WHS Biology Teacher, Meghan Dooley Aims to Bring Cutting Edge, Hands-On Science Labs into the Classroom

Special to the Transcript

Local science teachers, including Winthrop High School’s Meghan Dooley, learned how to edit genes using CRISPR during a free professional development workshops by Acera Education Innovation (AceraEI). The goal is for participants to bring this curriculum to their own public school classrooms.

Short for “clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats” CRISPR is a family of DNA sequences found within the genomes of organisms such as bacteria. The technique is considered to be at the leading edge of scientific research.

The teachers went through the first of a two-day intensive workshop on October 18 Michael Hirsch, AceraEI’s Life Sciences Specialist and Curriculum Lead. Hirsch’s curriculum included conducting hands-on experiments using a CRISPR-based molecular biology assay and detecting bacterial transformation. 

The workshops are funded through recent $50,000 grants from both the Amgen Foundation and Bristol-Myers Squibb. In addition to the training, teachers have access to ongoing support to assist schools in creating science labs that teach 21st century skills, engaging students in cutting-edge biology and fostering the next generation of innovators and scientists. 

Winthrop High School biology teacher Meghan Dooley sees a benefit in introducing the unit as early as ninth grade. “It is easy to scaffold the units to be able to build skills at a lower level, so that when students reach AP or upper level biology electives they are able to focus more on the content versus the techniques,” she said.  

AceraEI trained its first group of high school biology teachers in gene editing earlier this year, and participating teachers began applying the curriculum in their own classrooms with students. As a result of this training, more than 3,000 public school students will soon apply CRISPR to edit a gene in their high school science classrooms. 

“All students should be able to link classroom learning to real-world innovations; the CRISPR toolkit is the first step in our plan to collaborate with schools to reinvent high school biology,” said Courtney Dickinson, founder and director of Acera. “Working with breakthrough technology that is in the news, and engaging in deep discussions to understand these innovations, including how they work and why they matter, makes science labs meaningful and enable students to see a pathway for themselves as future scientists and innovators.” 

AceraEI exists to transform STEM education in public schools and develop the next generation of scientists, innovators, and leaders. AceraEI works with public school districts to develop a plan for transforming STEM education. Founded in 2010, Acera’s lab school is a nonprofit STEM school serving students in Grades K-8. The school and its enrichment programs function as an educational innovation hub to invent new curricula with evidence-based pedagogy, founded with the mission to help catalyze change in public education. Acera pedagogy engages students to learn habits of mind like systems thinking, problem-solving, emotional intelligence and collaboration skills within projects aligns with each student’s capacities and interests, in an inquiry-based approach. For more information on Acera and AceraEI, visit www.aceraschool.org and follow us on Twitter @AceraEI. 

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