Friday, May 13, 2022

Mock crime tests intuitive skills of WHS students

During the 'mock crime' exercise at Windham High School
a student 'evidence technician' collects a sample from the
suspect, played by 2021 WHS graduate Griffin Wirtz.
By Lorraine Glowczak

There was plenty of mayhem in the early morning hours on Thursday, May 5, on “Moose Falls High School” campus – or rather – the Windham High School (WHS) campus. “Moose Falls” was the feigned title given to WHS as part of a mock crime scene curriculum study for about 100 students in the English, journalism, math and science classes.

Working alongside the Windham Police Department (WPD), who were instrumental in helping to create an authenticated “crime”, students from math and science worked as “evidence technicians” that collected and analyzed data. They collaborated with the English “detectives” who interviewed the witnesses and suspect (he pleaded the fifth) to develop a theory of the crime. The “journalists” were on hand to write press releases and articles to “inform the public.”  

The “crime” involved a car accident that included a fake passenger who “perished” and a driver, the suspect named “Jerry,” played by 2021 WHS graduate, Griffin Wirtz. The vehicle used during the mock crime scene scenario, was part of an actual accident and was towed to WHS campus by SOS Towing of Windham and placed on the campus behind the football field.

“The purpose [of the Mock Crime Scene] is to have the students learn about forensic investigation and give them a real-life application for the skills that they’re learning in school,” math teacher John Ziegler said in a previous interview. “Here, we’re giving them a great example of when they’re going to have to use math in real life...with a real career-based application to it.”

Science teacher Dan Wirtz explained that the evidence technicians studied ABO blood typing and did lab work identifying different blood types. The students also discussed what constitutes "evidence" and how it is handled from crime scene to trial and even after the trial. 

“We talked about the different illegal drugs that could be found at a crime scene and detected in a human,” Wirtz said. “We also brainstormed what other evidence may show up at a crime scene and how a real event differs from what is seen on TV/movies.”

Wirtz further explained that the expectations were to understand how the different pieces of evidence come together to show what happened, which tests are wholly reliable, and which ones have a high possibility of error.

“We also discussed the rights of anyone who is accused of a crime and what they must do/say, and what their constitutional rights protect them from incriminating themselves,” he said.

English and journalism teacher Chelsea Scott prepared her students for the event by teaching them the essential details and information required when writing about a crime scene.

“Leading up to and including last week, ‘the journalists’ learned the nuances of writing about crime, including what information they should ethically include in a news article and the impact that including certain information may have on an investigation,” Scott said. “Students delved into unbiased writing that empowers the public by sharing useful, impactful information.”

On the day of the event, a former broadcast journalist at News Center Maine, Shannon Moss, who is currently the Public Information Officer for Maine Department of Public Safety spoke to Scott’s journalism students.

“Shannon Moss reminded students that empathy for the interview subjects is more important than being the first to release a story. She brought passion and energy to the discussion of the myriad professionals who work together to both solve crimes and broadcast the news. Moss generously shared tips for building positive relationships with detectives, which connected well with discussions that we have had as a class with guest speakers Bruce Robert Coffin and Detective Sergeant Jason Andrews.”

Other English class “detectives”, taught by Adrianne Shetenhelm and Nicole Densmore practiced their observation and notetaking skills.

“The students are writing an official police report as one of their final projects to improve their informative explanatory writing,” Shetenhelm said. “They also practiced their speaking and listening skills by interviewing witnesses and collaborating with peers on their theory of the crime. Some detective groups will prepare a presentation for a fictional district attorney. Toward the end of their unit, the students will present their theory of the crime and prove that the evidence they found proves the suspect's guilt.”

WHS Junior and English “detective,” Victoria Lin said she learned many things due to this hands-on and experiential learning that included communication between big groups of people, relying on the information from other student detectives through meetings and an organized digital log.

“We worked in small groups and discussed our information and theories,” Lin said. “When we made a conclusion based upon evidence, we would then report our findings to a webmaster who would enter it in our [digital log]. We had to work together to figure out what information was missing, what information was relevant, and what kinds of questions needed to be asked.”

Lake Peterson, a WHS Junior and an English “detective” said he enjoyed this educational unit because he is a curious person by nature. This event was like putting a puzzle together.

“I enjoy solving the how, what, when, where and why,” Peterson said. “We weren’t told anything about the crime scene, so we had to interview the witnesses and process all the information given to us the day of the event.”

Both Lin and Peterson agree that the mock crime scene curriculum was a fun way to learn by working outside of the classroom and with friends.

“A Mock Crime Scene has so many important things to offer students,” Lin said. “It gives insight into different aspects of CSI, experience with communication between large groups of diverse people, complex problem-solving in real-time, and a direct way to apply what we learned in classrooms.”

This project-based curriculum began in 2017 and has expanded into an inclusive community event that now includes members of the community. This year, those who agreed to play the roles as witnesses included Rev. Tim Higgins of St. Ann’s Episcopal Church, Raymond resident and active community member Tom Ewing and former WHS graduate Rosie Haibon.

“I'm just so encouraged that an idea that began with two teachers from math and English who were thinking about how we could create an authentic learning experience for our students has turned into a large school-wide community-building opportunity for English, math, science, and journalism students who are working alongside the local police department including our School Resource Officer, Seth Fournier,” Shetenhelm said. “Students who have only seen the police during difficult or traumatic events are working shoulder to shoulder with these authority figures.”

WHS Assistant Principal Vanessa Michaud said she is proud of the dedicated staff who has worked diligently on this project-based learning experience throughout the school year, noting their collaboration with the WPD.

“This collaboration provides students with the opportunity to develop teamwork, problem-solving, and communication skills and real-world applications to the content skills they are learning in their courses,” Michaud said. “I am so proud of the hard work and dedication our staff put into making this experience possible for our students. It is truly a great thing to see our students building relationships with each other, our staff, and our community partners.”

Over the next few weeks some detectives will be pulling together a presentation for the District Attorney with their theory of the crime.

“Hopefully, their work is detailed enough that the DA will accept the charges and charge the suspect,” Scott said.

Fournier and the WPD wish to give special thanks to SOS Towing of Windham, who offered their service free of charge. <

1 comment:

  1. Joyce E. Leslie retired SMCCMay 15, 2022 at 12:50 PM

    Having taught and tutored students in Law Enforcement programs for 28 years at the college level, I find this project at the Windham High School absolutely awesome. Simply put, they need the communication skills from English writing coursework and the analytical skills from courses like mathematics to be successful in Law enforcement. Nicely done.


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