Originally created 11/29/06

Students get to solve fake crimes for class



GRANITEVILLE - Jason Worth, son of fictitious multibillionaire Nathan Worth, was kidnapped last month. There is a $10 million reward for information leading to his return.

But Midland Valley High School students who were trying to solve the fake case won't get any money for identifying the suspect. Instead, students will take away bragging rights and hands-on experience from a forensic experiment.

"They analyze everything from ink samples to scraps of paper," anatomy teacher Bob Sawyer said.

Mr. Sawyer said he added the forensics experiment to his anatomy class last year to keep things interesting. Last year, students solved a murder.

"This is a good hands-on thing. It gives some of the students a sense of direction about the forensic field, and it shows that the field is not all glitz and glamor like the shows," Mr. Sawyer said.

Students saved the more interesting class work for the end of the week, Mr. Sawyer said.

"It was the highlight of my week to see students discussing the case," he said. "It gave them a break from the traditional classroom."

Ashley Morgan Alexander, 16, said the experiment made it easier to get through the week.

Ashley said that, unlike some of her classmates, she doesn't plan to pursue a medical degree.

"I want to be a lawyer, and this class shows how much evidence is needed to try a case," Ashley said. "We had to find 10 points on the fingerprint to match to the suspects' prints."

Mr. Sawyer uses cases prepared specifically for classroom experiments and then tweaks the cases to fit curriculum. For example, comparing tire treads was not part of the original case, so Mr. Sawyer created tread marks on the computer with semicolons and commas because he felt students needed to analyze more data.

"Sometimes medical examiners only have a jawbone to go by to solve a case, but I wanted to give them more substance," he said.

Each week students rotated the data they analyzed and had to sign out materials from Mr. Sawyer as if they were in a real lab.

Along with the analyzed evidence, students received a packet with the ransom note and a list of suspects and motives.

The ransom note, which was made from pasted magazine letters, included the suspect's fingerprint.

As the weeks progressed, students said the case grew more confusing.

"It was hard because the blood didn't point to any one person," Brittany Robbins, 17, said. "But I received the fingerprint a few weeks later, and it pointed to another suspect."

After going through the evidence, students filed papers with Mr. Sawyer explaining which suspect they thought committed the kidnapping and why.

Students will find out who really kidnapped Jason Worth at the end of next week.

"Most students are on the right track," Mr. Sawyer said. "But their grade doesn't depend on solving the case. All they really needed to do was follow the directions to do well. There were only a handful of mistakes, with hundreds of opportunities to mess up."

Reach Julia Sellers at (803) 648-1395, ext. 106 or julia.sellers@augustachronicle.com.