Forensics: Implementing a Mock Crime Scene

crimescenetapeIt is the event your students have been waiting for, the big culminating project for the course, and the most difficult feat to pull off successfully as the teacher!  In my class the mock crime scene is the final project for the year.  I have been doing it for 6 years now and it becomes more manageable each time.  Here is a list of tips to help you implement your own mock crime scene.  This is the list I wish I had when I began teaching Forensics!


Logistics

How do I make this work with a full class of students?  Have students work in groups, and each group processes a different crime scene.  This means that based on your class size you will have to determine how many students are in each group and then how many different crime scenes that will require.  Don’t get nervous – creating the crime scenes is not as daunting as you might think.  Groups of 3 or 4 work well, but I’ve had groups as large as 6 when my classes have been large.  I have my students for 90 minutes and this is a good amount of time for them to be able to finish processing the scene on the first day. I have put together 4 field kits that have everything the students might need when IMG_3948processing the scene such as fingerprinting powder, rulers, scissors, collection bags, gloves, etc.  They take their photos, collect and bag evidence, dust and lift fingerprints, make casts of shoeprints, and bring it all back to the Evidence Locker (classroom) by the end of their normal class time.  If your classes are shorter you may need to work with your school to get a bit more time on the first day.
Finding space to set up your crime scenes can be a challenge. My school is filled to capacity so we conduct our mock crime scenes either outside or in a large garage on campus.  The garage contains a lot of extra furniture that we use to create scenes.  Take advantage of any items at your school or in your surroundings that can become a crime scene!  I often have one scene set up in the classroom, another outside under a large tree, one or two in the garage bays that are set as different types of rooms depending on what is available for furniture.  A table and chairs can become a conference room, dinner table, office lunchroom, etc.  The scene is set in the garage, but we can use our imaginations that it is somewhere else entirely!  I have set up beauty salons, classrooms, IMG_3944dining rooms, convenience stores, etc. just by placing a few key pieces of furniture within the garage bay and building from there with any props that are available.  We have also used the school’s truck and other vehicles that were available for this, including a golf cart.  Just be careful that the vehicle is not new because fingerprinting powder makes a mess!

For props and evidence I’ve found that very similar items can be placed in many different types of scenes.  I make a mixture of fake blood and use a dropper to plant blood in different strategic points throughout a scene, I make sure there are good fingerprints in areas that are easy to find, footprints where applicable, hair or fibers are easy to plant, and any bottles and cans are useful as well.  We usually find that normal items such as fast food bags, receipts, other papers, clothing, and anything that may be a weapon make it easy to put together a few different scenarios.  Use what you can find around you.  Once the scene is set, the students who are processing the scene will usually find other things that you didn’t even intend for them to find!

Recruit Help

Contact your local police departments to see if they are able to help out during the mock crime scene processing.  I am fortunate enough to have 4 Massachusetts State Troopers who have been helping me for several years.  Each trooper is stationed at a different scene and acts as the first responding officer, when the crime lab technicians (students) arrive, they fill them in on the scenario and give them any information that has been gathered prior to their arrival.  After fulfilling this role the Trooper then becomes a mentor and students are able to speak with them about the mock crime scene project as they work.
IMG_3940You can also ask other teachers, students, or community volunteers to help you set up the scenes, or play critical roles such as suspects, witnesses, etc.  I like to mix up the scenes a little bit each year by giving a group of 2-3 students in another class the scenario, assigning roles such as victim, witness, etc., then have them discuss how it went down and write up a statement for the police of what they saw.

Assessing the Mock Crime Scene Project

There are many ways to go about assessing the students during this project, and it will depend on how many days you are able to devote to the project.  In its simplest form, students can perform the crime scene processing on Day 1 (I grade them based on my observations of their work), prepare a presentation on Day 2, and present their crime scene on Day 3 (presentation grade).  If more time is available, I often have students submit their requests for testing on their evidence that has been collected, then they may perform some tests or get fictional results from their teacher and report out to the group after that.  I also have had them prepare the actual case file in document form when time permits.


If you are looking for help in implementing a mock crime scene for your students you may also be interested in my handouts that are available on Teachers Pay Teachers.  The following documents are included in the product:
  • Project Outline
  • Evaluation Rubric
  • Field Kit Inventory
  • Photograph Log
  • Evidence Log
  • Test Requisition
  • Test Results Template
  • Case File Template
  • 5 Possible Scenarios
  • Evidence Labels

What Do You Think?

I am very interested in your tips, tricks, and successes as well.  Please comment with any ideas or questions that you have about implementing a mock crime scene.  I’m always looking for ways to make mine different and interesting.  The students do a fair amount of talking about it so it is important to keep the scenarios fresh and new!