DNA barcoding action project brings science to life for students

Hand holding DNA Barcoding Vial This past fall, high school students across Canada became citizen scientists with CurioCity’s Fish Market Survey Action Project. The perfect mixture of modern science, intrigue – all this project needed was an educator’s touch to bring it to life.

Educator Heidi Kavanagh from Mealy Mountain Collegiate in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Newfoundland and Labrador can attest to the success of the activity. Her Grade 11 Biology class of 54 students participated in the Fish Market Survey action project. The students eagerly put on their detective hats to determine if samples of DNA from local supermarket fish were labeled accurately.

The students were fascinated by the DNA barcoding process and learning the various steps to get the results.

“They learned some technically advanced processes, such as DNA barcoding and how to sample properly,” says Kavanagh. “They collaborated amongst themselves and got to think outside of the box about why what’s on your plate could not be what it says. They were shocked that not everything is as it says it is.”

After one month, the students were excited to review the results and confirm the fish they were consuming was in fact labeled correctly. Heidi credits the success of the project to the relevance to their daily lives.

“It was really exciting when I told the students that their results came in, to see their faces light up when the DNA barcodes came back. Sometimes it’s hard to stimulate teenagers but this one definitely did the job.”

Heidi has a long history with Let’s Talk Science beginning in 2009 as a volunteer through The Memorial University of Newfoundland.

“Through volunteering you get to know the science curriculum really well because all requests for kits come from the curriculum.” Heidi found this particular aspect beneficial when completing her Bachelor of Education degree.

She recognizes that her experience with Outreach and being the Rural Remote and Indigenous Coordinator had a positive impact on her career. Noting the benefit of hands-on learning opportunities, Heidi is always excited to try new projects from Let’s Talk Science with her classes.

Although this class received positive results, the overall results from the Fish Market Survey action project showed that 20 percent of fish samples had labelling errors. Click here to see the full results from the Fish Market Survey action project.

If you’re interested in participating in the Fish Market Survey action project, you can register for the spring 2017 session here by creating a free account on CurioCity or signing into your existing account.

Visit explorecuriocity.org to gain access to additional free educator resources and activities for your classroom.