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Flexing Their ‘Mussels’

With the ultimate goal of enhancing the learning of their students, six high school teachers became students this week (July 26-29) at Keuka College.

For the second straight year, Keuka is hosting a Rochester Area Colleges—Center for Excellence in Math and Science (RAC-CEMS) summer institute this week on “Using Zebra Mussels for Good, not Evil: Hands-on Experiments and Modeling Activities.”

Linda L. MacDougal-Spross who teaches 9-12 living environment and environmental science at Marshall High School in Rochester, wanted to attend the institute because she is looking to motivate her students with hands-on experiments.

“I found the DNA extraction [of zebra mussels] fascinating, and I wanted to get ideas for other hands-on experiments,” she said. “I am getting plenty of great ideas.”

So is Eric English, a science educator for grades 9-12 at Escuela Americana in San Salvador, El Salvador.

“I want to learn techniques for teaching scientific design, and I want my students to become more independent and use their own scientific means to come to the answers,” said English, a native of Corning.

Virginia Donahue

Other participants included Tim Downs (School of the Arts, Rochester), Virginia Donahue (Fairport High School), Marilee Buffum (Fairport High School), and Eileen Hammond (Churchville-Chili Senior High School).

Limnologist Tim Sellers, associate professor of biology and environmental science, and Michael Keck, chair of the Division of Natural Sciences, Mathematics, and Physical Education and associate professor of chemistry, led the workshop. They were joined by Barb Demjanec, laboratory coordinator, and Keuka senior-to-be Dominique Derminio, a biochemistry major.

Zebra mussels look like small clams, with yellowish or brownish D-shaped shells, usually with alternating dark and light brands of color. Via small, tight elastic threads, they attach themselves firmly to solid objects. Though they are diminutive in size, they have the ability to wreak havoc with lakes, rivers and streams. They have also been known to clog pipes in the homes of waterside residents and jam water treatment and power plant systems.

But they are also valuable educational tools, according to Donahue, an AP and Regents biology teacher. She wants to encourage her students to ask questions and find their own answers, rather than “following a recipe.

“I am always looking to make learning relevant to my students, and I want to learn new activities to take into my classroom,” she said. “Just having zebra mussels in the classroom will generate questions.”

According to Hammond, a senior high school science teacher, the Regents exams are focusing more on western New York.

That is why she “wanted to learn more about the New York state aquatic ecosystems, as well as the latest technology and lab experiences to bring back to my students. I am now in the process of writing a lesson plan based on zebra mussels and what I have learned here.”

Downs, a living environment and science 8 teacher, has always been interested in invasive species like zebra mussels. He believes his students have had some interaction with zebra mussels “so they will connect with this experience.

“I am interested in the identification between zebra mussels and quagga mussels, and want to give my students exposure to using dichotomous,” he said.

Buffum, a 10th grade Regents biology teacher, believes it is “valuable to invest the time to make things fun and interesting for the students.

“I have learned a lot about zebra mussels, such as how the environment and other things affect their life span and their anatomy,” she said. “Extracting DNA has been fun, and between the labs, notes and hands-on experiments, the institute has been beneficial, and I have learned a lot.”

One Response to Flexing Their ‘Mussels’

  1. Connie Duff says:

    What a great article and a terrific photo of an exceptional group of educators! I am so thrilled to be a part of RAC-CEMS and to be able to support the efforts of Dr. Sellers and Dr. Keck…AND their students!

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