Wendy Decter, M.D.
This unit is designed for an eleventh and twelfth grade Forensic Science class but can be readily adapted to high school biology, anatomy and physiology, health, or middle school science classes. With curricular changes in biology leading to a dearth of study of human anatomy and physiology in high school, students often do not have the conceptual basis required to understand causes of death and autopsy reports in our mock crime scenarios and case studies. Making science relevant for students is always a challenge and the reasoning behind removing the most relevant subject, study of oneself, from biology courses, remains a mystery to me. Teaching Forensic Science allows me to bring some study of anatomy and physiology back to high school science.
Forensic science is the application of knowledge acquired in many scientific disciplines to matters of law. Forensic comes from the Latin word
, which means public. Information is made public in order for members of society to determine if and how laws have been violated. In the analysis of evidence, the principles and technology of chemistry are pre-eminent. Physics, biology, anatomy, physiology, geology, anthropology, psychology, and pathology, to name a few disciplines, are all applied to the analysis of a crime scene and the testimony of witnesses. Lessons can be developed for just about any discipline based on a mock "crime". I have often used the same laboratory exercise in my chemistry classes as in my forensics class. Students seem to become more engaged if they are using their data to solve a crime, so one lab serves to illustrate both double replacement reactions and ABO blood typing to match "blood" found at a crime scene with that of a suspect. Adding a "crime" scenario can be an effective way to increase relevancy and pique students' interest in
discipline of science.
Forensics inquiries encourage students to use deductive reasoning and make decisions based on analyses of data that they have collected. Indeed, it is the essence of scientific inquiry, which is being so heavily touted by education experts today.
The anatomy and physiology of the human cardiovascular system will be studied in this unit. The path of circulation of blood in humans through the atria, ventricles, valves, arteries and veins can be somewhat confusing to students at any grade level, including medical students. Students will first have to explore the normal anatomy and physiology of the cardiovascular system in order to find the cause of its failure in our "victim". Cardiac arrest is a general term for a cessation of the function of the heart. It can be a primary event, as with an arrhythmia, or the end result of loss of blood, trauma, asphyxiation or other mechanisms. Students will be presented with the details of a "suspicious death" ruled a "cardiac arrest" by an inexperienced medical examiner.
By using their knowledge of the cardiovascular system they will be encouraged and guided to ask the proper questions and look for clues as to the specific cause of death of Mr. A.V. Korotkoff. By using an inquiry-based approach and adding the interest of the possibility of a "murder" students will acquire knowledge of how one of the major organ systems of their own bodies works. They will also be learning and using all of the skills necessary for scientific inquiry.