NIEHS hosts workshop for secondary school science educators
By Eddy Ball
Thanks to a long-standing partnership with the North Carolina Association for Biomedical Research (NCABR), 27 educators were able to attend a free continuing education credit workshop Feb. 6 at NIEHS that was packed full of new information they could take back to schools throughout the state.
The full-day event was part of the NCABR “RX for Science Literacy” series. It was organized and hosted by the NIEHS Office of Science Education and Diversity (OSED), represented by OSED Director Ericka Reid, Ph.D., and biologist Huei-Chen Lao, who is serving a detail appointment as K-12 Science Education and Outreach Coordinator. Six NIEHS scientists volunteered their time to make presentations related to the workshop theme, “Cancer and Cell Biology.”
In her opening remarks, NCABR Director of Programs Regina Williams welcomed attendees and described resources available through her organization’s website. She also acknowledged the importance of NIEHS science education outreach efforts.
“We are very grateful to the NIEHS for hosting us and partnering with us to bring this workshop to you,” she said. “It is free to you, but it’s not a free workshop. It’s funded by the generous support of NIEHS and it’s supported by the time and efforts given by the [NIEHS] volunteers.”
Learning to use the NIH curriculum guide
Following an introduction to resources available through several NIEHS programs, by Industrial Hygienist Sharon Beard, participants spent their morning in hands-on training on the use of the newly revised NIH Curriculum Supplement and online resources, presented by Program Administrator Mike Humble, Ph.D. The supplement contains five modules — The Faces of Cancer, Cancer and the Cell Cycle, Cancer as a Multistep Process, Evaluating Claims About Cancer, and Acting on Information About Cancer.
Humble, a former high school teacher, led the educators through student activities, and showed some of the videos and animations available as part of the NIH Curriculum Supplement. His quick wit kept his audience engaged, as he went over the sobering messages about cancer, such as “Cancer is a single disease [process] and a hundred diseases [of different tissues and with different treatments and prognoses].”
Cancer and cell biology research at NIEHS
The afternoon sessions of the workshop featured presentations about ongoing research at NIEHS by Veterinary Medicine Section Chief Terry Blankenship-Paris, D.V.M.; Molecular and Genetic Epidemiology Group postdoctoral fellows Ashley Godfrey, Ph.D., and Sara Harlid, Ph.D.; and Cell Adhesion Group staff scientist John Roberts, Ph.D.
Blankenship-Paris started off the afternoon with her presentation on “Human Use of Animals in Environmental Research.” After a short introduction, she led workshop participants on a tour of the Comparative Medicine Branch facilities.
Godfrey and Harlid examined two research questions currently being examined by their group — “Can microRNAs Predict Breast Cancer?” and “Can Early Exposure to DES Reprogram Women’s DNA?” For his part, Roberts explored strategies for preventing the spread of cancers throughout the body with his presentation on “How Cancer Cells Metastasize (and what can we do about it)?” As they explained, the answers to these questions can help further the NIEHS mission of preventing disease in the first place, by reducing exposures and controlling disease progression so that treatments are more likely to save or extend lives.
By completing the workshop, the teachers receive credit toward their continuing education requirements and certification.
Take-home impressions of a day at NIEHS
Although the focus of NCABR is the teacher currently working in the secondary school science classroom, the workshops also attract former teachers getting ready to re-enter active teaching, teacher trainers, environmental and sustainability advocates, and representatives of community groups.
One such attendee at the “Cancer and Cell Biology” workshop was 69-year-old Evelyn Lynge, a retired geologist and substitute teacher who serves as vice president of the Onslow County (N.C.) Council for Women. Lynge’s group is concerned with the quality of education in Onslow County, as well as the quality of life there.
Lynge said the workshop addressed her concerns as an educator and a citizen interested in environmental health. Onslow County, like much of Eastern N.C., has poorer educational outcomes than more affluent parts of the state. It also faces the lingering effects of contaminated drinking water at its U.S. Marine Corps base, which contained known and suspected carcinogens for more than three decades, and of mold from flooding triggered by storms in April 2012.
“I loved the presentations,” said Lynge, who plans to present what she learned to others in Onslow County trying to improve science, technology, engineering, and math education there, including the county commissioner who sits on her board. “I’d also like to get more information about mold [part of Beard’s presentation], because of my own exposure at home.”
As workshop evaluations indicate, Lynge spoke for many participants when she concluded, “I thank the NCABR and NIEHS for sponsoring this [wonderful] workshop and giving me the chance to attend.”