Not only did Bellino and Harris craft a yearlong curriculum--one that spurs students to make their own research questions, experiment and read scientific literature--they also secured funding to build a molecular lab in their Manhattan school.
Many schools send students into professional science labs, but the extra time and resources it requires means those students are often from private or top-tier public schools, Harris said.
Instead, he and Bellino wondered what would happed if they could build a lab within the school and bring the scientists to the students in a safe environment, where students could work every day at their own pace.
DNA barcoding, a relatively recent innovation, uses a fragment of DNA from a standard part of the genome to identify species. The DNA clip is short enough to be sequenced quickly, yet long enough to tease out variations among species. Barcoding is an apt term, since the process is similar to scanning a UPC code at the grocery. It distinguishes your pears from your potato chips, and your salt and vinegar potato chips from your barbeque ones.
From the beginning, the Barcoding Project was designed to be "very inquiry based and driven by student interest," Bellino said. Placing onus on the students--what do you want to study?--gave them ownership of the science. "A lot of responsibility was on them and their ability to ask the questions and come up with the design."
Students explored biodiversity in Manhattan parks. One became passionate about beetles, collecting them, learning their taxonomy. Another installed beehives on the school's roof to study colony collapse disorder. She monitored the bees, searched for viruses in their RNA, and received a full scholarship to continue her work at Cornell University.
All of the student research is uploaded onto The Barcode of Life Data Systems, an online
|Contact: Jessica Arriens|
National Science Foundation