Bringing Research Into the Classroom (BRIC) project, based at Montana Tech in Butte, Montana, has been providing research experiences for Montana teachers and students since 2012. To date, BRIC has provided phage discovery to more than 7,000 students including some of Montana’s most remote communities. The BRIC project provides two years of intensive professional development for the 28 participating teachers and four years of 3-day in-class visits for their students. BRIC teachers engage in authentic research experiences and prepare manuscripts summarizing their findings. Teachers’ personal research experiences inform their mentoring of K–12 student research projects.
Citizen Science Phage Discoveries in the Classroom
Phages are viruses that infect bacteria and can be useful tools for fighting antibiotic-resistant bacteria. They are the most numerous biological entity on the planet. BRIC works directly with students in middle schools and high schools for 3-day phage discovery projects. Students and their teachers isolate phages from samples they collect from their local environment. If the students discover a phage, they choose a name the phage, and it is added to the database of phages at The Actinobacteriophage Database Website (phagesdb.org). This three-day research experience engages students in relevant biomedical citizen science. With Dr. Pedulla’s combined outreach programs, students have discovered over 100 new-to-science phages. All phages discovered in BRIC are added to The Actinobacteriophage Database. Ten phages have been sequenced and annotated, and eight phage genomes are currently being sequenced.
Independent Teacher Research through BRIC
BRIC teachers complete two online courses and two intensive summer research academies during which they plan, design, and carry out their own research studies. Three teachers have submitted their research for publication. One of the three, Linda Christina Rost, MEd (Curriculum and Instruction), earned her second degree, MS (Science Education) from Montana State University in 2018. Her research thesis information is provided below.
Rost L. 2018. Analysis of the role of iron uptake mechanisms and addition of iron-doped apatite nanoparticles in phage infections in Staphylococcus aureus and Mycobacterium smegmatis.
Two additional teacher manuscripts were submitted for review.
Lane M, and Walter A. 2018. Characterization of a bacterium isolated from hailstone in Butte, Montana.
Walter, K. 2018. Development of a plaque assay system for Streptococcus salivarius on BHI agar
Lesson Plan Development
Many of the BRIC teachers have developed lessons and materials to continue the phage-discovery program within their schools. Teachers have also expressed a desire to help other teachers within their districts and neighboring communities learn how to implement phage-discovery in their classrooms.
SEPA-INBRE Summer Research Scholar Pipeline: Mentored Research on Montana INBRE Campuses
Based on our aim of increasing the numbers of Montana students entering STEM-based educational programs and careers, we asked, How can SEPA and INBRE partner to foster a pipeline from high school to undergraduate researchers? We met with the leadership from Montana INBRE and our resulting collaborative effort was piloted this summer (2018).
For the pilot, a flyer was prepared and distributed to BRIC teachers and students, and an online application portal was developed and launched. We received very enthusiastic responses from students who had participated in BRIC classroom visits and wanted to participate in paid research experiences this summer. We had applications from more students than we could support through Montana INBRE funds alone, but were able to leverage additional funds from AmeriCorps, the Deans of Research and the College of Letters, Sciences, and Professional Studies at Montana Tech, as well as from our existing SEPA grant.
We placed five students, including students traditionally underrepresented in STEM fields, into paid intensive summer research experiences at Montana Tech and Montana State University. Students received training in RCR, safety, microbiology, molecular biology, bioinformatics, and electron microscopy, opportunities for college and graduate studies in STEM fields, and poster presentations.
Engaging students in authentic research experiences and equipping teachers with the necessary knowledge skills and tools essential to lead research within the classroom is critical for increasing the pipeline leading to biomedical fields. The Bringing Research into the Classroom (BRIC) project directly aligns with the NCRR goals of development of a diversified pipeline for basic behavioral and clinical research fields and to educate the community on health-related issues by utilizing an intensive teacher professional development program focusing on discipline-specific research in bacteriophage discovery. By equipping teachers to facilitate intensive research experiences within their classrooms the BRIC project aims to build a legacy of teacher leaders who will provide authentic science opportunities for their students.
The BRIC project is built upon seven years of collaborative efforts between the Montana Tech Phage-digging Program and the Clark Fork Watershed Education Program (CFWEP). Both programs have proven track records in science education outreach efforts. Combined the two programs have reached over 20000 students and 300 teachers. These two highly successful programs have designed the BRIC project a new program to provide intensive teacher professional development combined with in-class visits by scientists.
The overall project goal is to equip teachers with the knowledge skills and dispositions to provide high-quality health science research opportunities for students. The project’s specific aims for teachers are to 1) Increase teacher science content knowledge especially as related to phage discovery research 2) Increase teacher pedagogical skills and discipline-specific research practices within the classroom and 3). Provide meaningful engaging professional development for teachers that engages teachers in a rigorous research question during the summer.
For students the project aims to: 1) Increase student content knowledge especially as related to phage discovery research 2) Improve student awareness of health sciences careers as well as their attitudes and dispositions toward the health sciences and 3) Engage students in relevant meaningful classroom research experiences.
The BRIC program leaders will provide phage discovery research curriculum within all participating teacher’s classrooms. Scientists from Montana Tech accompanied by undergraduate students lead three days of bacteriophage discovery projects also known as ‘phage-digging’. Teachers engage in intensive summer training workshops that include discipline-specific research content and pedagogical approaches for the classroom. The project leaders have developed an experimental design in order to examine the effect of professional development combined with classroom visits as compared to classroom visits alone for both teachers and students.
Future Phage Discovery in Montana
BRIC project leaders and participating teachers are exploring avenues to expand and sustain citizen science phage discovery across Montana. Innovative approaches for future delivery of the in-class visits and the professional development include the use of satellite labs and teacher leaders to support classroom visits to expand and sustain the citizen science classroom phage discovery project. Specifically, a shift from university-led to mentor-teacher-led phage discovery will allow for future expansion into more remote regions of Montana, those regions where opportunities for scientific research are most restricted/unavailable. This approach will not only ensure sustainability of the programming but also create opportunities for diverse students in very remote regions of Montana who otherwise would not be included in research of this nature, including Native American reservations.
K–12 teachers and students, undergraduate students
Teacher professional development, mentoring, life science, bacteria, phage, biology, medicine, microbiology, environment