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Teacher pushes students to learn from world's top researchers

4:19 AM, Nov 14, 2012   |    comments
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"The point of this is to teach them not only how to do science, but also that it's being done in the real world," Fordham said. 

Fordham teaches Biotechnology Engineering at Rock Canyon High School in Highlands Ranch. It's a class that earns high school students like Sydney Charvat college credit. Charvat says they are definitely doing college-level work.

"We worked with basically identifying the mode of inheritance of genes," Charvat, a senior, said. "It's literally every day is a lab. Every day is something hands-on and it's so innovative."

Charvat just finished a project on silencing some genes through the use of bacteria on microscopic worms. So, Tuesday afternoon, her whole class met via video conference with an expert on gene silencing at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York.

"It was just a great experience to be able to really have an intellectual discussion with someone like that of his caliber, in high school," Charvat said.

Not only do researchers answer questions from Fordham's students, they often get tours of the labs or research facilities. Fordham says this gives students a chance to see what a scientist's life is like behind-the-scenes.

"They also think some of the smallest things are the coolest things like noticing that researchers use legal lab notebooks the same way I do in class," Fordham said.

But, connecting every student in class to a video conference is not easy, according to Fordham. She obtained a $5,000 grant from the Morgridge Family Foundation. Coupled support from the Douglas County School District, Fordham was able to have enough internet infrastructure, iPads, and laptops to make the video conferences possible.

"I think it's an incredible opportunity. We're getting to learn things and hear things first hand in ways we never would hear before," Charvat said. "It's definitely more interesting than reading out of a textbook. I can tell you that."

Fordham says it's working at inspiring kids as well. She says last year, 70 percent of her students reported that they were going into a biotech or science-related field.

"I don't know how many times I've heard from other teachers, kids can't learn this stuff. That's way too hard to teach high school kids and these guys are not only learning it, they're excelling," Fordham said.

(KUSA-TV © 2012 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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