A York-styled virtual ‘whodunit’

It was a “whodunit” with a distinctive York flair. In a futuristic virtual crime lab, a Markham high-school class shared a hands-on field trip with a high-school class in Edmonton at the Ontario Science Centre (OSC) on Dec. 12 and 19. The virtual field trip enabled students to explore the intricate process of DNA fingerprinting and forensic science in a lab setting, and then to solve a mystery. 

The program was conceived and developed in conjunction with York University’s ABEL (Advanced Broadband Enabled Learning) project. ABEL allows students and teachers in different locations to interact with one another and share education tools, such as PowerPoint and digital video, in real time.

Right: Students receive instruction from Myrica Smith, an OSC expert

During the sessions, students from Edmonton’s J. Percy Page High School together with students from Markham’s Middlefield Collegiate (who were on location at the OSC) worked on a DNA fingerprinting project. They interacted through a live video conference to review and share their newfound knowledge of the applications of DNA fingerprinting in forensics work and the methods and protocols of DNA replication.

Left: Students review the codes produced by their DNA samples

To prepare for the labs, the Edmonton students sent their own hair samples to the OSC for analysis. The Markham students ran the samples from both schools through a method used to replicate and fingerprint DNA known as the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) protocol. At the conclusion of the labs, the students were able to view their  DNA samples.

Both schools then jointly played out a mystery skit, using what they learned in the lab to come up with the right solution at the end. Working together with lots of discussion and detective work, the students were able to single out a DNA sample that belonged to the perpetrator of the simulated crime at the centre of the mystery.

Ray Bowers, York education instructor,  was on hand with OSC forensic experts to facilitate the learning experience. “The students participated with each other and were eager to express their ideas and understanding,” said Bowers. “This enthusiasm resulted in rich open-ended discussions.”

“I really appreciated the opportunity to apply the theory of what we had learned in class to the ‘hands on’ activity at the Science Centre,” said a student from Middlefield Collegiate. “Being able to share what we had learned here in Toronto with students in Edmonton was really cool!”

“This program at the OSC demonstrates how York is a leader in leveraging technology to bring students and teachers together in Ontario and across Canada to enrich and expand the learning experience,” said Janet Murphy, ABEL project manager. “By connecting people face to face and forming partnerships with the OSC, ABEL is using collaborative technology to enhance learning environments and solve traditional curriculum challenges.” For more information about ABEL, visit http://www.abelearn.ca.

Funded by CANARIE Inc., Canada’s advanced Internet development organization, ABEL seeks to improve student success and transform teacher professional practice through the use of broadband technology in Canadian schools by creating sustainable inter-jurisdictional and inter-institutional collaborations and communities. Over 300 educators at 13 sites in K-12 and postsecondary institutions in Ontario and Alberta have connected to create a thriving learning community. The ABEL community is made up of teachers, school administrators, university faculty and researchers, pre-service teachers and public and private partners. For more information about CANARIE, visit http://www.canarie.ca.