Project Overview

This project takes students on an experiential journey through our legal system while offering them the opportunity to focus on fascinating cases from our country's history: the Zodiac Killer, the Salem Witch Trials, and The Lost Colony at Roanoke.  On this journey, students act as investigators, detectives, lawyers, and jurors while mimicking the judicial process through the investigation, discovery, and trial phases.  The project ends in a thorough mock trial where students argue their case using evidence from history, science, math, and literature to persuade a jury of their peers.  Older students at our school helped design this entire project, and oversaw the facilitation of the Entry Event.

Driving Question


How do judicial processes use evidence from history, math, science, and language to determine the outcome of a court case?

Milestones & Timeline


The milestones below mimic the judicial process and will each have products associated with them.  You will receive documents and templates for each phase as you move through the project.  However, the PBL Dossier and KNTK Logs should be updated throughout the project.

Entry Event


Students walked into a crime scene arranged by the older students at our school and had to collect, examine, and process evidence to solve a crime.  They used The Case of the Cyanide Cocktail from CU-Boulder's undergraduate forensic course resources.

Investigation Phase


In this phase of the project, students will collect evidence and do initial research on different theories of what crime may have been committed.  Students will do in depth research into the case to get a thorough understanding of its complexities and will eventually name a suspect, victim, crime scene, and witnesses in a formal arrest report.  

The Investigation Phase is broken down into 4 smaller phases which are all outlined in detail in the Investigation Case File:

  • Phase 1: Collect evidence

  • Phase 2: Examine evidence

  • Phase 3: Create theories

  • Phase 4: Write the arrest report


Once all arrest reports are submitted the grand jury of teachers, they will decide on the strongest cases to move forward with.  Only half of the cases brought will actually go to trial.

Discovery Phase


During this phase of the project, you will create at least 4 exhibits and prepare your witnesses for trial.  Every group member will be a witness who will be a guest expert on a certain piece of evidence that directly involves learning targets. Similarly, the exhibits must contain meaningful connections to math, science, history, and language that demonstrate excellent depth of knowledge on these subjects.  Below are some examples of exhibits you could create:


  • Crime scene maps that highlight important aspects of the case

  • Animations that depict what happened in the case

  • 3D-printed, sculpted, or digital models of an important piece of evidence

  • Digital presentations with meaningful photos

  • Digital infographics or computer-made paper infographics

  • Other professional looking, thorough pieces that could persuade the jury

This phase of the project will be guided by the Discovery Case File.


The Trial

All of the previous project phases are preparing students for the grand finale - a mock trial where they will have the opportunity to argue their case in front of a jury of their peers.  During this case, students will play the roles of lawyers, witnesses, and jurors while attempting to win their case.  Students will have to complete the following artifacts to prepare for trial and compile them in a comprehensive portfolio:

1) Opening Statements (Source)

  • The purpose of opening statements by each side is to tell jurors something about the case they will be hearing. The opening statements must be confined to facts that will be proved by the evidence, and cannot be argumentative.

  • The trial begins with the opening statement of the party with the burden of proof. This is the party that brought the case to court--the government in a criminal prosecution or the plaintiff in a civil case--and has to prove its case in order to prevail. The defense lawyer follows with his or her opening statement. In some states, the defense may reserve its opening statement until the end of the plaintiff's or government's case. Either lawyer may choose not to present an opening statement.

  • In a criminal trial, the burden of proof rests with the government, which must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty. The defendant does not need to prove his or her innocence--the burden is on the government.

2) Preparation of Evidence 

  • Direct evidence usually is that which speaks for itself: eyewitness accounts, a confession, or a weapon.

  • Circumstantial evidence usually is that which suggests a fact by implication or inference: the appearance of the scene of a crime, testimony that suggests a connection or link with a crime, physical evidence that suggests criminal activity.

  • Evidence can take any of these forms:
    • Expert Witness Files- chosen specialty (Psychology, Physics, etc.), visual & tangible evidence that relates specialty to charges/case files

    • Experimental Data & Analysis

    • Photos with captions, explanations

    • Interview documentation

    • Data and calculations from expert witnesses

    • Exhibit Artifacts from each subject area (video, audio, digital presentation, maps, 3d models, animations)


3) Mentor Log (from legal or related law field)

4) Historical Case Studies Research

5) Direct Examination & Cross-Examination Questions/ Goals 


6) Closing Arguments (Source)

  • The lawyers’ closing arguments or summations discuss the evidence and properly drawn inferences. The lawyers cannot talk about issues outside the case or about evidence that was not presented.

  • The judge usually indicates to the lawyers before closing arguments begin which instructions he or she intends to give the jury. In their closing arguments the lawyers can comment on the jury instructions and relate them to the evidence.

  • The lawyer for the plaintiff or government usually goes first. The lawyer sums up and comments on the evidence in the most favorable light for his or her side, showing how it proved what he or she had to prove to prevail in the case.

  • After that side has made its case, the defense then presents its closing arguments. The defense lawyer usually answers statements made in the plaintiff's or government’s argument, points out defects in their case and sums up the facts favorable to his/her client.

  • Because the plaintiff or government has the burden of proof, the lawyer for that side is then entitled to make a concluding argument, sometimes called a rebuttal . This is a chance to respond to the defendant’s points and make one final appeal to the jury.

  • At the conclusion of the defendant's case, the plaintiff or government can present rebuttal witnesses or evidence to refute evidence presented by the defendant. This may include only evidence not presented in the case initially, or a new witness who contradicts the defendant's witnesses.

  • Occasionally the defense may choose not to make a closing statement. If so, the plaintiff or government loses the right to make a second argument.