Forensics class scores hit
North Oldham teacher finds students
enjoy crime-solving aspect, hopes to publish textbook
Sapp's students at North Oldham High School get to shoot marbles at
panels of tempered glass to watch them shatter into a million tiny
by Bill Luster, The
Oldham High School forensic chemistry teacher Brennon Sapp,
right, talked with students Kelly Spratte-Lennington, left,
and Tamara Kays about the equipment, including toy weapons, he
uses in the highly popular class.
programs on forensic science have fueled the trend of such
classes across the country. The book Sapp wrote for his
classes is pictured at left. He says he would like to find a
publisher for the text, which is geared to high school
The exercise plays into Sapp's theory that few things hold
students' interest as effectively as destruction, but it also
teaches them how to determine the direction from which a bullet may
have entered the glass.
This and other experiments in Sapp's forensic chemistry class
show students how investigators use science to piece together
evidence from crime scenes. Such classes are a growing trend across
the country, fueled in part by the popularity of television shows
like "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation."
Despite the fervor, which Sapp said has grown exponentially in
the eight years he has taught forensic chemistry, he claims there
aren't textbooks on the market suitable for high school students.
So he wrote his own.
Sapp, 33, is trying to find a publisher for "Forensics
Illustrated: Step Under the Tape" and its accompanying CD-ROM. It's
being used as the text for forensics classes at North Oldham and
Grayson County High School, where Sapp taught for nine years.
His foray into forensics started in 1995, when Grayson County
High's science department and Sapp, its chairman, were looking to
encourage more students to take upper-level science courses.
At that time, the nation — and Sapp's students — were consumed
with the double-murder trial of O.J. Simpson. Some recorded each day
of the trial for later viewing and others stayed home to watch the
Sapp said he figured that if students were so interested in the
Simpson trial, they'd be interested in a course about the science of
He was right.
Before leaving Grayson County High in the spring of 2003, Sapp
was teaching five sections of forensics with about 35 students in
"I really didn't think it would explode like that," he said.
The explosion is scheduled to hit North Oldham High this fall.
Last spring, when Sapp introduced forensic chemistry at the school,
he taught about 30 students in one section. So far, 120 students
have signed up for the class this fall. That's 20 percent of the
Word of the course's unconventional methods spread quickly, said
Kelly Spratte-Lennington and Tamara Kays, who took the class as
juniors last year.
"Everything you love about science classes is all rolled into
forensics," Kelly said.
The class blends a bit of several sciences — chemistry, with the
study of poison and drug testing; biology, with the study of soils
and hair; and psychology, with profiling criminals.
The students gradually move to the more intense subjects,
studying autopsy reports and photos — some of them famous, including
those of President John F. Kennedy and JonBenet Ramsey. Parents sign
permission slips twice during the semester, authorizing their
children to view the graphic images.
Students also read Thomas Harris' hit novels "Red Dragon" and
"Silence of the Lambs" and then watch the films to discuss
investigative methods used in the stories.
Sapp said that although many of his students took the class
because they are interested in careers involving forensics, watching
"CSI" seemed to reinforce their interest.
Kelly said she found herself watching the show and saying, "Hey,
I just learned that." And Tamara, who watches the show with her
father, said she would explain to him, "Dad, that's a radial
Sapp said students came to class every Friday discussing the
previous night's episode, sometimes debunking minor flaws in its
Students aren't the only ones who get a kick out of the forensic
science class, Sapp said.
"One main reason I teach this class is that it's just fun," he