Secondary Students Break Into Genetics Research, Teaching Evolution with Models, Digital Resources Poised to Reshape Science Learning, and more in Spring @Concord
It’s an exciting time for science. Knowledge in long-standing fields such as biology is increasing at exponential rates. Significant new discoveries are being unearthed. At the same time, traditional science disciplines are merging into entirely new and still evolving entities. Nanoscience. Bioinformatics. Molecular electronics. Chemical biology. This terminology describes ideas and combinations so diverse that it is often difficult for outsiders to imagine what they encompass. It can be equally difficult for scientists in these fields to keep tabs on the changes from month to month.
Two student interns are bent intently over computer monitors. In a nearby building, tens of thousands of mice scurry in cages, each labeled with their specific genetic strain. Years of painstaking laboratory breeding have developed each strain’s unique characteristics. Some mice always become obese. Some are bald. Others have extra large ears. One kind even glows bright green under ultraviolet light. These famous mice are the reason students are here, studying genetics. Suddenly, one student gasps in surprise. Pointing to the image on her companion’s screen, she exclaims, “How did you get yours to breathe fire?”
In 2005 only a quarter of the U.S. adult population subscribed to the idea that modern-day organisms evolved through “natural causes.” Some people, to be sure, believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible, but for many more it is simply not conceivable that the extraordinary complexity and interdependence we observe in living things could be anything other than the result of intentional design. To most of us it is quite literally incredible that random change, accompanied by variance in reproductive fitness ascribable to inherited traits, can produce the same outcome without intentionality and with no external intervention.
Thousands of different chemical reactions are taking place in your body as you read this sentence. Ions and molecules are colliding, diffusing, and reacting at a frenetic pace. In other words, molecules and their interactions are the very stuff of biology and scientists are learning more about these biomolecular reactions every day. Their research fuels the biotechnology industry and guides the search for a cure for cancer and many other diseases. Because of its importance in modern research and industry, biochemistry is now taught in biology courses, including high school biology.
Two important education trends are beginning to converge and the Concord Consortium’s Universal Design in Science Education is at the intersection. Our project is one of the first integrated science education programs to embody Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles. Electronic curricula and UDL principles are both of growing importance to schools, where computers are more common than ever and the student population is increasingly diverse.
Science should be taught as a verb as well as a noun. Performing science is a compelling and effective way to learn. It is through the process of exploration, creation, and invention that theories are applied, ideas are tested, and knowledge is synthesized and advanced.
I was delighted recently to discover two books and a play about a brilliant Enlightenment scientist whose importance has only recently been realized: Emilie Du Châtelet. She lived in France and produced her most important work between 1735 and 1749. She was a polymath, probably one of the brightest thinkers of her time. She made many original contributions to understanding heat and light, but she has been ignored and unknown until recently.
The latest news from the Concord Consortium in winter 2009: Electronic Circuits and Online Performance Assessments, Over 200,000 Molecular Workbench Downloads, and Global Lab Goes To Russia.