January 6, 2012
CHS biology lab offers college-level work
New AP course gives students interested in medical careers introduction to research
Lab began in Cortland High School’s Advanced Placement biology class Thursday with the challenge of keeping fruit flies in hibernation, so they will not escape into the school building.
The next challenge is to place the tiny flies, two millimeters long, into petri dishes and under microscopes, moving them around using paint brushes, without killing them.
Those flies, packed in a shipping box in vials and made to hibernate through ice and chemicals, will be used to breed two more generations so the students can study how the flies’ eyes, wings and bodies mutate.
The course, new this school year, is an introduction to college-level research for students interested in medical careers.
It has only four students now — senior Bethany Latten, juniors Hannah Zhang and Matt Condit, and German exchange student Jonathan Marpert — but teacher Karen Krichbaum-Stenger hopes the class grows next year.
“This is heavy-duty stuff,” said Krichbaum-Stenger, reviewing the syllabus, which shows multiple subject areas, with 12 labs that each take several days to a few weeks. “This is like a biology class for college freshmen who plan to enter medical careers.”
The course’s challenges extend to Krichbaum-Stenger herself. A teacher for 25 years, she actually became a medical technology worker after college, turning to education later in life.
“Some of the things these students are studying were not discovered when I was in high school,” she said.
The course was offered several years ago but was dropped due to lack of students interest. It returned, along with AP chemistry, because the Cortland city school district wanted more academic options for students who wanted stronger preparation for college and courses that counted for college credit.
The district administration asked Krichbaum-Stenger to teach the AP biology course. She spent the summer preparing for it, building on her experience working in hematology and immunology labs at Upstate Medical Center before she became a teacher, but said the material is still a challenge at times for her.
Luckily, she has help right now from a student teacher: Cornell University graduate student Jonathan Fuller, who has research experience and can lead labs. Fuller is finishing a master’s degree in science education, after receiving his bachelor’s degree from SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry.
Fuller had worked with flies before, so he showed the students how to unpack and handle them and what to do if the flies started to wake up.
Latten will enroll at Penn State’s Honors College next year as a biology behavioral health major.
Condit said he has been interested in a medical career since taking Krichbaum-Stenger’s ninth-grade honors class. He is considering oncology or neurology.
“I took this because it’s an aggressive course and has importance for what I want to do,” Condit said.
Zhang said she is more interested in law but has applied for an internship this summer with the World Food Bank, to study food production outside the U.S.
Marpert, who will have one more year of high school in Germany next year, said his father is a urologist and he has been interested in the medical field for many years. He is a Rotary International exchange student.
On Thursday, the students separated male and female flies in the petri dishes, looking through microscopes. This was an early stage of the research they would pursue with these flies and the next two generations.
The idea was to build on pieces of other labs. This lab, the eighth of the course’s 12, will last through most of this month.
“A kid that survives this class is very motivated,” Krichbaum-Stenger said.
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