From October 3-5, scientists from the Johns Hopkins Center for Biotechnology Education, MdBio, Vaxin, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, NIH Chemical Genomics Center and J Craig Venter Institute took over seventh grade science classes at Ridgeview and Lakelands Park Middle Schools to help prepare students for their upcoming Frontiers in Science and Medicine Day field trip.
During the “takeover,” scientists first showed students how to use a micropipette and then provided guidance as the students worked on an activity that would help them fine tune their micropipetting skills. The purpose of the program was to teach the students the skills they would need for Frontiers in Science and Medicine Day on October 28.
“The challenge asked students to learn to use a micropipette, follow a set of instructions, make observations and confirm results through calculation,” explained Kevin McGowan, PhD, from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute-Janelia Farm Research Campus, who volunteered to be a guest instructor at Ridgeview. “This pretty much sounds like an everyday experience for most scientists!”
McGowan said he was pleased by the students’ responses to the experience.
“They were really intent on following the protocol and writing down measurements and observations, which are critical components for the scientific process,” he said. “The experiment definitely tapped into the students’ inquisitive natures. Some continued to ask ‘what if’ after they finished the official experiment and began to mix the liquids in different proportions to see the result.”
“My group thought that pipetting was a fun and interesting way to measure volume,” said Brittany Mills, a seventh grader from Lakelands Park Middle School.
“I thoroughly enjoyed working with the micropipettes during the lab,” added Chris Usery, a fellow Lakelands Park seventh grader.
“I was impressed by the mix of approaches used by the students. Some worked methodically and carefully, while others worked fast without concern for the consequences of making a mistake,” McGowan added. “There’s usually more than one way to solve a problem and there’s a place for both types of thinkers in the fields of science and medicine. My lasting impression is that this type of hands-on lab experience helps the students develop a sense for experimentation, calculation and observation; all of which are essential components of the discovery process.”
“It was great to be a part of this exceptional program,” said Bill Enright, CEO of Vaxin and one of the volunteer guest instructors for the program. “The kids really seemed to get something out of the experience and they enjoyed themselves. Something a little bit out of the ordinary which may spark an interest that might not otherwise have been there…science can be fun!”
This is the third year for Frontiers in Science and Medicine Day, a partnership project that this year involves 19 local universities, research centers, biotechnology companies, and a hospital. During the day, students meet physicians, researchers, and scientists while participating in hands-on, interactive demonstrations of the work being done by the science and medical organizations in the Shady Grove Life Sciences Center. Each student also has the opportunity to spend time inside an organization’s working laboratory to see first-hand the cutting-edge research happening right in our community. The goal of the day is to spur students’ interest in science and, in the long run, to help create a pipeline of scientists and researchers.
“What first attracted me to science — and what continues to hold my interest — is the prospect of continual discovery through experimentation,” McGowan said. “The micropipette challenge brought this concept in a very real sense into the middle school classroom.”
Companies participating in Frontiers this year include:
Stay tuned for more coverage of this year’s Frontiers in Science and Medicine Day!
Photos by David Chisham.