I’m in Polk County, North Carolina this week to visit the biotechnology class taught by Jennifer Allsbrook at Polk County High School. My visit is a follow-up to the mentoring I’ve done with Jennifer the past couple of summers as she has learned PCR in my lab at Ohio State University. She came to OSU specifically to learn about Inter-simple sequence repeat markers, aka ISSRs. This is a technique that can easily transfer to the high school biology classroom with the proper equipment for extracting DNA, doing PCR, and running and imaging gels. To set up her classroom Jennifer obtained some small grants to purchase equipment and supplies.

I came to the “other” Columbus (Polk County High School is in Columbus, NC) to help with the optimization steps for the PCRs the students have just started to do. Jennifer has eight students in her biotechnology class, and all are highly motivated to succeed. Here are some images from today’s session:

Checking the volume on a pipettor.

The Magnolia Detectives – or, at least, some of them. Jennifer is getting reagents out of her new freezer.

Only in the South????

Loading a gel with DNA extractions done during yesterday’s class period.

Each student takes turn loading reactions onto the gel.

In the foreground are the gel images from their first PCRs, using three different primers. There are bands present, but the reactions need to be optimized to bring out the individual bands and eliminate the non-specific priming.

A review of the protocol before getting started.

“Ms. Allsbrook? I can’t remember the next step…..”

“Here it is….”

“Are these the tubes you need?”

While the students are setting up their PCRs, the gel with yesterday’s results is running.

In my lab we use large plastic beakers to expel used tips and tubes. I might have to switch to gold fish bowls in the future, though.

Jennifer has great interactions with her students. It was really fun to watch her at work.

The students work in pairs for each experiment. Teamwork is the key.

More teamwork.

The students have an hour and a half to get everything done each class period. Jennifer told me that she has to be very creative about finding good stopping points when an experiment is likely to take longer than the class period.

Jennifer writes the updated protocol for optimization up on the board while the students are preparing their reagent sets.

Explanations along the way help the students to remember the details.

Jennifer quizzes her students to help them remember definitions and research objectives.

One of the student notebooks.

Meanwhile, the gel is done running and now it’s time to stain it with ethidium bromide.

This dry stain technique keeps contamination contained – perfect for a high school classroom.

Ta-dah! DNA extractions from yesterday.

The Magnolia Detectives at work.

Nearly there, and class is just about over.

There was a flurry of activity at the end of the class period, which is the last one of the day. Students need to rush off to catch their bus or a ride home. Jennifer finishes the set-up and gets the reactions onto the thermocycler, then tidies up the classroom for the next day. Her son meets her after school, and I sure hope they have some relaxation scheduled for the evening. I have great admiration for what Jennifer is accomplishing here in rural North Carolina.