Students solve 'crimes,' explore space in Mini-Mester

Middle School program puts unique spin on learning

Mini-Mester ForensicsOn a chilly March day in the nation’s capital, an 11-year-old boy uses DNA evidence and dental records to unravel a mystery. No, this is not the pilot episode of “Crime Scene Investigation: The Early Years”; it is one of the many fun, educational activities Landon middle schoolers experience as part of Landon’s annual Mini-Mester.

Mini-Mester was introduced in 2012 to, as program head Laurie Sears puts it, “allow our boys to explore the D.C. area and their different interests through experiential learning.” Each year in the days leading up to spring break, the program does just that. Student in grades 6-8 choose a field of study they would like to learn more about — from crime-scene forensics and guitar playing to sustainable living and space exploration — and delve into it with a series of on- and off-campus expeditions that encourage them to learn and build community with teachers, as well as boys from other grades.

This year, the program ran from March 18-20 and featured 13 study concentrations. With “Horrible Histories,” the boys explored three “horrible” historic sites in the greater D.C. area: They learned about President Abraham Lincoln’s legacy with a trip to Ford’s Theater, the site of his assassination; hiked part of the Underground Railroad to get a sense of the path taken by enslaved freedom seekers; and visited the National Museum of Health and Medicine, where they banded together to use bones, dental imprints and material/DNA evidence to solve a forensics mystery.

Detective work was also on the menu for those who signed up for “Spies, Crimes and Forensic Science,” which placed students in the middle of a simulated spy adventure at the International Spy Museum and a forensic lab workshop at the Museum of Crime and Punishment. Seventh grader David Huberman ’18 said he especially enjoyed these hands-on exercises, which taught the boys how fingerprints, bloodstains, microscopic fibers and DNA samples can be used to solve cases.

Mini-Mester Nationals Park“To Infinity and Beyond!” delved into space exploration with trips to the Air and Space Museum and Goddard Space Flight Center. “Sustainable Living” taught the boys techniques, including planting and erosion control, for living more harmoniously with the environment. Aspiring musicians learned how to play, tune and string a guitar, and had the opportunity to lay down a track during the studio recording session that capped off “Guitar 101.” Students who took “Beach Safety and Emergency Preparedness” loved their visit to a fire station to learn about firefighter training, but Frank Saul ’19 said he particularly enjoyed the program’s time at the Madeira School Pool, where he participated in the simulated rescue of another student. And the aptly named “Pure Unadulterated Awesomeness” showed middle schoolers the D.C. area in a whole new light, with activities including a hike on the Billy Goat Trail, a scavenger hunt on the National Mall and — seventh grader Ari Chadda’s favorite part — a behind-the-scenes tour of a snow-covered Washington Nationals Park.