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Alternative Assessment Ideas for
Forensic Science: Fundamentals and Investigations
Anthony and Patricia Bertino
Giving one unit exam does not always assess a student’s knowledge nor does it
help in modifying the instruction if students do not understand. Not all students can
demonstrate mastery of a topic through one written exam administered at the end of the
unit and taken within a limited amount of time. To be an effective teacher, assessments
should be frequent, varied, on-going and continuous. Assessments can be used to
reinforce learning and to motivate and inspire students to succeed. The following
approach is suggested:
1. Pretest: assess previous learning, identify misconceptions
Example: What do you know? What do you want to know? (surveys)
Example: Carousel Brainstorming of the topic prior to any discussions
2. Assessments should be done during the learning to monitor how well students
are grasping the information. When students are assessed and demonstrate a lack of
understanding, it’s important for the instructor to take a different approach and modify
the instruction. A single assessment at the conclusion of a topic does not allow time to
make modifications in instruction.
One way to ensure comprehension throughout the unit of study is to use the
Student Learning Objectives (SLOs) found on the Instructor’s Resource CD (IRCD).
These are single concept, testable objectives written from the most basic to the more
complex concepts. The Student Learning Objectives should be distributed to each
student at the beginning of the topic, not at the end. Students are able to see the “whole
picture” of what they should be able to do by the end of the topic of discussion before
the topic has begun.
Throughout the unit, students are arranged in pre-arranged heterogeneous,
cooperative learning groups to review the objectives already covered in class.
Numerous, short, ten minute reviews are recommended instead of one full period
review. Higher achieving students, who might otherwise be bored during a question and
answer period, are discussing answers and helping others in their group. The student
who never studies, is getting the benefit of a review. Because of the small group
collaboration, students tend to feel more comfortable and are more likely to contribute
by either asking questions or answering questions. Additionally, when someone
attempts to explain a concept to another person, they realize that they too may need
further clarification and understanding. All students are actively engaged in the review
process. During this time, the teacher is free to move from group to group assessing the
comprehension levels and clarifying misconceptions.
3. Post Assessments determine how well students have mastered the topic and
to help measure the effectiveness of the instruction. Many teachers use a full period
written exam as the post assessment. However, consider offering students alternative
forms of assessment that not only reinforce additional learning but can also promote
student success and interest in the course. Students who are unsuccessful in preparing
and taking a written test may be highly successful when using a different format.
Alternative assessments allows for differential learning for individual students. It
encourages students to demonstrate their individual skills and aptitudes. Instead of the
assessment being a source of failure and discouragement, alternative assessments
activities increase the learning and give the student a sense of accomplishment and
pride that encourages future learning.
A variety of alternative assessments ideas that can be used with the Bertino high
school forensic textbook Forensic Science: Fundamentals and Investigations is
described below. Because most high school forensic science classes are
heterogeneously grouped classes, composed of AP (Advanced Placement) students
and students with reading difficulties, it’s important to provide a variety of assessment
opportunities that allow for differential learning. Alternative assessments provide the
added challenge for the AP students to go further while offering the less motivated or
the more academically challenged students, the opportunity to succeed and learn new
skills. References have been made to specific sample labs, activities or concepts that
lend themselves to each of the different forms of alternative assessments.
Forensic Alternative Assessments Options
1. Autobiography
2. Scrap Booking
3. Expert Witness Testimony
4. Three Dimensional Models
5. Oral Presentations with Demonstrations
6. Video, Power Point Presentations, Photography- Technology 1
7. "Comparison Microscope," Probes, Apps-Technology 2
8. Podcasts-Technology 3
9. Kinesthetic Learning Activities
10. Creativity: Music, Art, Dance, Writing, Photography
11. Forensic Book Reports
12. Mini Poster Sessions
13. Debate
14. Mentoring by CSI, police
15. Engineering and Design
Students write “autobiographies” that provide descriptions and explanations of
scientific phenomenon while allowing the student to utilize their imagination and
creativity. Information must be scientifically correct. The creative writing component
adds an element of fun while at the same time enabling the student to demonstrate
knowledge of a topic.
