Case Study Investigation (CSI): An Interdisciplinary Class Activity



The Case Study Investigation activity provides students with an opportunity to conduct an in depth analysis of a case.  While forensics plays a role in all of the cases to some degree, in some of the cases, forensic analysis was key to arriving at a thorough understanding of the elements of the crime, whereas in other cases the lack of forensic testing, either because it was not done or because it was not available, proved equally significant. The list of cases represents a broad mix in terms of time period when the case took place, the historical/social impact of the case, as well as the nature of the crime of the crime itself. For these reasons and others, this activity tends to provide the class with an interdisciplinary experience, and comments such as “Oh, I remember hearing about this in history class,” are not at all that uncommon.

A sampling of cases include:

  • Scottsboro Boys
  • Vincent Foster (Clinton Whitehouse)
  • McMartin Preschool Scandal
  • Randy Weaver (Ruby Ridge)
  • Sacco and Venzetti
  • Mary Jo Kopechne (Chappaquiddick)
  • Lindbergh Baby Kidnapping
  • Kurt Cobain (Nivana)

An additional benefit of the activity is that it provides an opportunity for your students to develop, refine, improve and enhance their presentation and communication skills.  Presentation are 5-10 minutes and I encourage students to be creative in how they present their case.  The majority of students will use Power Point or Prezi, and while many of these presentations will be quite good, some students will take their presentations to the next level.  Examples include:

  • making a video of their case using their parents and/or friends to play different roles
  • presentations of  their case while they are in character
  • presenting their closing argument (either as  the defense or prosecuting attorney) to the jury (class)

Evaluation of Sources

On the day of distribution, I normally talk about the requirements for the CSI activity which includes a discussion of how to use Power Point or Prezi as  well as how to identify, assess and determine valid and reliable sources.  Wikipedia is always asked about as a possible source and I tell the students that it’s okay to use it as a place to learn about the case but not as a cited source, however, links to other sources that appear at the end of the Wikipedia entry are fair game, as long as they are deemed to be valid and reliable. Students tend to be pretty adept at searching for information but I do provide them with some possible internet source such as:

Double-Blind Distribution Procedure* 

To distribute the cases I  use the following process:

  • Students put their name on a small piece of paper which they fold twice
  • Collect the folded papers
  • Determine how many cases you will need based on the number of students in you class and number the cases
  • Randomly select one of the folded papers and have that student select a number from within the range you’ve determined
  • Provide them with the case name corresponding to the number they chose. I normally provide them with a very general overview of the case which serves as a teaser and triggers their curiosity
*I do not allow the students to see the list of cases before the drawing.

When, How and Where Do Presentation Fit Into A Forensics Class?

I fit the presentation into my class during the ten days to two weeks leading up to the holiday break in December.  The class takes a break from addressing a specific topic and class is devoted to student case presentations. Clearly there is no shortage of ways to integrate these presentation into a course and the you will certainly know what will work best for your classes.

So Where Can I Get More Information?

All of the information for the Case Study Investigation activity is available as a free download from my Forensic Files site at Teachers Pay Teachers.

Files include:

  • Complete List of Cases
  • Student Information
  • Teacher Instructions/Information
  • Sample Evaluation Rubrics