2013 Teacher Workshop CSI Unit Ideas

During the last session of our 2013 CSI Teacher Training and Professional Certification, teachers were sorted into groups to incorporate their CSI knowledge into CSI units for their own classrooms. These teachers created a myriad of ideas for excellent project-based CSI units applying to all grade levels. Since workshop participants were kind enough to share their ideas with us, we thought we’d pass these ideas along to the greater CSI and STEM communities. Here’s what they came up with:

I Am Not Who I Thought I Was

This unit is based on the recent case of Paul Fronczak, who discovered at age 50 that he is not related to his parents. In this unit students will “re-open” this case to help Paul discover who he really is. Activities such as DNA analysis, crime scene investigation, ear recognition, and others all apply to this unit.

Freshman Class Amazing Race – Case of Whodunit

This unit is designed to help teachers gain “buy in” from incoming freshman students. During this unit, the students will find out that the principal has gone missing and it’s up to them to solve the case. This unit pulls in many different classes and utilizes CSI skills required from each of the subjects. For example, the drama and/or art department can set up the crime scene, and math and science classes can utilize biometrics activities, fingerprint dusting, and DNA analysis. Once they solve the crime, students would then create a video presenting their conclusion to be voted on by the student body.

Case of the Stolen Exam Key

This unit also pulls in many different disciplines to allow students to solve the case of the stolen exam key. This two-day unit would be led by the forensics department, but would incorporate gait analysis in math classes, identification/translation of foreign language spoken by witness in language classes, and report write-ups in English department. This case will ultimately end in a mock trial.

Graffiti in the Restroom

This is another interdisciplinary whodunit case that solves the case of graffiti found in the restroom. Paper chromatography will feature into this crime, and the history of graffiti can be explored by history classes.

What Does the Perfect Crime Look Like?

This unit examines how criminals get caught. Common crimes will be researched, allowing math classes to conduct statistical analysis, English classes to do character development, and science classes to conduct related CSI activities. This unit can also incorporate other variables to allow students to consider other possible mechanisms for getting caught. Students will then develop realistic “perfect crimes” and present them.

Whodunit? Case of the Stolen Phone

A phone was stolen by a staff member. This unit limits the amount of instruction, and instead incorporates question only. During this 6 week group project, students have to come up with the suspect, turn in notes, graphs, charts, pictures and case files. Students will spend one day per week of class time on this project, and the different methods of CSI investigation learned in class will be incorporated into homework.

Whodunit? Missing Money at a Car Wash

Evidence for this unit includes a grainy video and a size 6 shoe print. The suspects are the students, and students need to determine which technique will be most effective in catching the suspect. Students must chose 3 techniques of all the techniques taught, create a report, and reenact the crime. This is a 2 week project, and students will work in groups of 3.

Whodunit? Destroyed Science Lab

A professor finds a crime scene at a destroyed science lab. Elementary students will collaboratively work together to collect fingerprints, conduct paper chromatography, interview suspects, etc. Many grades will be included, and younger grades will do the soil sample for Texas TEKS.

Found Object – Find the Owner

Students will find the owner of a found object using CSI techniques. Students will be placed in groups and decide which methods would best allow them to solve this mystery.

Whodunit? Coffee Half-full

A teacher comes back to find her coffee half full. This problem will incorporate interdisciplinary curriculum, and different teachers will do different things. This inquiry-based learning scenario will bring the  kids and teachers together.

Accident at School

This unit allows students to determine the cause of an accident at school based on evidence such as ice and skid marks. Science and math classes can work together to assess the situation, English classes can write-up the accident, social studies classes can talk about which laws will apply, and theater classes can recreate the accident.


Many thanks to all of our workshop participants for coming up with such wonderful unit ideas! Do you have additional ideas for incorporating CSI into your classroom? Tell us about it!

