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CSI-BKW: High school students uncovering the mysteries of Forensic Science investigations

CSI class 

CSI class 

CSI class 

Pictured above: New York State Police Forensic Investigators Eric Smith and John Carey work with the BKW Forensic Science students on real life fingerprint collection, analysis and courtroom presentation.

First there was CSI-Las Vegas. The sequel was CSI-Miami. CSI-New York followed both of them. Now would you believe a fourth show has joined the lineup?

We’ll call it … CSI-BKW!

While not officially a CBS hit drama yet, about a dozen high school juniors and seniors are playing the roles today in their Forensic Science class. Just like real Crime Scene Investigators, course participants are learning how to apply scientific theory to law by performing experiments that simulate and process a crime scene and by applying analysis techniques that help solve the crime.

“As a teacher, Forensic Science is a course that answers the (students’) age old question, ‘Why do a have to learn this?’” explains BKW instructor Melissa Gregory. “Every piece of information that we learn and every activity that we do in some way relates to the (real life) job of a forensic scientist. My students enjoy the hands-on activities embedded into the structure of the class and are challenged to solve problems each and every time we meet.”

Forensic Science is a full-year course at BKW, open to upper classmen who have successfully completed the pre-requisite classes “The Living Environment” and “Regents Chemistry.” Throughout the year, students use real life application of math and science principles to examine evidence collected from a mock crime scene. They study topics such as hair and fiber evidence, blood spatter, forensic anthropology, DNA analysis, and handwriting and fingerprint analysis.

Forensic Science is just one of the high-level science courses offered to BKW students to better prepare them for the rigors of college and life. In any given day, students are engaged in experiments similar to what you might see on an episode of the popular CSI TV show.

Analyzing fingerprints, blood spatter and crime scenes

In one class, for example, students were challenged to “lift” a fingerprint made on a piece of wall tile. They then examined their print and identified the overall pattern (arch, whorl, loops) and several friction ridge characteristics (minutiae points).

One of the bigger activities this school year involved evaluating a mock crime scene where they where they were charged with collecting evidence. Several BKW teachers donated samples of their hair and the students had to identify which teacher was the “culprit’ in this crime scenario.

“Activities like this supplement and reinforce our discussions in class,” Gregory says. “In the end I want my students asking themselves, ‘What could I have done better?’”

Other lab activities have included studying and identifying different types of fiber under a microscope, burn analysis to identify types of clothing fabric, and preparing blood spatter samples to determine the height at which blood fell based on the pattern of the blood droplet. Students also examined true life case histories of criminals to see how police and CSIs actually gathered and analyzed evidence to prosecute the case.

Helping them in this challenge were New York State Police Forensic Investigators Eric Smith and John Carey, who visited BKW on two occasions this school year to share their expertise with students. One program in the fall focused on actual crime scene evaluation and evidence collection the two had delved into during their careers. The second program this winter centered on fingerprint evidence – how it is collected, analyzed and presented in a courtroom to try a case.

“It’s a lot of fun learning the various techniques police use,” said one BKW student. “When I’m watching CSI on TV I have to stop and tell my family, ‘Hey, I know how to do that.’”