Above, clockwise from left, teachers Doris Riley and Jennifer Yang examine the ‘crime scene’ they created in their murder-mystery-themed math lesson; a student checks a timeline of suspects’ alibis; students created data sheets to record fingerprint and hair analysis. 

By Carol Tanzman
Drama Teacher
Rockdale Visual and Performing Arts Magnet Elementary School

Written in blood-red script, the invitation luring the sixth-graders to Room 3 at Rockdale VAPA Magnet Elementary School was mysterious.

“Who Did It?” it read.

And as the young “detectives” arrived in the classroom to discover a “dead body,” they embarked on an original math-themed process drama created by math teacher Jennifer Yang (Chief Inspector Holmes) and English teacher Doris Riley (Professor Watson). The detectives’ task was to identify the killer using suspects’ timelines, evidence and a mysterious riddle written in red on the wall – all of which required standards-based math to understand.

“The best way to engage students is to provoke their interest in the subject matter,” Ms. Yang said. “Through this murder-mystery process, the students not only applied their knowledge of fractions but also had a chance to use math practices: making sense of problems and persevering in solving them, as well as constructing viable arguments and critiquing the reasoning of others.”

Room 3, the scene of the crime, was where the detectives had to ferret out which of the suspects’ alibis had suspicious fractional gaps in their timeline.

The forensic lab, aka Room 4, was the site of fingerprint, hair and fiber analysis.

Students at the Eagle Rock campus learned about the three main types of fingerprints, identified which type they were, and compared their samples to that of the “murderer.” They used a magnifying glass to examine, measure and analyze hair samples and narrow down the list of suspects. On the following day, students examined clothing fibers and recorded their findings on data charts, ultimately leading them to the identity of the suspect.

“The students were highly engaged and excited, worked collaboratively, using the process of scientific inquiry to arrive at the solution to the mystery,” Ms. Riley said. “In addition, Ms. Yang and I had fun creating and leading the ‘investigation’.”

This “crime scene and lab” offered the students an opportunity to explore real-world problems and challenges across the curriculum. “The students were genuinely motivated by a desire to explore, investigate and understand their world,” said Principal Stefani Williams.