Does your child love detective stories, watch crime scene investigation (CSI) shows, or dream of being a forensic scientist someday? Forensic Science for kids may be just what you need! Mysteries and hands-on sleuthing experiences can build important critical thinking skills. Best of all, CSI science for kids covers different areas of science: physics, biology, chemistry, and earth science! Using crime scene activities, books, and investigations can help your child learn skills in data collection, observation, analysis, and problem-solving. Most of all, your child will love to learn this way!
What is Forensic Science?
Did you know that you leave evidence of your presence everywhere you go? Forensic science is based on the principle that a person always brings something to a crime scene and also leaves something behind. Forensic science uses science to solve legal issues within the civic and criminal justice systems. Forensic scientists collect physical and chemical evidence from crime scenes and then analyze the evidence in a laboratory. Some laboratory tests can be done quickly, but others can take months. They use principles and techniques from biology, chemistry, physics, and other scientific areas to provide evidence and sometimes even testify in court. Forensics can involve all kinds of scientists (e.g., forensic anthropologists, forensic pathologists, forensic toxicologists, forensic entomologists) and can even be used by archaeologists to learn more about ancient peoples!
Since forensic science is popular in the media today, many kids are drawn to it. However, how much of what we see on television is actually true? Well, because television shows have been known to stretch the truth, there is something called the “CSI Effect” where the public has inaccurate expectations of what forensics really is based on the media’s portrayal of it. Your job, then, is to help your child “discover” the truth about forensic science.
Forensic Science for Kids: Terms
Before you and your child dive into forensics, you may want to become familiar with some important forensics terms. Here are some of those terms:
- Autopsy: Dissection of a dead body to determine cause and time of death.
- Biometrics: Using unique features of a person to identify that person. Biometrics include fingerprints, facial features, retinal patterns, and handwriting.
- Chromatography: A method of identifying different inks by the unique pigment combinations found in inks.
- DNA: Basic unit of a person’s genetic information, which is used to determine a person’s identity.
- Dusting: A method used to bring out visible fingerprints, fingerprints that you can see when left by oily or dirty fingers.
- Facial Recognition: Use of software that creates a map of a face and then compares to distinct points in its database.
- Fingerprint Patterns: Typical patterns, including loops, whorls, and arches, that help to identify each person’s unique set of fingerprints.
- Fuming: A method used to bring out latent fingerprints, fingerprints that you can’t see but are left by sweat or other bodily evidence.
- Identification: Using features of a body (i.e., bones, teeth, scars, birthmarks, tattoos, and fingerprints) to identify suspects or victims who have died.
- Medical Examiner: The expert that examines the body when a death is suspicious.
- Pathology: The diagnosis of disease and cause of death through laboratory analysis.
- Toxicology: The study of toxins and their effects on the body.
- Trace Evidence: Evidence that is left at the scene and provides a trace of information about who was there. Trace evidence may include paint chips, hair, gunshot residue, or fibers from clothing or other fabrics.
- Trajectory: The path an object takes as it travels through space.
- Ultraviolet Light: Used by forensic scientists to see certain substances that are not visible without it.
Forensic Science for Kids: Facts
Now that you are familiar with some forensic science terms, here are some resources where you can find information and fun facts about forensics for kids:
- Crime Lab (Science News for Students): “From accidents to crime scenes, scientists are helping detectives solve mysteries.” Learn about forensics, including its history, here.
- Crime Scene Investigation Network: A real crime scene investigation site. Learn about the crime scene response, evidence collection, crime scene photography through articles, videos, a community forum, and other resources and links. This is also a great website to learn how to become a crime scene investigator or forensic scientist and see the types of jobs that are available.
- Forensics Illustrated: Complete Curriculum for High School Forensic Science: “Forensics Illustrated is a comprehensive collection of all the resources collected, manufactured, and utilized by Brennon Sapp during his nine years of teaching Forensic Science to high school students. This information was published in its entirety in the fall of 2004 by EOA Scientific. Now this information is available to anyone for free.”
- Forensic Science Lesson Plans (The Science Spot): A 9-week course on Forensic Science for 8th graders. You need to be able to view PowerPoint (PPT) and Acrobat (PDF) files. As this is designed for classrooms, it might be perfect for a co-op class, or use it on your own.
