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Casual Advice to current or future biotech teachers


I was asked questions about how to set-up a class, books, supplies, costs, etc. Since I put a great deal of thought into my response and realize it is somewhat general, some of what I said may make sense or be useful to other people. So I'm putting a copy of the email here for others to read :-)

The person I was emailing with lives in San Diego, thus references to SO CA or San Diego things.


The email:


Good info! If I forget to address something, just ask again, ok?

Books, there are links at embrace challenge to two books. I used the monkey book, Molecular Biology Made Simple and Fun- it really is more like a genetics book, but has good info for general biotech, too. It is not a lab manual. For labs you'll have to use other resources.

I don't know Ellyn's book, but I know Ellyn and have attended several of her workshops. I believe there is a link to Ellyn's book at embrace challenge, too. Her book is actually written for high school biotechnology. As far as I know it is the ONLY high school level biotech book. Carolina does sell a high school biotech book, oops, I forgot. I think, though, that Ellyn's is most appropriate for lab based biotech.

Where to buy supplies- do NOT buy biotech materials from regular science ed companies. Do NOT buy from traditional science ed companies. (Specific names were removed b/c I do not want to be sued. If you want my non-website opinions about various companies' equipment, just email me and ask.) Many of their materials will break too easily or are not as functional as they promote them to be.

It will cost some bucks, but go with Biorad or Fotodyne for electrophoresis equipment. You may have used their materials in your lab where you worked. They see the opportunity with high school biotech so they offer packages that are somewhat reasonably priced.

Buy Gilson pipettemen. Rainin sells them. Other companies might, too. Do NOT buy cheap pipettemen. The Gilson pipettemen are virtually impossible to ruin. If you turn them too far out, the plunger comes out. It is no big deal. They have a manual that tells you how to put them back together. In fact, if you need to replace o-rings or seals, you have to take them apart anyway. So it is impossible to break them by overturning. If a student turns them down too much, they just stop. Hopefully a student would realize it won't move any more and will not force it to move. In fact, you need to wind them all the way down to check for accuracy. I don't remember the manual's name, but if you ask a sales' rep you can get one- it tells you the numbers for checking accuracy, etc. I actually had my students take apart the micropipettors so they would understand the equipment and not be afraid of it. They may even have a manual available online.

If you have funding, buy a USB bio-docit visualizing system. I think that is the name of the system. It cost me about $5000 five years ago. Hopefully they've become cheaper. It uses a CCD camera, heat transfered images, and can record images on a floppy disc. I'm sure that part has been upgraded. I was able to take a picture of my students' gels, save it on disc, put it in the computer, put the image on my tv, and explain the bands. It was amazing.
Only buy a polaroid camera system with a transilluminator if you have to. If you have to buy a black and white camera transilluminator system, Fotodyne is a good company to get it from.

I was fortunate enough to get PCR supplies from BABEC. Even though you are in So. CA, you may be able to attend one of their workshops. If you do, become friends with them so they won't mind mailing you the reagents. If you can get up to the CSTA conference next year, I would bet that they are going to do at least 1 PCR workshop. Ellyn usually does day long biotech workshops, too, at CSTA. You may qualify for BABEC support through her workshops, too.

As for reagents, I bought most of them through BioRad or Sigma.

However, I used the Edvotek ethidium bromide insta-stain squares. I've heard teachers say they don't work, but I've never had a problem. You and your kids still need to wear gloves when handling instastain.

I have a feeling that local reagents are available. If you do get to attend a workshop that Judi gives, you should. I understand there may have been complications last time. I've attended 4 or 5 of her workshops and have always walked away with ideas and important information.

If you can afford it, go to a NABT national meeting. They are very pro-biotech and have some of the most amazing workshops. Be careful, though, because as more teachers become biotech teachers some of the workshops may not be as strong as they were when the "older folks" started in with biotech. Since regular science ed companies have jumped on the biotech wagon, lots of weak exercises or somewhat incorrect kits have come onto the scene. Many biotech teachers procliam being biotech experts even if they don't know how to stain a gel properly with ethidium bromide or how to destain a protein gel.

SDSEA has a website. There should be a link to it at embrace challenge (if I found their website.) With NSTA in Aneheim this year, there probably won't be a SDSEA spring conference. In the past, SDSEA has held spring meetings, which I can only assume will continue. Although local, and not a huge meeting, the SDSEA meeting was one of the best ones I've ever been to. I did a presentation on X-ray crystallography of DNA about 5 years ago, or a SDSEA conference. (BTW, if you want a copy of the kit I presented, check out the Institute for Chem Ed. They sell slides and directions on how to demonstrate X-ray crystallography so that you can look at the image of DNA and understand why it suggests a helix and the major and minor grooves.)

Judi was president of SDSEA last time I looked into their stuff. She used to work with Stratagene and was their educational outreach person until they cut her job. She went into the high school classroom and continued her wonderful biotech education in her own classroom. She and Ellyn, in my point of view, are the epitome of who biotech teachers should be.

I have no clue what it will cost to start a program now-a-days. I had $10,000 and bought everything I needed, except for the bio-docit. Negotiate with all of the companies if they do not already have an educational price. If you are buying lots of stuff from them, you may even be able to negotiate a quote price. I think Rainin now sells refurbished pipettemen, which I would trust. I happen to have several used Rainin pipettemen and they work just fine. I had them checked for accuracy and they are great. So when you go to buy the pipettemen, check with your Rainin sales rep about options. You will want a p20, p200, and p1000 for each lab group. I hope they are no longer $200 per pipettemen, but if so, don't cut back on the # of p20s. If students have to share p1000's, it will be annoying, but is doable. Some teachers say the p200 is not necessary. I strongly disagree. If you do PCR or some of the Bio-rad ed kits, you will want to have p200s. Oh, if you do the Bio-rad education kits, if you own pipettemen, use your pipettemen instead of the plastic pipettes. If you have the real equipment, use it. Rainin may not be selling the "p" style much anymore because of repetitive injuries that happened with some people's thumbs. They now have styles that are virtually friction-free. If you can get one of those styles, it may prove to be worth the cost.

As for local companies, I don't know enough about San Diego companies. If you can attend any biotech conference that is held in San Diego, even if only to get on the vendor floor, do it. Sometimes you can "beg" the organization to let you attend because you are a high school teacher. Some organizations actually have programs for high school biotech teachers. I've taken students to several professional meetings; they're tons of fun. You may be able to talk with the sales reps about acquiring used or demo equipment. Being in person at their meeting can be very helpful. Cold calling companies or writing to them might work, but begging in person can be very effective. Of course, be polite and respectful of their time. AACR and ASCB are two organizations that have been high-school friendly. If you notice either of them at your local conference center, contact them to see if you (and some of your students) can attend.

You know, after writing this, I think I want to put a copy of it on my website. I hope you don't mind if I share this with the world (just what I wrote in this email.) Not only do I want to help teachers who want to teach biotech, but I don't want to see it taught like crap. Too many companies sell biotech stuff that is crap which makes it difficult for students to really get an idea of what biotech involves.

If you have more questions, just toss them my way!




©2005, 2006 Melissa Getz all rights reserved

Last updated October 21, 2006