Connecting PLTW Skills to the Real World

Clare Matusevich is a PLTW Biomedical Science teacher at Chapel Hill High School in Chapel Hill, N.C. She has experience teaching Principles of Biomedical Science and Human Body Systems and will attend Core Training for Medical Interventions this summer. She previously taught biology and AP Biology in other districts. Clare was awarded a 2017-18 Kenan Fellowship and will work with Dr. Balaji Rao at NC State University to develop a comprehensive unit plan about the how and why of stem cell research. She enjoys spending time with her family and dogs and riding her horse, Earnie.

As teachers, we are always learning. Or, at least, we should be. 

As a Kenan Fellow for the 2017-18 school year, I have been provided an incredible real-world professional learning opportunity. Throughout the year, I will work closely with a stem cell researcher to develop a product that will connect students with experts in the field as well as allow them explore the historical and legal aspects of stem cell research. Part of my fellowship involves a three-week externship in the lab of my mentor, Dr. Balaji Rao of the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at North Carolina State University. I am currently wrapping up that externship and am reflecting on my experience and how I can bring it back to my classroom to benefit my students.

Overall, I’ve learned a great deal about stem cell potential, history, and policy. I now have a much more thorough understanding of how stem cells are currently being used in medicine and where research is headed. There are many learning objectives in the biomedical science courses that connect with stem cell research, and I’m looking forward to integrating my new knowledge into my teaching.

But knowledge of stem cells is certainly not the only thing I’ve learned so far. The PLTW Biomedical Science curriculum teaches students a wide range of technical skills that are applicable to a similarly wide range of biomedical careers. Having spent minimal time in an academic or professional lab, I wasn't quite sure what to expect from my externship or how it would relate to my students. But even after a brief time in the lab, I've not only practiced many of the skills biomedical science students learn – pipetting, gel electrophoresis, polymerase chain reaction (PCR), and more – but I've also learned about many more real-world applications for those skills. I've also learned new skills that, though not directly in the PLTW curriculum, have given me a greater understanding of the ultimate purpose of the techniques that my students learn. I’ve observed flow cytometry and learned how to interpret the results. I’ve used a spectrophotometer to analyze nucleic acid quantities in a sample. I’ve even cultured human embryonic kidney cells!

During my time in the lab, graduate student researchers have been wonderfully informative, explaining exactly what they are doing and why and patiently answering all of my questions. This has greatly helped my own understanding of the skills my students gain, and I’m looking forward to being able to better explain the processes of those biotechnical skills and their potential applications. 

In collaborating with Dr. Rao, I hope to develop a product that teachers across the country can use to help their students gain a deeper understanding of the how and why of stem cell research. Within my own classroom, I can’t wait to share with my students what I’ve learned and better support their learning. In combination with additional professional development opportunities through the Kenan Fellows Program, I can’t wait for Medical Interventions Core Training to get prepared to teach another awesome PLTW course, one that provides students with valuable technical laboratory and clinical skills and prepares them for a 21st-century career.

PLTW’s blog is intended to serve as a forum for ideas and perspectives from across our network. The opinions expressed are those of each guest author.