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Three Washington, D.C. biology teachers create online video lessons for MIT BLOSSOMS Program

Three high school biology teachers from the Washington, D.C. public school system (DCPS) — Diana Aljets, Sydney Bergman and Justin Lessek — have just completed two new online video lessons for the MIT BLOSSOMS program.

Bergman is science department chair in the School Without Walls of the DCPS. Her lesson, "The Case of the Stolen Painting: A Forensic Mystery," was conceived around the idea that students are excited and motivated to learn when they see practical applications of biology. Here, to solve the mystery, the students analyze the plant pollen found in a getaway car, and determine the identity of those plant species using fundamental principles of plant anatomy and reproduction. This lesson can be viewed here.

Aljets and Lessek co-teach biology in the Columbia Heights Educational Campus of DCPS. They co-created their BLOSSOMS video lesson, "The King of Dinosaurs or a Chicken Dinner? One Paleontologist's Quest to Activate Atavistic Genes and Create a Dinosaur." This lesson uses the fundamentals of protein synthesis as a context for investigating the closest living relative to Tyrannosaurus rex and evaluating whether paleontologist and dinosaur expert, Jack Horner, will be able to "create" a live dinosaur in the lab. This lesson can be viewed here.

During the past academic year, the MIT BLOSSOMS team (including Megan Rokop, Elizabeth Murray, Dan Livengood, Rhonda Jordan and Professor Richard Larson) traveled to Washington, D.C., and participated in five Professional Development (PD) days for DCPS teachers. More than 60 DCPS STEM teachers were exposed to the MIT BLOSSOMS project (STEM = Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). A contest was held, as participating teachers were encouraged to suggest new BLOSSOMS lessons to become available to high school STEM classes worldwide. Aljets, Bergman and Lessek are the winners of the contest. Rokop, director of the Educational Outreach Program at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, led the biology-oriented PD day sessions in Washington, D.C. "It was so rewarding to discuss with the DCPS teachers topics ranging from teaching in engaging and hands-on ways, to biology concepts that students struggle with most," she says.

With travel expenses covered by the BLOSSOMS project, all three came to MIT in early August to videotape their modules. The MIT BLOSSOMS project creates "interactive" educational videos, all freely available worldwide, to be shown to the class by the live in-class teacher — with all students in their regular seats and with all electronic devices turned off. Each BLOSSOMS video is delivered in short segments, where during the breaks between segments the teaching baton is passed to the live in-class teacher who engages the students in hands-on activities. MIT calls this a "teaching duet." Over half of the lesson time involves this in-class problem-focused learning with the students, with the video turned off. All slides, handouts and materials for each lesson are freely available to the teacher on the BLOSSOMS website.

BLOSSOMS is an MIT-based international STEM education project with these goals:
  • Excite young people about math, science & engineering, and STEM careers.
  • Show relevance of STEM subjects to their real world.
  • Develop critical and creative thinking skills.
  • Introduce the in-class teacher to technology-enabled education in a supportive way that allows her/him to stay in charge of the class.
  • Develop an awareness, understanding and appreciation for other cultures.
From the DCPS, James Rountree (science curriculum specialist, DCPS Office of Curriculum and Instruction) says, "MIT BLOSSOMS was an awesome resource for our teachers and an opportunity for them to engage in professional development with MIT's expert staff around best practices for high quality science instruction. The video contest was a great culminating activity and allowed our teachers to showcase the work they did during the five professional development sessions that took place last year. It was a pleasure working with MIT this year and I hope we can continue working together in the future."

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