Example 1 Activity 11-2 "Mini Projects for Forensic Entomology"
Write an autobiography from the viewpoint of the fly as it develops from an
egg into adulthood. Include in your autobiography:
Physical description of the insect at different stages of development
Physical description of the insect’s habitat and surroundings
Description of the insect’s food at different stages of development
Description of the how the insect ingests and digests its food at
different stages of development
Descriptions of the progression through each developmental stage
Description of any predators and competition
Description of any movements or migrations during development
Digital photos taken as the insect progresses from one stage to
Example 2 Chapter 18 Ballistics
Write an autobiography from the viewpoint of a bullet describing:
 Anatomy of the bullet
 Size (caliber) of the bullet and cartridge
 Type of bullet
 Markings on the bullet: When, why and how are the marks are
 Role of the primer
 Amount and role of gunpowder in the bullet
 The amount of energy yielded as the gunpowder is ignited
 Trajectory path of the bullet as the gun is fired and the bullet travels
out of the gun barrel through the air and ultimately into the target
 Description of the various forces affecting the pathway of the bullet
 Distance traveled by the bullet and how it can be calculated
Discussion of what happens to the bullet upon impact
Recovery of the fired bullet
Comparison of a fired bullet recovered from the victim or
environment with a bullet fired by the suspect’s gun.
Other autobiographies could be written from the viewpoint of different types of
physical evidence. Students should be given guidance on the type of descriptions that
would pertain to different types of physical evidence. Examples: Pollen, sand, bone,
fractured glass, DNA, blood spatter.
Compiling a “scrap book” of the students’ own digital photos or photos from
images taken from reliable sources along with descriptions of the photos provides a
visual and written comparison of evidence. The photos should be arranged in a logical
sequence and progression. Scrap booking encourages students to use technology in
their presentations, a skill that can be applied to their other courses.
Students presenting evidence from a crime scene and linking that evidence to a
particular suspect, should provide:
A description of how the evidence is recovered, documented, collected
analyzed and stored.
A section in the scrapbook where students describe what characteristics
of the evidence make it distinctive.
Information that demonstrates that the evidence is: relevant, competent,
sufficient, scientific and reliable.
Information regarding any statistical value given to the evidence.
A bibliography to substantiate their descriptions or arguments.
Example 1 Activity Hair 3-1 "Trace Evidence: Hair."
Students determine if one of the hairs taken from the four different suspects is
consistent with the hair evidence found at the crime scene. The scrapbook approach
includes digital photos taken from the students’ microscope of the suspect’s hairs and
the evidence hair.
Other photos or images include a general description of hair and the various
characteristics of hair used to distinguish one hair sample from another. Through the
photos and annotated descriptions under each photo, students describe the variations
found in the hair’s color, texture, thickness, medulla, cuticle, cortex, medullar index and
the measurement of the hair’s diameter.
After describing the hair characteristics, students show through their photos and
their analysis of the suspects’ hair samples, if any of the suspect’s hair is consistent or
inconsistent with the evidence hair.
The pre-writing questions found in Activity 3-3 "Hair Testimony Essay," helps
students organize the information in a scrapbook (or written report).
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Example Activity 14-1" Determining the Age of a Skull," Part B. If
actual models of skulls are not available; an effective demonstration of how to
determine age of a skull using suture lines can be described using diagrams or art work
created by the student.
Example Capstone Activity 10 "Gravesite Excavation." Evidence
collectors construct a chart listing all evidence, description, location and evidence
(c.) Evidence Display from the crime scene
Example Activity 5-3 "Botanical Evidence Case Studies
Presentation." Using actual case studies obtained via Internet or other forms of
research, students use a Power Point Presentation format to present their case study.
Students are provided with preliminary questions to assist them in their research.
Working in small collaborative groups, each team coordinates the research, creates a
Power Point Presentation and organizes the oral presentation. Students provide some
type of visual display of evidence collected from the crime scene such as pollen found
on clothing or hair, pollen in furniture, pollen found in the tread of mud in a sneaker etc.
to be used during their presentation of how the evidence was used to help solve the
Example Capstone Activity 10 "Gravesite Excavations." Students
present the various types of evidence recovered from a gravesite excavation. Each
piece of evidence is discussed regarding what new type of information was learned from
that evidence. All evidence should be evaluated for its relevance and reliability.
