In these opening activities, students are introduced to a crime that has taken place in Mr. Mugg’s classroom and to the process of criminal investigation. Students work in pairs and groups to practice their observational skills on a variety of objects. They record their observations in the form of lists and data tables and refer to the properties of different coins—color, texture, shape, size, and image—to complete the tables. In addition to the use of their physical senses, the students measure using rulers and the appropriate abbreviations for specific units. It is crucial that students observe and record the details of evidence accurately. These skills are evaluated over the course of the students’ work as they attempt to identify specific objects based on their peers’ data.
While “science” is defined as the study of the natural and physical worlds through observation and experimentation, “forensic science” is science applied to evidence. This evidence and other information discovered through the activities of forensics can be used in court. In fact, “forensic” derives from forensis, Latin for “forum,” meaning a public meeting place for discussion. In Ancient Rome, if a citizen was accused of a criminal act, his or her case had to be presented in public. Both the accused and the accuser were required to deliver speeches presenting their sides of the story. The final decision in the case rested on the party who presented their information most convincingly.
Different kinds of scientists can be part of forensic study. Forensic anthropologists are responsible for the recovery and identification of skeletal remains. Conducting DNA testing of body fluids for the purpose of identifying an individual is one job of a forensic biologist. Soil, mineral, and petroleum evidence are handled by forensic geologists. Forensic odonatologists study teeth— their development, structure, and diseases. Forensic pathologists, often appearing on television shows, study diseases and changes in the body to determine the cause of death. Analyzing the effects of drugs and poisons on a body is the responsibility of forensic toxicologists.
One of the first instances of using forensic science in a legal case took place in Harwick, England in 1016. A maid had been assaulted and drowned. Footprints and an impression made by corduroy fabric were found near the scene; the impression showed that a patch had been sewn on the fabric. Wheat particles were also found in the area. Based on the distinctive shape of the patch revealed in the impression and the wheat particles, a man who worked in a local wheat field was convicted of the crime.
Crime scene investigators learn to make keen and accurate observations using all of their physical senses as well as specialized tools and equipment. They then tackle the process of recording the observations accurately and completely. These records may take the form of notes or drawings, such as a crime scene map. Qualitative information, such as eye and hair color, is included. Information related to numbers of any kind, such as the height and weight of a suspect and the number of suspects involved, is referred to as quantitative data.
The crime scene investigator plays an important role in the legal process and often testifies during trials. If evidence or information is incomplete or mishandled, the guilty person could be set free. The more facts and details the investigator can supply, the more likely the correct suspect will be convicted. In these opening activities, your budding crime scene analysts will have an opportunity to exercise the observations skills critical to a successful investigation.
The activities in this lesson address Next Generation Science Standards practices of Asking Questions and Defining Problems and Planning and Carrying Out Investigations. In addition, they address Common Core State Standards CCSS.ELA-Literacy. CCRA. SL.1 and CCSS.Math.Content.3.MD.B.4. See the Standards Matrix included in the appendix for more detailed information.