Portledge 5th graders focus on genetics


Fifth graders from Portledge School will spend the year learning about genetics at the Dolan DNA Learning Center at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. Made possible by a generous gift from a Portledge fifth grade family, the study of genetics is part of a school-wide effort at Portledge to support its science curriculum.

The DNA Learning Center is the world’s first science center devoted entirely to genetics education and is an operating unit of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, a center for molecular genetics research. Amanda McBrien, assistant director for instruction at the DNA Learning Center has been collaborating with Lower School science teacher Evie Sarles to design the ten-week program that will complement the Portledge science curriculum. 

Over the course of the year students will learn about mutant organisms, chemical reactions, enzymes, and even DNA fingerprinting. 

The two-hour hands on lab experiences at the DNA Learning Center mirrors the student-centered model the children are exposed to in their regular Portledge classes that encourage active engagement. The Lower School division head Alan Cohen said the DNA Learning Center program, “…aligns with the project-based learning, performance-based assessment goals that currently exist at Portledge.”

It has been reported that almost all of the 30 fastest-growing occupations in the next decade will require at least some background in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and yet the American College Test reported as recently as 2011 only one in three college-bound students met the college readiness benchmark requirement for science. 

Portledge is bolstering its science curriculum to address this deficit — and taking it a step further. As Cohen points out, Portledge also adds art and design studies to its program, transforming STEM into STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math). 

“Portledge is on the cutting edge of teaching and learning. Whether or not our students go on to be artists, doctors or politicians, we know the challenges ahead will demand creative solutions. It is evident that many of our best leaders will come from strong STEAM foundations,” Cohen said.


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