Harvard University - Department of Molecular & Cellular Biology

HIGH SCHOOL TEACHERS CREATE MULTIMEDIA TEACHING TOOLS

by Tara Bennett and Susan Johnson

September 17th, 2004


From left to right: Trang Nguyen of Indiana University, Bundo Onwueme of Wisconsin University, Tam Nguyen of Louisiana State University and teacher Brad Cranston
The MCB-HHMI Outreach Program, cosponsored by the department and the Howard Hughes Medical Institutes, held its second annual summer session for biology teachers in mid-July.  Eighteen dynamic high school teachers from Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Maine immersed themselves in a two-week workshop that focused on immunology and the use of multimedia in the classroom.  The mission of the outreach session was two-fold:  to enable teachers to become conversant in the rapidly changing field of immunology and to help them generate educational tools around the topic of immunology.  All of these teacher-generated resources will be available to a wide audience via the MCB Outreach Program website.During the first week, teachers listened to lectures on aspects of the innate and adaptive immune systems, including toll-like receptors, pathogen-host responses, and HIV.  Talks by Dr. Donald Harn, Dr. Michael Starnbach, and Dr. Laurie Glimcher of Harvard Medical School, and Dr. Jack Strominger and Dr. Robert Lue of MCB were received with great enthusiasm.  Ultimately, all lectures will be available for classroom use via the MCB Outreach Program website.  In addition, the teachers were introduced to storyboarding for animations and began to draft immunology animations targeted at their students.  Workshops in new educational technologies from DiSistoTech and PASCO Scientific, educational grant writing, and a tour of the Harvard Museum of Natural History rounded out their week.  The second week included a tour of the Strominger Lab and an introduction to fluorescence-activated cell sorting (FACS), a tour of the Bauer Center for Genomics Research, a presentation by Mason Hedberg, the Intel 2004 Science Fair winner, and an introduction to on-line bioinformatics resources.  

The teachers took advantage of long working sessions to develop their individual immunology curriculum projects in the Science Center Computer Lab. They were each charged with the task of creating a lesson utilizing multimedia that could be integrated into an existing curriculum unit.  Immunology is a particularly difficult topic to address in the high school classroom.  Certainly, the complexity of the topic is problematic when teaching a group of fifteen-year-old students. Equally challenging, however, is the fact that immunology and physiology are largely ignored by state and national curriculum standards.  In an increasingly rigid biology curriculum, finding time to explore new subject matter can be difficult.  The MCB-HHMI teachers confronted this challenge with enthusiasm.  On the last day of the session, organizers were treated to a series of impressive presentations that incorporated web quests, web-page design, immunology jeopardy games, and lessons that utilized multiple links to rich web resources. The teachers successfully distilled what was most important for their students to learn and injected new life into standard curricula by fitting their lessons into existing units on cell structure and function, genetics, and evolution.

When they were not working on individual projects, MCB-HHMI summer teachers worked in their groups, brainstorming about their immunology animations.  With guidance from animators, Matt Bohan and Dale Muzzey, each group storyboarded an animation with a particular level of student in mind.  Certainly, deciding what to exclude from their storyboards to maintain a narrow focus was the most daunting challenge.  The four draft animations elucidate the basics of the immune response, and the teachers are looking forward to seeing the fruits of their labor completed this fall.  All animations and immunology curriculum projects will be showcased on the MCB Outreach Program website for use by a broad educational audience.

One of the highlights of the second week was the inclusion of HHMI Exceptional Research Opportunities (EXROP) students in the program. The HHMI EXROP Program provides disadvantaged undergraduates from all over the United States with research experiences in the labs of HHMI investigators and HHMI professors. The 11 college sophomores participating in EXROP at Harvard were invited to spend time with the teachers as they worked on their projects and animations.  Co-mingling the two HHMI groups seemed natural, in part because the students were only two years out of high school and many were involved immunology-related research.  The increased intensity of laughter and dialog in the computer lab that accompanied the students’ arrival was indicative of the synergy between the two groups.  According to the teachers, the EXROP students’ input was invaluable in both enlivening and clarifying their projects. 

