Friday, September 18, 2020
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Students solve (fake) murders in Belleville

Driving along one day in the St Louis metro east suburbs of Illinois, residents might have noticed those little A-frame evidence-marking tents with numbers on them behind the gym annex at Belleville East High School. Or maybe they saw a woman’s body on the ground and investigators walking around and measuring distances with a tape measure before collecting and processing the evidence.

Such a sight at a high school these days might have even prompted a few residents to call the office to find out what was up. In fact, a few people did just that in this case, according to a report in The Lancer, the student newspaper at the school.

Nothing to worry about, though. There was no actual murder at the high school. This is just Amy Seel’s forensic science class, available to students who get excited about really cool science.

She brings in US marshals and other guests from Illinois law enforcement, including the school’s resource officer, to talk to students. Everyone learns about

Ms Seel’s experience as a biology teacher makes her the perfect complement to officials from law enforcement in producing an appropriate forensic science class at the high school.

One of the most important tasks for law enforcement is the marking, collecting, and processing of evidence from crime scenes. They usually have a system or process flow that has been reviewed by their peers and tested over and over again in courts of law.

Forensic science classes are popular at many high schools around the country and have been for some time. And it involves a lot more than biology and chemistry; sometimes it’s just good old-fashioned calculus.

Three years ago, Voxitatis reported on how police in Pennsylvania used their skills in math to investigate traffic accidents. It’s not as front page-worthy as a murder, perhaps, but the process of collecting and analyzing crime scene evidence is pretty much the same.

There, mathematical formulas helped police determine speed, angles, the drag factor on surfaces, and several other variables that are relevant to the investigation. “The reason I like doing this is because when I was in high school and college, and I sat in math classes like you guys, I really didn’t care about it at all,” one officer was quoted as saying. “Because, when am I going to use calculus, trigonometry, and geometry? Never. And then I get into this career and decide I like doing accidents … and use a lot of math.”

In Ms Seel’s class, students use their knowledge of entomology (the study of insects) to determine such things as the time of death.

Additional forensic science resources:

  1. Create a DNA fingerprint (from PBS)
  2. Forensic science resources from the American Chemical Society
  3. One example of a curriculum (Kendall Hunt)
  4. Many more ideas from Nancy Clark, a teacher in Massachusetts
  5. A virtual forensics lab at Rice University (5 unsolved cases)
  6. Virtual tours in forensic science (Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences)

Finally, here’s a one-hour video of a walk-through tour of the crime lab for the Sheriff’s Office in Washoe County, Nevada. The forensic sciences lab there serves 13 counties in the state and includes 10 different disciplines, such as controlled substances, firearms, and impression evidence.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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