Alternative Assessment Ideas for Forensic Science: Fundamentals and Investigations

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Example 2: Scrapbooking can be used when comparing other forms of physical evidence such as fiber, sand, pollen, dental impressions, skid mark impressions, fingerprinting. Students describe what traits are being studied, describe distinguishing characteristics of the evidence and then demonstrate how the evidence from the crime scene is consistent or non-consistent with the evidence found on a suspect. (Chapters 4, 5, 6, 13, 15, 16, 17 and18).

Example 3 Activity 11-1 "How to Raise Blowflies for Forensic Development," Going Further # 1. A variation of scrap booking for insect development is the “Baby Book Scrapbook” that shows growth and development of flies through its various stages with photos and annotations. This activity helps students understand the progression from egg, 3 different larval stages, pupa and adult. Once students understand the basic biology behind insect development, they are better able to apply this information to their analysis of forensic entomology evidence in estimating post mortem intervals.


This type of alternative assessment utilizes many different presentation methods depending on the interests and aptitudes of the student. The primary purpose of this assessment is to determine if the student can demonstrate an evidentiary link between a particular suspect and a crime. Part of the testimony includes demonstrating that the evidence is relevant, reliable, sufficient, competent and scientific. Students are making observations, stating claims, and providing evidence to substantiate their claims. During the testimony, students argue their case and providing evidence to support their claim(s).

The “expert witness” testimony provides an example of how forensic science helps to meet the goals of:

Common Core State Standards for Writing

1. Write or verbalize arguments to support claims using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.

2. Write or verbalize explanatory texts to convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through effective selection, organization and analysis.

3. Write or verbalize narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using well-chosen details and well-structures sequences

Common Core Writing Standards for Literacy in Science:

1. Write arguments focused on discipline-specific content: Introduction of precise, knowledgeable claim(s) that establish the significance of the claim(s) from alternative or opposing claims and create an organization that logically sequences the claim(s), counterclaims, reasons and evidence.

2. Develop claim(s) and counterclaims fairly and thoroughly, supplying the most relevant data and evidence for each while pointing out the strengths and limitations of both claim(s) and counterclaims in a discipline-appropriate form that anticipates the audiences’ knowledge level, concerns, values, and possible biases.

The initial part of an expert witness testimony presentation requires that the student first convince the listeners (jurors) that he or she is an expert in the field by providing scientifically correct background information regarding the type of evidence being examined and by describing how that evidence was collected, documented, analyzed, handled and stored. Evidence improperly handled and tested cannot be considered in a trial.

In the second part of an expert witness testimony, it is important to convince the audience that the evidence collected from the crime scene does indeed link a suspect to the crime scene. The expert witness should explain how the evidence was analyzed describing any procedures, lab investigations and technology used to evaluate the evidence.

Finally the expert witness should be prepared to answer any questions from the audience or jury regarding the evidence. Common questions would include:

a. How relevant is the evidence?

b. How reliable is the evidence and evidence testing?

1. Is the evidence class or individual evidence?

2. Statistically, what are the odds that the evidence would have been from the suspect or from someone else within the population?

3. Was the evidence testing performed by a reliable lab?

4. Was the evidence tested more than once?

5. Was the evidence tested by more than one person?

c. Is the evidence sufficient to link a suspect to a crime?

Example 1 Activity 10-2 "Analysis of Ransom Note and Expert Witness Testimony." In this activity, students are provided with instructions that help them organize and compose their written expert witness report by:

  • Providing students with an outline or pre-writing format

  • Providing instructions on how to modify their presentation because their target audience consists of individuals with various educational backgrounds

  • Addressing evidence reliability and relevance

  • Encouraging students to write a rough draft.

  • Using small group collaboration: Upon completion of the rough draft, the “expert witness” meets with another student to help with proofreading and editing.

Example 2 Activity 3-3 "Hair Testimony Essay," includes pre-writing questions to assist students with the testimony

Example 3 Activity 4-4 "Textile Identification," includes pre-writing questions to assist with the testimony.

Example 4 Activity 5-2 "Pollen Expert Witness Presentation," includes pre-writing questions to assist with testimony.

