DNA. Enzymes. Genomes: these are complex concepts that Sehome High School teacher Susan Auld is working to make accessible to all science students.
Auld spent five days last summer learning about the science and ethics of genome editing, bringing back a wealth of knowledge, hands-on models and curriculum to enrich her forensics, neuroscience and anatomy classes.
Auld, a 21-year veteran teacher and Sehome alumna, wants to provide access to high-level science classes for all students. This drive for accessibility and equity motivated Auld to apply for the grant-funded Wisconsin summer workshop, hosted by the Center for BioMolecular Modeling at the Milwaukee School of Engineering and was funded by a Science Education Partnership Award grant.
The workshop focused on practical and tactile models, employing puzzle pieces, craft foam, 3-dimensional shapes and magnets to model the scientific processes of intricate molecules like DNA.
“There’s a lot of kids who struggle to understand concepts that they can’t visualize,” Auld said.
Science textbooks often resort to simplified illustrations or dense text explanations to convey concepts, and traditional science teaching methods can lean toward lecture.
Models, Auld said, instead provide visual access to higher-level concepts and lend themselves to teaching methods beyond lecture, bringing concepts like genetic diseases to life. Visible, tactile learning helps students make connections between biology, chemistry and physics.
For example, students can use models to see how diseases like cystic fibrosis or sickle cell anemia result from proteins that are the wrong shape to do their job.
Once students understand the science behind genetic diseases, Auld said, they can also expand their understanding of the ethics around genetic engineering and other bioethics topics.
“You can’t understand the ethics piece unless you understand the science behind it,” Auld said.
Auld will be using the 3-D models in all of her classes to supplement her core curriculum, including her Forensics class, now in its second year.
While most people think of Forensics as the study of fingerprinting, hair samples, and bite marks, Auld notes that modern forensics centers around DNA evidence and biotechnology.
Auld will also continue her own learning on this subject all year long, keeping up with her workshop colleagues through reflections and online updates. Next summer, she’ll continue her studies at University of California, Berkeley. In addition to the day-to-day impact on her classroom, she hopes to present her work to colleagues at local and national conferences.