Teenage students in Midland get their hearts racing with STEM

One freshman is running in circles around the science lab. Another jumps up and down repeatedly.

Signs of an out-of-control classroom?

Hardly. The students in this biomedical science lab at Franklin Pierce High School are testing the effects of physical activity on blood pressure. After one student stops bouncing, her lab partner wraps a blood pressure cuff around the student’s arm and notes the increase.

“I gave them the constraints, and they had to write their own hypothesis,” said teacher Aimee Marubayashi.

The lab represents the kind of hands-on science classes that helped earn the school in Midland an $18,000 state STEM Lighthouse award earlier this year. Franklin Pierce was one of seven schools in the state chosen. Lighthouse schools are asked to offer advice and technical assistance to other schools seeking to improve STEM programs.

Sophomore Sara Perry says she was drawn to Marubayashi’s class because she has her eye on a career as a pediatrician.

“We dissected a sheep’s heart last week, which was kind of weird, and gross,” she said. “But I’ve got to get used to it because I’m going to be a doctor.”

Marubayashi said her classes are different from traditional biology because they’re more focused on the career aspects of the medical field.

“Students here learn to take blood pressure, understand how cancer works,” she said. “Biology is more over-arching. This is more specific.”

Sly Boskovich, director of career and technical education for the Parkland-based Franklin Pierce School District, said the district has compared state test scores of students who take only biology and those who pair traditional biology with biomedical science. The latter do better on state biology tests, she said.

Elsewhere at Franklin Pierce High, students in Tiffany Disney’s sports medicine class are learning how to tape an injured ankle, researching common knee injuries and preparing for state-level sports medicine competition, where they’ll participate in contests such as speed taping.

Outside class, they work with Cardinal sports teams or job shadow at local physical therapy clinics.

In Disney’s anatomy classes, students use miniature human skeleton models and clay to create scale models of body systems. In forensics, they measure bones and study DNA samples.

Her students can earn college as well as high school credit.

“Some of this stuff, I didn’t do until I was in college,” Disney said.

In addition to life sciences, Franklin Pierce also offers classes in engineering and manufacturing that allow students to work with composite materials used in the aerospace industry.

Representatives of local companies including Boeing, Toray Composites and AIM Aerospace sit on an advisory committee that helps engineering teacher Larry Landow keep his classes current with industry trends.

“We try to take math and science and put it together,” Landow said.

His state-of-the-art shop looks as if it would be at home in any high-tech industrial facility. Students can perform materials stress testing, measure aerodynamics in a wind tunnel or construct a skateboard with space-age components.

Landow said working with the materials helps students connect mathematics with the real world. He loves to hear them conclude: “Oh, that’s why we learned that in algebra.”

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