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Hands-on science

Lee Simms spiced up his science classes at Superior Middle School last week with mummified minnows and a density murder mystery lab.

Eighth grade lab partners Allie Lindsey, Amanda Paulson and Elisabeth Schmitz-Miller brushed baking soda off a 4-inch sucker minnow named Todd and repacked it in fresh soda before zipping it back into a plastic bag.

“You can’t really smell it until it’s close,” Allie said.

 “It smells terrible, but it’s fun,” said classmate Jonathan Chika.

The fishy project stemmed from a unit on climates. Natural mummies can be made in arid climates like the Andes Mountains, deserts, Greenland or the oxygen-starved peat bogs of Europe. Inca mummies found in Argentina have shed light on events that took place 500 years ago.

What does that have to do with bait?

“I thought it would be neat to produce mummies,” Simms said, and he chose minnows from the Bait Box as the subject. Students dissected and eviscerated the fish, then packed them with baking soda before sealing them in a Ziploc bag. They repacked the fish three days, then a week, later.

“It’s fun; different,” said Michal Strong as he packed a minnow dubbed “Joe Dirt” into fresh baking soda.

“Normally we wouldn’t be working with minnows,” said his lab partner, Tyler Bond.

A week into the drying process, the fish were smelly, but not nearly as odorous as if they’d been left to rot naturally, kids said. They said the white-caked fish were also getting harder.

Leaving their mummies to dry, students turned their attention to the case of the murdered elf. Simms donned a lab coat and set the stage with mysterious music and a skeleton in a Santa hat. The story included half a dozen suspects from among the school staff, zombies and a sliver of evidence that could bust the case wide open.

The young sleuths were asked to identify the murder weapon by matching the density of the clue with that of the possible weapons — a steel nail, two-by-four board, aluminum screw, cardboard, zip ties, green goo and more. Once they found the weapon, they’d know who the killer was.

Using graduated cylinders, scales, rulers and calculators, the investigators determined the density by dividing each item’s mass by its volume.

“It’s interesting, fun,” Chika said. “There’s a real-world thing behind it. You’re doing it with a purpose.”

His lab partner Branden McClure said they had a similar crime scene investigation lab project last year in Ed Willie’s science class.

By the end of class, students were able to identify the clue as a piece of wood, making eighth grade social studies teacher Mike Hoerich the culprit.

“I was impressed that most of them were able to finish,” Simms said. “Last year when I did this, it definitely took them the whole period. We worked on our skills earlier in the year so I didn’t have to review them as much, and I think that really helped.”

The eighth-graders said they enjoyed getting up out of their desks and getting involved in hands-on science.

“It’s very fun,” said Jillian DeGraef. “With this, I think, you can learn more.”