This teacher gave kids fish instead of lectures, and it's turning them into scientists.

For one week each year, teacher Zach Carey turns his eighth-grade classroom into a working biology lab.

Students at Commodore John Rogers School in Baltimore, Maryland, walk into class on a Monday and find their room transformed. Two high-powered microscopes sit at the back of the class, and each group of desks is topped with a transparent tank occupied by two small, delicate fish: one male, one female.

For the next week, these kids will be scientists, and the fish are going to help them.


A third-grader at another nearby Baltimore school, Thomas Jefferson Elementary. Image from David Schmelick and Deirdre Hammer/Johns Hopkins University.

This week of hands-on science is thanks to a group called BioEYES, a nonprofit that uses zebrafish to give kids real experience as scientists.

Zebrafish are small, striped, guppy-like fish and are often used in science experiments. The idea behind BioEYES is to have the two adult fish breed, then let the kids work as scientists and watch the embryos develop.

Adult zebrafish. Image from David Schmelick and Deirdre Hammer/Johns Hopkins University.

When you tell kids they're going to be breeding actual live fish in a middle-school classroom, some seem amazed, but others are pretty skeptical, says Carey. So you can imagine the excitement on that Monday morning — excitement Carey quickly transforms into rapt attention.

"The kids are super engaged," Carey says. "They want to know what's going on."

The students' engagement is important because science education is in trouble.

While America was known for its science and technology throughout the 20th century, today the nation is falling behind in terms of producing new scientists, mathematicians, and engineers. There have been many reports over the last few decades calling for major changes in how we're teaching our kids.

BioEYES is out to help fill that gap by giving kids the opportunity to do hands-on science. Furthermore, while the program could technically be used anywhere, they've made it free for schools where kids are low-income and struggling with science.

The program started back in 2002 with just two just people, Steven Farber and Jamie Shuda.

Back then, Farber was just setting up his own professional zebrafish lab when he got a surprise visit from a "take your kids to work day" group. Farber welcomed the kids, showing them around and letting them look at tiny, developing zebrafish under a microscope.

Photo from BioEYES, used with permission.

The kids were enchanted, and Farber found himself hosting more of these visits. Excited, but overwhelmed, Farber brought on Shuda, a former third-grade teacher and educator to help turn it into a program.

As they were talking, Farber and Shuda discovered they were both frustrated with the stereotypical image of a scientist as some old dude in a lab coat — something a lot of middle-school kids could not picture in their future. So they decided that, instead of just bringing a scientist into the classroom, their program would turn kids into the scientists themselves.

"Giving people the opportunity to do something they wouldn't normally do really opens their eyes," says Shuda. Stereotypes break down. Doors open.

Today, the BioEYES program is in more than 100 schools in the U.S. and reaches kids from second grade through high school.

Photo from BioEYES, used with permission.

The program can be tailored for each class. Carey's kids, for instance, are learning about genetics.

In Carey's class, the kids get two parent fish — one with the zebrafish species' typical silver and grey stripes and the other a colorless albino. Their question is what color will their offspring be.

For five days, the kids make hypotheses, observe the babies develop, and care for the growing embryos as if they were in a working laboratory. They can use the microscopes to watch the eggs grow from single cell to embryo to larvae. By the end of the week, the larvae are big enough that the kids can see their coloration — and find out if their hypotheses were correct.

"What makes this a really fantastic model for teaching genetics is that the kids are actually able to, with a living organism, answer a hypothesis," Carey says. He thinks a lot of science teaching is purely didactic — look at this cell, label these organs, memorize these names. But BioEYES feels like an investigation in a real laboratory.

Photo from BioEYES, used with permission.

The first few years Carey did this, the program was actually run by one of the BioEYES outreach educators. Today, though, he's taken the program and made it his own. He's one of what BioEYES calls their model teachers. They use the BioEYES model and materials but tailor it to better fit their own schedules and classrooms.

"They're the key to our success," Shuda said.

The program seems to be working and has actually launched a few science careers.

Students at Thomas Jefferson Elementary School. Image from David Schmelick and Deirdre Hammer/Johns Hopkins University.

A recent paper found that BioEYES improved test scores compared to pre-fish levels while also helping kids understand what being a scientist was actually like. Some past students have even gone on to pursue STEM careers themselves.

Fabliha Khurshan, a 21-year-old senior at the University of Pennsylvania, says she was always interested in medicine, but the program helped her understand what being in a lab was really like. Kareema Dixon, a 19-year-old sophomore engineering major at Drexel University, says, "Before BioEYES, I wanted to be a lawyer."

Both credit the program with pushing them toward science.

It's cool to see a program like this that both teaches and inspires kids.

"It’s something that really leaves a lasting mark," Carey says.

True

When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Vanna White appeared on "The Price Is Right" in 1980.

Vanna White has been a household name in the United States for decades, which is kind of hilarious when you consider how she gained her fame and fortune. Since 1982, the former model and actress has made millions walking back and forth turning letters (and later simply touching them—yay technology) on the game show "Wheel of Fortune."

That's it. Walking back and forth in a pretty evening gown, flipping letters and clapping for contestants. More on that job in a minute…

As a member of Gen X, television game shows like "Wheel of Fortune" and "The Price is Right" send me straight back to my childhood. Watching this clip from 1980 of Vanna White competing on "The Price is Right" two years before she started turning letters on "Wheel of Fortune" is like stepping into a time machine. Bob Barker's voice, the theme music, the sound effects—I swear I'm home from school sick, lying on the ugly flowered couch with my mom checking my forehead and bringing me Tang.

This video has it all: the early '80s hairstyles, a fresh-faced Vanna White and Bob Barker's casual sexism that would never in a million years fly today.

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