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Junior sleuths solve murder mystery

SPOKESMAN PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Simon Ackermann learns how to dust for fingerprints. A murder mystery enveloped Wilsonville last week, but thankfully not the type of murder that anyone should be worried about. The crime was a fictional part of Wilsonville Parks and Rec’s latest summer camp offering: Mad Science’s Scene of the Crime. The week-long camp brought local students ranging from second to sixth grade together for a week of learning and CSI-type fun.

Led by instructor Molly Molecule — who goes by Julia Corkett when she’s not at work — kids spent the first four days entrenched in units titled “Body of Evidence,” “Collecting Clues,” “Just the Facts” and “Breaking and Entering.” The Body of Evidence lesson included a crash course on anatomy, requiring kids to make a diagram of the human body while learning the fundamentals of evidence and observation.

Collecting Clues, meanwhile, involved learning the difference between real and circumstantial evidence, as well as fingerprint analyzation and other ways to gather evidence. Corkett followed that up with a Just the Facts unit that taught kids to make a hypothesis with the evidence they collect utilizing the scientific method. The last piece of the puzzle was Breaking and Entering, where kids learned about locks, motion sensors and even lasers, among other things, before final test Friday, July 29.

“We talk a lot about ‘what is a clue’ and what are observations we can use to make hypotheses and use the scientific method,” Corkett said. “We talked about all the different kinds of ways you can be a scientist — you can be a psychologist, you can study plants, you can study bugs, and dirt, and footprints, and fingerprints.”SPOKESMAN PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - From right, Lauren Thomas, Olivia Sheng and Evelyn Douthit learn about making a security system.

Throughout the week kids participated in activities that included making custom T-shirts by flinging red paint to replicate blood splatter, creating molds of their own thumbs to practice making and detecting fingerprints, and testing the burn rates of different fabrics — teaching them how forensic scientists work with the fire department. They learned how people can be identified through DNA and through looking at their bones and teeth, and were introduced to the different organs that make up the human body. And while everything is fun, it’s also rooted in scientific principles to both educate kids on what forensic scientists do as well as reinforce larger scientific ideas.

“We’ve been doing this camp for three years now,” said Corkett, who instructs Mad Science camps all across the Portland Metro area. “We wanted to develop something where kids could actually put their skills to work, and get this exposure to science through fun, hands on activities.”SPOKESMAN PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Julia Corkett, right, explains how a sound meter works. From left, Kai Liebriech, Lauren Thomas and Simon Ackermann listen.

“We’ve learned lots about science,” added Boeckman Creek fourth-grader Lauren Thomas. “My favorite part was making fingers for fingerprinting.”

The first four days led up to a real murder mystery on the camp’s final day, putting campers’ newfound knowledge to the test. When kids arrived on Friday they found chalk outlines of bodies in a mock crime scene. Clues littered the floor, requiring kids to break out their notebooks and catalogue the various evidence. They then made a “murder board,” with pictures and backstories for the police suspects, and were tasked with using the evidence they collected to piece together who the real murderer was.

“We put a sheet out, with figures of bodies drawn out with all sorts of things lying next to them,” Corkett said. “We want it to feel like a real crime scene, so the kids can’t touch anything because there’s police tape around it. They take notes and then we come back and sort things out. We start brainstorming like CSI and just work through it using our science tools we’ve learned.”

Teamwork is key to solving the murder riddle, forcing kids who come from different Wilsonville schools and are different ages to work together. Corkett said her group of students got along as well as any group she’s had, successfully identifying the killer and completing their forensic science training in the process.

“I made a lot of new friends in this camp,” said Lowrie Primary second-grader Evelyn Douthit. “All of the stuff is a lot of fun.”SPOKESMAN PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Skyler Hendrick, center, tries to navigate through the security system.

The camp is offered through Wilsonville Parks and Rec, but Mad Science is part of a larger organization that spans across the globe. Corkett, who is a retired librarian and has served as a Mad Science instructor since 2008, is given a set curriculum filled with activity ideas, but believes it’s ultimately the kids that make the unique camp so much fun. Mad Science also offers a variety of camps in Wilsonville, including a Lego engineering camp and a camp for creative inventors, but in spite of the wide variety Corkett said Scene of the Crime is her favorite.

“It’s a great program. The goal is to get kids excited about science and make them feel like they can do it,” Corkett said. “We want to make them understand that science is a part of everyday life, that it’s everywhere. I’ve done this for a while now because it’s so much fun and it’s so important for children.”

Contact Andrew Kilstrom at 503-636-1281 ext. 112 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..