As a teacher, I am always on the look out for interesting, engaging (free) resources and activities for my students. Here is a list of my favorites for teaching forensics!
Resources cover Evidence Basics, Arson Investigation, Blood Spatter, Anthropology, Autopsies and more! All free and available online.
Investigate the murder of Robert Hughes in this animated online interactive activity. Students will move through three different scenes, searching for and collecting evidence as they go.
The interactive tells them details about each type of evidence, and how it is collected and analyzed. Types of evidence include footwear impressions, trace evidence, tool marks, blood spatter, DNA analysis, and pathology!
Once the evidence is sent to the Lab, students read how the evidence is used in this particular case, and are given a chance to answer multiple choice questions about each one.
After all of the evidence is collected, students are presented with TWO possible suspects and explanations of the crime based on the evidence. It is a great chance to talk about how evidence is interpreted, the weight and value of different types of evidence, and even hold a class debate about which suspect they think did it!
It is hard to demonstrate arson without…setting things on fire….which is generally discouraged at my school! So we find other ways to learn about fire investigation during our Arson Unit.
One of our favorite activities is the Inter Fire audio story. It opens on the scene of a house fire and a frantic 911 call. Done just like the old radio shows, you hear the crackling of the fire, the scream of fire engine sirens, and arson dogs russel around the scene.
A body was found in the fire…and investigators think it may be arson!
The story follows the lead investigator, who narrates as he walks through the burned home, discussing fire patterns, collecting evidence, and possible suspects. Students hear interviews with witnesses, suspects, the medical examiner, and lab reports.
I don’t want to spoil the surprise ending, but let’s just say the kids are on the edge of their seats!
I created a guided notes sheet that helps students focus in on the important parts of the investigation and gives them opportunity to make their own judgement about what may have happened. This resource also includes some introduction to fire investigation methods and the work of arson dogs. These are in the form of short YouTube video clips. Seeing a visual before hearing the arson story helps students to visualize what is going on!
After teaching about class evidence we transition into individual evidence. First in this category is DNA evidence! DNA changed the world of Forensics, and for some people, changed their life.
The Innocence Project was founded to help people who were wrongly convicted based on faulty evidence and/or shady forensic practices. Years old evidence is re-examined with new techniques – DNA analysis. In over 300 cases, the DNA did not match the person who was convicted, and they were set free.
The Innocence Project also pushes for policy reform in hopes to stop future injustice. Articles on the website discuss the potential problems with some types of evidence (particularly hair, fiber, bite marks, and eyewitness testimony) and how to prevent wrongful convictions.
Each case and story is listed and easily searched for in a handful of ways. In my class, students are put into small groups. Each group presents to the class three individual cases who were wrongly convicted through the same contributing cause.
If you go here, and click ‘filters’ at the top right, then select ‘contributing cause’ you will find six different categories. With their presentation of the cases, they will also discuss the general problems with their category of evidence and what policies have been (or should be) put into place to prevent wrongful convictions.
Students are always amazed at the stories. Of particular interest is the compensation that some of the exonerated people received, or did not receive. The differences are amazing.
The final part of this project is to watch the amazing story of Ronald Cotton, the first person to be exonerated by DNA evidence. He was identified as a rapist by the victim herself – but she was wrong! I will not give away the story, because it is so worth watching the 60-Minute interview with both the victim and Ronald Cotton. Have tissues at the ready, especially for the end!
Blood Spatter Analysis is my favorite Forensics topic to teach. It continues to amaze me how much information a few drops of blood can hold! This resources because it combines teaching and a chance for students to demonstrate their knowledge.
There are three pages that go through different blood spatter patterns and what they mean. The final page discusses blood spatter angles and how to calculate the area of origin.
The best part: Click on ‘Analyze a Case’ to see photographs of actual blood spatter at a real crime scene. Students are tasked with studying the photographs and trying to figure out what happened in the case. At the bottom of the last page is a link to the answers!
Any Blood Spatter Unit is not complete without splattering some ‘blood’! My students LOVE making and learning by analyzing their own spatter. Here is the Lab that we go through. This resource includes a video to show students which explains exactly how to do each portion of the lab!
Autopsies are fascinating to students. While there are several very graphic autopsy YouTube videos, I prefer having my students work through this digital autopsy from the Australian Museum website.
The interactive is animated and bloodless! Students are guided through the cut, organ removal and weighing, brain examination, and putting everything back together! I use the resource between direct instruction about autopsies, and our hands-on Rat Autopsy.
Looking for more info about autopsies, forensic entomology and decomposition? Take a look at this collection of articles and photographs from the Australian Museum!
Here is a treasure trove of resources for Forensic Anthropology! This main page brings you to five sections to explore. Skeleton Keys teaches students how to read bones to determine age, gender, and ethnicity.
On several subsections you will find links to printable PDFs (see the middle of this page) with the same information PLUS an actual skeleton for students to analyze!
The Forensic Case Files section contains eight true cases of skeletons found at historical sites. The website goes through each photo and discusses what the bones tell us about the life (and death) of each individual. Some of these photos I pull off of the website and use separately in Stations where students have to figure out what may have happened.
Other sections include an interactive Webscomic, more details about the science of Forensic Anthropology, and stories from skeletons found in the people of Colonial Chesapeake.
Forensic Files Episodes
It is hard to find a better and more diverse resource than Forensic File episodes on YouTube. All 100% free, and each one showcasing amazing feats of Forensic Investigation in real life!
In my classroom, we have the tradition of Forensic Files Friday. Each Friday we watch one episode that coincides with the topic we are currently learning.
To get the most out of the experience, my students must fill out the Forensic Episode Guide, which focuses them on the most important parts of each show, and gives them a chance to reflect on the case. You can download my episode guide for free!
The most challenging part of Forensic File Friday is to find that perfect episode! Also, some episodes (though rare) are explicit or graphic and not appropriate for young audiences!
This is why I created a list of my favorite episodes, organized by topic! Use this resource to quickly find exactly what you are looking for. It will save hours of your life!
Just as their homepage says, this website ‘has it all!’ Lab activities, tips for how to teach Forensic Science concepts, and lists of great links to more resources. You have free access to over thirty issues, each one focusing on particular areas of forensics.
Many of the articles are written by experienced forensics teachers, and include freebees and lesson plans. There are also interview with CSI and experts in their field. Every topic imaginable!
Do you have a favorite free Forensic Science resource that you use in your classroom? Let us know in the comments!