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College of Science and Mathematics

Enhancing lives through learning, discovery and innovation

Website Update

CSI Cal Poly

November 18, 2013
Contact: Rachel Henry
805-756-7236; rrhenry@calpoly.edu

Two female students taking a picture of a beaker.A terrible crime took place in Cal Poly's Learn by Doing Lab this summer: someone stole the candy jars. Luckily, students from Pacheco Elementary School solved the mystery using skills they'd learned during the four-day Learn by Doing Science Summer Camp.

The camp offered hands-on science experience to 31 under-represented students. The kids learned how to take fingerprints, use physical and chemical properties to identify white powders, and analyze dirt samples. Along the way, they learned that tap water can conduct electricity, got introduced to chromatography, and learned to use a microscope, among other skills. Little did they know they were preparing for a crime scene investigation.

This year's CSI theme did exactly what the camp is designed to do: get kids excited about science and about college. "We use hands-on, inquiry-based activities. It engages kids and gives them a chance to build their own understanding," said Seth Bush, a Cal Poly chemistry professor who leads the program. "It helps them develop the habits of mind they need to be successful STEM professionals."

The camp is an extension of the popular Learn by Doing Lab Teaching Practicum, a class for future teachers that sees nearly 3,000 elementary students pass through every year. Current Cal Poly students who have taken the practicum, alumni who now teach in the K-12 system, and a few students from Paso Robles High School served as teacher-leaders.

When the Pacheco students returned from break on the final day, they found the candy jars missing and in their place dirt, broken glass and white powder among other clues. Officer Frank Herrera with Cal Poly's University Police Department was on hand to help the students collect evidence.

Working first in teams and then as a larger group, the young sleuths correctly identified the culprit as one of the teacher-leaders. Though it turned out that she had been framed and the candy hadn't gone far, the excitement about science was real.

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