Monday, June 28, 2010

CSI for Kids: Crime Scene Science by Karen Romano Young


Someone who is lying will not touch his chest (where his heart lies).

Someone who is lying will not make eye contact.

When someone is telling a true story, he uses more hand gestures than when he is lying.

When someone is lying, he may touch his face or mouth more often.

Liars blink less often.

Sure, it's a long time until science fair season rolls around. But Karen Young's Science Fair Winners: Crime Scene Science (National Geographic, 2009) makes great summertime reading fare for upper elementary and middle school readers. Divided into "workshops," this intriguing book is divided into action sections where kids can actually learn about crime scene work--such as fingerprinting, photography, and the technology of blood, including spatter patterns--all of which which offer many engaging summertime projects which take from one day to weeks to carry out in full. Kids make their own fingerprint sets, using friends as subjects, and learn how to categorize them and refine their identification techniques. Another workshop teaches CSI apprentices how to make foot- and tire-track casts, both "positive" and "negative" and how to calculate the height and weight and gender of the "suspect" from such prints.

The text lists the branches of science utilized in each workshop, e.g., in the case of footprint analysis (anatomy, physiology, math), how to calculate the ratio between foot length and height, offering a web site ( for help. Each workshop offers the steps of crime investigation which conform to the classic steps in the scientific method, with sections arranged under headings: the buzz (the history and theory); the lingo (terminology); You'll need... (the materials and subject skills required); what to do (steps in the experiment/investigation). Materials are mostly inexpensive; most equipment is fairly accessible (video camera, still camera, recording device, television set, ruler); and subjects are friends and classmates.

Other "workshops" include these fascinating areas: the training of K-9 search dogs, with training exercises for your own dog in scent detection; visual memory and face recognition and expression reading (including detecting false testimony as shown above) in witness and suspect evaluation; and blood analysis. Some workshops offer extremely cool skills such as preparing a sample of your own DNA (using GatorAde!) and how to detect biowarfare substances in mail. Special text boxes (Consider This/Present This) offer suggestions for using workshop experiences to formulate a winning science project. Each section offers Workshop Resources which take the reader outside this book to other resources, such as the National Geographic Body Farm video, the invaluable, and many other online sources to extend the text. The final section, "Present It," provide tips for preparing and presenting a winning crime scene science project. An appendix offers sources for supplies and equipment, web sites, books, magazines, science programs for kids, and a full index.

Everyone loves a mystery, and Science Fair Winners: Crime Scene Science offers a lot of summer fun for young detectives that can actually pay off with a favorable verdict by the science fair jury next year.

Other great books for summer reading and activities include CSI Expert!: Forensic Science for Kids, Science Sleuths: Solving Mysteries Using Scientific Inquiry, and Have You Seen This Face?: The Work of Forensic Artists (24/7: Science Behind the Scenes: Forensic Files). Fans of mystery fiction and young sleuths will also find these nonfiction sources great background reading for those sleuthing novels so popular for free-time reading in the summer.

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