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September 2000
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Who Dunnit?
by Linda C. Joseph, Columbus (Ohio) Public Schools, Library of Congress

[Editor's note: URLs mentioned in this article appear in the chart that follows.]

Who took a bite out of the candy? Sticky fingers have been found on the broken aquarium glass. Wet footprints lead to the open window. What is that powdery substance next to the broken piggy bank? Answering these questions is what forensic science is all about.

Forensic science is the study of objects that relate to a crime. The objects are evidence and analyzing the evidence is what forensic scientists do. They observe, classify, compare, use numbers, measure, predict, interpret data, and draw inferences. Scientists they are and crimes they solve.

This article and a Web-based activity on the CyberBee site were inspired by Kimberly Franklin from Connolly Middle School, Tempe, Arizona, who developed an extensive unit on forensic science with a grant from the Chase Active Learning program.

Before solving crimes, students need to know how to find, collect, and analyze evidence. After learning various techniques, they can apply their skill and knowledge by trying to solve pre-designed crimes.
 

Forensic Science
Brief History of Fingerprint Identification
Gregg Moore, a certified fingerprint examiner, offers a fascinating history of identification from pre-historic picture writing to a 1924 act of Congress that established the Identification Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Several photographs of individuals associated with fingerprinting, such as William Hershel, Gilbert Thompson, and Sir Francis Galton, are also provided. Moore concludes with a brief paragraph about why fingerprint identification is needed.

FBI Kids—Crime Detection
How does a polygraph test work? What is DNA sequencing? What remarkable case caused fingerprinting to become the standard for personal identification? FBI Kids: Crime Detection presents a wealth of information on fingerprinting, DNA, and polygraph testing. Information about the new Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS) that checks fingerprints electronically should stimulate questions about the process. This is a great site for any age.

Fingerprinting: A Lesson on Classification
This lesson, designed by Reach Out, a student organization promoting math and science literacy, walks you step-by-step through the procedures for taking and classifying fingerprints. A handy visual guide for fingerprint identification can be printed out to use in the classification process. Extensions to the lesson and career-related links round out the information on this site.

Forensic Science Web Pages
Although this page is difficult to read because the author uses bright green and purple text on a black background, it is an excellent resource for definitions in each area of forensic science. Several illustrations, such as handwriting points of analysis, DNA, and surface impact of blood droplets, help the reader to visualize the concepts.

Questioned Document Examination
Have you ever examined a signature and wondered if there are any patterns connected to handwriting? Can you tell if a document has been forged or who wrote it by analyzing the handwriting? Can handwriting be used to define personality? Emily J. Will, an expert in document examination, answers these questions and more. Her clear explanation of handwriting theory is complemented by an experiment to prove how motor skills determine patterns. She also covers the use of the microscope and other magnification devices. Test your own knowledge by guessing what you see in the pictures on the microscope page. My colleague, Linda Resch, and I found the Intel QX3 Microscope to be an excellent tool for this project. At the same time, the editors of MULTIMEDIA SCHOOLS were taking a close look at the QX3. You can read a review of the Intel Computer Microscope on page 63.

Speckin Forensic Laboratories
Visit a commercial lab site and learn what kinds of services are provided to the courts. During your visit you will learn about facsimile and photocopying identification, ink dating, details of fingerprints, and forgeries. Videoclips demonstrate a few of the processes involved with removing obliterating ink on documents.
 

Lessons
Beers Street Middle School: Crime Scene
This is a cleverly constructed teacher page in which three crime scenes are presented to solve. Included are police reports, updates, and suspects. Through a series of tests in areas like powders, chromatography, and fiber, students learn how to deduce who committed the crime. Students write their scenarios based on the evidence gathered. They even have the option of explaining that no crime was committed and the suspect was seen hopping the train that runs near the school.

A Case of Murder:
A Forensic Science Unit—Access Excellence
In this lesson, high school biology students will learn the basics of crime scene investigations, including chain-of-custody for evidence. Hair analysis, chromatography, DNA fingerprinting, and blood analysis using simulated blood are the main topics studied. Handouts, lab report forms, materials list, and an evaluation sheet are supplied.

