Teachers learn how to investigate a crime scene at Lawrence Tech
Thursday, July 12th, 2012
“Maggot mass!” exclaimed Kathy Mirakovits, the lead instructor of “CSI: Lawrence Tech,” a forensic science summer workshop for educators held at Lawrence Technological University the week of July 9-13.
“I love how you’re so excited,” commented one of the science teachers taking the one-week course.
“Yes, sick, isn’t it?” joked Mirokovits, a science teacher at Portage North High School and a nationally recognized expert on using crime scene investigation (CSI) techniques to teach science to high school students.
The teachers were examining the maggots attracted to the carcasses of dead pigs at the “body farm” near 10 Mile Road on Lawrence Tech’s campus. Leading the discussion was Neal Haskell, a forensic entomologist at St. Joseph’s College in Indiana who has established the approximate time of death in numerous murder trials by analyzing the life-cycle development of flies on the victim’s body. Maggot is a general term used for the larvae and pupae that turn into adult flies.
Haskell described skills and techniques he uses in the courtroom, but the teachers were more interested in how they can be applied in the classroom to create enthusiasm for learning about science.
Gunshot residue, blood spatter patterns and autopsy techniques are some of the other topics covered in the one-week course that has been held at Lawrence Tech for the past six years.
Instructors LaVetta Appleby, Jeff Morrissette and Julie Zwiesler-Vollick all teach CSI techniques to their students at Lawrence Tech, and the university also hosts a summer camp for high school science students.
“This course gives me ideas for hands-on activities in class,” said James Esbrook, a biology and chemistry teacher at Waterford Durant High School.
Esbrook said he usually encounters roadblocks when trying out experiments posted on the Internet, so he appreciates the suggestions of experts like Haskell who routinely deal with the collection and analysis of evidence at crime scenes.
The payoff is the enthusiasm generated by experiments using techniques seen on various CSI television series. “The students are really into this,” Esbrook said.
Applying scientific principles and techniques to forensics analysis is a good way to show students that what they are learning in science class has real-life applications, said Becki Schafer, who teaches forensics and anatomy at Walled Lake North High School.
Hands-on activities help students experience the process of learning, instead of focusing on how much information they need to acquire in order to succeed on tests. “Students need to know how to learn,” Schafer said.
Typically high school teachers take the CSI course at Lawrence Tech, but Denise Shepitka is a media specialist at Susick Elementary School in Troy. Her fourth-grade students were bored the first time she taught them about forensic science, but that changed dramatically when she introduced experiments she learned at last year’s “CSI: Lawrence Tech” course.
“The kids were enthusiastic and learned so much more,” Shepitka said.