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

Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

When "bobcat" trended on Twitter this week, no one anticipated the unreal series of events they were about to witness. The bizarre bobcat encounter was captured on a security cam video and...well...you just have to see it. (Read the following description if you want to be prepared, or skip down to the video if you want to be surprised. I promise, it's a wild ride either way.)

In a North Carolina neighborhood that looks like a present-day Pleasantville, a man carries a cup of coffee and a plate of brownies out to his car. "Good mornin!" he calls cheerfully to a neighbor jogging by. As he sets his coffee cup on the hood of the car, he says, "I need to wash my car." Well, shucks. His wife enters the camera frame on the other side of the car.

So far, it's just about the most classic modern Americana scene imaginable. And then...

A horrifying "rrrrawwwww!" Blood-curdling screaming. Running. Panic. The man abandons the brownies, races to his wife's side of the car, then emerges with an animal in his hands. He holds the creature up like Rafiki holding up Simba, then yells in its face, "Oh my god! It's a bobcat! Oh my god!"

Then he hucks the bobcat across the yard with all his might.

Keep Reading Show less
Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less