May 17, 2024

WHS Mock CSI exercise tests students’ sleuthing skills

By Jolene Bailey

Windham High School has been hosting Mock CSI experiences for students on campus since the 2017-2018 school year and this year’s exercise was intended to help participating students boost their speaking and listening skills, as well as writing, pre-calculus, and chemistry skills.

Windham High School students wrapped up their annual
Mock CSI exercise with a visit to the Public Safety
Simulation Lab at Central Maine Community College
in Lewiston on May 2. The exercise challenged the
students' speaking and listening skills, writing skills,
pre-calculus and chemistry abilities. SUBMITTED PHOTO
“The CSI unit we developed captured my favorite aspects of teaching, including creativity, authentic learning, true challenge, and student motivation,” said WHS teacher Adrianne Shetenhelm, a coordinator of the event. “I hoped to create a memorable learning experience that challenges and propels students to think about how their skills translate beyond the classroom.”

The Mock CSI unit for students began for most classes on Monday April 22 when there was a controlled burn on campus. On May 1 and May 2, about 100 students explored the burn site to attempt to solve the mock crime. This included student crime scene investigators in Shetenhelm and Nicole Densmore's English classes, John Ziegler's Pre-Calculus classes. Students from Lauren Ruffner's Chemistry class visited Central Maine Community College along with representatives of Windham’s Public Safety Departments to take on that angle of the mock investigation.

“Math students needed to come to our APEX classroom to ask my students what they learned from a suspect interview,” Shetenhelm said. “Our interviews informed those lab techs what evidence to analyze. Collaboration between students from different backgrounds unfolded. Students demonstrated they were clear and effective communicators, integrative thinkers, and practical problem solvers.”

Prioritizing math, science and English skills, students were able to crack the case of a mock serial arsonist during their investigation.

“We wrote a narrative of a ‘who dunnit’ and our School Resource Officer Seth Fournier got involved and he pulled in support from our Windham Police Department,” Shetenhelm said. “This year, to try something new, we worked with Windham Fire Chief Brent Libby and Forest Ranger Matt Bennett to concoct an arson narrative.”

The Mock CSI exercise is different each year. From an educational aspect, students are challenged to the Maine Guiding Principles, such as being a clear and effective communicator, self-directed and lifelong learner, creative and practical problem solver, responsible and involved citizen and an integrative and informed thinker.

“Students practiced the guiding principles that we want students to master,” Shetenhelm said. Many students often battle anxiety, which hinders their ability to speak or ask questions in the classroom. Amazingly, these students were leading the questioning of our suspects.”

This year’s serial arsonist case was completely designed by Windham teachers and part of the experience included a controlled burn on campus, interviews with actors as suspects/witnesses, and cell phone triangulation. The unit's grand finale included a day at CMCC's Public Safety Simulation building so students could learn from Public Service Department Chair Matt Tifft, Forensic Science Professor David King, and other CMCC staff.

This not only gave students insight into what it is like to solve a crime, but it also taught participants academic skills that they will need in and outside of a classroom environment.

"I was so proud to see my students, even often quiet ones who may not respond to a lesson within the classroom, engage with police officers, members of the community, and ask hard questions and work with peers to solve the crime. Many demonstrated clever problem-solving and leadership skills,” said Shetenhelm.

The planning process for this Mock CSI exercise started all the way back in September with the officers tasked with setting up the mock crime scene working collaboratively with the educators at Windham High. Expectations are that students will understand how the different pieces of evidence collected come together to show what happened, which tests are reliable, and which ones have a high possibility of error. <

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