Crime solving techniques engage middle schoolers in STEM education

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We’ll show you a program that teaches middle school students how to solve crimes through examining simulated blood splatter in an effort to get them interested in learning STEM skills. That will be followed by a discussion on creative ways to interest middle schoolers in STEM with Bruce Jones of the Arizona Science Teachers Association and Nancy Parra-Quinlan, who teaches seventh and eighth grade engineering at Kino Junior High School in the Mesa School District.

TED: Today's edition of Arizona Education looks at the challenge of how to get students interested in STEM, science, technology, engineering and math. Experts say one way is to offer summer programs to middle-schoolers. The Barrett Summer Scholars at ASU allows high performing seventh and eighth-graders to live on campus and take college-level classes.Producer Shana Fischer introduces us to the "Blood Detectives" class.


TEACHER: Good point. There are different people on the team that will like different things.

SHANA FISCHER: Meet the next generation of CSIs. These seventh-graders are taking a class called "Blood Detectives."

KIMBERLY KOBOJEK: It's all based around the forensics discipline of blood stain pattern analysis, and you see a lot of blood stain pattern analysis, like "Dexter"-- it's fun, it's really cool, but there's a lot more to it.

SHANA: Kimberly Kobojek is the program director at ASU West. The class is part of a Barrett Honors College summer program. It's designed to get kids in middle school excited about higher education. Today's lesson begins in the classroom where the students learn about different types of blood patterns or spatter. Next up, the students put their knowledge to the test in the lab.

KIMBERLY: What you're going to do during castoff is, I'll provide you the blood --

SHANA: There are several pattern stations set up, and each one allows a group of students to recreate a different kind of pattern. It's messy work, thanks to buckets of fake blood.

KIMBERLY: The big question was, in the overarching theme of "Blood Detectives" is: can blood act as a lie detector? And part of that question, is can different blood stains or blood stain patterns be made in a variety of different ways?

So if you see just passive drops or small blood spatter on a wall, is there only way to do that or are there multiple ways to do that? By knowing that there are indeed multiple ways to do that, that will give insight into what questions they could ask during an investigation.

SHANA: Using the fake blood and tools like flyswatters, the lesson comes to life for these junior detectives.

MAX LUNIFIELD: In my school science, it's very worksheet and curriculum based, and I don't get like hands on, sort of like this class did. I really wanted something that I could touch and feel and that was kind of realistic, not just worksheets and writing and tests.

REPORTER: Kanita Olson wants to be a pediatric surgeon, so she thought this class would help her, but she's not ruling out joining the FBI.

KANITA OLSON: I realize that detective work can be a lot harder than it seems and in a way, easier too, because I thought they had no evidence. I didn't know that they could see how a blood drop could solve a whole case.

SHANA: Different tools can create different blood patterns, and those patterns tell the story of a crime. Just like in the real world, figure out the pattern and what caused it, and you can solve it. For example, walking through a bloody crime scene can create what's called passive texture pattern.

MAX: We were trying to recreate different splatter effects and there's different types such as passive drops, where you just have a cut and it's falling onto the floor. There's castoff, which is where you're swinging a weapon and it lands on your shirt. There's -- there's pooling of blood which is where there's a lot of blood and it's becomes a large saturated area.

SHANA: Hands-on labs like this are critical for STEM-based education. The U.S. Department of Education says activities that spark imagination and require participation, are one of the five key ways to get young girls interested in science careers. Kobojek agrees/

KOBOJEK: I am always constantly surprised by the students and by observations that they have, because probably, like every other person, I have assumptions. But I'll tell you, seventh graders are going to take over the world. They really are.


TED: The Barrett Summer Scholars program is highly competitive. Applications for next summer will be available starting in January. Visit for more information.

Bruce Jones, Arizona Science Teachers Association; Nancy Parra-Quinlan,engineering teacher, Kino Junior High School

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