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NIH Record

Biotechnology Infiltrates Science Curriculum

By Sharon Ricks

On the Front Page...
In a biology laboratory 3 miles from Spingarn High School, 10th grader Marvin Bethea watches as a sharp lancet dives into his middle finger, and a drop of blood appears. Under a binocular compound microscope, erythrocytes, leukocytes, and neutrophils emerge 400 times their normal size. Marvin counts the odd doughnut shapes, and with the help of an instructor learns why some cells have a nucleus and others don't.


Marvin is one of more than 4,000 students who have stopped by NIDDK's Discovery Center for Cell and Molecular Biology at Catholic University since it opened in 1993. There they learn about blood, DNA fingerprinting, cancer and metastasis, the immune system and AIDS, chromosomes, food chemistry and the biological activity of drugs. Now NIDDK and the Discovery Center have enlisted 30 teachers to build on this success by spicing up the science curriculum in classrooms across the city.

Spingarn student gets intimate with science.

These science educators, including Marvin's teacher and 29 others from metropolitan area schools who have studied biotechnology at NIH, form the Biotechnology Curriculum Institute (BCI). The group is updating the D.C. biology curriculum to emphasize molecular genetics, genomics, and biotechnology supported by lesson plans, laboratory protocols, resource lists and alternative teaching formats.

"It is imperative that we expose all students to cutting-edge science like these teachers have studied at NIH and similar to what is taught at the Discovery Center," says NIDDK EEO Director Rose Pruitt, who conceived the BCI. "One way to do that is to incorporate biotechnology into the school science curriculum."

Teachers confer at a meeting last December of the Biotechnology Curriculum Institute.

Carolyn Kornegay, a science content specialist in the Office of the Chief Academic Officer for D.C. public schools, says NIDDK has given teachers an opportunity to practice thinking and working like scientists.

Now, she says, it's time to train students to do the same thing. Kornegay says the curriculum is in line with D.C. public school content and performance standards and with national science education standards.

"Biotechnology is the hottest field in science," says Marvin's teacher, John Buchanan, who was in the midst of teaching a lesson on protein synthesis. "Average citizens, not just scientists, will have a greater appreciation for life if they understand it." Buchanan and the other teachers will work on the curriculum on weekends through spring.

NIDDK's Rose Pruitt addresses BCI class.

The BCI is coordinated by Marlena Jones, who also coordinates the programs of the Discovery Center at Catholic University, and Freddie Brown, who coordinates biotechnology training classes for D.C. teachers at NIH. Dr. Roland Nardone, professor emeritus of biology at Catholic University, directs both programs. The updated science curriculum should be completed by June and the supporting materials by December. After approval by school officials, the curriculum may be tested in some classrooms this fall.

"New times call for a new look at how to teach science," says Brown.

"We're trying to demonstrate that if kids do science and are excited about it, they'll remember it," Jones agrees. "And it will help them in whatever career they choose."

Chigozie Ogwuegbu, a senior from Banneker High School who participated in the gene search project of the Discovery Center, is a good example. "Learning about DNA is the best thing that ever happened to me," he says. He is now scoring high marks on his biology tests and plans to graduate from medical school in 2005. If things work out, Marvin and thousands of other students like Chigozie may not be far behind.

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