More than fire in the school library
Dudley students solve a ‘whodunnit’
Burnt books. Overturned chairs. A bottle of nail polish, shoes and a grocery list.
Dudley Elementary was teeming with suspects after a mysterious "fire" caused major damage in the media center a few days before Christmas break.As the month of January marched on, the list of suspects narrowed until only a few remained.
Finally, Precinct No. 4 solved the mystery.
The culprit was media center director Angie Richeson.
Fourth, fifth and sixth graders, who worked on the investigation, have been identified as high ability learners.
Admission to the class is based on high test scores and teacher recommendations.
For the investigation, they formed four different precincts that worked separately from each other.
Precinct #4, that solved the investigation correctly, included evidence considered in their report like:
Grocery list ingredients.
“Mrs. Richeson has a dog, she likes tuna, (she) often has to buy milk and likes diet Pepsi,” they wrote.
She was also known to carry highly flammable nail polish remover.
Mrs. Richeson, who was about to be married for the made-up scenario, was also highly stressed.
“Her soon-to-be-husband is trying to save money and won’t let her go to a movie,” the team said. “She had even called him a little cheap.”
As a result, members said Mrs. Richeson borrowed movies from the school library, and took more than the one allowed.
Things started heating up when the the librarian (third-grade teacher Deb Clark) decided to inventory the media center.
“So she (Richeson) started the fire so she wouldn’t be in trouble for taking more than one movie,” said Kori Kowalewski, a member of Precinct #4.
During the investigation, students visited an evidence locker in principal Jim Widdifield’s office, where they had to present a clearance card for access.
Precinct #4 said they checked the locker for information about the fire scene such as writing, fingerprints, footprints, blood type, hair type and the fire report.
“They all matched up with her (Mrs. Richeson),” Precinct #4 wrote.
Several other teachers (the precinct interviewed 16) also pointed fingers at Mrs. Richeson which bolstered their case.
Students also filed police reports about who they suspected and why.
Through the crime scene investigation (CSI), HAL teacher Amy Harrison said students learned how to incorporate scientific methods into other things besides science.
“They showed how they formed a hypothesis, evaluated data and tested their hypothesis by looking at evidence,” Harrison said.
This was the first time Harrison has used such an assignment which she found on the Internet and adapted to her curriculum.
She said students also honed interview skills when teachers only told what they were asked.
“Each precinct also had to learn to communicate effectively through a blog (that only precinct members could see) and through note writing,” Harrison explained. “Talking to each other wasn’t private enough.”
Precincts worked on the case during HAL time and before and after school.
Jorgensen figured it was about two hours a week for a six-week period.
From the experience, Ali Bartels said she learned that being a detective is a hard job.
“A detective should be well respected because it’s not as easy as it seems,” she said.
Jocelyn Kennicutt said she learned the need for patience, adding that her interview skills also improved.
Kowalewski said she discovered that “the smallest things count.”
“And it all comes together in the end,” she said.