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Seventh-grader Caroline Motsiff works with DNA molecules during the MindsOn workshop.

Middle School students "zap" DNA as part of MindsOn workshops

January 10, 2014 — Splitting up strands of DNA and figuring out “whodunit” — that was all in a day’s work for Glens Falls Middle School students participating in the MindsOn workshop at the Queensbury Hotel. The annual academic exploration poses questions to students in fields of math, science and social studies, encouraging them to stretch their minds and work together.

“The lessons taught are part of the eighth-grade curriculum at GFMS, so most students who participated in the workshop have a head start over their peers,” says seventh-grade science teacher Megan McCabe, whose students worked with gel electrophoresis in a workshop exploring DNA.

“Gel electrophoresis is a laboratory technique that uses electricity to separate DNA fragments,” says Ms. McCabe. “This process is used in forensics (among other things) to create a DNA fingerprint that is unique to each individual. In the workshop, students learned all about DNA and looked at the DNA molecules in a banana. They then used gel electrophoresis to compare crime scene evidence to the DNA of possible suspects to find a match.”

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“They enjoyed working with the equipment and seeing real DNA molecules, which most students described as ‘snot’ or ‘mucous,’” Ms. McCabe continued. “When most students at this age level learn about these concepts, the labs are simulated, so it was really cool that these students got to work with the actual lab equipment.”

The middle school has sent a delegation of students to the MindsOn workshop for several years in a row. Students from many area schools participate in the day-long activities led by professionals in the field. Besides serving as an academic “spark,” the workshops also give students a look into the wider world that awaits them after graduation. “It introduces them to the possible careers that are out there for those that are interested in life sciences,” says Ms. McCabe.