Boothbay Region High School

BRHS’s AP biology class Skypes with professionals

Posted:  Saturday, March 10, 2018 - 8:30am

Boothbay Region High School teacher Emily Higgins has been treating her AP biology class to as many class outings and lectures with professionals as possible. Higgins started teaching the class two years, succeeding Sherrie Hersom in it.

“I think it’s good when you’re learning a topic to bring in a source other than the textbook,” said Higgins So she had her class read Siddartha Mukherjee’s “The Emperor of All Maladies.” The book chronicles the history of cancer and all its treatments and research from Imhotep, the Egyptian physician from 4,600 years ago, to present day knowledge and practices.

“Reading about cancer, the kids had questions like, ‘What’s a pathologist,’” said Higgins.

She then decided to find a pathologist to talk to them. After Higgins talked with a friend and went through the channels of friends of friends and coworkers of friends, the chief of pathology from Maine Medical Center invited her class and her to join him at Mid Coast Hospital in Brunswick to learn what a pathologist does.

After the field trip, Higgins said students asked to have Patrick Dempsey visit their class. “That was a little out of the question,” said Higgins. But the class was able to visit the Dempsey Center this year. The class is held every other year.

The students learned more about cancer and cancer treatments, but also the resources for people and families affected by cancer. Higgins said this was especially important to the students since so many are impacted by cancer.

Other opportunities the students have had this year are Skype sessions with field professionals and researchers in the public and private sectors: Madeline Wang of Blue Wave Solar in Boston, Massachusetts; Sheila Patek of Duke University; Scott Manalis of Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Jack Fulmer, retired surgeon in East Boothbay; and Maine author Ryan Higgins.

The latest Skype session, on March 7, was with Dr. Charlie Nunn, professor and researcher of evolutionary anthropology. Nunn spoke about his laboratory’s research into sleep and its environmental, cultural and social factors. He explored comparisons between several mammals and the great apes, asking the students what they know about sleep in relation to biology.

“We live in a rural place and I think that it’s really important for children to see opportunities beyond what they experience,” said Higgins. “What we see as an option for careers – and it was true of myself as a child – are only the things you know about. We can’t go visit Duke and we have an invitation to visit MIT, but it’s difficult because it takes a whole day – but I can bring those people here, now. It opens students’ eyes.”

Higgins said she pays careful attention to opportunities to bring professionals into the classroom, and she listens to what the students are interested in. Even though some of the topics might not relate to biology, her goal is to foster curiosity because the things they will carry away from these sessions are “the traits of learning and thinking,” she said.

“We should do this more,” Higgins recalled saying after the Mid Coast Hospital field trip two years ago. She continues to ask her students who they might like to talk to.

Said Higgins, “I don’t know who we’ll have next. We have a big list on the wall.”