In Myron Blosser’s science class at Harrisonburg High School in Virginia, students do more than study cells under a microscope: They learn to fingerprint and multiply their own DNA using some of the latest techniques in biotechnology.
“It’s the same principle they use in forensics,” said Blosser, who teaches molecular genetics to high school seniors.
From identifying the remains of American soldiers, to deciding paternity cases, to convicting criminals suspects, DNA testing has become a powerful tool. In one application of the technology, small samples of DNAsuch as those found in a strand of hair at a crime scenecan produce enough copies to carry out forensic tests.
Taking DNA from hair, cheeks, plants, and even local farm animals, Blosser’s students learn to perform a technique called polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, using a Thermocycler that rapidly replicates fragments of DNA and separates the fragments according to size.
His students then compare the DNA patterns, known as fingerprints, with others to identify similiarities.
Blosser, who chairs the science department at Harrisonburg High School and also serves as science coordinator for the district, is a leader in integrating technology into the classroom.
“He has really, truly sparked an interest in technology in the district, not just in science, but across the board,” said D. D. Dawson, technology director for Harrisonburg City Public Schools. “He actually goes out and talks to teachers about technologyand science primarilyand how they can integrate technology into the classroom.”
In addition to teaching biotechnology in the classroom, Blosser organizes and hosts an annual biotechnology symposium for high school students. He invites high-profile scientists to ignite students’ interest in the field of biotechnology. The speaker at this past year’s symposium was Dr. David Ayares, vice president of PPL Therapeutics Inc., the company responsible for cloning Dolly the sheep.
As the science coordinator for the district, Blosser has introduced younger students to biotechnology as well. As early as the third grade, he gets students interested in genetics work by having them look at cells under a microscope.
Blosser said he introduced biotechnology to Harrisonburg after taking a month-long course at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York, a leader in genetics research and development. One of the laboratory’s directors was James D. Watson, who discovered the double helix model for the structure of DNA along with Francis Crick.
Last year, Blosser also spearheaded a program called Coast to Coast, in which 22 students and nine teachers travel across the country together on a motor coach for part of June and most of July to study science.
“We mainly camp as we cross the nation,” said Blosser, who has taught at Harrisonburg High School for 14 years.
As they complete their journeyconducting experiments in national parks, visiting experts, and touring factoriesthe students find out how Americans preserve natural resources, which is the theme for this year’s Coast to Coast project.
“We’re using the United States as our classroom and the national parks as our laboratory,” Blosser said, as students immerse themselves in the topic and speculate about it as a group.
Typical of Blosser, the trip incorporates quite a bit of technology.
On a daily basis, students post their findings to the web and update their online journals using a satellite link. Blosser arranged with a California company to get the satellite technology, so students can make changes to the web site from anywhere.
For their experiments, students use probeware that plugs in to their iBook laptops, which were donated by Apple Computer to use on the trip. Students also use Intel microscopes that connect to the computers.
After taking out some of the seats in the full-size motor coach and installing a laboratory, Blosser equipped the bus with counter space, a rack for the computers to recharge, a generator, and storage space for all their gear.
“My goal is to get students out in the real world to really teach them what it is to be a member of a highly productive society,” he said.
Ryan Sensenig, a fellow science teacher at Harrisonburg High School who is planning the curriculum for Coast to Coast 2000, said, “Myron has done a great job of making teachers realize that if you have the right kind of project, the funding will come.”
In addition to state funding and grants, Blosser looks for other sources of funding to help pay for the equipment and activities he dreams up.
“Fund raising is something you have to do when you get this zany,” he said. “If I need something, I go and fund-raise for it.”
Blosser has a lot of equipment you wouldn’t find in a regular science classroom because of his fund-raising efforts, Sensenig said.
In addition to raising funds for the Coast to Coast trip, Blosser has solicited donations from the Harrisonburg community to help pay for the Thermocycler, to install a telephone in the science classroom so students can call expert scientists to ask questions, and to build a greenhouse.
“He has helped make the visions of projects at our school a reality through funding and encouragement,” Sensenig said. “His philosophy is, ‘We’ll find a way to make it happen.’ This starts to stimulate an environment of creativity.”
In addition to his other accolades, Blosser has been honored as a member of the All-USA Teacher Team, which is USA Today’s recognition program for outstanding teachers.
Harrisonburg High School
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory