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College Class Mimics Popular Crime Scene Drama

June 28, 2012

Caution tape lines the hallway. Drops of blood and other evidence are scattered. The grisly outline of a dead body is taped to the floor. It sounds like a scene from the popular television crime scene drama CSI, but as students gather outside the door their lively chatter tells passersby that Dr. Robert Klepper’s Forensic Chemistry class is about to begin.
 
Dr. Klepper, or Doc as he is known to many at Iowa Lakes, says grabbing students’ attention with pop culture gets them motivated to learn.
 
“Because of the popularity of crime scene shows on TV, doing a lab like this generates excitement with the students,” he commented. “I really enjoy it because it is a fun and different approach to teaching in the classroom.”
 
Another favorite lesson is “Burning Down the House,” during which students build miniature houses, then Dr. Klepper burns them down and the students investigate and experiment to determine the accelerant used to start the fire.
 
But what most people might not realize, is that these kinds of hands-on labs are found in every science class Dr. Klepper teaches.
 
“Even in the ‘traditional’ science courses like general chemistry, organic chemistry and microbiology students are working with unknown compounds or organisms and learning to process information and find answers for themselves,” said Klepper, “and these skills carry into every aspect of their lives.”
 
It is true that science education is important even if a student doesn’t intend to work in a Science, Technology, Engineering or Math (STEM) discipline area once they enter the work force.
 
“The things we do directly impact the world around us, and the experiments we do in classes here are giving students a basic idea of how to realize that impact,” stated Klepper. “If they [students] take on a position in their careers as decision or policy makers, knowing how the decisions and policies they put in place will affect the world is important.” 
 
Dr. Klepper is an Iowa Lakes alumnus, and received his Master’s at Iowa State University and PhD at Columbia Pacific University. For more information on Iowa Lakes Community College, please visit www.iowalakes.edu.
 
Students collect evidence for the “whodunit” lab in the Forensic Chemistry class.
Students collect evidence for the “whodunit” lab in the Forensic Chemistry class.
 
Burning down a “house” built by a student.
Burning down a “house” built by a student.
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