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Lifelong Love of Learning

Authored By: 
Vanilla Macias-Rodriguez and Linli Chin, science teachers

The Beekman Science Department attended a professional development workshop at Rockefeller University this week. The gorgeous East Side campus boasts 82 research labs and 200 graduate students. It is also home to the RockEdu Science Outreach program. In addition to providing a wealth of science information and activities on their website, the RockEdu program hosts teacher professional development, lab experiences for students during the school year, weekend and summer months and a Science Cafe on the third Friday of every month where attending students can hear a scientist present their latest findings, ask questions, and network with other science enthusiasts.

The workshop we attended was titled “The Biochemistry of an Egg Sandwich.” The goal of the workshop was to learn new ways to teach tough concepts like biochemistry by relating the information to the macromolecules you’d find in an egg sandwich. Proteins found in eggs and cheese, lipids found in mayo and avocado, and carbohydrates found in bread were all on the menu, so to speak, for the workshop’s lecture and lab activities. We really enjoyed this innovative workshop where we got to isolate proteins and do thin layer chromatography, cook eggs with acid, observe the action of amylase, detect proteins with ninhydrin, and experiment with Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP).

How did you find out about the workshop?
Vanilla: I usually attend workshops hosted by the Natural History Museum, HHMI (Howard Hughes Medical Institute), STANYS (Science Teachers Association of New York State), or NSTA (National Science Teachers Association). I was not aware of the RockEdu Science Outreach program and all it offers, but I’m sure glad Linli found it and invited me to be her team teacher.

Linli: As Vanilla mentioned, she usually has her finger on the pulse when it comes to educator workshops and professional development (PD) opportunities and is always generous with sharing that information with the faculty. This time, I had the opportunity to return the favor to invite her as my teacher partner when I learned about RockEdu's science outreach programs through Rockefeller University's website and newsletter, which regularly sends out information about science-centered seminars, workshops and talks that they host for teachers, students, and science enthusiasts at their beautiful sprawling campus.

What did you do to prepare for the workshop?
Vanilla: I am a huge nerd, so I was actually really stressed that I had not completed the suggested reading until the morning of the workshop. The website was easy to navigate and gave a short and in-depth overview of each of the macromolecules. Most of the information was content I teach in my Biology class, but there was some advanced material. It was nice to get a bit of a refresher on those more complex concepts and I plan to add them to my lectures next year.

Linli: There were emails sent from the team at RockEdu which shared information about what we should know going into the workshop. Their dedicated website for this workshop was broken down into 4 core parts – Know, Show, Explore, Relate – which has great resources for teachers to introduce everyday science into their classrooms. Since my focus is more on Physics and Math during the school year, it was great to have the resources handy to review and reinforce the macromolecules section before attending the workshop.

What did you expect to learn?

Linli: I was excited to learn new ways to incorporate technology and relatable science in real life into my classroom. The elective course I offer at Beekman, Science A to M - a topic-by-topic science course – has a unit on Human Body Systems where this workshop and its information would work seamlessly into the curriculum.
Vanilla: I am always in the market for hands-on lab activities and demos, new tech, and phenomenal images and concepts that can be used to hook students and “trick” them into learning by stimulating their nucleus accumbens, or part of the brain important for motivation, pleasure, and addiction. I find that if students are curious about a topic, can relate to it, or just think it’s cool, they’re more likely to stay focused through the unit.

What did you learn?
Linli: My main takeaway was that the food we consume is never binary; everything we consume has part carbohydrate, protein, fats, and DNA in various proportions. When we think of flour, we think carbs.  We don’t really see it as a source of fat or protein or DNA, but it’s all in there! I got to see this in action when we performed thin layer chromatography, an experiment that uses solvents to encourage lipid migration on the food samples from an egg sandwich, and saw the separation of the different types of lipids such as phospholipids, triglycerides, and fatty acids in the food samples.

Vanilla: I learned that I need to be a little more understanding with my students when they get distracted, make small mistakes, or are tempted to conduct unauthorized experiments in the laboratory setting. I did find myself distracted from time to time because I was at this workshop with my friend. I left the top off of a tube of iodine and spilled it all over the bench and my lab protocols, and I encouraged Linli to just add more acid to see what would happen during one of the activities.

What activities or ideas are you bringing back to the classroom?
Linli: The activity that I would love to bring back to my classroom involves denaturing the protein in egg whites using acids and then reversing its effect using bases. I loved this activity because it demonstrates the ability of proteins to change their shape which results in a change in its function. The process of adding the acids when denaturing the protein makes them uncurl and, when bases are added, it makes them revert to their original shape and curl back up again.

Vanilla: The unit on macromolecules is definitely going to be renamed “The Egg Sandwich Unit,” and we’ll start with a simple inquiry lab about the action of amylase. When I cover photosynthesis and do chromatography, I plan to do an extension and discuss my thin layer chromatography results. I will add the activity Cooking Eggs with Acid to the upcoming Acids and Bases lab in Chemistry and link it back to the biological concept of denaturation of proteins. In my Forensic Science class, I plan to design and incorporate a lab, demo, or activity which will demonstrate how amino acid residues in fingerprints are detected using ninhydrin.

What was the highlight of the workshop?
Linli: The highlight for me was when I got to perform some “unauthorized” experiments through the addition of acids (in excess) to Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP), which glows neon green when seen under blue wavelength using yellow tinted goggles. As we added acid to the GFP, it lost its luminescence. However, this process should be reversible through the addition of a base. When we were not getting the results we had anticipated, I managed to coerce Vanilla to join me in adding varying amounts of acid and base to the GFP sample to get it back to its glowing self!

Vanilla: Lunch! Ironically, they did not serve us egg sandwiches for lunch. This wasn’t my favorite part because of the food, but because of the opportunity to talk with the presenters and other attendees about our experimental results, how the activities can be modified for the classroom, and available opportunities for continuing education. Other discussion topics included an explanation of how new cholesterol drugs which are currently in clinical trials work, the questionable benefit of vitamin supplements, and how the body processes nutritive and non-nutritive sugars. I also loved the discussion that included more “adult” applications. I’m excited to boast to the sommeliers in my life, my brother and my neighbor, my knowledge about the science behind the amylase reaction with tannins in red wine and how it affects the “mouth feel” of a wine.

Would you attend another RockEdu workshop?
Vanilla: Absolutely! It was informative and interesting, well planned, and a fun way to spend a day.

Linli: Agreed!

Our Science Department is working hard to bring new experiences, information, and inspiration to our students. One of The Beekman School’s goals is to ensure our graduates are not only prepared for college, but also instilled with a “lifelong love of learning.” Developmental psychology research proposes that one of the best ways to teach is to model the behavior you want a student to imitate. Attending professional development sessions like those offered by RockEdu Science Outreach and other organizations is just one of the ways our Science Department is working toward modeling behavior that could help our students get excited about science and be encouraged to never stop learning.