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Carnegie Scientist: Zebrafish can help teach K-12 students about race and sex-ed

Dr. Steven Farber has dedicated his life to the study of zebrafish. Farber has a doctorate from MIT in molecular neurobiology and his lab at the Carnegie Institution for Science is used to

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Courtesy of the Carnegie Institution of Science

research the biochemical process in living embryos.

However, if you measure success by affecting others, Farber’s greatest accomplishment may be BioEYES? Farber created BioEYES about 15 years ago, after he realized his zebrafish laboratory was a popular field trip destination for K-12 students.

BioEYES’ mission is to foster enthusiasm in children for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM), through hands-on learning.  They do this by providing live zebrafish as well as professional development for teachers to bring back to their classrooms.

Since BioEYES inception, the program has reached more than 100,000 students around the world.

Farber spoke with the “Class Dismissed” podcast (Episode 04) in June and he explained  ways zebrafish can break down barriers and make it easier for educators to teach complex issues like sex education and race.

Farber says BioEYES lessons require the kids to figure out which is the male and which is the female and they put the fish together and then collect the embryos the next morning.

“Well, I think it’s obvious, right?” said Farber. “This is about sex. And we’re talking about the United States, which in school settings all over the country. That issue is challenging for teachers.”

But Farber says the zebrafish make it easier to teach the challenging subject.

When it comes to sex-ed, Farber explains, “Because it’s fish and because they swim next to each other and you don’t have any mechanical issues to discuss, literally, no one gets upset about that curriculum topic!”

As for critically thinking about race, Farber says, “The kids have to mate a fish that does not have pigment to a fish that does have pigment.”

In the high school unit, students learn about the genetics of pigmentation.

20092260041_3b6830f990_b“So most kids in the urban setting, their only concept of race is a social construction”, explains Farber. “What they learn in our unit is that there’s actually one gene that was discovered in fish that explains the biggest chunk of why somebody’s skin is darker or lighter.”

Farber says that there’s one little change that happened in that gene to make skin lighter and that learning with zebrafish allow students to come away with an entirely different perspective than they had before.

To hear the full interview with Dr. Steven Farber you can listen to Episode 04 of Class Dismissed on iTunes  

Or you can listen on the Podcast player on the Class Dismissed website by clicking this link.

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