Alternative Assessment Ideas for Forensic Science: Fundamentals and Investigations

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Alternative Assessment Ideas for

Forensic Science: Fundamentals and Investigations

Anthony and Patricia Bertino

Giving one unit exam does not always assess a student’s knowledge nor does it help in modifying the instruction if students do not understand. Not all students can demonstrate mastery of a topic through one written exam administered at the end of the unit and taken within a limited amount of time. To be an effective teacher, assessments should be frequent, varied, on-going and continuous. Assessments can be used to reinforce learning and to motivate and inspire students to succeed. The following approach is suggested:

1. Pretest: assess previous learning, identify misconceptions

Example: What do you know? What do you want to know? (surveys)

Example: Carousel Brainstorming of the topic prior to any discussions
2. Assessments should be done during the learning to monitor how well students are grasping the information. When students are assessed and demonstrate a lack of understanding, it’s important for the instructor to take a different approach and modify the instruction. A single assessment at the conclusion of a topic does not allow time to make modifications in instruction.

One way to ensure comprehension throughout the unit of study is to use the Student Learning Objectives (SLOs) found on the Instructor’s Resource CD (IRCD). These are single concept, testable objectives written from the most basic to the more complex concepts. The Student Learning Objectives should be distributed to each student at the beginning of the topic, not at the end. Students are able to see the “whole picture” of what they should be able to do by the end of the topic of discussion before the topic has begun.

Throughout the unit, students are arranged in pre-arranged heterogeneous, cooperative learning groups to review the objectives already covered in class. Numerous, short, ten minute reviews are recommended instead of one full period review. Higher achieving students, who might otherwise be bored during a question and answer period, are discussing answers and helping others in their group. The student who never studies, is getting the benefit of a review. Because of the small group collaboration, students tend to feel more comfortable and are more likely to contribute by either asking questions or answering questions. Additionally, when someone attempts to explain a concept to another person, they realize that they too may need further clarification and understanding. All students are actively engaged in the review process. During this time, the teacher is free to move from group to group assessing the comprehension levels and clarifying misconceptions.

3. Post Assessments determine how well students have mastered the topic and to help measure the effectiveness of the instruction. Many teachers use a full period written exam as the post assessment. However, consider offering students alternative forms of assessment that not only reinforce additional learning but can also promote student success and interest in the course. Students who are unsuccessful in preparing and taking a written test may be highly successful when using a different format. Alternative assessments allows for differential learning for individual students. It encourages students to demonstrate their individual skills and aptitudes. Instead of the assessment being a source of failure and discouragement, alternative assessments activities increase the learning and give the student a sense of accomplishment and pride that encourages future learning.

A variety of alternative assessments ideas that can be used with the Bertino high school forensic textbook Forensic Science: Fundamentals and Investigations is described below. Because most high school forensic science classes are heterogeneously grouped classes, composed of AP (Advanced Placement) students and students with reading difficulties, it’s important to provide a variety of assessment opportunities that allow for differential learning. Alternative assessments provide the added challenge for the AP students to go further while offering the less motivated or the more academically challenged students, the opportunity to succeed and learn new skills. References have been made to specific sample labs, activities or concepts that lend themselves to each of the different forms of alternative assessments.

Forensic Alternative Assessments Options
1. Autobiography

2. Scrap Booking

3. Expert Witness Testimony

4. Three Dimensional Models

5. Oral Presentations with Demonstrations

6. Video, Power Point Presentations, Photography- Technology 1

7. "Comparison Microscope," Probes, Apps-Technology 2

8. Podcasts-Technology 3

9. Kinesthetic Learning Activities

10. Creativity: Music, Art, Dance, Writing, Photography

11. Forensic Book Reports

12. Mini Poster Sessions

13. Debate

14. Mentoring by CSI, police

15. Engineering and Design


Students write “autobiographies” that provide descriptions and explanations of scientific phenomenon while allowing the student to utilize their imagination and creativity. Information must be scientifically correct. The creative writing component adds an element of fun while at the same time enabling the student to demonstrate knowledge of a topic.

Example 1 Activity 11-2 "Mini Projects for Forensic Entomology"

Write an autobiography from the viewpoint of the fly as it develops from an egg into adulthood. Include in your autobiography:

      • Physical description of the insect at different stages of development

      • Physical description of the insect’s habitat and surroundings

      • Description of the insect’s food at different stages of development

      • Description of the how the insect ingests and digests its food at different stages of development

      • Descriptions of the progression through each developmental stage

      • Description of any predators and competition

      • Description of any movements or migrations during development

      • Digital photos taken as the insect progresses from one stage to another

Example 2 Chapter 18 Ballistics

Write an autobiography from the viewpoint of a bullet describing:

  • Anatomy of the bullet

  • Size (caliber) of the bullet and cartridge

  • Type of bullet

  • Markings on the bullet: When, why and how are the marks are formed

  • Role of the primer

  • Amount and role of gunpowder in the bullet

  • The amount of energy yielded as the gunpowder is ignited

  • Trajectory path of the bullet as the gun is fired and the bullet travels out of the gun barrel through the air and ultimately into the target

  • Description of the various forces affecting the pathway of the bullet

  • Distance traveled by the bullet and how it can be calculated

  • Discussion of what happens to the bullet upon impact

  • Recovery of the fired bullet

  • Comparison of a fired bullet recovered from the victim or environment with a bullet fired by the suspect’s gun.

Other autobiographies could be written from the viewpoint of different types of physical evidence. Students should be given guidance on the type of descriptions that would pertain to different types of physical evidence. Examples: Pollen, sand, bone, fractured glass, DNA, blood spatter.


Compiling a “scrap book” of the students’ own digital photos or photos from images taken from reliable sources along with descriptions of the photos provides a visual and written comparison of evidence. The photos should be arranged in a logical sequence and progression. Scrap booking encourages students to use technology in their presentations, a skill that can be applied to their other courses.

Students presenting evidence from a crime scene and linking that evidence to a particular suspect, should provide:

  • A description of how the evidence is recovered, documented, collected analyzed and stored.

  • A section in the scrapbook where students describe what characteristics of the evidence make it distinctive.

  • Information that demonstrates that the evidence is: relevant, competent, sufficient, scientific and reliable.

  • Information regarding any statistical value given to the evidence.

  • A bibliography to substantiate their descriptions or arguments.

Example 1 Activity Hair 3-1 "Trace Evidence: Hair."

Students determine if one of the hairs taken from the four different suspects is consistent with the hair evidence found at the crime scene. The scrapbook approach includes digital photos taken from the students’ microscope of the suspect’s hairs and the evidence hair.

Other photos or images include a general description of hair and the various characteristics of hair used to distinguish one hair sample from another. Through the photos and annotated descriptions under each photo, students describe the variations found in the hair’s color, texture, thickness, medulla, cuticle, cortex, medullar index and the measurement of the hair’s diameter.

After describing the hair characteristics, students show through their photos and their analysis of the suspects’ hair samples, if any of the suspect’s hair is consistent or inconsistent with the evidence hair.

The pre-writing questions found in Activity 3-3 "Hair Testimony Essay," helps students organize the information in a scrapbook (or written report).

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