Science sleuths take on criminal investigations
The classic crime solver line of "Who done it?" has taken on a new meaning for a group of Model Secondary School for the Deaf (MSSD) students studying forensics as one of the elective courses the school offers. Each fall semester for the last five years, science teacher Dorothy Wynne has led her students down the investigative path of forensic science. For the last two years, the students produced crime scene videos. Using scientific analysis, script-writing, and videography skills, they produced fictional accounts that combine murder and mayhem crime investigations with a nod towards their favorite episode of the CSI (crime scene investigation) television series.
The idea for the course germinated when Wynne took her MSSD students to visit the chemistry labs at Gallaudet University where one of the courses the University offer is in forensics. The students were fascinated, and Wynne decided to set up an elective course at the high school. The MSSD course regularly draws about twenty enrollees, mainly juniors and seniors. "The forensics class has started some students about following a career path related to scientific investigation," said Wynne. This fits in with Wynne's plan to expose her students to a variety of potential careers related to science. Wynne herself majored in biology at RIT University, and earned two masters at University of Maryland, one in biology and one in education, and decided to become a teacher.
Wynne begins the course with a global overview of the history of forensics. Students read about famous criminal cases, both solved and unsolved. They find out how in today's investigations DNA analysis plays a significant role in solving crimes. She introduces them to laws and acts concerned the protection of minors and other victims, such as the Amber Alert, Megan's Law, and the Adam Walsh Act.
The students gain exposure to a range of critical thinking exercises. Crime sleuthing demands meticulous problem solving. The students engage in laboratory activities to analyze data like forensic odontology (what the teeth say about a victim's life), handwriting analysis, blood analysis, fingerprinting, ballistics, toxicology (poisons), and other related topics. The students, for example, observe real human bone samples, and using forensic anthropology and math skills, measure and estimate a person's height from the size of the femur bone from the leg. They view x-rays of broken bones and the effects of gunshot wounds.
One of the most popular aspects of the class, Wynne said, is when, "the students engage in mock criminal investigations and take turns playing the roles of investigators, suspects, and witnesses." They view videos of famous cases and share them with their classmates. Wynne invites guest presenters, such as a deaf dentist and local law enforcement personnel, to come share their professional experiences. This year, the students took a field trip to the Museum of Crime and Punishment where they saw the bullet-riddled car of the famous bank robbers Bonnie and Clyde and had an opportunity to do simulated target shooting.
At the culmination of their course work, the students work in teams to bring together all their new- found knowledge to create an original CSI-like crime scene video. The students use the high school buildings as their action sets, and ordinary everyday scenes of classrooms, dorm rooms, the swimming pool, and other familiar places take on a new look. The teams develop a script, characters, and a case to which they apply their new detection skills. They create murder scenes with Jell-O blood and other gory effects to create the crime scenes-, flashbacks to what actually happened, investigations on site, and the forensics lab. The videos show how the investigators solve the crime.
Like any good TV investigators, the students like to share their work with an audience. They invited the rest of MSSD to come and see the three crime-solving videos at an assembly on March 15. The audience enjoyed seeing their fellow students transform their everyday environment into as a film set, as well as seeing the comical blooper outtakes from the filming.
The answer to the question, "Who done it?" became a resounding, "We've done it!" earning the forensics class honorary detective badges all around.