Fourth-graders and high schoolers collaborate on college-level genetics lab
HIGHLANDS RANCH— Extracting DNA from tissue is not often thought of as an activity that a fourth-grader would engage in. While most students are just being introduced to genetics in their science classes at that grade level, Beth Thomas’ fourth grade science class at Redstone Elementary School in the Douglas County School District (DCSD) are learning to extract and code DNA from leaves, fish and other biological samples— and they are learning this from juniors and seniors in Rock Canyon High School’s biotechnology program.
When Thomas was invited to bring her class in for the lab by Shawndra Fordham, Rock Canyon’s biotechnology teacher, she jumped at the unique chance to expand her students’ learning.
“If I’m given the opportunity to spend time outside of school for a real life learning experience for my students, I’m going to pursue it,” Thomas said. “This lab is taking their learning to the next level and is giving them real life exposure.”
“This is a college level lab. Even when I was in high school labs weren’t this intense,” she added.
This isn’t the first time the Redstone students had the opportunity to work with Fordham’s high school class. Earlier this year, the Rock Canyon students went to Redstone to teach the class how to use microscopes and help them examine various jarred species. That experience went so well that Fordham, knowing the fourth graders were studying life science, wanted to expand their learning about DNA through a hands on experience. Fordham made clear, however, that it was Thomas’ investment in her kids’ learning that made the collaboration possible.
“Beth was willing to put in the extra time,” Fordham said. “You have this teacher not only doing science but putting in extra time and going above and beyond because she believes her kids are capable. She knows her kids are good enough, and that’s when they’re going to excel.”
Knowing the lab was an ambitious undertaking, Thomas prepared her students that things may not go as well as they hoped or as intended, but at the same time to believe they are capable of doing it and coming up with solutions for when problems do occur.
“Students feed off of their teacher’s energy, in my opinion. If I set up the expectation, and tell them we’re going to try to do something at a high standard, and there might be failure, but they believe me when I tell them they are capable, that’s where the learning occurs,” Thomas said. “It’s great to see them rise to this occasion. This is why I do what I do, to see them succeed.”
“This is such a good educational moment not only for the elementary kids, but for the high schoolers also, to learn the best way to teach someone. They’re teaching each other,” said Redstone parent Stacey Stafford, who volunteered to accompany the fourth graders on their field trip to Rock Canyon.
Stafford said her daughter, Delaney, was especially excited to come to the high school. So much, so, that Delaney would give her mother daily instructions and reminders for the lab.
“She was giving me instruction every day on what to do and how to behave!” she laughed. “This is a big deal for them. Her sister hasn’t even taken this class yet. If the fourth grader is doing this kind of work before the sophomore, that’s a really big deal.”
Delaney also had her own personal goal for the lab.
“I’m hoping to find out if Tokyo Joe’s is labeling their fish wrong,” she said as she was working with her tuna sample from the restaurant.
In a week, Delaney will be able to find out the answer to this question when the Rock Canyon students come back out to Redstone to go over the coding results with the fourth graders.
“This has been fun,” she said. “None of my friends at other schools get to do anything like this.”