Crime Scene Investigation for the Classroom

by Jana Burch, Dave McGann, and Kevin Simms

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crime_scene_investigation_1 Middle school students at a Purdue U.’s GERI Summer Camp

Everybody may love Raymond, but it would seem that a majority of folks also love Sherlock Holmes, JAG, NCIS, and myriad of other crime focused shows currently in the television lineup.  What is the draw and how can educators harness the excitement and interest surrounding this genre of entertainment? Cue the Flying Monkeys…

Kevin Simms, Dave McGann, and Jana Burch are Flying Monkeys Consulting and attribute their formation to a bit of a fluke…a crime at the University of Connecticut, a couple of master’s degrees and a guru of gifted education.  The initial idea of teaching crime scene investigation came about six years ago when McGann, a police force veteran specializing in blood evidence, was encouraged by Joseph Renzulli to present the basics of crime scene investigation to teachers at Confratute, the University of Connecticut’s summer institute for teachers,.  Renzulli had worked with McGann when a crime had taken place on campus.  Renzulli saw the potential to engage students with the math, science and critical thinking skills used by law enforcement officers to solve crimes. McGann joined forces with Kevin Simms, a math specialist, and Jana Burch, a curriculum development specialist, (both of whom earned their master’s degrees at UConn and were friends of McGann and Renzulli) to create a program that would bring the high interest of his field to the classroom in a meaningful and beneficial way.  CSI: Crime Scene Investigation for the Classroom was born.

McGann admits that he was skeptical at first. “I am a cop, not an educator.  Jana and Kevin came in and made what I do appropriate for the classroom and valuable for both the teachers and students.”   Crime scene investigation brings opportunities for the students to apply knowledge learned in class in an exciting and hands-on fashion.  The excitement for the class is growing as the number of teachers enrolling in the CSI class is increasing each year.

crime_scene_investigation_2 United Tribes Technical College Summer program – Bismark ND

CSI: Crime Scene Investigation for the Classroom provides teachers with the skills and knowledge they will need to implement forensic science activities in their classrooms.  The presenters each bring their expertise to the table.  McGann provides the police perspective on how investigators use CSI skills to solve crimes.  Simms aids teachers with the math and science background, while Burch helps connect things back to the regular curriculum.

In today’s high stake environment, teachers may be reluctant to introduce something new in their classrooms without some support.  According to Burch, “Teachers need to feel that the crime scene activities are going to be successful in their classrooms and they need to be confident that CSI supports the learning objectives.  This makes it so much easier to justify devoting instruction time to the CSI materials.”

Simms and Burch are careful to provide instruction on the ‘how to’s’.  Says Burch, “There is nothing worse than a lesson that falls flat because the teacher doesn’t know how to do something or has never done it before.  The format of our teacher training is content (police background, the history, math, and science behind what we are doing), process (how the professionals do it and how teachers can recreate it in their classrooms) and product (actual pieces of evidence investigators would collect or look at).”  Educators leave the training confident that they can recreate the activities in their classrooms and how the students will benefit from participating.

crime_scene_investigation_3 Teachers at CONFRATUTE’s Summer program UCONN Storrs CT

After successfully training teachers on the finer points of crime scene investigation, Simms saw a need to expand the group’s offerings and created the consulting firm with a funny name because, above all else, learning should be fun.

“Even though we provide the support teachers need to do this in their classrooms, the desire for organizations to offer CSI for students at summer camps has been overwhelming.  We enjoy doing these camps because we get to work with the students directly and try new activities. It is invaluable to be able to say, “This is what students will do when given this task”. We are always learning and developing, because of the demands of these students,” says Simms.  “There is always a high interest in the crime scene program whether it is offered at a STEM focused camp, a summer enrichment camp or a teacher conference.  Everybody loves CSI!”


Jana Burch began her career teaching gifted students.  She taught middle school and elementary school in Georgia, Japan, California, and Virginia.  She taught graduate courses in gifted education for the University of Virginia before opting for an outdoor learning environment.  She bought some goats, planted a vineyard and started dabbling in cheese and wine making.  She has returned to academia (still making wine…) and is pursuing a doctoral degree in educational leadership and policy studies at Tarleton State University where she also serves as a doctoral research fellow.  She researches in the areas of creativity, student engagement, curriculum design, stress and learning, leadership, and experiential learning.

Dave McGann has been employed in law enforcement with the State of Connecticut for over 26 years as a Lieutenant and specializes in Forensic Crime Scene Investigations.  Dave is a highly decorated officer as well as a two time recipient of the State’s Attorney Police Office of the Year award.  Dave has been called by other departments to assist in complex investigations and is able to look past the sadness and destruction of a crime scene viewing it as a puzzle to be solved using physics, chemistry, math, and critical thinking.  When not working, Dave enjoys time home with his four rescue cats Storm, Tramp, Lady, and Kieko, as well as creating stunning culinary delights and hand-sewing award winning quilts.

Kevin Simms is currently happily retired and pursuing a new career in Educational Consulting.  He is working on his 6th book on Manipulatives and Mathematics and presents at conferences on a wide range of topics.  After serving 9 years in the U.S. Navy he entered teaching as a middle school math teacher.  He has worked with every level of student designing programs that will challenge and motivate them to perform at their highest potential.  As a gifted coordinator and State Board member in Virginia, creativity, problem solving, abstract thinking and an appreciation for looking at ideas and concepts from different perspectives have always been at the heart of every lesson or program he has developed.  Kevin earned his Master’s degree at UConn through the 3 Summers Program.  He is a fanatic when it comes to technology and loves to experiment with the newest “toys” on the market.

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