MCHS Biotech Inc.

New Class Runs More Like a Biotech Company

By Monica Lander


            It only seems fitting that located in the heart of the biotechnology industry, Moreau Catholic High School would make this fast-growing field of knowledge and information part of the cutting edge curriculum for its 21st century students.

            “It’s no longer just talking about science, but doing real science,” say Kerrie Gibson, Biotech teacher who introduced the Biotech I course to 20 students for the first time last year after “looking to find labs that were a little more engaging and real world science.”

            Inspired by a curriculum designed by San Mateo High School teacher Ellyn Daugherty, Gibson created the class that is “hands on and teaches kids what happens in the biotech industry, the skills needed and a really good integration of biology, chemistry and physics.” (Daugherty founded the San Mateo Biotechnology Career Pathway and wrote the textbook, Biotechnology: Science for the New Millennium.

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            With the Bay Area being a biotech mecca, it makes sense that students at Moreau Catholic learn about it.  “There are a lot of jobs in biotech and this is a way for kids to take a science class and give them a real experience.”

            It is estimated that the biotechnology industry in the United States has created more than 198,000 high-quality jobs at more than 1,400 pharmaceutical, agricultural, industrial and instrumentation biotechnology companies in addition to the multiple employment opportunities at academic and government agencies, according to the Biotechnology Industry Organization.

            The class is designed so that it can be taught to all levels of students and to those who just happen to be interested in the subject.  Says Gibson, the students “learn critical thinking and problem solving skills.” Students also gain knowledge and understanding that makes them better citizens and informed voters when it comes to issues like advances in medicine, genetically modified organisms, or even the development of more drought resistant plants. All those concepts involve biotechnology.

            Gibson has taught chemistry in the past and is currently teaching anatomy and kinesiology at the school in addition to being the athletic trainer for the sports teams.

            She models the biotech class after the real world and does not rely on traditional science class lectures and labs.

            “The students are the employees of a biotech company. The teacher is the CEO. It’s a hands-on lab and they are learning as they are doing it. They apply scientific method and do real experiments like extracting DNA and looking at protein in fish muscles using real equipment. They collect data, analyze it and apply it,” she says and adds, “I facilitate and guide them. I don’t have to hold their hands.”

            There will be two sections of Biotech I offered in the 2014-15 school year with the addition of Biotech II the following year. The class qualifies for the required UC lab science course (d) elective.

            Exposing students to the biotech field is just another opportunity to teach students about the opportunities in the industry which, says Gibson, could lead to summer internships and interest in all levels of employment in the industry.

            Funding a class that relies on real (read “expensive”) equipment is always the challenge, but “the school has been very supportive,” she says and she is exploring grants and ways to get equipment donated from area companies.

            The biotech class is unique in that its structure “can prepare the students for other classes and give them more confidence for other science classes,” she adds.  “These are 21st century learners, she says, and learning for a test has been eliminated in my class, but there is a lot of learning going on and they (the students) do realize it.” 

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