used microscopes to analyze hair and fiber samples, were visited by a guest from Boston University Biomedical Forensic Science Department to do blood analysis, tested powder samples, and visited the Cambridge Police Station for fingerprinting analysis. The students continued to collaborate and practice their science skills to figure out how the crime scenes were connected, as well as enjoy tasty lunches and snacks, power of respect circles, and physical activities each day.

The last day, we invited families, colleagues, and community members in for our presentations. Teams communicated their ideas about the crimes, the collected and analyzed evidence, and the suspects with an iMovie, PowerPoint slides, posters, a skit, and oral presentations. The suspect was in the audience and everyone was surprised to see how many of their ideas, and the evidence that they collected, were accurate.

In response to the question, “What surprised you about April Vacation Science camp?” Here are some of their words….

  • The people I met were awesome and I learned a lot more than I thought
  • I wish it could be in the summer too, because it was SO much fun and the hours, it could have been longer
  • Thanks for making it my best April vacation
  • It’s better than staying at home!!
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