By Ashley Ball, Classroom Chronicles
“911, what is your emergency?”
It’s not typically how Kendall Terry starts his biology class, but this 30-second phone call launched a chain of events that would impact every student at Heritage High School.
Standing in the middle of the Heritage High parking lot, Terry and the school resource officer (SRO) talked the operator through their emergency.
Yards away, students huddled around a fake crime scene in the auditorium with investigators from the Blount County Sherriff’s Department. Deputies used the staged crime scene as a teaching tool, giving students an authentic look at crime scene investigation (CSI).
While there were no sirens, no medical emergencies, and no actual threat of dangerous suspects on the loose, students sprung into action. Math classes started analyzing fake blood splatters from the victims. Engineering students began their work analyzing mangled bullets. Health students started researching how to treat victims for shock, and Spanish students began translating witness statements. It was a schoolwide effort, down to Heritage’s team of janitors who volunteered to play the suspects.
Conversations about a schoolwide CSI project started in early fall among teachers at Heritage High. The idea was to create something that involved all students and each of the school’s STEM studios. The studios, only in their second year, are designed to help students specialize in an area they select. But administrators and teachers didn’t just want the project to remain with STEM students. They looped in all teachers who were willing to find a connection to their content. The group collaborated with the sheriff’s department, and in November Blount County investigators staged a fake crime scene. Teachers spent the next month leading students in content-specific projects related to CSI, and in December, students in all classes presented their projects to each other.
Terry, the original parking lot 911 caller, led his AP Biology students to examine their own DNA. He described watching students make connections between subjects in an authentic and engaging way.
“The coolest thing about this kind of project is that it tears down the walls between classes,” Terry said.
Perhaps one of the most invested groups of Heritage students was Keperly Camet’s Comprehensive Development Class (CDC). Camet’s special education students receive instruction in their core classes in a self-contained setting.
Her students played the role of detectives, taking fingerprints, eliminating red herrings, and following the clues. They were even deputized by the sheriff’s department. Using scientific evidence and witness statements, they investigated the school’s janitors to find their suspect. The students then reported their findings back to the Sheriff’s department.
“We may not be able to write the papers, but we can still do the work,” Camet said.
Camet’s class also partnered with general education English classes to use the facts to write news stories about the crime, and they chronicled their entire investigation on a class set of iPads. While other students gave live presentations to showcase their work in the investigation, Camet’s students, a little shy of public speaking, showed their video.
“This kind of collaboration is absolutely catching fire around our school. We can’t wait to participate in the future,” Camet said.
Assistant Principal Colleen Mattison was the administrative cheerleader for this project.
“The scope of this was huge. Having these students working together in teams, across subjects regardless of their level. This touched all of our students,” Mattison said.
While there was never an official answer to this whodunnit, students didn’t seem to mind.
“Most people that do good collaborations walk away saying, ‘I can’t wait to do that again.’ And that is exactly what we are hearing from our students and teachers,” Terry said.
Students and faculty are planning a similar event for the spring.
You can also read more about how Heritage High’s STEM studio are changing the landscape of learning at their school.
The idea for this story came through a submission on the Classroom Chronicles contact page. We were thrilled to collaborate with Heritage High School to tell their story. Please submit yours.
Ashley Ball manages content for Classroom Chronicles. She is a journalist turned educator.