Marc Williams, English
You teach the Forensic Science course in the Law and Society Major. So far this year, Tech students have
learned about some pretty gruesome cases, like the O.J. Simpson case involving the murders of Nicole
Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman, and the Carl Coppolino case involving two victims he was accused of
murdering by injecting them with succinylcholine chloride, a paralyzing drug. What other grisly goodies
can students look forward to?
The next case is actually a fictional one in which a fictional teacher, Dr Harry Chesterfield, is found murdered in BN8.
He is very unpopular amongst his colleagues (except of course Mr. Dwyer) and so the teacher take on the roles of the witnesses and suspects. Currently, we are learning how to process a crime scene and the final project is for each group to process this crime scene. Going through the process gives the students a better understanding of the difficulty of the task and the importance of each of the steps in documentation. They will also be reinvestigating the Sam Sheppard Case, the first case to use blood spatter evidence and also the inspiration for "The Fugitive." There is also another fictional case involving a break-in to the principal's office and his high school wrestling trophies and an autographed photo of Hulk Hogan missing.
How do students react to this material? Do some of them complain of having nightmares?
Most are amazed how creative and also crazy most of these people are and sometimes it is the opposite -- "how could they be so stupid?" I get several comments regarding how to get away with the perfect murder and I always address it as, that is a great idea for your next novel. I have never had complaint of nightmares, but sometimes complaints of being creeped out. Nice a young lady threw up during class, but she swears it was the flu and not the subject matter. (On a side note, her lab partner chose to try and analyze what she ate for breakfast rather than help her out!) As someone who had to deal with death at a very young age, I find that the students, like myself, are more curious about death and understanding it and finding justice for the dead.
How unusual is it for high school students to be exposed to things like "blood spatter, bullet trajectory, and glass fracture" or "Forensic Aspects of Arson and Explosion"?
Actually, it has become a very popular in both high school and middle school. It is great lens to teach many topics through. It is an interdisciplinary science requiring bio, chem, and physics. Students have the opportunity to apply the science they have learned to solving a case. It is often inquiry-based and requires applying the scientific method, designing experiments, critiquing science, and debating science. Blood spatter is always a favorite and involves using the trigonometry that many them thought they would never use beyond math class.
Before you became a teacher at Tech, you worked at several outstanding institutions as a medical technologist, and then taught at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. What is the difference between teaching forensics at the high school level vs. the college level?
Teaching high school is definitely much more student-centered. In the college course, there were about 140 students in the lecture. The lecture met twice a week for 90 minutes with a 2-hour lab twice a week. Due to the structure of my classes at Brooklyn Tech, I can go deeper into the subject with activities and provide a richer learning environment. I have the opportunity to learn about my students' lives and probably have more of an impact on their futures whereas in college I don't think I knew most of their names. ( I am not proud of that fact!)
What do you like best about teaching at Tech, and what do you see as the greatest challenge?
I love the diversity and enthusiasm of the student body. They constantly challenge me with their questions, and I continue to grow from as a teacher from their insight. I have the amazing opportunity to teach a course that does not end in a standardized test and the freedom to create curriculum to address the needs of my students!!
Some students must be thrilled by the macabre, because they join the CSI club which you lead. Tell us a bit about the club, the Crime Scene Investigation Challenge and the Crime Scene World Challenge and Science Olympiad.
The CSI World challenge came first and I took students from my chemistry class to participate. There were 92 teams from different schools. The program is run by a retired detective from Suffolk. Each team had identical crime scenes to process, actors played suspects for students to interview and interrogate, and students set up their own makeshift laboratories to analyze the evidence. The students then present their findings to actual forensic scientists, detectives and lawyers. The students always come out thoroughly exhausted. They are not allowed to speak to me the entire day and must manage themselves and solve their own problems. As hard as they work, and whether they win or lose, they always tell me that it was the best day of their lives.