Professional Development Opportunity Takes it to the Molecular Level

High School science teachers Dr. Melissa Noel and Dr. Leticia Sanchez attended the Molecular Biology Summer Workshop, hosted by New England Biolabs and Smith College. 
The course took place at Smith College in Northampton, MA from July 21 through August 3, 2019.

What did you learn?

This two-week long course covered in-depth DNA cloning, gene expression analysis, DNA sequencing (including NextGen and RNA-seq), genomics, bioinformatics, CRISPR/Cas9, RNA interference, PCR and quantitative PCR, protein expression systems and proteomics. We learned the theory behind the techniques and also got to work hands-on in the lab. We were two of 7 teachers (including one from Phillips Exeter Academy), along with college professors, medical and veterinary doctors, scientists, postdocs, and graduate students. The wide array of backgrounds certainly made the experience richer.

How will you apply the training to your work in the classroom?

Dr. Noel: Some of the labs and techniques have already been incorporated into next year’s CHAI Biology roll out. We will be incorporating some of the techniques we learned into our 9th grade Biology Honors course but we’re also planning on writing advanced courses for the upperclassmen that may run next year or the following, depending on how the approval process goes. In this upper level elective course we are hoping to start with a semester in which we both cover the most basic topics about molecular biology and genetic engineering. In the second semester, we would each teach a section that would apply the techniques but from different perspectives. Since my Ph.D. is in neurobiology, I would present the information and frame the experiments from that standpoint. Dr. Sanchez’s doctorate is in evolutionary biology, and she would like to focus her course on microbiology applications. We are excited to begin work on these courses and provide the students with the latest cutting edge techniques that are being used in academic and industry labs. We are hoping these experiences will enrich our students’ science experience and motivate them to pursue careers in research.

Why is it important for teachers to engage in professional development?

Dr. Noel: It is so important to participate in professional development in order to continue growing. Every year that I’ve been at Campbell Hall, I’ve managed to participate in some form of professional development that has resulted in direct changes in how I teach my classes. I’ve been to the National Science Teachers Association conference where I learned about the latest research in science education. I’ve also participated in the Amgen Biotech Experience (ABE), which is how we first started incorporating molecular biology labs into the 9th grade curriculum. I also participated in a workshop on POGIL (Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning) which taught us how to manage students while they work in small teams to solve an inquiry-based problem. I am so thankful that Campbell Hall is an organization that values Professional Development and supports the teachers that seek to engage in that work.

Dr. Sanchez: I have done all of the same Professional Development activities with Dr. Noel. Technology is always changing and it is so important to continue engaging in Professional Development in our area of expertise so that we can keep our biology courses current and relevant to students.
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