What is Forensic Science?

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SWBAT: Describe the range of work in forensic science, including careers that use forensic science techniques.

Big Idea

What is forensics, exactly? What do forensic scientists do? More than you think! Students will learn about careers in this field.


1 minutes


5 minutes

I start the lesson by playing the Flames on the Side of My Face clip from the 1985 movie, "Clue". 

After watching, I ask the students to think about what types of evidence would be found at a crime scene such as this. After a few minutes of think time, I call on volunteers to respond. Students may mention fingerprints, the murder weapon, DNA evidence, and so on. As they come up with different ideas, I write their responses on the board.

I explain to students that investigators who work to solve crimes, work in a field known as "forensics". Forensics investigators can work on a variety of cases involving many different types of crimes, such as theft, arson, assault, murder, or even "white collar crimes", such as embezzlement, bribery, etc. No matter what the crime, the goal of forensics investigators is to be able to accurately answer the following questions:

  • Who is the victim?
  • Who is the perpetrator?
  • What happened?
  • How and why was the crime committed?
  • When and where did the crime take place?
  • What is the evidence?

*This lesson was adapted from the Unit, "Crime Scene Investigation", form the California Center for College and Career (http://www.connectedcalifornia.org).


30 minutes

Next, I ask the students to list anything they know - or think they know - about the field of forensics. I provide them 2-3 minutes to write down everything they can, then have them share their ides with a partner, placing a check mark next to anything on their list that their partner also said. I call on several random students to share an idea. Not only does this provide a way for students to build background knowledge, but also allows me to assess their current knowledge about the topic and to determine any misconceptions they may have.

To give students an idea of what forensics involves and how many areas there are within this field, I play the True Blue Preview: Forensic Science video clip:

I refer back to the responses recorded on the board in response to the video clip, and explain to the students that while a brief examination of a crime scene will often provide a general theory of what occurred, the use of forensic science often reveals hidden clues. For example, body temperatures can be used to approximate the time of death. If there is blood, DNA can be analyzed. Hand or shoe prints can be analyzed to provide the approximate height and stride of the suspect. Both time of death and the suspect’s stride can also be used to approximate a radius that the suspect must be in. Investigators use many types of clues together to narrow down the potential pool of suspects. However, there is not one forensics investigator who can turn all of these clues into useable information. Teams of different forensic scientists must work together to analyze evidence and clues from a crime scene or investigation.

Before learning about the procedures that investigators use to solve a crime, we must first learn about WHO works on these teams and conducts these procedures. I pass out the Forensics Career Worksheet to guide students through the research of many different jobs in the field. In order to save time, I allow students to work in pairs and to conduct research on 4 different careers on their paper. (In order to make sure each career is covered, I assign 4 careers to each group at random.)


10 minutes

After students complete the research, we compare everyone's information by allowing pairs of students to each share with the class what they have learned about two different careers. However, I place the limitation that students cannot share information about a career that has already been discussed twice. This ensures that all careers are addressed and students do not place too much focus on a few limited topics.

As each group shares, I have students underline something on their paper that confirms what was shared, as well as add one piece of information that they did not already have. This will help to clear up any misconceptions and make sure all students have a solid understanding of the many different people who work to solve crimes. I ask student to identify patterns or correct any misconceptions they had about the many different areas of forensics that we have studied. Students may notice that not all forensics investigators work with blood or DNA, that they come from a variety of different backgrounds (finance, law, biology, etc). They may also notice that all forensics investigators utilize evidence to make inferences and claims, which is truly at the core and nature of science!


10 minutes

Now that students know a little more about the different types of forensics investigators, it is time to see their work in action. To do this, I pair students up again and have them access the CSI: The Experience website. This website contains several simulations of cases that investigators are working to solve. Each pair of students may select a simulation to "play", which will guide them through the many fields of Forensics, as well as introduce them to new terminology they may need in order to be successful later in the unit (toxicology, DNA, rigor mortis, ethics, etc.).


*As an option for either assessment of scaffolding, there are quizzes and logs that coincide with each game and can be handed out to students.  


5 minutes

I have students reflect on their thinking and assess their understanding by having them complete the reflections questions, independently, that follow the research section on their worksheet. By answering these questions, I can tell which careers most interest my students, which may help me to provide more focus and relevance for future lessons in the unit. It will also give me some insight into their overall understanding of the many different pathways within the field of forensics and the knowledge/strengths needed to be successful in these careers.