Forensic Science is an awesome class. With topics like ballistics, blood, and dead bodies – it is almost hard to make it boring! But how do you start? What can a teacher do on the first day that hooks students and lays a solid foundation for the rest of the course?
Begin with the importance of Forensics! Start on Day One with a lesson and activity that demonstrates the need for Forensic Science in the courtroom – even more valuable than eyewitness testimony!
Present the definition of these two types of evidence: Direct and Circumstantial. Direct evidence includes eyewitnesses, photographs or videos that capture the actual crime while it is happening.
Circumstantial evidence is….everything else!
I like to pose a situation for students to discuss with a partner: They are a member of a jury. There is a victim who says Suspect Joe ran up, stole her purse, and took off…but the circumstantial evidence says it was not Joe…what would they believe? Would they convict Joe? Most students say they believe the victim – she was there! She saw Joe steal her purse!
Many studies have shown that human memory is faulty, and that eyewitnesses often get it wrong. Sadly this leads to innocent people spending years in jail. Your students likely don’t know this! They probably feel like they would be pretty good eyewitnesses. It is a fun first-day activity to put that assumption to the test.
There are a few ways to do it.
YouTube Video Clips for the First Day of Forensic Science
Here is a list of fun YouTube video clips that stump student’s observation skills. They can lead to great discussions!
- Selective Attention Test
- Another Selective Attention Test
- Test Your Awareness : Whodunnit?
- Will You Pass The Attention Test?
- Playlist of three short clips: How Aware Are You?
Real Life Eyewitness Challenge
Or, consider setting up an eyewitness test in the room. This blog post by the American Bar Association suggests pairing students up, one taking the role of the witness and one the role of the detective. Print out a photograph of a crime scene (or any picture with detail), one for each partnership. For a good picture, try a google search of ‘Criminal Case Crime Scenes’.
For fifteen seconds, allow the witness – and only the witness – to study the scene. Then, each detective will interview their witness about what they saw and take notes.
If you have the time, it is even more fun to set up a mock crime scene! This can be made outside, in a nearby classroom, or in a hallway. Use painters tape or chalk to draw a body outline on the floor. Blood spatter can be painted or drawn on paper and placed in the scene. Evidence can include magazines, books, a cell phone, a weapon of some type (print on paper!) footprints, and anything else laying around!
Allow the eyewitness group to view the crime scene for a minute or so – no talking! They will then go back to the classroom to be interviewed by their partner (the detective).
Detectives then share out what their witnesses say about the photo or the scene. The teacher can compile the information on the board as detectives share. Once all of the detectives have shared, everyone can look at the photograph again and compare to the notes taken. (TIP – if you choose the mock scene, it is a big time saver to take a picture of the scene and display that in the end to discuss, rather than taking the whole class to the scene again!)
Related: Five FREE digital Forensic Science Resources for your class!
Time for class discussion! Why did some students miss important details? Do some witnesses contradict others? Are there details that were not noticed by any witness? Find a great list of questions on this blog post!
Why do Eyewitnesses So Often Get it Wrong?
Here are some fascinating TedTalks that go into the fallibility of human memory and issues with eyewitness testimony:
- Why eyewitnesses get it wrong – Scott Fraser
- Why eyewitnesses fail | Thomas Albright
- How reliable is your memory? | Elizabeth Loftus
- Social influence and eyewitness testimony | Elizabeth Brimacombe – this video can give you another idea for setting up an eyewitness test with your students!
It is hard to choose between these videos – they are all so good! Consider putting students into groups of four, with each member watching and taking notes on one of the four videos. They can then share with each other what they learned.
Students are now primed for discussion about the differences between direct evidence (eyewitness testimony) and circumstantial evidence. Which is more reliable in court? I love to ask students again “If you were on the jury, and the circumstantial evidence contradicted an eye witness – which would you believe?” Consider using this question as an Exit ticket, or homework, to revisit the next day in class.
First Day of Forensic Science Made Easy
Looking to save time – or need a digital option? This First Day of Forensic Science lesson is available, no prep and ready to go. All video clips and reflection questions are built into the resource. It is part of the Unit 1 Forensics Basics Bundle – a perfect choice that will cover the first week (or two) of school!
This blog post can also be found on our sister site – TeachScienceOfCuriosity.com