Dead clever idea

22nd June 2007 at 01:00
Bring a CSI-style inquiry to your class, put pupils in the roles of forensic scientists, and you'll be surprised how much they learn about chemistry

I organised a murder mystery day for Year 8 pupils to improve their chemistry skills. I ran two sessions, each for 15 pupils.

To begin with, I wrote a newspaper article about a person being murdered and left some samples of powder around to be analysed.

We set up the classroom with the screens we use in chemistry to look like the safety screens they use in CSI, and the pupils clipped the newspaper article and a list of suspects to a screen.

After they'd discussed approaches to take, they moved on to testing the samples of powder. They did a solubility test, a flame test, and looked at it under the microscope.

Each of the tests could eliminate one of the suspects, and they all involved chemical skills. For instance, the powder might have been flour, which would have implicated the hotel chef.

As it turned out, the powder was lithium chloride, which burns red - the other possibilities, flour and sugar, would have burned orange. If I'd done this with an older group, we might have identified the chemical too.

The pupils took photos of the flame test as evidence. And then we considered the evidence and thought up a motive. Their imaginations ran wild - they came up with affairs, incest, you name it.

At the end of it they had to write another newspaper article, giving an account of the motive. It was far-fetched: a hotel manager had had an affair with a photographer, who had killed him because she was pregnant.

A lot of the group were not interested in chemistry or science before we started. But high ability pupils knew what they had to do and were really interested in using the microscope. The lower ability ones got into it as well. They could see the point of science. They were just all on a high Sara Khan is a science teacher at Goffs School, Cheshunt. She was speaking to Susan Young


* How to carry out practicals

* Analysing data

* Investigation

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