UH medical center donates lab gear to schools

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HONOLULU (AP) — Microscopes, lab benches and glassware no longer needed at the University of Hawaii John A. Burns School of Medicine are finding their way into high school classrooms.

The medical school's Center for Cardiovascular Research is donating used equipment to promote hands-on science education.

"They can't get hands-on if they can't even get their hands on equipment," said Rachel Boulay, an assistant professor at the center and the project coordinator. "The idea was, if we really want students to be doing more of these molecular biology labs, we have to help them get the materials to be able to do that."

The U.S. Department of Education and the National Institutes of Health have supported the program with grants. Hospitals and other university facilities have donated unused equipment for distribution.

Boulay tells the Honolulu Star-Advertiser ( ) she has conducted development classes for public high school science teachers since 2010 after noticing a lack of basic lab knowledge by student researchers.

"(There are) some pretty simple things we're repetitively having to teach over and over again. So we could put together a training program, but it was a lot more efficient to actually go back to the high schools and make that connection," Boulay said.

Boulay during professional development sessions said she realized UH needed to provide teachers with equipment used in training sessions.

"When we worked with these teachers, I was then interested in how they could use what we're teaching them in their classrooms," she said. "What I learned was, they didn't have access to sometimes even the basic supplies or equipment."

David Wong was a science teacher at Farrington High School in spring 2010 when he attended the university training. He obtained a centrifuge, pH meter, spectrometer, desiccating chamber, glassware and an incubator through the program.

He estimates that the equipment he received would have cost $4,000 if new. He estimated its value used at about $1,000.

Now an eighth-grade science teacher at Ewa Makai Middle School, he and his students used the donated incubator last semester to hatch ducklings and study temperature and oxygen in incubation.

"There's wonder, a little shock, excitement, an appreciation for life, the sadness for the death," Wong said. "It's an engagement in the science inquiry process. It makes learning and teaching much more meaningful and purposeful."

Teachers often get only in-service training from other educators, he said.

"We need more than that," he said. "We need people who are actually there doing the real work."

The program in the last year has donated equipment to more than 15 schools on Oahu, Maui, Kauai and Hawaii island. Boulay would like to expand training program to middle school teachers.

"A lot of research shows us that the younger you expose students to science, and the excitement and inquiry, that's where you really get the interest long term," she said.


Information from: Honolulu Star-Advertiser,

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