Gardner Middle School and Mt. San Jacinto College Partner to Teach Students A Lesson in DNA

June 3, 2013
Students at Gardner Middle School in Temecula got a college-level lesson from a Mt. San Jacinto College biology professor when they learned how to isolate their DNA.
The seventh-graders used Gatorade, hot water and saliva to learn how scientists can break apart cells to reveal DNA during the hands-on lesson from Dr. Roy Mason, biology instructor and department chair at MSJC’s Menifee Valley Campus.
Michael Arroyo, who teaches Life Skills Science in the special education class at Gardner, said he thought it was an important lesson for his students.
“It takes their understanding of science to another level,” Arroyo said. “It piques their interest to further their study of science.”
The activity, held on May 17, was supported by California’s Career Technical Education Pathways Initiative grant that was awarded to MSJC in 2008. The goal of the grant is to help lead students into high-end, high demand jobs by providing them additional education and training through partnerships with MSJC.
The grant has allowed MSJC to bring biotechnology, engineering, multimedia and solar, wind and manufacturing into middle and high school classrooms throughout MSJC’s 1,700-square-mile district. MSJC has partnered with middle- and high schools in Banning, Beaumont, San Jacinto, Hemet, Perris, Menifee, Murrieta, Lake Elsinore, and Temecula.
During the hands-on lesson, the Gardner students swished Gatorade in their mouths carefully to collect saliva. Then, they spit the mixture into a small cup and incubated it in water about the temperature of the hot tub.
Mason explained that the electrolytes in Gatorade help digest the cells and the hot water helps to help break apart the cells and expose the DNA. Each student’s DNA was collected in a small vial that they could take home. Mason stressed to the students that this DNA was unique to them, something they didn’t share with even their closest relatives.
“The main intent is to inspire students at a younger and younger age to appreciate the sciences, expand their opportunities to explore careers and keep their love of science and math,” Mason said.
Mason said students in the districts that MSJC works with also learn epidemiology and crime scene analysis, too. In one of the activities, a mock crime scene is set up so students can actually play the role of the scientists who help solve the crimes by isolating the DNA.
Mason is among the MSJC instructors who participate in bringing these activities to middle and high schools. The others are engineering instructor Brian Hess; multimedia instructor Don Smith; and solar/wind/manufacturing instructor Dave Hunt.
Dr. Roy Mason (of MSJC) in front of the class at Gardner Middle School
Laurie McLaughlin (of MSJC), Michael Arroyo and Dr. Roy Mason in front of the class at Gardner Middle School