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SCIENCE in REAL LIFE

Phenotype, genotype: they're not big words anymore to third-graders at Jackson Elementary.


HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: KATHY FULLER - Jay Well of Oregon State Universitys Bioenergy Education Initiative helps third graders Mason Wilson, Isabella Sarlo and Grace Garrison with a DNA extraction exercise."Never let knowledge or words scare you."

This was the advice offered by Dr. Brian Stanton, chief science officer at Westport, Ore.-based GreenWood Resources, to third-graders at Hillsboro's Jackson Elementary School last week.

But walking into the science lab where the students were tossing around words like phenotype, genotype, staminates and controlled hybridization, it was pretty clear they have no fear.

Nearly 100 third-graders took part in a hands-on science exploration of how poplar trees can be used to make ethanol and jet fuel.

Led by Oregon State University Bioenergy Initiative Coordinator Jay Well and Stanton, the students created simple bio-reactors — made of sugar, yeast and water in an airtight baggie — to help them understand how biomass can be turned into fuel.

They also explored DNA extraction from strawberries.

Big words aside, sometimes the obervations of a third-grader are right on the mark. "Look! We're making strawberry jam," one student observed while mashing up his berry.HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: KATHY FULLER - Dr. Brian Stanton of GreenWood Resources in Westport, Ore., talks to Jackson Elementary School third graders about poplar trees and his company's scientific research in hybridization of the trees.

"It smells like a doctor's office," said another, while watching a rubbing-alcohol solution mix with the strawberry juice.

Having studied genetics in the classroom, the students “were fascinated," said teacher Julie McClain. "They didn’t want it to end.”

HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: KATHY FULLER - Grace Garrison and Isabella Sarlo watch intently as DNA begins to separate from the juice of a strawberry.Third-grader Isabella Sarlo told her dad, Brian, about what she had learned. Brian Sarlo works with Stanton at GreenWood Resources, studying poplar tree hybridization for use in making biofuel.

“Brian Stanton contacted Jay Well from OSU and the bioenergy initiative group, and they worked together to create this amazing morning for us,” said teacher Mary Hill.

By taking what they learned and extending that to hands-on lab activities, McClain said, “it really brings home lessons that students can take into the real world.”

Once their lab work was done, though, the students’ responsibilities as scientists will continue. They'll conduct an experiment with varieties of hybrid poplar trees bred by GreenWood Resources, which manages tree farms worldwide.

The poplars have been bred to grow quickly, with some reaching 12 feet in height in a single growing season. Students will monitor and record the trees’ growth throughout the remainder of the school year.

To finish the lesson, the students will take a field trip to the GreenWood Resources research center in Clatsop County and see how the poplars are bred and cultivated for biofuel production.

HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: KATHY FULLER - Left to right, students Sofie Fraser, Sophia Highfill and Celine Lawson work on straining strawberry juice through a coffee filter, part of the process of extracting DNA from the berry.“The students were wildly excited about … hearing the connections between their previous learning and the work of scientists with biofuels and genetics,” Hall said.

Hands-on learning in conjunction with classroom lessons aligns with Next Generation Science Standards, Hall said. The new standards are designed to prepare future generations for evolving careers and modern workplace. ”To see them sparked with enthusiasm warms my heart," said McClain.