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Gone fishing

CBS Dean Bob Elde is championing a biology-based approach to boosting achievement in which zebrafish play a starring role.

Photo of third-grade children talking to young scientist about research poster

What if zebrafish could help boost science proficiency at schools with students who might typically fall into the achievement gap? An integrated science curriculum developed by InSciEd Out in partnership with teachers at several schools in Rochester, MN, suggests the little fish just might.

CBS' Bob Elde and Mayo Clinic’s Steve Ekker (an adjunct faculty member in the Department of Genetics, Cell Biology and Development and a founder of InSciEd Out) are leading an effort to pilot the program in the Twin Cities, starting with an elementary school in West Saint Paul.

A visit to Lincoln Elementary in Rochester a few years ago with Jim Cotner (EEB), sparked Elde's interestin the program.. He noted the students’ energy and engagement — students in different grades interacted with the zebrafish through various activities from recording a daily “census” to learning related vocabulary. But what impressed Elde most of all was the curiosity that the zebrafish ignited in the students — and the results of that curiosity. Lincoln’s scores in science MCAs (Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments) jumped after InSciEd Out was introduced, and many more students than before went on to take honors science courses and participate in science fairs.

Elde suggests that one reason may be that biology is unique in its ability to engage and inspire questions. “Doing biology may be the most synthetic area of learning or inquiry,” he says. “It touches on chemistry and physics but also reading and math. The kids got far better in reading and math because they were motivated by wanting to do more with these zebrafish. The fish go through the entire developmental pathway in 48 hours. With fairly simple equipment you can observe that.”

“It was amazing what these kids observed and how they described things,” says Elde. “It was non-stop ‘I wonder’ questions.” He descibes the InSciEd Out approach as something like a ladder; one rail is curiosity and the other the scientific process. “You only need to connect a few rungs.”

— Stephanie Xenos

 

Four third-grade boys holding their poster passports at foundations of biology poster session

Closing the loop

After presenting their zebrafish findings at a poster session in late April, third graders from Moreland Elementary got a taste of research at the college level at the Foundations of Biology poster session May 7 in Coffman Memorial Union. It provided the young investigators with a chance to interact with CBS students and learn about other areas of research.