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Five Washington County teachers receive grants for class projects

A handful of Washington County teachers sounded more like giddy school children earlier this month as they described science-related projects they’ll be doing in their classrooms this year.
Dr. Jack Rhoton, of East Tennessee State University, recently awarded five mini-grants, each for $1,000, to teachers within the school system. The grants encourage the implementation of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics — or STEM — activities in schools.
The projects that will be undertaken through the grants were explained during the Jan. 3 meeting of the Washington County Board of Education.
Teachers at David Crockett High School will help their students become genetic engineers through a history lesson of sorts about the Russian Revolution.
Students will be involved in a real-world application genetic project as they work to determine whose remains were inside a grave discovered by forensic scientists. Was Princess Anastasia Romanov murdered? Or did she survive?
The project will include the use of a thermalcycler, a piece of equipment for collecting a small amount of DNA to determine whose remains were inside the grave.
“It’s very exciting,” said David Yates, one of three teachers involved with the project. “We have a lab to rival most colleges. It allows us at the high school level to go above and beyond.”
Joining Yates in conducting the grant project are teachers Twana McKinney and Jim Powell.
At Daniel Boone High School, teacher Amy Kelly will use her grant to give her students hands-on experience related to genetic engineering.
“I spent last year working for a lab at Quillen College of Medicine,” Kelly said. “I realized everybody doesn’t get a chance to work with the real stuff. I don’t think everybody gets exposed to it until college.”
That will change for Kelly’s students, who will conduct a project on micropipett techniques. Molecular biology and microbiology labs utilize tiny DNA samples. They are measured through a micropipettor, which measures amounts as small as one millionth of a liter.
Also at Boone, teacher Charles Rhoton will teach his students about the analysis of electrophoresis images.
The project is intended to expand the use of gel electrophoresis technology through the use of special equipment and software.
With help from a previous grant, Rhoton will help his students make DNA fingerprints, then make photos of them.
“It’s amazing the science expertise we have in both our high schools,” Director of Schools Ron Dykes said. “These are very impressive projects.”
At Sulphur Springs School, Diana O’Neal’s seventh- and eighth-grade students will be considering heredity versus biodiversity in traits.
Her seventh-graders will learn about dominant and recessive traits as they develop their own “creatures,” O’Neal said.
“With the eighth grade, we’ll take it on to adaptation and survival of the fittest, so to speak,” she added.
The project will allow students to dabble in math, science and language arts.
“This is just another example of cross curricular activities occurring in our school system,” Dykes commented.
Ridgeview teacher Jenny Hill will engage her students in hands-on activities to enhance their knowledge of electricity and magnetism.
The grant will be used at the sixth-grade level to teach kids about electricity through the use of wires and bulbs.
In the eighth grade, kids will build a generator.
Following the presentations, several school board members commended the teachers for their efforts to secure additional funding for their classrooms.
“You can feel the enthusiasm from these teachers, so I know the students can feel that excitement,” said Phillip McLain, a member of the Board of Education. “You’re opening up minds with this. I can see CSI investigators and electrical engineers coming out of this program.”