The MCB-HHMI Outreach Program was fortunate to host such a dedicated and talented group of high school teachers this summer.  Certainly, their efforts will provide the MCB Outreach Program with a solid foundation upon which to build a library of educational resources on topics in biology. Outreach Coordinator Tara Bennett, Curriculum Consultant Susan Johnson, and Teaching Laboratories Manager Jack Howard look forward to continuing their working relationship with these teachers.  All of the teachers have been invited to attend the 2004 fall session of the MCB-HHMI Outreach Program, which will continue to focus on immunology and its integration into high school level classroom and laboratory activities.

 

Two Teachers Talk About Their Participation

RAY BROADHEAD
Brooks School, North Andover, Massachusetts

This program has been inspiring and humbling.  As an experienced teacher, my years of direct research are too far back in my past.  These two weeks have given me the opportunity to see first hand the intricate nature of molecular and cellular biology research.  I am in awe of the creativity, the dedication, and the intricacy of 21st-century biology research.

The chief benefit is that I feel reborn as a teacher.  Concepts that were merely words in a book now have life and much more reality-based meaning.  The opportunity to hear experts in the fields, the opportunity to see working labs, and the opportunity to collaborate with other motivated teachers has been truly a wonderful experience.  The magical lecturing style of Dr. Lue has motivated me to sign up for his class in the extension school this fall.

Through this workshop, I have been exposed to many tremendous websites that will enhance my teaching, and I now have many interesting anecdotes to use with my students.  I also feel that I have a much better grasp of this interesting yet challenging topic.

I also expect to present my experiences of this summer to my colleagues in the biology department in the fall.  I hope that my infectious enthusiasm of this program will rub off on my colleagues and help to motivate them as well.

I think that using multimedia in my classroom will help to motivate students’ interest in science.  I also hope to be able to bring my students to Harvard at some point this year, so that they can see first hand what "real science" is like.  Secondary students often do not have any idea about what scientific research is all about.

Using multimedia will also make it easier to teach difficult topics. Well-conceived diagrams and animations generally help students of all learning styles grasp challenging concepts like immunology.  So many of us are "visual learners," and this program truly has helped me see the effectiveness of multimedia.  Fortunately, we have some of the tools to perform some biotechnology at our school.  In addition to 8 computers in the lab, we have equipment for electrophoresis and PCR.  We also have some of the Vernier probes to perform experiments interfaced with the computers.

SYLVIA COOLEY
South Hadley High School, South Hadley, Massachusetts

I feel so fortunate to have had an opportunity to participate.  Teachers need to know that this kind of workshop is available and to understand how much it can invigorate their teaching.  A place like Harvard offers opportunities that are not available anywhere else. 

To have a bright, motivated, engaged group of teachers plan an animation in detail—working as a group—is difficult.  We have to slow ourselves down, compromise on our ideas, discuss every detail, and then create a storyboard that spells out our plan, step by step. This has been very time consuming, but by discussing the details, we continued to learn more about immunology.  Finally, when we got to see our animation come to life, we were so excited.  It worked!  It was effective. 

My individual project has taken me longer than I thought it would, but I have learned a lot in the process.  Creating a web-quest page, which on the surface looks simple, actually takes a lot of planning.  Even though I have my own website for my teaching, and have created quite a few web-based activities in the past, this web-quest project is more involved than similar internet work I have done before.  A web quest also forces you, as a teacher, to allow the students to create their own end product.  Rather than direct or control their learning, you have to make the task clear, create a clear rubric, provide pertinent links, and then let the student go—free to create their unique end product. 

Having the HHMI-EXROP undergraduate students collaborate or advise us on our projects was a great idea.  Going over our projects with these students gave me new ideas, a new perspective.  I made significant changes in my individual project after discussing it with two students.  I think it is a better project because of their advice. They are young enough to remember high school and their own experience, yet old enough and now experienced in immunology to give us great advice.

I will go back to my classroom this fall with energy and determination to write grants (thanks to the advice I got from this program) to try and purchase some of the tools we learned about.  The hand-held microscopes especially would open whole new worlds for my students.  I can picture the excitement in my classroom if I have these.  To have that kind of technology at your fingertips will take some of the fear away that some kids have when it comes to microscope use. 

I want to bring my Science Club students over for a field trip to the Harvard Peabody Museum—to see the glass flowers, to visit Harvard and Cambridge.  This program has helped me to feel like Harvard can be my place, that I can use these resources and share them with my students.