SOT K–12 Subcommittee Promotes Toxicology Outreach at Annual Meeting

101840817606.jpgFrom the top of the hills of the University of California Berkeley campus to the middle of San Francisco at the Moscone Convention Center, the Education Committee K–12 Subcommittee conducted and promoted toxicology outreach in conjunction with the SOT 2012 Annual Meeting.

K–12 Outreach Event—About 370 young learners and their parents found out “What do the Madhatter, Snow White, and Romeo and Juliet have in Common? Toxicology!” at a special event March 10 hosted by SOT at the Lawrence Hall of Science, a premier science center literally at the top of the UC Berkeley campus. Northern California Regional Chapter members Toufan Parman (event coordinator), Jeff Tepper, and Luoping Zhang, assisted by Erica Lachenauer and Nairi Hartooni of the UC Berkeley Toxicology Student Association (ToxSA), worked with the SOT K–12 Subcommittee to engage young and older museum visitors in the fun of scientific experimentation and introduce toxicological and other scientific terms and principles. With the assistance of 45 volunteers, including 25 undergraduates from ToxSA and many from SRI, three different themed rooms had continuous hands-on activities and a theatrical performance occurred at intervals in a fourth room.

 The first room, Risks At Home, focused on Household Hazards Identification/ Lookalike products. Concepts included:
1) understanding that signal words on labels such as danger, caution, and warning, can help determine if something is toxic, and
2) distinguishing “safe” and “toxic” items that look similar in unlabeled containers to stress the importance of never eating or drinking these substances and being cautious with unlabeled items. Kids also participated in a contest to see who could put photos of everyday items into “toxic” and “nontoxic” categories the fastest. 

The second room, Things that Wiggle, focused on understanding the phrase “Dose makes the poison.”  First, students learned about concentration, and how this may vary based on the amount of solute added to different amounts of solvent. Discussion included how dose is dependent on the size of the person since adding the same amount of dose (food coloring) applied to the smaller person (solvent) yields a larger concentration. A hands-on experiment examined exposure of blackworms to ethanol. Students also learned about the importance of a control experiment to determine what is normal in order to compare the impact of the exposure. Varied doses were used to demonstrate that the amount of damage caused by the chemical depends on the dose that enters the body.109640817606.jpg

In the third room, the Earth Room, participants examined pH and what changes in pH might mean to the environment.  An activity demonstrated that acids cause chalk to deteriorate and kids tested the pH of different household items, saw their impact on a simulated lake, and discussed what this means and that everyone can have an impact on what happens to our water sources.

Finally, participants were invited to enjoy a skit involving storybook characters who discussed the main points from the demos/experiments. Snow White and Sleepy both took the same size bite of a poisoned apple, but only Sleepy felt the effects; Pocahontas and Ariel discussing the impact of pollution on the oceans while breaking into a song about pH; and the audience helping one of the Three Little Pigs to figure out if unlabeled items from his kitchen were safe to eat and drink. Responses to toxicology questions posed to the audience during the skit indicated that these K–5 students understood the influence of body size on response to a toxicant and of other safety principles that were presented. At the end of the skit, participants were encouraged to “Meet the Toxicologists” at tables staffed with SOT members who signed “Junior Toxicologist” certificates and answered questions about toxicology. 841138627606.jpg

Feedback from the participants and volunteers was largely positive. Parents expressed that it was not only a great learning experience for the students, but for themselves. Interaction including questioning of participants during the experiments and the skit demonstrated that the participants had an understanding of the topics presented. The undergraduate volunteers appreciated the opportunity and experience in interacting with and presenting toxicology concepts to a diverse audience. A video of the skit, interviews with a couple of the student participants, and an interview with the ToxSA chair are available. We extend appreciation to the Eastman Charitable Foundation, SRI, and Staples for underwriting some of the costs.

High School Poster Exposition—With the goal of increasing awareness of toxicology among students and teachers at the high school level and to encourage SOT members to serve as research mentors, the K–12 Subcommittee hosts a poster display for high school students at the Annual Meeting most years. Two high school student presentations were featured this year, Mohan Avula, student of Jacqueline Liu at Los Altos High School, “Computational Analysis of Cancer Preventing Proteins,” and Antara Sinha, Nova High School, Davie, Florida, “The Effects of UV-B Rays on Skin Cells with and without Application of Sunscreen,” work conducted at the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health with Robert Stempel. Both of the students were hosted by an SOT toxicologist and both reported their appreciation and the positive impact of this opportunity for them.

Education Poster Session at Annual Meeting—To promote awareness of activities and tools for education outreach, track ongoing toxicology outreach activities, and engage meeting attendees in order to recruit and encourage others to participate in K–12 outreach, the K–12 Subcommittee takes an active role in preparing and encouraging submission of posters for the SOT Annual Meeting Education and Legal Issues session. This year there were 17 posters in the session, with the majority education-oriented and those split among K–12, undergraduate, and public activities. The Education poster session was very well attended, with a large amount of cross-communication among the presenters as well. A follow-up meeting hosted by Maureen Gwinn, chair of the K–12 Subcommittee, was attended by 12 interested SOT participants, including not only many of the RC K–12 liaisons but also by SOT members interested in getting involved in outreach. 

Regional Chapter K-12 Outreach Contacts—The K–12 Subcommittee and Regional Chapter Coordination and Communication Committee have worked together for appointment of K–12 contacts in each of the Regional Chapters, and this network met during the last year to brainstorm and discuss mutual and individual efforts. This group, lead by Rafael Ponce and Courtney Sulentic, had a face-to-face meeting in San Francisco. One of their projects will be to organize a workshop for San Antonio to provide opportunities to explore successful ways to conduct K–12 outreach. 

K–12 Outreach Resources—To facilitate idea sharing and easy access to resources that can be used for K–12 outreach, Angela Slitt, and Teri Fick are leading the K–12 Subcommittee efforts to collect quality materials for different age groups and types of interactions to support toxicology outreach. This will be a major activity of the K–12 Subcommittee in 2012–2013.

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