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Erin Olson, Second Chance High teacher, demonstrates how an electrical circuit and battery work to 19 students, grades K-2, Saturday at the Mitchell Career and Technical Education Academy. The group's theme was "Magic School Bus Science," which used objects such as snow globes, lightning bugs and a secret soda pop recipe to demonstrate scientific concepts. (Candy DenOuden/Republic)

Mitchell students sleuth Christmas case with science

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Mitchell students sleuth Christmas case with science
Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301

Mrs. Sieler’s candy canes have gone missing, and only science can bring the culprit to justice.

Luckily, Julie Olson and her group of crime scene investigators were on hand to crack “The Case of the Missing Candy Cane,” Saturday at the Mitchell Career and Technical Education Academy.

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Nearly 30 elementary students gathered for the first Science Saturday event, to learn about science through hands-on activities. Third- through fifth-grade students joined Second Chance High science teacher Julie to find out what happened to the candy canes.

“We’ve got a little crime we’ve got to solve here today,” Julie said, which elicited small gasps and one “dun, dun, dun” from her team of investigators.

Julie read off a list of fictional suspects — each professing innocence — then led participants to a “crime scene,” complete with an empty candy cane box, dishes and white powder spread across a table as clues. Just like a game of “Clue” or an episode of the TV show “CSI,” the budding scientists eliminated suspects through investigation methods that included sketching the crime scene, a fingerprint study, powder analysis, handwriting samples and a candy chromatography.

With each activity, Julie, assisted by Second Chance Interact Club members, demonstrated different scientific principles. While taking fingerprints, for instance, the science teacher showed students how to determine what type of fingerprints they have, and how to tell the difference between a plain arch or a radial loop in prints.

In the end, students saved the day and determined the candy culprit was Carmen Carichi, Mrs. Sieler’s next-door neighbor.

Down the hall, fellow Second Chance teacher Erin Olson proved even coffee filters can teach scientific truths. By coloring a coffee filter and then dipping it in water, Erin said students could learn about osmosis and mixtures. As the filters dried, she discussed the scientific concept of evaporation.

“What do we want all that snow to do outside?” she added.

With a “Magic School Bus Science” theme, Erin and Interact Club members helped an energetic group of kindergarten through second-graders with multiple hands-on activities. Kids colored lightning bugs and glued them onto a clothes pin with wiring. When Erin attached those wires to a battery, the lightning bugs lit up.

“You do science every day, I bet, and don’t even know it,” she said to her group. “There’s science everywhere.”

The event was a fundraiser for the Second Chance Interact Club, which is trying to raise $8,000 to $10,000 in order to go on a service learning trip to New York City and Washington, D.C., in June or July.

Erin Olson, adviser for the Interact Club, said the service club started last year, and has about 45 members. Since September, she said the club has put in 185 hours of community service through various projects around the area. When the kids expressed interest in doing something outside of Mitchell, New York City and Washington, D.C., fell into place.

On the trip, she said the group hopes to visit soup kitchens and other community outreaches, to “really give them a variety of opportunities to see how life is.”

While Erin admitted it’s a lot of money to raise, she said people have been generous so far — NBA player and Mitchell native Mike Miller and Mount Vernon native Chad Greenway, in the NFL, have both donated autographed jerseys to the club, which Erin said will be raffled off. The group has also steadily been holding fundraising events like bake sales and work projects. Including Saturday’s event, Erin said the club has raised about $3,000 so far, and continues to line up fundraising opportunities.

“I think it’s daunting, but the students are committed to it,” Erin said. “Slowly and steadily, it’s coming.”

Erin and Julie agreed that Saturday’s event was a good match for Second Chance and the community, and plan to hold another science camp in the spring.

“I think it’s a valuable learning opportunity, as well as a good opportunity to do a service project,” Julie said. “It was fun. Hopefully it’s keeping that spark alive for science classes.”

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