Using science, students investigate a hypothetical robbery
Posted on 11/19/2019
Two separate pictures of students looking through a microscope.An apartment has been robbed and the suspect stuffed all the valuables in a bag. Who did this? With their science “caps on,” fifth-graders at King Elementary School were hot on the tracks of the suspects. This inquiry-based lesson had students applying classroom lessons to a hypothetical real-world situation.

In the activity, students acted as forensic scientists and detectives investigating a crime scene. Each student group was provided with a list of suspects and what kind of bag they were found with. This was key, because the bag used by the robber was heavy and had to be dragged out of the apartment, leaving evidence at the scene. Students looked at the evidence, a microscope slide with cells, under a microscope. Based on the cells they saw, students could determine if the bag was cotton (a plant), leather (an animal), or plastic (which doesn’t have cells). Each group prepared a formal criminal report detailing who they thought the culprit was and why.

Anam Ali, fifth-grade science teacher at King Elementary, creates activities that connect classroom lessons to the real-world. Ali shared, “For our Living Systems unit, the students learned about plant and animal cells, their parts, and how they are different from each other. I thought the best way to do this was to let them discover the difference themselves, so I designed a lesson with a fun, real-world connection.”

"I never knew you could solve crimes and mysteries using cells," a student discovered. Another student felt inspired after the activity, "I would love to be a forensic scientist one day."

Ali noted, “One of the best outcomes, other than the learning, was the team building. They solved a big problem together. It was amazing to see the students come together and utilize their higher order thinking skills for this activity.”