Students may feel more comfortable talking about the different types of evidence with
the evidence in their hand. If this is done as a team presentation, different members of
the team could represent the various specialists called upon to analyze evidence.
Example Capstone Activity 6 "Forensic Dumpster Diving- What
Garbage Tells Us." This is an example how multiple forms of evidence are recovered
and analyzed from someone's garbage. Students present the evidence and describe
what information is learned from the evidence. To be accepted as evidence in a trial,
students need to evaluate if the evidence is relevant to the case. This activity involving
dumpster diving provides a good medium for discussion of whether or not the evidence
is relevant to the case.
Video or short film
Most students find that taking photos, making Power Points, creating video clips
or movies to be a fun activity. If given an option, many students prefer to make a movie
than to prepare a written lab report. This type of alternative assessment lends itself to
cooperative learning groups and small group collaboration and allows students to make
corrections before turning in the final finished product.
Videotaped presentations are especially helpful if the student is not accustomed
to presenting in front of an audience and needs to gain more confidence in public
speaking. Parts of the presentation are pre-recorded. Some portions of the presentation
involve some public speaking allowing the shy student to feel more comfortable with his
or her presentation by combining some pre-recorded video along with the oral
By videotaping complex concepts such as explanations on how to interpret blood
spatter analysis or how to distinguish skeletal remains by sex, race, age or height, it
allows students to review each component and then video tape that segment before
proceeding to the next step. For example, students videotape how to determine the
area of convergence of blood spatter. The next video clip would be to demonstrate how
to calculate the angle of impact for a particular blood spatter droplet followed by
determination of area of origin. Students break the task into workable segments. The
assessment is reinforcing learning rather than trying to measure comprehension based
upon a single written exam at the end of the unit.
Students can utilize various formats for this presentation including:
(a.) TV news reporter describing a recent crime.
The audience of a news reporter is composed of many non-science persons and thus
must be presented in a way that will be easily understood by the general public. The
reporter describes the crime scene and the evidence found at the crime scene without
stating any opinions.
Example Activity 15-1 "Glass Fracture Pattern Analysis."
This scenario involves two bullet glass fractures. The student analyzes the evidence to
determine who shot first.
(b.) Talk Show Host interviewing a witness or expert witness
Example Activity 10-2 "Analysis of Ransom Note and Expert
Testimony." Students act as the expert witness and discuss their analysis in the format
of a talk show host interviewing the expert witness. This video can be taped either in
front of a live audience, or it could be pre-recorded and presented to the class at a later
(c.) A ‘How-to’ Video
Students can demonstrate how to perform a particular procedure in
lieu of taking a written exam. This is especially true for students that have learning
disabilities or language problems. What is important is to assess the students’
knowledge on how a procedure is performed and how it is applied to forensics. Their
videos can become tutorial videos for other students, or, they can be used to review at
the end of the chapter or at the end of the course. Blood spatter analysis, identification
of fingerprints, accident reconstruction, how to prepare plaster casts, how to distinguish
male bones from female bones, how to compare handwriting, how to map out a crime
scene would all be good examples for this mode of presentation.
Example: Capstone Activity 9 "How to Read a Caliper"
Example: Activity 7-1 "DNA Extraction: How to Extract DNA"
Example Activity 8-6, "Area of Origin." Describe how blood spatter
is analyzed. Students use artificial blood or paper cut outs of blood spatter to recreate a
crime scene. Using the artificial blood or paper blood drops, students describe step by
step how the blood is analyzed to determine:
a. Direction of blood when it impacted on a surface
b. Lines of convergence
c. Area of convergence
d. Angle of impact for blood droplets
e. Area of origin
f. Velocity of Blood upon impact
g. Type of spatter
swipe, wipe, projected, arterial squirt,
passive or active etc.
Example Activity 15-4 "Determining the Refractive Index of Glass
Using Liquid Comparisons in Submersion Test." The explanation is recorded during the
demonstration, or the explanation can be added after the video is recorded.
