Saturday, January 19, 2008

Crime Solving for Kids

Cops and robbers? Old hat. Nowadays, crime-fighting kids would rather look for fingerprints and DNA samples than chase bad guys with guns. The hit CBS TV drama CSI: Crime Scene Investigation has spawned a whole generation of kids who want to try toxicology (finding drugs or poison in the body) ballistics (matching patterns on weapons and the crime scene) and forensic anthropology (examining skeletal remains) to figure out who dunnit. And educators and educational websites are jumping on the trend. Even if you don’t have a crime lab in your home, you and your kids can investigate cutting-edge police techniques – and learn a little science -- on these sites.

(Note: You may want to preview these sites, which after all deal with murder and mayhem, before going on them with younger children. Sites that are suitable for little kids are indicated.)

Fans of the CSI franchise can find several sites directly related to the show. The CSI Handbook on the show’s official website is a clickable illustrated glossary of terms used by Crime Scene Investigators to describe evidence, tools and procedures. And the Boston Museum of Science’s recent exhibit, CSI: The Experience, has a website with a printable Family Guide containing at-home activities like analyzing blood spatter (using the fake blood recipe provided) and extracting DNA from fruit. There’s also a CSI Web Adventure from Rice University that takes you through the steps of analyzing crime scene evidence in a police lab. You can find a page of related links too.

Other interactive websites for kids include Anatomy of a Murder from the Montreal Science Center, where you help forensic experts in an animated crime scene. (Scroll down to “Interactive File On Criminalistics.”) Then there’s the Virtual Museum of Canada’s Interactive Investigator, which lets you explore a cartoon crime scene, collect clues and send them to the lab to be analyzed. (Both websites are also available in French.) At the PBS NOVA website, you can click-and-drag objects create a DNA “fingerprint” in a non-gory cartoon lab to solve the mystery of who stole a lollipop, and read about the new 3-D mug shots. (The rest of the website related to the program "The Killer's Trail," about the re-opening of the 1954 murder that inspired “The Fugitive,” however, is not as kid-friendly.)

For more activities you can do at home, the children’s site CyberBee has a Who Dunnit? section that tells you how to practice taking fingerprints, make impressions of teeth, and calculate a person’s height from the size of their shoe. Or watch two girls solve the mystery of a birthday party mess on an online episode of the PBS Kids show DragonFly, which has also suggestions for exploring evidence like bicycle tire tracks.

Older kids can find lots of good information about Forensic Entomology -- studying insects and insect eggs around dead bodies to determine the time or location of death – at the WhyFiles from the University of Wisconsin. If that’s too icky for you, there’s also an article on document analysis, including whether you can tell someone’s personality from their handwriting. (Most scientists say no, but in France 70 percent of employers use handwriting to screen job applicants.)
The popularity of CSI and similar shows has its good side and its bad side. The bad side, according to National Geographic, is that the so-called “CSI Effect” means jurors now expect more DNA and high-tech evidence before they’ll convict a defendant – even if it’s more traditional proofs are already available. But for students – questions of the effects of violence on television aside – the “CSI Effect” has been a positive thing. An article from the National Science Teachers Association says that kids who took a “Draw-A-Scientist Test” created fewer portraits of mad scientists and more images of regular men and women having fun in the lab. The kids give CSI the credit – and that’s almost as good as catching crooks.

Family Online Picks:

CBS website-CSI Handbook

CSI: The Experience

Rice University Web Adventure

Montreal Science Center

Virtual Exhibit on Forensic Science

PBS Nova Create a DNA Fingerprint

CyberBee Who Dunnit?



National Geographic “CSI Effect” article

NSTA “CSI Effect” article


Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

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Dolly Paolucci said...

That's a great list of sites, Kathy! It is true that the CSI shows are becoming popular. I guess people can say that because of this, it has triggered the children's interest in solving crime mysteries and what-not. People who were watching cartoons back then could mention Scooby Doo, too. They still solve mysteries anyway, but to think that kids' interest towards the different fields of criminology, because of CSI? That's just amazing.

Unknown said...

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