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Q&A: Science Educator’s Insights on PBS Wisconsin’s Newest Resource, ‘Meet the Lab’

November 20, 2020 Luisa De Vogel Leave a Comment

PBS Wisconsin Education has partnered with innovative science research labs in Wisconsin to create Meet the Lab, a new online collection of educational resources for middle school science classrooms. Learners will explore how lasers can help combat cancer and how soil can lead to the discovery of new antibiotics, and that is just the start! The collection also highlights the human element of scientific research — the people working together to creatively advance their research to solve problems using science.

Each featured lab’s page in the collection contains a variety of learning media components that are reinforced with discovery activities. Learners will watch a Why Research Matters video (below) profiling an individual, or group, impacted by the featured lab’s research, and a Scientific Practices video featuring middle school students expressing their curiosity about the area of research and scientists at the featured lab. Then, learning goals are put into practice through an interactive STEAM Identity Card Game featuring researchers from the two labs, and a Science Practices Discovery Activity composed of a slide deck and data sheet focused on how scientists use patterns in their research. Discussion prompts and an Educator Guide are also included. 

We sat down with Jeanine Gelhaus, an educator from Medford, Wisconsin, who served as an educator advisor for the project, and whose middle school students are featured in the series, to learn more about what this new resource means for science education in Wisconsin.

PBS Wisconsin: What made you want to be a part of the Meet the Lab project?

Jeanine Gelhaus: I’ve worked on other projects with both PBS Wisconsin and the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the past. The people involved are bright, energetic and passionate about what they are doing. The teams are full of creative, insightful individuals who bring out the best in everyone they work with. They know how to create a project that is content rich and process strong.

PBS Wisconsin: What were your students’ responses to being a part of the project? 

Gelhaus: They were super excited and very proud to be a part of something that has a statewide audience. I was surprised at how shy they would become when working  on camera or with the green screen technology. However, students did not seem intimidated when working with the scientists! They posed many questions to the scientists without hesitation.  

PBS Wisconsin: Was participation in the process valuable for your students learning? 

Gelhaus: Absolutely! This was a dream come true for a science teacher. My students had an opportunity to compare healthy and cancerous tissues. They could sort of “try on the role” of being that lab scientist. I saw strong evidence of student engagement during those activities. Their facial expressions, the scientific conversation happening between the other students in their groups, and the precision and quality of the descriptions they were documenting in the journal all pointed to superior levels of student engagement.

PBS Wisconsin: Why is it important for middle school students to develop an identity in the sciences? 

Gelhaus: Research shows that this is the time in a students’ life where they begin to think about career possibilities. If they are excited about science now, there is a better chance they will take more science classes in high school, and those choices might lead to taking more science in college. The end result could be more students pursuing advanced degrees in science and wouldn’t that be a huge win for our world?  

PBS Wisconsin: Why is it important to create a local science curriculum that brings learning close to home for students? 

Gelhaus: We study famous scientists. Though important, those scientists are not people my students can relate to. They are simply smart strangers. Those scientists are often from places other than Wisconsin. They are often much older than the scientists that are featured in Meet the Lab. Seeing these vivacious, energetic young scientists in these resources changed the stereotype that some of my students had about scientists. They realize that they are both male and female. They can be old, but here they saw very intelligent, young people who were passionate about their project and the area of science. They begin to understand that they can be that person. They can be that scientist in a not-so-distant future! They also know that important science work is not just happening on another continent, or even in another state, but right down the road in a city some have visited called Madison.  

Meet the Lab – Tiny Earth – Science Practices

PBS Wisconsin: What is your favorite part of the Meet the Lab series?

Gelhaus: I am so impressed with the actual videos. They tell the story so creatively and truly engage the viewer through all sections.

PBS Wisconsin: How do you plan to implement the Meet the Lab series in your classroom? 

Gelhaus: Currently, I am teaching a middle level online curriculum for a Wisconsin online academy. This type of content is a perfect fit for online instruction as everything is right there in a perfect package: videos to engage the learner, a slide deck activity to help teach content and online documents to help the instructor understand both process and content. It is a win-win for both face-to-face or online instruction.

PBS Wisconsin: What are the biggest challenges you face in teaching middle school science? 

Gelhaus: Finding extraordinary labs and activities that allow for students to engage in quality science content and process is a challenge. Meet the Lab is an extraordinary series that supports me in meeting my instructional objectives in a creative and engaging way. 

PBS Wisconsin: What do you love most about teaching middle school science? 

Gelhaus: My students are so bright! They have a desire to understand and they are not afraid to ask questions to find answers to want to know more about. 

The full series is accessible at pbswisconsineducation.org/meetthelab.  

Meet the Lab was made possible through the generous support of the Timothy William Trout Education Fund – a gift of Dr. Monroe and Sandra Trout, the Focus Fund for Education and Friends of PBS Wisconsin.