An independent Catholic school for young women in grades 7-12

Out of the Box Thinking

Out of the Box Thinking
Annalee Petrella '22, Communications Intern

Never would I have thought that I would be building a crime scene out of a shoe box for a school project. Well ... not until I entered Mr. Andersen’s Forensics class for the first time. Then it didn’t come as much of a surprise.

Forensics at Ursuline is just one of the many classes that exceed the typical high school course selection. It’s not every day you hear teenagers learning about crime scene investigations, reviewing case studies, or honing the observation skills of a forensic scientist. Ever since entering Ursuline in the seventh grade, I have looked forward to the year in which I was eligible to take this class. Finally, junior year arrived, and Forensics appeared in the B block of my busy schedule. 

The newly modified schedule of Ursuline, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, has provided students with an hour and forty-five minutes of our first-period class every day. I know what you are thinking. An entire extra hour of class?? Trust me when I tell you that I, along with the rest of the student body, thought the same exact thing at first. This extra hour, otherwise known as Enrichment period, has served as a blessing in disguise. It has given many teachers the opportunity to implement new material to keep students engaged and excited, all while replacing two of the students’ classes in a day and ultimately relieving stress and reducing our workload. In Forensics class, Mr. Andersen has used this period to start interactive projects that coincide with and relate to what we are discussing in our standard class time. It is only November, and we have already completed multiple projects, one of my favorites being the transformation of a shoebox into a crime scene. 

This project was based on forensic scientist Frances Glessner Lee and her groundbreaking creation of the “Nutshell Cases.” The nutshell cases were doll-house-sized models of real-life crimes, specifically unsolved murders. These models were built for forensic investigators in training, and served as an example of the proper way to canvas a crime scene, with the goal of effectively uncovering and understanding evidence. From these “Nutshell Cases,” Mr. Andersen designed a project. We, the students, were to step into the shoes of Frances Glessner Lee and examine, interpret, and replicate unsolved historical murder cases using our creativity, imagination, and … a shoebox.

Out of six potential murder cases, my partner and I were assigned the case of Marie Jones in the Red Bedroom. The first step was research. We analyzed the crime scene and summarized our findings into our own words. Second step: search for evidence. Once we found ten pieces of evidence and explained the role each of them played in the crime, we were able to start building. With our shoebox as the red bedroom, we found everyday tangible objects that corresponded with each and every piece of evidence found at the crime scene.  The result was a shoebox with a Polly Pocket taped to the base, a piece of tinfoil molded into a knife, and all the other evidence displayed in a similar manner, with red ink drawn everywhere as blood. I can confidently say that I would never have had the opportunity to learn about forensics, never mind build a crime scene myself, if it weren’t for my choice to attend Ursuline.