CRLS Biology Teachers extend (at 72C) their PCR Experiences

The Life Sciences Outreach (LSO) Program at Harvard University has a unique partnership with the Cambridge Rindge and Latin School. As the school's proximity to Harvard is nothing short of neighboring, LSO is able to host CRLS's entire junior class over two visits to the Science Center Undergraduate teaching laboratory over one academic year. For two days in December and two days in May, over 400 students call the lab their classroom. CRLS utilizes our space, equipment, reagents, and expertise to take their students through the wet lab portion of our mtDNA PCR lab, supported by the Amgen Biotech Experience (ABE) Program. Life Sciences Outreach at Harvard University is the Massachusetts site for ABE, an international program focused on generating enthusiasm about biotechnology amongst high school students.

With 8 CRLS educators acting as visiting partners of the ABE Program, we decided to hold a one-hour professional development institute to equip them with various scientific content tools in order to advance their knowledge and enhance their experience, as well as their students'. Fourth year MCB graduate student, Christina Saak, and I introduced changes to the PCR protocol, methods for teaching micropipetting, as well as foundational science content, such as how the chelating material Chelex works, the importance of Mg2+ in PCR, and the principle of primers in the laboratory. 

We also utilized this time to talk to the 8 teachers about how they could benefit from the greater LSO community. Moving forward, each teacher will have a trained graduate student on hand to help out during the lab experience. The graduate students will be utilized to introduce key skills, such as pipetting, answer more lab-specific scientific questions, and, arguably more importantly, to introduce themselves and their diverse academic and career trajectories to the participating high school students. 

Having short professional development workshops like these allows LSO to not only increase the quality of the hands-on experiences we support, but also engage teachers to think outside of the box of previous methods and expectations. After introducing the formal ABE Program to these teachers, we hope to conduct an in-house professional development institute at CRLS to train the remaining teachers in their Biology department. 

by Alia Qatarneh, Program Coordinator