Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Our High School Forensic Science Course

Amber is completing a good deal of her high school science with alternative topics to the standard biology, chemistry and physics lineup. This year decided to combine all three disciplines for a semester of forensic science. However the resources we selected provided enough laboratory materials for more than one student, so I offered to teach the course at our homeschool co-op.

High School Forensic Science Course Resources (homeschool)

The class has been a success and the students are not only enjoying the material, but earning 1/2 of a high school credit in an interdisciplinary lab class.
(In our state homeschoolers are not required to complete specific science topics, and it is entirely up to the student to determine which courses will help them achieve their future education goals. Your state may have different requirements.)

Below I've detailed the main resources used to create this class, although the students do have additional reading assignments and formal lab reports to write each week. It is not a lab demonstration course, but a full participation lab class. Some weeks the students do work in groups for the lab, but many weeks they have been able to work individually.

Forensic Science Course Resources:

This book is a decent spine for our course and includes project ideas for each topic covered, although I did not use the majority of the project ideas since we purchased prepared kits for the laboratory portions.

However the main purpose of this book was to be reading material to support each of the forensic topics covered in our classroom lab setting. Each week we used a different facet of forensic science to analyze evidence and clues left at a crime scene in order to solve a case. We had three separate kits / cases to solve over the 14 weeks of our semester long class.

I know the book is rated for 6-9th grades and looks simplistic on the surface, yet the science is sound and is a good introduction to each topic. Our selected kits also came with reading material on various forensic science topics.

Forensics for Dummies
This book goes into great detail on many of the forensic topics and some of it is above high school level. We used it as a reference and supplemental reading for specific labs, but not as our main spine. However, if you are working with more advanced science students, it would make an excellent course book. My students are primarily early high schoolers.

The Case of the Murdered Mayor Kit
This was an absolutely fantastic kit and the perfect beginning to our semester. The class enjoyed all of the experiments, except possibly the entomology week. And while most of the experiments were easily completed, they allowed the class to experience the various facets of forensic science while trying to solve a crime. We did not use the kit in rotating stations completed in a single day, but instead did each "station" as a week in class with a good deal of additional reading and work included for each experiment. 

Forensic Chemistry Drug Detection Kit
We use a smaller kit for drug detection as a single week case. I gave the students reading to do ahead of time - some of it was supplied in the kit. We did look over the case specifics the prior week and I taught a short lesson in chemistry that did not come from any of the resources listed. Mostly we discussed what it means for something to be an alkaline or an acid. We even used litmus paper to test various liquids to assist in cementing our understanding of the two.

The results from this kit were perfect and the students demonstrated an understanding of how chemistry can be used to determine an unknown substance. We were more than pleased with this one week case.

Carolina Beyond the Tape: Golden River Heist Kit
What I thought was going to be our favorite kit when I was researching online, turned out to be not as much of a laboratory kit as a thinking and math calculations kit. I was somewhat disappointed in this kit, compared to the other two. However, the real disappointment came even before ordering. I would have preferred a different kit in this line, however it was not available for sale to individuals (or homeschoolers) and not deliverable to home addresses, which pretty much ruled out our homeschool co-op that meets one day a week at a church.

In the end, we have skipped two of the six experiments from the Golden River Heist kit simply because I felt it was not at the level of my students. If the class was comprised of all high school seniors who had all completed at least algebra 2, then I might have left in at least one of those experiments. However the average grade of my students was 9th (freshmen), but the class included some 8th graders doing high school level work. Only one of the students (my own daughter) had completed as far as algebra 2, and she felt the math for that experiment was a little difficult.


  1. This sounds like an amazing and fun class. How much did you charge per student for the class? And was it a full school year?

    1. Our co-op at the time and our current co-op are low cost; it's all volunteer and we just charge actual supply fees. The total cost to students was $40 each, but $10 of that went towards maintaining the co-op. So, basically I had $30 a child. Honestly, since I planned to teach it for my child prior to offering it at co-op, I had already purchased all of the supplies and ended up funding about half the class myself.

      It was a single semester class, however it was very rapid paced and I had no leeway for snow days.

      I'm planning on teaching it again next year as a full year course. I'll add more labs to it and will spend more time on lessons. I'll probably ask for $25 or $30 a semester per student.

  2. Sounds great! I wonder what kit you would have rather used for the Golden River Heist Kit and if you'd be willing to share your timeline and lesson plans for the full year class? I'm looking into teaching a full year class for our co-op and would love to have insight into your course.

    1. I decided to not teach it next school year, so I do not have lesson plans for a full year course. Really, it would have consisted of more instruction time, and another type of kit.

      I don't honestly remember which kit I preferred, but it didn't matter since they would not sell that particular kit to homeschoolers.