Williams Students Teach Biology in Elementary School Classes
LANESBOROUGH, Mass. — This month, fourth-graders in Lanesborough and Williamstown have traded in Four Square for Punnett squares.
Genetics is just one of the lessons being taught by the nationally-recognized science program BioEyes, which returned this winter to Williamstown Elementary School and made its first stop at Lanesborough Elementary.
The program, developed at the University of Pennsylvania, came to North Berkshire in 2010 through the efforts of Williams College neuroscience professor Martha Marvin.
She was back in the elementary school classrooms this week, helping her Williams students who taught the program to 9- and 10-year-olds, who studied the development of zebrafish, learning, among other things, how genetic variation produces some fish who — counter to their name — do not develop stripes.
"It's an opportunity for them to work with the scientific method, which I'm teaching them," Lanesborough fourth-grade teacher Sean MacDonald said. "It's a chance to develop the skills of being skeptical, questioning and logical and having the tools to find good, logical answers."
MacDonald also was excited to have his children given exposure to Marvin and her students from the college.
"It provides the kids with a short-term but meaningful relationship," he said.
BioEyes lasts one week and takes advantage of the college's Winter Study period to bring Marvin's students into the community.
At Lanesborough, one Williams student has been making daily trips throughout the month for a variety of classroom experiences. But transportation is an issue. The elementary school in Williamstown is a block from the campus; the daily trips to Lanesborough have involved coordination with the BRTA bus schedule.
Marvin has taken the BioEyes program to Brayton and Greylock elementary schools in North Adams in the past. This was the first year she has been able to bring it to Lanesborough.
According to the program's website, BioEyes has reached more than 80,000 schoolchildren around the world. Given prolific reproductive capacity and short development span of a zebrafish, the weeklong program allows kids to see all stages of development; high-powered microscopes provided by Williams allow them to observe the fish in the embryonic and larval stages.
They take notes, make pictures of what they see under the glass and get a taste of sophisticated topics like alleles, dominant vs. recessive traits and genotypes.
MacDonald said BioEyes is a true interdisciplinary experience, expanding the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) idea to the newer acronym STEAM, which adds the liberal arts to the mix
"Science, math, reading and writing are all interconnected," he said. "Kids love science. They love the hands-on part, the fun part of science. But there's a whole other part that needs to be explored. And that's the part that's even more exciting because that's where you think about your results and make discoveries."
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