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Research shows that children learn better by doing rather than just watching, which has led some schools to implement radical new programs based on this shift in understanding of how we learn.

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Students at Commodore John Rogers School in Baltimore, Maryland, for instance, are benefitting from this change in pedagogy through a group called BioEYES. The nonprofit uses zebrafish as a way to give kids real experience as scientists.

Recently, the kids walked into their classroom to find it transformed. High-powered microscopes were at the back of class, and every group of desks had a transparent tank on top of them, where two small guppy-like fish, one male, one female, resided.

The point of the experiments is to have the two adult fish breed, and allow the kids to observe the embryos develop, using their science skills to identify exactly what occurs during the process.

Experiments like this, which take education off the page of textbooks, off the white boards at the front of the classroom, out of the mouths of the teachers, and moves it into children’s hands, breathe life into the material.

Science education is failing in America, with the nation currently falling behind in the production of new scientists, mathematicians, and engineers. And BioEYES is proving, through children’s fascination and engagement, that change is needed, and that this may be the type of change that should be implemented on a greater scale.

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This program, which started in 2002 with Steven Farber and Jamie Shuda, is free for low-income schools where kids struggle with science. The idea behind the program stemmed from Farber and Shuda’s mutual realization that it’s not enough to have a scientist in a classroom. To really get children immersed in the education, and provide proper takeaways, they need to turn the kids into scientists themselves.

“Giving people the opportunity to do something they wouldn’t normally do really opens their eyes,” explained Shuda, a University of Pennsylvania educator. Stereotypes break down. Doors open.

The BioEYES program is now in more than 100 schools in the U.S. “It is incredibly satisfying to see how BioEYES has exposed thousands of kids to the joys of science. Their sense of wonder and enthusiasm is one of my greatest rewards,” said Farber, a molecular biologist at the Carnegie Institution’s Department of Embryology in Baltimore, Maryland.

And Carnegie president Matthew Scott says:

Steve Farber’s remarkable educational program introduces children to scientific observation and experimentation. They learn that the kind of curiosity they already have is welcome and important in science, and that mysteries can be approached by asking good questions and then testing ideas. They also see the beauty of developing biological organs and tissues, complex life coming from an egg. We at Carnegie are delighted to see the sprouting of new branches of the program that will reach more and more kids.

And it’s not just vocal approval that makes BioEYES worth talking about. A recent paper even found that the program improved test scores compared to pre-fish levels, and even helped kids to better understand what it’s actually like to be a scientist. Past students have even gone on to pursue STEM careers themselves.

Educators using this program, which involves students breeding and raising zebrafish over a week, hope students will not only learn something new, but possibly even develop a lasting fascination with natural science.


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