CSI: Whitefish Bay; Middle Schoolers Dissect Evidence in Pursuit of Truth

May 16, 2012

WHITEFISH BAY – Because students really are intrigued by unraveling mysteries, Holy Family Parish School science teacher Mary Jo Scoville has dropped the traditional science fair and created a far more exciting program, CSI – Catholic School Investigates. “It has succeeded beyond my wildest dreams,” she gushes.
On Thursday, May 17, 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students will present results of their research at the sixth annual CSI, themed this year Food and Food Chains. It will be held at 6:30 pm in McCormick Hall, beneath the church, and the public is welcome.
Fifteen teams of four students will give three-minute presentations based on what they have learned by site visits and interviewing primary sources. Students document their investigative journeys with photographs, and they script, choreograph and orally present their findings. They have been instructed to watch TV reporters to learn how to cram as much solid information into the short time period as possible.
Topics range from “Gluten-free diet – what the heck is gluten?” to “How does an oil spill affect a food chain?”, “When snakes swallow whole, what happens to digestion?” and more. While Scoville invents the topics, students pick them blindly from a hat on “match day.” If they get something they don’t like, she tells them, “That’s what life’s like. You don’t always get to pick the problems you need to solve.”
Students get excited about the projects – and about science. “This is 25 percent science and 75 percent life skills,” Scoville admits, but it drives home how scientific method can make real life decisions easier to approach.
Unlike the traditional science fair, parents’ involvement is minimal – getting the young people places to do interviews and take pictures. The rest is up to the students. “We don’t put things on three-panel boards anymore,” Scoville scoffs. The students use creativity and ingenuity to research their topics and to present them with PowerPoint and sound. “We have some brilliant people in our community to tap,” Scoville says, but the students have gone further and even interviewed experts at distant sites via Skype.
SCI Awards, patterned on the Academy Awards, complete with nominations, offer not just ribbons but real rewards for work well done – such as gift certificates or exemption from a test. There are 15 categories, and the students can gear their work with one or more in mind.
“I expect a lot from the students, but they deliver more than I’d ever expect,” Scoville adds.

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