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Teacher training in STEM fields by IGERT scholars


A goal of University of California Riverside’s Center for Plant Cell Biology Chemical Genomics Interdisciplinary Graduate Research and Training (ChemGen IGERT) program, funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), is to provide PhD candidates the opportunity to share knowledge with others, including K-12 students and their teachers. ChemGen IGERT program trainees actively participated teacher training programs and school activities in 2008.

A required activity for each ChemGen IGERT fellows is the participation in the Copernicus Program Science Summer Institute of the Graduate School of Education of UC Riverside. The Copernicus Program is a Department of Education program that provides continued training in STEM fields for high school science teachers. Each ChemGen IGERT fellow that participates in this program develops a module for a science lesson. Modules prepared in 2008 by ChemGen IGERT students:

(1) Jolene Diedrich (analytical chemist) presented “How Safe Is Your Water?”. This was a hands-on experiment for a chemistry teacher to test for several chemical species that effect water quality. Course participants brought in water samples collected from sources such as lakes or streams or a tap. The lab presented an inexpensive method to included test the samples for several chemical components to determine if a sample was within normal limits. The experiment facilitated discussions on water, water contaminants, and water quality standards.

(2) Theresa Dinh (plant biologist) presented, “The Alphabet Soup of Floral Development: Learning your ABC’s”, a module on the anatomical parts of flowers and the biological basis of their development. In this workshop teachers learned about an elegantly simple biological program that determines the organization of flower parts. They explored the variation in number and location of flower parts by dissection. Teachers also learned how to cross-pollinate flowers in a simple classical plant breeding experiment.

(3) Samer Elkashef (geneticist) provided a module for an Advanced Placement biology classes. The title of his module was “DNA Cloning Techniques”. The instructors learned how to grow and genetically engineer the bacterium E. coli. The workshop covered some of the basic techniques of DNA cloning including bacterial transformation, plasmid DNA isolation, digestion and separation.

(4) Augusta Jamin (plant biologist) showed science teachers a very simple way for students to look at the diversity in cell structure on the outside (epidermal) layer of plants. A very simple method to obtain high quality imprints of the epidermal cell layer, requiring only agarose gel, was presented. This method is fairly easy to perform and can be visualized using light microscopes. This activity included preparation of thin layers of agarose gel on microscope slides as well as visualization of different types of plant epidermal tissues.

(5) Kayla Kaiser (analytical chemist) presented a module entitled, “Fingerprinting Plants by Paper Chromatography”. The teachers were impressed by the simplicity of the experiment and the depth of the lesson. Several fruits and vegetables were sampled by the participants for their pigments. Liquid extracts were spotted onto filter paper, which was put into a developing chamber along with an inexpensive solvent to produce a chromatogram, the separation of chemicals according to their properties. While the chromatograms were developing for 20 minutes, a stimulating discussion regarding separatory science and its role in analytical chemistry was undertaken. The role of molecular structures was emphasized. Participants found that each plant sampled had a distinct “fingerprint” chromatogram, consisting of its pigments and their relative abundances. In a wrap-up question/answer session, alternative analytical approaches for investigating the same problem were presented.

(6) James Kim (fungal biologist) presented a module on the complex life cycle of an important fungus for geneticists entitled, “Life Cycle of Neurospora crassa”. Typically, the mold on bread is Neurospora crassa. James shared samples with varied color and texture of this mold. He described the complex and intriguing life cycle of this organism which participants evaluated using a light microscope.

(7) Melinda Salus (plant biologist) enticed participants with, “Crime Scene Investigation-UCR”. In this activity the trainees were introduced to the science behind crime scene investigation; this included a list of trials in which DNA was an important component in either convicting the guilty or releasing the innocent. The discrepancy between the images of labs on TV shows and the reality of lab work were also highlighted. The various types of evidence that can be collected at the crime scene were discussed, and then methods of DNA amplification and DNA fingerprinting were introduced as key methods to identify guilt or innocence from DNA samples. Participants were shown how to extract DNA from wheat germ in addition to running a Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) and a corresponding gel to view the digested DNA fragments. The exercise provided a more realistic idea of what goes into forensic DNA investigations. To wrap up the module the participants were given a hypothetical crime and the task to use the molecular methods they had learned to obtain DNA evidence.

Address Goals

The University of California Riverside’s Center for Plant Cell Biology Chemical Genomics Interdisciplinary Graduate Research and Training (ChemGen IGERT) program trainees actively participate in mentoring high school students. In 2008/09, several students in the program participated in activities to expand scientific literacy to students in K-12 schools.