Where the Crime Lab Meets the Classroom

EPSCoR Mississippi program invigorates middle school science teachers

Kristy Tindall (left) and Kimberly Jackson conduct a blood spatter experiment.

OXFORD, Miss. – More than a dozen north Mississippi middle school science teachers recently spent two weeks studying blood spatter and footprint evidence, but they weren’t helping search for a killer. Rather, they were looking for new ways to engage their students in the classroom.

The teachers attended a workshop at the University of Mississippi on using crime scene investigation strategies. Called Creative Sciences through Inquiry, aka CSI Mississippi, the program provides professional development for in-service teachers each year. This is the first time it has been hosted in north Mississippi.

“I have already uploaded four lesson plans from this course,” said Byhalia Middle School science teacher Kimberly Jackson. “Our children sometimes have problems with inquiry, and these activities will help them with that.”

Coordinated by the Mississippi Experimental Project to Stimulate Competitive Research, or Mississippi EPSCoR, and hosted by the UM Center for Mathematics and Science Education (CMSE), the course wrapped up June 14. For two weeks, 13 teachers put on lab coats to learn how to conduct various crime scene tests to implement in their own classrooms, including blood spatter, hair, footprint and fingerprint analyses.

“Providing opportunities for teachers to engage as learners in these settings enhances the chances that teachers will take inquiry tasks such as these back to their classrooms. If teachers enjoy the tasks, they are more likely to remember and implement them in their own classrooms,” said Dr. Alice Steimle, Associate Director of the CMSE at UM.

Teachers received Continuing Education Units, a $1,000 stipend and kits containing all essential materials and lesson plans to use in their own classes this fall.

“Some middle schools are fortunate enough to have labs, but a lot of them do not,” said Calhoun City Middle School teacher Kristy Tindall. “I have nothing. No microscopes or test tubes. This is how I get my supplies.”

Mississippi EPSCoR, a research and education collaboration of Mississippi’s four research universities, takes CSI Mississippi to a different university in the state each year. Last year, the event was held at Jackson State University, and next year, it will go to Mississippi Valley State University.

“Each teacher receives all the materials they need to immediately put these experiments into use at school,” said Amie Sins, Mississippi EPSCoR CSI Program facilitator and teacher at Hancock Middle School. “This provides them with a hands-on way to put math and science concepts into action.”

“Inquiry related science learning fosters conceptual understanding, critical thinking and a positive attitude toward science. This workshop has given teachers tools to successfully bring science inquiry into their classrooms in an exciting and popular way,” said Mississippi EPSCoR Education and Outreach Coordinator Katie Echols.

To help ensure that the workshop and program goals are being met, the UM Center for Educational Research and Evaluation (CERE) serves as Internal Evaluator for Mississippi EPSCoR. After each day, the CERE staff conducted focus group meetings with participants to evaluate the workshop’s effectiveness. “CERE’s role was to determine the effectiveness of the workshop by talking with the participants.  All participants felt that the CSI Mississippi workshop provided them with new innovative methods to teach science in their classrooms” said CERE project Coordinator Joey Rutherford.

According to UM Vice Chancellor for Research and Sponsored programs Dr. Alice Clark, CSI Mississippi helps Mississippi’s great teachers inspire and prepare more students to enter Mississippi’s universities eager and ready to learn about science. “Our nation is facing a shortage of scientists and engineers,” said Clark, who serves with the other chief research officers on the MS EPSCoR Board of Directors. Dr. David Shaw, Mississippi EPSCoR Program Director and Vice President for Research and Economic Development at Mississippi State University, agreed. “Through programs like Mississippi EPSCoR and the CSI Mississippi workshop, Mississippi’s scientists and teachers are showing that we will be a part of the solution.”

Mississippi EPSCoR and this CSI Mississippi workshop are supported in part by the National Science Foundation under Award no. EPS-0903787.