Before making any movie or video, students need a basic understanding of the
forensic topic. The introduction of the video, Power Point or movie should include an
overview of the physical evidence followed by the application of how that type of
physical evidence can link someone to a crime scene.
With cooperative learning groups arranged by the instructor, a video or short film
works well with heterogeneously grouped classes. Teachers should try to arrange each
group with at least one student having a strong background in science and math and at
least one student who have some experience in working with technology or cameras.
Power Point Presentations
Example 1 Act 5-1 "Pollen Examination: Matching a suspect to a
Crime Scene." Students photograph their microscopic images of the pollen and include
their images within a Power Point presentation. Included in the Power Point
Presentation is a description of why a particular evidence sample found on a suspect
may or may not be consistent with the evidence found at a crime scene.
Example 2 Activity 13-1 "Examination of Sand," and Activity 13-2
"Soil Evidence Examination." Students collect sand from four different areas. One of the
four sand samples collected from one of the suspects is used as the sand obtained from
the crime scene. Using digital photography of images of the sand taken under a
stereomicroscope, students present their findings in the format of a Power Point
Presentation showing the jury that one of the four sand samples collected from a
suspect was consistent or inconsistent with the sand found at the crime scene.
Because forensic science classes are heterogeneously mixed in terms of
students’ abilities and aptitudes, you will find some with little technology background,
but you will also find many who really enjoy using technology. The benefit of using
cooperative learning groups is that it helps students to learn more about technology
from their peers while preparing a forensic project. Former forensic students have
commented that prior to taking the forensic science class, they did not know how to:
create a Power Point, take digital images from their microscopes, use probes to obtain
data, or how to use calculators to assist in calculations and graphing. It was because of
various group projects done during the forensics course that they acquired those skills
from their peers and were able to apply those skills in their other courses.
"Comparison Microscope"
Example Activity 3-1 "Trace Evidence: Hair." Students can refer to
the webinar on How to Make Your Own Comparison Microscope at by clicking on webinars. Using the technique described in
the webinar, students photograph the microscopic images of all hair samples and create
their own "comparison microscope" to help compare the crime scene hair evidence with
the evidence hair of the four different suspects and the victim’s hair.
Example Activity 12-3 "Tommy the Tub." Using temperature probes,
computers and a large plastic tub filled with warm water, students demonstrate how a
body loses body heat over a twenty-four hour time period. Students apply this concept
to an actual case study where the post mortem interval was used to help solve a crime.
Apps are described throughout the text and are marked with an
appropriate logo for identification. The App information is found at the bottom of the
Career Page in each chapter. These apps can help reinforce techniques described in
the text.
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
(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
(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
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
 How Crime Scene Investigation Works
 How Crime Scene Photography Works
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
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.
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
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
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."
Students may elect to read a book and present the case to the class. There are
many different formats for presenting, give students choices on how they want to
present the information. Ex. Power Point, interviewer/interviewee, Poster, Pamphlet, 3 D
models etc. The instructor and students should discuss in advance what type of
information should be in the presentation.
There are many wonderful forensics books of high interest to students that
contain appropriate reading material for high school students. However, there are many
forensics books that are not scientifically accurate or that contain gruesome accounts of
crimes. Provide an approved reading list for students. (See,
click on the link for teacher resources and refer to books and magazines) or develop
your own “approved reading list.” Avoid readings describing mass murders and
excessive violence.
Example: Unnatural Death: Confessions of a Medical Examiner, by Michael M.
Baden. (chapter 2). Interesting description of how different forms of evidence helped to
solve crimes.
Example: Tales From the Morgue by Cyril Wecht, MD,JD.(pathologist and
coroner) and Mark Curriden describe nine famous cases. Dr. Wecht provides detailed
assessment of the evidence and his views of the jury's verdict. (Chapter 2 and 12)
Example: Picking Cotton by Ronald Cotton and Jennifer Thompson-Cannino.
