Huntington UFSD’s SEARCH program recently took to the road for a pair of field trips to the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory’s DNA Learning Center.
Huntington SEARCH (Scholastic Enrichment and Resource for the Children in Huntington) sixth graders explored the DNA Learning Center’s current “Inheritance Exhibition,” which is dedicated to Otzi the Iceman. The center has the only existing replica of this 5,000 year old man who was found in 1991 in the Otztal Alps on the border of Austria and Italy.
The Cold Spring Harbor Lab is at the forefront of scientific research.
Students later used microscopes to identify the types of pollen found in Otzi’s intestinal track from the last 36 hours of his life. “They hypothesized about where he may have been prior to his death,” SEARCH teacher Jessica Risalvato said. “The sixth graders really enjoyed learning about Otzi and his final days of life. They came up with multiple hypotheses about what happened to him.”
The Huntington sixth graders also completed the “Mystery of Anastasia” lab, which saw them analyze various types of evidence to determine whether Anna Anderson was Anastasia Romanov of the Russian royal family as she claimed to be or was an imposter. The Romanov family was murdered by the Bolsheviks in July 1918, but there was controversy whether Anastasia had escaped the slaughter. (It was finally determined that she was felled along with her family.)
“I really liked how we used our forensic knowledge to make a conclusion,” sixth grader Spencer Krull said about the mystery of Anastasia
The SEARCH sixth graders also learned and utilized the process of gel electrophoresis to analyze and compare amplified human DNA samples in order to determine the suspect from a crime scene.
SEARCH Fifth Graders at DNA Center
SEARCH program fifth graders also had an opportunity to study at the DNA Learning Center. “They extracted DNA from wheat germ and were even able to keep a piece of DNA as a souvenir of the day’s work,” Ms. Risalvato said. “They also learned the basics of DNA’s double helix, including how its base pairs are always matched in a certain way. After learning about DNA, students built their own 3D model of a double helix.
The Huntington fifth graders were also able to engage in lab work to convert regular milk into lactose-free milk, “which they really enjoyed,” Ms. Risalvato said. “It was a joy to watch the excitement in the students’ eyes as they moved from lab to lab. They were eager to soak up the information being presented to them and were thrilled to bring home their wheat germ DNA and their DNA model.”
Ms. Risalvato is in her second year with the SEARCH program. She obtained undergraduate (sociology) and graduate (childhood special education) degrees at Fordham University in 2007 and 2008, respectively. She earned an advanced graduate certificate in gifted education at SUNY Buffalo in 2015.
Prior to her appointment in Huntington, Ms. Risalvato had been working as an elementary grade level gifted program teacher in New York City since September 2013. She earlier spent a year working as an elementary teacher at Our World Neighborhood Charter School and five years as an elementary grade teacher at Bronx Charter School for Excellence.