Forensics Day 2

Right now I’m teaching this JTerm class, Forensics. Just to give you a background, JTerm is basically an intensive 2-week study of the same subject. In a nutshell, I see the same 17 students each day for a out 6 hours. I know, right? BUT I’m making the most of it.

You’re probably wondering why I’m starting with Day 2… well, that’s because after Day 1, I was drop. dead. exhausted. Literally went right from my car into my bed at 3pm. No joke.

So today was a much more chill day than Day 1–I tried to structure it so that it was more student-centered. Here was my To-Do list at the beginning of the day:

  1. Warm-Up activity: who can get the best latent fingerprint?
  2. Intro to Bodies and Autopsies presentation
  3. Intro to Decay
  4. Introduction to Autopsy video
  5. Virtual Autopsy
  6. Virtual Autopsy presentations
  7. Case of Sam Sheppard videos
  8. Case of Sam Sheppard presentations
  9. Bodies debrief
  10. Body worlds research
  11. Introduction to Hair and Fibers
  12. Hair and Fibers lab
  13. FBI 101
  14. Historical Crime Mini-Report (in library)
  15. Brainstorm questions for visiting police officer

Here’s what actually happened:

  1. Warm-Up activity: who can get the best latent fingerprint? (they loved this, and by the end, their latent fingerprinting skills were much better than in the beginning)
  2. Intro to Bodies and Autopsies presentation (student-led, also excellent)
  3. Intro to Decay  (Got spontaneously deleted because I didn’t want to gross them out too much directly after breakfast)
  4. Introduction to Autopsy video (turned out to be a part of their presentation–score!)
  5. Virtual Autopsy (students divided up into groups and each got one of these cases to figure out)
  6. Virtual Autopsy presentations (they were asked to present like a medical examiner–sex, age, and cause of death for the patient–these were OK. I found that they rushed through the results and didn’t get a lot of the medical terms)
  7. NEW ACTIVITY: I had them all write out their patients on whiteboards and then compare them: what did older people die of? what did younger people die of? This part I thought was really interesting, because you could definitely see that the older you get, the more likely you are to die of heart or lung failure complications.
  8. Case of Sam Sheppard videos
  9. Case of Sam Sheppard presentations
  10. These presentations became Case of Sam Shepard analysis using the documentation found here
    1. Some of the questions were a bit confusing to them, but overall I really liked that it portrayed just how flawed both the evidence collection and the trial was. The main point I tried to drive across at the end was that forensic science is not always as cut and dry as it is in the movies and on TV. Often times, the evidence tells us one thing, and the law leads us in a different direction, so a lot of cases are left unsolved*
  11. Bodies debrief (ran out of time)
  12. Body worlds research (ran out of time)
  13. NEW ACTIVITY: Body Worlds Introduction and view Body Worlds Video
  14. Introduction to Hair and Fibers (student-led, awesome)
  15. Hair and Fibers lab (students got SO into this–they were viewing each others hair, dog hair, follicles, medulla, so awesome)
  16. NEW ACTIVITY: I had them make a Fibers and Hair database–they took photos of all the different fibers and hair with their phones and then uploaded them to a common google doc, and labelled them with different magnifications–TOTALLY AWESOME
  17. Introduction to FBI (done by 2 students–this presentation was so awesome that it covered a lot of what I originally wanted them to do in FBI 101, so I changed that activity on the spot)
  18. FBI 101 (it was the end of the day and they were looking dead, but I had them look at the top 10 must wanted fugitives on the FBI website instead just to give them and idea of what kinds of crimes people were wanted for. This really got them interested–one student, whom had mostly just sat there the whole time, started talking a whole lot and showing all of his friends what he was seeing. I love those moments when you figure out what makes them tick.
  19. Brainstorm questions for visiting police officer: this was much easier to do here than at the end of the day because they already had the FBI and criminals on their mind
  20. Historical Crime Mini-Report (in library) (we needed to get out of the classroom. So I had them choose their own groups, choose a major case in history, and then research it.
  21. End of the day. Phew!

In hindsight, this was a very computer-centered day–they were doing a lot of back and forth with the computer, and I wish that we had had more practical things to do, because that’s what they really love. I did originally want to do a bodies and autopsies lab where we looked at the decay of hotdogs over time in different scenarios, but when it came down to it, I was too grossed out by the idea. So I ate the hot dogs instead 🙂

I think next time, I would do these two topics on separate days so that it’s not so computer centered, but I really liked the mini-report of a major crime activity. And the autopsy one for that matter too–it’s so interesting to see what they make of actual material. I would have loved to get a coroner in to talk to them about what it’s like to pronounce people dead and what not.

I also realized that this class is very human-centered. There are a lot of other things that forensics is used for–I mean, think art alone, right? They used X-rays to determine that some artists painted more than one painting on a canvas. That’s still forensic science. I would love next year to go to an art museum and hear from a curator how they use forensic science. Or even watch that movie to go along with it… what’s that one with Susan Sarandon and Pierce Brosnan? Anyway… a colleague of mine also told me that we should watch The Making of a Murderer–apparently that’s an awesome series, and also very forensics related. This would be neat to do as a one-a-day episode kind of thing.

Well, that’s all for now, folks! Tomorrow, we’re going to see the Body Worlds Exhibit in NYC, which should be a ton of fun. Until next time!

*This is also a part that I’m really struggling with–how can I portray all the aspects of forensic science without sounding biased? I want to show so many different angles, but in reality, there are only those angles that I know of and choose to portray, you know?