- Is Handwriting Analysis Legit Science?: “Handwriting experts’ testimony can be accepted in court, so there must be something to it. But I have a hard time believing that a smart criminal wouldn’t be able to change his writing to avoid detection.” Read about the historical controversy surrounding handwriting analysis.
- Killer’s Trail (NOVA Online): “Welcome to the companion Web site to the NOVA program “The Killer’s Trail,” in which a team of experts investigates the forensic evidence in the 1954 murder of Marylin Sheppard, one of the most famous unsolved crimes in the U.S.” Follow the chronology of a murder and learn about DNA fingerprinting and 3-D mugshots.
- Secrets of the Dead: Crime scene investigations meet history. A PBS series you can also watch on TV.
Forensic Science for Kids: Labs and Projects
What better way to learn about forensic science than by doing hands-on experiments and activities?! Help your young Sherlock Holmes to use some of the actual procedures forensic scientists use. Here are a few activities based on crime scene investigation for kids that you can do at home:
- Crime Scene Investigation Activities (STEMWorks): Find a list of CSI activities here, including labs, virtual tours, and more.
- Fingerprint Classification Project (Hubpages): Follow these instructions for a great lesson on fingerprinting and the scientific method. This project is great for gifted or older elementary students or for middle school students.
- Fingerprinting (Cyberbee): Take your own prints, classify them, and dust for fingerprints on a glass.
- Foot to Height (Cyberbee): The bones of the feet can tell a lot about a person. What do feet reveal about a person’s height? Determine the height of your friends and family by measuring the bones of the feet.
- Ink Chromatography Lab: “Chromatography is a method of separating out materials from a mixture. Ink is a mixture of several dyes and therefore we can separate those colors from one another using chromatography…. Follow the instructions… to discover which pen was used to write a note.”
- Powder Analysis (Cyberbee): “A forensic scientist may discover powder at a crime scene. To determine whether it is illegal or not, the crime lab will identify the substance using chemistry.” In this lab, identify unknown substances and complete a powder analysis chart.
- Teeth Impressions (Cyberbee): Practice being a forensic dentist by making teeth impressions and then trying to identify the individual who took the bite by comparing the impressions with a bite in cheese or chocolate.
Forensic Science for Kids: CSI Cases to Solve
Once your kids know their CSI basics, they can try to solve mysteries using the thinking and tools of forensic science. Want to find easy crime scene ideas? Here are some crime scene scenarios available for free on the Internet:
- The Candy Conundrum: Free Crime Scene Investigation Activity
“Check out this FREE CSI Activity for Kids! So engaging and so much fun. Crime Scene Activities are a great way to teach critical thinking skills with deductive logic puzzles and hands-on investigations. Students in grades 4-6 will have a sweet time trying to figure out who broke the classroom rules and tasted some of their treats before the day was over.”
- The Case of the Barefoot Burglar (Cyberbee)
“At approximately 7:15 a.m., Friday morning, Mrs. King, the seventh-grade science teacher, thought something was fishy as she walked down the hall and noticed that her door was open.” Can you solve this case?
- Mystery Party Game – Operation Crime Scene Investigation
“Our forensic mystery game for kids age 10 – 16…. The mystery game is designed to allow the kids to “solve” a crime. You, as the facilitator, will provide the different labs to enable the kids to use their collected evidence to assemble a profile of the suspect.”
- Plato’s Pond
“What begins as an attempt to catch a stray dog quickly turns into an adventure of a lifetime for Watson, Crick and Rosalind…. It is now up to you to help them catch the thief and get home by conducting experiments and analyzing the evidence. HELP! Time is critical, and they’re running out of it!”
Forensic Science for Kids: CSI Books
If you find your kids have a real interest in forensic science, here are even more resources and books to deepen learning and add to their enthusiasm:
- Crime and Puzzlement by Lawrence Treat and Leslie Cabarga: “You are the detective with these 24 fiendishly clever picture mysteries. Eli P. Harvard was found dead inside his ski lodge, a revolver in his hand and a bullet in his brain. He’d broken up with Sally the night before. Had despondency driven him to suicide? Or had the vengeful Sally done him in? The clues are in the picture; it’s up to you to find out who killed Harvard and why. Here’s how… Read the story, ponder the picture, seize pencil in fist, and solve it yourself! Match wits with Edgar Award-winning author Lawrence Treat and discover detecting powers you never dreamed you had. Who stole the Van Bliven necklace? Did Mrs. Falwell really fall out of her twelfth-floor window? Where did Little William go? You find out!”
