Students crack a case

Precalculus classes met in the lecture hall and used their math skills to find out whodunit


Bella Kim

Mrs. Bright (left) in her scrubs and Mrs. Fox (right) in her FBI uniform at the scene of the crime.

Bella Kim, Staff Writer

LOS ALAMITOS, CA — Los Alamitos High School’s precalculus classes put their math brains together on Friday, Feb. 17 and solved a thrilling murder mystery. Instead of going to their usual classrooms, students put on their detective hats and went to the lecture hall to work out a crime.

As they entered the room, the student investigators noticed the painter’s tape outline of a body on the floor. They also observed yellow caution tape marking off a table with something covered in a white sheet that they could only assume was… the dead body.

The crime scene: a body outline and examination table marked with caution tape.
Pictures of five precalc students, the fictional murderer’s first victims.

On the wall were pictures of the victims and the suspects. Precalculus students turned in pictures of themselves earlier in the week for extra credit. Little did they know that some of their pictures would be used for their peers to identify them as potential murderers! The precalc teachers, Mrs. Fox, Mrs. Bright, and Mr. Barker, gave the suspects made-up names. Students pointed out their friends’ pictures and wondered aloud who the criminal might be.

The student detectives paired up and received dossiers, case files with the murder mystery narrative and instructions. Their task: to use Newton’s Law of Cooling to figure out the time of death and uncover the killer.

The student detectives had to narrow down which of these suspects was the killer.

Mrs. Bright got the murder mystery idea from a colleague at another school. She was the first teacher to do this interactive activity with her classes, starting about 13 years ago. When she joined the precalc team, the other classes decided to join in.

Mrs. Fox, “Agent” Fox on Friday, dressed in all black with dark sunglasses, an FBI hat, and a badge. She said that every year, her students really enjoy this activity.

“Either that or it frustrates them in the best way possible,” Mrs. Fox said jokingly.

Both she and Mrs. Bright also wanted the game to be a learning experience for their students.

“Newton’s Law of Cooling can be applied in the real world,” said Mrs. Bright, who wore nurse scrubs. She hoped the activity might inspire students to pursue forensic science by showing them that math and science are used in real careers.

Mrs. Bright and Mrs. Fox, posing at the crime scene with serious detective faces.

“I thought it was a really interesting way to apply math knowledge to the real world,” Sydney Forsyte, a Los Al sophomore, said. “I was also one of the suspects, and I liked how the name of the victim [Dr. Dedman] was a pun on him being dead.”

The precalc teachers planned the activity for the last day of school before ski week and the day after a chapter test. This made solving crime a perfect way to end the week and get ready for vacation. Overall, precalc students had a lot of fun with the murder mystery and hopefully learned that math has applications outside the classroom.