In June, amidst the 2020 COVID pandemic, CFWEP had the privilege of hosting an immersive research academy for 12 teachers from around Montana. The academy is part of our PHAGES (Phages Helping Acquire Genuine Experiences in Science) grant which will train teachers from around the state to be trainers and mentors of teachers within their school districts, bringing Montana classrooms to the forefront of phagedigging and advances in phage identification and microbiology.
Phages are viruses that infect bacteria and are being used as an alternative therapy for antibiotics for certain illnesses. By identifying and sequencing phages, scientists get closer to using these as alternative treatments for diseases such as tuberculosis.
Teachers learned all aspects of phage discovery and how to incorporate these lessons into their own classrooms, laying the groundwork for them to be able to train more teachers from around the state on this important work.
One of the highlights of the academy was the teachers’ commitments to continuing research within their own classroom labs this next school year. Teachers have adopted phages previously identified by students throughout Montana. An adopted phage is amplified, purified, and sent for genetic sequencing. Once the sequence is returned, teachers will complete bioinformatics mapping of the genes found in each phage. This dedication to research is testimony to the dedication and hard work of the teachers involved in the PHAGES program.
A few hours of the academy were reserved for questions about the global pandemic and what the science of viruses is. Phages, after all, are viruses. During the discussions, we were reminded of how important this work is. That students being able to engage in quality scientific research that also contributes to the scientific community is a breakthrough for our Montana kids and that catalyst that is needed to make real change in the next generations. Our hope is that future students engage in this research in a way that makes them feel empowered about doing science and making a difference in the world. That it’s something they can seem themselves in, because hey, they’ve already done it. And on a larger scale…we know that Montana students will make a big difference in the history of microbiology; they already are.