Nashville Middle Schoolers Dream Big with Summer Forensics Camp

Science educators at the Metro Nashville Public Schools were looking for something different for their 2021 middle school summer camp. Something that would really grab students’ attention, challenge them, and be fun. The answer? Crime scene investigation forensics!

The camp was spearheaded by Dr. Jeannie Whitlock, STEAM Instructional Designer, and Deanna Privette, Coordinator of Professional Learning. Once they identified the topic, then came the hard part: designing the curriculum and obtaining the materials needed.

Camp Setup

The summer camp was designed to provide opportunities to students who are underrepresented in STEM fields. The camp included students in grades 5–8 with a focus on seven middle schools located in low-income or otherwise disadvantaged communities. Two camps ran simultaneously at two district high schools.

Twelve middle school teachers volunteered for the camp. Some of them were science teachers, while others were not. But regardless of their specialty, they all had fun and enjoyed seeing the students flourish. As Privette describes, “when we first started recruiting teachers for the camp and they heard the word ‘engineering’ they were unsure. But in the end those teachers became the leaders in their schools related to STEM.”

Whitlock and Privette developed the camp content and schedule to have as much hands-on activity as possible. They also wanted students to interact with professionals in forensics fields.

The camp ran from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. with the following schedule:

  • The Daily Briefing provided an introduction to the day’s topic. Although not called a “math lesson,” the daily briefings gave students the mathematical tools they would use in their investigations. They became math detectives!
  • Field Training Investigation followed in which students did hands-on training in techniques such as fiber analysis, fingerprint collection, and numerous others.
  • After lunch was a Career Connection session with investigation professionals from organizations such as the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and others.
  • Field Deployment followed in which students applied their new skills to the camp’s mock crime scene. They documented the crime scene, collected and analyzed evidence, and learned to record their methods and findings in a way that would be legally reliable.
  • Each day ended with a Training Reflection session in which students interacted with each other and the teachers about the new techniques and their findings. They evaluated what the newly collected data meant for their mock crime scene investigation—and their suspects!

That’s a lot of learning, but the students didn’t tire of it. In fact, they asked if the camp could last longer or be held on weekends too!

Camp Activities

The 100 student campers learned so much about forensics during those two weeks. The topics covered were:

  • Crime scene basics
  • Fingerprint collection and analysis
  • Hair and fiber collection and analysis
  • Crime scene sketching
  • Crime scene reconstruction using the triangulation method
  • Shoeprint casting and analysis
  • Blood typing and analysis
  • Vegetation analysis using a dichotomous key
  • Forgery analysis
  • Blood spatter analysis
  • Bone identification

“Unlike other summer camps, we had almost no attendance issues during the forensics camp,” says Whitlock, describing the response of her student. “The kids were there every day, and we didn’t have to promise them a prize for attending or outside game time. They were always ready to jump into the work, even when it got really tough.”

The last day of camp was a parent engagement event that showcased the students’ work and revealed the prime suspect identified using their investigative data. Stations were set up for each technique, and the students would take their parents through the process.

“The students became the learning facilitators as they explained forensics to their parents and even helped them do some of the tests themselves,” says Privette. “A lot of parents were seen pulling out strands of their own hair to examine under the microscope!”

Camp Support

The school district was able to fund the camp with money from the Investing in Innovation (i3) grant they had previously received from the U.S. Department of Education. The high school labs had some of the equipment needed, and Carolina provided other materials and, in many cases, all-inclusive kits.

Beyond funding, many organizations supported the camp and made it a rich experience for students. For instance:

  • The Metro Nashville Police Department brought their crime scene van to camp for the students to explore. In addition, one of their K-9 officers brought his police dog to camp so the kids could learn about the amazing nose of the highly trained canine detective.
  • The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation gave the students a tour of their facility and talked with students about forensics work. They also had one of their sketch artists come to camp and demonstrate crime scene sketching techniques. “He had the students describe a suspect to him and he drew a picture based on their description,” explains Whitlock, “and it was crazy close!”
  • Carolina designed a custom curriculum that included hands-on lessons, crime scenarios, and digital exercises, and provided instructional materials and equipment. Carolina also supported teacher training to help deliver the curriculum to underrepresented students.
  • A representative from The Innocence Project shared with students how modern technology, especially DNA identification, is helping to prove the innocence of previously convicted persons.

Bright Camp Outcomes

Everyone involved in the summer forensics camp came away with detailed knowledge about crime scene forensics, and with a vision of future possibilities. Privette and Dr. Whitlock summarize well the teacher outcomes: “Some of the teachers had been involved in every summer camp we had done, and they thought this one was the best. They were exhausted, but they loved it and wanted to be able to teach like that in their own classrooms.”

Sharing one of her favorite memories about how the camp impacted students, Dr. Whitlock says, “I had some siblings in my group that included an incoming 5th grader and older middle schoolers. The older kids were trying to take charge of the crime scene triangulation and show the younger kids how to do things. Then the 5th grader said, ‘that’s not how you do it,’ and proceeded to show them how it was done. Had they been given 15 math problems about triangulation, none of them would be fighting over the right way to do it.”

That’s the power of engaging, hands-on learning!

Carolina Support for Nashville Public Schools

Carolina is delighted to support forensics learning for Nashville middle schoolers with their wide range of forensics lab kits including blood spatter analysis, fingerprinting, blood typing, hair and fiber analysis, and many more.

Dream Big: Impactful Projects

Find inspiration in this list of classroom projects.

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