On the Road with the Biotechnology Field Trips Program


The On the Road (OTR) BTC Institute Biotechnology Field Trips (BFT) program is rolling right along!  We are doing our best to brave the winter weather to take hands-on science activities all over the state of Wisconsin.

The BTC Institute BFT program served over 3,400 students last year, most of them here at the BTC in Fitchburg.  That said, each year the OTR part of the program is growing in order to serve schools that cannot travel here for various reasons, such as distance, bus costs and the need to minimize out-of-school time.

Begun in 2009, the BTC Institute has enjoyed a long partnership with Cooperative Educational Service Agency (CESA) #11, visiting the far northwest corner of the state annually.  As Denise Michaelsen, CESA #11 Educational Consultant describes:

“The ‘On the Road’ field trips have been a great experience for our CESA #11 schools. With limited resources, our schools struggle to provide an authentic hands-on biotechnology experience for their students. The BTC Institute facilitators (teachers) do an amazing job working with students to provide a safe and productive learning environment with engaging curriculum.” 

When we visit CESA #11 each year, multiple middle school and high school teachers from some very small school districts can each bring several students to the CESA #11 site to participate in activities such as the bioluminescence genetic transformation of bacteria, restriction enzyme digestion and an immunology dot-blot to detect antibodies.

In recent years, I (Ryan) have spent 2 entire days (and nights) in the Marshfield area with teacher Doug Benton and his students.  Mr. Benton teaches a Microbiology & Parasitology class remotely from Spencer High School managed through the CESA #10’s distance-learning programs. This class benefits students from smaller school districts such as Stratford and others throughout north central Wisconsin. Throughout the year, students in these smaller districts access the class is via the internet and television.

Ryan introduces the next activity to Stratford High School students, at Spencer High School
Ryan introduces the next activity to Stratford High School students, at Spencer High School

Twice a year, Mr. Benton’s students gather together in Spencer to participate in BTC Institute laboratory activities that augment what the students have learned. In addition to the activities listed above, the students can get experience with PCR and protein analysis activities such as size exclusion chromatography and ELISA testing.  After my recent visit this January, students commented:

“Taking part in the labs put on by BTCI allowed me to learn more in two days than I was able to learn in my whole biology class in the lab.  Mr. Olson was a great teacher and helped us understand and gain more knowledge than what a regular school lab would give us.”

 – Tyson, Stratford HS

“It was a great opportunity and pushed you to learn! We had a great instructor and got to use a lot of lab tools most high school students don’t ever get to use. The questions our instructor asked made you think and pull out information you didn’t even know you remembered or knew at all. I learned a lot about the structure of cells and how they react when exposed to certain substances. We also had the opportunity to make cells glow in the dark! That was pretty cool! Overall I would highly recommend anyone with the opportunity to do a lab day with BTCI to take advantage of the offer!”                                

– Ingrid, Stratford HS

What do I (Ryan) like about this?  Having grown up in Lancaster, a small Wisconsin community, I relish the opportunity to offer students in the state’s more rural areas participation in hands-on laboratory science experiences that they might not otherwise have access to.   I love communicating and collaborating with teachers like Mr. Benton in order to learn how to better illustrate molecular science concepts in their classrooms.  I also appreciate the opportunity to bring ideas about what teachers find interesting and useful back to the BTC Institute to help guide and refine our future lab offerings.

New this year is an OTR BFT partnership with Swallow School in Hartland.  I (Barbara) will be making E. coli glow in the dark! with four different sets of middle school students on four different dates.  Students who participated recently on January 19th had this to say:

“I don’t do this often, but I feel it was a great new experience for me.  It was cool how we learned                so many [much] stuff, such as JM109 cells.  We even learned stuff from high school!”

– Mark, Swallow School, Hartland

“I learned that bacteria’s stable degrees is 37° and that they have pours [pores] that when heated, they open, plus you can feed bacteria.”                                                                                                                                             

– Sydney, Swallow School, Hartland

 “I learned that luciferase means glow.”

– Lana, Swallow School, Hartland

“I have never used both of the tools that were used at the lab station” [a sterile transfer pipette and sterile inoculating loop]

–Josef, Swallow School, Hartland

Swallow School students making E. coli glow in the dark!
Swallow School students making E. coli glow in the dark!

In addition to the OTR Biotechnology Field Trips described above, 2016-2017 will see our cars packed for Badger High School in Lake Geneva, Neillsville Middle School, Kaukauna High School, Slinger High School, St. Mary’s Springs Academy in Fond du Lac, and the middle school Tech Savvy Program at UW-Fox Valley in Menasha.

Working with students and teachers all over the state is wonderful – personal highlights include creating new and lasting partnerships with terrific teachers and schools, getting a chance to see the different classrooms and lab rooms where learning takes place, seeing my first wolf in the wild (on the road to Neillsville!) and singing along with Ryan as we drive north.” [Barbara]

If you know a school or teacher that might enjoy learning more about the opportunity for having biotechnology come to them, they can learn more by visiting http://www.btci.org/k12/bft/bft.html or contacting barbara.bielec@btci.org

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