The Teaching Teams program promotes science literacy among high school students and encourages the pursuit of careers in science by introducing students to areas of scientific study through interactive demonstrations brought into the classroom. Teams of graduate and medical students present the curricula in small groups, fostering an atmosphere where the students feel comfortable discussing the specific area of scientific study.
Each team makes an effort to develop hands-on demonstrations, thus requiring students to pose their own questions, and to find answers through investigation and inquiry. Each year Teaching Teams reach hundreds of students in the Saint Louis Public Schools and other local districts.
NOTE: Since all of our volunteers are graduate students, post-doctoral associates, laboratory scientists, and principal investigators, we may not be able to process your request immediately. Please allow at least 2 weeks for a reply from our Director of Teaching Teams.
Anatomy and Physiology
Anatomy is the study of the macroscopic organs and tissues of the body in order to understand their functions. This knowledge is critical for anyone who wishes to study people and non-human animals in terms of health, sociology, ecology, anthropology, evolution, behavioral psychology, and many other fields. Physiology is more focused on the finer details of how these organs are able to function using microscopic and biochemical details. The anatomy and physiology teaching team utilizes real organs from human cadavers to demonstrate the importance of normally-functioning anatomy. We also use clinical examples to describe normal functions as well as dysfunctions of different organ systems that lead to common diseases.
The heart is the organ responsible for circulating blood throughout the body and ensures all tissues receive adequate nutrients to sustain their normal function. In this lab, we show and demonstrate how a normally-functioning heart works in the body in terms of the large, anatomic structures as well as the physiology of the electrical phenomena that makes this function possible: the action potential. The students will be shown an electrocardiogram (ECG) to correlate how this information is achieved in a clinical setting. We also demonstrate cardiac auscultation including interpretation of heart sounds and how they correlate to pathology. Students will have the opportunity to use stethoscopes during this demo. Finally, we demonstrate the gross anatomical changes which can take place in various pathological conditions such as hypertension and myocardial infarction.
The lungs are essential for the efficient gas exchange between the body and the environment which results in the absorption of oxygen and excretion of carbon dioxide from the blood. In this demonstration, we follow the blood as it circulates from one chamber of the heart, to the lung, and back into a separate chamber of the heart. This concept is usually best conveyed after or concurrently with the heart demonstration. We discuss the gross and microscopic structures of the lung which allow oxygen exchange. We then move on to describe lung auscultation along with radiology to correlate clinical findings with disease processes. The students will have the opportunity to use stethoscopes and look at x-ray and CT images of the lung. Finally, we discuss the pathologic changes which take place in the lung tissue during various disease processes such as emphysema and pneumonia.
The gastrointestinal (GI) tract runs from the mouth to the anus and includes several organs thatfacilitate the digestion and absorption of nutrients into the blood. For this lab, we track the system from the mouth, where food digestion begins, to the very last stage where wastes are excreted from the body. We utilize real specimens to describe the major physiological functions of each organ along the GI tract and the specific anatomical features which allow them to perform their tasks. Our specimens include the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, liver and gallbladder, and pancreas. We also describe several common clinical scenarios relevant to the GI system such as peptic ulcers and pancreatic cancer.
The chemistry team deals with the chemical issues that students would be expected to cover in a two-semester introductory high school chemistry course. Each module is designed to fill one class period with hands-on demonstrations and correspond to a unit in the St. Louis Public Schools’ curriculum. One biochemistry module is designed for use in a biology class. The goals of the chemistry teaching team are the following:
- Engage high-school students in fun, hands-on experiences that illustrate chemical concepts.
- Provide to students exposure to resources unavailable at their schools.
- Present chemistry and other areas of science as viable career options.
- Convey the contributions of chemistry to everyday aspects of life.
