Information for Parents

The Talented Students’ Forensic Science Camp has proved to be a powerful stimulus for setting able minds on fire. It would be wrong to think of it as entertainment to pander to the current forensic science craze. It employs the inherent interest in all of us to solve a ‘whodunit’ as a motivator, but it is much more than a simple whodunit.

Campers at Forensic Science Camp

Davis & Rimm (1989) stated that the goals of educational programs for gifted & talented students should be:

“to assist students in becoming individuals who are able to take self-initiated action. . . . . . and who are capable of intelligent choice, independent learning and problem-solving.

To develop problem- solving abilities and creative thinking skills; develop research skills; strengthen individual interests; develop independent study skills; strengthen communication skills; receive intellectual stimulation from contact with other highly motivated students; and expand their learning activities to include resources available.”

G A Davis and S B Rimm (1989). Education of the Gifted and Talented. Massachusetts: Allyn and Bacon.

If Davis and Rimm had the opportunity to assess the Forensic Camp’s compliance with their goals they would give it 10 out of 10. It meets all of them.

Underlying the camp’s design is our conviction that most children have depths rarely exposed by traditional methods of education. One of our aims is to create in the students a need to overcome the difficulties of working together and to focus cooperatively on a common task, a need to do the job well.

A forensic science theme was chosen because of the inherent interest in solving a “whodunit”. Who can resist one? But the forensic focus has a number of other advantages:

•Forensic science encompasses a wide range of laboratory techniques, many of which are within the capacity of year 8 students.

•Students can clearly see that, in a forensic context, the laboratory techniques are a means to an end not an end in themselves. In normal school science, students often form the contrary view.

•Working toward the solution of a complex crime scenario involves many more ‘scientific skills’ than those encompassed by laboratory tests alone. Deductive reasoning is vital and the ‘intuitive leap’ or guess, has an important role. The discipline imposed on each group is the requirement, that in order to be awarded a warrant to arrest a suspect, they would have to convince a ‘magistrate’ that their case was sufficiently strong to justify the invasion of an individual’s privacy. The second discipline is that at the end of the Camp the campers must argue their case in a court trial where all of the evidence they have gathered will be presented in an attempt to obtain a conviction. Thus the Forensic Camp mirrors the scientific process in that there is no correct answer. The best answer is the one that is best supported by the evidence and that the only judge of that is a body of peers.

•The involvement of sources of evidence apart from the laboratory test results (such as interviews with witnesses and criminal associates or information from a criminal database) provides another dimension to the problem-solving exercise and enhances the atmosphere of reality. It also introduces other sets of skills that need to be mastered.


In summary the Forensic Camp operates like this:

1.Before arriving at the camp students receive their Forensic Manual via email. This contains everything they need to know about laboratory procedures, the use of the computers, databases and the Law for the final committal presentation.

2.Students are assigned in groups (of three to four) to a Crime Task Force (CTF).

3. CTFs are assigned a work space (“Detectives’ office”) in “Police Headquarters”.

4. Each CTF receives a package which contains a report from the police officer who attended the scene of the crime. With the report could be records of interview, photographs and some items of physical evidence.

5. What the group does from this point is entirely up to its members. They are cast in the role of detectives but they cannot leave police headquarters. Their sole contact with the outside world is via email and evidence from the Crime Operations Centre. Through the Centre they have access to ‘all of the resources of the national police force’. They can request interviews, premises searches, vehicle registration checks. They have their own direct access to a large computer database of criminal record and to the laboratories. If they act appropriately, they will receive items of physical evidence from the Crime Operations Centre and eventually they will thread their path through the ‘red herrings’ and construct a case. The Crime Operations Centre is manned by the year 9 and 10 students who designed the scenarios and compiled the reports, database and items of physical evidence. This group, called Controllers, represents the other dimension of the Forensic Camp. They perform a role that extends over nine months and culminates in 5 days of intense interaction with the camper groups. Many of the requests and questions they get are anticipated and responses are prepared, but just as often they have to respond to issues that they haven’t conceived of and their responses must be consistent with the whole scenario. To see these Controller groups in action is something to behold. Few adults could perform their role more professionally.

The duration of the Forensic Camp is important. It could not be any shorter and would serve no useful purpose if it were longer. During the days that are spent actually solving the crime all groups seem to go through the same three-phase metamorphosis.

Phase 1 – Unfocused Activity

• Individuals of the group are uneasy with one another, their contact with one another is social not intellectual

• Problem solving is unfocused, methods erratic, uncooperative.

• The computer is seen as the ‘source of wisdom’ – ill-considered questions are fired at the operations centre and database searching is random

• Laboratory work is superfluous and laboratory tests are performed on evidence without rehearsing the skill, this leads to corruption of physical evidence.

Phase 2 – Frustration

• Frequent disruption within the group, sometimes leading to fragmentation ie subgroups and individuals go their own way working on their own hypotheses.

• Much chasing of ‘red herrings’ due to guessing without confirmation by evidence.

• Much duplication of effort

• Frustration is universal

 Phase 3 – Resolution

• Individuals realise that the task is impossible by themselves, groups reform and become task orientated

• Cooperation is high and individuals specialise in carrying out specific laboratory tests but group makes decisions together.

• In the laboratory, instructions are read carefully, techniques rehearsed to develop skill, then they are applied to the evidence.

• Questions and requests to the operations centre are carefully thought out and consequently elicit more useful responses

• Conclusions are based on cooperative group discussion

So far, over many camps, not one group has ever ‘tossed in the towel’ during the frustration phase. This is a testimony to the atmosphere of reality that the Forensic Camp creates. The students believe that it is a job worth doing and worth doing well.