- Crime Scene Investigations: Real-Life Science Activities for the Elementary Grades by Pam Walker and Elaine Wood: “Turn your elementary students into super sleuths with the 60 exciting lessons and worksheets in this unique resource! All provide complete teacher background information and reproducible activity sheets that challenge students to observe carefully, organize and record data, think critically, and conduct simple tests to solve crimes ranging from theft and dog-napping to vandalism and water pollution. Organized into four sections covering Inquiry & Technology…Earth Science…Life Science…and Physical Science.”
- Crime Scene Investigations: Real-Life Science Labs for Grades 6-12 by Pam Walker and Elaine Wood: “This unique resource offers activities in earth, life, and physical science as well as science inquiry and technology. The Grades 6-12 level book provides labs on life, physical, and earth science as well as critical thinking. Like real-life forensic scientists, students observe carefully, organize, and record data, think critically, and conduct simple tests to solve crimes like theft, dog-napping, vandalism and water pollution. For added fun, each resource features an original cartoon character, Investi Gator for the Elementary level and Crime Cat for Grades 6-12. All activities include complete background information with step-by-step procedures for the teacher and reproducible student worksheets. Whatever the teacher’s training or experience in teaching science, Crime Scene Investigations can be an intriguing supplement to instruction.”
- CSI Expert!: Forensic Science for Kids by Karen Schulz: “CSI Expert!: Forensic Science for Kids includes more than 25 in-depth activities on fingerprinting, evidence collection, blood-stain identification, forensic careers, ballistics, and much more…. Each lesson includes a realistic case for students to crack using the knowledge they’ve learned about analyzing forensic evidence, and the book also includes an assessment assignment that teachers can employ to test their students’ learning. Both kids and teachers will be able to easily implement the book’s hands-on, detailed, and exciting forensic science experiments using everyday materials.”
- Detective Science: 40 Crime-Solving, Case-Breaking, Crook-Catching Activities for Kids by Jim Wiese: “Search for evidence, gather clues, and discover how science can help solve a mystery. From dusting for fingerprints to analyzing handwriting, these easy, fun-filled activities give you a firsthand look at how detectives and forensic scientists use science to solve real-life crimes. Make a plaster cast of a shoe. Identify lip prints left on a glass. Examine hair and clothing fibers. Practice chemistry to identify mystery substances, and much more. In no time at all, you’ll be thinking like a detective and performing experiments like a real forensic scientist!”
- Epic Books: CSI: Instantly access books on crime scene investigation and forensics for free for 30 days.
- Forensic History: Crimes, Frauds, and Scandals Audiobook by Professor Elizabeth A. Murray: “Step into the world of forensic science and study the most fascinating crimes and mysteries from the last two centuries in the 24 lectures of Forensic History: Crimes, Frauds, and Scandals. Professor Murray, a forensic anthropologist with nearly 30 years of experience in the field, has crafted lectures that are a remarkable blend of storytelling and science – a whirlwind tour that takes you from the gas-lit streets of Victorian London to small-town America. As you journey around the world and into the past, you’ll re-examine modern history’s great crimes and scandals using the tools and insights of forensic science. In doing so, you’ll learn how cutting-edge advancements in science and technology are applied to investigations and how to evaluate evidence and think like a forensic scientist.”
- Forensic Science: Discover the Fascinating Methods Scientists Use to Solve Crimes (DK Eyewitness) by Chris Cooper: “Explore the fascinating, and sometimes gory, world of forensics, where science helps crack the case. How do you know if a red stain is blood or ketchup, or whose blood it is? Can computers really recognize your face in a crowd? Why are fingerprints so important in an investigation? Learn why it is critical to quickly secure a crime scene, and how DNA sampling works. Find out how maggots can reveal how long someone has been dead, or how a single fabric fiber can lead to the murderer. From the scene of the crime to testing in the laboratory, you will get to know how all the clues are put together to tell a story and reveal the guilty person. Discover how methods have changed since the days of Sherlock Holmes, the latest technology in use today, and techniques of the future. Flip to the reference section to learn about pioneers in the field, see a timeline of forensic firsts, and locate museums and special websites to visit for further inspiration and exploration. The glossary gives you all the vocab you need to sound like a real CSI expert.”
