Symposium, Hands-On Workshops Promote Biotechnology Teaching

Symposium, Hands-On Workshops Promote Biotechnology Teaching

Northwestern, Baxter International Inc., Lindblom Academy sponsor summer teacher workshops

OSEP symposium

A series of workshops designed to promote the teaching of biotechnology in Chicago Public Schools kicked off with a June 19 symposium featuring pioneering Northwestern University cancer researcher Teresa K. Woodruff. The event also connected educators to the partners sponsoring the workshops — Northwestern’s Office of STEM Education Partnerships (OSEP), Baxter International Inc. global healthcare company, and the Biotechnology Center of Excellence (BCoE) at Lindblom Math and Science Academy. 

“Enhancing science education and exciting educators about teaching biotechnology are major goals for this summer’s teacher professional development workshops in biotechnology,” said Kemi Jona of the School of Education and Social Policy. Jona is director of OSEP, the Northwestern University office that promotes STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education.

At the biotechnology launch symposium on June 19, Chicago science teachers heard from Woodruff, a Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine professor of obstetrics and gynecology who pioneered the field of oncofertility, which seeks to preserve the fertility of cancer patients. The work of Woodruff’s lab provides a real-life context for the NUBIO high school biotechnology curriculum developed by OSEP. 

Woodruff emphasized the need for high school students to “leave school liking math and science so they will be able to do something with science for their community.” She sees oncofertility as a good topic for middle school and high school science, since students get excited about real-world applications. “Having a narrative contextualizes what students learn in science,” said Woodruff. “It’s a radical rethinking of the way we teach.”

“Baxter is committed to advancing Chicago teacher and student experiences in biotechnology education by providing professional development opportunities for teachers,” said Baxter International Inc. chief science and innovation officer Norbert G. Riedel. “Working with Northwestern University Biology Investigations in Oncofertility is a tremendous opportunity to collaborate and share scientific expertise enabling both teachers and students to learn biotechnology through real-world, hands-on activities.” 

Biotechnology Symposium Workshops

Throughout the day, teachers gained content knowledge and lab skills through seminars and hands-on activities with scientists and educational leaders from OSEP, Baxter International and the BCoE. Northwestern postdoctoral fellow Kai Orton and postdoctoral research associate Mark Albert led a session on bioinformatics, a new field linking molecular biology, mathematics and information technology. In addition, Baxter executives Sidney Smith and Stephen Smith discussed drug development as a broad-based STEM process, using examples of therapies using stem cells.

Afternoon sessions engaged teachers in hands-on lab activities to take to their classrooms. OSEP project coordinator Kristen Perkins and Naperville teacher Becky Swionek challenged teachers with a lab to discover the best way to encapsulate ovarian follicles. Hortense Brice of BCoE led a session on translating bioinformatics to the classroom.

Baxter scientist Barrett Rabinow closed the day by talking with teachers about the scientific process of research and innovation, using the example of developing a cancer drug. He noted that the type of problem-solving used by industry teams can excite kids about science.

Attendees at the symposium, which showcased an innovative partnership to benefit education, included representatives from the offices of Illinois Senators Mark Kirk and Dick Durbin and Congressman Robert Dold. “This is a new model of how schools, industry and higher education can work together to improve education for all of our students. … We’re at the beginning of a very exciting journey together.” Jona said during his welcome remarks.

The following workshops on teaching biotechnology continue this summer through the BCoE and OSEP, in partnership with Baxter International Inc.:

  • Survey of Biotechnology Professional Development Workshop, June 25-29: Middle and high school science teachers will learn about ways to incorporate biotechnology in their classrooms. This weeklong workshop features hands-on labs and discussions with Baxter research scientists.
  • NUBIO (Northwestern University Biology Investigations in Oncofertility) Professional Development Workshop, July 9-12: High school biology, anatomy, biotech and health science teachers will learn about NUBIO curriculum modules based on oncofertility research in the Woodruff lab at Northwestern University.
  • Research Lab Experiences, July 16-27: Teachers will spend two weeks in leading-edge biotechnology laboratories at Northwestern University and tour Baxter’s facilities. 

“Closing the gap between real science and school science is at the heart of the series of teacher workshops we’ve planned for June and July,” said OSEP director Jona. “Teachers will gain access to cutting-edge scientific research and practice in biotechnology as well as the best practices of STEM teaching and learning.” 

By Marilyn Sherman
Last Modified: 3/7/17