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Students Use Forensics and Math to Solve a Mystery

October 3, 2013

From Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, NC—Exact measurements can be crucial to a crime scene. Investigators spend a great deal of time measuring distance, weight, temperature, volume and other aspects of evidence to get the numbers correct. In a recent activity, students used their knowledge of numbers to determine the height, weight and gender of a ‘missing person’ during a computer-simulated forensic science mystery.

Approximately 140 rising ninth-graders at Phillip O. Berry Academy of Technology are learning Algebra I through Summer Topics Exploring Mathematics (STEM), a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools algebra readiness program. Students use hands-on tools on and offline that include animations, simulations and detailed plans and lab sheets. To enhance the learning experience, teachers use problem-solving scenarios that allow students to apply what they learn.

“The activity is challenging but I am learning formulas and strategies that will help me solve math problems,” said Jewel Johnson, a student.


Another element of the activity was a ‘crime scene’ that was arranged in the classroom using a fake skeleton. Students were asked to observe and measure the remains. They recorded their findings and reviewed computer-generated missing person data. Then they used math to identify the missing person.

Joanne Whitley, secondary math specialist, explains that the STEM program uses Academic Youth Development (AYD) strategies. AYD introduces key ideas and strategies that students can use to explore and practice problem- solving activities. It supports the successful transition of students into Algebra I, particularly those moving from middle school to high school mathematics. In addition to mathematics instruction, AYD changes how students understand intelligence—and their own ability to achieve.

“This summer course is not a traditional summer school, it is not remediation,” said Whitley. “It is designed to deepen students’ commitment to learning and encourage high academic achievement in selected algebraic topics.”

Eighty percent of the students that were in the program the previous year did well in their math courses their freshman year, according to Whitley.


“The students who participate are usually those who do not ask questions even when they do not understanding the material,” said Whitley. “This course gives them a chance to feel more confident in their abilities prior to starting high school.

”Another benefit is that students who complete the program receive one math credit. They are still required to take Algebra but the credit will go towards their four credit math requirement.

“I know that what I am learning is going to help me excel academically my freshman year and that gives me a lot of confidence,” said Jewel.

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