From Elements to Ecosystems
The MU ShowMe Nature GK-12 program aims to enhance teaching, communications and leadership capacity for PhD students in the life sciences at MU. Through collaboration with the Columbia Public School District, we will place graduate fellows in elementary school classrooms where they will work alongside mentoring teachers to learn best teaching practices while engaging students in the scientific research process as a way of learning.
This NSF funded GK-12 effort integrates across two major programs of graduate study, the Interdisciplinary Plant Group (IPG) and the Conservation Biology Program (CBP). Each year, pairs of IPG and CBP students will work together to develop lesson plans for their classrooms that span multiple scales of biological organization, from molecule to ecosystem. Although students who do not belong to these two interdisciplinary programs are welcome to apply for MU GK-12 fellowships, preference will be given to IPG and CBP members.
The ShowMe Nature GK-12 is a two-year commitment. Following a year as a Fellow in the program each graduate student awarded a fellowship is expected to participate during the following year as a peer mentor. We understand that this may not be possible in all cases and will work with Fellows to tailor peer-mentoring activities to their individual research and professional goals.
--- ANNOUNCING ROUND 1 OF NSF MU GK-12 FELLOWSHIPS ---
We anticipate having eight fellowships available for PhD students at the University of Missouri in 2011-2012. All MU graduate students are welcome to apply; however, preference will be given to IPG and CBP members. To apply, complete and submit APPLICATION materials by March 25, 2011 to Dr. Candi Galen.
Partnership for Research and Education in Plants
The Partnership for Research and Education in Plants (PREP) is a relationship forged between teachers, their students, and plant research scientists. Within the context of this partnership a teacher and his/her students are provided both wild-type and genetically altered Arabidopsis thaliana by partner research scientists. This is a unique relationship in which all three partners benefit. Through the plant science researchers, the teachers have access to wild-type and mutant Arabidopsis seeds, students have a unique opportunity to conduct real-world research in the classroom and report their findings to their partner plant research scientist with the potential of providing insight into gene function by reviewing student data.
Thus, PREP is an educational opportunity through which high school biology teachers are able to provide learning opportunities in which students design and conduct their own research. The research scientists are more than just sources of wild type and mutant seeds; they and their labs are also sources of expertise. Lab managers and graduate research assistants provide teachers with guidance on topics from experimental design to data collection. PREP teachers have unique opportunities to create learning experiences for their students through which to teach concepts in genetics, biotechnology, genomics, scientific inquiry, and the nature of science. Students are able to learn through critical thinking, problem solving, and scientific inquiry. Ultimately, students are able to learn about scientific concepts by doing and applying rather than simply being told. Because research scientist partners are able to benefit from student research and gain insight into gene function, students have a clear purpose for their investigations.
The PREP program has been very successful with a well over twenty teachers engaged in research with Arabidopsis thaliana. Thus, there is strong interest in the program among biology teachers in Missouri schools.
PREP will also offer professional development opportunities for PREP teachers to enhance their understanding of student driven research, experimental design, data collection, and data interpretation. Professional development opportunities will be in the form of three one day workshops conducted in the fall, the spring, and summer. The goal is to create a professional learning community of teachers focused on teaching biology through investigation, problem solving, and critical thinking.
There are also other opportunities for teachers and students to further develop their understanding of science and scientific research. The Exploring Life Sciences at MU which takes place on the first day of Life Sciences Week is such an opportunity. This conference is open to students and their teachers from across Missouri. The theme of the Exploring Life Sciences Conference this year is ‘From DNA to Protein’. During the morning session, there will be presentations from MU research scientists discussing the role of DNA in protein function and structure, applications for DNA science in the development of transgenic organisms, and the benefits to society resulting from research into transgenic organisms. During the afternoon session, PREP students will have an opportunity to share their research experiences with attending students, teachers, and PREP research scientists. The goal of this program is to offer students an opportunity to present their work in a professional setting and receive feedback from scientists.
Why do PREP in the classroom?
Recent advances in biotechnology will dramatically change the manner in which we live our lives in the 21st century. Your students will be making key decisions as adults regarding how we treat disease, grow crops, practice medicine, and industry. PREP prepares students for the future by making them part of it during the all important high school years.
Why study Arabidopsis thaliana?
This humble little plant may not have applications in food but it has genetic and physical attributes that make it an ideal subject of study.
- It has a small genome
- The genome has been sequenced
- The plants are small and easy to grow in classrooms
- Plants will actually go from seed to seed within two months resulting in investigations that require less instructional time and classroom space
- The plant is a model organism studied by scientists around the world
How does one discover the function of a plant gene?
Scientists have developed several ways to disable plant genes for research. Plants with a disabled gene are known as mutants. Mutant plants are grown along wild-type plants in identical conditions while researchers observe the plants for physical or physiological differences as they grow. A difference in the growth pattern of the mutant plant can provide indications for gene function. For instance, if the mutant plants are consistently shorter than the wild-type plants, the gene may be involved in determining plant height.
What if there are no apparent differences between the wild-type and mutant plants?
This is more often the case than not and is true of all the mutant lines that the students use in PREP. Scientists have already grown these mutant plants under standard growth conditions. However, the scientists do not have the time or space to grow the plants under a wide range of differences. This is where the student research component comes into play.
Plants have been on earth for about 500 million years and during that time they have had to adapt to an ever changing terrestrial environment. Unlike animals, plants are not able to move when the environment no longer meets its needs.
Not all genes that the plant has inherited are turned on at any one time. Under different environmental conditions different genes are expressed. Changes in the environment may result in the selective expression of plant genes to respond to environmental stimuli such as moisture, light, soil type, etc.