Crime Lab
Based on the theme “Who Kidnapped the Principal?,” a chromatography and fingerprint lesson was designed for students in grades 3-5 by the University of Arizona Crime Lab. Teacher notes and step-by-step instructions are given, along with ideas for follow-up extensions.

Forensic Files
Solve an international heist of an endangered species by gathering facts and studying the evidence. Then, think about the motive, the players involved, and why they did it. Since this mystery requires a great deal of reading and selection of next steps, it would be wise for the teacher to work through the entire sequence before launching the lesson with students.

The Mystery Spot—Access Excellence
Why does extinction threaten the celebrated frogs in Croak? What madness strikes the stranded Arctica polar expedition in Arctica? Access Excellence created a series of four interactive online/offline science mysteries for high school students to solve during a competition in 1997. Even though the competition has been over for several years, the stories remain available for classroom use.

Who Dunnit? The Case of the Barefoot Burglar
Once your supersleuths are armed with crime-solving knowledge, have them solve The Case of the Barefoot Burglar at the CyberBee Web site.

At approximately 7:15 a.m., Friday morning, Mrs. King, the seventh grade science teacher, thought something was fishy as she walked down the hall and noticed that her door was open. She walked into her classroom and immediately discovered that the small aquarium had been broken and her prized gold fish were gasping in the sink. Beside the broken aquarium were the shattered remains of the pink piggy bank that had been on the shelf above the aquarium. A can of blue paint was spilled on the floor. Footprints of a barefooted burglar led to an open window. Bits of a white powdery substance were found next to the broken, empty, piggy bank. The only other item found was a half-eaten large chunk of chocolate candy. When the police arrived they immediately began to gather forensic evidence.

Suspects include Lou Lou, alias Sweet Tooth, Peg the Leg, Dan the Man, and Jake the Jock. All are suspicious characters, but only one committed the crime.


Be sure to visit the MultiMedia Schools Home Page (http://www.infotoday.com/MMSchools) with active links to all of the Web sites mentioned in this article. Then fly over to CyberBee (http://www.cyberbee.com) for curriculum ideas, research tools, and activities to use with your students and staff.

Forensic Science

Brief History of Fingerprint Identification
http://www.home.earthlink.net/~gregmoore2000/xx4.htm

FBI Kids—Crime Detection
http://www.fbi.gov/kids/crimedet/criemdet.htm

Fingerprinting: A Lesson on Classification
http://www.eecs.umich.edu/mathscience/funexperiments/agesubject/lessons/prints.html

Forensic Science Web Pages
http://users.aol.com/murrk/index.htm

Questioned Document Examination
http://www.qdewill.com/

Speckin Forensic Laboratories
http://www.4N6.com/forge.htm
 

Lessons

Beers Street Middle School: Crime Scene
http://www.netlabs.net/hp/ebend/crime.html

A Case of Murder: A Forensic Science Unit—Access Excellence
http://www.accessexcellence.org/atg/released/0157-theasinclair/index.html

Crime Lab
http://student.biology.arizona.edu/sciconn/crime/crime_menu.html

Forensic Files
http://www.discoverlearning.com/forensic/docs/index.html

The Mystery Spot—Access Excellence
http://www.accessexcellence.org/AE/mspot/

Who Dunnit? The Case of the Barefoot Burglar
http://www.cyberbee.com/whodunnit/crime.html
 

Print Resources

Barber, Jacqueline. Crime Lab Chemistry: Teacher’s Guide. University of California, Berkeley: GEMS, 1993.

Wiese, Jim. Detective Science: 40 Crime-Solving, Case-Breaking, Crook-Catching Activities for Kids. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1996.

Ahouse, Jeremy, Carl Babcock, and Carol Bevilacqua. Fingerprinting. University of California, Berkeley: GEMS, 1998.
 

Linda Joseph is the author of Net Curriculum: An Educator’s Guide to Using the Internet, published by CyberAge Books. The recipient of numerous awards, in addition to her work in the Columbus Public Schools and the Library of Congress, Linda is a part-time instructor for Ohio State University. Communications to the author may be addressed to her at Columbus Public Schools, 737 East Hudson Street, Columbus, OH 43211; 614/365-5277; ljoseph@iwaynet.net.
 
 

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