Making Connections

It’s amazing how quickly four weeks goes.  I was shocked to realize that I only have six days left in the lab.  Fortunately, my work is coming along well.  My task over these four weeks has been to create a curriculum product (lesson, unit, etc) that brings the research happening in Roberts Lab into my classroom, and hopefully, eventually into other high school classrooms.

Of course, this task does not come without challenges.  Given that I teach biology and am interning in a genetics lab, the curriculum alignment is easy.  What is difficult is finding ways to make work done by graduate students, post-docs, and faculty comprehensible to 9th graders.

One thing that I had in my favor was a very clear vision, from essentially day one, of what I wanted students to get out of the lesson.  I want them to have a solid understanding of DNA, get an introduction to a variety of lab techniques (even if they can’t do them hands on), and get a sense of how scientists think.  I also decided very quickly on the format I wanted to use….POGIL.

POGIL, which stands for Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning, is a great tool because it walks students through the thinking a scientist does.  They are given some sort of a model, then answer questions to help them analyze it and draw conclusions, then move onto another model to expand their thinking.

Using this structure, all I had to do was figure out what I wanted my models to be, and how to simplify them enough for my students to work with.  Of course, first that meant I had to have a really solid understanding myself of not only what I was doing, but why.  A lot of lab work is like a recipe.  Add 3 microliters of chemical A, vortex for 10 seconds, incubate at 52 degrees overnight, etc.  I realized very quickly that my students don’t need the recipes.  What they need to know is the function of chemical A, why vortexing is important, and what happens during incubation.  Those answers are, it turns out, not always easy to find.  But, with a little digging, and a lot of questioning (and requestioning and requestioning) I was able to find what I needed.

Now, with only one section left to write, I have models to show my students the importance of studying DNA, how it is stored in a cell, how its structure allows it to replicate, and (coming soon) how changes in DNA result in changes in observable traits.  Along the way, they’ll be exposed, to some extent, to dissection, DNA extraction, PCR, and histology.  Not bad for a month’s work.

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