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By Eric Weld   Date: 1/9/09

Smith Students Will Learn by Teaching at Local School

Though Smith College students will be the instructors next week in a collaborative program between the college and Northampton High School (NHS), they will also be learning first-hand all that teaching science entails.

Ten Smith students will conduct classes for 150 ninth-grade biology students at the high school as interns in a partnership between the college’s Center for Molecular Biology (CMB) and the local school.

Students work with an array of high-tech equipment in Christine White-Ziegler's biology lab.

As with teaching of any subject, they will exercise a spectrum of pedagogical skills. But as teachers of molecular biology, they will also learn how to employ a range of technological tools and machinery while imparting the intricacies of this fast-advancing field.

“This internship is a great opportunity for our Smith undergraduates to explore teaching and see if it might be a future career for them,” said Christine White-Ziegler, associate professor of biological sciences, who is supervising the internship program. “The interns will be involved in all aspects of teaching and prepping the labs, giving lectures, leading activities and providing one-on-one help to students.”

The interns will lead a three-day experiment in which the NHS students will isolate their own DNA and demonstrate genetic differences that determine their ability to taste a bitter substance—a method popularized by Robert Merritt, professor of biological sciences at Smith.
The NHS students will conduct the experiment in their high school classrooms for two days, then visit Smith on Friday, Jan. 16, where they will complete the experiment and tour the college’s Life Science Centers: the CMB, the Center for Microscopy (CMI) and the Center for Proteomics (CFP).

“We are excited that we can enrich the curriculum for the NHS students with these cutting-edge molecular biology techniques,” said White-Ziegler. “Their visit to Smith will expose them to the scientific instrumentation that allows detailed visualization of the molecular and cellular structures involved in their sense of taste.”

NHS students will have the opportunity to visualize the chemical structure of the molecules that give taste to food using the mass spectrometer in the CFP, the ultrastructure of tongue tissue using the electron and fluorescent microscopes in the CMI, and the techniques for sequencing DNA in the CMB.

Smith interns will be supervised and assisted in their teaching by White-Ziegler, as well as the instrumentation and techniques instructors in the Life Sciences Centers: Wen Li in the CMB; Mona Kulp, CFP; and Judith Wopereis, CMI.

In addition to teaching, the interns will have opportunities to interact with the high school teachers about their career paths, and observe their classes, noted White-Ziegler.

The collaborative program is being funded by a grant to Smith from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute that supports the college’s science outreach and the Life Sciences Centers.



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