Students of all ages have had their interest in science ignited by portrayals of forensics in popular TV shows like "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation." A study of forensics is appealing for its puzzle-solving aspects and is also effective for developing observation, critical thinking and communications skills. You can customize crime scene investigation lesson plans to many grade levels.
Introduce elementary students to forensics with a lesson on observation. Begin by reading a detective story, like one from the “Nate the Great” series. Discuss what detectives do, pointing out examples from the story. Watch the PBSKids.org episode on forensics, and review. Have students investigate a mock crime scene in another room. As good detectives, they must observe everything, take notes, draw sketches and be careful not to disturb anything. When students are finished, test their observational skills by asking them to recall details of the crime scene, such as objects on a desk or the type of flooring.
Show middle-school students how tire tracks found at crashes or crime scenes are examined. For example, investigators take plaster casts of a track, examine tread patterns and look for characteristics caused by wear or defects. They match this evidence against available tire databases, which can help them determine the brand and model of the tire that left the impression and subsequently the type of vehicle that made the track. As a supplemental activity, have students use small toy cars and ink pads to make tire tracks on white paper. They should note characteristics such as blank spots or width of the tracks. Their goal is to identify and match their tracks with those of “suspects” on a sample worksheet.
High School Investigation
Turn students into rookie investigators at the CSI Web Adventures site, where they can train in several virtual labs and learn how evidence from a crime scene is collected and analyzed. At the forensic biology lab, for example, a DNA analyst explains the basics of DNA, how it’s extracted and how DNA profiles are constructed. Review what your rookies have learned using the site’s teacher-created worksheets and quizzes. When students have finished exploring the other labs, including toxicology, firearms, the medical examiner and CSI ethics, they can try to solve a series of progressively harder cases with the help of characters from the TV show “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.”
Include literature analysis in a study of forensics by reading a Sherlock Holmes mystery. For this lesson, have students read Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle,” in which Holmes and Watson try to figure out how a precious gemstone ended up in the gullet of a goose. At least eight instances of faulty reasoning by Holmes have been found in the story. Students are divided into teams to look for and list these errors. Each team chooses one error and writes a paragraph explaining the mistake in logic that was made and how the evidence could be explained differently.
- Jim Metzner Productions, Inc. The Kids’ Science Challenge: Detective Science Project
- Twin Cities Public Television, Inc. Dragonfly TV: Forensics by Kalia and Carolyn
- The Science Spot: Forensic Science Lesson Plans
- Rice University Center for Technology in Teaching and Learning: CSI Web Adventures
- ConnectEd The California Center for College and Career: Crime Scene Investigation
- Photo Credit Comstock Images/Stockbyte/Getty Images
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