More than 40 eager 5th graders at Carillion Elementary in Oviedo got an eyeful of worms, blood diseases and parasites at a recent Super Scientist class led by UCF Biomedical associate professor Dr. William Self.
Armed with microscopes from UCF, blood and fecal slide samples (all enclosed and non-infectious), students took turns examining the fascinating and the gross. They learned to identify healthy blood cells and cells affected by leukemia and sickle cell disease. But the slide that drew the most interest and disgust was the whipworm in a fecal sample. These parasites are usually found in the large intestine and are shaped like a whip.
“I love to see the look of discovery and excitement in the kids. I also love it when what they predict is completely wrong – and they are surprised by the result,” said Dr. Self. He first became involved because his sons attended Carillion, and enjoyed it so much that five years later he’s still teaching the classes with his wife Marianne, who heads the school’s PTA.
Five UCF undergraduate students volunteered alongside Dr. Self to show the kids what to look for and how to use a microscope. Microbiology and molecular biology student Nathan Wooding said he remembers how inquisitive he was at that age and was amazed at how quickly the kids grasped scientific concepts.
“I was teaching one group of students about why having too many white blood cells would be a bad for our bodies. I related the condition of leukemia to too many cars on a highway,” Wooding said. “One student compared it to ’having a bunch of cars but the drivers are drunk,’ and I stood for a moment and wondered how she was able to correlate and understand the dangers of both situations perfectly. I thought, wow, she’s got it!”
The Super Scientist classes are for all grade levels and take place several times throughout the school year. On this day, four classes were planned back-to-back and as one class left, more students streamed in. “The Super Scientist Program really helped me improve my science skills and I had a blast with each experiment we did,” one 5th grader remarked.
They were eager to try out microbiology for themselves, and science teacher Teresa Riedel was just as excited as she watched the expressions of surprise and wonder on her students’ faces as they stared into the microscopes. “Our students definitely enjoyed their lessons with Dr. Self and his team. He’s a wonderful scientist who is willing to share his expertise with us,” she said.
Dr. Self, who believes students need to be able to relate to science to really appreciate it, used simple experiments to catch the students’ attention.
“One experiment earlier this year we used magnets to extract iron fillings that are present in cereal (bran flakes). They really loved that one,” he said.
When he’s not volunteering Dr. Self teaches microbial metabolism at the College of Medicine’s Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences. UCF student volunteers included Qing Wang, Lauren Dickson, Cassandra Turchany and Firas Sbeith.