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N. C. Association for Biomedical Research Holds Teacher Workshop

By Robin Arnette
April 2007

a pipette, three tubes and a holder
The equipment used in the hands-on "DNA Magic" demonstration was simple, but effective - a pipette, three tubes and a holder. With the right reagents, DNA in fish sperm became visible. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

two area teachers
Two area teachers try the DNA precipitation exercise for themselves. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Gerard Roman
NIEHS Science Education Committee members, such as EEO Specialist Gerard Roman, also participated in the exercise - having fun with the task, but also keeping a look out for people who might need a little extra attention. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

The North Carolina Association for Biomedical Research (NCABR) held its "Rx for Science Literacy AgOdyssey" professional development workshop on February 28 in Rodbell Auditorium 101-A&B. The free, one-day workshop was open to K-12 science teachers and administrators from public, private and federal schools in North Carolina. The "Rx for Science Literacy" series is sponsored by Carolinas HealthCare System, Duke University Medical Center, East Carolina University, GlaxoSmithKline, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine and NIEHS.

AgOdyssey-a curriculum developed by Bowling Green State University (BGSU) with a grant from NIEHS - is a problem-based learning adventure designed to let students investigate how the environmental health impact of factory farms compares to that of small, family farms. Jennifer Zoffel, Program Manager at BGSU's Project EXCITE, provided an overview of the AgOdyssey curriculum.

During the school year, NCABR holds approximately 12 workshops at member research facilities throughout the state. Participants get to tour laboratories, learn about the latest scientific research and take home a free curriculum and bioscience education materials for use in the classroom. North Carolina-certified teachers also receive one unit of certification renewal credit.

David A. Schwartz, M.D., director of NIEHS, and Liam O'Fallon, of the Community Outreach and Engagement Program at NIEHS, gave opening remarks. Schwartz thanked the teachers for the important role they play in the education of the state's young people and said they had an extremely important role in training the next generation.

Derek Howles, Program Manager at NCABR, spoke on behalf of the organization in the absence of NCABR President Karen Hoffman and explained what the organization does. "We are a state-wide, non-profit, member-supported bioscience education organization. Our goal is to promote understanding of scientific research throughout the state," Howles said. "We target the public, media, bioscience community and most importantly, K-12 teachers and students." Marian Johnson-Thompson, Ph.D., director of Education and Biomedical Research Development at NIEHS and a former board member of NCABR, helped organize the AgOdyssey workshop.

After lunch Diane Forsyth, D.V.M., current NCABR board member and chief of the Comparative Medicine Branch (CMB) at NIEHS, and Mary Grant, D.V.M., also of CMB, took participants on a tour of the animal facility at the Institute. Leslie Brickhouse, a sixth grade science teacher at Leesville Road Middle School in Wake County, said the animal tour was her favorite part of the day. "I liked it because it was something that you don't get to see everyday," she said. "Normally, when you go to a workshop you sit in a room and get information, but here, we were able to actually see what they were talking about."

Participants also got to precipitate DNA during the DNA Magic demonstration, led by Lauranell Burch, Ph.D., of NIEHS and Molly Vallant of the Environmental Toxicology Program at NIEHS. Burch said that it was important for teachers to have a hands-on activity at the workshop. "I think everyone has an understanding of what DNA is and how important it is, but it's really hard to relate to DNA because it is a microscopic substance," she commented. "We are going to precipitate enough DNA, so that the workshop participants can actually see it."

During the last hour of the workshop, Freya Kamel, Ph.D., of NIEHS discussed Parkinson's disease and pesticide exposure, and NCABR's Connie McElroy-Bacon conducted the workshop evaluation.

By the end of the day, the teachers had not only learned a lot, but felt it was a day well spent. Providing an enjoyable experience may be why the "Rx for Science Literacy" series is so successful. According to Howles, it is the largest and most popular workshop series that NCABR offers. Sangena Shirma, a high school biology teacher at Provisions Academy Charter School in Lee County, has attended six NCABR workshops and plans to attend others in the future. "The multiple resources I get are amazing, but my favorite today was the problem-solving strategy work," she said. "It was a wonderful experience."

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