Students in Elizabeth “Libbi” Ungrey’s forensic science class spent the school year developing the skills to solve crimes of her making. For the end-of-year project, the tables were turned and students aimed to stump their teacher.
“This pulls together their learning from the entire year,” said Ungrey, who has assigned the project for about 15 years. “It’s the highlight of my year. I love all the creative thinking.”
Nearly 60 juniors and seniors worked alone, in pairs or in groups of three to prepare a scene to be evaluated. As part of the assignment, they had to utilize four or more types of evidence — DNA; blood; hair or fiber; and shoe, tire or tool marks — and multiple suspects to put together a cohesive story line.
For Ashley Kremers and Anissa Jenison, it was an apparent domestic argument turned deadly. They set up a scale model of the fictional crime scene, complete with dolls and fake blood. On the table in front of the pair were fingerprints, witness statements, the autopsy report and a boot print found in muddy grass outside.
“When you first look at it, you think it’s going to be super easy,” Ashley said of the project. “You really have to take a step back and look at everything as a whole, then zoom back in and develop your evidence one by one.”
When grading projects, Ungrey works through students’ evidence and checks her conclusions against answer keys they provide. Detailed investigation reports included backstories, fingerprints, witness statements, evidence records, autopsy reports, photographs and blood spatter pattern analysis.
“I’m looking for very specific learning in terms of how they document, process and evaluate the evidence from the scene,” Ungrey said.
Students also spent time explaining to classroom visitors how the evidence they provided made their case.
“This would be in line with how a forensic scientist might have to explain to a jury the evidence and reasoning associated with the charges,” Ungrey explained. “I want them back up their claims with evidence and reasoning in a way that someone who isn’t a scientist can follow.”