MU instructs teachers on science of DNA

Missouri teachers can
take advantage of weekend workshops
Friday, February 20, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 9:44 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

Leigh Fleck decided to go back to college for a day to help her middle school students learn more about DNA and new research.

Fleck, a science teacher at New Franklin Middle School, was part of a group of four teachers who participated in the first of a series of six workshops organized by the MU Plant Genomics Research Experience for Teachers Program.

The free workshops are an opportunity to update curricula, deepen personal interest and help teachers stimulate their students by making studying more fun.

Fleck has already tried out what she learned and passed her enthusiasm on to her students.

“I lectured about the DNA structure and explained how it applies to the embryo,” she said. “I focused on how each of us receives its genetic baggage half from the father and half from the mother. We also did some DNA extraction from roots, and the kids just loved this hands-on experiment.”

Fleck said she found the initial workshop stimulating on both a personal and a professional level and is planning on participating in a second workshop.

In particular, she said it helped her get reacquainted with some material she hadn’t had time to revise lately.

“The textbooks are often full of errors, and the hectic daily routine in contrast with the advances in the research don’t help teachers stay updated,” she said. “I warn my students and children when they have to write some papers for school — always double-check the data and the information, since most times it is already old by the time you get to read it.”

Henry North, a science teacher at Belle High School, was thrilled by the seminar, too. He found out about it through a brochure.

“I received a lot of information, material and good hints about how to apply it to my teaching,” he said. “I used the material for lectures and did some simple DNA extraction with the students.”

North said his students loved the techniques he learned. “My students were really enthusiastic, everything went very well, and they just wanted to do more,” he said.

Workshops span variety of topics and depth levels

Outreach coordinator Susan Melia-Hancock said that the program “tried to organize accessible workshops for all levels of interests, from teachers with very strong scientific backgrounds to teachers who, especially in smaller schools, have to teach everything from biology to chemistry, environmental science and other subjects not connected to genomics as well.”

The workshops have been designed to cover a wide selection of topics. The first focused on a simple approach to DNA science. Other workshops will cover Mendelian genetics and plant growth, the genome, computational biology, biotechnology and transgenics.

“We decided to provide not only subjects which can be of general understanding, but we focused also on workshops that contain more cutting-edge topics for teachers with a more solid background and in-depth interest,” Melia-Hancock said.

Renewable grant funds program

The National Science Foundation funded the project through a one-year grant received this fall.

The funds are designed go towards improving science teachers’ curricula.

“This grant is renewable, and we are hoping to develop it even further to organize two-day workshops that have expanded laboratories and materials,” Melia-Hancock said.

Applications for the second workshop have doubled, and the goal of each session is to have at least 10 participants but no more than 20.

“We try to keep the number of participants to a maximum of 20 because the workshops focus on a hands-on experience,” Melia-Hancock said.

Participating teachers are also eligible to receive science kits to use in the classroom and can earn credit though the university.

The workshops are held on weekends in either St. Louis or Columbia.

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