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Challenging young minds

USF opened its doors to let 75 seventh grade students obtain hands-on experience while on a field trip that explored the research and graphic art areas of science.

Joan Kaywell, interim chairwoman of secondary education, said she initiated the event when she realized the seventh grade curriculum included the study of cells. Kaywell said in addition to getting hands-on experience, the students visited several labs on campus, learned about research and technology and were involved in a “DNA Challenge.”

“I was at a teacher-parent conference when my son’s teacher told me they were studying cells, so the wheels started turning in my head,” Kaywell said.

The students from Independent Day School, a private school in Carrollwood, were split into three groups to attend the three labs at USF on Monday. Fred Mahusay, a teacher at the middle school, said the students visited a graphic studio with Roy Winkelman, program director for the College of Education, where they learned how to manipulate digital photos.

“(It) showed the students all the possibilities available with computers and how they are involved in research,” Mahusay said.

He said the group of students also visited the College of Medicine research labs where they saw cancerous bone cells under a microscope that came from an 11-year old girl.

“The students received hands-on experience with the high-powered microscopes and learned how they are involved with cancer research,” he said. “We covered many of these things in science class last week and now (these young students) get to see the real-life situation, which means more to them than opening a textbook or looking at paper fiber under a microscope.”

The seventh graders also attended a workshop about DNA taught by Elaine Howes, assistant professor of science education. Howes showed the students the different categories of fingerprints and how everyone’s DNA is different.

Then Ian Phillips, vice president of research, gave the students the option of entering a “DNA Challenge.” Phillips held up two telephone cords and said the cords represented the double helix in DNA and briefly explained how DNA is arranged.

The “DNA Challenge” is a contest in which the middle school students will create a painting, drawing or computer picture of DNA and submit their artwork. The winner(s) of the contest will receive $200 for their school, and their work will be displayed in the Contemporary Art Museum on campus as part of the celebration for the 50-year anniversary of the discovery of DNA.

Although the challenge is also open to USF students, Kaywell said she persuaded the staff to have a separate challenge for the seventh graders.

Kaywell said the field trip was a success and that she is looking to continue and extend the event to other schools.

Kaywell’s son, Stephen, said he enjoyed the field trip because it put science into perspective for him.

“I saw how science affects the whole world and there is more than one type of science,” he said.

But Stephen was not the only one who enjoyed it. Sarah Harris, another seventh grader, said after her visit to USF, she now likes science even more.

“It was cool because we went into different labs, and we saw a big frog and we got to see its eggs,” she said. “I like science a lot better.”