One of the modules that takes place in my building is the analysis of forensic evidence at a mock crime scene [The Science Behind CSI]. Here's the description from the website.
From stem cell research to criminal convictions, the science of molecular biology and genetics is at the centre of many of today’s most contentious issues. In this module, students learn about DNA fingerprinting, forensic investigations, and genetic transformation through a variety of hands-on laboratory activities and lectures from world-class speakers. Highlighting the program is the mock crime scene investigation where students collect and analyze crime scene evidence. After students have collected the appropriate evidence, they move into the laboratory to perform their analysis and, assuming they have collected the correct pieces of evidence, solve the case.I can understand why students might find this appealing but there's a problem. One of my goals is to teach students, including high school students, about the wonder and excitement of science as a method of knowing. I would like students to appreciate the knowledge for it's own sake. I would like them to be excited when they learn how life operates at the molecular level (i.e molecular biology & genetics).
One of the major impediments to this goal is the widespread belief that science is just a tool and the main objective is not knowledge for its own sake but applications of science. According to this view, you only learn about molecular biology and genetics because it will somehow cure cancer, detect genetic diseases, and solve crimes.
I think it's wrong to reinforce this belief when we have a chance to educate a select group of high school students. I would much prefer to teach them about molecular evolution, how genes are expressed, and how we solve the structure of proteins.
This isn't going to happen in a program with such a heavy emphasis on medicine and medical applications but, in the long run, science will lose out when these bright students enter medical schools or forensic programs instead of pure science programs.
What's the appropriate balance between catching and holding the attention of students by having them solve a "crime" and trying to teach them the value of scientific discovery for its own sake?