Blood pooling, body tissue and textbooks

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Bones and Grissom, meet the students of Alexandria.

Forensic techniques dramatized on prime-time TV screens will make a cameo on classroom chalkboards at T.C. Williams High School beginning next fall the first offering of its kind in the state.

While the curriculum has yet to be cemented, Alexandria City Public Schools staff plans to augment the current biotechnology class with a second semester focusing on forensics. Its the brainchild of Superintendent Morton Sherman, who introduced similar courses in New York and New Jersey.

He cant remember what was on television back then but recent small screen hits have popularized forensic science, Sherman said. 

I was first introduced to forensics back in 93 when I was a superintendent in New York, Sherman said. It became an instant success. Kids are so inquisitive; they love asking questions. These shows like CSI and others they show all the fascinating lab approaches to answering how this crime occurs.

Students enrolling in the class can tentatively expect to learn about criminalistics, DNA analysis, fingerprinting and evidence collection, among other topics. Though teachers wont do away with textbooks and classroom lectures, staff anticipates a course laden with hands-on work. 

We have a whole list of items to be purchased for hands-on experiment-type activities, said Sherri Chapman, ACPS coordinator of career, technical and adult education. As much hands on as possible. Obviously, there would have to be some textbook teaching I hate to use that word there has to be some instruction, but there will be a lot of hands on interdisciplinary work.

Chapman is working with local educators and the state education department on crafting a curriculum. She envisions students preparing cultures and identifying different bones during the class.

And yes, theyll also have a healthy dose of traditional schoolwork, Chapman said. 

Its just a whole lot of information, photo-documentation and measuring a lot of math, biology, chemistry and algebra in both these courses, she said. Forensics, being cutting edge, its been in discussion at ACPS for a while. [Sherman] is a big advocate of establishing multidisciplinary courses.

State officials are watching, having agreed to make T.C.s forensics class a pilot for other districts in the commonwealth. No one else in the state offers anything quite like it, said Lynn Basham of the Virginia Department of Education.

Hit television programs are definitely part of the draw for students, she said.

There are so many CSI kind of things that fascinate people, that you can take some small piece of information and put it together with other information, I think thats fascinating for people, Basham said. It seems to be very fascinating to students.

For Sherman, its an opportunity to spark interest in children who might otherwise find math and science boring.

When I was looking at our science curriculum, I saw that we had a very traditional science curriculum, but for some of our kids the hook has to come a different way, he said. I think its going to catch kids.

Officials believe the forensics class, currently an elective open to all students, will be worth half a credit. Students will get their chance to sign up for the course starting in early February, staff said.

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