Gwynn Park High School Students Take on Alzheimer’s with Learning Studios
What do movie stars and Gwynn Park High School students have in common? Both groups are very concerned about the long-term impacts of aging. Gwynn Park students are putting concern into action as part of STEM Learning Studios. Teachers and students are starting their year by focusing on public health issues in all of their classes, with special emphasis on designing an experimental treatment for Alzheimer’s disease.
In their third year as a Learning Studio, the teacher team from Gwynn Park High School in Prince George’s County, Maryland selected the theme “Design and Build The Next Cool Tool” to structure their students’ learning throughout the year. The will use this theme as a lens to examine innovations in such varied STEM fields as medicine, defense, and green technology. These investigations were planned during a NCTAF-led summer Design Session, where the teachers were first introduced to Dr. Jessica Ash from the National Institute of Health. Dr. Ash collaborated with the teacher team over several months to help teachers’ link their existing curriculum to her own research on Alzheimer’s disease at NIH.
Dr. Ash made her first visit to Ms. Bariamichael’s Biology class and Mr. Belle’s Plants and People’s class and assisted the students in developing experimental treatments for Alzheimer’s. Dr. Ash shared her own career story and described her personal investment in research on aging, which arose out of her family’s experiences with the disease. The students were then asked to draw on their own personal experiences with family members and were encouraged to discuss how aging has impacted their own lives. The group also discussed the link between personal identity and memory; Dr. Ash pointed out “you define yourself by your memories and relationships, what happens when that is gone?” Finally Dr. Ash shared how she conducts the experimental design process in her investigations into Alzheimer’s prediction and prevention. Students then developed individual questions to investigate independently, such as: Is Alzheimer’s linked to genetics? How early does the onset of Alzheimer’s occur? How can we prevent Alzheimer’s?
The teachers on the Gwynn Park Learning Studio will use their collaborations with Dr. Ash to fuel their students’ work for the coming months. The study of Alzheimer’s disease will bring together current concepts in public health that cross the disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and math. The teacher team has even involved the consumer science class to test recipes for the kale that the “Plants and Peoples” class is growing as part of their Alzheimer’s research. Kale contains choline that has been linked to the disease’s prevention. In a few weeks, students will present their proposals to Dr. Ash in the hopes of being granted “funding”. Dr. Ash will evaluate the students’ proposals in a process that is similar to a scientific funding cycle.
The Learning Studios collaboration between teachers and STEM professionals provide Gwynn Park High school students with an opportunity to confront a public health challenge that is relevant and impactful in the 21st century.