Bringing research to high schools
Last April, approximately 25 high school biology teachers from around the country arrived in Woods Hole, Massachusetts for a 3-day mini-course on insect biology. In classrooms overlooking the Vineyard Sound, the teachers worked in groups to label and identify bugs and process their DNA. The goal: learn how to bring this kind of college-level research into their classrooms.Teachers at a 3-day mini-course in Woods Hole
"We are trying to get students to do hands-on, problem-based, student-led in
Last April, approximately 25 high school biology teachers from around the country arrived in Woods Hole, Massachusetts for a 3-day mini-course on insect biology. In classrooms overlooking the Vineyard Sound, the teachers worked in groups to label and identify bugs and process their DNA. The goal: learn how to bring this kind of college-level research into their classrooms.
|Teachers at a 3-day mini-course in Woods Hole|
"We are trying to get students to do hands-on, problem-based, student-led investigations, rather than cookbook labs," said Debra Felix, a linkurl:precollege science education;http://www.hhmi.org/grants/office/undergrad/ program officer at Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), which funds several pre-college education programs. "Students just don't get much out of cookie cutter labs since they don't understand the point of it."
George Wolfe, biology teacher and principal of the linkurl:Academy of Science;http://cmsweb1.loudoun.k12.va.us/aos/site/default.asp in Loudon County, Virginia, agreed. The academy, which offers advanced math and science classes to supplement the students' regular curricula at their districted high schools, teaches problem-based learning, where students actively engage in projects to help develop a deeper understanding of a problem, Wolfe said.
One such project is the nationwide Wolbachia
Project, started by linkurl:Jack Werren,;http://www.rochester.edu/college/bio/labs/WerrenLab/WerrenLab-Home.html a geneticist and entomologist at University of Rochester. In 2004, Werren received a National Science Foundation grant to develop the project, which aims to integrate many disciplines of biology while allowing students the opportunity to achieve scientific discoveries.
While conventional high school courses follow a textbook sequentially from Chapters 1-12, the Wolbachia
Project uses texts, journal articles, and laboratory projects to help students understand what Wolbachia
are, the types of cells they infect, and how they impact biodiversity. "Through asking questions about Wolbachia
students can cover most areas in the standard high school curriculum," Wolfe said.
are bacteria that infect as much as 60 percent of insects, often fatally, limiting the spread of diseases such as river blindness in humans and heartworm in dogs. Throughout the school year, students collect insects, identify them, and extract their DNA to test if it is infected in order to quantify the percentage of total insects infected and learn which species are more susceptible to the bacteria. The project, currently funded by HHMI, is employed by about 30 schools across the country, and last year attracted a teacher from Sweden to participate in the mini-course.
linkurl:Seth Bordenstein,;http://bordensteinlab.vanderbilt.edu/ an evolutionary geneticist and Wolbachia
scientist at Vanderbilt University, who has been involved in the project since its conception, is "excited about young adults becoming involved in the scientific process." The project helps high school students develop research experience that can lead to a greater interests in science, he said, as well as "development of critical learning skills."
project isn't the only effort to use lab projects to get high schoolers more involved in science. linkurl:West Virginia's Health Sciences and Technology Academy;http://www.wv-hsta.org/ (HSTA) targets minority and rural students to give them access to a higher level of science education that is usually not available at their high schools, said Felix. The program invites 9th graders to attend summer programs at the University of West Virginia in Morgantown to learn basic laboratory skills, observe medical clinics, and learn to monitor vital signs of other participants. When the students return home for the school year, the HSTA matches them with healthcare providers in their hometowns where they continue to engage in the research community.
Felix said the program "enhances students' abilities and skills in science," and aids them in "becoming college ready." Students who participate in the program for all four years of high school can receive free college tuition to any West Virginia state university, according to a bill passed by the state government in 1997, three years after the program began.
Another innovative precollege initiative is the linkurl:Students Modeling a Research Topic;http://cbm.msoe.edu/stupro/smart/index.html (SMART) program, which teams up groups of high schoolers with local researchers to help the students understand the structure-function relationship of various proteins and give them a feel for university-level research. The project, which began in 2001, is currently available in approximately 60 schools across the country, including the linkurl:Pingry School;http://www.pingry.k12.nj.us/ in New Jersey, where Deidre O'Mara helped to create a SMART team in 2003.
As an extension of the project, O'Mara takes her SMART students to the Experimental Biology conference each year, where they present posters of their research. Last year, Pingry's students were awarded the honor of best poster for one of the twelve categories, winning against top universities such as Johns Hopkins and Stanford. "It's amazing what sophomores in high school can accomplish, if you just give them the opportunity," O'Mara said.
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[28th May 2010]