Kenan Fellows Voices: Kelly Sears

Sears_01In December, I implemented my Kenan Fellows lesson “How STEM Changed Evolution Today?” with my eighth grade science students at Smith Middle School in Chapel Hill.

Before starting the lesson, I introduced the students to Dr. Fred Gould’s research on the genetics of pest control at NC State University. This summer, I had the pleasure of interning with Dr. Gould and his team as part of my Kenan fellowship.

I learned that lab work and data collection relies on precision and attention to detail. But what I found most compelling is the passion that Dr. Gould and his team have for their research. Working alongside the researchers, I was able to extract DNA and run samples to view the results. The experience made me realize the importance of exploration in the development of research projects. I enjoyed the time I was given to explore and set out to explore more with my students.

Growing the Seeds of Learning

As part of the lesson, the students planted fast-growing seeds to model selective breeding. While the seeds germinated, the students predicted the outcomes using Punnett squares. We then transitioned to learn about how genetically-modified crops were made and we compared genetically-modified crop production to selective breeding methods.

To finish the lesson the students researched biotechnology topics such as De-Extinction, Biomining, and genetically-modified pets and crops. These are the same topics that my other Kenan Mentor Dr. Jennifer Kuzma, co-director of the Genetic Engineering in Society Center at NC State, used with her focus groups.

The students filled out a graphic organizer for each topic and shared their ideas with other students in their group. Each group also presented their ideas to the whole class.

Transformative Experience

My internship through the Kenan Fellows Program has transformed the way I teach evolution and biotechnology. In the past, I rushed through biotechnology because I lacked the knowledge to teach the topic with confidence. This year, I nestled biotechnology into artificial selection and a unit, covering microbiology and disease.

Thanks to the Kenan Fellows Program, my students are having inquiry-based lab experiences and rich discussions about exciting topics in bioengineering that are embedded and connected to many other areas of science.

See the video below to hear the students’ explain what they learned.

2015-16 Kenan Fellow Kelly Sears has been an educator for 12 years. She currently teaches eighth grade science at Smith Middle School in Chapel-Hill Carrboro Schools. Her Kenan fellowship was made possible by Dr. Fred Gould at NC State University.