Program offers project-based science lessons
CARENCRO — Eighth-grader Jessica Hawkes said she wasn’t confident in her interest in animal science until she dissected a pig.
“I had my doubts until I got to do that,” she said.
Hawkes, 14, has a chance to explore her interest in animal science as a student in the district’s biomedical academy that started in the 2011-12 school year at Carencro Middle School.
This school year, a total of 125 students grades six through eight are in the program, said Ashlyn Roger, the academy’s director.
As part of the program, sixth-grade students study populations and interactions; seventh-grade students study life science and biotechnology; and eighth-grade students study the human body systems and health care.
The program focuses on project-based learning and hands-on activities such as DNA fingerprinting, fetal pig dissections and disease-transmission simulations, Roger said.
“We want to set the stage for them and spark some interest in what they want to do,” she said. “We’ve seen students who come in thinking they want to be nurses and doctors and have changed their minds when they’ve seen other fields in medicine.”
The program is one of several schools of choice programs in the district that allow students to explore various career fields or foreign language studies. Space is limited in the programs, so students apply for a spot and are selected based on a computerized lottery. On Nov. 10, students and families can explore all schools of choice programming during Fall Frenzy held at the Cajundome Convention Center.
The biomedical academy is a gateway program for the Health Careers Academy at Lafayette High and the Thibodaux STEM Magnet Academy where studies focus on science, technology, engineering and math, Roger said.
Biomedical academy student Escalana Trailer, 13, hasn’t decided whether she’ll apply to Thibodaux or Lafayette High.
“I like animal science,” Trailer said. “I enjoy the academy because we can learn more stuff here than in an average science class.”
Students also have access to computerized learning labs on topics ranging from anatomy to forensic science. Each lab leads students through exercises and experiments that require students to document their observations and answer related questions.
Last week, Logan Boudreaux, 13, worked on a bioengineering lesson on flexibility. In one activity, he had to try to touch his toes while seated on the floor to measure his flexibility. Once he charted the inch counts, the learning lab asked him to calculate the average distance. Other activities in the lesson focused on geometry — such as estimating the angle of a crooked arm.
“I’m into DNA and I like genetics,” said Boudreaux, who wants to be a doctor. “I enjoy it because you really get to learn how your body gets affected.”
Hawkes and Tyj’aneé Francis, 13, worked on lab exercises on population growth. Both teens said the academy appealed to them because of their interest in science.
“And I thought it would look good on my college application,” Hawkes said, who added she plans to go to Thibodaux next year.
“Me, too,” said Francis, who plans to go to Lafayette High and wants to be a nurse or a veterinarian.
As part of the program, students in the academy are grouped together for their common core classes in English, math, science and social studies, and teachers meet with Roger weekly to coordinate cross-curricular projects when possible, Roger said.
She said students are reading “Fever 1793,” a novel based on Philadelphia’s yellow fever outbreak in 1793, in their English class, which has led to exponential math exercises as they study disease outbreaks and transmission in their biomedical classes, Roger said.
“Teachers work closely together to piece everything together,” she said. “We make connections where possible.”