UChicago Lab School Students “Get Their Hands in the Water” at MBL

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By Rachel Buhler

Taking a break in a lounge in Loeb Laboratory, the two high-school science teachers looked sunburned, tired, but very happy. Daniel Calleri and Sharon Housinger of the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools had spent the prior day with 12 of their students on Naushon Island, off the coast of Woods Hole. Nets in hand, they scouted out and collected marine organisms with the expert help of Dave Remsen, director of the MBL’s Marine Resources Center. After boating back to Woods Hole, the group took their finds into an MBL lab for further study.

“We wanted the students to jump right in and get their hands in the water, to take full advantage of Woods Hole in this short period of time,” said Calleri.

The 12 Lab School sophomores, juniors, and seniors spent a week at the MBL last month with Calleri, Housinger, and Alexzandra Wallace, the Lab School’s Manager of Special Projects and Outreach. The teachers had come to the MBL in 2014 to explore a possible collaboration with MBL Education Director Bill Reznikoff, and this summer’s stay was the successful result.

“This is another example of the MBL’s expanding relationship with the University of Chicago,” said MBL President and Director Hunt Willard. “We were happy to help introduce the Lab School students to the Woods Hole environment and the study of local marine organisms.”

UChicago Lab School students Whitney Thomas and Delnaz Patel observe plankton from the plankton tow, one of their many encounters with microorganisms during their MBL trip. Credit: Beth Simmons

UChicago Lab School students Whitney Thomas and Delnaz Patel observe plankton from the plankton tow, one of their many encounters with microorganisms during their MBL trip. Credit: Beth Simmons

In their MBL lab, the students observed fertilization of sea squirt (Ciona) eggs and, through the microscope, watched the embryos divide. They also experimented with neural stimulation of squid skin thanks to inspiration from the YouTube hit “Insane in the Chromatophores” by Backyard Brains, which was recorded at the MBL in 2012. In addition, they learned how and why other organisms at the MBL are studied, including frogs, horseshoe crabs, and microscopic animals called rotifers.

After being chosen to visit the MBL through a competitive application process, the Lab School students prepared by taking a quarter-long marine biology course. In Woods Hole, their teachers were thrilled to bring them into the ecosystems they had studied in their textbooks. “It was like instant connection and understanding,” Housinger said. “I was thinking this morning when they were in the lab looking at the embryos, that they probably learned more embryology in two hours than we would have been able to teach in two weeks in the classroom.”

The students also saw at MBL that there are many ways to engage with marine biology, such as through training in physics (leading to microscope development) or chemistry. “For biology, traditionally they are taught, ‘Here’s this list of words, memorize it, and now you know marine biology,’ and it’s no wonder why people don’t go into it,” Calleri said. “It’s never presented as a field that has opportunity for professional growth and development. But at MBL, you get to see that writ large.” The MBL showed students who are starting to form collegiate aspirations several real-life examples of careers in the sciences.

A number of MBL faculty and staff members offered their time to interact with the Lab School students to ensure they had a well-rounded experience. They included Beth Simmons (Education Department); Dave Remsen and Scott Bennett (Marine Resources Center), Shalin Mehta and Hiro Ishii (Bell Center), Kristen Gribble (Bay Paul Center), Ivan Valiela (Ecosystems Center), and Esther Pearl (National Xenopus Resource).

The teachers hope an MBL trip will become part of the annual curriculum at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools. “The students are seeing the MBL motto of ‘Biological Discovery’ in real-time,” Wallace exclaimed.