LAPEER, Michigan — Besides safety goggles, the only thing that’s not optional in Erin Lane’s classroom these days is an inquisitive mind. Students are active, engaged and occasionally grossed out.
“You won’t find a double helix,” Lane told a classroom full of students busy isolating samples of banana DNA earlier this month. “You’ll probably find something that looks more like snot.”
That snot-like substance is nothing to sneeze at, of course. Hidden inside are the building blocks of all life, an array of information so vast it’s difficult for the human mind to conceive it.
But, it’s worth a try.
Lane, a veteran, albeit youthful, science teacher is the lead instructor for Lapeer Community Schools’ latest innovative option for students: Biomedical Sciences.
Thanks to a generous grant from the McLaren Lapeer Region Foundation, high school students in the District have the opportunity to prepare for college and career with courses ranging from human medicine to microbiology. The courses are provided by Project Lead The Way (PLTW), the leading provider of rigorous and innovative science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education in the United States.
PLTW provides inquiry-based curriculum, rich in collaboration and experimentation. This is not the District’s first foray into PLTW. Just around the corner from Lane’s classroom at the District’s Center for Innovation (CFI), is the home of our middle level PLTW program, jam-packed with enquiring minds that want to know pretty much everything.
Lane spent a big part of her summer preparing for the introductory course, Principles of Biomedical Sciences, including teacher training from PLTW.
“The way (PLTW) presents the material really helped me to see the big picture of the course, to start the school year confident and with a clear direction of where the class should go,” she said. “The curriculum is so well written and planned out that one lesson flows seamlessly into the next. The students are fully engaged.”
Engagement started on day one this school year with a version of CSI: Lapeer. Students learned how principles embedded in Biomedical Sciences are used everyday to solve crimes, including the death of the fictional character Anna Garcia. Students actually had a volunteer, comfortable with the macabre, serve as a Garcia’s corpse for the hour, lying in a pool of fake blood surrounded by marked evidence.
“I think the students are going to respond well any time they are up out of their seats on the first day of school,” Lane said. “They walked into a crime scene and I said let’s forget about the syllabus for a while and investigate what’s happened. Some students who like routine and structure warm up a little more slowly to this type of learning, but I think it got them talking and excited for something different.”
LHS senior Skylar Elliott is one of those excited students. She said the first day was a departure from the norm, and she loved it.
“It was really cool to come in the first day and actually have something to do, something to accomplish,” said Skylar, whose career goal is to be a surgical nurse. “We work through this case the whole year.”
Students use the untimely demise of Ms. Garcia to build knowledge about genetics, body systems, infectious disease and lab techniques – disciplines with far-reaching applications in the broader medical field. By the end of the school year, students will have figured out the mystery surrounding her death.
Preparing for the jobs of the future
Tayah Fantin, a bright-eyed brunette who spends most of her day at the Zemmer Campus, hops on a transfer bus every school day for a half-mile slow roll to CFI. For her, it’s a short trip that’s long on opportunity.
Tayah is a freshman, but one might never know it. She has designs on being a pediatrician one day, so plans to ride this program all the way to graduation. She works alongside upperclassmen every day, tackling high-level rigor much earlier than many of her peers.
“Students (like Tayah) are able to participate in labs that are normally held off for upper level science classes, and they are doing this as freshmen,” Lane said. “They are also learning skills that would look good on a resume, if they were applying for jobs in the medical field.”
Skylar will be one of those applicants in the near future. She recognizes the importance of experience with intensive research and lab time, no matter what field of study she ultimately chooses. For her, it’s a great opportunity.
“Our teacher is really involved in the class; she always wants us to experiment ourselves,” she said. “It’s less about lecturing and taking notes; it’s more about research and hands-on experimentation.
“The first thing I told my mom was how cool it was.”
Most of the students in Lane’s class are there by choice, not necessity. Ask any teacher and they will tell you: choice is a powerful thing. There’s an investment, a built-in perseverance and greater desire to succeed.
“It means a lot to me that most of these students are taking this class as an elective,” Lane said. “Because of this, I work extra hard to make it fun and meaningful to them.”
The partnership that made this program possible represents the District’s ongoing investment in innovation, an endeavor that brings together bedrock community organizations entrusted with the care of body and mind.
“We are excited to support this program,” said Tim Turkelson, Board Chair, McLaren Lapeer Region Foundation. “The investment we are making over the next three years will not only prepare students to be successful in the biosciences, but will help meet the demanding healthcare needs of our community.”
Full implementation of the program is set for the 2018-19 school year, with placements for as many as 180 students. The prospects of future internships for students at McLaren are also being discussed.
“We are proud to be a district focused on opportunities for students, and to have the support of the community,” said LCS Superintendent Matt Wandrie. “Innovation is at the heart of what we do; it’s in our DNA.”