I am always looking for innovative ways to engage students in my Forensics class. One way I achieved this was by setting up a classroom body farm during my forensic entomology unit. In this blog post, I will share how I set up a classroom body farm and how my students monitored the life cycle of a blow fly using whole, raw chickens.
Step 1: Pick Your Location
The first step in setting up a classroom body farm is finding a suitable location. I chose a partially shaded area about 100 yards away from the school building. This lab was really smelly, so I did not want to set this up in an area with high traffic or near a building that would be occupied during the school day.
Step 2: Plan and Prep
Next, students were presented with this challenge: Create a classroom body farm using 5 raw chickens. Each chicken should represent a victim, each with a staged death. As a class, the students collaborated to decide how they would design their body farm. (Note: I provided students with a copy of this lab packet that walked them through the entire process. There was a pre-lab and a planning guide that they had to complete as a class.)
Step 3: Secure Your Supplies & Set Up Your Body Farm
Once students had a plan, I reached out to my local butcher shop and requested whole, raw chickens that they would otherwise discard. The butcher was more than happy to donate the chickens, as it helped reduce their waste and supported education in the process. After securing the chickens, we were ready to build our body farm. Students used props to stage the death scenarios and we used cages to protect our specimens.
These are the scenarios that we used in the picture above:
- Victim 1: stabbed and placed in an aluminum tray of water to represent a victim that was stabbed and partially submerged in water
- Victim 2: partially buried and covered with leaves to represent a victim in a shallow grave
- Victim 3: wrapped in felt to represent a victim that was wrapped in a blanket
- Victim 4: hung in a tree to represent a victim suspended over the ground
- Victim 5: placed in an aluminum tray in direct sunlight (to compare to the experiments in the shade).
Step 4: Make Observations
With the chickens in place, students were tasked with observing the specimens for insect activity. Over the course of 3 weeks, we traveled to the area (every other day) to make observations. Students recorded their observations on their student lab packet, took photos, and collected specimens to take back to the classroom for microscopic observations.
Day 2 Observations
Within 4 hours of establishing our body farm, we had eggs! On Day 2, it rained, but that didn’t stop my students from checking on their experiment. I’m so glad we decided to withstand the rain because we were able to observe instar 1 maggots feeding on the chicken carcass.
Day 6 Observations
Throughout the three-week observation period, we tracked the growth of the blow fly larvae and documented any changes in their behavior. We also noted the arrival of adult blow flies and discussed how investigators use maggots in their most progressive stage to determine PMI. This hands-on experience allowed my students to gain a deeper understanding of the life cycle of blow flies and their role in forensic investigations. As students collected data and made observations, they were recorded on this document.
And that’s how I set up a classroom body farm! This body farm lab is one of my favorite activities of the year. My students were so engaged in learning about the life cycle of blow flies and insects’ role in helping forensic investigators determine post mortem interval. By utilizing whole, raw chickens donated by a local butcher, my students were able to monitor the growth and development of blow fly larvae over a three-week period. This hands-on experience not only helped my students gain a deeper understanding of entomology but also sparked their interest in forensic science. It was a great way to wrap up our entomology unit.
Want to check out my complete entomology line-up? Click HERE to check out all of the lessons, notes, worksheets, review materials, activities and assessments that I used in my entomology unit!
Until next time….Happy Teaching!