The Staten Island Tech Nutshell Studies: Using Content-Rich Project Based Learning in an Introductory Forensic Science Class


  • Bianca Brandon Staten Island Technical High School 485 Clawson Street Staten Island, NY 10314


This paper presents a cumulative, content-rich, project-based learning experience for a college-level introductory forensic science course.  The project was inspired by the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death created by Frances Glessner Lee in the 1930s. Students were required to create their own miniature crime scenes at a scale of one inch to one foot. They conducted research over extended periods of time, designed their scene using CAD or Revvit, wrote supporting documents based on their case scenario, gave Google Slides presentations, and constructed three-dimensional work products in the school’s makerspace. This project emphasized the essential “4 C’s” of 21st century global skills: communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity; and culminated in a Science and Technology Showcase at the end of the school year. Caveats included time limitations due to short class periods and the use of a shared makerspace. The students gained in-depth knowledge of crime scene analysis and death investigation, and were highly engaged throughout the process.

Author Biography

Bianca Brandon, Staten Island Technical High School 485 Clawson Street Staten Island, NY 10314

I worked as an intern then as a criminalist II at the department of Forensic biology at the NYC Office of Chief Medical Examiner from 1999 until 2003.  I then became a NYC high school teacher.  I have been teaching at Staten Island Technical High School since 2005, and began teaching forensic science in 2007. In my class, I use experiential learning, including lab activities, analysis of case studies, and projects so that students are able to learn the subject in much greater depth. I am especially passionate about analyzing true cases in which the forensic evidence is not as clear cut, so that students have to analyze the probative value of the evidence and the extent to which evidence can be individualized. Forensic science can bolster or diminish social justice, which my students are especially interested in.