By Denise Spencer M.Ed.
“Where were you on Thursday?” “Do you have any enemies?” These are just a few of the questions my junior CSIs ask as they interview suspects. Each semester as a culminating activity, my Forensic Science students are assigned the task of investigating a mock crime scene.
Throughout the eighteen weeks of my Forensic Science course, the students are exposed to many intriguing topics. We study toxicology, fingerprinting, anthropology, entomology, photography, and blood spatter, just to name a few. Instead of having a standard paper and pencil exam, I decided it would be best to assess what my students had learned by having them show me.
I think that I have more fun creating the crime scenes than the students have solving them! I start off by enlisting other teachers and staff members to be suspects. My crime scenes have become so popular that I have had people approach me asking to be suspects. Once the suspects have been secured, the real fun begins. I have each suspect pose for mug shots. Fingerprints are taken as well as personal identifying information. The next step is to develop a scenario: who, what, when, where, why, and how.
For this crime scene, the scenario I created read as follows:
At 7:30am, Thursday, May 29, 2008 a set of skeletal remains was found at Tabb Middle School. The York County Sheriff’s Department needs your help. You, along with a group of others, will investigate the evidence found at the scene. Your investigative team will classify the evidence according to importance and will analyze the trace evidence collected at the scene in hopes of determining the suspect(s) involved. Good luck! Remember that only you and science will be able to solve the mystery.
Each member of your investigative team will be assigned a task. You must complete your task and report back to your group, you will share your evidence and observations in order to determine the suspect(s).
Once I explain and review the scenario with the students, I have them choose their investigative groups. The groups cannot have more than four students and it is difficult to complete the investigation with less than three members. Each group member is responsible for selecting a role and completing that role in order to help solve the case. See the description of each role below.
• First on the scene and organizes the other group members
• Develops questions about possible leads/motives: who, what, when, where, why, how
• Interviews suspects/witnesses
• Maintains notes and organizes information for the group
• Records information from all group members (observations, evidence collected, etc)
• Completes search warrant to be submitted to the judge
• Takes measurements and sketches the crime scene.
• Helps to decide which pictures will be included in the final PowerPoint
Lead Forensic Technician:
• Responsible for the evidence packet (makes sure all evidence is kept in the packet and is returned to teacher at the end of each class)
• Assists recorder in logging in data collected to help determine the prime suspect.
• Helps lead investigator interview suspects/witnesses.
Once the roles are chosen, the scene will be worked, and the suspects interviewed. To keep the students from taking all the evidence at the crime scene and leaving none for other groups I give them duplicate evidence a few pieces at a time. They don’t actually collect it. For a victim I have used a skeleton, but I mainly use two bodies made from pillow stuffing, a t-shirt, old support pantyhose and a head form I bought at a party store. The bodies, either male or female, are then dressed for the crime. The main thing is for students to study pictures of the scene, test evidence, match fingerprints, interview suspects, take measurements, and sketch the scene.
The students are given the task of creating a PowerPoint presentation to include: 1. identify the physical evidence they examined; 2. what circumstances they think led to the crime; 3. crime scene sketch to be explained during the presentation; 4. how the evidence led them to their prime suspects; 5. their reasons for what happened and how the suspect(s) were involved. Students either work on their presentations in a computer lab or at home.
From this point on, I am only a by-stander, the students are on their own to use critical thinking and their knowledge of crime investigation to come to a logical conclusion. I put the autopsy report into their group packet on the second day. The students visited the crime scene and observed as well as took notes and measurements for two days. After two days, all they had to work with were their notes and observations, photos of the crime scene that I provided, a packet of evidence (fingerprints, mug shots, physical evidence from the scene, witness statements, autopsy report, etc). They also have the opportunity to interview the suspects and follow up with witnesses.
The students love the freedom and it is a great way for me to see what they learned from the lessons I taught. They end the whole thing by presenting their PowerPoints to the class and the class decides if there is enough evidence and support of that evidence in the presentation to issue an arrest warrant. I also have the students complete an evaluation form to help hold them accountable for the assignment. The evaluation form I use is below.
Investigative Group Evaluation
Complete the questions below as honestly as possible. If this form is not completed and turned in to your teacher, 10 points will be deducted from the exam grade.
1= strong disagree 2= disagree 3=neutral 4= agree 5= strong agree
1. Your group cooperated to complete the tasks assigned. 1 2 3 4 5
2. The leader investigator completed all related responsibilities. 1 2 3 4 5
3. The recorder maintained a record of all evidence and notes. 1 2 3 4 5
4. The lead technician tested all evidence and recorded results. 1 2 3 4 5
5. The photographer took accurate measurements for the sketch. 1 2 3 4 5
6. ALL group members helped to create the power point. 1 2 3 4 5
7. The chain of custody was maintained for all evidence and notes. 1 2 3 4 5
8. If you had to do this assignment again, you would choose the same group 1 2 3 4 5
Was there anyone in the group who did not cooperate or complete his/her assigned tasks? If so explain what happened. ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
What grade would you give each person in your group, including your self? Explain the grade given for each person.
Briefly explain what you learned from this experience. (If you need more space, use the back of this sheet.) _________________________________________________________________________________________________