It’s important to recognize and utilize the various skills, talents and interests of your students. If students prefer working with their hands rather than taking a written test, offer them the option of building a model to demonstrate a concept in forensics. Students create a model of some aspect of an actual case study that shows how the evidence was used to help solve a case. It is most important that they present and describe their models and not just make the model. The presentation provides public speaking opportunities and improves their ability to communication scientific information.

Example 1 "Activity 17-1, Tool Marks: Screwdrivers and Chisels." Students create models of tool mark impressions from screwdrivers and/or chisels using the description in this activity. The models could be constructed in plaster, clay, or in a soft wood such as pine.

In addition to preparing the tool mark impressions from known screwdrivers and chisels, students may use one of the tools to pry open an old door jam or window sill. The student compares the evidence of the pried open door jam with the tool mark impressions made from known assorted screwdrivers and chisels. Students take digital photos of the tool mark impressions and measure each impression as another means of comparison.

An interesting addition to this project is for the student to take two new screwdrivers of the same type, manufacturer and size and show how individual marks on the screwdrivers result from different uses. These marks help to distinguish tools.

The benefit of this type of alternative assessment is that it provides a project that the student enjoys; it provides an easier venue for the student to explain how to examine and how to compare tool marks. The oral presentation component of the model building helps students improve their public speaking skills and ability to communicate science. The three dimensional alternative assessment also provides the instructor with a teaching demonstration as well as a local data base of tool mark impressions for use in future crime scenes in your classroom.

Example 2 Ballistics (Chapter 18) A student researches a particular case study; one from your local region, a case described on television or in the news or a classic case such as the assignation of President Kennedy. Students prepare a miniature model of the crime scene (doll house or shadow box) created to scale showing the pathway of the bullet and trajectory paths. Using the model, the student provides evidence as to whether the suspect’s description of the chain of events was consistent with the physical evidence. (Refer to Activity 18-1 "Bullet Trajectory")

Students may recall on the CSI Las Vegas TV series, there were several programs involving the doll house miniatures where crime scenes were recreated in a miniature format. Watching a rerun of one of those episodes may help the students develop their ideas.

Another example of modeling in ballistics is for the student to create a three dimensional model of bullets with different lands and grooves resulting from the bullet traveling down a rifled gun barrel. Students include in their project an explanation of how guns are test fired so that spent bullets from a gun can be compared to the spent bullet(s) recovered from the crime scene.

Besides the actual model of the bullet, there are many other extensions that can be incorporated into this project that demonstrate the student’s knowledge of ballistics and how ballistics is used to help solve crimes. For example, students explain how gun barrels are rifled and why rifling is needed to ensure greater accuracy in hitting a target. Accuracy comparisons can be made between hitting a target when firing a rifle and hitting a target when firing a hand gun.

The idea behind any alternative assessments is to try to find an area of interest or aptitude for a particular student. If you can tap into that interest, the student is more motivated to complete the project. More importantly, you’ve enabled students to demonstrate their knowledge while motivating them to be more successful with the next project.

Example 3 Fibers Act 4-2 "Bed Sheet Thread Count," and

Activity 4-3 "Weave Pattern Analysis."
When trying to compare fabric or fibers from the crime scene with fabric or fibers found on a suspect, thread count and weave patterns are compared. Sometimes, it’s difficult for some students to visualize how different weave patterns are formed. A simple way to demonstrate various weave patterns is to have students make potholders using the small frames and colored loops found in craft stores. If they use different colors, it’s very easy to see the various weave patterns. Students demonstrate how different weave patterns are formed and compared.
Example 4 Chapter 8 Blood Spatter Analysis

Activity 8-2 "Creating and Modeling Blood Spatter"

Activity 8-4 "Area of Convergence" (Going Further)

Activity 8-7 "Crime-Scene Investigation." Students create a 3-D model of the crime scene sketched in the activity or they create a computerized image of this room showing the furniture, bodies and blood spatter. The model or computerized image is created to scale. Students use the model in describing how they were able to re-create the crime through examination and analysis of the evidence.

Note that there are many free online programs available to students that enable them to create a room with furnishings to represent their crime scene.


(a.) Pamphlet Creation

Example Capstone Project 7 "Forensic Science Career Explorations." After researching information about various careers in forensics, students present the information in the format of a poster or brochure. This information is shared with other class members either through small or large group presentations.

(b.) Diagrams/ Charts/ Art work

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