CSI class at Freshman Academy grows

Walking down the school corridor at Clovis High School Freshman Academy, I heard a pain-stricken groan coming from one of the restrooms.

Glancing up, I caught sight of two New Mexico State Police officers standing at the propped open door of the restroom. Approaching, they waved me over and looking in, I saw social studies teacher Scott Schumpert, source of the groans, sitting on the floor, leaning against the wall amidst blood splotches and splatters.

When he looked up, smiled and winked, I knew something was afoot. It was time, once again, for the crime scene investigation series of lessons that have proven such a success since 2010.

Begun with a history lesson on the famous Sacco-Vanzetti trial of the 1920s, academy teachers, together with state police officers reconstructed the crime scene as a sort of interactive lab for students to use their critical thinking skills and "solve" the crime. The level of interest was high, and this soon became a cross-curricular activity, as students used math, science, and language arts skills and knowledge to complete the project.

Academy science teacher Nicole Hahn details of this year's crime scene investigation project and how it has evolved:

"We've really developed the literacy component, in alignment with the new Common Core Standards, to strengthen those writing skills. Also, this year, we are not telling students any background; they go in to the 'scene' and have to work from hard evidence — no speculation — and be able to justify it."

Those "scenes" were described by state police sergeants David O'Leary and Gary Smith, who shared the background of the real cases the staged scenes were based upon.

One scene illustrated an unintended death that occurred in a public restroom elsewhere in the state, recreating the evidence, including a dummy to represent the body.

The scene with the groaning teacher, Schumpert, represented a crime scene with a live victim that students had to question to determine the course of events.

A third scene had been recreated backstage in the gym where a body (represented by another dummy) was bent over a table, spattered blood everywhere. The scene had overturned soda cans; poker chips and cards were strewn across the table and floor; general disarray across the room. For this scene Smith briefed students on the background and then left them to their investigations.

The last scene was in a Family Consumer Science classroom that represented a break-in. Chairs were overturned, cabinet and appliance doors were left hanging open; pots, pans, dishes, kitchen linens, tossed everywhere. Everything was askew, including, (hint, hint) the blinds over one of the windows.

What was so interesting to observe at each of these scenes was the focus and attention to detail of all the students who worked the scenes — and that includes all freshman academy students — as they set about their work, measuring, sketching, writing, and discussing the evidence.

Who said learning can't be fun?

Cindy Kleyn-Kennedy is the instructional technology coordinator for the Clovis Municipal Schools and can be reached at cindy.kleyn-kennedy@clovis-schools.org

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