Science students stepped resolutely into that vast gap between high school and the “real world” last week at New London High School.
About 40 students in the entry level principles of biomedical sciences and the subsequent human body systems courses unveiled their research projects into disease from A to V – Alzheimer’s to Von Willebrand’s.
A panel of professionals assessed the presentations, which included the creation of brochures and web sites, diagnosis and videos of simulated lab analysis and treatment of a miniature mannequin “patient.”
On the panel were medical professionals Bill Schmidt, CEO of New London Family Medical Center; and Dr. Paul Hoell, anesthesiologist and chronic pain management practitioner at that facility; along with New London School District’s Kathy Gwidt, director of teaching and learning; and Joe Pomrening, high school principal.
The principles of biomedical sciences teams presented public health campaigns on cystic fibrosis, tuberculosis, Jakob’s disease, cerebral palsy, Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia and acute myeloid leukemia. There are 29 students enrolled in the course.
Along with research into the cause, treatment and prevention of the disease, the students considered how to get the information out to the public – via brochures and web sites and public presentations – as well as what such a campaign would cost and where they would get funding for it.
The follow-up course, human body systems, challenged teams of four to diagnose a patient’s disease, based on symptoms and lab analysis. Then, they prescribed a course of treatment, assessed how it was working, and made adjustments. The 15 students studied Fabry’s disease, myasthenia gravis, Von Willebrand’s or Paget’s disease.
All of the hypothetical patients survived, although some of the diseases – the blood clotting ailment Von Willebrand’s among them – have a high mortality rate or are incurable.
The students were poised and well prepared. They dressed up – girls in sleeveless sheath dresses, cardigans and heels, boys in cargo khakis and plaid or polo shirts. They did not stumble over multi-syllabic medical terms. They explained their methods and their misdiagnoses along the way to treatment. They fielded questions from the panel.
Schmidt asked the schizophrenia presenters how they would raise funds for the public information campaign.
“You have to wash a lot of cars to get $130,000,” he said.
Students cited support organizations as possible sources of funding.
Teachers Laura Turner and Jennifer Doran said they helped students choose a disease – focusing on some that were rare or difficult to diagnose. They also put together the teams of three or four, to create a mix of strengths in each group.
“I’m very impressed with how the presentations went this year,” Turner told the students at the end of the morning event, when she and Doran awarded certificates to their young researchers.
“This is a huge task you guys have been working on since February,” she said, reminding students that the projects are an “awesome thing to put in your graduation portfolio.”
Doran, too, was beaming with pride.
“They did phenomenal,” she said.
Schmidt told the teachers afterward that the students were very well prepared and he’d enjoyed their presentations.
The two classes are part of the school’s Health and Human Services Academy and Project Lead the Way. This is the second year for the biomedical science courses.
In the project-based learning, students develop their own work, and teachers learn along with them. The workload, rigor and relevance of material to life outside school are different from the traditional classroom.
“We’re not up in front, explaining activities,” Doran said.
Instead, Turner said, “The role of the teacher becomes facilitator-student. We might not know much about the disease.”
Students also learn more general lessons such as how to make the most of class time, working as a team, and identifying credible research.
The courses require problem solving and critical thinking from self-motivated students, according to teachers.
“You have to be comfortable not knowing the answer,” Turner said, and confident seeking it out.