My first ever teaching job, a long term biology substitute at High Tech High in San Diego, CA, I had the fortune of having an incredible teaching team. They welcomed me with open arms considering that I was filling a position in which the former biology teacher was extremely popular with the study body. Nonetheless, we were able to pull off my first PBL project with huge success.
I don’t think there was a particular news event, film, or experience that inspired me to implement a forensics project, but I knew that teenagers dig that kind of stuff. Now in the midst of doing this project for the second time, I’ve managed to switch it up a bit. Instead of integrating typical evidence analysis such as fingerprints or DNA assessment, I’ve learned to integrate current events and media into the equation.
I am a huge fan of Radiolab. The hosts of the show have great radio voice and engage the listener by using unique sound effects to paint a very visual picture in your head. Back in 2013, they released a short piece about Ötzi, a famous case of a perfectly preserved corpse found in the Alps who was determined to have lived hundreds of years before the Pyramids of Giza were constructed. I first learned about Ötzi when my brilliant mentor teacher, John Maschino, taught about him in his middle school history class. It was interesting, but didn’t really spark too much attention to me. I found this podcast and immediately found a connection to forensic science.
The main difference in my implementation of this project than last time around is the collaboration between my two classes, Biology (sophomores) and Global Scientific Inquiry (juniors/seniors). I am teaching each class virtually identically in both cases. This reduces stress on my end by having essentially one less prep. The goal is that once both classes have learned how to analyze a crime scene and various piece of evidence, each will devise and write their own crime. Then, each class will be presented with the other’s crime and will need to solve it using the techniques learned over the weeks.
Now, I fully understand the forensic science isn’t necessarily a true science that utilizes experimentation and the scientific method. Nevertheless, I am a proponent of using the concepts in a science classroom for two crucial reasons: critical think and problem solving. Solving a case successfully requires the utmost of dedication and attention to detail. It requires that investigators find and piece large amounts of evidence (along with the many types of evidence) together to reconstruct the crime and, eventually, determine a suspect. These steps involve problem solving and forming conclusions. Isn’t this is what science is all about? Inquiry and discussion?
I know forensics is not a true science. The important part for me is that engages the students in critical thinking, collaboration, and problem solving, and does so with more passion than I’ve seen in other projects.