Between Oct. 25 and Nov. 29, the NIEHS Office of Science Education and Diversity (OSED) worked with almost 130 educators in Wake and Durham counties. “We are broadening the scope of our work,” said OSED K-12 Science Education Program Manager Huei-Chen Lao, Ph.D.
OSED Director Ericka Reid, Ph.D., elaborated. “We reach out through partnerships, in response to direct requests, and as part of larger collaborations,” she said.
“The earlier that students understand what environmental public health involves, the more opportunities they have to tailor their later learning to the aspects they are most excited about,” Reid continued. “Our strategic plan goals include enhancing environmental health science teaching at all levels.”
Wake County — Summer STEM immersion follow-up
For the past three years, NIEHS has joined the Wake Ed Partnership SummerSTEM immersion program for teachers in Wake County, which is home to the state capital of Raleigh. The program focuses on the career landscape in local science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) organizations.
Follow-up workshops for SummerSTEM participants were held for middle and high school teachers Nov. 8 and primary teachers Nov. 9. Teresa Pierrie, director of programs at Wake Ed Partnership, and Paul Domenico, director of curriculum enhancement programs from the Wake County Public School System, helped lead the events.
Lao pointed out that the primary teachers were especially impressed with the efficiency and collaborative aspects of the core research facilities, which provide specialized laboratory services to all scientists at the institute.
Secondary teachers asked questions about the scientific process of forming hypotheses, testing them, and going back to the drawing board when they do not pan out. “The teachers noticed how hard it can be to keep trying and finding ways to revise the hypothesis or methods,” Pierrie observed. “They saw that, although an experiment might fail, it’s failing forward.”
Based on the teachers’ experience, Wake County Public School System requested a mini-immersion workshop for principals. On Dec. 5, NIEHS will host 25 principals from the county.
Durham — professional development workshop
On Oct. 25, Lao and others from NIEHS conducted a workshop at Durham’s Hillside High School on a lab protocol called gel electrophoresis. In collaboration with Triangle DIYBio, Lao prepared kits for the teachers that contained the essential ingredients for gel electrophoresis, with an emphasis on safety and low cost.
“At the workshop, teachers watched a gel electrophoresis demonstration of food colors and predicted the course of travel of each color, based on the molecular weight, structure, and charge of the dyes,” Lao explained.
Representatives of NIEHS and Triangle DIYBio also discussed resources available to teachers to enhance their scientific classroom activities.
Raleigh — magnet school partnership
As part of its partnership with Athens Drive High School, a relatively new magnet school in Raleigh, NIEHS welcomed a group of teachers Nov. 29 for a workshop on sickle cell disease.
“Examining sickle cell disease allows integration of biology and math with the social context,” Lao said. “We take teachers through the formation of hypotheses and the scientific method, which requires critical thinking,” she observed.
Lao added that the workshop is carefully aligned with state standards in biology, history, and math, making it easier for Athens Drive teachers to apply their workshop experiences in the classroom.
The theme of sickle cell disease guided presentations on topics such as using CRISPR gene editing technology to develop treatments, presented by Rodolphe Barrangou, Ph.D., from North Carolina State University; genetics of the disease and evolutionary advantages for the gene carrier; societal perspectives; and discussion and development of lesson plans. In addition, this group also learned to use the gel electrophoresis kits, demonstrated by Tom Randall, Ph.D., from Triangle DIYBio.