The following experiments demonstrate the nature of enzymes and their respective substrates, with an emphasis on biochemistry. The hands-on Enzyme Catalysis I demo uses toothpicks and the participants’ hands to show temperature effects on enzyme-substrate interactions. Enzyme Catalysis II uses pineapple and jello to demonstrate the properties of digestive enzymes. Each demo should take ~30 minutes.
Polymers are large cross-linked molecules made up of repeating structural units. They exist artificially as plastics and naturally as DNA, RNA, and proteins. This activity has the participants act as molecules to demonstrate the effects of temperature and cross-linking. It also uses sodium silicate and ethanol to create a gooey polymer ball (~30 minutes).
Redox-oxidation reactions are any chemical reactions that occur when the oxidation state of atoms change. Oxidation is the loss of electrons and reduction is the gain of electrons. One example of a reduction reaction is the tarnishing of silver. This experiment uses hard boiled eggs to tarnish silver and baking soda to reverse the process.
Atoms are made of protons, neutrons, and electrons. The electrons orbit the atom in spaces called orbitals. Additional electrons move in orbitals with increasing average distance from the atom’s nucleus. These demonstrations explore the effects of the increased average distance. The Rubber Chicken demonstration shows that an electron jumping from one orbital to another undergoes a specific change in energy. This energy is released as light and turns a Bunsen burner flame different colors. The Periodicity demonstration shows that electrons in higher orbitals are held more loosely and can therefore be removed from the atom more readily. The result of this phenomenon is that calcium metal reacts much more quickly with water than magnesium.
Density is defined as the amount of mass contained in an object per unit volume. The density demonstration contains two experiments that demonstrate how differences in density cause objects to float. The first experiment uses carbon dioxide to cause raisins to float and sink like submarines. Normal raisins collect and hold more carbon dioxide bubbles and therefore float more frequently than chocolate covered raisins because they become less dense. The second experiment uses solutions of glycerol mixed with water to create a liquid rainbow. Glycerol is more dense than water; therefore, mixing different amounts of glycerol and water creates solutions with different densities. When food coloring is added, and the solutions are stacked in order of density, the students will have created a liquid rainbow.
Earth and Planetary Sciences
Genetics and Genomics
The Genetics and Genomics Teaching Team is excited to explore the concepts of DNA and gene inheritance with K-12 students in St. Louis. Our team focuses on understanding the genetic code and how it can be translated into the proteins that power all life on Earth. We also help students to learn the basics of Mendelian inheritance and how genes are passed on from parents to offspring. Our lessons also connect students to the field of Genomics, including how whole genome sequences are produced and how scientists use this information to improve human and environmental health. Our goals for the Genetics and Genomics team are as follows:
- Teach students about DNA as a genetic code that can be transcribed to RNA which is translated into a protein product
- Define the concepts of genes and traits and how genotype can determine an individual’s phenotype
- Help students learn the basic concept of Mendelian genetic inheritance
In this activity, students will perform a simple experiment using household materials to extract the DNA from a strawberry. Washington University volunteers will lead a discussion about the structure and function of DNA and the four nucleotide base pairs that make up the genetic code in all organisms on Earth. At the end of the experiment, students will be able to see with their naked eye a big glob of strawberry DNA! This activity is adaptable for K-12 students.
For this activity, we explore the basic concepts of Mendelian genetic inheritance, including discussions on how genes are passed on from parents to offspring and how those genes encode for specific traits. PTC (phenyltiourea) is a unique chemical that can only be tasted if the person has a specific taste gene. Students can lay the PTC paper on their tongue and determine if they are a taster or a non-taster, depending if they have the taster gene or not! We also review several other Mendelian traits, such as lobed versus attached earlobes, presence or absence of a widow’s peak, the ability to roll your tongue, and many more. By the end of the lesson, we anticipate that students understand Mendelian inheritance and can define the words gene, trait, phenotype, and genotype.
This unit uses basic math skills to show students just how big their genome is. We calculate how a long a sentence would have to be to hold one students entire genome. We then compare the size of other organism’s genomes, showing that humans do not have the biggest genome on the planet.
