A hands-on course unit at the Ahern Middle School is challenging teams of seventh-grade sleuths to solve a biomedical whodunit while honing real-life problem-solving skills at the same time.
The course, called “Medical Detectives,” is part of a STEM curriculum offered by Project Lead the Way, a national non-profit providing project-driven learning experiences to help students develop in-demand transportable skills for college and career.
Rather than teaching subjects independently, STEM education integrates science, technology, engineering and math instruction in a cohesive classroom approach based on real-world scenarios.
According to seventh-grade science teacher Stacie Charron, the Medical Detectives unit introduces a variety of health-related topics and skills – including how to take blood pressure, heart rates, pulse and temperature. Students also learn about disease, viruses and how they spread.
“It’s has been a phenomenal experience – with all the excitement of a mystery,” Charron said during a presentation on the program at Monday night’s school committee meeting.
As the title implies, the course encourages students to function as real-life medical detectives, collecting and analyzing medical data to solve a series of mysteries by measuring and interpreting vital signs, examining nervous system function and investigating disease outbreaks.
Jackson Palmer, one of several students who accompanied Charron on Monday night, was eagerly anticipating the following day’s activity: dissecting a sheep’s brain – an experience typically reserved for advanced high school or college-level study.
“I can’t wait for the brain dissection tomorrow,” Palmer said, adding that he has especially enjoyed being paired with different classmates during the half-year enrichment class.
At the end of the Medical Detectives unit, students are exposed to a crime scene before being divided into teams to collect evidence and conduct tests in an effort to determine what happened and solve the crime.
According to Assistant Superintendent Alison Mello, more than 250 schools in Massachusetts and 10,000 nationwide are utilizing all or parts of the curriculum – adding that high school graduates who participated in Project Lead the Way are three times more likely to pursue STEM-related careers.
“They’re showing more persistence,” Mello said. “They have grit.”
In addition to the introductory module now available on a limited basis at the Ahern School, administrators hope to introduce a more advanced high school component in the future.
“We’d love to offer it to all seventh-graders if possible,” said Charron, who coordinates lesson plans and instruction with math teacher Kara Ryan.
Superintendent Amy Berdos said program costs were underwritten by grants from Project Lead the Way, Meditech and the Partners in Patriotism program. These grants also covered training and travel costs for both Charron and Ryan, who last July attended a week-long training program in Baltimore.
“It really was a huge undertaking, but it was worth it,” said Berdos, who added the teachers deserve credit for giving up a week of vacation time to attend. the training program.