A “heads-up” for teachers who like to plan ahead

by Ellen H. Showell and Fred M. B. Amram

Women Invent in America

Read about awesome real-life adventures


Teacher’s Guide

Teaching Suggestions for
Crime Scene Science

      Article, Page

"Crime Scene at Ground Zero," pg. 6
After searching for survivors of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, investigators photographed evidence and identified victims using dental records and DNA analysis.
Process Analysis, Inductive Reasoning

"Forensic Teamwork," pg. 9
A firearm examiner, audio specialist, forensic psychiatrist, document examiner, and computer crime specialist explain their roles on the forensic team. A sidebar (pg. 11) defines other forensic specialties.
Inductive Reasoning, Careers

"Your DNA Profile: The Identity You Can’t Escape," pg. 13
DNA evidence can identify the guilty and free the innocent. A sidebar (pg. 15) explains DNA structure.
Process Analysis, Inductive Reasoning

"Facing Jack the Ripper: Forensics Then and Now," pg. 18
Who was Jack the Ripper? Modern "Ripperologists" keep watch when new evidence and theories arise. A sidebar (pg. 22) describes a diary that might have belonged to the infamous serial killer.
Deductive Reasoning, Historical Context

"Fingerprints on Trial," pg. 23
Fingerprints are unique and permanent, and fingerprint identification is often important for solving crimes. Court cases have challenged fingerprint collection methods and the conclusions of analysts.
Critical Thinking, Methods of Inquiry

"Try Your Hand at Fingerprint Analysis" (Activity), pg. 25
Start with a fingerprint card from everyone. Then have a "guilty party" leave prints at the crime scene. This activity will apprehend the most careful examiners, as well as the "perps."
Observation, Following Directions

"The Worms Crawl In, the Worms Crawl Out," pg. 26
Blowflies, maggots, flesh flies, and "cheese skippers" are often the most reliable witnesses to murder. By studying the habits and life cycles of insects that feed on decomposing cadavers, the forensic entomologist can often discern time, place, and manner of death.
Inductive Reasoning, Process Analysis

"Mysterious Mouse Murder" (Brain Strain), pg. 29
Who killed Millie Mouse? Use three clues to identify the culprit.
Inductive Reasoning, Drawing Conclusions

"Doug Owsley: The Real Indiana Jones," pg. 30
Doug Owsley, head of the Physical Anthropology Division at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of History, has traveled the world, examining human remains and discovering the secrets hidden in their bones. A sidebar (pg. 32) describes "The Body Farm," where scientists study decomposition.
Inductive Reasoning, Career Development

"It’s Elementary, My Dear Watson . . . If You Have a Microscope!" (People to Discover), pg. 35
ODYSSEY interviews Skip Palenik, a forensic microscopist, about his "detective work," as well as his favorite and most recent cases. Palenik explains how he came to his career in crime investigation.
Career Development, Vocabulary

"The Bottlebrush & Hibiscus Get Their Man," pg. 38
Plant pollen can witness a crime and testify in court. A sidebar (pg. 40) explains what pollen is and how it helps forensic investigators.
Inductive Reasoning, Observation

"Meteors and Planets to See in January!" and "Planet Watch" (What’s Up), pg. 42
Sky watchers can see the Quadrantid meteor shower, the Full Wolf Moon, and four planets in January’s evening sky.
Observation, Following Directions

"You Can Do Astronomy: Stars of the Pharaohs" (Activity), pg. 44
Look toward Orion and follow the stars back to the days of Osiris.
Observation, Historical Context

