Alternative Assessment Ideas for Forensic Science: Fundamentals and Investigations

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Today’s students are very comfortable using technology to gain information and will tend to look for information from these resources. What is important when using information from any resource is to examine the information and the source of the information to determine if the information is scientific or not.

Podcasts are especially useful to:
A. Stimulate interest when first introducing a topic (‘Excite’ phase or your anticipatory set)

B. Use as extensions for extra credit

C. Use as an additional resource for a “flipped classroom”

D. Differentiate learning to meet the needs of heterogeneously grouped classes

(1) Auditory learners

(2) Advanced student who wants to know more than what's covered during class

(3) Alternative form of research for those students with reading difficulties
E. Use as an alternative type of assessment

(1.) Students listen to the Podcast (helps the auditory learner)

(2.) Students evaluate the Podcast for accuracy

(a) Scientific accuracy

(b) Evaluate the research, analysis and conclusions

(3.) Students do further research on the topic from scientific sources

(4.) Students research a case study that applies information discussed in the podcast

(5.) Students collaborate in small groups to discuss the topics and share information

(6.) Students perform a peer evaluation prior to their formal presentations

(7.) Students conduct a "poster" session or oral presentation to present their research

Students seem to really enjoy using these podcasts. Many students who tend to "resist" research and oral presentations found this activity interesting. After listening to the podcasts, their interest is piqued so that they were eager to learn more. By working in cooperative groups, students tended to view this more as a fun activity than a form of research.
For a list of links to forensic podcasts, visit our website at

Click on Teacher Resources and then click on Podcasts. Note there are many other sources of scientific podcasts that could also be used in addition to those listed in the website. A sample of some of the podcasts is given below:

Example 1 Chapter 8 Blood and Blood Spatter

  • How Bloodstain Pattern Analysis Works

Example 2 and 3

Chapter 12 Death: Meaning, Manner, Mechanism, Cause and Time

  • How Autopsies Work

  • How ‘Body Farms’ Work

Example 4 Chapter 2 Crime Scene Investigation and Evidence Collection

Example 5 Chapter 10 Handwriting Analysis, Forgery, and Counterfeiting

  • How Handwriting Analysis Works


A variation on the three dimensional models is to ask students to involve other students to “act out” or demonstrate a concept. Doing a kinesthetic alternative assessment is a good cooperative learning activity involving small group collaboration. Designing and performing the activity helps students remember the process because they designed it and actively participated in a fun activity. A suggestion would be to have a student film the activity so that you can use it to show next year’s class.

Example Activity 4-3 Weave Pattern Analysis.' Another variation of this weave pattern activity is to ask students to create weave patterns using crepe paper or colored streamers for the threads. Some students hold the warf "threads" while other students weave the weft threads in a designated weave pattern. If one color "thread" is used for the warp and a contrasting color is used for the weft, it is visually easier to see. If possible, film the weaving process and the finished product.

Example Visualization of Molecular Concepts (Chapter 7). Challenge students to create a model that demonstrates:

- two different STR alleles

- an intron and an exon

- model of DNA

- model of DNA Gel Electrophoresis:

After learning about DNA fingerprinting and viewing different animations on the process, ask students to design and participate in a DNA gel electrophoresis simulation using students as the restriction fragments. Avoid telling them how to do this. As a reference, refer to Forensics Who Dunnit? A Visual, Active Class Participation Simulation of Gel Electrophoresis article (Patricia Nolan Bertino). To view the article go to, click on the link for teacher resources and then demos.

Example: Chapter 9 (Drugs) End of Chapter Review, Going Further # 3. Students work in small collaborative groups investigating the effect of various drugs on the central nervous system. Each team describes how their particular drug affects nerve transmission and the central nervous system.

After completing the lab activity, students may research additional information about how the nervous system transmits messages resulting in behavior modification or other responses. Different teams of students may elect to go further and present student kinesthetic demonstrations that depict one of the following items in the list below. (Note this is an extension of the lab that might be more of interest to biology students. It important to keep in mind that not all students are required to do all activities.)

a. Changes in a neuron during an impulse

b. Nerve threshold levels

c. Difference between the brain receiving a strong vs. a weak stimulus

d. Neurotransmitter production and uptake

e. Neurotransmitter inhibitors

f. Effect of specific drugs on the central nervous system

Example Chapter 8, Act 8-12 IRCD: "Antigens and Antibodies Kinesthetic Activity." Ask students to research how immune reactions involving antibodies and proteins are also used to distinguish human secretions from animal secretions. What are antibodies? What effect occurs when an antibody reacts to a specific antigen resulting in agglutination. Using balloons and students acting as antibodies, the immune response if visualized.

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