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After a workshop, teachers can borrow from the CIBT lending library—a real boon, considering equipment for the DNA lab, for example, can run about $10,000. Another popular high school lab is a protein gel kit for analyzing and comparing protein bands according to their molecular weights, then establishing evolutionary relatedness among different groups. There are kits designed specifically for elementary teachers, too, like a "Bat Trunk" for learning nocturnal animals' habits and habitats, with interactive learning games, videos, and plenty of cool stuff to pass around: desiccated bat wings and skin, and bat masks and puppets. Teachers can also borrow microscopes and anatomic models.
Tips and Tricks
School visits give Yerky follow-up time with teachers after they return to the classroom. "They can see me present the lab again and take notes on what I do, jot down little tips and tricks that I point out that might not be in the written lab."
Carolyn Wilczynski, a science teacher at Binghamton High School's Regents Academy for at-risk kids in New York, attended her first CIBT summer workshop in 2000, as a rookie teacher. "It gave me a community of teachers that I could interact with all over the state," she says. "And a support system at Cornell. I could borrow equipment that wasn't available at the high school and ask questions." She also learned more about cellular molecular biology. "I had never used a pipettor before," she says. "I had never run DNA gel electrophoresis in any of my college courses."
Each year, Wilcyznski attends follow-up workshops in Ithaca to stay sharp. In the classroom, "I like talking with the kids, but the interaction with my peers is on a different level."
Wilczynski teaches about 60 at-risk students. "They might not otherwise meet a scientist in their lives," she says." Having someone like Yerky come in is really exciting for them. When they figure out the results of their lab—oh, my gosh, the joy! They're running to tell the secretary what they've done. I've taught the accelerated kids, but they're more reserved. They've done a lot of involved experiments already."
Back in Zakarowsky's class, the students finish running their gels. Yerky instructs them to come to the front of the room, one group at a time, to review their findings. "But first you have to disconnect and unplug everything," he instructs, with a wink. "We don't want you to leave with a free perm. Right?"
An all-female group of budding forensic scientists goes first. They've made a few technical mistakes and the output is a "little weak," says Yerky, but strong enough to see some results.
One girl, Barbara, looks crestfallen. "I was disappointed about my DNA—I got some, just not enough," she says. "But I really liked the experiment. I understood everything. And I thought it was all interesting." She wonders aloud whether she and her fellow group members can divide up their gel and take a piece home as a memento. But her chemistry teacher, Brad Lambert, proudly says he first wants to show it to the principal, "so he can see what we're doing."
As Barbara leaves, she says goodbye. "Thank you for everything. Wonderful lab."
"You're welcome," Yerky replies. "Maybe I'll see you at Cornell a couple years from now."
Illustration: VSA Partners