An incredibly high-level and high-energy week just concluded at Long-View: Build Week #3 brought together work on chemistry, argument, forensics, logic, collaboration, and critical thinking, with a hint of mystery mixed in.
Build Weeks are a part of the rhythm of the yearly calendar at Long-View, opening our schedule up to allow us to dive into special activities and challenges. Build Weeks help us grow intellectually, help us make connections between disciplines, give us a chance to break the “routine” of school life, and give us an opportunity to try new things.
Build Week #3 also gave us the chance to meet new people. The week began with crime scene tape surrounding one classroom door and Detective Julie Long of the Austin Police Department showing up with a locked briefcase. Detective Long’s briefcase contained the evidence from a “cold case” and she charged us with sifting through it and working to figure out who stole $51, 700 in diamonds from a locked safe at a local jewel store years ago. After teaching us more about how she and her team at the burglary unit at the Austin Police Department collect and analyze evidence, as well as answering questions about why she likes her job and the skills that are most pertinent, the kids split into “forensic teams.” The forensic teams quickly got to work sifting through a variety of evidence: written background statements from four suspects who worked at the jewelry store at the time of the crime, video interviews of each of these suspects, and notes from officers at the scene and investigators who followed up on leads.
Deliberate work over the last month in our literacy block paid off as teams closely read the written materials contained in the briefcase, highlighting and making notes along the way. The focus of our current literacy unit is argument, and the young detectives pushed themselves to utilize their skills of “reading through the lens of argument,” while developing theories and tracking evidence for both sides of an issue or argument along the way. Moreover, our budding detectives used their skills of note taking and annotating to track their thinking.
The forensic teams, each lead by a captain, worked through a variety of issues – everything from challenges with making sure everyone worked together to learning how hard it can be to be the one in charge – as they each claimed a white board and area of the school as their workspace. Ultimately each team created an Evidence Board to help track and analyze the evidence throughout the week and set about with urgency to determine which suspect their group would recommend should go to trial on the last day of the week.
With the testimonial and background evidence effectively analyzed, Long-View science teacher Heather Swanson took over teaching about the analysis of biological and physical evidence. We learned about fingerprints and the process of collecting them, dusting glass jars across the room to practice pulling prints; additionally, we each rolled our own prints so as to be able to analyze and determine what class our own unique prints fell under. Soon after, we cracked the seal from the evidence in case T8523-15 and huddled with our forensic teams to analyze whose prints were found on the safe at the scene of the crime.
Evidence Boards were updated and we moved into a day focused on deep work stretching our science skills. After learning about blood and blood typing, forensic teams donned gloves and goggles and worked to type the “blood” of each of the four suspects, as well as the “blood” found near the safe. Two O+ suspects made drawing a conclusion from the labs complex; regardless, Evidence Boards were updated. Next, our attention turned to learning about chromatography and fiber analysis in anticipation of the opening of this evidence: a handwritten list of three numbers that matched the code to the safe, pens from the desks of each suspect, and a mysterious red fiber found on the back door of the store.
We kept our safety goggles and lab coats on and worked deep into the afternoon. Dr. Kim Gilbert, a geochemist, joined us to ready teams to analyze white powder found at the crime scene. To get us thinking about how to design this kind of experiment on our own, without a set of "cookbook instructions," Dr. Gilbert challenged us to design an experiment to figure out whether the sample of a solid she brought to each team had one, two, or three of these chemicals in it: Sodium Chloride, Sugar, Silicon Dioxide, or Calcium Carbonate. To prepare us for this work, we learned about properties such as melting point, solubility in water, and solubility in vinegar. With these properties in mind, teams set out to plan a logical order of tests to run on their samples (which was quite hard!) and then retrieved the materials they needed to run their tests.
To truly understand how scientists work, our next stop was to a real science lab! Wednesday morning parents dropped Long-View learners off at the nearby University of Texas campus. We gathered by the Martin Luther King, Jr statue to get our bearings and then entered the Jackson School of Geosciences building. We split into groups and began a rotation that lasted until lunch. Dr. John Lassiter, Associate Professor in the Department of Geological Sciences, welcomed us and overviewed his research focus related to the fundamental problems of the Earth's origin. Dr. Staci Loewy, Radiogenic Isotope Geochemist, taught us about how a "clean lab" runs and explained her work with a mass spectrometer. Our learners were fascinated to hear about how she was using Uranium isotopes to determine the age of an ostrich egg found at an ancient campsite in Ethiopia!
Next stop was the fifth floor at Dr. Philip Bennett’s lab. His research revolves around microbial geochemistry, geomicrobiology, and geochemical kinetics. Our learners enjoyed practicing using the gloves in the anaerobic chamber and were in awe when he broke out the liquid nitrogen.
Finally, a tour of the fossils, minerals, and crystals on the first floor rounded out our visit just as classes were letting out for lunch. During our time on the UT campus, we encourage our learners to “blend in” with the college students, and as the University students filled the halls, we were proud to see our kids among them.
After a lovely lunch on campus, a stop at the UT tower, and then a peek at the turtle pond, we walked back to Long-View to decide which suspect to send to trial. Forensic team leaders had to organize their team and come to a consensus. The votes came in and it was decided that Ruby St. Marco would stand trial for burglary of the diamonds. The rest of the afternoon was spent learning about the legal system and how our trial would go. We learned about burden of proof, reasonable doubt, and right to a trial by jury. Before day’s end each child was assigned a role for the next day's trial. Some even jumped for joy exclaiming, “This is my dream job!”
Our last day of Build Week was finally upon us and we felt the urgency to prepare for our 1:00 trial. Defense and prosecution legal teams went over facts, organized arguments, and made sure they understood the evidence. Soon an expert attorney, Chris Elliott, arrived to coach our legal teams and help them prepare their opening and closing statements, as well as their questions for the expert witnesses. Meanwhile, expert witnesses for our forensic tests studied and made sure they could testify on everything from the processes of the tests, to the findings, to which suspect was implicated. Journalists hurried to write initial reports and prepare for gathering notes at the trial, with the goal of being ready to publish within minutes after the final verdict. And court staff, jury, and spectators (also, social media experts), studied their parts and even had a seminar about logical reasoning. They learned to spot red herrings, hidden assumptions, and ad hominen attacks, should one arise this afternoon.
Finally, the big moment was here. “All rise. The ‘Honorable Judge Bayer’ now presiding,” our young bailiff announced. The room, now transformed into a courtroom designed by kids, fell silent and in walked our guest judge, Karl Bayer. With his knowledge of the legal system and formal presence, our trial flowed. Incredible opening statements were given, expert witnesses delivered testimony while being questioned by our young attorneys, and compelling closing statements brought a dramatic conclusion. After the jury deliberated, the foreman announced the verdict in Case T8523-15: Guilty! Ruby St. Marco's sentencing was set for the following week.
Finally, at the close of the final day of Build Week #3, learners and teachers reflected together using a "fishbowl" format. It was a week of rich learning and new ideas, a week of hard work that felt really different than a typical week. It was a week of growing as a community, being exposed to interesting ideas and people, and learning even more about the high levels at which Long-View learners can reach.