Youth as detectives for crime scene investigations

Youth explore the science of crime scene investigations through fun detective activities and experiments.

There are many crime and crime scene investigation shows on television. They are intriguing and fascinating to see. With high-tech equipment, investigators and technicians quickly seem to get investigation results and figure out who the culprit is. However, we all know this is fiction and not reality. Often times it takes weeks and months, if not years, of careful, tedious investigations and piecing together small puzzle pieces to get ahead in an investigation.

The 4-H Crime and Spy Science Clubs curriculum, which is part of the Discover 4-H Clubs series by Utah State University Extension, gives youth an insight into crime scene investigation. The curriculum can easily be used by volunteers and is divided into six sessions filled with crime investigation activities. At the beginning of the program, each youth will receive a “spy kit,” which is a small pencil box containing a magnifying glass, dark sunglasses, a few small sealable plastic bags, small paint brush, small flashlight, pencil and note pad. The magnifying glass is used to look for clues and fingerprints, the dark sunglasses are for “undercover” purposes, the plastic bags to collect evidence, the paint brush for dusting for finger prints and the flash light for finding your way around in dark crime scenes. The pencil and note pad are necessary to write down investigation notes and observations.

The curriculum leads youth through some investigation activities. They start with simple activities from opening sealed letters without a trace to writing messages with invisible ink, in this case lemon juice and milk that youth investigators can make visible through certain chemical reactions. They learn finger printing, analyzing white, powdery substances and extracting DNA from fruit. Last but not least they learn how to piece together evidence to find out which suspect has been stealing money from a mortgage company.

Through these fun, exciting investigation practices, youth learn to work together and explore the science behind investigating crime scenes and identifying evidence. They explore chemical reactions that are being used in the process of identifying and examining evidence, and use scientific methods to make observations and draw conclusions. They learn to pay attention to detail and use critical thinking to make conclusions and predictions, conduct experiments and find answers. This all takes patience and accuracy, all important skills for life and for careers in forensics.

Michigan State University Extension 4-H Youth Development strives to build life skills in youth and equip them with tools to prepare for their future and for successful adulthood. 

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