Dr. Abraham Koo, assistant professor of biochemistry, wants to give research experience for the next generation of secondary education science teachers. SciLIFT (Science Literacy for Future Teachers), a broader impacts initiative that is funded by the National Science Foundation, is a four-week program that provides just that: a daily hands-on, lab-based learning for undergraduate students who are interesting in pursuing careers in science education. Koo sees this program as a way to benefit future generations of scientists by training teachers who will instruct them in high school settings.

In his experience, Koo found that future science teachers do not always have the opportunity to participate in authentic research experiences while they are working through their undergraduate curriculums. Koo then contacted Dr. Marcel Siegel, associate professor of science education. The two developed the program during which students work in Koo’s lab and are guided by Siegel through the process of developing a curriculum module based on their research experience. Koo explained that this kind of hands-on research experience could be beneficial to students, especially when participants are in their own classrooms working with students.

The SciLIFT Program is linked to Koo’s own research on plant hormones. Koo’s project studies how the plant hormone jasmonate is released and then destroyed when a plant is attacked by insects. The release of jasmonate acts as a warning signal for a plant to induce defense responses. This hormone signals the plant to stop its growth in order to focus all energy on defense. This particular study looks at how the signal is destroyed in the plants one the threat is gone, which allows the plant to return to its natural growth physiology. During the four weeks of the program, the student participants work on an ongoing project and generate real data that contributes directly to university research.

One participant, Kevin Kintz, is a student at St. Louis Community College. A professor recommended the program to him due to his interest in becoming a secondary education science teacher. Kintz was interested in gaining hands-on lab experience, so he may one day give a genuine research experience to the students. He felt this will help to equip him to work with students on their future goals, to guide students with career choices, and to communicate to students what they could do with a science degree. Kintz most enjoyed getting to extract hormones from the plants and in order to do a mass analysis, something that he would not get to do in a traditional course situation. This program has also allowed him to see the impact of university research.

Karina Liz, a junior at Mizzou in the College of Education with an emphasis in Biology, attended the SciLIFT program because she plans to become a high school biology teacher. Liz is also a college athlete, and programs like this allow her to further her hands-on learning experience during the summer semester. She was introduced to this program by a friend, and she became interested in learning how to take research experience and create a curriculum module around it. This program proved to be an eye-opening, educational experience. Liz found it beneficial to her future as a teacher, and she thinks it is very important for a science educator to be able to transfer research experience to students.

In working on this project, the students learn about biotechnology, plant biochemistry, and genetically modified organisms, and then have to translate those ideas to teaching modules that can be used as a model in their future classrooms. In its third year, the 2018 SciLIFT participants come from departments and college all over campus, including the College of Education, Forestry, and Biological Sciences.