Teacher Workshop Day 2

The second and final day of our CSI Teacher Workshop was a huge success. We kicked the day off with a focus on law enforcement careers, as Special Agent Ron Goates, NCIS, and Special Agent David Marshall, FBI, joined our teachers for a panel discussion.


SA Ron Goates (left) and SA David Marshall (right)



Participant Pamela Gantt-Lee and SA Goates


Participants take time to pose with SA Goates

These law enforcement officials revealed the diversity of the skill sets needed in their respective organizations and gave teachers practical information about how students can go about pursuing these careers. “It’s a world we don’t get to see on a daily basis,” explained participant Gavin Eastep, and participant Elizabeth Lattier was happy to find out that kids can bring such a wide variety of skillsets to these organizations.

Teachers then broke out into groups to continue yesterday’s exploration of subjects such as biometrics, change blindness, and soil analysis,

Hand geometry - one of the biometrics activities

Hand geometry – one of the biometrics activities


Mentor Jennifer Makins discusses change blindness.


Soil analysis activity

before turning their focus to DNA. A DNA extraction activity kicked off our two-part DNA segment, allowing teachers to learn first-hand how to extract DNA from a strawberry.

Like our campers, they smashed,




and took home their own sample of DNA.


Teachers then came together for a presentation on DNA electrophoresis. During this presentation, participants learned explored genetics, and learned how to conduct their own DNA electrophoresis experiment with their students.

DNA electrophoresis presentation

DNA electrophoresis presentation

After giving participants hands-on experience with some of our CSI activities, we decided to try something new. Participants spent the final session in groups applying their new CSI knowledge to create project-based units of their own. Teachers were paired with other teachers from their grade level and came up with wonderful ideas for how to incorporate CSI into their own classrooms.




During this session our teachers came up with a wide variety of wonderful ideas for CSI units at all grade levels. Stay tuned to read all of these wonderful ideas and adapt them for use in your classroom!

Leaving our print on the world of CSI

Okay, so we promise this blog won’t be completely focused on our programs, but before we jump into the meat of STEM we want to introduce you to our CSI programs. In addition to the Kids Ahead and STEM-Works websites, we have a set a programs focused on Crime Scene Investigation (or CSI). Building on the popularity of TV shows such as CSI: (Enter City Name Here), NCIS, Bones, and many others, we thought that using the framework of CSI would be a great way to introduce students to the vast array of STEM used in solving crimes. Sure, the TV shows demonstrate some of this, but we wanted to take it a step further and give students the opportunity to engage in hands-on activities that would excite them to learn more. Hence, our CSI Camps!

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The SMU CSI Camp program started in 2010 with a pilot summer camp offered on SMU’s campus. We welcomed 80 middle school girls from the Dallas community and introduced them to the science and technology behind CSI through various hands-on activities and expert presentations. Realizing that this was an effective (and fun) way to teach STEM content and skills, we continued building on the summer camp program and have spent the last few years expanding this program in order to offer it in communities around the country. Using the framework of a mock crime, campers at our CSI camps investigate evidence through hands-on activities and are introduced to exciting careers related to CSI.  Within this portfolio we now offer:

  • CSI Summer Camps: week-long camps for middle school students
  • CSI Camps-for-a-Day:  one-day camps for middle school students
  • CSI Teacher Workshops: ½ day, 1 day, and 2 day workshops for teachers

This blog will include information from our CSI camps including: activities and modifications to use in your community; stories from these events; and information about how to participate in these events. We will also build on the CSI content available on the Kids Ahead and STEM-Works websites in these posts. If you have participated as a teacher or counselor in any of our CSI events in the past and want to share your experience, please let us know!

These programs are also something that you may be able to get involved in or request for your community. If you are interested in having us come to your community to offer a Camp-for-a-Day or Teacher Workshop, please contact us at CSIcamps@smu.edu.

For a sneak peek at the happenings during a CSI Summer Camp, check out this recap video from the 2011 CSI Summer Camps.

We would like to thank the Office of Naval Research and the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research for their generous support of the SMU CSI Camp programs.