Think Tank (Discussion Starters to Use Before Reading the Magazine):
  1. Why are programs showing crime scene investigation so popular on television? List as many reasons as you can. What does your list tell you about human nature?
  2. Make a list of famous crimes or criminal investigations that occurred before you were born. What do you know about these events? What made them dramatic or noteworthy? Was there any attempt at a scientific investigation of the crime? If so, what scientific details became publicly known? (NOTE: These questions present an opportunity for additional research.)
Classroom "Syzygy":     Talk, Connect, Assess
Pg. 13 – "Your DNA Profile: The Identity You Can’t Escape"
  • Talk It Over:
    1. Why were the baseball cap and the fingernail clipping important in this story? Why must crime scene investigators be extremely careful in seeking and handling DNA evidence?
    2. How can DNA analysis help prove guilt or innocence? How can DNA results be helpful even when there is no match on file?
  • Connections:
    1. Graphic Arts: Re-examine the crime scene described at the beginning of the article. Imagining that you are a detective at the scene, create a crime scene drawing. Make your sketch highly detailed. Include the area surrounding the car and label the location of every piece of evidence.
    2. Language Arts: Reread the crime scene description. Imagining that you are a detective at the scene, create a first-person narrative report of your investigation. In your narrative, focus on your search for DNA evidence.
    3. History: After reviewing the sidebar on pg. 17, "DNA Profiling: An Imperfect Science," go on-line and research the use (or misuse) of DNA evidence in the O.J. Simpson case. Prepare a summary of what you find (including your sources) to present to the class.
  • Student Assessment:
    1. In a brief essay, describe how DNA is extracted, copied, and analyzed. Write clearly for an audience that has not read the article.
    2. Pretend you are a district attorney prosecuting the suspect in this case. All the evidence has been presented, and it is time for you to present your closing arguments to the jury. Write and deliver your summation.
pg. 30 – "Doug Owsley: The Real Indiana Jones"
  • Talk It Over:
    1. What work does a forensic anthropologist do? Where might such a person work? What training is required?
    2. Is "The Body Farm" a place that shows respect for life and for people? Why or why not? What does your answer reveal about your values?
  • Connections:
    1. Visual Arts: The article describes the "road" Doug Owsley has traveled so far in his life. On a poster, draw a road or path that represents Owsley’s journey. Along the road, illustrate important events in his life and put up signposts for major milestones along the way.
    2. History/Research: In your library or on the Internet, find out more about the civil war that devastated Guatemala in the 1980s. Gather information about the two journalists, Davis and Blake. Compile your information and report to the class.
    3. Language Arts: Reread the section "A Long Legal Battle" on pages 33 and 34. In your opinion, should native populations have ownership rights to any artifacts or skeletons that can be traced to their people? Organize a class debate of pros and cons.
  • Student Assessment:
    1. Write a question-and-answer interview with Doug Owsley. Pose important questions and write the answers you think Owsley would give.
    2. Pretend that your local newspaper is campaigning to close the Body Farm. Write a letter to the editor, opposing the campaign. Try to convince newspaper readers that research done at the Body Farm saves lives as it helps investigators solve crimes.
Far Out!: Moving Beyond the Magazine (with a few macabre quotes) "Death is nature’s way of saying, ‘Your table’s ready.’" — Robin Williams
Whole-Class Project: Organize the class into two teams. Challenge each team to design a crime scene for the other team to investigate. Each team should decide ahead of time – but keep secret! – exactly what the crime is and "whodunit." How the clues can lead to the logical and correct conclusion must also be preplanned. Evaluate teams by how well they incorporate forensic methods into their crime scene constructions and investigations.

"It’s not that I’m afraid to die. I just don’t want to be there when it happens." — Woody Allen
Small-Group Activity: Organize a "Forensic Fair." Let students work with a partner to select a forensic specialty from the list on pg. 11 and prepare a poster on it as a career choice. Include on the poster recommended book titles and Web sites. At the fair, ask each team to present information about their forensic specialty.

"Those who welcome death have only tried it from the ears up." — Wilson Mizner
Individual Assignment: Write a short story of approximately 1,000 words centering on a crime scene investigation. Select a particular forensic specialty for your main character and focus on his or her role in solving the crime. Collect the stories and publish them as a class book titled Crime Solvers.

"Go away. I’m all right." — the last words of H.G. Wells
Community Connection: If you live near a large metropolitan area, contact the division of the police department that handles crime scene investigations. In rural areas, contact the local sheriff, state police, or state university. In either case, invite a forensic specialist to talk with the class about investigative procedures.

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Last modified: January 9, 2004