Last Wednesday, in a scene straight out of the CSI television series, students at Edward R. Martin Middle School in East Providence were surprised to find a line of yellow police crime scene tape strung across their library media center. The outline of a body was drawn on the floor around some overturned chairs, creating a scene that raised the eyebrows of more than a few students. As they approached closer to the scene, students began to realize that it would be no ordinary day at MMS.
As sixth grade students looked over the scene, their teachers introduced them to Barbara Frazier, a retired crime scene investigator from the Warwick Police Department and current Forensic Science instructor at New England Institute of Technology. Mrs. Frazier (who is the mother of 6th grader Callie) was there to help students understand one of the most important tasks in scientific investigation – being able to explain the reasoning that connects evidence to a claim.
As part of a lesson created to show how science is used in the real world, Mrs. Frazier set up The Death of Mr. Xavier crime scene and walked students step-by-step through the investigative process. She began by explaining how police investigators identify and secure a crime scene. With the help of Mrs. Frazier and science teachers, students analyzed the scene by testing the red stain on the carpet and what looked like blood on a knife. They also learned how fingerprints are analyzed. Throughout the process, students remarked that an investigation has a lot more parts that what than they typically see in television shows.
“Solving real crimes takes a lot more than an hour like you see on TV,” said Arianna Cunha. “You really have to pay attention to the little details because one slip up could change the results or mess up the investigation.”
At the end of the lesson, a number of students expressed interest in a future career in the field of forensic science. As a result, Mrs. Frazier invited MMS students to visit the NET Forensics Lab to see how future crime scene investigators train. Before the bell rang to switch to next period, however, teachers told students that the lesson was far from over. There would be a second class and another visit by experts to reinforce the skills that students had practiced with Mrs. Frazier.
On Thursday, a face familiar to MMS students came to class at the beginning of the period. MMS School Resource Officer Cheri Almeida spent time explaining the police perspective on the Mr. Xavier crime scene. Officer Almeida also brought some of her colleagues, detectives from the East Providence Police Department who rode up in the EPPD Mobile Crime Lab. The detectives took groups of students inside the mobile lab for a tour and explained the importance of having research and analysis tools available right at a crime scene.
“The mobile crime lab was awesome,” said sixth grade science student Rui Vieira. “I can’t believe they can do so much of the work right there in the truck.”
Students were not the only ones to benefit from the lesson. The EPPD detectives also saw the class as an opportunity to make a connection with the community.
“We want kids to know that we need the community’s involvement to assist in solving crime,” said Detective Jamie Aceto. “Personally, as a kid growing up, learning lessons like this made me want to do what I do now. Also, by teaching, I develop a better understanding of what I do.”
At the end of the lesson, MMS teachers felt that the real life application of science was especially effective in helping students to understand the importance of collecting evidence.
“Collecting and using evidence are skills that students use in so many of the classes they take,” said science teacher Marybeth Letendre. “As they grow to understand the importance of evidence, they are better able to solve problems and address challenges. Mrs. Frazier, Officer Almeida, and the detectives of the EP Crime Scene Unit really inspired us.”