Teachers from 19 Chicago-area middle and high schools dabbled in forensic science-related crime lab activities during a recent professional development workshop hosted by Northwestern University’s Office of Stem Education Partnerships with the Chicago Public Schools’ Department of Science.
“Forensics and Next Generation Science Standards” introduced the educators to hands-on, open-ended lab activities that foster critical thinking and offered ways to align traditional school labs with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).
It’s often difficult for forensic science teachers to set up their labs to conform with the news guidelines because the standards weren’t written to address forensics explicitly, said Ashley Walter, program and partnership coordinator for the Baxter Center for Science Education.
“The courses also vary greatly in the amount of scientific rigor they include, depending on the background, interest, resources, and time available to the educators developing them,” Walter said.
During the training at Walter Payton College Prep high school, teachers learned how to identify a mystery powder, how to use math to analyze the blood left at a crime scene, and also how to use DNA gel electrophoresis -- applying an electrical field to a gel to separate DNA, RNA and proteins according to their size and charge -- to identify a culprit in a fictitious crime.
High school teachers Scott McCartney of Chicago Public Schools’ John Hancock College Prep and Mary Clark of Vernon Hills High School demonstrated the lab activities. Once the participants tried the experiments themselves, they discussed how to bring the program to their own schools and ways to adapt the activities to help students think creatively.
For teachers working under-resourced classrooms, the Baxter Center provides an equipment loaner program, which offers lab equipment and support staff to help facilitate complex lab investigations. Funded by Baxter International Inc., the loaner program’s staff will help prepare items beforehand, troubleshoot and answer questions during class, and even help clean up afterwards.
The Baxter Center for Science Education (formerly known as the Biotechnology Center of Excellence,) is part of the the Office of Stem Education Partnerships at Northwestern’s School of Education and Social Policy and a partnership with Baxter International Inc. and the Lindblom Math & Science Academy. Emily Ferrin is the program director.
The next workshop, “Teaching about Proteins using Biotechnology” will be April 24 at Lindblom Math & Science Academy. The annual Baxter Symposium is May 25 at the Allen Center. Visit the Baxter Center website to learn more about the summer workshop series.