Sunday, November 14, 2010

Forensic Files

Two summers ago, our local school department offered a one-week forensic science summer camp for older elementary students. Most of the kids were not there by choice, having been enrolled by their parents who thought that the course sounded “fun.” The teacher, having taught this course a few times before, was used to the student foot-dragging and wistful stares out the window at their unencumbered brethren playing outside, blissfully free from the tyranny of overly ambitious parents. The course focused on the investigation of an environmental crisis where local fish were killed by toxins in the water. The course, based on an actual event, asked students to analyze water quality, fish anatomy, business practices, town relationships, and environmental events in order to determine who – or what – was responsible for releasing the toxins into the water supply. Within 30 minutes on the first day, all the students were hooked.

Much credit must be given, of course, to the teacher. She was engaging, thoroughly prepared, knew her science inside and out, and was a gifted storyteller. The kids were captivated. What also captured their interest was the sheer mystery of the case, and how they had to create and recreate various scenarios in order to solve the puzzle of the dead fish. The course offered them hands-on detective work (testing water samples and dissecting perch) coupled with basic research such as reading through police reports, witness accounts, weather reports, and other data. By the third day of the course, all the students fairly blew by their peers on the playground outside in their haste to get to the classroom. That’s what I call success!

Forensic science has garnered much attention recently. It plays a prominent role in TV shows like The Forensic Files, Law & Order, CSI, and Dexter. Forensics is an incredibly diverse scientific field: there are forensic dentists, forensic veterinarians, pathology, and other specialties. At its most basic level, forensic science is a rich melding of modern technology and good old-fashioned storytelling. There’s something appealing about methodically working backwards on a problem – taking the evidence left at the scene of the crime or event – and attempting to retrace and recreate the events in order to figure out what really transpired. As the students discovered in the summer course, forensics also involves presenting or supplying scientific evidence in court cases. It’s possible to include some aspect of forensic science in a multitude of subjects, then, and not just in science class.

My picks this week all focus on some aspect of forensic science. While the resources below are appropriate for upper elementary through high school students, I will be featuring age-appropriate resources for all ages on our our Facebook and Twitter pages throughout the week.

Ink Chromatography
Subjects: Physical science
Grade: 5-12
Who wrote the ransom note? This ink chromatography lab uses common household materials to determine which pen actually wrote the note. This activity was created by the Shodor Educational Foundation, a non-profit research and education organization dedicated to the advancement of science and math education, specifically through the use of modeling and simulations.

CSI Podcasts
Subjects: Writing, Physical science, Technology
Grade: 6-8
Everyone loves an (imaginary) crime scene! In this lesson, students create a series of podcasts to help them solve crime scenes, and later review the material for tests. They’ll learn about mammals and ecology for a poaching scenario, microscopes, bacteria, fungi, and protists for an epidemiological-type scenario, and genetics for blood typing. This lesson is a product of DigitalWish, a non-profit whose mission is to modernize K-12 classrooms and prepare students for tomorrow's workforce. Teachers create wish lists of technology products for their classroom, and donors then connect with their favorite schools and grant classroom wishes through online cash or product donations.

Crash Scene Investigation
Subjects: Math, Algebra, Functions, Patterns, Physical science
Grade: 9-12
In this online simulation, students virtually help the highway patrol recreate a deadly crash by examining the evidence and calculating the forces. The simulation includes supporting materials, such as real crash scene photos (no gore), a glossary of terms, and a teacher’s guide. This resource is offered by Edheads, a non-profit organization that creates educational web experiences that are free to teachers, students and parents. This simulation is aligned to national and Ohio state standards.

~Joann's Picks - 11/13/2010~

1 comment:

  1. This is the kind of learning that I wish for every child.


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