Tuesday, April 8, 2014

It's a Matter of Crime!

One of the brightest parts of a very dreary time of year is our annual crime lab project. The main objective of the 9th grade biology crime lab is to provide our students with an opportunity to work in a collaborative setting to solve a problem while showing proper lab technique and technology skills. Some of the topics and techniques are review from other activities in the year and some are completely new to students.  We kick off the project with a lesson in evidence collection and technique from Joan Turner, City of Suffolk Community Outreach Coordinator and City of Suffolk Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney, Matthew Glassman. 
Here is how the project works...One teacher is the victim, one teacher is the guilty suspect and the rest of the faculty are other suspects to the crime. Students are divided into investigative teams (ideally 3 to a group)based on common free bells when possible.  Each group is then assigned one faculty suspect to interview, gather fingerprints and take a hair sample.  Based on hair and fingerprint analysis, the list of 40 (this number changes each year) suspects  drops to the Top 10. Students submit their choices via a Google form that must be completed by a deadline. By using karyotype analysis
the list is shortened to four.  Using blood type analysis, students narrow the list to the final two suspects.  The final analysis of DNA identifies the guilty suspect. Testing that helps set the scene and motive of the crime include drug analysis and blood spatter pattern analysis.  While conducting the research and completing the lab work, students must document their findings with photos and notes collected on their ipad and shared in a Google doc with their group members.  Students must submit a packet of information on their first deadline which includes a final four data analysis chart, search warrant and crime scene sketch. The second deadline is a “mockumentary” video which is created using iMovie on the iPad. The video includes an explanation of the testing completed, results, and explanation of motive.  The project is conducted over a three week time frame.

My colleague, Scott Fowler, and I have been doing the crime lab project for the 13 years we have been teaching together.  With the addition of iPads, we are able to go mostly paperless and communicate with groups through shared Google docs. We have also changed from requiring a final paper to producing the "mockumentary" video.  I think this has allowed us to get a better understanding of student comprehension of the parts of the project since we have the opportunity to hear their explanation and see their interpretations.


As always, every project leaves me with ways to improve and refine the process. Here are my main tips if you choose to do something of this nature.

1. Intermediate deadlines are time saver.

2. Common free time for students is extremely helpful.

3. Clear grading expectations should be presented at the beginning of the project.

4. No last names in projects must be reminded to your students!

5. Patience, sense of humor and popcorn are a must.

To learn more ways in which I am using technology in my classroom, follow me on Twitter @eglassman757.