Blogging from Bio-Link, part III
High school teachers have different techniques for selling their students on the benefits of science and math. When some high school instructors step in front of a class, the quiet demeanor gets put away and another persona steps out – the USED-CAR SALESMAN SCIENCE EVANGELIST. Science is no longer “science,” when these instructors head up the class, it’s SCIENCE, in all capital letters! Other teachers choose the haughty law professor, from “The Paper Chase,” as a role model, even though a post-law student friend of mine thought it should be banned from campus for all eternity.
Mr. C shows them the money
George Cachianes uses a different approach to motivating students. According to George, kids are very practical. He makes sure that the kids in his class know that there are 820 biotech companies within commuting distance of school, know the salaries in biotech companies, and understand that biotech companies employ people in a variety of occupations, all of which benefit from some knowledge of science.
He literally shows them the money. All the kids go to www.salary.com select their state, and find information on biotechnology-related careers by searching with the term “biotechnology.” Four pages of related careers, with descriptions of different biotech-related jobs and salary information, help kids view science as a viable option. It’s helpful to know that glass-washers in California have a median salary of $32,000 per year and that a statistician V can have a median salary, per year, of $107,000.
Pictured here, on the right, with Larry Loomis (Montgomery Community College), George spent his BT life (before teaching) doing science at Genentech, having fun with cool experiments, traveling to conferences all over the country, and enjoying all the fruits of doing biotechnology in an exciting place.
But having reveled thoroughly in the scientific life, George wanted something a little more challenging.
He started teaching high school.
About 150 students take George’s biotechnology course, every year, at Abraham Lincoln High School. Although biotechnology is an elective course, students work hard to succeed. Not only do students collaborate in a real research project with Joel Gray at UCSF, second year biotech students run a company called GenEdX where they prepare media and lab reagents for biotech classes at surrounding schools.
First year students also run “companies.”
George’s unique approach to biotechnology education reflects both his understanding of kids and the requests of his industry advisors. He surveyed people in the local biotech industry to find out what attributes they would like to see in future employees. His advisors challenged George to find a way to equip kids with the skills that they found the hardest to teach new employees: how to write a coherent letter, communicate with others, and work as a team.
Students in the ALHS biotech class develop and practice these abilities in concert with doing lab work and practicing science. Each lab group takes on the identity of a different biotech company. Students learn about their companies and their products by doing Internet research, writing to company representatives to request information, and reading press releases and stock-holder information. They look at job announcements, salary information, and prepare resumes. They also design logos and brochures, which they later send to the company itself.
Not only do student groups learn the ins and outs of real biotech companies, they take on different roles as part of their training in teamwork. The roles are CEO, CFO, research scientist, research assistants, and a secretary. Each team member gets paid (in points) according to the responsibility of the job position. CEOs get paid the most. This student is in charge of organizing the team and tracking performance. Plus, it’s their job to pay team members with “points” and allocate points fairly. If a lab group performs well on an activity, the company might earn bonus points, which must be distributed by the CEO. A CEO that keeps all the points won’t last long. And, like a real company, a CEO can be “fired” by the rest of team.
The CFO is in charge of record keeping and checking math on lab reports and grade sheets. CFOs learn to be careful with bookkeeping since the entire company loses points if they make a mistake. The research scientist tutors team members and makes sure that every member of the team for understands the scientific concepts that are part of a lab activity. The Research assistant cleans up bench and gathers materials and the Secretary takes attendance, collects homework and keeps track of assignments, gets copies of handouts for all team members, and checks that portfolios are complete. Students also change roles at different points during the year.
Making each company responsible for managing their own assignments has had an added benefit of decreasing the time that George has to spend making sure that everyone has all assignments. Making the students accountable to each other, and employing peer pressure in a positive way, has allowed George to focus on having kids do hands-on science, rather than on maintaining discipline.
By all accounts, the student-run companies have achieved success.
Any day now, I expect to learn that George has taken the companies public and started selling stock. After all, his students understand the connection between working and rewards.