A Conversation with David Mack—Biomedical Sciences Teacher

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This spring semester, CEC introduced a new series of classes, which fall under the umbrella of Biomedical Sciences. This curriculum comes straight from a nationally renowned organization called Project Lead The Way (PLTW), which has designed this innovative course series, combining “the concepts of human medicine, physiology, genetics, microbiology and public health.”

This four-part course will be phased in at CEC over the next 2-3 years, but currently there are two classes, which will be available in the fall—Principles of Biomedical Science and Human Body Systems.

The Principles of Biomedical Science class is unique in that it has a story-based premise that students use as the foundation of their semester investigations. Talk more about that:

“The first thing that students see on day one of the class is a simulated crime scene on the floor. Anna Garcia (played willingly by a mannequin) is dead on the floor and the students are introduced to the character that will be the subject of all of their assignments in the class. The whole course is predicated on finding out how Anna died. The course is an investigation of all of the probable causes of death from diabetes to violent crime, heart disease, sickle cell anemia or other genetic or infectious diseases. So the exploration is all hands-on as students try to figure out what caused the demise of Anna. Each lesson builds on the one before and the final of the class is to present a conclusion, with substantial evidence, as to how Anna died.”

(The Human Body Systems class will begin in the fall of 2015, and in this course “students examine the interactions of human body systems as they explore identity, power, movement, protection, and homeostasis. Exploring science in action, students build organs and tissues on a skeletal Maniken®; use data acquisition software to monitor body functions such as muscle movement, reflex and voluntary action, and respiration; and take on the roles of biomedical professionals to solve real-world medical cases.” (https://www.pltw.org/our-programs/pltw-biomedical-science/pltw-biomedical-science-curriculum)

This semester was the debut of the first PLTW course, Principles of Biomedical Science, with the character of Anna. Talk about the outcomes of that class—do the students have to agree on how she died or do individuals come up with their own hypotheses?

“As long as the evidence supports a student’s conclusion then there doesn’t necessarily have to be agreement. But it’s a great debate and conversation to have as to what the students believe killed her and how they can back up their claims.”

Is this a group driven or an individually driven course or is it a combination?

“It has to be both. Primarily, it is small group driven. The class has to come together. The students always work in pairs or threes. And by rotating through groups and working with other students, they learn what each individual has to bring to the table from their unique point of view, knowledge and experience.”

How is the Biomedical Sciences track different than the Medical Careers and Nursing classes at CEC?

“What makes it different is that we are learning hands-on real life lab research technique for biological diseases. While we’re still learning about the disease, we touch on it from a different angle than the medical sciences. The Biomedical Science class looks moderately at the preventative side, but focuses on the acute side. It also examines disease from a cellular level—so from the molecules of what’s really the root cause of these diseases. Using these lab techniques, students are able to isolate DNA. They can also isolate bacteria and viruses—in other words, the “real stuff” that can cause the diseases. So instead of taking care of the patient, the students are getting to the detective work of what’s causing the problems in the first place.”

What do students seem to like most about the class?

“The class is full of activities, projects and experiments. It’s student-centered, which means the kids have a lot of choices in the direction they want to take their experiments. The students design the experiments with all of the necessary tools. Then they use everything they have learned in the class to put it together. It requires a great deal of critical thinking skills as well as, students’ own personal experiences, to come up with a conclusion. In the process, their reasoning skills increase.”

So if this fictional character Anna Garcia dies at the beginning of the semester and the goal is to find out why, can students only take the class once because they will have solved the mystery or does she die a different way every semester?

“Every year she’ll die a different way. And I don’t know how. I won’t pick it until I start planning for the semester. There are eight different ways that she conclusively die, based on her diseases and the research we do on her. And every year will be different. So no student can lead on to the secret. You can’t have another student ruin it because they won’t know how it’s going to end every year.”

How do you connect principals from your students’ academic courses with the Biomedical Sciences career course?

“I specifically coordinate with our chemistry and biology teachers because a lot of their content overlaps with my class—we just use it in different applications. With that being the case, students are able to see how the same knowledge can be applied in a variety of settings. In addition, I am able to help students build their writing skills through lab reports and informative writing pieces. I think having this opportunity to collaborate with the academic teachers enriches the career classes and helps students better understand the concepts they are learning and why they are important in real world applications. Collaboration among our academic and career teachers truly helps reinforce and enhance the crossover and connection between courses.”

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