Moffat County students take science to the next level
December 12, 2014
Craig — Moffat County students delved into cutting-edge science lessons Thursday as part of the University of Colorado Boulder's Science Discovery STEM workshop.
Eighty students from fourth through seventh grades converged on Colorado Northwestern Community College for a full day of exploring advanced science, technology, engineering and math — or STEM — including learning about how scientists will soon be able to fabricate a human liver using a 3-D printer.
The event was run by three representatives from CU Boulder — including one biomedical engineer and two educators — who travel all over the state hosting one-day workshops for students.
"We want to create the innovation generation," said Eric Carpenter, an education designer with CU Science Discovery.
It's not about memorizing any more, he explained. "The thinking is the important part."
Students rotated through three module in the labs at CNCC, each set up to teach hands-on lessons on different aspects of the life sciences.
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One room was dedicated to ecosystems and biodiversity, in which students built their own ecosystems from scratch, learning about the complex relationships that keep an ecosystem alive.
Another room investigated human body systems and the structures and processes that form the building blocks for all living things, including cells, diffusion and respiration.
In this module, students were given a live demonstration of 3-D printing technology. Carpenter printed a plastic bone from biopolymers as the kids watched on, using it to explain the engineering challenges scientists face as they work towards printing a human liver.
"We're really close," Carpenter told the kids. "I think by the time you guys get to CU, we'll be 3-D printing a liver. You can be part of this. Someday you can be the engineer that can print me a new eye."
The third module explored genetics and heredity. Students moved through different stations, such as simulating DNA sampling and DNA fingerprinting using gel electrophoresis.
One station allowed students to learn about their own genes by tracing observable, inheritable genetic traits — such as attached versus unattached earlobes, bent versus straight pinky fingers, or differences in taste — to specific genes.
Fifth-grader David Rodriguez happened to be among the majority of people who had the gene allowing him to taste certain compounds, which he revealed with a grimace after placing a tiny square of paper on his tongue.
"Horrible, not good at all," Rodriguez said of the taste. "And the flavor is still on my tongue."
The students weren't the only ones to benefit from the event. Teachers who participated received professional development credit. They will also receive access to lesson plans and resources to take the curriculum into their own classrooms.
"Things are progressing and it's hard to keep up sometimes," fifth-grade teacher Amy Tague said. "The kids get to see what's coming. This gets them thinking and excited about technology."
The program was brought to Moffat County by the Northwest Colorado Board of Cooperative Educational Services and Zack Allen, Director of Educator Effectiveness for Moffat County School District.
CU Science Discovery is an outreach program designed to boost young students’ interest in science. The workshop is part of a larger effort to improve access to STEM education in rural communities.
"This is our effort to help solve that gap problem, so rural kids don't get left behind," Carpenter said. "Just because they don't get to go to the museums doesn't mean they should miss out on cutting-edge science. They experience things here they wouldn't have gotten a chance to do otherwise."