Biology professor plants seeds of knowledge

by Julia Ernst

Rider biology instructor Jon Hayashi is working to give high school students in the area a passport to the world of science.

The Program for Outreach in Biology Education (PROBE) aims to offer workshops in high school biology classrooms, turning science into a live activity rather than a lesson from a textbook. Hayashi, who organizes the workshops in conjunction with teachers at various area high schools, says a second aim is to provoke curiosity and interest in participating students.

“I could summarize the efforts of PROBE by using a model of visiting a new country,” said Hayashi, who is program director at the Teaching/Learning Center.

“If you are introduced to that new country by someone who loves that country, someone who will share with you [his or her] contagious excitement and who will illuminate that which is hidden but valuable, and who will teach you the language and the customs, then you will form meaningful and lasting relationships with the people there and you, too, will come to love that country. This is what everyone in the PROBE program strives to accomplish for fields of science.”
Hayashi explained that these workshops vary in stages of completion, as some have been carried out several times while others are still in the developmental stages.

“The first is an Aquatic Ecology workshop that is run by Dr. Dennis Gemmell and is a highly successful program that has run for a number of years under his leadership,” Hayashi said. “The second workshop is one that I am presently developing in molecular biology.”

In addition, another workshop in neurobiology will “enable students to learn about the nervous system by conducting experiments on invertebrate animals,” according to Hayashi.

The PROBE workshops are coordinated with high school biology teachers to align with course topics in order to provide relevant, hands-on experience.

“In my meetings with high school teachers, I ask what they would like me to reinforce for them,” said Hayashi. “These discussions enable me to custom design each workshop to meet specific, ongoing teaching goals.”

These meetings help to ensure that the workshops will further develop students’ interests in biology and initiate contact with professors already active in the field.

“The program believes that a student’s interest in science as a serious intellectual pursuit develops from having multiple contacts with professional scientists,” Hayashi said. “All of the PROBE workshops are designed in collaboration with the high school teachers to ensure that the material fits into the curriculum that they are presenting.”

A workshop at Ewing High School in an Advanced Placement (AP) Biology class taught students how to extract DNA from cells and run freeze gels to see the size of the particles. Although some workshops have already been presented in high school classrooms, Hayashi said there are other elements that need to be coordinated before actively involving Rider students.

“We are interested in recruiting Rider students interested in working with high school students, particularly in the molecular biology and in the neurobiology workshops,” he said. “However, because these programs are still in development, we are not yet able to precisely define the responsibilities that those students will assume. That recruitment process will likely start next school year.”

Although the first class to participate in the clinic was the AP Biology class, there are no academic restrictions that need to be met for a workshop to be held.

“The PROBE workshops are designed for students of all levels,” said Hayashi. “The only criterion we have for students is curiosity.”

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