James Clemens teacher Joelle Lilavois conducts an experiment at HudsonAlpha. (CONTRIBUTED)
James Clemens teacher Joelle Lilavois conducts an experiment at HudsonAlpha. (CONTRIBUTED)

Archived Story

Lilavois, McRae tackle genetics at HudsonAlpha

Published 10:35pm Thursday, July 4, 2013

MADISON – Joelle Lilavois and Leah McRae have packed their toolkits with genetics know-how to train their students at James Clemens High School.

In June, they completed the two-week Genetic Technologies for Alabama Classrooms (GTAC) academy at HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology.

“I didn’t have many opportunities in California for professional development in science,” Lilavois said. “I moved over 2,200 miles to finally have access to science opportunities.”

So many apply, McRae waited four years to attend GTAC but “already benefited from many workshops (after) the arrival of Dr. Neil Lamb to Huntsville.”

Many students struggle with genetics, Lilavois said, but academy experts relayed up-to-date strategies. The academy’s goals were to update content knowledge, identify student misconceptions and new instruction approaches and distribute toolkits of genetics-related materials, McRae said.

Participants explored “beyond the cell membrane (phospholipid bilayer)” and took the ‘strawberry test’ to the next level. They accessed DNA inside chicken liver, kiwi and peaches, McRae said. They also evaluated kits for mitosis and discussed Touching Triton software that “causes students to think about heredity and environment. When students find answers for themselves, they empower their own learning.”

“The most rewarding yet difficult exercise was my professional poster” involving student misconceptions, Lilavois said. “Students think that writing is all the same” but need to learn about technical writing and the scientific process.

Lilavois plans to do an advanced-placement environmental science lab exploring how biotechnology can improve farming with better crops and livestock. “I can’t wait to work with Leah to teach … our department and bridge out to our feeder school, Liberty,” Lilavois said.

“Genetics and biotechnology are an important curriculum for today’s high school students because of the strong impact on society,” McRae said. Everyone is affected — whether we know it or not. “This field is changing exponentially. To really understand the truth about genetics, we must stay current with content.”

GTAC allowed Lilavois “to go back to school without tuition. Hudson Alpha will always be there for me.”

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