GEMS: Young investigators solve a crime
June 20, 2013
FORT RUCKER, Ala. (June 20, 2013) -- More than 20 crime scene investigators filled the library at the U.S. Army Aeromedical Research Laboratory June 13 checking for fingerprints and comparing footprints in order to identify a killer.
The investigators, students in the Gains in the Education of Mathematics and Science program, learned of a simulated murder June 10 and hit the pavement running in lab coats and safety glasses in order to catch the criminal at large, said Kelly Stupfel, GEMS lead teacher who is also a Fort Rucker substitute teacher.
"They are studying physical science and forensics this week," she said. "Today they are detectives in our lab and they are solving a mystery -- a murder mystery. They found a secret note at the scene that they are testing with different solutions, they also found powders that they are analyzing to figure out what it is."
The investigators were engaging in hands-on experiments that they found fun and entertaining while in reality they were expanding their knowledge of math and science, said Loraine St. Onge, GEMS program coordinator.
"GEMS is an extracurricular science, technology engineering and math education program designed to help promote students' development and interest in STEM subjects," she said. "The goal is to show them that science and math are fun."
Because of education cut backs, many schools do not have the funds available to do these types of experiments, said Stupfel, so GEMS is an avenue where children can take what they learned during the school year and apply it.
"GEMS gives them a way to keep what they learned through the year progressing, and it gives them goals of what they want to be when they grow up," she said.
The fifth and sixth graders conducted other experiments during the week. They learned about color-mapping, did experiments with water temperatures, built parachute boxes with eggs tucked inside, learned about chemicals used to clean up oil spills and held a mock Olympic Games.
Though the students had plenty of fun earlier in the week, most said that their favorite part was the crime scene investigation portion.
"I loved doing the forensics today because I love science. I see it on TV and it is really neat. Today was super fun," said Peyton Sanders, who added that he was excited to go back to school because he will know what to do in science class.
Emilee Pedroza said the forensics were her favorite part because she wants to be a forensic scientist when she grows up.
"I like helping catch a bad guy and finding all the clues to who did what. Learning new things is fun during the summer because I can get smarter for science class," she said. "Plus, making new friends is cool."
Besides making new friends and expanding their knowledge in STEM subjects, students improved their cognitive thinking and memory, sharpened their communication and oral reporting skills and found new ways to interact with their world in a hands-on way, said Stupfel.
Near-peer mentors were on hand to steer the investigator's learning as well as to help show the children that a person can fall in love with math and science.
"STEM education is important, especially at this age where many kids decide whether to love it or hate it. I want to encourage them to pursue a STEM-related college degree," said Cecilia King from Newton who is studying aerospace engineering at the University of Alabama.
Newton said that it is very rewarding to see the children understanding the many concepts that she teaches them, and that even teaching the concepts helps her understand them better.
"This program introduces them to totally new topics, giving them new ideas for future careers and areas of study," she said. "For example, I taught an interested student about the basic concepts of boundary layers, something that I did not even know about until college."
Though the students have solved the mystery through their new problem-solving skills, St. Onge assures parents that their child will probably be talking about the investigation for a long time.