- Forensics: Uncover the Science and Technology of Crime Scene Investigation by Carla Mooney and Samuel Carlbaugh: “Forensics: Uncover the Science and Technology of Crime Scene Investigation introduces students to the fascinating world of forensic science and shows them how to find clues, analyze evidence, and crack the case. Combining hands-on activities with forensic science, kids will have fun learning about the world of forensics, evidence collection, and crime lab analysis. Entertaining illustrations and fascinating sidebars illuminate the topic and bring it to life, reinforcing new vocabulary. Projects include documenting a crime scene, identifying fingerprints, analyzing blood spatter, and extracting DNA. Additional materials include a glossary and a list of current reference works, websites, museums, and science centers.”
- Illustrated Guide to Home Forensic Science Experiments: All Lab, No Lecture (Diy Science) by Robert Bruce Thompson and Barbara Fritchman Thompson: “This full-color book offers advice for setting up an inexpensive home lab, and includes more than 50 hands-on lab sessions that deal with forensic science experiments in biology, chemistry, and physics. You’ll learn the practical skills and fundamental knowledge needed to pursue forensics as a lifelong hobby—or even a career. The forensic science procedures in this book are not merely educational, they’re the real deal. Each chapter includes one or more lab sessions devoted to a particular topic. You’ll find a complete list of equipment and chemicals you need for each session…. Through their company, The Home Scientist, LLC (thehomescientist.com/forensics), the authors also offer inexpensive custom kits that provide specialized equipment and supplies you’ll need to complete the experiments. Add a microscope and some common household items and you’re good to go.”
- Officer Dan Looks for Clues – An Introduction to Forensic Science for Kids (Kindle Only) by Daniel Anselment and Amy Anselment: “Officer Dan introduces kids to the interesting field of forensic science. You will learn about fingerprints, shoe prints, tool markings, hairs and fibers while exploring photos of clues from a burglary scene.”
- One-Hour Mysteries by Mary Carr: “One-Hour Mysteries offers five motivating mysteries that your students can solve using clues and logical reasoning. Your students will become crime scene investigators, analyzing clues found at a crime scene and applying forensic techniques in their analysis. Each mystery includes a complete set of teacher instructions and reproducible handouts that may be photocopied for classroom use. This exciting book features the following mysteries: Mystery at the Mall, The Coaster Caper, The Case of Santa’s Blackmail, The Case of the Missing Tiara, and A Hollywood Crime.” If you like those, check out More One-Hour Mysteries, also by Mary Carr.
- On the Scene: A CSI’s Life by Diana Herweck: “Come find out what professional crime scene investigators do to solve a crime in this inspiring nonfiction book! With detailed images and fascinating facts, readers learn about forensic science, criminal investigative evidence, and crime scene searches. This book includes an interview with a real-life CSI and a glossary, index, and list of useful sources.” Grade 4. Reading Level Q.
- Science Fair Winners: Crime Scene Science: 20 Projects and Experiments about Clues, Crimes, Criminals, and Other Mysterious Things by Karen Romano Young and David Goldin: “Crime Scene Science that puts you inside the head—and the toolbox—of modern-day experts in crime solving. Slip under the yellow crime-scene tape to conduct your own experiments: you’ll soon be detecting, inspecting, and connecting the dots of forensic science. Investigate rates of human decomposition; find out what makes fingerprints unique; identify handwriting traits; and discover the secrets of paper fiber analysis. Each workshop includes suggestions on effective presentation at science fairs, taking experiments one step further, and using science vocabulary correctly. Talk the talk, and walk the walk, your crime scene is this way, Detective.”
- Science Sleuths: Solving Mysteries Using Scientific Investigations by Howard Schindler and Dennis Mucenski: “Building on the growing interest in crime stories, the three cases featured in Science Sleuths: Solving Mysteries Using Scientific Inquiry merge science and literacy as students are required to be critical and active readers as they conduct their investigation. Beginning with an evaluation of the crime scene reproductions, student investigators will analyze lab reports, phone messages, and interviews to extract key information. Students will sort through the evidence to formulate their initial hypothesis as they work to identify the person responsible for each crime. Additional case information requires students to reformulate their initial hypothesis until they arrive at a final conclusion. The students’ final write-up consists of a chart explaining the means, motive, and opportunity for each of the suspects in addition to a thorough analysis of the evidence and a recreation of the case. Eventually, students are able to determine which suspect should be charged with the crime!”
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