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‘Fascinated’ by Discovery: SUNY Outreach Expands Science Education in Chautauqua | News, Sports, Jobs


Faculty from the Department of Biology at the State University of New York at Fredonia have created a new collaboration with the Chautauqua Institution to increase science education opportunities for Chautauqua County students this summer through the program Chautauqua Field Trips from the facility.

More than 1,100 students from 12 school districts participated in the inaugural field trip program in June, designed to provide a comprehensive one-day experience of Chautauqua Institution that covers the institution’s four pillars: art , education, hobbies and religion.

Associate Professors Courtney Wigdahl-Perry and Scott Ferguson developed and led two STEM/STEAM activities that fulfilled the educational offering of these experiences through two activities – Strawberry DNA Extraction and Water Matters, an introduction to the science of water – over the course of four days.

“The students were absolutely fascinated by what they learned from Dr. Wigdahl-Perry and Dr. Ferguson. The activities they carried out were engaging, informative and inspired curiosity,” said Suzanne Fassett-Wright, director of arts education at Chautauqua. They were assisted by SUNY Fredonia students majoring in biology or exercise science.

Using microscopes to analyze lake water samples was the focus of Wigdahl-Perry’s Water Matters activity, which uses lake sediment to make paint that students used to color sketches of the Miller Bell Tower from Chautauqua. Wigdahl-Perry also demonstrated how she uses paleolimnology – the study of ancient inland waters – to examine the history of environmental change in the lake.

“We showed them examples of Chautauqua Lake sediments, how we view them as scientists to observe environmental changes over time,” Wigdahl-Perry explained, through the use of diatoms, a type of algae that reveals fossils of its glass cell walls behind the bottom of the lake.

Ferguson and Wigdahl-Perry taught strawberry DNA extraction to demonstrate the universality of DNA in all walks of life. Strawberries were crushed in a plastic bag to break down the fruit. The DNA, which is inside the individual cells of the berries, was released by adding a solution containing dish soap and salt, so that the solution took on a thick consistency. Rubbing alcohol was applied to extract the DNA from the solution. The students were then able to make a necklace with a tube containing strawberry DNA.

“It’s a very robust reaction that produces a lot of DNA that kids can see,” said Ferguson.

Ferguson went on to describe the function of DNA in biology and showed insects, flowers, and even students’ fingertips under a microscope.

“I explained that the great diversity of form and function in the biological world is due to differences in the sequence of DNA contained in these organisms. DNA is the blueprint for building everything from a strawberry to a person,” said Ferguson.

Documents were also sent home with the students’ teachers.

Through the field trip program, Wigdahl-Perry and Ferguson extend their reach in the community beyond the academic year, while the science students who assist them have the opportunity to practice good science communication, translating ideas complex scientists to a different audience than they normally get. who to talk to, Wigdahl-Perry explained.

“It’s an essential skill set for today’s scientists. I try to give students every opportunity to practice their science communication skills with the public,” she says.

Participating students also visited the Chautauqua Visual Arts Gallery, attended the Spring Gala Preview of the Chautauqua Regional Youth Ballet, tested their physical skills in a recreational activity called Chautauqua Survivor and took advantage of a “crazy moment” to reflect on the remaining three pillars of Chautauqua.

Additional programs in the form of interactive pop-up learning experiences that are fun and encourage a love of learning will be offered by SUNY Fredonia faculty during the Chautauqua season to create additional learning opportunities that include science education. “We hope to be there frequently to (offer) different activities for different ages and levels of interest,” said Wigdahl-Perry.

“It’s really good for us as teachers to get out and connect more with the community, and working with kids and doing science is fun. It’s a good time, a very pleasant way to spend the day. said Wigdahl-Perry.



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