Through Project Innocence, DNA evidence was used to help exonerate Ronald Cotton
who had served eleven years for a crime he did not commit. The story is told by Ronald
Cotton, the man accused and incarcerated for the crime and by Jennifer ThompsonCannino, the woman who erroneously identified him in a line up as the man who
attacked her. (Chapter 7) (Subject matter deals with rape so this may not be appropriate
for younger students)
Example: The Romanovs The Final Chapter by Robert K. Massie. This is
another book that integrates history, archeology, and anthropology. Robert Massie’s
description of the fate of the Romanov reads like a detective story that shows how
international teams of scientists collaborated in the identification of the skeletal remains
of the Romanov family. Using information derived from personal accounts, written
records and the skeletal and dental remains along with DNA, scientists were able to
identify the skeletal remains. (Chapter 7 and 14)
Example: The Poisoner's Handbook by Deborah Blum. Fascinating true stories
describing early case studies in toxicology that provided the basis of modern toxicology.
Students find these stories read like a detective story. (Chapter 9)
Example: A Fly for the Prosecution by M. Lee Goff. Case studies revealing how
insects helped solve crimes.(chapter 11)
Example: Death’s Acre by Dr. Bill Bass and Jon Jefferson. Written by the
founder of the Body Farm, this story describes the process of decomposition under
varying conditions. Dr. Bass’s work was innovative and for the first time provided a way
to estimate time of death based on decomposition. In this book, Bill Bass describes his
most intriguing cases. (Chapter 12)
Example: Cause of Death by Stephen Cohle, M.D. and Tobin T. Buhk. Using
several case studies, the author's describe how information about the cause and
manner of death is revealed through autopsies. (Chapter 12)
Example: Corpse: Nature, Forensics and the Struggle to Pinpoint Time of Death
by Jessica Snyder Sachs. In this book, the author explores how time of death (or post
mortem interval PMI) is estimated using nature and technology. As the title states, time
of death is not an exact science. The importance of determining the time of death is that
is can be used to exonerate an innocent person or to help link a suspect to a crime.
(Chapter 12)
Example: Written in Bone by Sally Walker. This book, written for students,
describes the life of the early Colonists based upon their skeletal examinations.
(Chapter 14)
Example: Breaking Ground Breaking Silence: The Story of New York’s African
Burial Ground by Joyce Hansen and Gary McGowan. This book integrates
anthropology, archaeology, history, politics and culture. Over 400 skeletal remains were
discovered located while excavating ground for a building site near Wall Street in NYC.
The skeletal remains reveal the history of the lives of African Americans in colonial New
York. (Chapter 14)
For other examples of books for high school forensic students, go to and click on the link for teacher resources and then look for
books and magazines.
Mini Poster ideas, originally described by Brad and Carol Williamson, (NABT
BioBlog April 4, 2012) provide an alternative assessment that:
a. Requires students to present and defend their topic.
b. Encourages discussion and student collaboration.
c. Encourages students to evaluate evidence and information.
d. Incorporates authentic peer review and formative assessment.
e. Includes technology though the use of computer generated graphs
and charts and it can include digital images.
f. Allows for easy revisions.
g. Can be produced in a minimal amount of time and requires little space.
h. Can be assigned either as an individual or team project.
To construct a mini poster:
1. Take two (or three) colored manila folders and glue or staple together to
obtain a three (or four) page mini poster. (Remove the tabs)
2. Use Post-it notes to post headings.
3. Use a different color post-it note to add text under the headings/
4. Glue graphs or images to the small post-it notes
Peer review and Question Answer Poster sessions:
1. Divide the class in half
2. One half of the class remains behind to present and defend their
posters; the other half of the classes rotates from one poster to another and evaluates
the poster and presenter. (Approximately 5 minutes is spent at each poster)
3. Reverse step 2 several times so that the poster presenters become the
evaluators and the evaluators become the presenters.
4. The instructor and the students should develop a rubric or guide to help
to evaluate each poster and presenter.
5. Optional: Prior to the formal poster evaluations, encourage students to
have at least one other student peer review their poster. Minor corrections can be
completed prior to the formal poster evaluations.
Activities to be evaluated through Mini-Poster Sessions:
Example 1 Capstone Project 1 "Physical Evidence Case Studies." This is an
excellent project for the first semester of forensics. Divide the class into teams of two.
