Students seek to solve mysterious ‘death’ at crime scene in new program

New biomedical program in Federal Way Public Schools provides hands-on learning of health science careers.

Decatur High School freshmen are attempting to solve a mysterious death.

This simulated crime is a year-long project for the new biomedical program in the Federal Way Public Schools district.

“We started with, what we called, a crime scene because it was unclear how this person died,” said Jeanette Kearney, a Decatur High School biomedical teacher.

The freshman class is working on a year-long project to solve the question: How did “Anna” die? The fictional character, Anna, is the real-life component to Decatur’s biomedical class.

Project Lead the Way, a nationally recognized biomedical program, gives students a hands-on experience in the health sciences field by approaching learning by problem-solving.

This program is currently offered at three high schools – Decatur, Todd Beamer, and Federal Way – with plans to expand to all four district high schools next year, according to the district.

The program helps prepare students for high wage, high demand careers in health sciences by playing the role of a biomedical professional who explores the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of disease.

By working collaboratively to investigate and design solutions to health challenges of the 21st century, students earn experience similar to working in a health science profession.

The program is part of the health sciences and agricultural sciences pathway, one of the five personalized career pathways in FWPS, according to the district. These personalized career pathways include arts and communication, business and marketing, engineering, manufacturing and technology, health sciences and agricultural sciences, and human services.

The fictional character, Anna, was found one morning by a paramedic and declared dead at the scene.

At the “crime scene” in Kearney’s classroom at the beginning of the school year, students were able to test certain evidence, such as the blood type and blood splatter found at the scene.

This real life element allows students to get a tangible idea of work they could be doing in possible career fields, such as forensics investigator, dietician, or toxicologist among many others.

“This has got to be the coolest program I’ve ever seen,” Kearney said. “Because of the hands-on component, getting them to think critically …”

At this point in the semester, Kearney said, the students have determined their fictional character, Anna, died from natural causes and that she was diabetic.

This discovery then leads into the following weeks of activities of conducting chemical tests on her “stomach contents” to determine the carbohydrates, lipids and protein in her diet.

“We do a lot of cool labs, like a lot of experiments … It keeps the class interesting and it’s not just reading the textbook then answering questions,” said Decatur student Tomo K.

Alyssa, another student in the class, described one of the most memorable labs that included using hot dogs to simulate a human body to test varying water and “internal” temperatures.

“It’s a lot more advanced … We don’t take that many tests but we do a lot of lab work and we do a lot of writing,” Alyssa said. “Now that I’m in [the biomedical program], I want to go more into the medical field.”

By the end of the year, the student’s final will be for them to establish the manner and cause of Anna’s death, while also being able to justify it with evidence they’ve collected over the year, Kearney said.

The students retain information better and stay more engaged in the material, from Kearney’s observations, with this style of learning, she said.

“The ability to do labs pretty independently, work with high-tech lab equipment that they’re going to encounter in college … and for them to be able to discover things for themselves, it gives them meaning,” Kearney said.

The most important benefit Kearney said she hopes the students get out of this program is confidence building and critical thinking.

“I’ve always enjoyed science,” said Decatur freshman Izabella B., adding that she hasn’t usually had much fun in prior science classes. “This one, I have more freedom to do more experiments and move ahead faster.”

As a visual learner, Izabella said she’s taken a real interest in the biomedical field and hopes to possibly find a career in forensics. Although it is a more advanced class, it’s not too much of a challenge because, as Izabella puts it, if you listen, everything is explained well by Kearney.

Kearney said she hopes this opportunity for engaging, interactive learning also helps students develop a passion for science.

“I want them to leave here knowing that they can do more than they ever thought they could,” she said.

For more information on the biomedical program or other class offerings in the district, view the FWPS course catalog.

Jeanette Kearney explains the lab directions at a recent biomedical class. Olivia Sullivan/staff photo

Jeanette Kearney explains the lab directions at a recent biomedical class. Olivia Sullivan/staff photo

Students in the new biomedical program at Decatur High School use advanced lab equipment in class. Olivia Sullivan/staff photo

Students in the new biomedical program at Decatur High School use advanced lab equipment in class. Olivia Sullivan/staff photo