The Cookie Jar Mystery: A Study in Forensic Science is a 12-activity course aimed at students in grades four and five. It is designed to ignite curiosity and stimulate authentic learning by creating real-life contexts ranging from lab analyses to field work to criminal investigation. The Cookie Jar Mystery has been used enthusiastically in all 50 states, stimulating young minds and engaging young hands for many years. In fact, thematic integration—over an extended period of hands-on engagement— forms the driving concept behind all Community Learning’s courses. The Cookie Jar Mystery is aligned to Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) disciplinary core ideas for grades 4-5. In addition, the activities included in this unit align to the Common Core Learning Standards. For more information on the standards please see the Standards Matrix provided in the appendix.

Bringing the Mystery to Life

A crime has occurred in Mrs. Randall’s classroom! Her favorite cookie jar was broken and some of her homemade cookies were eaten. While breaking a cookie jar and snitching a few cookies are hardly serious crimes, they are nevertheless crimes that can be solved using a forensic science approach. Mrs. Randall turns this misfortune into opportunity and calls in a “Chief Crime Scene Investigator” (your course instructor) to lead her “forensics team” (your students) in how to use the tools of forensic science in analyzing clues left at the crime scene. Each student member of this team is a “Crime Scene Investigator” tasked with solving the mystery through scientific observation, sample examination, analysis, lab work, testing, interviews, and field work.

To draw the students into the mystery, the instructor sets the stage by recounting Mrs. Randall’s intriguing tale. In advance, the instructor creates names for the four student suspects—names that students will find believable and relatable. These names replace “Suspects 1 – 4” used throughout the course materials. The suspects are three girls and one boy, and two of the girls are sisters. Having the instructor choose the names allows the course to be taught again and again, as this approach prevents incoming students from discovering prematurely who committed the crime.