Sunday, July 8, 2012

Program: Detective Training

Welcome to the third installment of my Tween Summer Program series. As I mentioned in previous posts, I tried to make my programming match the Summer Reading Club there. So, what better way to "Get a Clue" than by hosting some detective training?

My library has done similar detective/CSI type programming a lot, and some of it relatively recently. I had to try to think of a way to make it new and interesting, especially since some of the kids coming to my program would probably have attended those other programs. I had thought about doing a murder mystery in the library and looked into some of the kits you can purchase as well as some things other libraries had done. So I decided to combine the two - solve a mystery in the library by using forensic evidence!

I thought murder was a bit extreme, so our mystery was theft - specifically, the theft of the summer reading prizes! I asked (okay, strong-armed) the entire children's department into being suspects of the crime. I gathered all my evidence beforehand (because, let's face it, I can't have the entire children's department stop what they're doing to participate in my program) and set up stations for the kids to work through.

The first station provided short suspect bios (with embarassing photos of staff) and their alibis. Kids were encouraged to stop at this table first, both to pick up a handy sheet to keep track of their clues and to familiarize themselves with the suspects. Then they were free to move about the other stations in any order they chose.

I had a station set up with fingerprint evidence and handwriting analysis - a ransom note was left on the scene. For each piece of evidence, I presented what had been found at the scene and then a sample from each suspect. The kids were supposed to compare the samples with the evidence found and decide who they suspected left each piece of evidence.

The next station was bite mark evidence. A chocolate bar had been found with some bite marks left in it, so, once again, kids compared these to the samples I had gathered from the staff (I simply had them bite into two triangular pieces of styrofoam, which left behind an impression of their teeth). I also put out more pieces of styrofoam for the kids to try making their own bite impressions but very few of them tried it.

The next station held mystery evidence bags. These were sealed paper bags, each containing a mystery item found near the scene of the crime. The kids could only use their sense of touch to determine what the items were and then had to use their deductive powers to figure out which item had a connection to a suspect.

The last station didn't really have anything to do with the crime; I just wanted an excuse to make fake blood. So I did. I put it in little dropper bottles (like contact lens solution) and then set up a table where the kids could try dropping the blood from different heights or onto different surfaces (I put out pieces of cardboard, and the table was covered in butcher paper) to see the difference in spatter. Surprisingly, this was not a popular station and the fake blood did not seem to react differently in any of the conditions I tried (which may be why it wasn't very popular).

So, seeing that the kids were not that interested in the fake blood and seemed to be moving fairly quickly through the other stations (the one that took the longest had the evidence bags), I had to think on my feet. Luckily, when I am brainstorming about a program, I usually end up fnding more ideas than I think I can feasible use in a 45-minute/hour long program. It had to be something that didn't require any additional supplies and should still be relevant to the program. Voila! The observation game! I roped two of my teen volunteers and explained to them how it worked and then put them in charge of explaining it to the kids. It's a very simple game - kids work in pairs and take turns altering aspects of their appearance while their partner's back is turned. Then, their partner has to try to determine what has changed. The first group of kids got really into this - they played a number of times and came up with some very sneaky changes to try to stump their partners. The second group didn't seem as interested and most of them spread out on the floor, working on the mystery word search I had put out, or the handwriting quiz, or reading the books I had set on display.

When the program ended, I called all the kids together and had them vote (by a show of hands) on the guilty party. They did pretty well - I think it was relatively easy since one suspect had two pieces of incriminating evidence and two other suspects each had one - but some of them remained stumped. Those who deduced correctly rejoiced loudly, of course, and everyone seemed to have enjoyed themselves.

What would you have done differently?

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