Skip To Main Content


Solving a Mystery Using Science at Desert Hills

Desert Hills student investigating finger prints

They don't have badges or lab coats.

But, the incoming seventh- and eighth-graders in Megan Deines' class at Desert Hills Middle School have become forensic investigators during their time in summer school. They're looking into the murder of a fictional town official, and they're using all sorts of scientific techniques to do so.

They've tried their hands at blood typing, tested hair samples, and evaluated bug activity to nail down the victim's time of death.

On a recent morning, they analyzed fingerprints, comparing prints left at the crime scene and on the murder weapon to samples from their suspects.

"Could it be Vic Velto?" Deines asked, motioning to a photo of the suspect's prints on the whiteboard.

No, the students determined. His prints don't match.

By the time the class period was over, they'd figured out whose prints did match – and they'd moved closer to solving the crime.

The incoming seventh- and eighth-graders are among the more than 3,000 students participating in summer school through the Kennewick School District. For high schoolers, the focus of summer school is credit recovery, extra help in math and enrichment activities. For students in preschool through middle school, the focus is on hands-on STEAM learning. STEAM stands for science, technology, engineering, the arts and math.

While Deines' students are conducting their forensic investigation in science, they're also reading the mystery novel "The Westing Game" in English Language Arts – and it's been fun to see them making connections across the subjects, Deines said. 

That's one goal of summer school – to engage students and bring learning to life for them.

"In class, I think they're getting an understanding of the scientific process and of a completely different area of science. We haven't done any of this in class before, so it's new," Deines said. "I hope that they find that it's enjoyable and that learning can be fun. There's also the age-old question of, when am I ever going to use this? This shows that there are different jobs and professions out there, and it could be something to consider pursuing."

Desert Hills teacher and student during summer school


Investigating during summer school


Desert Hills student smiling during science class at summer school


Desert Hills paraeducator and student during summer school


Science investigation at Desert Hills


Desert Hills student during summer school


Desert Hills student laughing


Desert Hills teacher Megan Deines