LAYTON — Three medical forensics classes at Northridge High took a stab at setting up crime scenes Tuesday.
The focus of the project was learning crime scene sketching as well as fiber and hair analysis, said the teacher of the course, Stacey Howell.
Students were separated into teams called “units,” just like real — and dramatized — crime scene investigations.
Before students set up their scenes in the school’s commons area, the groups met together in their classroom and scrambled to make sure they had all of their evidence prepped and ready.
They had done most of the work for the project outside of school.
A student named Jarom Golding called a member of his team who had not shown up to class.
“We need a baby doll ASAP!” Golding said, encouraging the team member to get there if at all possible.
Howell invited anyone who needed to pick up final bits of evidence back to a storage area in her lab, which is attached to her classroom. Howell is also a chemistry teacher.
In the storage area, she had a file cabinet that she pulled items out of as students requested them. She had pig and horse hair, a dead beetle, rope and dead roses, among many other items.
The strangest request? A dog’s tooth.
She had one. It was real.
Students then headed to the commons area to set up their scenes, which they had described in detail in a packet.
The packet was then passed on to the unit assigned to analyze the scene after all the groups had finished setting them up.
“I’m really excited,” said Kenzie Buckway, a junior at Northridge, as she looked over at her unit’s completed crime scene while another unit evaluated it. “I hope they get it.”
Buckway’s group had gone to great lengths to set up their crime scene, including creating names and email addresses for the victim, a rich politician named Don Gracefield, and one of the suspects in his murder, his mistress Karen Weaver.
Members of the group had exchanged emails between the two and saved them on a flash drive, which was left at the scene.
“The flash drive is my pride and joy,” Buckway said. “I spent many hours making it.”
She and her group members said that it was the key piece of evidence in their scene.
The group said that Gracefield’s wife had an alibi. She said she was shopping at the grocery store at the time — not very solid as alibis go. Though she seemed to have motive, she wasn’t the perpetrator.
Karen Weaver, angry that Gracefield had abandoned her when she was pregnant with his child, accidentally killed him by throwing an ash tray at his head during a fight, causing a serious laceration that caused Gracefield to bleed to death.
The victim in another group’s crime scene was the Master Chief character from the video game “Halo.” His body was surrounded by broken glass, a signed document, a tiny piece of pizza and a three-pronged sais cut out of paper, suggesting that at least one of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles had been present at the scene.
The medical forensics classes are a career and technical education (CTE) course and part of the CTE pathway called Clinical Laboratory Science: Medical Forensics.
The courses are relatively new in Utah high schools. Howell estimates that they started showing up as course offerings about 10 years ago when crime scene investigation shows took off.
Teachers noticed the student interest. They also saw an opportunity.
Most of the students — about 80-90%, Howell estimated — are in the course because of the “cool factor.”
Though the course is in its third year at Northridge, according to Northridge head counselor Diana Johanson, this is Howell’s first year teaching it.
She’s curious to see how many ardent watchers of the “CSI” series will turn into students pursuing training in the field.
However, even if students don’t become crime scene investigators, their time taking the class was not for nothing.
The real purpose of the course, Howell says, is to teach students scientific thinking cloaked in a puzzle they find more interesting.
She might not use the words “hypothesis” or “data analysis,” but students are still using the scientific method.
After they’ve used scientific thinking to solve a problem, Howell says she’ll ask students questions like, “Did you know you just did physics?”
“They don’t really realize they’re doing it,” Howell said.