Schools in Broward, Palm Beach counties plan to add forensic courses
By Lois K. Solomon
Posted April 2 2004
Inspired by the
amazing popularity of crime-scene shows among teenagers, schools in
Broward and Palm Beach counties will introduce forensic science into
biology classes next year, complete with lessons in DNA analysis,
fingerprinting, fiber residues and toxicology.
Many teenagers already are familiar with these criminology terms,
thanks to TV programs such as CSI, which was ranked among the top 10
most-watched prime-time shows in Palm Beach County and the Treasure
Coast for viewers age 12 to 17 during recent surveys. Other popular
crime shows among teens are the Law & Order franchise and Cops.
"We want to ride that wave,'' said Fred Barch, the Palm Beach County
School District's high school science coordinator. "We think it will
fire up teachers and motivate students as well.''
All 10th-grade biology classes in Palm Beach County and students at
six Broward County high schools will learn forensic science next
If the classes in Broward County are successful, they likely will
become more widespread, science coordinator J.P. Keener said.
Students will learn how to study a crime scene, analyze possible
suspects and use scientific methods to prove theories. Science
teachers hope these lessons will get students excited about biology,
physics and chemistry, dreaded by many but increasingly important.
Scores on standardized science exams will count toward schools'
grades from the state beginning in 2007. Although TV-watching
students may plunge into the new curriculum with zeal, some
real-life investigators warn that the job lacks glamour and often is
grueling and tedious.
"Crimes are not solved in 35 minutes,'' said Ben Perillo, commander
of the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office technical-services bureau,
which oversees the crime laboratories. "The reality is it can take
months or even years."
Perillo said his employees get a lot of attention because of the TV
shows. Viewers want to take tours of the lab or visit crime scenes
with detectives, which the public is not allowed to do.
Still, he said, the new awareness makes jurors more educated when
they listen to a case in court. And it could bring more young people
into the profession, which, he said, lacks a new generation of DNA
analysts and toxicologists.
"We used to be the guys in the back room,'' Perillo said. "Now we're
in the limelight.''
Schools across the country have been seeking out investigators such
as Perillo to come to their classes and talk about their work. More
than 14,000 teachers have downloaded Court TV's Forensics in the
Classroom' lessons, designed by the network in cooperation with the
National Science Teachers Association and the American Academy of
Forensic Sciences. The Colorado Springs-based academy hosts three
conferences each year to demonstrate teaching methods, and plans a
Florida convention in 2005.
"We want teachers to teach it accurately and ethically,'' director
of development Jim Hurley said. "Kids forget how serious and sober
this work is.''
Court TV's lessons reinforce biology and chemistry concepts while
attempting to avoid a blood-and-guts overload, said Linda Finney,
Court TV vice president of special events. In a lesson called "The
Celebration,'' shots fired into the air after a football game rip
through the awning of an Italian restaurant, and the owner wants to
find the culprit. Students examine the residue left by the bullet
and match it to the gun registered to the guilty party.
Other lessons require use of substances some might consider
gruesome. Students must analyze "stomach contents,'' or vomit
consisting of raw calf's liver, in a mystery that seeks to find out
who trashed the school cafeteria. In other lessons, students analyze
blood to determine a victim's identity, using chopped meat or raw
steak bought by the teacher, she said.
Boca Raton High School science teacher Erin Blackmore used
artificial blood but real bones during a forensics lesson she
designed for her biology students. She was amazed at how her
least-enthusiastic students immersed themselves in the details,
measuring skulls and femurs to determine a victim's sex, race and
"They never backed down from the work because they had the
interest,'' she said. "I was able to hook them.''
Blackmore, who hopes to help write the forensics curriculum for the
school district this summer, decorated her class to look like the
scene of a crime and invited a crime-lab supervisor to speak to
students, who said they were impressed with the gravity of the job
and its ultimate rewards.
"I always watched CSI, but now I watch it differently,'' said
student John Tischart, 15. "The reality is there's a lot of
paperwork and a lot of waiting around. It kind of takes away from
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