Carnegie Mellon University

Preface for Teachers

This site presents inquiry-based, hands-on exercises which explore basic topics using interesting applications of forensic science.

The six experiments appear in order of increasing difficulty in both concepts and necessary lab skills.   Each experiment is self-contained and all are presented in the same format.   Each opens with a crime scenario, followed by a focus on relevant scientific concepts, a detailed lab activity, clean-up information and data and/or report sheets.   Additional information on needed equipment and reagent preparation as well as details on expected results are provided in a "Teacher's Notes" section at the end of each lab exercise. Many of the materials are “household” type chemicals and supplies.

The experiments are adaptable to all grade level by changing the focus and difficulty of the scientific information presented.  No post-lab questions are included, so that the teacher can generate follow-up questions and activities based on the skill and comprehension level of the students.

All experiments are designed to help students improve their lab skills, observational skills, and problem-solving skills while integrating reading comprehension with science and math.  Additionally, writing skills can be honed by using the "lab report'' as an assessment tool.  Components of assessment can include lab skills, accurate results, presentation of results, understanding of the concepts, and correct answers to post-lab questions.

As a final exercise, students could write their own crime story, collect "evidence", determine the tests needed, perform the tests, and then report on the outcome. The teacher must prepare the "evidence" so the outcome is a surprise to the students.

Some of these exercises were developed through a grant from the Society for Analytical Chemists of Pittsburgh and were piloted in three area schools to 400 students in grades 4-8.  Their most frequent comment was "Can't we do some more of these?"  Participating in a simulated application of science to "real life" generated great excitement and a sense of accomplishment as students "solved" the "crimes".   They learned respect for scientific techniques and gained an understanding of science's importance to society.

It was also presented to educators participating in the Governor’s Institute for Physical Science Educators (GIPSE), a professional development program sponsored by the PA Dept. of Education. The reaction was the same!