Department of Biology, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Indiana, PA 15705
Department of Biology, West Chester University, PA 19383
This paper describes a collaborative effort among three universities of the
Pennsylvania CETP Project. The development and implementation of these
workshops were funded through an internal Level II mini-grant initiative of
CETP-PA. These workshops were offered during the 2002-2003 school year,
summer 2003, and as a 400 level extended studies course or a 1-credit graduate
level course. The intense two-day program, designed so that K-16 faculty and preservice teachers worked together as active learners, included hands-on activities
in recombinant DNA technology, DNA manipulations, DNA modeling, and DNA
fingerprinting, transformation and polymerase chain reaction technology.
Participants were strongly encouraged to borrow lab equipment during the school
year so that the experiments can be performed in the high school labs. The Math
and Science Centers developed through the NSF-CETP-PA initiatives serve as
repositories of equipment and resource material in Biotechnology to the local
By working cooperatively with the Science Centers and the
participating teachers of the surrounding schools, the investigators in the project
hope to make modern science even more accessible and inviting to the high
school students, thus providing one more tool to recruit quality students to science
We would like to thank CETP-PA [1] and NSF for supporting this project and providing
resources for the development of the Math and Science Centers. We also appreciate the advice
and support of our colleagues at our institutions as well as throughout the State System of Higher
Education (SSHE).
Since molecular biology will continue as a major frontier in science, students should
understand both the molecular basis of life and the practical and ethical implications of man’s
ability to manipulate living organisms. Keeping pace with new developments in this rapidly
developing field is a serious burden for teachers. Recent scientific discoveries, such as human
cloning for therapeutic purposes, are reported regularly in the media, providing opportunities to
interest students in science and technology. Biology teachers are called upon to explain these
complicated molecular principles as well as provide up-to-date laboratory activities. Thus,
continuing education of practicing biology teachers in the concepts and practice of modern
molecular biology has become more important than ever. Additionally, Pennsylvania is ranked
third nationally in biotechnology development and research and we are obliged as educators to
provide students at all levels with appropriate training in this discipline in order to keep
Pennsylvania at the forefront of the field.
The role of university science faculty in the continuing education for in-service teachers
traditionally has been to provide instruction and laboratory experience in developing fields.
Teachers have expressed the need for more background and curricular materials on all aspects of
molecular biology and biotechnology because of the growing student interest and the necessity to
expose students to molecular biology very early in high school. Furthermore, the newly
published PA Academic Standards for Science and Technology [2] place considerable emphasis
on content and technical skills that many teachers have never learned. Since teachers need
training and support to incorporate molecular biology content into their courses, we developed
biotechnology workshops specifically for pre-service and in-service teachers.
Addressing the Standards
The “Biotechnology in a Box” workshops were developed by three faculty members
belonging to the State System of Higher Education (SSHE) to address the content and
constructivist strategies contained in the National and Pennsylvania standards. A key component
to both the National Standards (3) and the PA Academic Standards for Science and Technology
(2) is an emphasis on scientific inquiry where students develop their understanding of science by
combining reasoning and logical thinking skills with scientific content. Specific life science
content standards addressed in this project include the cellular basis of life, the molecular basis
of heredity, and biological evolution. These content standards are applicable at all levels. At the
elementary and middle school levels, students are expected to establish a foundation for
understanding molecular biology in high school. More abstract concepts, such as the structure
and function of DNA, expand students’ knowledge of the nature of living things in grades 9-12.
The PA Academic Standards for Science and Technology specifically address
benchmarks for technology education and biotechnology serves as a major focus (Standard 3.6).
Even in grade 4, students are expected to describe how biotechnology has impacted daily life. It
is anticipated that computer literacy is integrated across the curriculum (Standard 3.7) and
students develop the knowledge and skills to use computer technology effectively. Teachers are
required to present the social implications associated with the use of these technologies as well
as potential future applications (Standard 3.8). Clearly, teachers need assistance to address these
standards in their classrooms. We, at the University, have a responsibility to provide professional
development opportunities for the teachers so that they can gain the knowledge, understanding,
and ability to implement the Standards.
