Home School Life Journal

Home School Life Journal ................................................................................................................painting by Katie Bergenholtz

CSI: Breaking Down the Crime Scene

Remember the crime scene we set up last week?
This week, I  had a class full of students to help me investigate the crime scene. It is very important to protect and secure the area where the crime took place to ensure that evidence is not destroyed. Investigators carefully comb the crime scene for clues and evidence that later may be used in court. In order to record the crime scene, notes and photographs are taken and sketches are done. To teach this aspect of crime scene investigations, these are the steps we took:
  • I introduced our story by saying, "Our mystery begins with a wealthy man, Mr Busy Body, who has planned a small dinner party, but when the guests arrive, Mr. Body is found dead in his bedroom. You have been asked to help out in the investigation of this case by analyzing the scientific evidence."
  • I also read the initial report from the responding officer, Mitch Mustard. "I responded to a call that came into dispatch at 5:30 pm on September 15, 2015 that a Mr. Busy Body of 122 Plain View Way, Anycity, Anystate was found dead. I arrived at the scene at 5:50 pm. There were four individuals at the scene when I arrived: Mrs White, Mr Body's maid; Mr. Green, a painter hired by Mr. Body; and Mr Body's two dinner guests, Mrs. Peacock, Mr Body's daughter and Professor Plum, a chemist and old friend of Mr. Body's. Their statement were taken and the initial crime scene forensic scientists gathered evidence to be examined. Mr. Body's body was found upstairs on the balcony of his bedroom. His dog, a yellow lab, was found by the body. Some paint had been spilled in the room and several footprints were found around it made from the paint. The paint was identified as being Mr. Green's  as he had been painting the trim in Mr Body's bedroom that afternoon. A comb with a dark hair in it was found at the scene. When a tape lift was done of this area, some small brown hairs were also found. A cup with a small amount of brown liquid was found at the scene as well as a Pepsi can. They have not yet been examined for fingerprints or tested to determine the liquid's contents. A folded note, written in brown ink, stating "The deed is done." was found in the room. A brown pen in the kitchen and an ice cube tray from the freezer in the kitchen was collected into evidence."
  • Now divide your students into teams, the number being equal to the number of sections you made your crime scene map. (We had eight teams to match the eight sections we had in our crime scene.)
  • Let your students take a few minutes to just look over the entire crime scene, without going through the caution tape. Then have them come back together and discuss what they saw. Guide the students to begin to understand the difference between evidence, or something we can directly observe, and inferences, the conclusions we can draw or infer from the evidence.
  • Explain that once the photographer has completed his job, the crime scene investigator makes a sketch of the crime scene. Although it may be a rough sketch, it accurately represents the dimensions of the scene and show the location of all objects, or physical evidence, that may be important in the case. To give his sketch scale, the investigator selects two fixed points at the crime scene, such as the corners of a room or the windows. The investigator uses a tape measure to determine the distance of each object in the room from both of these fixed points. These distances are recorded in the sketch. 
  • Assign the sections to the teams, giving each team a different section. Give out drawing paper, pencils and index cards to the students. One student from each team goes up to the crime scene, staying outside the caution tape, and makes a detailed sketch of just their section. They then go back to their team and for each item drawn on the sketch, an index card is made, including the name of the item and as many details about the item as possible, making sure they only include observable facts. If the students are older, they can include the measurements from two fixed points, but the younger students are not required to do this. To do this, students need to use a metric tape measure to determine the width and length of the area that is roped off by caution tape. They will also need use a compass to determine which walls are north, south, east and west as the sketch completed by professional CSI teams are always oriented to north. The students then need to select two fixed points in the area that are relatively close to one of the pieces of evidence. The students then measure the distance in centimeters from one of the objects to the first fixed point and then the second. The students then record the name of the object and its location and distance from the fixed points on the sketch or index cards. They repeat this process with all other pieces of evidence.
  • Once the locations of the objects have been recorded, each object is assigned a letter, and some place on the sketch these objects are identified. Using a piece of posterboard (or half-piece might be large enough), have your students then glue their sketches in the middle of the posterboard and glue the index cards all around the edges, so that the index cards do not overlap onto the crime scene sketch. Notes are also taken at the scene of a crime that describe all physical evidence in detail. Notes include information about who discovered the evidence, the time that it was discovered, and how the evidence was collected and packaged. These notes are detailed in case they are needed to refresh someone's memory years after a crime has been committed. You can decide the level of detail you expect on your student's note cards according to your students' ages.
  • If the student needs to be able to see the item more closely, the teacher can help him to take the item out of the crime scene area and put it in evidence bags so they can then be handled. We broke down the crime scene in this way:
    • After noting carefully where the cup was on the crime scene, we picked up the cup by the rim and bottom (so as to not add any fingerprints or smudge the ones there) and poured the cola into some small disposable portion cups with tops for later lab work. The cup was then put in a plastic evidence bag.
    • We also bagged the cola can, the comb with hair and the white powder in separate evidence bags for future lab tests.
  • Next have the students connect the index cards with where the evidence is on the crime scene map. This can be done by drawing a straight line with ruler and pen or by taping a piece of string or yarn from one to the other.
  • Later, a finished sketch is drawn from this rough sketch by a skilled artist. This finished sketch reflects information in the rough sketch, but is neater and may be used as evidence in the courtroom during a trial. If you have a talented student or one that is particularly interested in the subject, you can have him attempt to make a finished sketch. This sketch should be neatly drawn with black ink or marker on a piece of posterboard. To be drawn to scale, let 1 centimeter equal 40 centimers of space in the room. Label north on the drawing. Draw the objects in proportion to each other. Have the lines from the fixed points in proportion to the rest of the drawing, using 1 cm to equal 40 cm of actual length. If you do not have an older student to complete this project, a rough sketch will be fine for this simulation.
sources: Mystery Festival Teacher's Guide, LHS GEMS 
Crime Scene Investigations, Real-Life Science Labs for Grades 6-12, Pam Walker and Elaine Wood

Next week, we will be looking at what clues we can gain from the suspects interviews and where they lead us in the investigation. We will also begin the lab work.


  1. Hee hee hee hee, it's just like the movie. That makes me happy.

  2. Very cool! You did something slightly similar in the past too, didn't you - something I wanted to do, but never got around to...now I have to go back and look :)

  3. I love this. You are such a creative yet scientific teacher mom!


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