Zebrafish to Go

Teacher Joni Brailsford has four breeding pairs of zebrafish in her AP biology classroom at Blue Springs South High School. Her students watch each pair, noting mating behavior and eagerly awaiting the outcome. If all goes well, the students will capture the eggs and then watch the transparent embryos develop through the lens of a microscope.

“Kids love to watch real life happen,” says Brailsford, who prefers this method of teaching versus lectures alone.

Teachers like to watch real life happen as well. Brailsford was introduced to her first batch of zebrafish embryos during the 2010 Maps in Medicine (MiM) Summer Institute at the University of Missouri.

During the weeklong session, 20 high school teachers peered at zebrafish embryos through a microscope and used Play-Doh to build embryo models. They amplified DNA and infected bacterial cultures with the “blue flu,” a model of influenza virus. The exercises introduced teachers to the main themes of MiM: mapping cell fate and mapping the spread and transmission of influenza. Teachers spent the week becoming familiar with each of the theme’s multiple elements. They also met teachers already skilled in teaching the themes. MiM provides resources, equipment, and reagents that the teachers take back to their classrooms.

“The curriculum can be used at varying levels. Teachers can use the entry-level sections or they can add layers for an AP course,” says Susan Ailor, a program leader in the HHMI-supported program. And it doesn’t have to be limited to science classes. Teachers can use the materials to discuss the economic impact of flu, she adds.

Ninfa Matiase, a biology teacher at Normandy High School, has helped develop and revise the MiM curriculum, and she uses the units in her classroom. The 2010 Institute inspired her to design a lesson on how disease spreads. Matiase will tell students that a dead bird was found near the school. Students will then use Google Maps to look at their own community to see how avian influenza could spread across town.

Matiase has already used the blue flu unit to teach how viruses work. In that lesson, students infect bacterial cultures with the harmless virus. Then, they do a protein assay to see if the bacteria are infected. Next, they amplify DNA and examine the results for particular genetic patterns. The exercise gives her students a taste of bench science. “This is what I like best,” she says. “Giving students an experience they would otherwise not have in high school.”

-- Jeanne Erdmann
HHMI Bulletin, November 2010

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