Symposium Inspires Teachers to Take Cutting-Edge Biotechnology to K-12 Classrooms

Symposium Inspires Teachers to Take Cutting-Edge Biotechnology to K-12 Classrooms

Biotechnology symposium

A recent symposium at Northwestern showed Chicago teachers how biotechnology can play a starring role in their classrooms. High school and middle school science teachers discovered how the world-class science of Northwestern University researchers translates into an exciting real-world subject for the young scientists in their classes.

A record-breaking 98 teachers participated in the 2014 Biotechnology Symposium on May 12 at the Allen Center, entitled “Bringing Biotech from the Bench to the K-12 Classroom.” The daylong event featured hands-on activities, tours, talks and demonstrations.

The symposium connected teachers with the sponsoring partners: Northwestern’s Office of STEM Education Partnerships (OSEP), Baxter International Inc., and Lindblom Math and Science Academy. These partners collaborate on the Biotechnology Center of Excellence as a hub for high school and middle school teacher professional development, curriculum, and resources in biotechnology.

Biotechnology symposium

"We have two main goals for teachers who come to the symposium. First, we want them to learn about some of the big questions that the scientific community is wrestling with right now, for their own professional development and personal scientific curiosity. Second, we want them to try out hands-on biotech activities that have been translated from that research for middle school and high school classes. We give them all the materials they need to take those activities right back to their students to get them excited about scientific research," says Emily Ferrin, the teacher development specialist for OSEP. 

Teachers at the symposium heard from keynote speaker Ramille Shah, assistant professor in McCormick School of Engineering, whose specialty is developing 3-D printable inks that can be used in medical applications. In addition, representatives from Baxter gave scientific talks, and Northwestern graduate students Jessica Perez and Jennifer Schoborg from professor Michael Jewett's lab in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering spoke about their research.

Workshops gave the teachers a chance to take part in hands-on activities on topics including bioengineering and proteomics. Campus tours in collaboration with the Chemistry of Life Processes Institute showed teachers examples of current research in Northwestern’s biotechnology laboratories.   

To provide concrete examples from classroom experience, teachers Mark Prosise and Amy Elliott from Lakes Community High School gave practical guidelines for teaching biotechnology. They have succeeded with Northwestern’s NUBIO curriculum based on the oncofertility research of professor Teresa Woodruff’s lab in Feinberg School of Medicine, which has pioneered efforts to preserve the fertility of cancer patients.

Summer workshops
This summer, a series of workshops on teaching biotechnology will help educators bridge the gap between real science and school science:

  • Survey of Biotechnology (Middle School) - June 18-20
  • Survey of Biotechnology (High School) - June 23-27
  • NUBIO Workshop - July 14-18
  • Research Experience for Teachers - July 21-August 1
  • Outbreak! Saving the World One Egg at a Time - August 11-13

Educators who are interested in learning more about resources for biotechnology teaching may visit the OSEP website or contact Ferrin at

By Marilyn Sherman
Last Modified: 7/10/14