Today we became genetic engineers. Starting off a two part lab series, we created our own recombinant plasmids of DNA. For a basic rundown, this involved using two different restriction enzymes to cut the circular plasmids at specific sites, then using ligase to piece the fragments together in possibly new combinations. These plasmids are then fed to E. coli colonies, and the ultimate goal is cloning the DNA combinations on selective medium. Of course, I'm just scratching the surface. I would go into greater detail, but the goal here is sharing our experience, not putting blog-readers to sleep.
It's fascinating how performing the lab teaches me more about the reason for certain steps of the procedure and the biological implications than any textbook or lectures do. I'm noticing that a lot of the experiments we're performing were mentioned in my AP Bio textbook and on the AP exam questions. Back then we only read through them, but we weren't given the tools to get active in lab learning.
This is why I think engaging students in lab sciences is so important in our schools. Even as an AP Bio student, I never had the full comprehension of what was happening with each reaction, nor took the step above to cross-examine the steps of the procedure, until Brown equipped me with the instruments and encouragement to do so. The hands-on approach here is a far cry from mindlessly following procedures like robots. I'm glad that we're motivated to engage in a lot of critical thinking, and there's always room to ask questions.
It calls into question why similar learning environments aren't actively promoted back home. Reading assignments, reports, poster projects, and busy work only go so far when it comes to getting students involved in science. Even as students we could really make an impact by reaching out to middle school science classrooms to help teachers establish a foundation of lab safety and interactive learning. While I did not have that kind of scientific upbringing (but luckily had the benefit of community college lab courses before they were closed to high school students) and even had to pick up the proper habits on site, it doesn't have to be that way for future students of our school district.