High School Teachers Get Lessons in Forensics

Dr. Chi-Chung (Jorn) Yu demonstrates how to make a trajectory kit for ballistics.
Dr. Chi-Chung (Jorn) Yu demonstrates how to make a trajectory kit for ballistics.

High school teachers from across the state gathered at Sam Houston State University (SHSU) to learn about the latest tools for teaching forensic science in the classroom.

A total of 63 teachers attended the annual High School Criminal Justice Instructor Training at the College of Criminal Justice on Oct. 13 and 14. They learned about the latest practices and research in ballistics and bloodstain patterns, toxicology, arson investigation, drug impairment, digital forensics and forensic psychology from professors at SHSU and practitioners in the field.

“I’ve gotten several new lesson plans to incorporate into the curriculum or to enhance what I already have,” said Tom Cave of Lanier High School.

Teachers had the opportunity to visit the Southeast Texas Applied Forensic Science (STAFS)Facility and the Walls Unit at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, as well as to sit in on college classes on criminology, victimology and white collar crime.

“I really enjoyed it, and it was really informative,” said Christine Ziese of New Braunfels High School. “I am looking forward to the things you offer in the summer.”

In addition to learning from professionals in the field, teachers also had a collaborative session where they swapped lesson plans that have been successful in their own classrooms.

“I was impressed with the variety of topics,” said June Strohsahl of Pine Tree High School. “I also enjoyed sharing with the other teachers.”

Dr. Chi-Chung (Jorn) Yu, an Assistant Professor at the College, provided insight on how to use everyday items, such as a stick, elastic string, and a laser pointer, to study bullet trajectories at a crime scene. He also taught teachers how to create and use blood spatter experiments in the classroom, using different tools and ketchup.

Dr. Sarah Kerrigan, Director of the SHSU Regional Crime Lab, also discussed the tools of the trade that she uses in the lab to identify controlled substances and to determine the purity, volume and location of where it originated. She showed teachers how color tests can be done on simple substances, such as quinine, sugar, aspirin, mace and nutmeg, to get false positive results for drugs.

Sgt. Josh Bruegger, a Drug Recognition Expert with the Pasadena Police Department, talked about ways to detect drug impairment. The DR experts go beyond the traditional field sobriety test and breathalyzer when dealing with suspected drugged drivers. The 12 step evaluation process assesses the person’s appearance and behavior; measures vital signs, records automatic responses and reaction, and evaluates judgment, information processing, and coordination.

Andy Bennett, Director of the Center of Excellence in Digital Forensics at SHSU, discussed the many different electronic devices in use today such as computers, cell phones, and even GPS watches, that can yield evidence in a criminal investigation. Digital forensic experts can find deleted or hidden files; decrypt passwords; track Web browsing history, social media and networking activities; reconstruct timeliness and support findings. The specialists are in demand in government, law enforcement, the military, and the private sector.

Chantal Bergeron, a Doctoral candidate at SHSU, talked about the traits of psychopathy, a mental disorder in which an individual manifests amoral and antisocial behavior, lack of ability to love or establish meaningful personal relationships, extreme egocentricity and a failure to learn from experience. She showed teachers experiments and web sites that could be used to illustrate this disorder that affects approximately 1 percent of the general population and up to 15 percent of the inmate population. She also showed “successful" psychopaths who have used to the same traits to get ahead in business.

Barry Freece, senior special agent with the Bureau of Alcohol,Tobacco and Firearms, presented information about arson investigations and what to look for look for at the scene of a fire to evaluate those cases.

“Hosting and delivering this annual conference for high school criminal justice and forensic science teachers continues to be a win-win,” says Dr. Holly Miller, Assistant Director of Undergraduate Programs. “The teachers are able to utilize the latest knowledge and research presented at our conference in their classrooms, and we are able to promote our recognized College of Criminal Justice and Sam Houston State University.”

Member of The Texas State University System