Using Forensic Science to help Make High School Science more Interesting

Science sometimes gets a bad reputation for being nerdy or too difficult. By definition science is nothing more than an organized approach to asking and answering questions. Life itself is a scientific process of gathering data and drawing conclusions. Science appears in nearly every profession and developing a scientific mindset will be beneficial to anyone under any circumstances. Students might dread the thick textbooks, statistical formulas and endless theories, but with proper orientation these details can become useful tools in the pursuit of knowledge. Finding practical application of scientific theories and methods will aid in overcoming the difficulties of teaching and learning science. With the popularity of forensic science in entertainment media it makes sense for teachers to incorporate forensic science methods into their lessons.

In the time of the Romans the forum was essentially the city hall and public square of Rome. The term forensic comes from the Roman word forum. In modern times the word forensic refers to the law; in the case of forensic science it is the interaction between science and law. Popular television shows such as NCIS and CSI present an overly dramatic picture of forensic science through crime scene investigation and discovery. Though pop-culture isn’t perfectly accurate, it has served to generate legitimate interest in the application of science to solving crime. High school science teachers and college professors would all do well to borrow from the popularity of this movement by introducing forensic themed case studies to class lecture and lab exercises. No matter what the specific topic of study in a science class there is likely a practical application of it in the world of forensics.

So-called hard and soft sciences have forensic application. Clearly human biological science is important in determining cause and time of death, but entomology, the study of insects, can also aid in this process.  Psychology has a forensic application as well, typically with court proceedings where psychologists provide expert testimony as to the fitness of a person to stand trial, or other factors regarding the situation. Even dentistry is involved when identifying a body by teeth, or by a bite mark. Evidence of all sorts is left at a crime scene including tool marks, bodily injuries, dirt, blood, hair, animals and insects, just to name a few. Investigators capture all of these things through bagging the item, writing a detailed description and taking pictures. Forensic scientists then analyze the evidence when possible and necessary to determine any connections between suspects and the criminal act.

Students may not be aware of the various careers available in the sciences related to forensics. Perhaps DNA analysis doesn’t excite a young person, but if that analysis can lead to the arrest of a guilty offender the job might be a bit more enticing. The job of any teacher is to excite his or her students in learning and gaining knowledge. Science can be difficult because it is very precise and involves formulas and methods that can seem daunting at first. Presenting science in the context of real life application, especially in a field as exciting as law enforcement and justice, can help a student connect with topics that might seem boring or overly complicated at first. Rather than rework an entire year’s curriculum into an introduction to forensic science, one unit could be devoted to that field of work. Guest lecturers or experts from the field might make visits to answer questions about cases they have worked or answer career topic questions. Teachers can find books and internet websites that will be helpful in preparing lab exercises based on legitimate casework. The best way forensic science can make high school science more interesting is by applying the topics learned to real life scenarios. Applied science answers questions and is easy to relate to. Forensic science is as real as it gets, which helps to excite the minds of students.