Models and modeling

When I’m at an NSTA conference, I try to attend a session on a topic about which I know very little. This time, I saw a session entitled Epigenetics: Beyond the Central Dogma. After a brief discussion of research on how the environment interacts with the epigenome (a layer of biochemical reactions that turns genes on and off), I must admit I was still a little lost. But then the presenter Louisa Stark from the University of Utah guided us (using a handout and a video) through the process of making a DNA and histone model, demonstrating accessible and inaccessible DNA. My own personal lightbulb went off! She shared two websites: Learn Genetics and Teach Genetics that include sections on epigenetics.  I spent quite a bit of time exploring them on my own with more light bulbs going off in my head!
A session on the modeling project WikiWatershed was presented by a team who is developing this amazing resource. With this model, Susan Gill (from the Stroud Water Research Center) and Nanette Marcum-Dietrich (from Millersville University) modeled how students can explore their own watershed environment using real-time data. They’re starting with the Delaware River watershed in southeastern PA, but it’s easy to see the potential for a nationwide (or even global) expansion. Several teachers (Elizabeth Harvey, Isabel Pilling, and Thomas Gaffney from The School District of Philadelphia and Melissa Hess from the Conestoga Valley SD) shared their classroom experiences in using the model and lessons they are developing.

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