According to the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, forensic science is any science used in a court or the justice system. Scientific techniques and technology are used to investigate crimes. While much of forensic science is very advanced, the basics often involve matching patterns or solving a puzzle. Elementary school students can engage in fun investigative activities to learn about forensic science.
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Fingerprinting is perhaps the most well-known forensic science and a basic tool for investigating crimes. Teach students how to "lift" fingerprints from solid surfaces such as a drinking glass: Have students handle a glass with their bare hands. They can dip a small artist's paintbrush into charcoal dust and spread the dust over the glass surface. The dust will stick to oils left behind by their fingers and show fingerprints. By carefully placing a piece of clear tape over a fingerprint and slowly peeling it off, students will have a fingerprint sample to study.
Take the fingerprint exercise a step further by letting students take sets of each other's fingerprints using an ink pad and white paper. Students can compare lifted fingerprints to collected fingerprints to determine who held a particular glass.
You can turn forensic science into a playground game where students must solve a "crime" by matching footprints. Find a place where there is sand or dirt that allows you to leave recognisable footprints. While indoors, ask all students to take off one of their shoes. Secretly pick two different shoes, go outside and use them to make clear footprints on the ground.
Have all the students put their shoes back on, then bring them outside to show them the footprints of the "criminals." Students must then figure out a way to determine who the footprints belong to, using clues such as shoe size and footprint patterns.
Forensic science often involves the study of directions, speeds and angles. For a fun activity on a warm spring day, make a generous supply of water balloons and bring students out to a large, flat area of pavement. Have students spread out and drop, toss or throw the water balloons at the ground, looking at how throwing the balloons at different angles and speeds changes the pattern of the splash they leave behind.
Challenge students to create particular splash patterns--a circle, or a splash that spreads in a particular direction--and see if they can figure out the correct direction, angle and speed to throw the balloons to make that happen.
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