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Using CSI: Forensic Science to Solve the Case of the Third-Floor Thief

By Grade 8 earth and forensic science teacher Diane de Sequera
Although glamorized on TV, crime scene investigations are complicated scientific endeavors. Forensics experts are faced with daunting tasks to analyze crime scene evidence and unravel murder mysteries. With this in mind, students in the Grades 7–8 forensic science elective enthusiastically took on a multitude of responsibilities to identify the culprit in a campus-related mock crime. 

Whether it involved studying fingerprint minutiae, examining blood spatter, matching tool impressions to wounds, or plaster casting footprints in the garden, students collaborated, analyzed evidence and practiced deductive reasoning skills as they problem-solved during the criminal investigation. These types of exercises allow students to practice science process skills while engaging in thought-provoking, hands-on activities.

With a number of faculty and staff to interrogate, these young detectives must sift, sort and examine crime scene evidence in an organized, systematic fashion. With practice, students hone their observation skills and learn to slow down and become more detail-oriented. They quickly realize that, despite having fun running around campus demanding answers from nervous suspects, there’s nothing really glamorous about sifting through stomach contents, cleaning up blood spills or matching tire impressions under dirty cars in the Genesee parking lot. On the other hand, solving a mock campus crime can be very rewarding and gives students an overwhelming sense of accomplishment.
Currently, forensic science students are conducting a real investigation on a mock crime called The Case of the Third-Floor Thief. In this scenario, fictitious Scott Sledgehammer, a local construction worker, has unfortunately met his demise. Surrounding a chalk outline on the library building’s third-story patio, CSI students must carefully place alphabetical tents beside all identifiable evidence, draw the scene, then systematically collect evidence for later examination.

In this case, Scott exhibited head trauma and bruising on his legs. He died, however, from gunshot wounds to the stomach. A poetry book was found near the body along with blood spatter, fingerprints, hair, fiber, office supplies and duct tape. Nine brave faculty and staff, posing as suspects, were ruthlessly interrogated by students. What was Scott Sledgehammer doing in campus late that night? Was someone tired of his poetic ramblings? How were his wounds inflicted? Who shot him twice through the glass patio door?

Reaching out to the community is also essential in bridging the gap between forensic science and real-world experiences. For example, students listened to lawyer Nelson Brav discuss the significance of eyewitness testimony and heard entertaining stories about how criminals might implicate themselves in a crime. Earlier this year, lawyer Thanasi Preovolos captivated CSI students with his explanation of admissible forensic evidence, the importance of accurate crime scene re-enactments, and shared little-known facts about famous historic cases. In mid-April, detective Tara Venn of the Chula Vista Police Department gave a riveting presentation on crime scene photography and explained how technology is used in evidence analysis.

With a passion for criminal investigations and a knack for storytelling, speakers and presenters make law and law enforcement sound exciting and appealing. Maybe there is a little glamor infused into forensic science after all.

La Jolla Country Day School

9490 Genesee Avenue
La Jolla, CA 92037

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