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 "

By | June 4, 2010

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; 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; 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,; 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. Wolbachia 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,; 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." The Wolbachia 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; (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; (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; 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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June 8, 2010

I strongly agree that getting students to engage in serious scientific research at an early age develops thinking skills and encourages some toward science careers. The program at BCA is a bit different than what is described and has gained national and international attention for the methodology employed. Professional research scientists have been employed by the school to build and equip laboratories where students perform elective research projects based on their own interests. The faculty works with the students to ensure that the projects are scientifically sound and able to be performed in the environment of the school. The program has been eagerly embraced by the students and their parents, and we now have over 120 people actively engaged in research. The students have achieved impressive results at the major scholarship competitions (Intel, Siemens, etc.), and some have submitted papers to professional journals. We would be pleased to invite anyone interested in this program for a visit, and we are always looking for ways to improve the experience for the students.
Avatar of: LISA HALL


Posts: 12

June 9, 2010

If you are interested in hands-on, top-notch experimental science by K-12 students, you should look into the Enery Lab at the Hawaii Preparatory Academy on the Big Island of Hawaii. Its amazing! I'm an HPA alumni, and I want to go back to school there, so that I can participate in cutting edge science at such an early age! HPA has a great reputation for this, including top-notch pacific turtle research.\n\n\n
Avatar of: TIM HERMAN


Posts: 1

June 9, 2010

We are indeed involved in a collaborative project with UW-Madison to disseminate the SMART Team modeling program to eight research institutions (Rockefeller, Stony Brook, Rutgers, UMBC, Scripps, UCSD, UCSF and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center) with support from an HHMI precollege science education award. However, I would also like to acknowledge the critical role played by the NIH-NCRR-SEPA program in funding the initial development of this SMART Team program. This program evolved out of a teacher professional development program funded by three consecutive SEPA awards to the MSOE Center for BioMolecular Modeling. In addition, the model design software (RP-RasMol) used in this project was the product of an NIH-NCRR Small Business Innovation Research award to our sister organization, 3D Molecular Designs. While these details are of little interest to the direct beneficiaries of this program, it is important to acknowledge the source of funding that allows for the development of these kinds of innovative science enrichment programs. Anyone interested in learning more about SMART Teams should visit our web site at \n\n
Avatar of: Ann Chester

Ann Chester

Posts: 1

June 13, 2010

WV's HSTA program is indeed indebted to HHMI for its very existence. In 1994, HHMI single handedly funded the first class of 44 HSTA students and 9 teachers. Sixteen years later, HSTA has grown far beyond the two county pipeline program we had envisioned to a state-wide program for 750 students and 75 high school teachers engaged in community based participatory science. What was originally funded only by HHMI is now also supported by the National Institutes of Health, National Center for Research Resources, Science Education Partnership Award (13 years), the WV legislature (13 years) and numerous local businesses and friends of HSTA. Thank you HHMI for believing in HSTA 16 years ago and allowing us to partner with others to create an even larger dream where STEM careers are more easily accessible to under-represented students and communities are able to benefit from the student's science inquiry immediately through community participation.
Avatar of: yishan wu

yishan wu

Posts: 1

August 3, 2010

Dear Dr Urban:\nI am very interested in your article "Evolution of Science" in May issue of The Scientist. In fact, I wrote a blog article introducing your article to Chinese readers, see :\n .\nCould you tell me the source of Alex Schneider's paper? Because some readers of my blog like to study his original paper themselves.\nPlease send your answer to my email address:\\n\nThank you very much!\nWU Yishan\nChina

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