AUSTIN (KXAN) — When you walk into Shawn Sieber’s classroom on the second floor of Westwood High School in Round Rock ISD, you may think you are accidentally walking into a crime scene.
Scattered across the tables are what appear to be blood-soaked paper towels, and a majority of the students are walking around with large, gaping wounds on their arms and legs.
But do not be alarmed.
“That’s normal for in here. That’s, that’s like a normal thing,” Sieber said with a laugh.
Those blood-soaked paper towels are actually covered in red food dye, and those gaping wounds on the students are a combination of petroleum jelly, toilet paper, cocoa powder and red food dye.
It’s the latest lab for students that are enrolled in Sieber’s forensic science course. The class is currently learning about how investigators use the body as evidence. This lab is helping students visualize what different types of weapons and what force trauma will do to a human body.
You may think the course would be disturbing. In fact, Sieber warns students before certain lectures they are going to see some graphic pictures that could be disturbing. Even with those caveats, the class is extremely popular.
Sieber used to be the only teacher who taught the course, but the school had to add a second teacher because so many students wanted to take the class.
Making a teacher
Sieber comes from a family of educators. Her mom started as a teacher and was able to work her way up to principal by the end of her career.
Sieber said she did not know what she wanted to do when she grew up but she knew she liked science. After she graduated college, she was working for a furniture store when she received a call from her old high school principal asking her to come back to school as a coach and teach biology.
Ten years later, Sieber has taught biology, anatomy, physiology, medical microbiology and now forensic science.
Sieber is a fan of true crime. Her computer is covered in stickers that prove that fact for anyone that questions her passion for the subject.
It is that passion that draws her students’ attention.
“She’s done so many things involving forensic science within her own life that you can just tell she truly cares about what’s going on in this class,” Ana Vines, one of Sieber’s students, explained.
Is there a cure for senioritis?
Senioritis, an illness that has been impacting classrooms for decades, can be tricky to deal with. By the second semester, most high school seniors are checked-out and ready for the next stage of their lives.
Sieber’s class, however, appears to have the medication for the illness.
Sieber said she makes sure her classes are filled with engaging labs. Those include filling watermelons with fake blood and having students smash them to see what the blood splatter would look like; creating fake wounds to see how the body would be impacted and pretty soon, students will perform an autopsy on a pig.
“I’m expecting something new and fun every day. It’s not like my other classes,” Preston Sanderville, a Westwood High student, said.
“She wants people to be excited about what we’re doing in the class,” student Silvia Chiacci said.
Sieber gets her ideas while driving to work or watching her favorite shows, but the key is making sure you are keeping the subject fun.
“I really do just kind of frame it as, like, what would I want to do? And then I build a lesson around that, like, what would be fun? What’s interesting? What would keep my attention,” Sieber explained.
Sieber has found having fun can have a lasting impact. At one recent open house, a parent pulled Sieber aside and said her class had made their child rethink their career path and start looking at different colleges that are more geared toward criminal justice.
“I think it’s just nice to kind of open their horizons a bit and show them, you know, hey, you really like this, like, make it your career, and it’ll be fun,” Sieber said.