Stuy AP Bio Classes Go To DNALC

Stuyvesant AP Bio students went to DNALC.

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Biology teacher Jessica Quenzer recently took her AP Biology classes on a trip to the DNA Learning Center (DNALC). DNALC provides pre-college level biology lab technique instruction across the United States. Quenzer’s students had the opportunity to visit DNALC’s Brooklyn location to perform hands-on lab experiments, including bacterial transformation and restriction digest procedures. This trip provided a unique experience for students to explore real-life applications of their class material.

Trips to the DNALC have been an important part of placing Stuyvesant’s Biology lessons in a more practical research-oriented context for several years. “I’ve been taking students on trips to DNALC for years now, [...] at least since 2018,” Quenzer said. 

Biology teacher Dr. Maria Nedwidek-Moore’s genetics class also visited the DNALC to conduct a forensics profiling lab. Students learned about the structure and function of DNA and performed their own DNA isolation and analyses. “The AP [Biology] students analyzed bacteriophage lambda DNA for its response to certain restriction endonucleases that bacteria possess as a part of something called a restriction and modification system,” Dr. Ned said in an email interview. “[They] were given the viral lambda DNA by technologists at the DNA learning center, and were given cold-stored purified enzymes to perform their digests to generate a standard curve of the fragments they made.”

Dr. Nedwidek-Moore is yet another AP Bio teacher who has utilized the resources of DNALC. “I took my AP Bio students there for the first time in late February 2020,” she said. “I have done these labs at New Hyde Park, Harlem, and Brooklyn (City Tech) with thousands of students over almost 20 years.” 

Dr. Nedwidek-Moore decided to start the Stuyvesant membership with the Learning Center because it would be less expensive to perform the less labor-intensive labs there than at Stuyvesant, and would also offer students a better experience and deeper understanding of the work they are doing. “I know students and parents love the opportunity to participate in these lab intensives,” Dr. Nedwidek-Moore said. “They are real experiences as opposed to simulations, and they produce real meaningful results.”

Overall, students seemed to enjoy seeing the results of their experiments at DNALC with their own eyes. The students also found the procedures themselves interesting and exciting. “They were really excited to transform the bacteria because they would be inserting a plasmid that would make the bacteria glow,” Quenzer said.

Students also enjoyed using the wide variety of resources available at the DNALC, using materials that wouldn’t be available at Stuy. “The most interesting part about [the trip] was having all the new resources that we don’t normally have at school,” junior Elma Khan said.

             This chance to use the latest equipment was a new and exciting experience for these students. “While we do have modern equipment, it’s normally like 10 or 20 years old and while I get that that’s an expense for the school, it would also be pretty fun using those materials that we can use at the DNALC in school,” Khan said.

The trip also had a large educational impact on the students this year, since it gave many of them their first experience in a professional lab setting. Even for a couple of those with prior biology lab experience, it was their first time ever being able to load a gel or work with bacteria. “A lot of my students this year had their freshman year remote, which meant no freshman bio lab, so this was a new experience for a lot of them,” Quenzer said. 

The trip also reinforced the concepts that the students were learning in class. “In AP Biology, we were doing Unit Six, which involves biotechnology, and we did experiments on bacterial transformation and restriction digest, which are biotechnology, and so it was really helpful in applying the information that we learned in class,” Khan said.

Quenzer believes that more teachers in the Biology department should take advantage of DNA Learning Center field trips. “It helps a lot because so much of the labor is offloaded. Because these are labs that are so difficult to set up,” Quenzer said.

             Teachers can also use resources from the DNALC without going to the building. “What we at Stuyvesant do with DNALC goes far beyond the AP labs,” Dr. Nedwidek-Moore said. “[Biology teachers Jason] Econome and [Gilbert] Papagayo have used footlockers from DNALC with supplies and equipment that enable them to run these labs at Stuy over about a week, and in 2011 I used a few footlockers for genetics as well.” This gives students who don’t go on the field trips an opportunity to take advantage of what the Center offers.

The DNALC also offers opportunities to students external to the school year. “They run many summer and weekend classes,” Dr. Nedwidek-Moore said. 

Their summer programs offer many different experiences for students in high school, middle school, and beyond, including classes focusing on forensics, enzymes, and bioinformatics. “They do barcoding [as well] which is organismal comparative genomic analysis,”  Dr. Nedwidek-Moore said. 

Having seen the success of these trips in the past, Ms. Quenzer also hopes to take her AP Bio classes on other exciting trips in the future. “I would love to take students on a trip to [the American Museum of Natural History] someday, and I would love to take students on a trip to the Mutter Medical Museum in Philadelphia. That would be amazing if I could pull that off,” Quenzer said.