High school teachers attend ‘carbohydrate classroom’ to learn about glycomics

by Bernie Poitras

More than 35 Edmonton-area high school science teachers attended a ‘carbohydrate classroom’ last week for a hands-on workshop on glycomics.

The one-day workshop is part of GlycoNet’s outreach activities, carried out in partnership with the University of Alberta’s Centre for Mathematics, Science, and Technology Education (CMASTE) in the Faculty of Education.

Drawing on its extensive experience leading large-scale educational projects, CMASTE works with Canadian teachers to create and share classroom resources produced in GlycoNet-affiliated labs with educators across the country.

“It’s always engaging to present to high school teachers at our CMASTE/GlycoNet workshops,” says GlycoNet Scientific Director Dr. Todd Lowary. “GlycoNet believes this type of public outreach helps better connect our work in the study of glycomics to curriculum being taught to high school students across Canada. We hope the resources and activities we help create for teachers can inspire a new generation of researchers and even future glycomics researchers.”

The workshop included hands-on demonstrations such as a water filtration experiment using pond water and various filtration systems such as rice, paper and wood chips. The teachers also learned about the the different level of protein structures by using wire and tape in a protein-folding exercise. The day also included tours of GlycoNet labs and brief presentations from GlycoNet Network Investigators on current research projects including Alzheimer’s disease, tuberculosis treatments, and organ and cell transplantation.

“This is an opportunity for teachers to get a first-hand look at local glycomics research that has a global impact for human health,” says Ryan Snitynsky, Training and Project Management Coordinator, GlycoNet. “The teachers are able to put a face and a name to the research that is going on just down the road from where they teach.”

Teachers are able to draw on this experience and use resources previously created by teachers who have worked with scientists in their labs, adapting them to their science, biology and chemistry classrooms across the province. Resource materials include videos and case studies, and are available online in English and French.

“I like the idea there is research happening right here at the University of Alberta and that it can be used by our students,” says Tracey Onuczko, a biology high school teacher at Spruce Grove Composite High School, near Edmonton. “Bringing this research back to the classroom to make it accessible to my students is very valuable to me – I really appreciated it.”

Teachers and organizers both stressed that the information learned in the workshop will be used immediately in high school classrooms.

“One item I will use right away is the Alzheimer’s research that Network Investigator Matt Macauley is conducting at the University of Alberta,” says Onuczko. “His research ties into what we are doing in the classroom on antigens in Biology 20 and Science 30 – it was very interesting.”

CMASTE Project Manager Kerry Rose says the bridge between the university research community and science teachers is important and believes events like this workshop should happen more often.

“Our goal is to have teachers experience the real world science and demonstrate that chemistry and science is applicable to their curriculum and their teaching,” says Rose. “We also want to show them good examples to use in the classroom and demonstrate that this research is actually being used to save lives, change the world or clean the environment. Lastly, the activities we provide allow the teachers to experience them for themselves, so they are confident and they are able to complete them with their students in their own classrooms.”

The two organizations also hosted a workshop in October where Alberta school teachers visited GlycoNet researchers at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada labs in Lethbridge, Alberta. The overall plan is to have six school-based workshops and two university-based workshops completed throughout northern and central Alberta by March 2019.

To view high school resources provided by GlycoNet, visit: http://canadianglycomics.ca/high-school-resources-2/

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