Alternative Assessment Ideas for Forensic Science: Fundamentals and Investigations

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Try to encourage students to integrate forensics and their creative abilities. It’s important to try to know about the “hidden” talents of your students. Many students may not excel on written exams, but if given an opportunity to combine forensics with a hobby or talent, you might be surprised at their ability to demonstrate mastery of a topic. Students doing these projects should also be able to explain their work and how it pertains to forensics.

Example 1 Music

Students can write a song, rap that helps you access their knowledge. Refer students to Bio-Rad's production of The PCR Song called "GTCA So Fast" to provide them with a model.

The PCR Song

Example 2 Art

Students who are artistically inclined can draw sketches of bones (Chapter 14) demonstrating the difference between male and female bones, differences among racial groups or different age groups. Artistic students can be especially helpful in recreating a crime scene and drawing a crime scene sketch to scale.

Permanent works of art showing the difference in bullets, cartridge shells, bones, soil types, and glass fracture patterns, internal structure of the hair, blood stain patterns, and DNA structure could be produced on old discarded, flat bed sheets with a permanent marker. These works of art and teaching tools are easily stored and can be used year after year. (Be sure the artists sign their name!) Students come back the next year and are especially pleased to know their artwork is still being used!

Example 3 Dance or theater

Students can demonstrate a scientific process or concept using dance or theater and involve other students to assist with the demonstration. Dance is a learning tool for visual learners. Students remember these demonstrations because they were actively involved in their presentation.

Topics well suited for this type of activity would include:

On a large scale production, students can demonstrate weave patterns or thread counts (Chapter 4) found in different types of fabric. Assemble the students on a football field. Each student has a roll of different colored crepe paper. Using the crepe paper and movement of the students, various weave patterns and thread counts can be easily visualized. The “dance” should be filmed from above in the bleachers and played back to students to show them how various weave patterns or different thread counts are produced. Refer to Activity 4-2 Bed Sheet Thread Count, and also to Activity 4-3 Weave Pattern Analysis.

Example 4 Creative Writing: Short stories, Poems, Raps, Song lyrics

Encourage students to incorporate their knowledge of forensics into an original short story, poem, song or rap lyrics. After studying different types of forensic evidence students create their own story or song describing how a crime was resolved. The lyrics of a song or subject of a poem could be a description of a type of evidence or procedure used in forensics.

Example Activity 6-3 "Studying Latent Fingerprints." The story centers around a crime solved through the identification of fingerprints. The student can weave a story around the crime including in the story or song how the fingerprints were “lifted” and later analyzed to reveal that one of the suspects was present at the scene of the crime.

Example Activity 13-2 "Soil Evidence Examination." In this situation, the story revolves around a crime involving soil or sand evidence found in the thread of a sneaker or tire. The students can brainstorm ideas of what type of crime scenario could involve sand or soil. Because this form of assessment can encourage students to research why different environments have quite distinctive sand or soil.

Example 5 Photography

There are many possibilities for those forensic students interested in using photography. Every crime scene depends upon a photographer photographing the crime scene (Chapter 2) and evidence before anything is touched. Often, court decisions are made based on the evidence captured in photos. Evidence collection photos involve not only the evidence found at the crime scene, but also include photos of the evidence taken from under a microscope.

Example Chapter 16 Impression Evidence. Photos of impressions: tire, footprints, tool marks etc should be taken at the site of the crime scene before anything has been disturbed. Photos of tire marks are especially useful to help the analysis determine the chain of events at a crime scene. Students could photograph images of tire marks found at an accident, or request those images from the police. Working with a person from the accident reconstruction team, students could prepare a presentation of these images along with explanations as to what could be learned from the impression marks about the accident.

Example Activity 2-2 "Crime-Scene Investigation." As an alternative assessment, ask the “photographer” in your class to research what is the best way to take photographs at a crime scene? Perhaps the student could interview the local photographer from the police department in your community. Encourage the student to research what types of cameras are used? What is the best lightning to ensure details are visible? What is the best angle of lighting to use?

Throughout the year, ask the “resident photographer” to photograph your class demonstrations and displays. Have them create a photographic data base of items from or around your school. Examples include:

  • Flowers and pollen from the school grounds Activity 5-1 "Pollen Examination: Matching a Suspect to a Crime Scene."

  • Broken glass and fracture patterns Activity 15-1 "Glass Fracture Pattern Analysis."

  • Sneaker impressions of students in your class Activity 16-1 "Casting Plaster of Paris Impressions."

  • Tools and tool impressions Activity 17-3 "Hammer and Hammer Impressions."

  • Close up images of blowfly larva in various stages of development, Activity 11-3 "Observation of Living & Preserved Flies."

  • Drug testing lab test results Activity 9-3 "Drug Spot Test."

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