Forensic Television Programs

Just as some students’ comments about their forensics trade books alluded to their preferences for forensics television programs over books, analysis of the students’ post unit questionnaires revealed that students’ most frequent engagement with everyday texts was in viewing both fiction and nonfiction forensics-related television programs. Forty percent of the students watched forensics TV programs prior to the unit, including CSI, CSI New York, CSI Miami, Forensic Files, The New Detectives, Law and Order, Numb3rs, FBI Files, Cold Case, Without a Trace, Bones, Psychic Detectives, Suburban Secrets, First 48, Medium, Body of Evidence, Monk, and Criminal Minds.

Students remarked that these forensic television shows were easier to follow after the unit and that the programs helped them remember or reinforced concepts and techniques they learned in chemistry. For example, Jack remarked that CSI (shown on SPIKE TV daily) helped him understand how to dust for fingerprints and how to find the angle of a blood spatter. Taylor noted that she was better able to understand how to use evaporation and filtration to separate mixtures by watching The New Detectives on The Discovery Channel than from the lab done in class. Bob watched an episode of Prime Time Crime with his mother during which detectives found a lower jaw bone; he was able to follow and predict the forensic scientists’ processes to identify a body by relating information on the show to the characteristics of males’ and females’ dental impressions that he learned in class.Thomas Sabo Earrings

I also saw indicators that students changed the way they viewed these forensic television programs as a result of instruction in forensic science. Like the students from the prior year, these students described how they shifted from passive watching to active viewing of forensics television by using their observation and inquiry skills. For example, as one 16-year-old girl, Gina, watched these programs, she and her mother would attempt to figure out the crime and predict the culprit by using forensic evidence. Gina used what she knew about forensic clues and processes to help her solve the cases on TV. She described how she used the class handouts that showed the seven types of fingerprints to match the fingerprints shown on the TV screen by noticing their patterns, such as whorls and arches. Gina paid attention to these “tiny details,” as she called them, to help her predict the episodes’ outcomes.

Other students reported similar behaviors that evidenced active engagement with media texts and the proclivity to make connections between concepts learned in chemistry and those presented in popular culture texts. For example, Kelsey watched CSI New York and described using her knowledge and observations of fingerprint evidence during the program to make inferences about the suspects. Laura related information she had learned in the blood spatter lab in class to an episode of The New Detectives in which forensic scientists used blood stains on a victim’s clothing to determine a murderer. Angela counted 11 types of evidence shown in two cases presented on one episode of CSI. She formed questions during the broadcast about forensic techniques shown on the program that varied from ones that she learned in class, such as why detectives on the program used liquid instead of powder to lift fingerprints at a crime scene.Thomas Sabo Bracelets

Although students were able to connect their in-school instruction to the forensics shown on these television programs, there were also misconceptions about forensics that fictional programs such as CSI fostered that the teacher and the guest speakers addressed. For example, fictional forensics programs often show the forensic scientists going to the crime scene and examining the site and victims, collecting bodies, and gathering evidence. In actuality, there are separate personnel who attend a crime scene and collect and establish a chain of evidence (Ann Bucholtz, personal communication, November 10, 2007). In addition, fictional television programs often depict forensic evidence such as DNA being analyzed quickly when, in fact, many city forensics departments cannot afford DNA analysis and, when they can, the analysis takes much longer to conduct than these programs typically depict. In ways like these, the students were reminded that popular culture should not be celebrated in an unquestioned way, but that ideas and impressions must be verified from reputable sources, such as forensic professionals or scientific texts.