Funding to assist with the "In Search of the Cancer Gene" biotechnology project

Educator Name: Jodie Garb
School Name: Laconia High School


The ninth and tenth grade biology program at Laconia High School is undergoing revision for the 2012-2013 school year to increase the focus on the exploding biotechnology revolution. The curriculum revision is in response to the needs of our students to acquire the knowledge and skills that will serve them in life and career. Broadly defined, biotechnology is the study and use of living systems and organisms to develop or make useful products in the agriculture, food production, and medical domains. In particular, biotechnology involves the study and manipulation of DNA. The goal of our project, “In Search of the Cancer Gene” will involve 160 ninth and tenth grade biology students including a class of 23 high school special education students in an exciting and provocative study of human DNA. Specifically, through inquiry-based, student-driven, hands on collaborative learning, students will study the genes and DNA that is related to different kinds of cancer and how such study can lead to finding a cure for cancer. So, in addition to the increased focus on biotechnology, teacher lectures will be replaced by laboratory sessions where students gain skills using cutting-edge supplies and equipment and work in collaboration to ask and answer questions about cancer and genetics and DNA that have meaning to them. A broader goal is for our students to gain both the knowledge and the skills related to biotechnology to increase their scientific literacy and their competitiveness for college and careers. Without the funding for this project, the laboratory time would be severely limited. Students would instead spend their time in lectures and with computer-based simulations rather than in the actual practice and application of science as it is done in the real world. They would lose the opportunity to unleash their imaginations and drive their own learning.

The project enhances classroom instruction because—in addition to the revised curriculum content that will address the biotechnology revolution—there is a 21st century instructional emphasis that has changed from lecture and passive learning to a focus on the active engagement of students in coordinating their knowledge and skills similar to what they will encounter in college and in the workplace. Students will generate the questions that interest them in the context of the course and design experiments and collect and analyze data that they will use to predict and explain the answers to their questions regarding live organisms. In this project students will engage in creative research and motivating hands-on activities to study DNA models and typing.

They will:
  1. Use state-of-the-art techniques for DNA isolation and analysis
  2. Learn the science behind the equipment and become skilled in operating cutting-edge laboratory equipment (e.g. they will learn about and apply the principles of electrophoresis to separate elements of biological samples for analysis)
  3. Practice analyzing, comparing, and critiquing research results
  4. Explore different presentation modes for sharing the results of their work with each other and the community.
The students will benefit from this project in several ways. First, they will be introduced to new biotechnology concepts and the problem solving and laboratory tools and techniques needed to ask and answer pressing questions of concern to society. They will gain experience in collaboration and with the research and development skills actually used in college and the workplace. They will practice science through data collection and analysis and learn how to effectively present their findings. Their scientific literacy will increase as they learn how to apply their knowledge and skills to real-world problems and become knowledgeable and practiced consumers of science.

We have chosen cancer and the study of DNA for this project because in 2008 three children in our community, all who lived within 12 miles of each other were diagnosed with stage 4 neuroblastoma cancer. Our community has been rocked ever since the three children passed away. In addition, there have recently been parents, teachers, and community members diagnosed with breast, prostate, and skin cancer. As a result, student interest in learning more about the genetics of cancer and what is takes to find a cure is high. It is also important to note that the nearby Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee houses the first research laboratory to use individualized DNA sequencing which is critical to understanding the genetics of cancer and its cure. Therefore, when we combine the local high interest in cancer with the related research that is conducted in our own backyard, we believe that there is increased student motivation to learn as much as they can about DNA research and its application. We expect that at least some of the students will continue their studies in an advanced biotechnology program particularly as they become aware of the connection between what they will learn in our project and the research conducted at the Medical College of Wisconsin.

We will measure outcomes in several ways:
  1. Students will take teacher developed pre-tests and post-tests at the beginning and end of the project to assess knowledge and skill changes and to assess their interest in and motivation for taking science now and in the future.
  2. Students will take short quizzes two or three times a week to insure that knowledge and skill gains are on target and to allow us to make program adjustments as necessary.
  3. On a daily basis we will use the My Big Campus Website which is an online safe, social learning platform that all students, teachers, and parents can access to track student work. Daily questions will be posted to get the students thinking about the issues. Students will also post the results of their experiments.
  4. Students will keep project journals to keep track of their laboratory activities and their reflections on their research and on the collaborative process.
  5. Students will create mini-posters and they will prepare abstracts of their work with words, pictures, drawings, and other visual aids that will outline their experiments and their learning. The two teachers will develop scoring rubrics for the posters that will document the level of individual student learning.
  6. We will hold a mini-conference at the end of the program and invite parents and members of the community so that the students can share their work. We will have mini-conference evaluation forms to get conference feedback so that we can make improvements for the future.