Friday, August 5, 2011

Zebrafish Make Good Teachers

Lincoln K-8 Choice School in Rochester, MN joined researches from the Mayo Clinic to bring science into the classroom in a new way that excited students and piqued their interest in real research that can be applied to everyday life.

Dr. Stephen Ekker, a zebrafish researcher from the Mayo Clinic worked with the educators and students at Lincoln K-8 to develop class plans for the students to learn about zebrafish by working closely with them in the classroom. Students learned how to raise zebrafish and how scientists set up experiments to learn about everything from genetics, to how babies were affected when exposed to ETOH (alcohol) before birth. Even children as young as eight years old used microscopes to examine the problems of lower birth weights, lower heart rates and deformities associated with the exposure.

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Zebrafish are a good research model because they share 75% of their genetic code with humans. Their reproduction cycle is extremely short, the equipment needed to study them is fairly basic, and students can study the fish from embryos to adulthood on a compressed time schedule. This low power Differential Interference Contrast (DIC) image was taken on Nikon equipment and shows blood flow in the tail of the zebrafish.

Older students visited Dr. Ekker's lab and got a better understanding of what research looks like in one of the most prestigious institutions in the world.

The students started identifying themselves as scientists and test scores went up! The number of eighth graders registering for Honors Biology went from 40% in 2006 to 86% in 2009 and the majority of the class achieved a rating of "exceeds expectations" in the Minnesota science standards. Overall science scores improved and resulted in the highest science scores in the state. Mr. Jim Sonju from Lincoln K-8 was named Principal of the year, and several teachers were recognized for outstanding work on the zebrafish project.

The goal of the collaboration between Mayo Clinic and Lincoln K-8 was to show that educators and scientists can work together to not only dramatically improve science proficiency in public education, but also to make science exciting and relevant.

If your school has an inspiring science collaboration story, send us an email and we may feature it!