Contest winner brings document camera to Hillcrest Intermediate School classroom

| Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013, 9:01 p.m.

Analyzing blood-splatter and handwriting patterns will challenge gifted students to unravel murder mysteries in a new class focusing on science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, skills.

The students at Hillcrest Intermediate School will use a new document camera, won by their teacher, to transport them from their desks to mock crime scenes. The camera will give students the ability to zoom into ridge details on fingerprint smears, among many creative ideas teacher Paula Giran plans to introduce.

“I'm so excited,” Giran said. “Let us jump head first into this.”

Giran, gifted coordinator for the fifth- and sixth-graders at Hillcrest, entered a nationwide contest to win an Epson document camera for her STEM class. Her idea to bring mock crime scenes to the classroom was one of just four entries selected out of more than 1,000.

Giran heard about the contest through an educator's email list and thought the camera would be perfect to integrate into the STEM course she's leading this year.

At almost $900, the camera probably wouldn't be part of her class without the contest, Giran said.

The camera takes still pictures and streams live video. It probably will be used on a daily basis, she said.

“I think it's important that we put kids out there in the real world to be problem solvers,” she said. “All of this STEM stuff is letting them be their own investigators. Those are lifelong skills no matter what field they go into.”

The forensic-science unit will be joined by others Giran is teaching, including inventor and engineering units.

All of the units will challenge students to progress their inquiry-based skills, she said.

Her other ideas include placing a chicken carcass outside to show students how to determine a time of death based on what insects are attracted.

She also wants to use the document camera to take still photos of body parts on the class pets, Madagascar hissing cockroaches, for the forensic entomology unit. Because the insect is so small — only about 2 inches — the camera's zoom ability will give students close-up views of the antennae and other body parts.

Mike Mignogna, president for the district's chapter of the Pennsylvania Association of Gifted Education, said he was impressed with Giran's creative ideas.

“It's important to get them thinking and using their imagination to figure out and understand how things work,” he said. “I want kids to learn that using your brain is cool, and it's going to take you a lot further if you get involved.”

Amanda Dolasinski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8626, or

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