This unit is centered around a computer game that Jay Gertz (a former member of our Teaching Team) programmed. The computer game lets the students sequence a strand of DNA by going through all of the steps necessary to determine a DNA sequence. The students usually race to see who can sequence their strand of DNA first.
This unit demonstrates how an organisms DNA (or genotype) can relate to an organisms characteristics (or phenotype). Students study a set of gourds together with their genotype and determine what phenotype is being affected. In the end, students are given the genotype of a mystery gourd and must pick it out from a set of possible mystery gourds.
In this unit we show students how we can use DNA to determine how different organisms are related. Through different examples students are introduced to the idea of phylogenetic trees and shown that DNA can help to clarify difficult to determine evolutionary relationships.
Through interactive demos, the neuroscience teaching team demonstrates how the brain and nervous system works and is organized. Demonstrations allow the students to experience how your body senses where it is in space (called proprioception) and how you adapt to altered visual stimuli (a process called visual-motor adaptation). Moreover, we provide a live viewing of a human brain with an explanation on how the nervous system works. Beyond these standard demonstrations, we can provide lessons on how you discriminate two-points differently over your body, how the neuron functions using an electrical model and how transmission works at the level of a synapse between two neurons. All in all, these demonstrations provide an exciting, interactive experience for the students to learn about neuroscience and foster increased enthusiasm about this growing field.
The Physics teaching team aims to illustrate the role which physics plays in everyone’s everyday life. Our hope is to show students that they can use physics to understand the world around. In particular we try to tailor our demonstrations and activities toward their areas of interest (music, sports, etc.) in order to show them the ubiquity of physical laws. We feel that showing the role that physics plays in activities which students enjoy we can inspire them to look more favorably at physics and science in general.
Much of the phenomena we observe in nature are waves, such as the electromagnetic waves of light, pressure waves of sound, etc. In each case, waves can be characterized according to the media through which they propagate. For sound, the vibration of molecules carries waves through various media. In this demo, students learn how wave frequency affects the pitch of a sound. Tuning bottles of water, they will play different notes to discover the physics behind why instruments can make different sounds, as well as learn about different properties of waves.
Electricity plays such an important role in modern life. From large household appliances to the small gadgets we use so frequently, electricity is a universal tool we use throughout every day. Most people imagine electrical currents and circuits with batteries and wires when they think of electricity. However, all of these examples seem to suggest that electricity is something that is dynamic and always flowing. But, in fact, electricity is present even when things are at a stand-still. Static electricity is the interaction between charged particles that make up materials. Just like gravity is mediated by the gravitational force between two objects with mass, electricity is mediated by the electrical force between two charged objects. Using a variety of materials in this activity, students will observe static electricity in action and learn the differences between the gravitational and electrical forces. By charging objects with either like charge or opposite charge, they will discover that the electrical force can be both attractive and repulsive, which allows for the currents and circuits so important for everyday life.
Students explore the concept of light and reflection using an object they see everyday: a mirror. Here, students will learn what is happening when light interacts with a mirror and how this concept makes mirrors a valuable tool for optical devices as well as everyday life.
When light hits an object’s surface, part of the light is absorbed by the atoms that make up the object and part of it is scattered back out. The objects we are able to see are visible to us because of the partially scattered light eventually reaching our eyes. Light can also be transmitted, reflected and refracted. In this demo, students will learn about the scattering and reflection of light by using a classic optical instrument: a kaleidoscope. The beautiful repeating patterns that kaleidoscopes create are due to the multiple reflections of different colors of light scattered from objects. Students will see these principles in action by building their own kaleidoscope using simple, household items.
Magnets are used in many everyday objects, such as TV’s, videotapes, and speakers. Not only that, we are also living on one giant magnet – the Earth. All magnets produce magnetic fields, and magnetic field lines are a way to visualize these magnetic fields. This demo will use this phenomenon to demonstrate basic concepts of magnetism.