Forensic Science Discussion Starters

Discussion Starters - Educational Innovations Newsletter

Introducing your students to forensic science is as easy as C-S-I!

There are dozens of excellent resources online for topics related to careers as a forensic pathologist, bloodstain analysis, fingerprinting, forensic biology and DNA, toxicology and so much more!  We have selected a few of our favorite ideas and websites to get your students revved up and ready to put on their lab coats (or Sherlock Holmes hats) and start investigating the world of forensic science.

A Four-Star Activity for HS Chemistry Students

Mixed Reception” is an awesome free interactive activity developed by the ChemCollective at Carnegie Mellon University.  It’s suitable for chemistry students at the high school level, and requires basic knowledge of formula weight, chemical reactions and the scientific method.

Your students can interview suspects using Quicktime movies, investigate the crime scene for clues with Quicktime Virtual Reality images, and analyze the evidence from the crime lab.  If you have enough class time to devote to this, it’s a fantastic resource!

How observant are you?

This classic Harvard psychology experiment on “inattention blindness” is a wonderful way to start a discussion about the importance of forensic science.  Tell the students that during the video (below) they are to count the number of times the team in white passes the ball to each other.  Each student should count silently and make no comments during the movie.  PAUSE the video at 0:43, after the on-screen text identifies the correct answer.  Ask how many students “saw something odd” during the movie (but don’t be specific yet).  Some students will have seen the gorilla, and some students will have no idea what you are talking about.  Be prepared to play the rest of the video.

The purpose of this activity is to illustrate the unreliability of eye-witness testimony.  Unreliable eye-witness testimony is an ongoing concern for law enforcement—many convictions that have been overturned by DNA evidence were based on faulty witness testimony.  It should be stressed most witnesses do not intentionally lie when on the witness stand, but human observation is limited by memory, suggestion, and interpretation.

Studies have shown that even the classic “police line-up” can mislead witnesses and even alter their memories.  The faultiness of eye-witness testimony strengthens the importance of forensic science in determining guilt and innocence. Whereas memories can be confused or altered, scientific evidence stays the same.

 

The Ultimate How-To

This web page from The Forensic Teacher online magazine contains over a dozen “How-To” instructions and class activities.  For instance, there are instructions for how to:

  • set up a crime scene
  • make fake blood
  • process a crime scene
  • set up a body farm
  • barcode fingerprints
  • make a dummy victim
  • roll and compare fingerprints

and much more!

 

Be a Black Light Detective

UV flashlights have many practical and fascinating applications.  They can make the invisible visible or isolate one specific substance from everything around it.  UV light sources are one of the main tools in a crime scene investigator’s arsenal.  To pick out fingerprints, for example, they often dust with fluorescent dye under a black light.  Black lights can also identify bodily fluids that naturally fluoresce.

Why not organize a UV scavenger hunt for your students?   Phosphors (substances that give off light—or fluoresce—when they are exposed to UV light) are all over the place.  Some phosporous items are natural (our teeth and fingernails, for example) and others are man-made—for instance, many paints, fabrics, and highlighter markers.

One of our EI staffers took home a UV flashlight and was amazed at the common household items that fluoresced—including her own skin!  Read about it here.  Another staffer shined the UV flashlight around her home and was amazed at what she found!  (Note: toothpaste and cleaning products with brighteners fluoresce under UV light.)

UV ultraviolet light experiment

UV ultraviolet light experiment

 

Forensic Science Online Activities

Forensics Illustrated—Step Under the Tape is a comprehensive collection of all the resources collected, manufactured, and utilized by a Kentucky teacher, Dr. Brennon Sapp, during his nine years of teaching Forensic Science to high school students. If you’re looking for projects, practice worksheets, Powerpoint presentations, or photos comparing different types of animal hair, you won’t be disappointed.  is really a one-stop shop!

Forensic Science Discussion Starters - Educational Innovations Blog

 

And then there’s Terrific Science, which offers class activities in PDF format for high school level classes in chemistry, biology, anatomy, physics and more.  These lessons were written and shared by dedicated high school teachers.  Titles include:

Bloodstain Pattern Simulations: A Physical Analysis
DNA Fingerprinting: The Great Cafeteria Caper
Fingerprinting Lab
Using Blood-Typing to Determine Causes of Death in Surgery Patients
Using Plant Pigments to Link a Suspect to a Crime

 

If you’re interested in more CSI-themed science, visit our Who Did It? section.

 

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