"Big Responsibility": Chicago-Area Teens Use Virtual Tools to Solve Real-World Science Problems
4.4.11 | This week’s StudentSpeak visits Wheeling High School in the northern suburbs of Chicago, where teens are solving real-world problems for scientists at Abbott Labs. Students in eight other schools across the Chicago region have also become citizen scientists, with the help of real pros at Baxter and Astellas Pharma.
The partnerships are part of the 2011 Illinois Innovation Talent Project (ILIT), a public/private venture that helps students develop critical thinking skills through industry-focused projects that embody the updated National Educational Technology Standards. The groups involved include: iBIO Institute, the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce Foundation, and the Illinois Math and Science Academy.
Wheeling students have spent the last several months researching biomarkers for cancer and tinkering with molecules. They’re able to check in with the scientists via Skype.
“It’s big responsibility,” says Annah Meintzer, 14, “but it feels good because they’re putting something in our hands to take care of for them.”
Educators say the efforts are a wonderful example of collaborative and participatory learning that digital media helps make possible.
Teens are using iPads, for example, to document and send their lab results to the scientists. The high school is also piloting the use of district email and Google docs to help the students communicate with group members and teachers.
“Google docs is really amazing,” said Mackenzi Drozdz, 14. “At the end of the day, we can share all our information and send it to the teacher so she knows what’s going on. Each person can write something all at the same time, so if your friend makes an error you can correct right there. It autosaves, it’s just, like, it’s wonderful.”
In addition to critical thinking skills, students are also picking up important digital literacy skills, such as finding information and judging its credibility, managing and sorting information, and using tools and software to collaborate on solutions.
The project is also an example of how problem-based learning can spark ideas and engage students more deeply in a topic—even those students who aren’t planning a career in the sciences.
As Ann Reed, vice president of the IBIO Institute’s Educate Center, puts it, “We’re all scientists. We all use the skills that scientists use to solve problems. We’re instilling the curiosity, and the understanding of how to ask the right questions.”
Students at the eight other participating high schools are managing equally big responsibilities. Students are helping Baxter to move hospital technology, such as at-home dialysis, into the home to reduce costs and increase patient comfort. They’re thinking about how to innovate around this goal—in particular, the limits and strengths of technology as it applies to safety, efficacy and other issues.
Students at three schools are advising Astellas Pharma on the potential pipeline for transplant drugs that minimize rejection. They are learning about diseases that necessitate a transplant, why some bodies reject the new organ, and epidemiologically, why transplants are more common today.
The only problem now, says Wheeling biology teacher Kathy Konyar, is that the teens enjoyed the project and learned so much that once the project is over, “I don’t know how we’re going to go back to what we were doing. We’ve helped them understand learning differently. We cannot go back.”
StudentSpeak, a video series produced by Spotlight, goes behind the scenes to show how teens use digital media in their daily lives. View previous webisodes here.
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