CSI Meets Science at Liberty Junior

Crime Scene at Liberty Junior Drives Forensics Unit, Student Engagement
Posted on 01/31/2020
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CSI meets science and language arts class features a CSI scene and students as investigatorsFour weeks after their return from winter break, eighth-graders at Liberty Junior School are still talking about the scene they found on their first day back in science class. 

“It was crazy. The whole room was sectioned off with caution tape,” recalled Liberty student Emily Fuller, who remembers the “body” she and her classmates discovered next to a pool of “blood” surrounded by more bloody footprints and handprints. She described the other evidence they found that day, like pliers, scissors and a screwdriver and even “dead” insects surrounding the body. “I can’t say I’ve ever had a science teacher go as far as putting a five-foot streak of ‘blood’ across her classroom,” she laughed. 

That “crime” scene served as a springboard for the entire eighth grade science team’s forensics unit. Liberty science teacher Corbin Smith created the foundation for the course, which has been adapted by both his colleagues, Rachel Howard and Kimberlee Hensley. From DNA and bones and impressions to hair samples and fingerprints, their classes are applying what they learn about each subject to “collect all the pieces of the puzzle and build their case for a primary suspect,” Howard said. One lab day even involved practicing the mechanics of collecting DNA - from a strawberry. 

“Our main goal was to demonstrate how what we’re teaching in science really is applicable in the real world,” said Howard, noting the career connections they’ve added during the unit’s second year. On their Friday discussion days, they are exploring related and lesser known careers like forensic anthropology. 

Perhaps the most telling evidence of the team’s success is the level of enthusiasm and engagement they’ve seen in their students. When Howard announced the class would be a “lab day” to further explore bones and impressions, a resounding “yes” echoed throughout her room. Because the team has built the unit in a way that allows students to move through the exercises at their own pace, Howard has been able to increase her one-on-one or small group time with students to hear their enthusiasm and also get feedback. 

“It’s so much better than just having slides to memorize,” Liberty eighth-grader Alek Bellomo said. “We get to actually experience what we’re learning and it has so much more impact.” 

Howard thinks that the element of choice for how each student will present their final conclusions might also be a source of their excitement around the unit. “They’ll have to present their testimony, but they’ll have some flexibility in how they do that,” she said. 

Further amplifying student buy-in to the project is Howard’s coordination with Liberty Junior language arts teacher Jocelyn Ford. The duo has coordinated their units to align, allowing Ford to reinforce some of the scientific concepts in her class’s discussion of the murder mystery novel they’re reading, “And Then There Were None.” 

Beyond forensics-themed vocabulary words, she’s been able to introduce non-fiction articles that overlap with their latest science lessons. Her classes have also been deep in discussion about how modern technology would change the course of the novel, which was written in the late 1930s. 

“She’s taking what I’m doing to a whole new level and making it even more realistic to them,” Howard said. “She finds relevant, fresh articles that make a huge connection that I don’t have time to fit into our unit in science class.”