The Biotechnology Workshops
The Biotechnology Workshops for Teachers were offered during the 2002-2003 school
year, summer 2003, and as a 400 level extended studies course or a 1-credit graduate level
course. There were a total of 20 pre-service teachers, 4 in-service teachers, 2 faculty/staff
members, 3 Community College faculty, 4 biology/biochemistry majors, and 1 Science in
Motion coordinator from Ursinus College who attended these workshops. The hands-on
workshops included technical skills such as performing DNA extraction and gel electrophoresis,
DNA modeling, DNA fingerprinting, the structural basis of mutations, analysis of mutant
hemoglobin gene, human nuclear and mitochondrial DNA amplification, and mitochondrial
DNA bioinformatics.
Professional Development Opportunities
Offering the biotechnology workshop for teachers was an incredible professional
development opportunity for the faculty. We gained an appreciation of the time and effort
needed to conduct an intensive workshop in a short time period. The workshop experience
fostered valuable connections with in-service teachers and led to the development of strong
relationships with our pre-service teachers. The interaction between the local HS teachers and
the pre-service teachers led to greater interest by the in-service teachers to serve as mentors for
our student teachers. One faculty member (Knabb) served as a student teacher supervisor in the
fall based on the positive experience working with the pre-service teachers during the workshop.
Continuation of program
Following the program, both pre-service and in-service teachers used the skills that they
learned in the workshops. In a few instances, the in-service teachers were unable to attend the
workshops but were interested in learning the new technologies. Alternatively, teachers were
interested in trying a new laboratory activity but lacked the resources to purchase the materials.
In both of these cases, we were able to accommodate the teacher’s needs. For example, the
Biology 2 teacher at Coatesville HS did not have any experience or resources for these types of
experiments. Three different experiments and in-house training were provided to this
Coatesville HS teacher: 1) DNA extraction, 2) DNA transformation with pGLO plasmid, and 3)
DNA fingerprinting. Another biology teacher at the Conestoga Valley High School was
interested in trying a few Human DNA activities with his freshman level class and we were able
to support his needs.
The pre-service teachers who participated in the workshop were able to take their
biotechnology knowledge to the classroom during their student teaching experiences. In one
case, the student teacher developed an elaborate DNA modeling activity for her freshman Honors
Biology classes. Another student teacher borrowed a DNA thermocycler and replicated the
nuclear DNA amplification experiment for her upper level biology classes. Thus, the workshop
experience was transferred to the classroom by the student teachers.
Future goals
From these two day workshops in biotechnology we have procured and made available
several hands-on molecular biology tools and provided resources to our teachers at minimal cost.
As a consequence, we have established new partnerships between university faculty and the
surrounding schools –a partnership that will eventually provide practicing teachers full
ownership of programs for their own continuing education. We anticipate further dissemination
of the results of this project at regional, state, and national levels. Finally, the joint efforts of the
three faculty members within the SSHE system belonging to different regions of the state has
provided the opportunity to strengthen this collaborative and we hope will help forge new future
collaborations in an effort to improve teacher preparation in the state of Pennsylvania.
Ongoing Challenges
One of our major challenges is institutionalizing these workshops so that they can be
offered on a regular basis. In-service teachers will be required to incorporate biotechnology into
their lesson plans but their schools will have limited resources for achieving this objective.
Additionally, students in our B.S. Biology: Education programs do not have biotechnology as a
requirement in their curriculum even though the state expects biotechnology as a key component
of the Standards. Through this collaborative we hope to address these important issues by
including coursework in biotechnology in our teacher preparation programs and developing
partnerships with corporations and other funding agencies so that this critical need is met.
N. Bharathan is an associate professor of biology and Co-Coordinator of biochemistry at Indiana
University of Pennsylvania. He has taught Plant Biology and Laboratory Techniques in Biology
and Biotechnology for 12 years. His scientific research focuses on double-stranded RNA viruses
in fungi and gene manipulations for biological control of plant pathogenic fungi. He has
presented and published several papers in reviewed scientific journals in which students are
primary or secondary authors. He is a project PI on an NSF-CCLI grant and a Co-PI on NSFCETP-PA grant and Department of Defense funded projects.
Maureen Knabb is a professor of biology at West Chester University and has taught introductory
courses as well as cell and organismal physiology courses for 18 years. Her scientific research
focuses on cell signaling pathways and mechanisms of diseases. She is currently the PI on an
NSF-CCLI grant aimed at incorporating inquiry-based activities in introductory biology courses.
She has published and presented several papers on science education.
[2] Academic Standards for Science and Technology. Pennsylvania Department of Education. 22
PA Code, Chapter 4, Appendix B. 2002.
[3] National Science Education Standards. Center for Science, Mathematics, and Engineering
Education. National Academy Press. Washington, DC. 1996.