Who says watching the TV deaden the mind and kill the imagination? Inspired by their favourite TV series, teachers at River Valley High School got creative and transformed their Science class into a CSI lab.
When Chow Ban Hoe, Leong Woon Foong and Choy Ban Heng of River Valley High School were thinking of how to design a programme that would allow their lower secondary students to integrate their learning across subjects, they turned to hit TV series – CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.
CSI is a weekly drama series where a team of forensic investigators unveil the circumstances behind baffling crimes by examining the evidence. Since coming on air, the popular series has stimulated much interest in forensic science among millions of viewers.
Although the school was already using CSI-related activities in its Science research class, the inspiration to latch onto the CSI idea for their Create, Integrate and Differentiate (CID) programme1 came about in 2005.
Ban Hoe and Woon Foong decided to focus on forensic science as they felt it was a creative way of integrating several subjects into one lesson. It also has “high interest value and it applies to everybody,” says Woon Foong. “It’s science for all.”
For the new CID Forensic Science module, Ban Hoe picked out some “tried and tested activities” from their Science research class, reformulated some to infuse the skills they wanted their students to learn, and added in mock-up crime cases.
Then, they turned to the next hurdle: making the lessons as realistic as possible for the students.
For the teachers, this required even more creative thinking. Woon Foong recounts how they had to learn to make casts of footprints. “We didn’t know how to do it. So in the end, we did it in mud because it happened to rain that day. One year later, we changed. The lab technicians used plaster of paris and they [the casts] turned out beautiful.”
Even as the module got on track, Ban Hoe and Woon Foong did not stop there. Ban Hoe wrote to various authorities and forensic science experts to ask if they could share their expertise with the teachers and students. Most of his correspondences were unanswered.
His persistence paid off, however, when the officers at Clementi Police Divisional Headquarters saw that a visit to one of their forensic units would be a good experience for the students. They agreed to the school’s request, but not before “they interrogated me to find out my objectives!” laughs Ban Hoe.
To make sure that the students stayed engaged throughout the visit, the officers staged three mock crime scenes for them to solve.
According to Ban Hoe, the students were very excited because they got to “be like detectives [and] crime scene investigators” and “hear from the horses’ mouths” what it was like to work on actual crime scenes.
While all these may sound more like play than study, Ban Hoe, Woon Foong and Ban Heng were convinced that the students had learned something from this experience.
At the end of the module, the students were required to hand in a group project, which was a culmination of what they had learnt. The high quality of the work submitted reaffirmed that the module had fulfilled its learning objectives.
The teachers were so pleased with the results that they are already planning to extend the module. But to do that, they need help from forensic science specialists. “We are teachers and cannot claim to be experts of forensic science,” says Ban Hoe.
However, they remain unfazed by this challenge. If there’s anything this experience has taught them, it is that “every contact leaves a trace“2 – every encounter can be transformed, with a little creativity, into engaging lesson plans.
- CID started out as an experiment. The teachers wanted the students to have a chance to construct their knowledge and integrate their lessons across disciplines, and differentiate their talents. The programme was renamed Construct, Integrate and Differentiate in 2007. For more information, go to https://www.rvhs.moe.edu.sg/Programmes/ip_eng/cid.htm.
- This is a basic forensic science principle formulated by well-known criminologist Edmond Locard.