Detective Science: A Case for Project-Based Learning

Detective Science: A Case for Project-Based Learning

Something was not right at Greenfields Academy. A strange thing happened in the school basement where the Griffins found evidence of a crime scene and a note from their good friend, Zach. In this letter, he gave the Griffins clues that the other staff members had recently been acting strangely. Zach’s instincts told him to prepare a note and some materials for the Griffins in case anything happened. It’s a good thing he listened to his gut because Zach went missing!

PBL Quote 1The Griffins put on their best thinking caps to begin a detective science adventure project. The key to finding Zach was to answer the driving question: How can science help you find the truth?

Using science to find out what happened to Zach would require strict training. The Greenfields Detective Academy began a five-week training program where the Griffins would learn about topics including: Scientific Thinking, Biology and Genetics, Collaboration, Forensics and Analyzing Evidence.

dnaSoon after, the Griffins accepted their first challenge as Detectives in Training (DiT). Their assignment was to process and log evidence found at the crime scene in order to bring a suspect to trial. On the first day of the Detective Academy, they reviewed the evidence. This included: one pair of gloves, one hair sample, one set of fingerprints, one pen, one complete footprint and one letter from the missing person.

After being assigned to their groups (Police, Lab Technicians and Expert Witnesses), the Griffins were assigned partners and designated specialties, including fingerprinting, footprinting, forensic anthropology, handwriting analysis and DNA processing. These skills were vital in processing the evidence from the scene.

PBL Quote 2The South Studio buzzed as the police gathered their lab kits and pinned on their Detective In Training badges, eagerly following their guide and Head Lab Technician, Loretta, to learn to make casts of footprints. Each police detective put on a pair of disposable gloves before they began working. As the griffins have discovered, this is one of the most crucial elements of protecting evidence from contamination. They listened to the instructions and then worked in teams of two. Each team received a plastic cup to use for mixing plaster to pour into the soil shoe impression. Using a disposable foil pan and a bag of soil, they carefully followed the process to make a cast of the impression.

Meanwhile, back in the lab, the lab technicians worked on processing evidence bags and dusting items for fingerprints. Using small brushes and magnifying glasses to inspect each item, they discovered possible fingerprints. After collecting several fingerprints to compare with sample prints fingerprintstaken from the suspects, the lab technicians completed their work for the day. They packed away their tools and cleaned up their workspace as they reflected on their experience. One technician suggested maybe the criminal used gloves so they would not leave prints.


The following week, the Griffins continued their Detective Training with footprint analysis and deductive reasoning. While our GFA Police and Lab Technicians collected and documented evidence from thcrime scenee crime scene, our Expert Witnesses learned about average foot-to-height ratios and how to tell the stride of a suspect based on footprints. More clues were found in the basement, including a half-eaten package of Dots candy and Zach’s signature red bandanna.


The detectives’ training concluded with lie detection. After learning to look for one-sided shoulder shrugs or stories with just a bit too much detail, the Griffins took to questioning the suspects. The pool of suspects included all the guides and staff. Some feel Loretta must have done it, but Loretta pointed to Bev as the culprit! Many Griffins suspect Courtney. There is power in numbers, and all the suspects stood strong. The South Studio guides, Tricia and Rachael both raised suspicion with changing answers and crossed arms.

The next week launched with a deep dive into Forensic Science. The Griffins were trained to take dental imprints and make molds to analyze new evidence from the crime scene. It seemed as though the suspect made another return to the basembitemarksent. They must have been a little hungry, since the Griffins found half eaten pieces of pita bread on the floor. As the Griffins grew suspicious, the guides were immediately asked to bite into foam and slices of cheese to provide dental prints for comparison. Some were more willing than others.

After our detectives explored DNA analysis on Thursday, the Griffins met with our first visiting attorney, Catherine Diebel. She came to collect information for the case and share the importance of labeling and documenting evidence. The Griffins were fascinated by Diebel’s experience and were excited to see her in court. Also, in preparation for the upcoming trial, the Griffins met with another attorney, Scott Leonard. Leonard talked about Miranda Rights, types of evidence, and the evidence for this trial. Then, the Griffins had a discussion about evidence versus information and narrowing down the suspect list.

As the project came to a close, one Griffin analyzed video footage while another Griffin examined hair samples under the microscope, looking for a match between the hair from the crime scene and the samples taken from the guides. Everyone worked hard to complete their analysis before their Detective Academy Graduation.

PBL Quote 3This week, parents will be invited to observe the case and serve as jurors at Greenfields Court. The Griffins will present their findings, explain their process, and enter their expert testimonies in front of the judge. Our visiting attorneys will also be present to clarify the evidence found at the scene. No matter the outcome, the pursuit and study of science will serve a large part in solving the case!


Quotes above were sourced from: “Seven Essentials for Project-Based Learning.” Educational Leadership: Giving Students Meaningful Work:Seven Essentials for Project-Based Learning. Read more about good design for project-based learning here.