Purdue graduate student teaching fellow Sheran Oradu helps Tecumseh Middle School student Taaj Faulkner email a question to a zipTrips scientist during the live broadcast.
Nearly 8,000 eighth-graders from around the country were "transported" to an Alaskan research lab this spring semester, where two Purdue University scientists discussed their research on the DNA differences between fish that migrate and fish that don't. The students were learning how DNA affects an animal's behavior, not just its appearance.
The February demonstration was part of "It's a Gene Thing!"—a Purdue zipTrips™ electronic field trip for eighth-graders, during which students also learned about the DNA of genetically modified mice and discussed the parentage of tiger salamanders.
Purdue zipTrips help sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders explore science concepts by incorporating elements of a traditional field trip—discussions, demonstrations and interactive projects—into an energetic program that includes a studio audience and streams live online and through videoconferencing. Students can participate from their classrooms, and teachers can use online supplementary materials to explore topics in even more depth.
"Right now, we're at a transitional time in schools," said Jamie Loizzo, manager of the zipTrips project. "Learning is becoming more of an online event. The electronic field trip program is pushing teachers to get on board and try out this technology with their students."
During and after the program, students can ask questions by email or through HotSeat, an online social media application that was originally developed at Purdue for use in university lecture halls. Students rate each other's posts in HotSeat, and scientists answer the most popular posts during the program.
"The technology has worked extremely well for me," said Andrea Blocher, a science teacher at Tecumseh Junior High School in Lafayette, Ind. "My students may never have had a chance to experience the HotSeat software if we had not been participating in zipTrips."
Featured scientists come from many areas across Purdue, including veterinary medicine, agriculture and Discovery Park.
"We want to get middle-school students thinking about science, not only as an important part of their everyday lives, but also as career fields that they could explore someday," Loizzo said. The programs, which recently won the 2012 Purdue Agriculture Team Award, are all based on state and national standards for science education. "Many middle-school kids ask what classes they can take to become scientists someday. It turns their eyes toward college and thinking about their futures."
Blocher believes exposure to the real-life science activities and interviews encourages students to follow their passions in life. "I think my students, in particular, gain from realizing that the scientists they are watching are real people who live close by and are doing amazing things at Purdue University," she said.
By Jessica Merzdorf