Outreach Program Public School/IS 499, Flushing, NY
Our educational component aims to expose young students on how becoming a 21st century plant biologist demands expertise in multiple integrated disciplines. We have developed a program to provide 3rd-5th grade students with the unique experience of being a plant geneticist, a transformation biologist, and a computer scientist. Twice each year, we visit a public elementary school in Queens, NY and give demonstrations on the history of plant domestication and modern breeding. We incorporate plant props to illustrate how plants make flowers and reproduce, and we end with a question and answer session that allows the students to learn how we became scientists. Throughout, we strive to highlight the collaborative nature of successful science. We then ask the students to prepare a 1-page write-up as a metric of what was learned and to instill the importance of writing in science. From these “abstracts” we award several selected students and their parents to become “CSHL Scientists for a Day.”
Post-docs and students funded through the project serve as mentors during the visit to CSHL when students and parents work together to perform fundamental molecular biology experiments such as extracting DNA, performing PCR, and completing a restriction enzyme digestion to visualize DNA polymorphisms. We visit the greenhouse to learn about several Solanaceae species, including transgenic plants to explain the value of genetic engineering in crop improvement. To continue the program back in school, we have developed a “Virtual Greenhouse” to provide online updates geared to our students that allow them to further explore what modern agriculture and plant breeding entails.