Each team selects a different type of physical evidence used in solving crimes. They
become the “specialist” for that type of evidence.
Each team researches actual case studies where a crime was solved using that type of
evidence. During the year, when you introduce a new type of physical evidence used to
solve crime, the two student specialists or experts introduce the topic using a case
study from their mini poster project. They provide information on the correct procedure
for collecting that form of evidence. The team’s mini poster remains on display during
that unit. Display all the mini posters at the end of the school year to review all types of
physical evidence discussed in the course.
Example 2 Capstone Project 4 "Landmark Cases in Acceptance of Evidence."
Students summarize the case and describe why the case was considered to be a
landmark case.
Example 3 Capstone Project 5 “Analysis of a Forensic Science TV Episode” (or
this could also be evaluation of a forensic novel). Students present a synopsis of the
program or book. Students evaluate if the information depicted in the TV program or
forensic novel is consistent or inconsistent with real CSI procedures. Any
inconsistencies should be described along with an explanation of how it is actually
Example 4 Capstone Project 6 “Forensic Dumpster Diving-What the Garbage
Can Tell Us." Students collect garbage and develop a profile for the person or family
who discarded the garbage. Refer to Figure 2 in the Activity for a list of characteristics
that can be discovered as a result of checking the garbage. Different students collect
garbage from different households and through the mini-poster sessions display a
Profile of the family based on the garbage.
Example 1 Capstone Activity 3 “How Reliable is the Evidence?” Students are
provided with advice on how to conduct a debate, what information to research along
with a debate strategy form found on the Instructor’s Resource CD (IRCD).
Example 2 Activity 9-2 "Should Medical Marijuana be Legalized?" Debate
procedure and strategies are provided. An alternative debate on the topic of drugs is
whether or not high school athletic teams should be given a routine drug test.
If possible, try to locate someone in forensic science or in the police department
who would mentor a student. This might entail the student spending a day or more with
the person to learn firsthand about what really happens on the job. Information can be
displayed or presented in a variety of formats including posters, brochures, Power Point
Presentations, videos, or oral presentations.
Example 1 Activity 16-4 "Vehicle Identification." Ask a student to observe how
accident reconstruction is done using skid marks, vehicle identification marks to study
the cause and effect of accidents.
Example 2 Activity 6-3 "Studying Latent and Plastic Fingerprints." Ask a student
to observe how police or CSI are able to lift a latent print and enter the print into the
computer based data base.
Example 3 Capstone Activity 8 "Mock Crime Scene Development and
Processing." Students work with a crime scene investigator to help set up mock crime
scenes for processing.
Example 1 Act 7-? on IRCD "Design and Build a Human DNA: Kinesthetic
Learning Activity" (Lisa, what is the file number on the IRCD ?). Instead of providing
students with the directions for this activity, challenge the students to construct a
Human DNA simulated molecule.
Example 2 Chapter 6 Fingerprinting, End of Chapter Review # 20. Design a
technique to produce plastic fingerprint impressions.
Example 3 Chapter 1 Observation, End of Chapter Review Design a crime
scene including multiple forms of evidence.
Example 4 Activity 11-2 "Mini-Projects for Forensic Entomology," # 8. Design a
rearing chamber for Blowflies that will be kept at a constant temperature to obtain
control data for Accumulated Degree Hours calculations.
Example 5 Activity 11-3 "Observation of Living or Preserved Blowfly," Further
Study #1. Design a technique to view the spiracle slits of Blowfly larvae under a
Encourage students to propose, design and create their own forms of alternative
assessments. Provide students with time needed to develop their ideas before providing
them with suggestions.
These are only a few examples found in Forensic Science: Fundamentals and
Investigations that describe the many ways that student learning can be assessed using
varying formats designed to:
 Improve student comprehension and retention
 Provide differential assessments for heterogeneously
grouped classes
 Encourage on-going and frequent assessments so that the
teaching can be modified to enhance student performance
 Show case those “hidden” talents of students
 Motivate and inspire students to do better
 Make learning fun and exciting