September 21, 2011

State of Alabama
Press Release: Alabama Department of Commerce

Sock it to ‘em! Education Partnership Kicks Up Classroom Excitement

Lab coats, safety goggles, pipette tips, microwell plates, centrifuge tubes: Pretty standard issue for any biotech center or institute, right?  But, 42,300 pairs of socks?   “It’s one way to help students start off on the right foot,” quipped Neil Lamb, Ph.D., director of educational outreach at the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology.

Lamb placed the sock order with Creswell Mills in Henegar, Ala. as part of an update to a hands-on science module distributed across the state through the Alabama State Department of Education’s AMSTI program. 

“The state department of education asked us to create a series of activities to help middle school students understand meiosis,” said Lamb.  Meiosis is the process during egg and sperm formation whereby the total amount of genetic information found inside a cell’s chromosomes is halved. “Early on, it became apparent that socks would be an excellent stand-in for chromosomes.” "This partnership between the Alabama State Department of Education and HudsonAlpha is a creative and practical way of merging public and private entities in a fun, interactive way," said Tommy Bice, Ed.D., deputy state superintendent of education. "Using this common household item as a meiosis simulation helps show students the relevance of biotechnology. Making the classroom exciting with hands-on, project-based activity engages young people and sparks an interest in science and genetics."

Lamb explained the institute’s “ChromoSocks” use different colors of yarn and incorporate various sizes to illustrate chromosomes have different lengths and carry differing genetic information.  “Plus, socks come in pairs, just like homologous chromosomes.”

In support of an Alabama heritage industry, HudsonAlpha worked with Creswell Mills for the special order socks. “We were fortunate to meet Rex Creswell.  He appreciated the uniqueness of the project and the opportunity to influence science education in the state,” said Lamb.  In addition to ChromoSock Meiosis, the socks are also used in Modeling Mendel, exercises designed to help students understand Mendel’s laws of heredity. The two new kits are part of an updated seventh grade module on genetics made available to Alabama classrooms through the Alabama Math, Science and Technology Initiative. HudsonAlpha, in collaboration with AMSTI, created the original module in 2007/2008.  “Feedback from teachers told us that we were really helping students grasp the concepts of DNA and its impact on health and disease,” said Lamb.  “But those same feedback channels also indicated areas we could improve,” he added.

The non-profit HudsonAlpha Institute provided personnel and funding to develop and distribute the first genetics module.  “Funding for the majority of development and distribution of the revised module was provided through U.S. Senator Richard Shelby and NASA,” said Lamb. “We’re grateful the senator and NASA officials understand the importance of building interest and workforce through motivational programs in the middle school grades.”

Eleven hub sites across the state provide manpower to schedule, deliver and inventory/refurbish the modules and kits for classroom use. Additionally, AMSTI middle school science specialists spend three days at HudsonAlpha before the start of the school year to receive training with the hands-on activities.  The specialists then coordinate training with area teachers through the hub site locations.

“AMSTI is about making connections that are relevant to our students and the economy going forward,” said Lamb.  “If we are to attract, retain and grow a knowledge-worker base, then we collectively must spend time, money and energy to create a nurturing environment.” Over 600 seventh grade science teachers from across the state use the highly interactive AMSTI genetics program.

Each hub site has 12 complete sets to include the updated genetics module plus the two new kits. The materials cost for a single set is about $1,300. AMSTI and HudsonAlpha personnel assembled all the modules and kits at the Athens AMSTI hub site. 

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