Georgia school offers biotech pathways
Atomic absorption spectrometers. Electroporators. Nano-injectors. Micro-manipulators.
These high-tech tools are not normally found in a high school science class.
Yet, in Georgia, students in Paulding County High School’s biotechnology career pathway program use these and other advanced equipment to analyze chemical elements, transform organisms and much more as part of their project-based research classes.
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What also makes high-tech, personalized learning unique for nearly 35 juniors and seniors in the magnet program is the limited amount of screen time on computers and mobile devices, says Marc Pedersen, a former wildlife biologist who is the lead science teacher for the high school’s Academy of Science, Research and Medicine.
About 60 ninth-graders accepted into the magnet program take three introductory classes in health care and biotechnology. They then transition to independent studies modeled after the graduate-level research programs in higher ed.
Students are not only expected to complete an individual research project, but they must also participate in a science fair and submit their projects to the peer-reviewed Journal of Emerging Investigators.
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Because research requires funding, Pedersen also teaches students how to apply for grants and how to reach out to professional scientists for supply donations.
Most projects focus on health, agriculture and environmental science. One student, for example, studied the environmental damage done to the genes of coral in a saltwater tank.
Other students researched better detection of osteoarthritis in boxer dogs, more cost-efficient ways of producing biofuels and reducing the effects of pesticide on honey bees.
All research takes place in the high school lab, but students have collaborated—via Skype and other platforms—with research scientists at Kennesaw State University, Sanford Health and other institutions.
“One university shipped us a strain of bacteria that would have cost us several hundred dollars but instead was offered for free, and with guidance on how to use the strains” Pedersen says.